I love Sam Cooke. I could listen to his voice all day. It’s not just his vocal styling that marks him as a man from another time; it’s his lyrics. If he wrote “You Send Me” today, the words would have to go more like this:
Darling, unnnnn-friend me
I knew you’d unfriend me
Darling, unnnnn-friend me
The way that you do, way that you do
You always do, whoa
Ill will me
I know you, you, you ill will me
Darling, you ill will me
You always do
At first I thought it was just irritation
But whoa, it’s lasted so long
Now I find myself wanting
To glare at you and block your phone, whoa
What is this all about? Here we are with one of the most impressive technological innovations of all time, which is social networking. Yet, somehow, it seems to have set us back decades in terms of actual communication. I know of siblings who are no longer on speaking terms, a man who was unfriended by the best man from his wedding; pick a family or friend relationship and you can easily find an example of one that was destroyed via social media. Not a single week has gone by that I haven’t seen someone make a public announcement to the effect of: “If you don’t agree with this post, do us both a favor and unfriend me now” or “I just unfriended someone/nearly everyone on my list.” We’re supposed to feel pleased when we’re able to read the announcements that we have “made the cut” – rather than worried about all the times we haven’t.
Friendship means something different now. Apparently, friendship means meeting only the strictest of standards. We can only keep our friends if we continue to manage the tightrope walk of self-expression. Each person has different rules – absolute, relationship-defining rules – about how personal or impersonal, political or neutral, others’ posts are. We’ve started treating each other like TV channels on the far end of the dial, channels we can avoid or click away from if we don’t like the programming available.
I still remember each and every time I have been made aware that I was unfriended. That includes the ex-spouses of friends, with whom I had no issues. It makes sense, but it still stings a bit. “Hey! I wasn’t taking sides!” My policy is only to unfriend someone if I believe I am incapable of staying in the same room and being civil if I encountered the person socially. That’s a pretty stiff criterion that virtually never applies. So it’s possible that I take it more personally than others on the occasions when I’ve been unfriended “for cause,” which means posting something that someone else finds offensive. It goes like this:
What the heck do we think friendship is, exactly?
I think the more socially isolated we become, the more we interact with screens instead of human faces, the more we converse through text, the more we start to base our concept of how friendship works on what we see in fiction. Text can only get across about 10% of a person’s meaning; it cuts off all the facial expressions, tones of voice, laughter, body language, comedic impersonations, hand signs, and opportunities for social touch that happen when we meet in person. That’s why we’ve started to use emoticons and vines and memes as punctuation. We know that even the best writer isn’t going to be able to get the emotions across. At least, a writer can’t do it in small snippets. We like movies and TV shows that give us at least a few hours to learn a character’s arc. We cease to give the same kind of time to our real, non-acting, living and breathing human friends.
I think friendship happens in levels, as it should, and that it’s best to restrict the highest levels to only a very small number of specific individuals.
There are a lot of pitfalls between levels of friendship. One is regarding a work friend as a higher-level friend, and disrespecting professional boundaries by oversharing. Taking a work friendship to another level requires the utmost finesse in protocol; it’s best saved for the time when one work buddy leaves the company for a different job. Over-bonding with work friends is inevitably strained when one of you gets a promotion, particularly to management. It’s better to commit to each other’s success and continued progress up the ladder than to try for personal friendship. More common is to expect casual friends to be as trustworthy and loyal as closer friends, or to expect close friends to be soulmates.
How do you ruin a friendship? Lots of ways. Uncountable ways. NEVER FORGIVE. Expect the punctuality of a walking clock with an AI. Expect total loyalty, especially when you’re in the wrong. Demand that people pick sides. Talk politics. Take your confusion and high blood pressure to a public forum whenever anything in the news distresses you. Expect high levels of personal emotional commitment from everyone in your social circle. Confide things you wouldn’t want to be known publicly. Apologize stingily and regard it as losing face. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “I’m sorry but.”
Societies swing between total individualism on one side of the pendulum, and total collectivism on the other. What is seen as an appropriate boundary between a person and a group depends on our milieu. Right now, we’re on the extreme individual end, which is part of why the unthinkable is happening so regularly and people are murdering strangers to make some kind of personal statement. We’re so polarized that almost every possible choice is seen as a signifier of tribal allegiance, either red or blue, with no alternatives or neutral or non-applicable areas. We don’t trust each other. Our barriers are impermeable. Interactions with other people are high-stakes. We’re now beginning to invoke formal loyalty tests, as in, “if you read this and disagree, sever our social connection. Permanently.” We do not have any kind of social ritual for knee-walking back to someone and asking to reignite the spark of friendship. We don’t accept apologies and we don’t make them graciously. I made a public apology to someone for whom I had high regard; when I saw that she had unfriended me, I cried in my car. Mutual friends relayed my message, which included a description of what I had done wrong and displayed an understanding of the unintentional hurt I had caused. I would never have required such an apology myself, as I ignore posts that offend me. My apology was not accepted. That was years ago, and it still bothers me. What would it have taken? Even a personal attack could theoretically have been forgiven, if acceptable amends were made. It makes no sense to me that we are now disowning people over cartoons or single sentences or perhaps tasteless jokes. When will we start to see how much damage this is causing to our social fabric? When will we start to see how unnecessary this is? When will we learn to adapt to this new, hazardous form of communication? When will the pendulum start to swing the other way?
We can’t make it in this world alone. We like to fantasize that we can. We like the look of a post-apocalyptic landscape, where it’s easy to judge on sight whether someone is “one of us” or “the enemy.” Then we can eliminate them with extreme prejudice, and high-five afterward. The truth is that we’re not capable of survival, speech, or even coherent thought without the contribution of other human beings. We are not the prime movers in our own lives. We are here because our ancestors cooperated long enough to get us here, feed us, care for us, and watch over us until we could start pretending that we can survive without cooperation. We need each other. We forget how much we have to offer each other, how strong we are when we stand together. We have so much to learn about forgiveness and love. We have so much to learn about friendship. How are we going to learn anything if we keep rage-quitting whenever we activate each other’s emotions?
“Vomit Day” is my husband’s pet name for February 14. When I met him, he was about as cynical as one could imagine when it came to traditional ideas of romance. We’re both divorced, and I understood where he was coming from. There are all sorts of reasons why our cultural visions of romance need to be updated. I like the imagery, though. Anyone who gags at all the hearts and flowers that appear in February might remember that this is the shortest month, and it’s much less of a burden than 55 days of Christmas. The materialistic focus of selling the Perfect Families romance is precisely the same as that of selling the Perfect Couples romance.
Anyway, I thought I would round up some book titles that were really helpful for me in rewriting my idea of love relationships. I would not hesitate to say that if I had not read all of these, I wouldn’t be remarried today. Some have to do with processing bad patterns in communication and dating, while others have to do with getting along with one’s spouse/roommate.
The Solution-Oriented Woman, by Pat Hudson
Red Flags! by Gary S. Aumiller
Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, by Mira Kirshenbaum
He’s Just Not That Into You, by Greg Behrendt
It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, by Greg Behrendt
Calling In “The One”, by Katherine Woodward Thomas
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman
The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
Why Talking is Not Enough, by Susan Page
I believe in going out and getting things for ourselves. I like heart-shaped jewelry, so I bought myself a heart-shaped necklace when I was single. I love it and I still wear it. I like flowers, so I used to buy myself a bouquet every couple of weeks and put it on my desk at work. In both cases, various people stopped to ask whether my boyfriend bought them for me. “No, I bought it for myself” never failed to stun these folks. If I want more hugs, I ask for more hugs. If I want validation after I tell a story, I explain that. “This is the part where you laugh.” Nobody but me is responsible for my happiness. Nobody can read my mind or guess my secret desires. I try to put my focus on 1. Being easy to please and 2. Giving what I wish to receive. (Compassion, a listening heart, allegiance, consideration, joyous surprises). I set the stage for the kind of relationship I want by demonstrating why that is mutually advantageous. We can only feel the love we feel. We can believe and trust that we are loved, but we can’t possibly feel the love that comes from others. The only way to feel more love is… to feel more love, generating it and turning up the intensity in our own hearts. In a perfect world, we’d feel that way about far more than one individual.
My husband is a figment of my imagination. Now that I mention it, I myself am also a figment of my imagination. So much of how we relate to other people is based on our perceptions, our opinions, our unconscious biases, our interpretations of what they say and do; it’s hard to avoid coloring our portraits of other people without at least a splash of illusion and fantasy. Knowing that going in, I choose to add some sparkles and glitter glue to mine.
I’m a novelist. I can make a character sketch of anyone I know, and present it as umpteen different stories, all illustrated with completely true and verifiable details. It depends on what I observe and what kind of tone I want to set. I can make you fascinating or boring. I can give you a version of yourself that will leave you wondering why you never saw the potential hero that I see. That, of course, is what makes me a great life coach. People need a vision to get them through the day. I happen to think an inspiring vision of heroism is the best kind.
Back to my husband. He actually is a hero. He went out and became an emergency medical responder just because he wanted to be able to contribute in that way. He’s been first on the scene in two different accidents already. Luckily he doesn’t read all my posts, or he’d be pretty cheesed off that I am telling these stories about him! He researched becoming a bone marrow donor but wasn’t qualified (so, naturally, he wouldn’t think that counts). He rescued two little frogs that were trapped in his office lobby; one looked like it had already dehydrated beyond recovery, but he saved both of them, and carried them out to the creek where they hopped away. He volunteered two days to install solar panels on low-income families’ homes. He’s paid for a stranger’s gas. I was there with him one day when he helped a young woman at IKEA strap a large piece of furniture onto the top of her car, using some tie-downs from our truck. I have a strong suspicion that he prefers to do his good deeds in secret, when I’m not looking, so I don’t embarrass him by talking about them. The story I would most like to tell, I dare not. He hates making a fuss. If you see him, don’t tell him. Just smile.
My man is also an ordinary man in some ways. I mean, he does appear to be human and mortal. He’s not the sort of guy to serenade me under the bedroom window, although he knows basically every possible rugby song, so if he did, the neighborhood would be talking. He’s never written me poetry and I’d be awfully surprised if he tattooed my name anywhere on his body. I bet $100 he wouldn’t remember the song from our first dance at our wedding, or be able to name it or the singer. We had a conversation shortly before our wedding in which he revealed he didn’t know my middle name – and couldn’t correctly name my eye color! Almost nothing in a typical romance novel would apply to him, except that he’s tall, dark, handsome, and makes my knees weak. Unless that’s middle age…
Research indicates that one key to a happy marriage is to overestimate your spouse’s good qualities. If you think I’m putting too much frosting on the cupcake and that my husband is actually less awesome than I think he is, I will fight you. I will dance-fight you anyway. I’ve never seen the point of those oh-so-common bitch sessions where everyone takes turns venting about how annoying their husbands are. If men do this, in my experience, it’s because they’re contemplating divorce. Women seem to do it as a medium of exchange. You have revealed a personal detail to me; therefore, I must reciprocate by sharing something personal and salient to the conversation. Ten minutes later, it’s like a competition to see who is the most mismatched to the lamest, dumbest, laziest, most immature and spoiled manchild. Oh, I see. You’re a 10 and he’s a 1. That makes perfect sense! I’ve been divorced, so I have plenty of stories to tell about being in a bad marriage to the wrong person for the wrong reasons. I know the difference. This time, I’m married on purpose, to my best friend, for great reasons. I like him and I want to talk to him as much as possible. He makes me laugh. I think he’s cute. If we weren’t already married, I would totally want to go out with him. I’m more attracted to him than I was when we started dating, and I think he’s a better catch.
All these attitudes are completely within my control. It’s my preference and my choice. I see what I look for. Every now and then, I allow myself a dirty little fantasy: the fantasy that I’m actually married to someone else, say, the husband or boyfriend of one of my friends, or a celebrity. There has never been a time when I would have wanted to trade for a single day. Sometimes I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet. Due to the miracle of social networking, I’ve been able to stay in touch with a few old flames, and it’s easy to see that we’ve grown apart even further in the years since we split. That makes it easier to be friends with them and easier to understand “what went wrong,” which was generally a fundamental personality mismatch. Bless you, honey, and go in peace.
My husband is my dream man because I’ve dreamed him that way. After our disastrous first marriages, we both spent a lot of time introspecting about what went wrong, what we could have done differently, and what we’d want in a good marriage. We’re both definitely “the marrying kind,” which is not true of everyone who signs a marriage license. More people should establish themselves as lone wolves or swingers or polyamorous; it would save a lot of heartache for all parties involved. We like being married. We’ve talked out much of the structure of our marriage: what is most important to us, what we like the best, what is the ideal balance between together and alone, what we want to do for fun. In the process, we’ve basically created and passed a certification program for becoming each other’s ideal spouse. He knows not to bother with bringing me stuffed animals or Mylar balloons; I know he’s unimpressed by make-up and high heels. We know where to put the effort for optimal results.
I live an illusion. I have a fantasy marriage with my dream husband. He looks the way I think a husband ought to look. He’s the first person I think of when anything interesting happens. I can’t wait to tell him things, whether it’s news or gossip or a dumb joke or some alternate song lyrics I just made up. He supports my work. He thinks I look great and he’s impressed with my housekeeping. He compliments my clothes, partly because he helps me shop for them, and I pick out things we both like. He “gives” me the freedom to travel alone and do whatever I want, because I return the favor and because we understand each other’s motives. I married him with the plan to make him happier he married me each year than he was the year before. Being married to someone who is glad he married you is a pretty effective way to tighten the bond! We’re motivated to delight each other. We’ve known each other for over a decade, and he still surprises me sometimes; I feel like he’s matured and improved with time, and that he’ll be even more interesting in another decade, and another after that. Some of this is because I asked enough questions when we got together. Some of it is because he’s risen to meet my expectations, responding to my hero worship the way a plant reaches toward the sun.
It’s so unfair, I know. I just ate two apple turnovers, I weigh 120 pounds, and I wear a size zero. I guess I just have this “fast metabolism.” What can I say? I must have just won the genetic lottery. I have this special birthmark that indicates I am fated to always have only good things happen to me.
^^^ LIES ^^^
The only part of the above that is true is the sentence about the turnovers. I never lie about pastry. I can’t very well lie about my size, either, because that’s the picture anyone would see walking by: a skinny girl eating what is essentially half a pie. That snapshot tends to perpetuate a completely false image, in the same way that seeing me in a Halloween costume might make you think I really am a pirate. A calorie pirate!
I definitely don’t have a “fast metabolism.” On the contrary, I was diagnosed with thyroid disease when I was 23. At worst, my thyroid function has been measured at the extreme low end of normal, just at the threshold where I would have to take medication for life. At best, I’m just under the median. These are hard data with objective, numerical metrics over a timeline, and I can document them. I had an actual goiter. In a lot of ways, that feels like being someone from the historical past who walked through a wormhole and wound up in the future. A goiter. Pfft.
I also didn’t win the genetic lottery. In practice, I think that refers more to being born into inherited wealth, because a genetic tendency is not always expressed. We know that, right? There are very few genetic legacies that doom someone to a specific fate. Body weight is not one of them. My family is… classic American. To the best of my knowledge, there were no athletes or runway models in our family tree. Well, technically I was a plus-size runway model for a day, but that seems to bolster my argument.
As far as the special birthmark, I do have some moles on my shoulder that line up like the Big Dipper, but that’s about it.
So what’s the deal with the pastry? What foul manner of magic allows me to eat like that and still wear the skinny jeans?
It has everything to do with quantity, frequency, and context. What you can’t see from a single snapshot, or even a few snapshots, is a pattern that really only shows up over the course of the whole film. I really like apple turnovers, but I only eat them maybe once a year. I’ve found that they make a pretty cruddy breakfast. They’re a nice occasional treat, but they don’t have the staying power of oatmeal, which was what we had actually planned to have today. After eating something this sweet, I tend to get a sour aftertaste in my mouth. Sometimes I get a bit of a headache. I also feel hungry shortly afterward. Not a great bargain.
We ate the pastries, my husband and I, and then I looked at the nutrition label. (I read the ingredients, but the calorie count was hidden on a separate sticker on the bottom of the box). I laughed. “UHOH!” I showed my husband: 269 calories. EACH. 102 calories from fat. EACH. That means they were 38% fat. More importantly, we just ate a 538-calorie breakfast that will wear off in an hour. Our normal breakfast is 330-410 calories and feels like real food. Two turnovers are the caloric equivalent of nearly four cans of Coke, with roughly the same nutritional value. Another way to look at it is that they are the caloric equivalent of 5 ½ actual apples, with far less fiber and far fewer micronutrients. Again, the pastry is not a great bargain.
After we ate the pastry, we went grocery shopping. We came home with a package of okra chips (OKRA CHIPS!) and devoured them while standing at our kitchen counter.
I feel obligated to point out that little, 120-pound, 5’4” me ate the same quantity of food as my big, 240-pound, 6’2” husband. I used to match him bite for bite at every meal. That turned out not to work very well for me! One guideline I use is to look at whatever he’s eating and try to only eat ½ to 2/3 the amount.
That’s the sort of thing you don’t see when you see me eat. If you see me at a party, you see me eating party food. I don’t buy things like corn chips; we don’t even go down that aisle at the grocery store. We don’t “snack” unless we’re at a social occasion, because we know if we see it, we’re going to eat it. Same thing at restaurants. If you go out with us, you’ll see us eating appetizers and other things we don’t eat 80-90% of the time. There are several reasons for that, but one of the main ones is that we know we pay the price afterward. Fried food, while delicious, usually tends to give me a headache or bellyache afterward. I’ll wind up waking up several times in the middle of the night. There is a pretty long list of foods that interfere with my parasomnia problems, which I am reminded of the few times every year that I indulge in them.
There are a lot of things neither of us eats at all. This is mostly due to simple taste preference. We don’t like them. Coffee, alcohol, soda, dairy products, bacon, bagels, crackers, white bread, fast food, or basically anything that could be bought at a gas station. We used to buy a lot of soda and cookies, when we were first dating, but they lost their flavor appeal when we started eating healthier food. It turns out that learning to eat a nutritious diet makes junk food taste bad. (And look bad, and definitely smell bad).
I used to be fat. Now I’m thin. Well, I don’t think I’m thin, precisely; I prefer lean, trim, or fit. Regardless, what I learned is that it’s 90-100% diet. When I was fat, I knew virtually nothing about nutrition or the behaviors of lean people. I truly believed that certain people were born that way, while most people were born my way. Normal. You know. Not thin. Thin isn’t normal. (Not in America, it’s not!). What I learned when I started trying to learn more about fitness was that lean people won’t go anywhere near most of the foods that the average American eats on a daily or weekly basis. “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot fork.” Likewise, most average Americans don’t eat any of the foods that fit people eat every day. Make two columns. Column A contains junk food, fast food, fried food, things in packages, soda, baked goods, pasta, sweets, high fructose corn syrup, and unpronounceable chemical ingredients. Column B contains fresh vegetables, whole fruits, water, whole grains, and things that have to be washed and chopped.
What it really comes down to is that average Americans actively avoid eating anything with a high fiber content, any cruciferous vegetables, and anything with a realistic quantity of micronutrients. We don’t like chewing and we don’t like bitter flavors, but we’ll drink what is basically carbonated hummingbird food from morning to night.
I do eat pastry sometimes. I put it in the category of “race food.” What that means is that if I’m already registered for a foot race, already dressed, already hanging around the course, and getting ready to run at least 8 miles that morning, I might eat a donut or an apple fritter. (Or a turnover, if I had one). I wouldn’t eat a bagel even under those conditions. A bagel is the equivalent of five slices of bread. I don’t like them nearly enough for that hit to my pancreas. What I like the best during endurance races is a bag of trail mix and a couple of fig bars. If I’m running a distance under 10 miles, I usually don’t bring any snacks at all, or water, for that matter.
When I talk about running, people assume that I can “eat whatever I want” because I work out. I thought so, too. Then I gained 8 pounds while training for my marathon. I haven’t started running again since my ankle injury in October 2014; it’s been nearly a year and a half. If running one marathon caused some kind of permanent metabolic change that allows me to stay small, that would seem to be a great inducement for more people to take up an endurance sport. I know the truth, which is that I have learned how to eat in such a way that I don’t gain weight whether I work out or not.
I do actually “eat whatever I want.” What has changed is that I have more information about nutrition and physiology. I also have new information about how it feels to walk around as a lean, fit, strong, active person. (It feels EXCELLENT). When I was fat, all I knew was how it felt to be chronically ill, weak, and frail. I didn’t have the information I have now. I didn’t know how to cook the vegetables I eat now. I hadn’t adjusted my palate. I ate more sweets than produce. Now that proportion is reversed. When you see me eating pastries, what you don’t see is that I eat 10-12 servings of vegetables and fruits every day. If you see me updating my food log, where I check my fiber and micronutrient quotas for a couple of minutes a day, you might just think I was texting or looking at Facebook. Either way, you’d have no way of seeing how the apple turnovers fit into the context of everything I ate (and didn’t eat) over the last two years.
I can eat anything. So can anyone – anyone who has the means, which is something we forget. Our problems are problems of excess and abundance. Three million little children starve to death every year while we cry about our body image. It’s frustrating. That’s why I took what used to be my soda money and started using it to sponsor a student in Zambia. (She’s almost done with high school now). We’re constantly trying to reframe a problem of social justice, mortality statistics, and poor nutritional education into a problem of aesthetics and appearance. Solving the problem of how to eat in a sane way extends to solving the problem of how to feed everyone in a sane way. Learning to solve one problem helps us feel strong enough and smart enough to solve any problem.
I used to cry myself to sleep at night. This is something most people only do when they are alone in the bed. I was divorced and single and flat broke. I felt like I would be alone forever. I believed I had missed my chance at love. I had long known I couldn’t have children, and now I wouldn’t have a mate to call my own either. There would be nobody at my side to keep me company while we grew old. I was SO. SAD.
I determined to be ready if the day ever came. If I met someone who was worthy of my devotion, someone who could be my true partner and companion, I wanted to make sure I had room for him. I wanted him to feel completely at ease in my home. If he came in the door, where would he hang his coat? Where would he sit? Would he like a cup of tea? (As it turns out, he does). Would I want him in my bedroom?
The question of the bedroom is more often a question of whether we are embarrassed to have anyone see the state of the room itself than whether we are ready, willing, and able to get physical with someone. (There’s more room on the floor, after all). Many of us use our bedrooms as storage sheds. It’s standard for people to get ready for guests by cleaning the living room and hiding stuff in the bedroom. In most modern homes, it’s one of the few rooms with a door to shut. A typical bedroom is full of dirty clothes, unfolded clean clothes, and often an unruly desk or computer station as well. Some people have storage boxes or multiple laundry baskets stacked up. Many bedrooms have three or more dressers. Many have closets that won’t shut due to the clothes and other things pouring out. One of my clearing jobs involved a couple of boxes related to a project that had been procrastinated since 1983. It was positioned so it could torment the owner with guilt from the moment the alarm went off each morning until bedtime each night. Bedrooms are our secret places, and by secret, I mean the bad kind, not the fun kind.
A bedroom is a private place. People who live alone and like it that way still have an opportunity to make the bedroom a lovely, peaceful room of rest and solitude. It is a place for dreaming. A bedroom should be cozy and drowsy. It should be a room with a boundary that is respected, a place of retreat, a place to get away from the cares of the world and put life on hold. Sleep, and plenty of it, can make a relaxed person out of a crabby person. Sleep recharges us and allows us to be patient, kind, and generous. Sleep gives us the energy to face the day, to retain willpower, to make good decisions, to be productive, to look forward to exercising our bodies. A bedroom can be a charging station.
Sleep procrastination is a real phenomenon. Why won’t we go to sleep when we are tired? Parents know why; that space between the kids’ bedtime and grownup bedtime is the only chance during the day for High Quality Leisure Time. We lie to ourselves about how tired we know we will be the next day. The less we like our jobs, the more likely we are to punish our bodies by chronically depriving ourselves of sleep. This guarantees that we will never have the energy to look for something better. Why else would someone who was exhausted fight sleep, like a fussy toddler? Some of us are avoiding bedtime because we don’t want to acknowledge an emotional disconnect with our romantic partner. Some of us don’t like the bedroom and subconsciously avoid it, due to the mess and clutter and, perhaps, the accumulated dust that causes respiratory issues while we sleep. Some of us (such as myself) have nightmares or other parasomnias or sleep disorders. Some of us are lonely and afraid to go to bed alone, when the house keeps settling and cracking and making creepy noises. Nobody who sleeps in a Temple of Love would ever delay going to bed at night.
I made my bedroom a Temple of Love. I make my bed every morning as soon as I wake up, so that the bed looks inviting and welcoming all day. It takes 45 seconds. In my single days, I had a full-size mattress, barely big enough for two, but I made sure to have two pillows, and a bedside table on both sides. The other side had an empty drawer. It also had a reading light. My bedding was as girly as I could ever want, because I planned to get it out of my system while I was still single. At one point, I had rose and gold with brocade and tassels, and then I had rainbow-colored florals. Now that I’m married, we’ve gone for a more sedate look, the way I always knew I would.
We always choose the smallest room for our bedroom. We like it cozy. It’s easier to keep warm on cold nights (and easier still, now that I have the biggest, hairiest man I could find). There is nothing in our bedroom but the bed, a nightstand on each side, and a blanket chest at the foot of the mattress. Maybe two feet of space is left between the bed and the wall, all the way around. When we get in bed at night, it’s like being in a tent, or the cabin of a ship. We are enclosed in a small, warm space, like our own little burrow. The bed has a deep pillow top. We spoil ourselves with mounds of soft pillows and a huge, fluffy comforter. In winter, we even have a heated mattress pad. For the first time in my life, I can fall asleep in minutes and stay that way for the next eight or nine hours. Sleep is one of the best parts of our day.
I had so much love to give, and it felt like it was just being wasted, like turning up the heat and opening a window. I wanted a MAN, not just any man, but a man who would be my partner in life. My equal. I would find him and make him mine. I would coax him into my lair. He would look around and realize how lucky he was to be there. As it turned out, love crept up on me, rather than the other way around. I almost missed the opportunity because I saw him as a friend, rather than a romance waiting to happen. I did, however, have a welcoming place ready, in my home and in my heart. I built a Temple of Love where we now return each night, remembering what it is to devote yourself utterly to one certain person.
We talk ourselves out of making changes because we are pretty sure they aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be. There is a certain pride to be found in taking a contrarian position. For instance, I think Pop Tarts are gross. I didn’t like The Fifth Element, and I wasn’t all that impressed by Firefly, either. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and quit reading. Obviously I have nothing else worthwhile to say! All I was going to talk about was that the insight almost always comes after the experience. We sit around waiting to “feel like” doing certain things, and guess what? We never “feel like it” because that isn’t how it works. What happens is that we try stuff, realize things about it that we wouldn’t have guessed, and then we see what all the fuss is about. Or not. I mean, Pop Tarts? Whatevs.
My resistance to something is usually proportionate to how important that thing later becomes in my life. I used to openly mock runners who jogged in place at intersections. I used to go off on lengthy rants about how people on dating sites always talk about how much they love hiking, but I actually hated hiking and thought they were lying to make themselves look good. I used to talk about LA and how it was a cesspit that symbolized everything bad about humanity. Now I live in that region, which I find delightful, and running and backpacking are two of my favorite things. I used to loathe mornings and considered myself a total night owl. Now I wake up around 7 AM, even on weekends, and it’s one of my favorite times of day. Past Self would think we had completely lost our mind.
Many of the positive changes in my life have come about completely by accident. Part of this is because historically I have moved a lot. The next time I move will be my 29th time since 1993. What happens is that all the patterns of my life get shaken up. How I arrange my house, where I buy groceries, what I do for exercise, how often I go to the library or park or movie theater, and how much I sleep have a surprising amount to do with where I am living at the time. (Upstairs Crackhead Neighbor from 2007, you suck. Get help). I’ve been able to look back at different times in my life and whatever random distribution of habits I was following, and spot patterns that were positive, negative, or turned out not to matter as much as I would have guessed. Of course, I can also compare my results to whatever results other people seem to be getting, but the only way I can get solid information about that is by asking. My assessment of other people’s motivations is probably about as poor as my assessment of my own.
Working out is a great example of this. All my life, I thought athletes were dumb and mean. I thought going to the gym was for vain people who had nothing better to do. The first inclination I had that there might be more to it was when I bought a bike. My intention was to save money, because I am a tightwad, and perhaps do something positive for the environment as well. I was determined to get the best possible value out of this $400 retroactive pay increase I got at work. That meant I had to skip enough months of bus passes to at least amortize the $400 cost of the bike. I didn’t frame it as exercise. At first I really struggled. I had to push the bike up every hill, and at the top of the bridge I would have to catch my breath for nearly five minutes. But I am FREAKING STUBBORN, so I kept going. I started to notice that I was beating the bus home, and that added to my determination. Within a couple of months, not only was my route easy, but I started having actual fun. Riding my bike became one of my favorite activities, giving me emotions I didn’t know it was possible to feel. I didn’t really even notice what everyone else saw, which was that my body composition had dramatically changed, until one day I realized there was visible muscle definition in my quads. What’s this? Body pride? Then it turned out that my cheapskate bicycle commute may have saved my life. Like I said: unexpected side benefits.
What are some other unexpected side benefits?
Walking: I find a lot of money. I have a jar with all the money I’ve found since 2005, and it has nearly $40 in it, much of it from pennies. Twice, I’ve been first on the scene when someone had a stroke and collapsed in the street, and I was able to help. I see a lot of interesting stuff, much of which I photograph for later enjoyment. My feet are really tough, and I can walk, run, or hike for many miles without getting blisters, which is nice on vacation.
Wearing a small clothing size: My clothes are tiny, which means fewer loads of laundry. I can pack a ridiculous amount of outfits into a suitcase that fits under a plane seat. In stores that carry my size, I’ve been more likely to find awesome stuff on the clearance rack. I can fit comfortably in the middle seat. A backpack with the same days’ worth of supplies weighs less.
Getting married: My husband can pop my back. My wedding ring is like a magical force field that I can use to wave off unwanted male attention. I have someone to talk me out of buying clothes that don’t look good on me. There is someone to watch my stuff and hold our place in line. I only have to cook or wash dishes on alternate nights. He keeps me warm on cold nights, when I used to wear a hat, shawl, and knee socks to bed.
Having a parrot: Someone always notices when you wear new earrings. Surprise cheek kissing, complete with smoochy sound effects. Instant accessory for pirate costume. Always prepared to entertain small children. Makes random fart sounds. Showering is no longer a mundane activity. Someone appreciates your singing, no matter what.
Dan Buettner is a longevity researcher. The Blue Zones is a book about areas of the world that have an unusually high concentration of centenarians, and Buettner’s search for what makes them live so much longer than average. The book is light-hearted, even funny in places. For instance, an elderly Costa Rican woman describes how she caught a man watching her take a bath, chased him down, and beat him with a stick. Her age at the time? Seventy. The centenarians and super-centenarians (people over 110) come across as lively, friendly people who enjoy their social circles and daily routines.
There are some very intriguing findings from this research. For one, the Blue Zones appeared across multiple continents. Out of the five areas studied, two were in North America, two in Europe, and one in Asia. When the researchers got down to the particulars, there were comparatively few things the various cultures had in common. I noticed this before, anecdotally, in reading What Makes Olga Run?. Elderly people in that book attributed their long life to completely different factors and ate completely different foods. Clearly, there is no one single element of lifestyle that can build a 100-year lifespan. Just because someone is healthy at a ripe old age does not necessarily mean that person understands why. That’s where the research comes in.
Buettner identifies nine points that the centenarians of the Blue Zones do have in common. Only three of them have anything to do with food. Buettner says he began his research in hope of finding some superfoods that could be made into a supplement. Most of the longevity factors seem to have more to do with social network, having a purpose in life, being close to family, and having a relaxed, stress-free attitude. I felt a pang when I kept reading how many of these ancient people had family, friends, and neighbors dropping by the house throughout the day. They certainly seem to have a better social life than I do!
There were, of course, some important lifestyle elements having to do with health and fitness. None of the centenarians were obese. None of them had diabetes, heart disease, or dementia. All of them walked regularly and bustled around doing chores throughout their lives – including heavy labor like chopping firewood. One woman, in earlier days, would routinely walk an 18-mile round trip to buy salt. None of them smoked. They all ate a fairly low-calorie diet based around garden vegetables that they grew and cooked at home. They ate a traditional diet, not liking modern junk food or soda. They ate at least two vegetables at every meal. They ate meat no more than five times a month, in servings of no more than two ounces. The Okinawan group ate soy every day, and the Costa Rican group ate corn every day, although for skeptics, take note that these were processed at home, not industrially. The other interesting thing was that, while income wasn’t mentioned, it seems like at least most of the centenarians were financially poor.
One of the factors behind longevity seems to be a belief that one will live to be old. I always thought I would. In my family, we seem to live to at least 75, and it seems prudent to me to assume I’ll live at least that long. That motivates me to save money and take care of myself, especially my teeth! The elderly folk in The Blue Zones remind me of my own elderly relatives, playing dominoes and poker (cards and Scrabble in our case), laughing and joking. It takes a picture of extreme old age that includes plenty of friends, plenty of things to do, and the ability to stay healthy and active. Very old people seem better able to take the hassles of life in stride. Even if we don’t learn what they do to live so long, we can try to learn from their attitude, one informed by extra decades of experience.
Get a job. This phrase is usually delivered as an insult. It’s been directed at me, as part of a lecture that included the phrase “your lazy ass.” I don’t think laziness really exists, something I will explore at a later date, and anyone who knows me well knows that I’m more like the opposite of whatever laziness is supposed to be. As a futurist, I also think that almost every last possible element of the modern workplace could more productively be completely revolutionized. I’ve been dirt poor (or even poorer than that, because in an apartment, we didn’t even have a patch of dirt to call our own). I’ve gone to bed hungry lots of times (which I wouldn’t have if we had had somewhere to grow some potatoes at least). I’ve been unemployed and stuck in bureaucratic double binds. I’ve scrambled to prove my ambition, my innate industriousness, my natural knack as an innovator, my drive for efficiency and productivity, only to meet total disinterest in the best I have to offer. I didn’t know it at first, but I was born to be an entrepreneur and artist. Now I see the phrase “get a job” as equal parts exciting and foolish. I want to share my perspective with those of my friends who are equally bright and dedicated, but who haven’t yet found a channel worthy of their energy.
Why “get a job” when you can create a job? When we’re hopeless, we tell ourselves “there are no jobs right now” or “there’s nothing out there.” I recently had a conversation with a woman who kept a spreadsheet of all the applications she had sent out: over 500 in four months. We’re not getting callbacks. We’re getting the interview but not the offer. We’re working at a lower level than we know we can handle, and getting passed over for promotions we know we have been capable of completely dominating for years. We feel we’re at the mercy of the economy. You know as well as I do that being smart and working hard are not enough. That and $4 will get you a cup of coffee. The current system does not work. By no means are we extracting the maximum possible work product out of the people who so desperately want to contribute.
I’m thinking of changing my LinkedIn profile to reflect my actual talents and skills, rather than my traditional résumé. I could have an ordinary office job tomorrow. I have 20 years’ experience, I type over 90 words a minute, I not only know all the software, but I’ve trained people in it, and any executive who talked to me for 10 minutes would make me an offer on the spot. If I were your assistant, I’d change your life. Too bad I’m not for sale, er, hire. Just because I’m good at it doesn’t mean I have to do it. My real role in this world is Idea Generating Machine. I don’t work in a traditional office anymore because a) I have more to give than that; b) I don’t have to; and c) the top priority seems to be sitting in your chair M-F 8-5. There is more challenge for me in trying to perpetuate a feeble, inefficient system than there is in working 365 days for myself.
I’ve started over from zero several times. By that I mean moving to a new city with no money, no job, and no friends. Usually that also meant no car and no furniture. When I was younger, this felt scary and lonely. Now, I see it as a toolkit. Being a professional nomad doesn’t faze me at all. I know there is only about a 10% chance that I’ll still be living in the same house three years from now, and that is something I accept in the same way that I accept the necessity of grocery shopping. My dream will come true when we finally start working overseas; a different country every couple of years sounds like the most fun possible. The difference between ‘broke’ and ‘poor’ has everything to do with attitude and a sense of possibility. I’ll never be poor again. I know that not having any money is a temporary condition that can be changed by the end of the day. Virtually everything (except the air pump at the gas station) can be accessed by means other than money. It’s all about mindset, although reputation helps.
The first thing we have to do is to recognize that we have the same power to build a business, be the boss, and generate money that anyone else on earth does. Why not me? Who is going to stop me? That second question is easier to answer once you learn to recognize the naysayers in your life. Tell people your plans and they will knock over furniture in their rush to tell you why all your ideas are stupid and will never work. Naysaying exists in direct proportion to the closeness of the person in your life. As you get further away from the inner core of family to old friends to newer friends to acquaintances to perfect strangers, suddenly your ideas seem to have more merit and receive more support. That’s part of why crowdfunding works. There has never been an idea in the course of human history that someone didn’t barrage with blistering sarcasm and contempt. That includes the car, the telephone, the airplane, and even the necessity of handwashing. The simple solution is never to share your ideas when they are in the gestation phase. Grow that little seed until it is robust enough to handle a killing frost. Better yet, just don’t tell the people closest to you until you’ve started collecting checks.
The second thing is to respect the immediacy of the need for cold, hard cash. Honest work is always available if you go out and look for it. There is no shame in trading your time and effort for dollars, no matter what you’re doing, as long as it’s legal. I’ve scrubbed a lot of toilets in my time. The trouble comes when we give up and let the daily grind distract us from rising to our natural level. If I had to, I could barter to borrow an interview suit, barter for transportation, barter for computer time and printer ink, and get out there and talk my way into a job. I could barter for training in software I don’t yet know. I could barter for help bolstering my résumé. If I see an opportunity to do something I want to do, but I’m not certified in something that would make me the obvious first choice, I’m going to go out and get that credential. I’ll do it if I have to sleep in my car. I’ll do it if it takes 18 hours a day. I’ll find a way to pay for it. If I had let not having money stop me, I would never have started. I’ve never been able to settle for anything, because I never had anything worth settling for.
I was taught to be obedient and to be willing to do the dirty work. That’s the blue collar way. I’m not proud; I’ve changed diapers and handled trash and done manual labor to earn my pay. Being obedient, however, means you’ll always be an underling. Obedience has nothing to do with creativity or innovation or building your own business. What we aren’t taught is to see ourselves as naturally belonging at the top levels. We aren’t taught to feel comfortable managing or directing. I have friends with world-class talent, who could be writing their own tickets, yet they live in penury because they have no idea how much their abilities are worth. Nobody has ever told them how good they are. They don’t realize that they don’t need permission to take charge and set their own rates. They don’t see how they’re depriving so many other people of the ability to partake of their gifts.
The saddest thing is that so many of us who trudge along in desperation, constantly under financial pressure, absolutely have what it takes to create jobs for not only ourselves, but other people as well. The more frustration we feel with our jobs, with bad management, with missed opportunities, the more likely that we’re better suited to be in charge. We have a clear vision of how it could be done well. We can’t be satisfied with shoddy work or half-steam efforts. We have the sort of compassion that would make us ideal managers. We’d set humane schedules and earn total loyalty from our employees because we understand how people are really motivated and inspired.
Most of what I do for money now didn’t exist when I was young and broke. The platforms weren’t in place. Times are easier now. The bar has never been so low. It’s actually possible to set up shop without a capital investment and start generating revenue without putting cash down first. It’s also possible to research everything online, from the bureaucratic requirements to the market research to the distribution channels. Anyone who wants to can have multiple streams of income at least trickling in by the end of the month. The more of us who cut the cord and refuse to work under archaic, unproductive, and sometimes inhumane or illegal conditions, the more the work world will be forced to respond. This is how progress happens. We don’t have indentured servitude anymore because the Industrial Revolution came along and created so many job options that nobody would put up with those terms. (We can talk about global slavery later, although I believe there are untold options to create fair trade businesses in every corner of the planet). We can elevate ourselves. In the process, we can lift others with us. Why “get a job” when you can give one?
It’s not that I’m not attracted to him. Objectively, he is attractive. Everyone agrees. You know how much I talk about him. It just seems like I want him more when he isn’t there. I think about him all day, every day, but when it’s time and I know he’s waiting for me, I can’t seem to get in the mood. I can’t figure him out. What does he want from me? Sometimes I go to bed and wait for him, and who knows what he’s doing, because he’s sure not there with me. Sometimes I wake up at night and he’s gone. Other times, the sun comes up, and I know we’ve spent the night together, but I wasn’t fully present. It’s never as good as I want it to be. I wonder if maybe I’m just impossible to satisfy. But then I think it’s him again. Are we not a good match, or do I have commitment problems?
It’s my on-again, off-again relationship with my old boyfriend, Morpheus, the god of sleep.
He says I’d rather stay up complaining about our relationship than come to bed. He says it’s like I’d do anything to avoid spending time with him. He says he feels like I care more about playing games, watching movies, or reading than I do about him. I never put him first. In spite of all our problems, in spite of the fact that we have the same argument over and over again, I want him to change first. I want him to be something he isn’t. I hang too many impossible expectations on him. I’ve done things to try to impress him, but not anything that would really mean something. It’s like I want to check off the boxes to prove that I’m trying and everything is really his fault. If only I’d listen, we could turn to each other and find each other again, somehow, one dark night.
I wish we could just be together without second-guessing each other all the time.
Remember that trip to Cancun? We would stay in the room scandalously late every morning. Then we’d fall into bed for hours every afternoon. We’d make excuses and go to bed early. We couldn’t get enough of each other. When we went home, I felt ten years younger. It felt like a whole new beginning for us. Within three weeks, though, we were back to normal. The honeymoon couldn’t last, could it, not with alarm clocks and commutes and laundry.
Maybe that’s part of the problem. The bedroom. It’s not exactly a romantic hideaway. I’m tired, okay? Lots of people keep piles of clean and dirty laundry in their bedrooms. Lots of people have a TV they can watch from the bed. Basically everyone goes to bed with the phone or the tablet or the laptop or the e-reader. It is not just me. I need some downtime, all right?
I can hear him saying he’s got better ideas for how I can spend my time in bed. It’s like that’s all he ever thinks about. Sleep, sleep, sleep. He thinks he’s god’s gift to women. Okay, maybe that’s true. I do always get into it if I can stop mentally multi-tasking for five minutes. Why does everything have to be about him though?
I’m probably being unfair. I just needed to vent. I’m not going anywhere. We have a lifelong commitment, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sleep, baby, come back to me. I didn’t mean it. I love you.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anti-housework memes. It always surprises me when I see someone talking about housework (or not doing housework) on social media. Someone will post about spending an entire day doing laundry, or hours cleaning the kitchen, which sounds like a nightmare to me! Another of those topics is “adulting” and how nobody wants to adult. When I was 17, I used to write in my journal about how I couldn’t wait to have my own place; I’d make lists of housewares I thought I would need. I couldn’t wait to “adult” and I established myself as my own head of household at 18. I probably felt the same way about having my own kitchen as most teenagers feel about getting a car. Maybe the difference between people who talk a lot about how much they hate housekeeping, and those who don’t mind and just get on with it, is that we are expressing autonomy in two completely different ways.
What I hear from people is that they feel oppressed by societal expectations and that other people are JUDGING THEM about their homes. This is tied inextricably to the feeling of BEING JUDGED about body image. We act like we are constantly under the scrutiny of this evil cabal that wants to force us to become Stepford Wives. When we leave dirty dishes in the sink (or on the coffee table, or on the desk, or on the toilet tank), we’re like the Rebel Alliance, demonstrating that we are independent thinkers. When we leave dirty and clean and dirty and clean (hard to tell sometimes) laundry in piles around the house, we’re showing that we have better priorities and we’re too smart to waste our time on such trivial matters. This is why there are so very many variations on the themes of “Dull women have immaculate houses” and “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life” and “Excuse the mess, but we live here.” We’ve somehow conflated living in chronic clutter, grime, and disorganization with personal sovereignty, passionate living, and creative inspiration.
It’s a false dichotomy. Despite the propaganda, there is no reason to assume that a dirty house inevitably leads to happier children or better parenting. There is no reason to assume that a dirty house guarantees a fully and passionately lived life. There is no reason to assume that a dirty house leads to more or better artistic production.
I think a dirty house is a symptom, not a cause. A dirty house can be a symptom of power struggles. A dirty house can be a symptom of ambivalence or conflict about life choices. A dirty house can be a symptom of chronic illness, physical or mental. A dirty house can be a sign of stress and burnout. A dirty house can be a symptom of emotional distress. A dirty house can be a symptom of lost hope, lost direction, lost purpose. A dirty house can be a sign of boredom and dissatisfaction. A dirty house can be a statement of anger. A dirty house is often just one casualty of a life in tailspin. There is nothing about a dirty house that calls out thriving, flourishing, or being in love with life.
Sometimes, though, I think a dirty house is just a sign that nobody who lives there has any better ideas.
There are myriad ways to look at housekeeping beyond the stunted, undeveloped version that involves resentment and contempt. The key to finding a more positive vision of what home can be is to imagine something beautiful, personal, compelling – a place that truly reflects how we feel and what we want. Not what we don’t want, what we do want. Not a house that says I HATE DOING DISHES or I HATE LAUNDRY; is that how we define ourselves? Is that the first statement we want to make every day? A house that says I LOVE and I LIKE and I ENJOY and I PREFER.
Perhaps it’s a house built around a library. Maybe that includes a collection of Victorian armchairs, lamps, and stained glass.
Perhaps it’s a house built around a bedroom. Maybe that’s something exotic, like a Moroccan theme, or maybe it’s more like something from the golden age of Hollywood.
Perhaps the heart of the house is a kitchen styled like a 50s diner, with vintage dishes and embroidered tea towels and a cute apron.
Perhaps it’s a treehouse, with a ladder that can be pulled up or let down to invite a special guest.
Perhaps it’s a tiny home, something that allows constant travel, or a few weeks here and there with friends or at the nation’s most fascinating landmarks.
Perhaps it’s not a house at all, but a luxury hotel room or the stateroom of a cruise ship, which may be cheaper than home ownership for a single person.
None of these fantasy rooms includes a pile of laundry or two days’ worth of dirty dishes. Isn’t that strange?
I’ve been allowed into some homes in my day that most are not privileged to see. The reason is that the inhabitants are embarrassed or afraid for anyone to see how they live. There have been real and justifiable fears that unveiling the home to strangers could result in eviction or lost child custody. I accept that a sacred trust has been placed in me, that I am now standing in the inner circle. I respect that I’m a guest, a temporary visitor whose access can be revoked at any moment. That is the core element of my work. I’m not there to recreate my living environment in someone else’s home. I’m there to discover the buried passions and deferred dreams, to excavate the alternative and more meaningful life they would prefer to live.
I’ve also visited some homes that are a privilege to visit for a different reason. Opening the door is like entering a different world. Even the most ordinary space in the most ordinary apartment complex can be transformed by the power of personal vision. One friend had no furniture in her living room; all she had there was a stereo on a low table, because that was her dance, yoga, and meditation room. Another friend had a canopied bed in the living room, replete with color and cushions and tassels and fringes and exotic fabrics, because the “bedroom” had a door and she needed office space to meet with her clients. Another friend had built her home herself, with help from friends, and she had a mural on her ceiling. After a few years, she bought another house in the same neighborhood and started all over again. Every doorknob, every stair tread, every floor tile was carefully chosen, installed, and finished to her tastes. You couldn’t walk a foot in the door without your jaw dropping open. These were three different women (one a single mom of a preschooler – can you guess which one?) who CHOSE how to live. None of them had a single sock or plate out of order. The reason they kept immaculate homes is that they lived a vision of their own creation. They LOVED their houses, and it showed.
I clean my house because I’m the boss. I want it to look the way I want it. My husband has delegated this to me, because it’s not important to him beyond being clean, organized, and not fugly. Also, I work at home, and since I spend at least three times as much time in the house as he does, it’s much more a reflection of my work life than our love life. If you came over, you wouldn’t really see evidence of either, because one is digital and the other is private. You’d just see clear surfaces. You wouldn’t see dirty dishes or dirty whatever, because taking care of those tasks is something I see as an insignificant part of my daily routine. I just get it done. Laundry and other tasks need to be nothing more than a blip on my radar. As you may have noticed, I spend significantly more time writing about cleaning than I do actually cleaning!
I have total autonomy over my life. I’m married, yes, and I’ve made a blood oath to my man and his family that involves certain agreements and responsibilities. Within those constraints, I go where I want and do what I want. So does he. We both travel a lot, separately and together, and we have our own work and passion projects. If there was some way to quantify these things, I’m ready to bet that we would score in the top rank on interesting and fulfilled lives. I am not dull – neither is he – and we haven’t wasted our lives. If you come over, we figure you already know we live here, and we don’t need an “excuse the mess” sign. We don’t need defensive refrigerator magnets because we have nothing to be defensive about. We do what we want, and so should you. It is my wish that you do whatever it takes to feel the fulfillment that you deserve. Reframing the necessity of doing laundry is a vital and underestimated part of that.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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