An Audience of One is a very intriguing book about the artistic process. Srinivas Rao clearly dwells in the other realms. There are plenty of inspirational books in the world on creativity. This one speaks with assurance on the untapped wellspring.
For those of us who do a lot of public-facing work, there can be a tendency to develop a sense of obligation and turn our output into a chore. Rao says this focus on external outcomes (such as profit) can make the work boring. We return to our involvement in the process when we let go of attempting to control the outcome. One way of doing this is to make something purely for ourselves, to remember why we first fell in love with this particular form.
A focus of An Audience of One is on people who do something creative only for themselves. No readers, no viewers, no customers, no followers or commenters, imagine! These examples of devoted creatives have a way of elevating more activities to the level of “art.” Maybe a home cook is more talented than a professional chef; how would anyone know?
On the one hand, this perspective should give courage to novices. Art is good for you! What you do matters! It’s fine to do it for yourself and nobody else! Rao cites something a lot of readers will want to know more about, which is Mindfulness Based Art Therapy. Apparently making art has measurable, positive health effects on everything from heart rate and blood pressure to cortisol levels and bodily pain.
On the other hand, the perspective that we should make our own art for ourselves alone, that’s a potent idea. What if we took it all the way? What if we really made every single last thing that’s been swimming in our fountains? What if we never held back, what if it all came out and kept coming out? What if we? Swam out full fathom?
These are the parts of An Audience of One that compelled me the most. Rituals, power questions, activation energy. Identifying and eliminating your tolerations. Dream work. Setting intentions before sleep. Wow! Some of these chapters maybe could be full-length books in their own right.
I loved An Audience of One. It pushed my barriers and made me feel that I can and should be doing more with my work. It reminded me that there is more potential in my craft and my process. Rao mentions having three books that you refer to at least once a month, and this may become one of mine.
When we focus on end results, we essentially defeat one of the main benefits of creative work: to derive joy from the work itself.
The work itself defeats resistance.
It’s rare for anybody to proudly state that they did “nothing.”
He used to tease me. “You should marry a rich guy like me; that would solve all your problems.”
“Marriage CAUSED all my problems,” I retorted. I meant it, too.
(I also knew he wasn’t rich. That was part of the joke).
Why would I ever want to get married again? I was free! Free to sleep in the middle of the bed! Free from listening to someone else snore all night! Free to sleep in knee socks or a stocking cap or pink footie pajamas.
I was free! Free to see whatever movie I wanted, sit anywhere in the theater, even my favorite seat in the very front row. I was free to wear whatever color or whatever perfume I wanted, cut my hair however I fancied, choose whatever I wanted for dinner.
I was free! I didn’t have to ride herd on anyone, try to convince anyone else to go to the dentist, wear proper trousers to their boss’s wedding, or not quit their job to work for a startup in their friend’s basement.
Free bird, free from criticism or nagging or badgering. Free from expectations. Free from the double bind of either tolerating a bad roommate’s bad habits or cleaning up after them myself.
Free from the liabilities, the debts, the nasty secrets and surprises that come out when one person’s dark side meets another’s.
Why on Earth would I ever want to get married again?
Contrarians attract. He went on making the same joke from time to time.
“You should go out... blah blah blah... guy like me blah blah blah.”
“You should BE so lucky,” I scoffed.
“You should be so lucky, to have a girlfriend like me.”
I meant it, too. I knew how great it was to live alone. I also knew what a great girlfriend I was on general principle. Almost everyone I ever dated dropped hints about marrying me at some point. I was thirty and I knew full well how much I brought to the table.
Objectively I was a catch. No kids, no cats, great credit, I made my own money, planned my own retirement, followed a budget, and kept a clean house.
More to the point, I was at home with myself. I liked my life. I had my own goals and plans and I didn’t need anyone else to come along and mess them up.
It had nothing to do with what I had to offer as a girlfriend, or a wife for that matter. It had everything to do with whether I wanted or needed a partner.
Boyfriends are trouble in a lot of ways. Sometimes they want to come over when you want to sleep. Sometimes they want to talk when you want to read. Sometimes they want to call you when you want to go to a movie, or the bookstore, or knitting group, or your book club. They think they have a say in your male friendships or your travel plans or, sometimes, what you wear even when they’re not there.
Who needs it?
I had boyfriends. I had boyfriends who wanted to keep dating other people. I had boyfriends who wanted me to clean their apartment, do their mending, cook their meals, give them back rubs, pick them up at the airport, make their travel plans, and pick out their clothes. Dude, I’m not your mom. Or your secretary.
Not that I wouldn’t do those things! I did all of them at one time or another. Over time I became more protective of my energy and my time, understanding that almost anyone would take advantage of my kindness and my giving nature. Not everyone deserves it.
You should be so lucky. You should be so lucky, to have a girlfriend like me.
Eventually he talked me into it. He thought there could be more, and he convinced me that it would be worth finding out.
“I’ve seen your nice side,” he said. “No you haven’t!” I said, shocked that he would think that. All he got was my generic nice, not my personal nice.
He wooed me. He knew just what to do. He cleaned his entire house until the floor gleamed and everything smelled like lemon. He even washed the windows. He cooked me a meal from scratch, including mashed potatoes and biscuits and pie. He bought me a wrench. He made friends with my parrot.
He had something to prove. I didn’t.
He brought me around to his way of thinking. Maybe there could be more between us?
There was, there was. He let me sleep until noon and made me waffles. He did my taxes while I was on vacation. (He still does the taxes). In so many ways, he sought out ways to make my life easier.
That helped. More importantly, it showed he was paying attention. He got me. He got what I was about and he understood how I made decisions. He knew what would be important enough to me to matter.
I’ve made it worth his while, of course. I take loyalty to my mate extremely seriously. I’m his sounding board and chief cheerleader. I make his daily life easier in a thousand small ways, many of which he may not even realize, just as he does mine.
There probably isn’t anyone else I would have married. Anyone else anywhere in the world. I might not even have dated again; honestly, I probably set too high a bar. He cleared it, though. He rose to my expectations - and beyond - because he appreciated the challenge.
I could have done it differently.
I could have pined after some unattainable, aloof and emotionally unavailable character who would have broken my heart without noticing.
I could have gone for volatility, breaking up and getting back together with someone over and over until everyone lost count.
I could have whipped through dozens of dates, looking for something that wasn’t there.
None of that attracted me, though, because I knew who I was. I was a great girlfriend. Or, I would be for the right person, if it was worth my while. Mostly I was just fine by myself.
You should be so lucky.
“I’m going to thump you in the noggin.” That’s an example of the type of comment she just made to me, only not as funny. A threat, not a veiled threat. I laughed and brushed it off, and she doubled down.
What’s going on here?
This is a basic business transaction, and this woman just implied that she wants to use physical violence on me! Twice!
“Well,” I grinned, “I’m a kickboxer, so let’s do this!”
The weirdly rude woman frowned and said nothing.
Hey, you started it, lady.
The truth was, in that moment, I was ready. If for some bizarre reason this person insisted on fighting with me, if I had made her angry or if she just couldn’t stand the sight of me... okay, fine. Let’s do this.
If she needs to get it out of her system, I’ve been shoved, kicked, punched in the stomach, thrown on the ground, and hit in the eye, nose, and mouth. Lots of times! I don’t mind, not really. If she thinks she can lay a few strikes on me, all right.
It’s a serious offer. You wanna box me? Let’s do this!
Alternatively, I’d get her on the ground and pin her until she apologized and promised to quit being rude to people for no reason. She would remember the whole thing as me being the villain. Result: even more rude to more people, because it’s so unfair that she never gets her way. Bullies are like that.
In the normal world, there are two things that have made me tough (besides living past the age of forty). One, improv comedy. I’ll “yes and” anything with anyone at any time. Two, my midlife sports background of martial arts, endurance running, and adventure races. If you want to attack me with mud, insults, cold water, heckling, shoving, kicking, or strikes to the torso, well, it’s not my first rodeo.
How have I offended, milady?
I’m the kind of person who goes to the store and constantly gets stopped by random people who think I work there. It’s a family joke that every time we go on vacation, someone will ask me to take their picture. Customer service face. I’m nice and approachable, probably too much so. It’s unusual for me to have an unpleasant interaction with anyone, whether in person, on the phone, or through email.
Nobody who sees me in business casual is going to guess that I do Krav Maga, put it that way. That’s how it should be. Secret weapon.
There’s a threshold that you cross when you cast off conventional anxieties. In the mundane world, I’m unstoppable because I know myself to be a person of high agency. Kindness and patience will get you virtually everything you could ever want, and detached amusement will probably get you the rest.
A little bit of leadership training, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of stress inoculation, a little bit of physical conditioning. Unstoppable.
In the mat room, on the other hand, I’m weak and slow.
I put myself in that situation on purpose. I strive to always be the most clueless student in class. If I’m the smartest or best, then I’m in the wrong room. I need to be pushing myself, partly so I’ll learn, mostly so I’ll stay humble, and also because I get bored easily.
If you’re willing to feel completely awkward, embarrass yourself, and do things you find crushingly difficult, and you can get through the first few months, you’ll be well on your way to developing superpowers. The areas where you struggle are the areas where you can grow the most.
The first year I spent training in martial arts, my stated goal was to work on humility and self-discipline. Find out you can’t do a pushup or a sit-up, and the humility takes care of itself. Stay committed until you can do fifty and you’re on your way to the self-discipline. The most important thing I learned that year is that I’m not afraid to take a punch.
I also learned I was afraid to land a punch. I didn’t like hitting people, I didn’t like it at all.
This got to be a problem. My partners would sometimes complain that they needed me to be more forceful. They would shout and encourage me to kick harder, shove harder, strike harder. I talked it out with several other women, and they all told me the same thing. I needed to give as good as I got. As much as I wanted to learn to take a punch, to be unafraid in hand-to-hand combat, they needed the same from me. It wasn’t fair for me to have a double standard.
I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being “too nice.”
My training partners want their money’s worth. They want the full value of every hour they spend training. That means, when they partner up with me, I need to show my fangs. I need to go past my little bubble of niceness, at least during that hour, and I need to be scary and mean.
I scare myself sometimes.
All I’m doing is exploring something new in a controlled environment. It’s a classroom. Everyone agrees that while we’re in the mat room, we’re trying to accomplish something very specific. It’s a thing with a certain amount of physical risk, and also eerie noises and unlovely facial expressions.
This is where we cross the threshold. This is where we pass back and forth between the ordinary world and the world of controlled violence. This is why it isn’t funny to make “jokes” about fighting: because there are those of us who are prepared to engage if necessary.
Also, don’t you know any real jokes? Funny ones?
In some ways, martial arts training has made me funnier than I was before. There’s something about the confidence that comes from trusting your body and knowing you are prepared for mayhem. Garden-variety insults and threats are comical. What, you think you’re going to wound me with words? What you just said, that’s supposed to make some kind of impact?
I’m having to learn how to throw a punch, not just take a punch. It means I have to learn how hard to hit. I have to learn to strike with appropriate force. Learning to throw a punch has shown me that it’s almost never necessary. Smile and carry on.
Power is neutral. Just like any other tool, it can be used for good, it can be used for ill, it can be used in neutral or unimportant ways, and it can be set aside, not used at all. Procrastination is one such power.
There are certain things that can only be procrastinated for a short time. Breathing comes to mind! After that, peeing. You might think you’re too busy or you might not want to do it right now, but one way or another, it’s going to happen. Not just biological needs that arise from the tyranny of the body, but also inevitable factors of living in a society and an economy with other humans.
Life is easier when we acknowledge that certain things must be done, and that we might as well try to minimize their impact.
This is part of what makes me a contrarian. I willingly do certain things as quickly as possible, because I resent having to do them at all. I refuse to let them eat any more of my mental bandwidth than is absolutely necessary.
Taxes, paying bills, tossing junk mail, housework, blocking spam callers, going to the dentist, getting my hair cut, walking the dog. Eighty percent of life consists of maintenance, and I’d like to reclaim as much of that time as possible.
Certainly I’m not going to let it pollute the remaining twenty percent that is mine, all mine.
Procrastination gives us the power to resist doing the inevitable, for a little while. To what point, though? Why would I delay making my bed when it takes only 15 seconds? Why would I delay making a business call when, if I wait too long and they close for the day, I’ll have to think about it another entire day of my life?
Procrastination is power for another reason. It means we have more control over the situation than we think we do.
They’re onto us, by the way. People who don’t procrastinate think that we wait to do things because we’re trying to prove some kind of point. We’re trying to say YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. We show up late because we don’t want to be there in the first place, and we’re doing our best to defy authority. We’re resisting on purpose.
I don’t think that’s true, at least not all the time. That’s because I work with a lot of chronically disorganized people who, let’s be honest, couldn’t pull off that kind of coup if they tried. Too many details.
It’s funny. If we really do have the power to resist other people’s claims to our time and attention, to disobey orders and refuse to do tasks, then doesn’t that mean that we have the power to...
Wait for it...
The power to go elsewhere and do other things for other people instead?
If we have it within ourselves to do these dumb things (show up at specific minutes of the hour, fill out specific forms, make specific phone calls, clean certain things, do other objectionable tasks), then couldn’t we just do them toward a purpose that mattered to us more?
I mean, if you don’t like working for one person, is there someone else for whom you would gladly do the same tasks?
If you don’t like this particular type of task, isn’t there something else you would rather do instead? Do you know what it is?
I have a friend who used to have an interesting job. She was a parking lot attendant on the night shift. She loved it because almost nobody ever showed up for their cars. She got paid to sit in the booth and wait. She got a lot of reading done.
Personally, I wouldn’t want that job, even though I’m a night owl and I love to read. Otherwise I would have applied there at the time. 1. It got really cold at night most of the year. 2. Uniform. 3. Bottom dollar.
In many ways, my friend worked my “dream job.” Get paid to read for seven hours and forty-five minutes a shift! In other ways, I learned that I preferred to make more money, not have a dress code, work during the daytime, and actually do something during my shift. I needed my job to be interesting.
Perhaps it’s this, the negative image of the thing we don’t want even though we know we could have it. Perhaps it’s this that keeps us moving.
(I know I don’t want to be unemployed again because it’s boring. I know I want to wear Real Clothes during the day because wearing pajamas makes me feel like an invalid. I know I don’t want to write at night anymore because I can never get any sleep during the day).
I’m incredibly stubborn and opinionated. I can’t stand being told what to do. I also have this little chip on my shoulder about working under people who “aren’t as smart as me.” Two things finally occurred to me. 1. If that person isn’t as smart as me, then why am I making less money, which is the part I care about? 2. I don’t have to have a boss.
It turns out that working for yourself and being your own boss is a lot more work than having someone else tell you what to do. It has to be worth it. Also, there’s always some rule or some “boss” at some level: submission deadlines, editors, minimum balances, minimum orders, style guidelines, something. Then there are customers and reviewers! If there’s a way to make a solid living with zero demands or feedback from other humans, I haven’t found it yet.
Ultimately, it’s the difference between I DO WHAT I WANT and I GET WHAT I WANT.
Doing what you want all the time doesn’t usually lead to getting anything else. It’s also unsustainable if you are relying on others to pay your way or clean up around you. They start making all kinds of extra rules on you.
Getting what you want tends to mean doing a lot of things that weren’t necessarily your first idea. Going places at a time you don’t want to leave the house, making calls you didn’t want to make, focusing for extended periods, managing minor details that are annoying and boring. Ah, but then, you get what you want.
There are a lot of hidden powers in procrastination. The power of identifying rank and status, therefore knowing whom to defy. The power of picking and choosing how you spend your time and where you focus. The power of finding more interesting things to do with your day, with their secret signals as to what you’d rather be doing. The power of physically surviving in spite of not doing the things you think you should be doing. The power of the inner dream to be doing something better.
Procrastination is avoiding the thing that you personally have decided is the most important thing you should be doing, the best use of your time. It’s inherently irrational - or is it?
Procrastination is power. Now, what are you going to do with that power?
People are so, so much less likely to believe a positive story than they are a negative story. I could tell you that someone stole my husband’s bike (true) and you’d nod your head. Yeah, that kind of thing happens all the time. What do you expect? I could tell you a similarly true story about a fun job interview I just had, which, don’t worry, I am about to do, yet I suspect that you won’t believe the details. That’s why I’ll start with the hopeless part.
I hadn’t been on a job interview since... let me think... I believe it was fall of 2008.
I haven’t had a day job since 2010.
Haven’t had a boss, either.
Sure, I work for myself, earn and invest money, and pay taxes. All of that happens under wildly different job descriptions, though, and I’m often at a loss to explain just what it is that I do. I sometimes stress out about what would happen if I had to apply for a standard office job again, and what I’d put on my resume.
Why? Because the purpose of most job interviews is to unsettle you, to put you in a position where you’ll happily take the lowest possible offer. You’re meant to come in early, stay late, be on call as close to 100% of the time as possible, avoid using your vacation time, never ask for a bonus or a raise, and submit to paranoid levels of supervision.
For a natural 10x-er, all of this is stultifying and annoying.
Don’t you realize the forces you could unleash if you let me work under my own terms and direct my own projects?
I walked away from all of that, as people of an artistic or entrepreneurial bent nearly always do. How, though, does a free elf handle a traditional job interview?
This is the way I look at it. There’s a need and I can easily fill it. I’m a good-natured, cheerful, and fun person. If this organization is doing interesting things, if the culture is such that anyone would be glad to work there, then I’ll consider a respectful offer.
I’m not going to work in the salt mines under a rude manager. I don’t have to, because there are tons of jobs and I only need one. Or, I might one day. Really there are unlimited ways to bring in money outside of a traditional day job. I’m not stuck and I won’t be trapped or forced. I have options.
I’m going to your interview because I’m curious about what you do. By the time I walk out, I’m going to have a pretty good idea of whether I want to come back or whether any sane person would run screaming for the hills.
None of this bears any resemblance to how I used to feel when I would go in for job interviews. I remember one a few months after my divorce. I had lost 30 pounds (involuntarily) and the only clothes I had that were suitable for a job interview were hanging off me. I was so nervous about how high the stakes were that my whole body would shake. I probably looked like I had a substance abuse problem! I told one interviewer: “I really, really need this job.” (That doesn’t work, by the way; or at least it didn’t for that job).
The last time I interviewed for a job that I got, they asked if I had any final statements. I said, “It would be a good idea for you to hire me.” They called ten minutes after I left to offer me the job; I hadn’t even gotten back to my car yet.
That’s the difference between coming from a place of scarcity and fear versus coming from a place of strength and confidence.
Look, I’m doing you a favor by coming in for this interview. You should be so lucky as to get a candidate like me. I’m only going to be available for a quick minute. If you hesitate, if you can’t make up your mind, if it takes you two months to make a hire, you’re going to get stuck with your eighteenth choice because the rest of us are now working for your competitors.
I promised a story, an unbelievable story about my fun interview.
It was a panel interview; I knew that going in. I enjoy panel interviews! (Keep telling yourself that). I told a friend, “Don’t worry, if it’s a panel interview I WILL be the obvious choice.”
I met another candidate in the hallway before the interview, someone I knew. I smiled inside because while this person might be perfectly competent, I am more so and I can prove it.
They were half an hour behind schedule, which was great because it gave me plenty of time to center myself and go over my material. (I spent a couple of weeks researching the organization and the competencies for the position, and then an hour with my husband troubleshooting responses to questions that might come up).
I went in smiling, thinking, JUST WAIT, YOUR MINDS WILL SOON BE BLOWN.
I was given the opportunity to make either an opening or closing statement. In my opinion, this is always an option at an interview! If you walk in fully prepared, having researched the company and the position, and you have ideas to share, just announce that you’re going to do that and start pitching. This tells the interviewers a lot more about you than their list of canned questions.
I did it. I blew their minds. I stood up and pitched and mouths physically dropped open. They laughed, they cheered.
I walked out with a marriage proposal and a business card.
I got the call later that evening, while I was making a pot of soup. “Congratulations!” It was unanimous.
I share this wild and reckless story because it’s so far from the usual vibe of the desperate, broke, and unconfident job seeker. I know that feeling because I’ve been desperately broke! I’ve had colossally bad interviews and fumbled easy questions. It’s the awkward, wretched feeling of neediness that causes those problems. Coming from a place of “I need, oh please oh please” is off-putting.
On the other hand, coming in the door like the Queen of Sheba, ready to delight everyone, now that’s something different. You’re bored, you’re having a long day, you’re worried that none of the candidates will be able to fill your needs. Suddenly this totally different energy comes in, and instead you’re entertained. You imagine that this person is your new coworker, your new colleague. Maybe you could even sit near each other!
They want to hire you. They want someone who will work hard and do a great job. They want someone who is easy to get along with. They want someone who will become a source of solutions and insight and fresh new energy. They want to feel relieved and excited that you’ll be coming to work with them soon.
You’re the best candidate because you’re trustworthy and loyal and hardworking, and you have the best ideas. They’re going to fall in love with you.
Now get out there, bring your bubble wand, and start wowing those interviewers!
Laura Vanderkam is here to save us from ourselves. Why is our default response to “how are you” always: “busy”? What is it about our culture that so many of us feel like we don’t have time to live our lives the way we want to? Vanderkam has written other terrific books on this topic, yet I think Off the Clock is my favorite so far. It emphasizes making time for relaxation and creating memories. Oh, sure, might work for you, we think, until we realize that this book is based on intensive research, and that it’s also written by a best-selling author, frequent business traveler, and mother of four children under age ten.
When I feel busy, I always remind myself that I’m not the busiest person in the world. I’m not, for instance, a senator or an organ transplant surgeon or a flight attendant. Vanderkam includes examples of very busy people, such as a school principal, various corporate executives, and a mother of triplets. The latter said that the picture she had before her triplets came was not accurate, and that she wished she had realized sooner that it wasn’t as stressful as she’d been led to believe.
How many things would we be willing to try if we realized we had plenty of time?
How many things would we try if we realized we could get away with it?
Something incredibly intriguing about Off the Clock is the case it makes for making your own executive decisions about your time. An example is a woman who had asked to work at home more often, and was denied. When she came in with a competing job offer, suddenly those work-from-home days became possible after all. Other examples come from people who got promoted or put on more interesting projects because they seemed like they had the time. Maybe that’s part of the secret of why some people get ahead and others don’t, because those of us who are turbo stress cases don’t seem like we can handle more?
Perhaps the best part of Off the Clock is that it has so many examples of ways that other people and families make their days more memorable. How do other people get rid of “schedule clutter” and make time for adventure? I was captivated by the idea of laying out a picnic blanket and having breakfast outside. Who does that?? But wait, I actually have a picnic blanket and... it doesn’t even cost any money... Hmm... More practical for many people might be the example of the parents who both ride along for school drop-off, making a chore into an opportunity to spend time together as a family.
This is the sort of book that can change lives, change families, change marriages. It also feels like the type of book you can pass to a partner, like The Five Love Languages, and have it received with enthusiasm. Yes, let’s do this! Read Off the Clock now, so you can put the material into good use and plan a lovely spring and summer.
“...time freedom stems from time discipline.”
“Bliss is possible in the past and in the future but seldom in the present.”
“I am tired now, but I will always be tired, and we draw energy from meaningful things.”
“...thinking about the past and the future can enhance the experience of the present in profound ways.”
“Few people would show up at work at 8:00 A.M. with no idea about what they’d do until 1:00 P.M., and yet people will come home at 6:00 P.M. having given no thought to what they’ll do until they go to bed at 11:00 P.M.”
Here he comes again. Tall, handsome, and dressed for his job as a personal trainer. He lives a few yards away and we see each other all the time. He’s the hot new neighbor, and it’s a problem.
It’s like the beginning of a trashy romance novel!
Let me tell you about this guy. Former pro athlete, sharp dresser, penetrating gaze making you feel like you’re the only person in the room, remembers everything you say, massive extrovert. Definite male lead material.
Oh, and it gets worse. His lady. Blonde, also a personal trainer, absolutely a ten in looks. I’d believe former cheerleader or dancer.
Every time they walk by, I smile and wave at her, he smiles and waves at me, and she sends me a death glare. When she’s by herself, she speedwalks past my apartment without returning my wave.
She hates me.
I mean, I can see why. I’m everything she’s not. Middle-aged. Nerdy. Frizzy haired. Often seen carrying fifteen pounds of laundry. Happily married.
I’m not the hot neighbor in this scenario. Or any scenario! Hotness has never been what I’m about, which is a good thing because I’m average-looking and not photogenic.
Beyond that, I have some pretty strong opinions on drama and how drama is made.
Let’s say I took an uppercut to the jaw one day in Krav Maga, and it knocked all sense and moral values clean out of my head. This is how I would look at it:
If I were going to have an affair, jeopardizing my ten-year marriage, I wouldn’t do it with someone who lives in my apartment complex. 1. The entire neighborhood would figure it out within seconds and 2. After we broke up, we’d keep bumping into each other and it would be awkward. I hate awkward.
If I were going to have an affair, also jeopardizing our hard-earned retirement funds, I wouldn’t do it with someone who was already in a relationship. I read the news. That’s a good way to wind up on the receiving end of the hate ray of an extremely angry woman.
I’m a busy person. I have a lot to do. Drama is what I don’t need.
Not having taken that sense-erasing uppercut to the jaw, at least not yet, this is my position on affairs. The idea of a man being willing to cheat on his partner grosses me out. I wouldn’t even want to see such a man take off his shirt, pro athlete or not.
Also, the idea of a man being willing to pursue a married woman? I find that profoundly, deeply disgusting. That’s a man with a much higher tolerance for drama than I have. Just, eww.
If you can’t respect my marriage vows, then you can’t respect ME.
A man who disregards marriage vows: doesn’t listen. Doesn’t care. Doesn’t feel that rules apply to him. Puts his needs first. Does not share my values. Has nothing better to do, which is boring.
Other people can do what they want, whatever they want. Not that they need my permission. People will do what they want regardless. I’m not here to judge what other people do with their lives. When it comes to my life, though, of course I judge. I judge who I want around me. Treat them well and leave the rest to their own business.
I married my husband because I like him. I love him also, which makes things easier. Mostly, though, he’s my favorite person. I married him because he’s the most interesting person I’ve ever met, and because we’ve basically been in one long conversation for thirteen years. I’m not married, I’m super-mega-married.
This is why it’s so weird when the occasional jealous, possessive woman locks onto me and despises me. It’s nothing on my end! I got a man.
What’s sad about all this is the wasted energy on her part. 1. Nobody can ever hope to replace my husband - good luck competing with him! 2. I’d never cheat on my partner. 3. I’d never cheat with someone who was in a relationship. 4. I’d never cheat where I live or where I work out of basic common sense. 5. This particular hot neighbor isn’t my type anyway.
6. We could have been friends.
She and I could be hanging out in the hot tub every night, talking about our workouts or whatever.
They have a kid together, did I mention? He’s nice. I wouldn’t have minded offering to babysit sometimes, if we were friends. He could come over and play with our dog.
About the hot neighbor, I don’t think he’s out looking for another woman anyway. I read him as a friendly person, someone who, for professional reasons, has had to build his social skills. When he was a pro athlete, he had to work with a team and talk to the press. Now, as a trainer, he has to recruit and work with clients for his living. (So does she). It’s in his nature to chat with everyone. It’s not like you can make an extrovert stop wanting to talk to people!
Word of advice, lovely: Don’t be the least friendly person he knows. That thing he does that visibly annoys you so much, that’s the thing other people are going to like about him the best. It’s what makes him who he is.
Not trusting someone doesn’t mean they aren’t trustworthy. It certainly doesn’t mean everyone else in the world is untrustworthy. All it means is that you aren’t trusting. And that’s insulting.
Not trusting someone, thinking they’ll cheat, is exactly the kind of thing that drives people to cheat. The first person who sees them as basically honest and trustworthy, who likes them for who they are, who is willing to hear them out and take their side? That person is the solace they never knew they needed, after being suspected of a crime they didn’t commit.
If we were friends, I could tell our hot neighbor about this. I could reassure her. We could laugh about the crazy ways of love.
Two days after I wrote this, I bumped into the Hot Neighbors. I was with my husband. Suddenly Hot Neighbor Lady warmed up and actually smiled at me! The four of us had a short, friendly chat. I realized that she’s shy, and also that she didn’t realize I’m married. I like her. Maybe we’ll be friends after all.
I did something scary in the week before New Year’s. I had just bought a new bottle of 10mg melatonin tablets, it was sitting on the table next to my hotel bed, I was about to take one... and I didn’t.
It’s hard to express the dread I felt.
If you’ve ever gone through an extended period of sleeplessness, you know what I mean. Tiredness takes over your life. Sleep is the only thing you can think about. You feel like your bones are grinding together and there’s sand under your eyelids.
Add to that the impending threat of having your one lifeline taken away. Your security blanket. Your safety option.
Cue existential yawp.
Why would I voluntarily do something to myself that scared me that much?
One, I had been feeling for the past couple of months that melatonin wasn’t doing the job for me. My sleep was wrecked and it seemed to be getting worse. I was desperate and ready to “try anything.”
Two, I have a policy of experimentation around mysterious health issues and persistent problems in general. I believe that persistent problems are complex, with multiple variables, and that fixing any one thing is never enough. That’s why people always say they’ve “tried everything” - they’ve done a lot, but they haven’t necessarily done it in the right combination or for a long enough time period.
Three, I happened to stumble across a news article just as I was about to reach for my bottle. It was “What Happens If You Take Too Much Melatonin.”
I am a big believer in kismet and serendipity. Coincidences, if nothing else, are a reliable signal that the always-on [right brain] is noticing connections and finding relevance in information that the [left brain] does not. (I know there isn’t really such a thing as a “right brain” and a “left brain,” but I still find the concept useful until we come up with better terminology or a more accurate framework).
The smart version of myself would not have been scrolling through a news aggregator while lying in bed. It’s not a good way to fight insomnia. HOWEVER! Timing is everything. I read the article, rather than bookmarking it in my Sleep Project folder. It was enough to get my attention.
Ah, heck, what’s one more sleepless night?
I had been having an on again, off again problem with stomach cramps waking me up in the middle of the night. I had been feeling wired at bedtime. I had been waking up four or five times a night, often lying awake for 90 minutes straight. I was exhausted all day and not getting any relief. This had been going on for the last several months. I’d been blaming it on the off-brand 10mg melatonin tablets I’d been taking.
(If you’ve taken melatonin for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that there seems to be a big difference in quality between brands, or between the liquid versus tablet form).
Then I read this fortuitously timed article. It claimed that symptoms of excess melatonin include: hyperactivity, gastrointestinal issues, abdominal cramps, anxiety, irritability, and excessive sleepiness.
The article also mentioned that melatonin can interact with contraceptives, along with several other categories of prescription drugs that I don’t take.
I couldn’t rule it out. Excess melatonin was entirely consistent with the issues I’d been having. Maybe that wasn’t it, but I’d be a fool not to test this as an input.
Let me state for the record that this was THE VERY LAST POSSIBLE THING I would ever want to try.
This is a testing moment. It’s a crucible. Confronted with hard science and peer-reviewed research that contradicts our fundamental ideas about our physical health, it is human nature to reject the evidence and cling tighter to identity.
An example would be someone with a food intolerance to yeast, corn, garlic, or fructans who, due to lack of clinical lab testing, believes that the real issue is a sensitivity to gluten. This person might get sick from eating something that contained, say, vinegar or GF soy sauce. Instead of questioning whether the correct, accurate food sensitivities have been identified, this person will believe that someone lied and tainted their meal with gluten.
Another example is a migraineur who will explain, in painstaking detail, why caffeine can’t possibly play a role in their particular migraine problem.
Okay, if you say so!
(Says me, a person who was so fed up with four-day migraines that she emptied her cup and became receptive to uncomfortable ideas).
I’m teasing myself right now, because I spent nearly a decade relying on a supplement that probably became a major contributor to the very problem I was trying to eliminate.
What happened when I quit taking melatonin?
Well, that night I did finally manage to fall asleep. I had been struggling to sleep five hours a night. I slept about the same amount that I had been getting over the past few months. I did not have stomach cramps. I also didn’t wake up and lie awake for an hour or more in the middle of the night.
That meant I couldn’t rule out the melatonin as a contributor to my recently worsened sleep quality.
It was a rough week. My husband and I were on vacation, and I’d dearly looked forward to sleeping twelve hours a night. He did. I lay next to him for hours each night/morning, listening to him snooze peacefully, and feeling pathologically jealous. He was sleeping my sleep!
After a week without the 10mg melatonin, or any at all, I started sleeping better.
I ordered an older-model Fitbit to use as a sleep tracker. It showed up a little after that rough withdrawal/adjustment week.
Guess what? Suddenly I was sleeping nearly eight hours a night!
According to the tracker, it took me nine or ten minutes to fall asleep every night. I lost an average of seventeen minutes a night to restlessness.
I wish I’d had the foresight to know I would want a sleep tracker before I quit taking melatonin. This would have been an ideal opportunity to record some better metrics. I’m not a laboratory, though, and it wouldn’t be worth it to me to try to recreate my situation. I don’t think I could, really, because eight years is a long time to commit to messing around with your sleep.
As the month has gone on, I’ve felt subjectively like I’m sleeping more deeply and that I’m falling asleep more quickly. I also have a mystical connection with the sleep tracker, that after I buckle it on and start the app, it is hypnotically helping me fall asleep.
In the month before I finally quit melatonin, I had my first pavor nocturnus episode in four years. “Lobster-sized scorpions” were “crawling across my bed” and suddenly I found myself crouched on my living room floor, shaking and wondering why my husband was shouting my name. I woke up fully, promptly burst into tears, and started swearing because “it’s the night terrors again!”
Also in that month, I had a severe headache, the type that always used to indicate a shift into migraine.
I was willing to take what felt like drastic action because my daily life was starting to become intolerable. As much as I did not want to spend my nice vacation sleeplessly, it was happening anyway. I felt like I had nothing to lose.
Having gone through the process, a lot of things suddenly make sense. The pharmacy changed my pill prescription. I take my pill at bedtime, usually in the same swallow that I would take my nightly melatonin. It never occurred to me that taking two separate synthetic hormones at the same time might cause an interaction. (I don’t have any direct evidence that it did, but it’s a testable hypothesis that is worthy of further research). Anyone with any type of hormonal or endocrine issue might consider whether that is interacting with their sleep issues, migraines, appetite, thyroid function, weight gain or weight loss, skin condition, or maybe even hair loss. (I lost a patch of hair off my head again this year, which hadn’t happened to me since 2007).
Sleep is an area deserving of more respect and medical research. In many ways it’s a final frontier for medicine, because doctors and nurses have to go through such an heroic ordeal of chronic sleep deprivation as part of their training. Trial by fire. Just like nutrition, they’ll only respect sleep as something “real” when they’re encouraged to by their school curriculum. They’ll only respect sleep when they’re allowed to get some for themselves!
For the rest of us, nothing is stopping us from tracking our own metrics and testing our own ideas about sleep, activity, food intake, or anything else where we wish we felt better.
There are two types of procrastination:
Either way, procrastination is default mode. Not doing something is the natural state of affairs. It’s taking action that is unusual, getting the thing done that takes planning and effort. That’s why we shouldn’t let it get to us. It’s normal and everyone does it.
The thing is, default is not the same as stasis, or maintenance. Not doing something is not a valid way of keeping everything the same. The universe doesn’t work like that. Entropy is coming for us, and coming for us, and coming for us, and coming for us. Ignoring and avoiding something means that, as time goes by, the situation is getting worse.
That suspicious container in the fridge? It’s going to be oh-so-much scarier a week from now.
That nagging issue, that medical thing, the “you should probably get that looked at” thing? Possibly it’s going away on its own. But do we really want to gamble on that?
That laundry pile. Laundry is like the ocean - never turn your back on it.
That credit card balance. Fines, fees, finance charges, extra swipes, duplicate charges we could have noticed but didn’t, because we were afraid to check. If anything in this world builds up on us, it’s debt.
We often feel like we’re procrastinating about things that aren’t actually tasks. We’re not always necessarily responsible for everything. Not everything counts. When I work with chronically disorganized people, we often assign equal valence to everything. A list of movies to watch feels like it’s of equal importance to an email backlog and a stack of unsorted, unpaid bills. False! We have to build our skills of discernment and rational thought. We have to assess whether a particular job is important and whether it’s urgent. The lists of books to read and podcasts to check out, those are entertainments and rewards to keep us company while we take care of business.
For most things, it genuinely doesn’t matter if they never get done at all.
Craft projects, for instance.
Guess what else? You don’t have to clean anything. There are people in this world who don’t own any kitchen implements. They use their kitchens to store books, or leave them empty. Never a dish to wash. Shower at the gym every day and you may never need to clean your bathroom again. I knew a guy in my dorm building in college who slept on a bare mattress. Uncomfortable, in my opinion, but then I didn’t sleep in that bed. Not my problem. Your problems stem directly from your standards for yourself. Drop the standard, drop the task.
I’m going further. We don’t have to fold laundry. For most people, for most clothes, it doesn’t matter at all. The only reasons to fold things are 1. So they don’t get wrinkly and 2. So they’ll fit better in the drawers. If you hang everything up on hangers, boom! No folding! If you get rid of 80% of your heaps of clothes, boom! Enough space to just toss things in! I learned about the “no folding” method from my stepdaughter. She took her socks, t-shirts, pajamas, et cetera and simply tossed them in her drawers. I was so astonished when I found out that I just sat on the floor for a while with my jaw hanging open.
We don’t have to cook, we don’t have to clean, we don’t have to fold clothes. Heck, come to think of it, we don’t even have to WEAR clothes! That’s basically a “remain gainfully employed” and/or “avoid indecent exposure charges” kind of a question.
One thing I know is that if we don’t open the mail, we’ll get more. Not paying a bill on time may wind up costing more, it may damage your credit for several years, but it’s not really a permanent problem to avoid opening the mail. Stuff it all in sacks and shred it or burn it, and the important stuff will soon show up again in a different-colored envelope.
Same thing with any truly important phone call or email. Ignore it and the sender will try again, working harder to get our attention.
I’m sort of joking here. Personally, I’ll do almost anything to avoid getting extra mail or phone calls. I like to head that stuff off in advance. I love sleeping on crisp clean sheets as much as I loathe stacks of dirty dishes, drifts of unopened mail, and piles of smelly old laundry. The pleasures of doing a few small routine tasks everyday are many. This message is really for the rebels.
A secret root cause of procrastination is the simple desire for autonomy. I DO WHAT I WANT! NOBODY TELLS ME! I DON’T HAVE TO!
Right, of course! Of course you do what you want! Of course you don’t have to do anything! You can strip naked and go lie out in the road right now if you like. My dad always told me that I could do anything I want, as long as I’m prepared to accept the consequences, and it would be better if I knew what the consequences were in advance. For instance, cheat on your taxes, get audited. Don’t pay your bills, get collection notices and have bad credit. Be bad at your job, get laid off. We do, though, always have complete power and control over whether we choose to act in positive or negative ways.
Procrastination is default. It puts us among the majority. Through procrastination we become mediocre, or less than mediocre. We become predictable, boring, uninteresting. The drama that is created through chronic procrastination and disorganization is not beautiful or fascinating drama, it’s just traditional, ordinary, tawdry old regular drama.
What we really could be asking ourselves is, if not this, then what? If we were relieved of this responsibility, if this task was removed from our balance sheet, what would we then be doing? If we were free of these duties, where would we be putting our energy? What could we be doing that is better than the default?
Almost nobody is making it financially. The trouble is, you only see it in the statistics, because people would rather show you their embarrassing skin rash than admit that they’re struggling. They’d rather say how much they weigh than how big their debt is. This makes it hard to figure out what to do. Where are the positive examples? We trade tips on clipping coupons or cutting minor expenses. That type of small-time frugality is like bailing out a leaky boat.
Better to go back to shore and repair the boat, right?
Or maybe get a different boat. Maybe a smaller boat, just for a while.
Sometimes the radical approach is the easiest, best, and fastest. The reason it’s the radical approach instead of the obvious approach is that a radical approach always sounds like madness to the majority. Average people are comfortable doing average things and getting average results. That’s fine when all you want is, say, an average pizza or an average night at the movies. It’s a disaster when the average isn’t really working for anybody.
It’s also a disaster when the negative effects don’t really start showing up for thirty years. Like sun-damaged skin, a crack in a building’s foundation, or heart disease. Or a failure to plan for retirement.
There are so, so many reasons why people would rather stay in a terrible situation than make a change. Sunk cost fallacy. Lack of better ideas. Pushback and naysaying from other people. Disbelief in the consequences, just thinking, “Everything is fine, that will never happen to me.” Annoyance with the preachy, holier-than-thou know-it-all who is suggesting a certain course of action.
Quit smoking, wear sunscreen, save money, lose weight, blah blah blah. Buzz off.
This is why I don’t care anymore about stating my clear opinion and outing myself as a contrarian. People will either listen or they won’t. It’s not my business whether people agree with me or not. It’s not my responsibility if other people would rather do things their own way. I owe it to those who are looking for a better (or at least different) way to share my perspective.
My perspective on frugality is that it’s a sad waste of time to nitpick over pennies when the real issue is tens of thousands of dollars.
Clip coupons rather than move somewhere less expensive. Shop at thrift stores rather than push for a better-paying job. Pack your lunch rather than analyze your finances and run up a balance sheet.
(I do shop at thrift stores and make my own lunch, due to preference, without letting that distract me from higher-impact strategic choices).
It’s good for your basic self-esteem to be able to say, “I’m doing so much better than I was.” That’s self-compassion and it’s vital to any lifestyle upgrade project, whether that’s prioritizing sleep, making physical space to do your art, or releasing debt.
It’s also a guaranteed way to continue to have a perpetual problem.
Personally, I don’t want an A+ grade for tolerating an intolerable situation. I don’t want high marks for working hard. I want to FIX IT and make the bad problem go away entirely.
I don’t want to learn to patiently accept myself for where I am. I want to go somewhere else!
If I spend 101% of my income, I’ll go into debt and that debt will grow.
If I start paying attention and being careful, and I cut back so that I’m only spending 90% of my income, it still might not be enough to pay off the debt I already have. I may feel deprived and vigilant and stressed out, while continuing to fall deeper into debt. That’s how the debt machine works. It takes everything you have at a faster and faster rate. The machine puts numbers over human lives. It’s like an evil robot and it doesn’t care about you or how hard you work.
There are two things about debt. 1. Understand where it came from and 2. Get rid of it as quickly as possible, by any means necessary, before it eats you alive like a cranky crocodile with a bad tooth.
We’re back to my “leaky boat” analogy. If you’re bailing water out of a leaky little boat, and a cranky crocodile comes along, well, you’re hosed.
Debt is closely related to scarcity mindset. In scarcity mindset, everything feels hopeless. Nothing ever feels like enough. Deprivation, deprivation, deprivation. The focus is on how hard things are, how the struggle will never end, how I feel powerless, and how I need little treats to keep going.
Abundance mindset is about gratitude, how even when things are rough, they could certainly be worse. Abundance is about noticing every single last thing that’s going right and enjoying the little things. There is plenty and there will always be plenty more: Friends, hugs, laughter, strategic planning, music, nature and its solace, talent, creativity, love, learning experiences, and infinite second chances.
It’s abundance mentality that allows two people to live in a tiny studio apartment and not own a car, while feeling comparatively wealthy and powerful and still having a good time. That’s my husband and me, saving 40% of our income and laughing about it. Eating lentil soup, proudly, because wow, that was a great soup! Knowing we have the power and ability to move and expand our baseline luxuries, while also knowing that we could be doing that, feeling dissatisfied and jaded, and losing all our financial leverage.
Strategic thinking and abundance mindset are what can allow someone to start over with nothing, and quickly bounce back. Scarcity mindset is what causes wealthy celebrities to squander multi-million dollar fortunes and wind up divorced, addicted, and trapped in lengthy legal battles. Try to guess which celebrity, because that story is a familiar pattern and it’s applied to dozens of people over the last century.
If vast wealth isn’t enough for them, who’s to say it would be enough for anyone else?
Don’t scrimp and save. Don’t count pennies or clip coupons. Figure out what major, drastic changes you can make to get rid of your debts as quickly as possible. Get it over with. Let your burning determination push you through. Make an epic story about it. Just please don’t hunch over with a little paper cup, trying to bail the sea out of a rowboat. If you have to, abandon ship and swim for shore.
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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