A couple of my girlfriends invited me out dancing. I don’t always take up invitations like this, but this time, I seized on the chance. They were only in town for the weekend, so why not make the most of it? I forced myself to dress up and at least try to have fun. Only an hour or so later, I cracked.
“You guys, I have to tell you something.”
“You can tell us anything. What is it?”
“My husband asked for a divorce, but he doesn’t want us to tell anyone until after the holidays.”
“Oh, we were wondering when that would happen.”
“We never liked him. We always thought you were awesome, and we were waiting for you guys to break up so we didn’t have to hang out with him.”
That was how it began. The news got out. One after another, my girlfriends told me that my soon-to-be ex had made blatant passes at them. They were creeped out by this, because who wants to get involved with someone who is in the middle of a divorce? At least wait a couple of days! Much less when it’s a former partner of someone you know well. They all exchanged gossip with one another, and knew that he was more or less approaching everyone. So that’s flattering.
Divorce fallout is one of the few times when people really get to speak their minds about someone’s flaws, and we love that. What could possibly be more fun than picking someone apart when he acts badly? I recall a few of the things I was told he said about me, and I shudder. Rather than feeling justified in my own gossip fests, I feel gross, wishing neither of us had indulged in that kind of retaliation. I wish it more now. I don’t blame him so much as I blame myself for ignoring my inner voice and talking myself into being with him. I blame myself for rushing to get involved. I blame myself for not introducing him around and getting private feedback before we moved in together. There were probably hundreds of thousands of men I could have chosen who would have been equally bad choices for me; it wasn’t particularly his fault. He could have been anyone. I wasn’t at a stage when I knew how to be more discerning.
After the divorce, I heard a lot from a lot of people. They shared so many stories of incidents and conversations with my ex that made them not like him. I got similar feedback from people who didn’t know one another. The consensus about the man I had married was pretty consistent. He was rude. He was unpleasant. Nobody could figure out what I saw in him. We didn’t seem like a good match. This was all comforting, because I was starting to come out from under the spell in which our breakup was entirely my fault. It raised uncomfortable questions, though.
Why hadn’t anyone said anything sooner?
There were three answers to that.
First, nobody says anything. It’s not even an unwritten rule, it’s just A RULE. It comes up in etiquette books all the time. If you say anything negative about your friend’s date, even after they break up, they will inevitably get back together, and then neither of them will want to be friends with you anymore. Most people don’t want to believe unpleasant stories, such as that their partner made a pass at someone, cheated at any point in the past or present, abused someone, or has a criminal record. It’s hard to believe that this is true, but the same pattern comes up in families when a child reports abuse and the family blames the child for “lying.” We fall under the spell of charming, manipulative people. Even when they aren’t so charming, it doesn’t take much to start believing the negative things someone says about us. We get isolated from our friends and family, and suddenly this mean person has us all to himself. He says it’s us against the world, and I don’t notice that it’s actually him against me.
Second, as a wise person told me a few years later, I wasn’t ready to hear the truth. If anyone had said anything, I wouldn’t have believed it. She had known me most of my life, and I had to concede that she was right. I thought I was in love, and anyone who questioned that was thereby questioning my taste and my judgment. My autonomy was at stake. (It was at stake either way, but I didn’t realize it, as we rarely do when we trade the illusion of autonomy for reinforcement of our stubbornness).
Third, someone did say something. We had already moved in together, though; I moved too fast. I was 22 and I thought I knew what I was doing. My mom called me after my ex came over to meet my family for the first time. She said she had talked to my sister-in-law after we left, and she said, “He seems angry and violent to me.” They both agreed that he seemed a bit grim and dark. THIS MADE ME SO ANGRY. “HOW can you say such a thing? He would never hit me or be violent to me!” He never did hit me, that’s true, but in the last week or so of our marriage, he did truly frighten me to the point that I left the house. That was three years after my SIL spoke up. Maybe if she’d pulled me aside and looked in my eyes, I would have taken in what she said. She understood a few things about darkness. For whatever reason, as a 22-year-old, I couldn’t hear it through my mother as intermediary. I have total trust in my (former) SIL now, and I would always listen to anything she has to say. In fact, I try much harder to listen to anything that anyone has to say, because usually, they only say it once.
I have a pretty good track record for going to weddings and guessing which marriages will last. There have been a couple of times when I got a wedding invitation in the mail and slapped my forehead. Under no circumstances would I ever breathe a word about my opinions. A bad marriage is a young person’s mistake. I don’t even like telling my young ladies when I like the guy they’re seeing, because the rubber stamp of approval from an older mentor is usually the kiss of death for the relationship. They don’t know yet how to spot the red and green flags. I like him for you. He listens so carefully when you talk. He laughs at your jokes. He absolutely lights up when he sees you entering the room. The compliments he chooses when he talks about you tell me that he sees you, he sees you the way your friends see you. He’s at a 10 out of 10 in liking you and enjoying your company. If you like him, go for it!
What an older person knows, that a younger person doesn’t, is how rare or common certain attitudes are. So few people radiate fascination, joy, or enthusiasm. When we’re lucky enough to meet such people in our youth, we can get the idea that maybe this is the baseline. If we keep looking, we’re sure to find someone just a bit better. The total package plus a little bit extra. An older person’s mistake is to cling to this illusion of The One That Got Away, thinking it was this one special person, rather than that it didn’t work out with that person due to our own attitudes and behaviors. When we are ready to reciprocate at the level of the special person from the past, we start to realize that there are other people available at that level. We just weren’t meeting them as often, and we weren’t mature enough to keep them content.
The first thing we have to eliminate is the tendency to stay involved in lackluster, dissatisfying, disappointing, or frustrating relationships. On a scale of 1 to 5, if it isn’t at least a 4, get out. Don’t do anyone any favors. Staying in a 3 or less is also trapping your partner in something that will never be enough for either of you.
Let me tell you why I don’t like your boyfriend.
He’s a naysayer. Anything you want to do, he finds a way to shoot it down. He’s never excited for you. He doesn’t celebrate your wins. He talked you out of going on your dream trip because it’s not his dream trip. He talked you out of getting that scooter you wanted. He talked you out of getting that tattoo. As far as we can tell, he doesn’t like your taste in anything or approve of any of your plans. If it wasn’t his idea, he doesn’t want to do it.
He doesn’t want to hang out with your friends. He’s rude, and not just to me. He’s snarky. He makes disparaging “jokes” about you.
He’s lazy. He never wants to go anywhere. He doesn’t follow through. He lets you down. He doesn’t do his share. He takes advantage of you and takes you for granted. He keeps making big promises that he never carries out.
What do you even see in him? He’s not nice to you, he doesn’t make you laugh, he’s never done any kind of extravagant romantic gesture that I ever heard about. Even if he was rich and good-looking, which he’s not, it wouldn’t be worth it. Since you got together, your smile has dimmed. You’re not your vibrant, lovely self anymore. He’s washing you out.
He hasn’t kept up with you. You saw his potential when you got together. Maybe the rest of us didn’t, but we gave you the benefit of the doubt and figured you knew something we didn’t. Maybe he’s different when the two of you are alone together. We shrug him off when we think about you. Years have gone by, though. Take another look at him. If you didn’t know him and he asked you out today, you wouldn’t even have a cup of coffee with him. You’re totally out of his league. You deserve someone magnificent, and this guy you have hanging around is not magnificent.
When my ex asked for the divorce, I was devastated. I cried myself sick. I let him spend hours telling me all the things he didn’t like about me. I tried to convince him to go to couples counseling, to give me another chance. At 24, I thought I was too old and too messed up for anyone to ever love me again. I hated sleeping alone. I was scared. I felt that I had no purpose in my life. I didn’t know who I was without my marriage. BUT. I got used to being single. I pulled my socks up and went back to school. I learned to enjoy going to movies and restaurants alone. When I met my current husband, six years later, I had my degree and my driver’s license. By the time we started dating, I had lost most of my extra weight and paid off my consumer debt. I proved to myself that I didn’t “need” anyone, especially the ex who wasn’t on my side anyway. Objectively, there is no way my ex could even begin to compare to my husband, whom I never would have met if I hadn’t gotten that divorce.
Instead of being with someone who makes jokes at your expense, be with someone who tells stories that make you look good. Instead of being with someone who abdicates chores, be with someone who does his share plus a little extra sometimes. Instead of being with someone who “puts up with you,” be with someone who admires you and thinks you’re funny and interesting. Be with someone who thinks you’re as sweet and cute and smart as your friends do. Instead of being with someone and having to make excuses for him, be alone. It should be obvious to anyone why you like him. Be with someone who likes you for who you are, who makes you smile, who surprises you in pleasant ways. Be with someone who encourages you and cheers you on. Be with someone who maybe makes us a little jealous that you found him first.
Cake is pretty. It’s so pretty that we use it as a decorative icon. Cakes on potholders. Cakes on aprons. Cakes on tea towels. You can buy ceramic cakes, paintings of cakes, cards with pictures of cakes, socks with cake patterns, cakes shaped like socks, and more. You can eat a hat-shaped cake while wearing a cake-shaped hat. I’d think twice before visiting a cake-shaped house, though, especially if your name is either Hansel or Gretel. Cake is a symbol of birthdays, weddings, anniversary parties. Is it a real celebration without cake?
No, seriously. Do we have to eat cake to know we’re having a good time?
I used to order the birthday cakes every month at a large office. There were over 70 employees, so I would get two sheet cakes in different flavors. (Chocolate with chocolate frosting, and “other.”) Three things would happen every month without fail. 1. Some of the half-dozen diabetics would complain that they couldn’t eat the cake, I would offer to buy them beef jerky or whatever else they might like, and they would never offer an alternative. 2. Several people would complain about the two flavors on offer, either due to the cake, the filling, or the frosting. Either they didn’t like the flavor or it wasn’t as good as the flavor they did like. I changed the flavor every month, meaning the winners and the complainers shifted each time. 3. A number of people would take cake and either scrape off the frosting or throw half of it away. It turns out that CAKE is not magic. The specifics don’t always live up to the ideal.
One thing I can tell you about being vegan is that the cake is almost always a lie. Gluten-free people are probably nodding in sympathy. Almost every vegan cake option is chocolate, and almost every vegan cake slice at a bakery or restaurant is stale. I don’t care for chocolate, so I will generally skip the dessert if that’s the only thing on offer. Stale cake looks just as pretty as fresh cake. It’s so promising, so stately and elegant, yet whimsical. The anticipation! The excitement! The… reality.
There’s a restaurant I love across the street from my favorite thrift store. They have a large bakery case. I don’t keep baked goods at home, out of consideration for my husband, so my solo trips to this place are a rare opportunity to indulge. There are usually three or four flavors of cake on offer. You can buy a whole cake, a single slice, or a large cupcake. The cupcake is about right: about 110% of the quantity I want. The full slice is more like double. Every time I go in there, I think, okay, don’t be stupid, get the cupcake. The nice, sensible, pretty little cupcake. Then the waitress comes to the table and my mouth opens and SLICE comes out. Like I’m a ventriloquist’s dummy and some secret organ is pulling my strings. It’s probably wedged up in there next to my pancreas. The cakenium. The cakenium is all “FORGET THE CUPCAKES. GEEEVE MEEEEE CAAAAAAAAKE!” The cake arrives. It weighs five pounds and it could double as a skateboard ramp. Oh, no. It’s even bigger than I remembered. I’ve just eaten a “Philly cheesesteak” and curly fries. I couldn’t possibly.
There has never been an occasion when I didn’t finish an entire slice of cake. Even when it wasn’t very good. Even when it was stale. Even when it was a flavor I didn’t really like to begin with. I mean, it’s cake. Come on. Not only am I going to eat it, I’m going to take my fork and expertly scrape off every molecule of frosting. Masons building Versailles were never so careful with their mortar as I am with that frosting. My own dog wouldn’t leave a plate this clean, and we call him Spike and Span.
I’ve eaten the cake. Now I proceed to feel slightly ill for the next 8 hours. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that my fancy lunch was nearly triple the calories of what I normally eat? Or was it the sugar? Or the grease? Or the almost total lack of fiber, vegetables, or micronutrients? I remind myself why I don’t eat like this every day – it looks great, smells great, tastes great, but feels terrible.
The memory we form of certain images is a snapshot. It’s a moment in time. We will often form lasting memories about a particular food if we’ve suffered food poisoning; my dad hasn’t eaten salami since the Carter administration. We won’t always form memories of lesser annoyances. The frosting so sweet it makes my teeth burn. The blood sugar roller coaster that gives me a headache several hours later. The tight waistband that leaves big red welts. The bloated, near-comatose feeling. A lot of that stuff we do to ourselves every day. What, I’m supposed to think my tight waistband is a thing? That’s like worrying about shoulder tension or sleep deprivation.
The thing about desserts is that we’re genetically programmed to want them under almost every circumstance. One reason is sensory-specific satiety. Let’s say I’m eating mashed potatoes. YUM. My husband made me mashed potatoes as part of his ploy to get me to go out with him, and I must say that it was a contributing factor. There’s a limit, though. After a certain number of gallons of mashed potatoes, I’m going to be kinda done. I can have them again on a different day, but that’s plenty for now. OHO! But THEN someone brings out the dessert. Suddenly my feeble brain has completely forgotten about all those mashed potatoes. The novelty and the sheer sex appeal of that dessert has triggered my brain like a slot machine in a casino. DING DING DING! Did someone say PIE? I’ve seen this happen so many times at my own dinner parties that I had to quit enabling it: no matter how many different dessert options there are, no matter how big a meal everyone just ate, almost everyone will want at least a taste of every single treat that’s there.
Food FoMO. I may have just eaten 1200 calories, but there’s no way I’m missing out on any of these two flavors of cake, four flavors of pie, four flavors of ice cream, two kinds of cookies, or the multi-layer trifle. Life is short! We might die tomorrow! I might never see a dessert again!
I can’t deprive myself.
That’s the trouble. When we think CAKE is really the best thing in life. Is it? I mean, IS IT? Oh, I hope that’s not true. The idea that eating cake might be the highlight of someone’s life is the saddest thing I can think of. In this beautiful world full of riches, all we really want is... cake?
I fell out of love with cake for many reasons. I started to realize that eating large quantities of sugar, fat, and processed flour always left me feeling cruddy afterward. The pleasure only lasted as long as the flavor on my tongue. I started thinking ‘cake = migraine’ and ‘cake = sugar crash’ and ‘cake = night terrors.’ As I started eating healthier, sweets just stopped tasting as good. Food cravings can come from micronutrient deficiency, dehydration, sleep deprivation, boredom, or desire for temporary mood repair. Food cravings almost always seem to be for foods we shouldn’t be eating in the first place. There is nothing in cake or curly fries or potato chips or soda that is going to contribute to anything positive for the body.
I never ate the birthday cake at those office parties, even though I was the one ordering it, because it didn’t meet my criteria for Being a Food. I eat a plant-based diet. I’ve been doing it my entire adult life, so for me it’s simple and straightforward. People noticed, and people said stuff. “Are you anorexic?” someone asked, at a time when I was still obese and in my largest clothing size. It’s the same with alcohol. People who like to indulge want everyone present to indulge with them. Not doing so seems to come across as a criticism. I don’t drink booze because all it does is give me the spins and make my mouth taste terrible. I just don’t like it. I acknowledge that most people are getting something out of it that doesn’t work for me, just like coffee. Why would someone else care whether I drank their beers, drank their coffee, or ate their cake? More for you, right? Peer pressure doesn’t particularly work on me. Yeah, I’ll do karaoke, go skinny dipping, or get on the mechanical bull. No, I won’t eat or drink anything unless I want it. This is why I don’t rely on willpower to avoid eating things. 1. Willpower is a fairy tale. 2. I tell myself a story that works on ordinary days and on special occasions. If I Eat That, I Will Regret It. It’s Not Worth It.
I eat cake. I eat it sometimes. I don’t eat it every time I see it or every time it’s available, even if it does happen to be “a food” according to my criteria. That’s because I know I can get or bake cake any time I want. There is no scarcity here. I could get up at 3:00 AM and bake a cake if I wanted. I could freeze an entire sheet cake and microwave one slice at a time if I had a “cake emergency.” After 19 years, I’m used to the fact that the majority of social occasions involving cake do not include one that is suitable for my diet. I’m at a party because I want to contribute to the celebration. We do that with laughter, music, hugs, joy at someone’s happy occasion, decorations, gifts, and maybe dancing. Other people can eat cake in front of me without me feeling left out, excluded, or rejected. When I ate ordinary cake, the occasions might come up several times each week. Office birthday parties and retirement parties, birthday parties for family and friends, weddings, baby showers, dinner parties, restaurants with an enticing dessert menu, buffets, barbecues… I probably ate cake 20x more often than I do now. That doesn’t even touch on all the cookies, muffins, cupcakes, ice cream, candy bowls, pie, brownies, or whatever else. That’s why I haven’t had a migraine in two years, and it’s also why I’m at my goal weight instead of obese. Another way of saying it is that eating 20 times the right amount of cake was part of why I used to be fat and get headaches all the time.
I can’t deprive myself. I can’t deprive myself of being headache-free. I can’t deprive myself of being strong and energetic. I can’t deprive myself of the ability to stay in one consistent clothing size year-round. I don’t feel deprived anyway. Why would I? I have love in my life, friendship, music, artistic expression, flowers, pets, my favorite colors, the solace of books, anticipation, optimism, hope for the future, and so many other things. Maybe I’ll get around to eating cake again sometime soon. Maybe not. I had some dairy-free cheesecake in February, and a slice of carrot cake back in November. I’m sure there will be more cake in my life at some point, just like I’m sure I’ll see fireworks. I don’t need fireworks at every party to feel like I really celebrated, and I don’t need them to feel like every day is special or full of potential in some way. Cake can’t replace feelings of joy, celebration, friendship, social connection, or fun. That’s what makes it a lie.
Airports are some of the best places to observe all the different ways that people handle crunch times and stress points. Every emotion will be exhibited, from excited laughter to cries of reunion to full-blown temper tantrums. Every mode, from utter boredom to casual routine to scattered panic, will appear somewhere. Airports are really where the benefits of minimalism, time management, and organization pay off.
I like to sit with my husband and people-watch. My outlook changed after I sprained my back and dislocated my hip and one rib around 20 years ago. I went to an osteopath and a chiropractor. I started becoming aware of the posture and gait of everyone I saw. Suddenly it was like cartoon arrows appeared in the air above people’s bodies, pointing directly to the places where they carried the most tension and pain. Weariness, limps, uneven shoulders, shifting from foot to foot, pinched expressions, all spoke to me. It wasn’t difficult to see the way that different weights of bags or styles of footwear contributed to these coping mechanisms. If there is one place where people carry heavy bags while wearing uncomfortable shoes, the airport is that place. Why do we do this to ourselves? Of all the challenges to take on in life, why choose neck or back pain?
We don’t choose it, of course. We usually don’t make all the connections we could be making between our behaviors and our results. What we’re doing when we drag huge heavy bags around is simply trying to bring what we think we need. We don’t just do it when we travel; we do it every day, or at least some of us do. Women are trained to carry purses (and groceries, and diaper bags, and gym bags, and…) Many men carry laptop bags, backpacks, or toolboxes. One man in my acquaintance was carrying around all his important daily items in a paper lunch sack, rather than risk looking effeminate, although I would venture that a man with a beard can probably carry something with hot pink sequins and still be identifiable as a male human. (And if he can’t, who cares? Do what you want, that’s what I say). We spend so much time hunched over our desks and steering wheels, huddled over our electronics, and pinning our tiny flat phones to our shoulders, that it’s tragic when we drag heavy straps around on our shoulders, too. We just stop noticing. We don’t notice how we’re sitting or standing, and we stop noticing what-all we’re carrying.
What’s in my laptop bag today? My laptop, my phone, my Bluetooth earpiece, a spare pair of earbuds in a candy tin, sunglasses, my wallet, a nylon shopping bag, a packet of tissues, a wet wipe, four keys and a whistle, two pads of sticky notes in different sizes and colors, a screen wiper, a packet of brown sugar (oh lord), a backup battery, a connector cable, a penny, a thumb drive, a hair tie, an empty zip-lock baggie, an eraser, two different kinds of paperclip, spot remover, a mechanical pencil, a container of extra leads, three ink pens, a highlighter pen, two business cards, five postage stamps, receipts for sushi and Thai food, a gift card, two lip balms, a tube of hand lotion, a packet of blank index cards shuffled with some writing notes, my Toastmasters books, two bookmarks, a wadded paper napkin, and two separate doodads for holding books open. Oh, and this loose film from the index cards. Ye gads, what a mess. This is why I work out: so I can walk around town dragging my own mini garbage dump. Hawt.
There’s a trick to it, though. I never go anywhere alone unless I can run up a flight of stairs with what I’m carrying and the shoes I have on. I’ve been physically attacked on the street more than once. Being able to flee to safety was… well, it was the kind of reinforcement that will give a permanent habit to anyone. In my experience, screaming and running away are highly effective ways to end a confrontation. Yeah, I carry a lot of junk that I don’t necessarily need on a daily basis. It’s contained, though. When I’m navigating around town, I keep my head up and my eyes scanning around. If it’s dark, I watch my shadow in the streetlights. I. NEVER. MESS. WITH. MY. STUFF. That thing they tell you, about carrying your keys in your hand to use as a weapon? That’s not why we carry our keys. We carry our keys so we’re ready to get inside. We need to open and shut our car doors or front doors as efficiently as possible. Walk up to door, unlock door, open door, go through door, lock door behind you. Click, click, click, click. We can’t afford to have our eyes down while we rummage in our bags. Having hands free can be a matter of life or death.
One night I dropped my keys down an elevator shaft. My phone was locked in my car. That was a rough few hours! Ever since then, I’ve been hyper-aware of where my keys are. I’ve also smashed my phone screen at least six times now, including once when a bicyclist crashed into me and rode off as fast as he could go, looking over his shoulder at me. Anything we habitually carry in our hands IS going to get dropped, smashed, splashed, lost, grabbed, or otherwise impacted by entropy. Look around one day and notice how many people are encumbered by, oh, here’s one: a woman holding her purse, an iced coffee, and a shopping bag, while clenching a wrapped straw between her teeth. We’re juggling sunglasses, keys, drinks, and bags, while texting at the same time. We’re constantly one second away from a spill, an etiquette incident, and a wardrobe malfunction.
Back to the security line at the airport. Part of why those lines are so long is that so few of us are well organized. I like to point out the most obviously experienced travelers, as they lope confidently along, carrying one slack tote bag or deflated backpack. See the flight attendants and pilots as they bustle along at a 3 MPH pace, towing their sleek small wheelie bags. Watch the rest of us, dragging the overstuffed suitcases we had to sit on to zip closed. We’re trying to walk while hunched sideways, the weight of the world on one shoulder, rolling a juggernaut on the other side, dragging our jackets and sweaters unnoticed along the carpet. The time I flew to New Zealand, I had to walk up to my suitcase where it was circling alone on the conveyor belt, with a missing handle, half a bra hanging out, and a bumper sticker on the side reading ‘OVERWEIGHT.’ Yep, that’s me, the girl with the loser luggage. I had to kick it down the concourse until I could find a cart, because it was too big and heavy for me to lift. I had practice from doing the same at LAX, because the missing handle was my own fault. I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you.
I’m a one-bag traveler now. I carry less luggage than my husband, who is twice my size and whose shoes are, too. I’m the one who zips through the pre-check line. I skip the escalators and trot up the stairs, alone, because those stairs are always empty, with my trusty under-seat bag in one hand. What do I need, really? What can I truly not live without during those vanishing moments when I’m away from home? What can I really not substitute, borrow, or buy at my destination? I’ve learned to quit worrying so much about my STUFF and keep my hands free, ready to grapple with whatever life brings me.
The ‘adjacent possible’ is a theory originally put forward by Stuart Kauffman about how biological systems gradually morph into more complex systems. Obviously, it has the potential for universal application. Organisms move from chaos toward order, toward organization and complexity. That includes us.
I got a bike for my seventh birthday. It had pink and white streamers shooting from the handlebars. It had a big pink banana seat. It was immaculate, largely because I wasn’t quite big enough to ride it yet. I would have my dad carry it downstairs to the parking lot, where I would stand on the curb and mount my steel steed. I would gingerly reach down with one leg and teeter on my tippy toes. If I was very careful, I could balance there. Months went by, my skeleton grew, my legs got longer, and suddenly I was big enough to RIDE! My mom held onto the seat, and off I went. Eventually, I outgrew the pink bike, and it went to the four younger daughters of a family friend. What began as ‘no bike’ and a group of tiny girls expanded into a circle of possibility that ended with five bicycling females. At least one of those tiny girls could never get enough asphalt, and she became a marathon runner.
Wherever we stand, there are roads raying out in every direction. Every intersection leads to another, as I learned the day I tried to drive from Santa Rosa to San Jose and wound up in Hollister. Sometimes the adjacent possible is appealing, and we quickly expand into it. Maybe we’re introduced to a new cuisine and each new dish is tastier than the last. Other times, the adjacent possible is more of a cautionary tale, and we want to move away from it. Maybe what’s closest to our current square on the game board is something like divorce or bankruptcy or rehab or surgery. Often, we can’t see anything adjacent to our position that seems desirable at all. We can imagine possibilities that intrigue us, but we have no idea how to jump to them.
The adjacent possible is a party balloon. It starts out floppy and flat, one among many in a dime-store bag. As the balloon is inflated, it expands, and then the party can really start. I’ve always done my best to fill my personal balloon with as much hot air as possible. (Little joke for you there).
The idea is to always be moving into new territory, expanding what’s possible. Any time we learn a new skill, it expands our abilities. Any time we make a new friend, that’s a chance to learn how another person sees the world. It’s also a chance to meet that person’s friends. Every time we cast aside negative old beliefs, it creates an opportunity to experience different attitudes and outlooks. Every time we resolve persistent old problems, we free up the energy we need to explore and open ourselves to whatever we’ve been missing in the world.
It’s funny how often we see the adjacent possible and refuse to jump into it. I have had the identical conversation with several different people who complain that they have all the qualifications for a particular job, except for a college degree. Usually, they have a certain number of credit-hours already. In many cases, they’re only one term away, and they could have that degree in just a few months. It sounds like it would quickly pay for itself; what’s the holdup? It seems that resentment and aggrieved entitlement have a tendency to sour us, making what should be the obvious next step into some kind of unfair capitulation. Another way to look at it is that getting a degree teleports us into a different spot on the game board, where we can access a sector of adjacent possibility that isn’t available from our old square.
Games have rules. If you want to be a pilot, you have to meet certain requirements and follow certain regulations. If you want to succeed in roller derby, you have to show up and wear certain equipment. If you want to do so much as bake a batch of cookies, you have to turn on the oven and mix a particular ratio of ingredients. Learning and understanding the rules is like having the secret password of the door into the adjacent possible. You may have all the charm and intelligence and raw talent, you may have been born for this enterprise, but if you don’t follow the rules and work the steps, you won’t get through. This is why we often feel that other people have unfair advantages or don’t deserve their success: they showed up and did the steps, even though they may have lacked other important qualities.
The only reason to worry about what other people are doing is to figure out how they did what they did. Otherwise, our only jobs are to wish them well and leave them in peace. We don’t usually know what other people’s lives looked like before this moment, or what their inner lives are like. We hate it when other people judge us. The only way to stop this vicious cycle is for each of us to start judging ourselves instead. We have to try to live the values we wish others would, to drive the way we wish others would drive, to greet others with the gaze we want them to direct our way.
Smile or frown; the adjacent possible will be completely different depending on which you pick in any moment. Whether we speak multiple languages, learn to dance or sing or play an instrument, has the potential to open entire new worlds. I had a guitar I couldn’t play in my college dorm, and it always surprised me how many of my guests both could and would play it. It showed me a new side to my friends. Imagine the adjacent possibilities that might have come into being if I had learned to play it myself, or asked one of my friends to teach me. I couldn’t play guitar, but I could ballroom dance. I taught the merengue to a musician friend one night. I later heard that his screwball antics on the dance floor caught the eye of his future bride. He was a “yes” person, open to the adjacent possible, and one “yes” led to another.
The adjacent possible isn’t restricted. We can bring others with us. Every time we make a positive choice, it widens the door. Someone is always watching. Whether we poison the atmosphere with pessimism, criticism, contempt, and insults, whether we always quit and call ourselves names, we’re making a difference. We’re role models whether we stay home and give in to our perceived limitations or whether we dedicate ourselves to a thousand fumbling attempts. Those who learn from our example may surpass us. They may point to us as role models, we may blush to hear it, but we can’t argue with it. Inspiration comes from surprising places.
From the time I could first walk, I always wanted to expand my geographical territory. The adjacent possible was, for me, a matter mostly of sidewalk squares and crosswalks. Others may find that their natural path is one of hugs, handshakes, and inviting smiles, as they seek to meet new friends and learn more names. Others are going to look to books, tools, or art supplies. What I started learning was that the adjacent possible can also be seen as strategic positioning. What can I change that opens up the broadest vistas? Over time, what I chose was to get the degree, increase my earning power, and develop a lean, strong physique. Life as an educated, fit person with money is like being lifted off one game board and placed on another board entirely. I played the game of being broke and frail, and it’s a pretty boring game. More people are willing to play the new game.
I’m still working on the adjacent possible in my world, and I’ll never stop. I ran a marathon, which was great, but what interests me more is that it made me strong enough to take up backpacking. It took a while, but now I can carry the tent, stove, and all the other gear I need to be self-sufficient for at least four days. As my next step, I have made arrangements to learn how to light a fire without matches. The independence I am learning from backpacking has helped build my confidence as I tackle one of my greatest fears, which is public speaking. It may take years, but if I can eventually build a real comfort level with public speaking, new fields of adjacent possibility will open up to me. Maybe I’ll do a TED Talk and tell a story about how I went to the woods and started a fire without matches. Neither of those things are possible from where I am now – but they could be.
Where are you on the game board of life? What is the adjacent possible for you? Look around. There’s probably more than you had noticed. Why not stretch a bit and take over some adjoining squares? How about where you’d like to be – can you see it from where you are? The adjacent possible is always growing, blossoming into being, making a bigger, more interesting world for everyone around it.
Admit it: you’ve read every organizing book that ever came out. I know, I do it too. This one is special. First of all, it has cartoons. Second, it has Fay Wolf, who is a working artist as well as an organizer. She understands that creative people are usually better at inspiration than execution. That’s why this book is only partly about how, and mostly about why and what next.
New Order condenses a lot of potent concepts into a concise space. This 200-page book really will tell you everything you need to know, complete with diagrams. There is a section on places to donate particular categories of items, many of which I had never considered, and it inspired me to finally donate my wedding dress. (It’s going to a human trafficking prevention charity). I also learned that FedEx and Office Depot stores offer bulk shredding services. There are organizations that recycle everything from bras to art supplies. I know many of us are reluctant to let anything go until we know it can go to PRECISELY THE RIGHT PLACE. There’s bound to be at least one charity mentioned in this book that will inspire you to put a bag together for its sake.
The book also has a section on digital clutter, including email and photos. This is an issue of reclaiming mental bandwidth. Notifications and social media are other areas where modern living has gotten ahold of us and stolen our attention. Did Leonardo da Vinci stop writing Moby-Dick because he had a bunch of chat requests? No he did not.
Fay Wolf knows us. She knows our first impulse is to go out and buy organizing supplies. She knows how much we procrastinate and how much we let resistance hold us back. She knows that once we get past the decluttering/getting organized stage, we will then be intimidated by the glorious magnetic force of our dream projects. That’s why she talks about networking and collaboration in a decluttering book. It’s really about moving forward and learning to make our creative ideas into reality. That’s much easier to do in a cleared space that is dedicated to the purpose.
“I can make it work with anyone,” I used to say, in the carefree and foolish days before my first marriage. I believed that if you just loved someone enough, if you were patient and tolerant and a good listener, if you cleaned up and saved money and gave the other person enough massages, then your love could last forever. I was wrong – that one lasted three years. It turns out that you also have to choose the right person, at the right time, for the right reasons, and carefully negotiate what you want from one another. On the other hand, while there isn’t a way to “make it work” with just anyone, because people aren’t interchangeable, there are lots of ways to mess it up that are nearly universal.
Jealousy is the worst. Jealous people will cite ‘proof’ that they need to be suspicious, even paranoid, because someone cheated on them in the past. What they don’t realize is that unwarranted jealousy drives people to cheat. The suspicion comes first. I had a jealous boyfriend when I was 19; I told him I wouldn’t be calling him for a couple of days because my uncle was in town and he was staying at my apartment. “WHAT?!” my boyfriend roared. “You don’t have any UNCLE!” He went off on this rant about how I was cheating on him and making excuses for having a man over at my place. I tried to placate him by giving every detail I could think of about this relative, and all my others. I come from a vast extended family; in fact, at the time I had five uncles. It didn’t work. I told my uncle about this odd conversation, and his response made me question why I was with someone who didn’t trust me. That’s what happens to people who display irrationally possessive behavior. Their boyfriends or girlfriends talk to anyone, anyone at all, old or young, male or female, friend or family, and they realize that nobody else treats them this way. A paranoid lover will make the first rational, mildly cute, even slightly nice available person who shows up into a paragon of sexiness and desirability. A jealous person who is “always getting cheated on” is too demanding, maybe too creepy, to keep anyone’s interest.
Rudeness is another character trait that will eventually wear anyone down. Rudeness comes in many forms, but in its essence it is a display of contempt for others. Even if this contempt is not aimed at the spouse or lover, it erodes the respect this person feels. Shouting at anyone, in person or over the phone; insulting people; going on angry rants… It’s tiresome. All the opportunities for sweetness, generosity, and good humor are missed or burned up by irritation and rage. I watched a woman in my circle waiting on her boyfriend one weekend. Something set off my antennae and I started counting, waiting for him to use the words ‘thank you’ or ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘please’ or ‘excuse me,’ even once. He never did. She would make his coffee and meals, asking questions about his preferences, and he would answer ‘yeah,’ or ‘okay.’ He never reciprocated. Not a word, not an action. I had no idea what she saw in him, although I kept my observations to myself. Indeed, they eventually split up. Courtesy can be a high art, full of subtlety and depth, but surely anyone can attempt even the simplest gestures?
Lack of accountability is a trait that will not only end a romance, but will also cause a revolving door of roommates and lost career opportunities. Immaturity is another way to put it. I think it feels like vagueness. We just don’t feel the responsibility or awareness that other people feel in the same situation. We run up debt; we don’t pay our share; we don’t clean up after ourselves; we don’t pitch in; we don’t apologize. We take more than we give. We burn through other people’s goodwill without even realizing we are doing it. Anyone who has been romantically involved with a careless, selfish person will never forget a single line item on the list. The dirty socks on the dining table. The crumbs left on the cutting board that is then shoved back under the kitchen counter. The last slice of pie that was eaten without an offer to share. The secret debt. There are a lot of people trapped in arrested adolescence out there; it’s a dangerous position, because eventually other people grow tired of being the adult and shouldering all the responsibility.
Emotional disconnect is a relationship killer that works more slowly. FoMO is one root cause. The Fear of Missing Out can lead us to believe that there’s someone “better” out there, somewhere, or at least there might be, a dumb fantasy that keeps us from growing close with the person who’s right here, right now. The truth is that we either need to give ourselves fully in any friendship or love relationship, or we need to pass on it. There are a billion absolutely lovely people who have nothing wrong with them, but who wouldn’t suit us. We can’t date them. We can give people our attention, our focus, our interest, our kindness, our friendship, and our best attempt at listening deeply. We can’t always give our hearts. In the meantime, why are we hanging out with people we don’t feel deserve our full attention? Maybe we’re better off going somewhere dark and private, where we can fondle our phones in full privacy. What would love do right now? There is a level of romance that fiction convinces us we should feel. It exists. It doesn’t fall from the sky, though. We can only feel it after we’ve learned to kindle it, breathe it into a flame, and continue to feed it, even on rainy nights.
Love is a lot like activating your lats. It’s hard to figure out, even from photographs, until someone comes along to show you. Suddenly you feel it. It’s like sprouting wings, or the nubs of wings. Then you walk around all day, knowing it’s there, and you can never forget. Everyone has lats, but most people hunch over and ignore them, unaware how much they’re missing. Most people want to feel a perfect love emanating from someone else. That’ll never work because it doesn’t work that way. Perfect love comes from only one place, which is near the lats, and that’s the inside of your own heart.
The opposite of love is indifference. The world needs more indifference. We should detach from most of the ideas we have about how other people ‘should’ behave. Most of the time, what they’re doing has nothing to do with us, unless they are reheating leftover fish in the office microwave. For instance, there are a lot of people who feel a sense of moral crusade about late merging. Dude, there are two lanes there for a reason. An engineering-based reason. I don’t even drive on the freeway; I’m just telling you. When it comes to romance, we need to start from a position of indifference, drawing closer by tiny increments after something has awakened our curiosity. What kind of person is this? What is this person like? How does this person behave? So much heartache could be avoided if we only learned to see each other before we started, well, ‘seeing each other.’
Of course, I don’t expect anyone who has read this to have any of these issues. This post was really a stealthy way to raise awareness of red flags. People who act in these ways don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They can often be quite defensive about their behavior, how it doesn’t matter, or how it’s really everyone else’s fault. If they ever change, it’ll take more than the steady love of one kind-hearted person to make that change happen. It takes challenge. Every time someone ignores someone else’s bad behavior, it perpetuates that trait. More people should speak up, saying, “That’s mean,” or “He didn’t deserve what you said,” or “You’re out of line,” or just, “Hey, what is going on with you right now?” We need more love in this world, but we also need more friendship, more neighborliness, and more manners.
There have been an uncountable number of lost loves since the world began. What if we met our soulmates, and we screwed it up, because we just hadn’t grown or matured enough to be ready on time? There is never a wrong time to start trying to be more considerate, more conscientious, more interested in others. We start from the position of wondering what the experience of spending time with us feels like to other people. Are we easy to talk to? Are we fun to be with? Do our friends understand how much we care about them? Starting with the question, “Would I date me? Why or why not?” is a good beginning.
Vacation is exactly like regular life. This is a truth that, once recognized, makes reality easier to accept. If you hate waiting in line or getting stuck in traffic, you’ll probably find it just as annoying in a different city. If you hate being late, being on vacation probably won’t help you relax about this. If you’re a fussy eater, looking for acceptable dining options will probably continue to be a source of stress. If you think walking a mile is a long distance, you’ll always be exhausted and have sore feet after a day of what is supposed to be fun. If you are surrounded by clutter, you’ll probably be an anxious over-packer. If you’re sedentary, you probably won’t be able to lift your suitcase into the overhead bin, and maybe not even onto a luggage cart. Vacation travel is an underrated reason to get and stay physically fit.
Travel helped me learn to relax about a lot of problems of daily life. One of the biggest was clutter and over-packing. I used to bring the biggest suitcase I could find when I visited my family, because I was always bringing little gifts with me. Often I’d come home with things as well, like my baby album. On one trip, I struggled to drag my 60-pound purple suitcase onto the train. A man stepped down and lifted it for me. “That’s a big bag for such a little girl!” he said. I was in my 30s and I was mortified. When I got home, I donated the suitcase to Goodwill and made the decision to limit myself to a carry-on. Streamlining the luggage I brought on trips made me really sit down and think about what I absolutely needed to have on me when I left the house. My daily bag got smaller, too. That single question: “Do I really need this?” started to ripple further through my life.
My chiropractic problems started to go away.
There are several approaches to the problem of the heavy bag. One is to pack less. Another is to solve the problem with money, staying at higher-end hotels and tipping cab drivers to carry your stuff. (Or buying new things in every city and leaving them behind, I suppose). Another approach is to stay home. An unexplored approach is to build enough muscle to lift whatever you please. I’m nearly a decade older than I was in the days of the giant purple suitcase, but now I could carry it onto a train and nobody would realize how heavy it was. I can carry my husband’s backpack across camp while still wearing mine, a sum total of over half my body weight.
When we planned the first epic trip of our marriage, I wasn’t doing all that great. I had slept poorly during our honeymoon (not for fun reasons), and it had led to losing a day of our trip. I had a migraine and slept half a day. We knew we wanted to go to Iceland, but my husband was justifiably concerned that I would never make it three weeks in a tent. I was furious with my rebellious body and determined to beat it into submission. Chronic illness has a tendency to creep through life, making each day seem like the last, but planning a fantasy trip brought focus to the problem. I wasn’t going to tolerate on vacation what I would shrug off in daily life.
We bought backpacks. I tested the weight of mine with sandbags in it. Wearing the pack in the store made the trip seem real. We planned our first overnight hike with a young friend who made us feel a hundred years old. We were so utterly exhausted after three miles that we understood this would be no cakewalk.
I had started running, and I was doing 4-6 miles on hilly trails several days a week. On non-running days, I started walking long distances with my pack. I put in a bag of clothes, basically what I planned to wear on our trip. I would walk the 6-mile round trip to the public library with my half-empty pack and a book. I started doing pushups, starting with two and working up to 100 a day. I started training to do a pull-up, which felt pathetic but really helped. I would stop at the playground near the trailhead where I ran, jump up and grab the pull-up bar, and pull myself up as high as I could. Then I would drop down and try it again. The day I got my chin over the bar for the first time, I felt like calling the newspaper to make sure it made the front page. I trained four months in advance for a three-week trip.
We went to Iceland. Every time I set down my pack, it was a struggle to pick it up and put it on again. It made me say HORK! It got easier, though, and by the end of three weeks, it was no harder than carrying my college book bag. We did our planned four-day hike in the interior in 2.5 days. I managed the rope descent that none of the websites had mentioned, but my husband had to give me a boost to get up and over one huge boulder that came up to my chest. I understood that if I continued to train, there would be sufficiently interesting places in the world to make it worth the challenge. Every moment, I was seeing things I could only have seen in photographs if I had stayed trapped in my former body.
We came home. I stopped training a few months later and gained 17 pounds. My health went into a tailspin. I finally understood how bad it was, that state that used to be my ‘normal,’ because I had had a taste of something better. We moved, and I cracked the whip on myself. I was never going to be fat again. I lost 25 pounds and ran a marathon. Two years later, I’ve maintained this new body, the one with the faintly visible ab definition, and it continues to teach me new things. It’s easier to regulate my blood sugar. I never get migraines anymore. I can sleep properly. I’ve learned how not to get blisters. The weirdest thing is that I discovered, the last time we went to Vegas, that high heels don’t hurt your feet nearly as much when you weigh less. So that’s the secret.
Whenever I see other women on a plane trying and failing to lift a 15-pound carry-on bag into the overhead bin, I feel sad. I feel really, really sad. These women are my age or younger. They look utterly normal. Having trouble lifting your arms over your head, much less lifting a bag over your head, is a common American condition now. I feel sad, but also scared. If anything happens to the plane, and we have to disembark, the less agile people are going to have trouble getting out the emergency exit. If there is a serious problem, we have 90 seconds to evacuate the entire plane. Every second of delay means one more passenger who doesn't get out in time. This is where I start to see physical fitness as a civic duty. I can pick up someone’s kid and run toward safety, and I sure hope they’re behind me with the other ones.
Fortunately, the transportation part of travel is only a fraction of the total time. On our trips, we spend most of each day walking. We walk to bus stops, we walk around museums, we walk around stores, we hike around natural wonders. We do 5-10 miles a day as a general rule, and we’ve gone as far as 15. I have no idea what we would do on vacation if that much walking tired us out. Go to a movie we could see at home? Go to buffet restaurants? Get too tired, go back to the hotel early, and watch TV? It is a fine thing to be able to hold hands with your favorite person and walk all day without getting tired. That’s true for vacation and it’s true for daily life at home.
Preparing for a trip is a documented way to extend the fun and anticipation. We get more out of the weeks preceding a trip than we do from the memories in the weeks afterward. Preparation also helps in avoiding hassle. Experiences are a better value for the money than material items; that being said, there are certain material items that can make or break a travel experience. Travel is definitely an area where it pays to invest in durability.
The first thing I do when researching a trip is to look at the typical weather for that time period in that location. Is it going to be rainy and cold? How cold? How cold will it be at night, when we’re trying to sleep huddled up in our tent? The next step is to go out on as many days as possible in similar weather, and form vivid memories of whether I was comfortable, chilly, or too hot. Where I live, we can count on balmy, dry weather most of the year. Even though I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, it can be hard for me to remember just how cold and wet cold and wet can be.
Once I know what weather to expect, I can do a fair job of planning a wardrobe. My husband seems to be impervious to variations in temperature; he wears the same things to bed all year and he doesn’t even own a sweater. I have woken up shaking with cold several times in one night. Sometimes cold weather makes my fingers swell up. It’s a bummer that I need to carry so many extra layers, when I’d much rather pack lightly, but I know what I’m like. Me and my underactive thyroid. I can wear a sweater when it’s 75 F.
We are very active when we travel, and that means many hours and many miles on our feet. As a marathon runner, my feet are pretty tough, but I’ve learned through trial and error that not all socks go with all shoes. I’d rather go naked and have the right footwear than wear the perfect outfit with the wrong combination of socks and shoes. Bleeding, oozing blisters are not my idea of a good time. I like to start training for a trip a few months in advance, and that means wearing my intended travel outfits and replicating conditions.
These are some issues I have had with travel and workout clothes:
Pants that constantly fall down
Elastic waistbands that give me a rash after about the 6th mile
Cotton t-shirts that are still smelly after being laundered
Sock seams on top of my toes that cause a blister
Socks that work their way down my foot and ball up inside my shoe
Underwear that shows over the waistband of my pants
Zippers that keep sliding down
Sports bras that keep sliding up
Various items that are not color-fast and stain the few other items I had packed
Rain pants with Velcro strips that come unstitched
Pants with useless pockets, causing me to constantly drop my phone
A messenger bag strap that leaves a dye mark across my entire shirt
Shorts that bunch up, giving me a heat rash on my inner thighs
Tops that expose skin on my back that I can’t reach to protect with sunblock
These are issues that are never apparent when looking at something on a hanger. Often, they don’t even show up during normal wear. Athletic people don’t need to be told that working out in street clothes is too tough on those fabrics. We don’t wear workout clothes because they look so awesome; we wear them because they can take the abuse.
I’m working on testing outfits for our upcoming trip. I had no pants whatsoever, only jeans, and denim is terrible for travel. It’s too heavy and bulky to pack, it takes forever to dry, it’s too hot to wear in summer, and it doesn’t offer much protection against rain or cold. I got some practical slacks at The Limited (buy one get one) that have POCKETS BIG ENOUGH FOR MY PHONE. This is roughly comparable to discovering a wormhole leading to a secret Martian colony. I wore the pants, and they are the most comfortable pants I have ever owned. The search is over, at least for that area of my body.
The new trousers only went with one pair of shoes, a pair I bought for our Iceland trip but rarely wear. I set off on my typical 6-mile route, only to discover that my feet have changed size and shape since I bought them. This sounds dumb, but makes more sense when I mention that I spent months training for a marathon. All the shoes I bought before that point have caused me problems when I wore them later. In this case, they rubbed the top of my foot. Not only did I get blisters, I almost wore holes in my socks as well. Shoe fail. I’m not happy about the blisters, but I’m thrilled that I found out at home, rather than in the middle of our trip.
We’re using our backpacks on this trip. That means there is space for three changes of clothes, plus what we’re wearing. Bulk is one consideration. Another is that our microfiber towels get scary on the fourth day. We need to do laundry every third or fourth day, because there is no escaping the funk of things that are strapped to your back. That creates a natural limit. By the end of the trip, I’ll be sick of the sight of my four shirts and four pairs of pants, but nobody else will know, because we have enough not to repeat outfits in any particular town.
“Matching” is not always about how photogenic something looks. That is an important consideration, though, when you’re planning something that will involve significantly more photo opportunities than mundane life. There are ‘matching’ issues of necklines, waistbands, hemlines, underwear, socks, and bras. Some shirts will not stay tucked in with some waistbands. Some shirtsleeves don’t work with some sweaters. Some necklines rub irritatingly when paired with certain layers. Some undergarments unintentionally show through certain fabrics in certain lights. White bra, Y U ruin all my photos? The goal is to find interchangeable items that are easy to wear. Thinking of clothing in terms of the experience of wearing it can be revolutionary.
I still need to find appropriate shoes, which is harder than one might imagine in a world of five-inch stilettos. The shoes and the fabulous new pants will place some creative constraints around what tops I will bring. It’s nice to make things as interchangeable as possible, not because I care so much about variety, but because sometimes there’s a wardrobe malfunction. Things in heavy rotation tend to get stained or need painstaking repairs, and there isn’t always time to deal with these issues in the moment. I’m quite good at sewing, but rushing for a bus that only departs once a day is not the time. Far easier to grab an alternate item.
Travel has taught me that what works on the road usually works at home, too. I’m gradually converging on a point where my regular clothes also work on vacation. My one-bag travel habit has led to my being able to leave the house without a purse. My carefully honed planning abilities have helped teach me to prepare more for events at home, and to tighten my morning routine. I have more motivation to follow a budget and stay fit. Travel Me is always grateful for the research and experimentation carried out by At-Home Me.
How’s it going with those New Year’s Resolutions? Three-quarters of this year is still left. If you made goals you really care about, giving up isn’t going to help. You’re not a quitter, you just need to figure out a more specific plan. It also helps to have check-in points throughout the year to assess and reevaluate. The equinoxes and solstices work for me; I also use my birthday and New Year’s Eve.
This year, I resolved on a list of stuff. I made a slide with these goals and saved it as the lock screen on my laptop. I pause to look at it before I log on. I started doing this two years ago, and it’s fairly effective.
How am I doing?
The first resolution, my Most Obvious Thing, is to earn more money and expand my coaching business. I have indeed earned money and new clients, and I fully funded my IRA for 2015 this quarter. (It’s like going back in time! Magical!). This is a work in progress, something I have no intention of crossing out.
The second goal was to join Toastmasters and work on becoming a competent public speaker. I joined and I’ve done my icebreaker speech and won a couple of ribbons. While I’m still nervous, I no longer feel like my legs are going to collapse under me. It feels like the practice is already starting to work. I’m making friends and learning to focus on specific speaking skills. My experience so far has made me want to promote the club to everyone I meet. Seriously, if it works for me, it will definitely work for anyone. DO EET.
My next resolution was to work on cross-training. This is a broad, “gathering string,” research-based sort of goal. I leave these goals open because it’s more important for me to learn a lot and “level up” than it is to cross a specific task off a list. I now understand how cross-training works and I have a plan for what I’m going to do. I’m joining my husband’s gym as soon as we get back from our trip. We’re going to weight train together and he’s going to teach me to swim. I’ll try out some classes. I’ll continue to walk as my main form of transportation, and hopefully I’ll be able to start running again soon. I have no worries about implementation because I like going to the gym and I feel like I’ll be doing my honey a favor by joining him. We’re both looking forward to it.
I had a goal to order business cards. I am working on the design. I never really go anywhere, so my sense of urgency about this extends mainly to a conference we’re attending in August. I’ll probably do it before our next trip, though.
I had a goal to start a newsletter for this blog. This has happened. I’ll refine it and improve the design as I go. For now, it functions. The sign-up box works and the newsletter goes out. I understand how the templates work. All that’s left is to keep producing and improving it.
I have a specific one-shot goal to get a micronutrient blood test at an independent lab. While this has not happened yet, I have a location near me and I know what to ask for. I’ve done a bunch of research on recommended daily allowances and how to meet the trickier ones through diet. (Not everything is tracked in MyFitnessPal). I’ve started to get so interested in the topic that I’ve also researched a few options for certification as a nutritionist. I may pursue that later this year.
The last two major resolutions touch on the same area as my work on public speaking. I have a goal to do a language exchange and a wish to make a new friend. I am a very shy person, though I am an extrovert, and it is a BIG DEAL for me to try to strike up a friendship with someone new. What if I like you more than you like me? What if I want to exchange contact info and you don’t? *snif* I’m trying to lower the stakes. I have had a brief conversation in Spanish with our favorite waiter (a captive audience), and he was really nice about it. He seemed to understand everything I said, too! My comprehension is better than my speaking, so this was a pleasant surprise.
We had a ‘couples resolution’ to have a set dinnertime every night. We are doing this, and it’s been a great success. We wanted to put in a garden, and that’s done, although my husband has done all the work so far. We also had a lifestyle upgrade resolution to eat outside on the patio when it’s warm enough. We have done this, although not on every possible opportunity. What has quickly become a habit is that we’re sitting on the front porch in the evening, Spike is making some dog friends, and Noelle is giving out a lot of beak smooches to the neighbors.
We were going to go camping for our quarterly review. Something came up and we weren’t able to do the camping trip for this first quarter mark. If I had reserved a campground, we wouldn’t have been able to use it. We went out to lunch and had our discussion instead. We’re doing well on our couples goals, we’ve been having a lot of fun planning a trip together, and my husband is making great progress on the single goal he chose for this year.
I wanted to work more on interior design. We got a new couch and rearranged the living room furniture. We set up the porch area. That’s about it so far, but the results have been encouraging.
I made a ‘stop goal’ of not freaking out when I go through TSA secondary screening. So far this year, I have a 100% success rate of not having to go through secondary search at all. Hmm.
I also have a ‘stop goal’ of not beating myself up physically on furniture, door frames, etc. I currently have two blisters from different events, and a bruise on my ankle from… tripping over a metal fire pit, falling forward, and catching myself by putting my hands on the possibly hot lid. Fortunately it had cooled. This is still a work in progress. My new rules are to quit walking around in the dark and to go and find my friction stick for blister prevention.
That’s my first quarter of 2016. Some goals complete, some in progress, some not really touched yet, but plenty of time in the year to finish. How is your year going so far?
Sam Sheridan’s book, The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse, is the real thing. This is a guy who wants real answers to important questions, and is willing to go to great lengths to get those answers. What do I actually need to know how to do in case of a serious crisis? Will I be able to handle it? Or am I going to vapor-lock at the time I most need to act? Sheridan is not content with idle speculation or ivory tower thought exercises. He goes out and finds experts to train him in various types of combat and survival skills.
People love to talk about what they will do during the “zombie apocalypse.” The Disaster Diaries is full of such scenarios. They are very vivid and surprisingly moving. For instance, Sheridan imagines his wife and child trapped in a car, crying for help. The protector role is motivating for him, and perhaps for many of us who won’t necessarily bother with emergency preparedness for ourselves alone. If we’re not prepared, we become burdens to others. We may find ourselves waiting a long, long time for public services that never arrive. If we are prepared, we can be useful to others. My neighbor is 96, and the guy three doors down from him is 90. It seems legit to me that they might need an extra hand. Planning around vulnerable neighbors helps spur me to plan enough for my own household.
There are three parts to emergency preparedness: the supplies, the skills, and the mindset. Most of us stop before acquiring any of those things. I know from experience that my first reaction under surprise is to stand rooted to the spot and scream uncontrollably. I can’t pretend to myself that I am very good at keeping a cool head during a crisis. I can make up for this ridiculous (yet common) foible by overcompensating in other areas. I have a solid level of confidence in my gear and my fitness level. I know how many hours I can walk and how much I can carry. I know how much food and water I consume under exertion in a given time span. I know I can climb a fence. I know how much I can lift and how fast I can sprint. (Not very). I doubt I would do well in hand-to-hand combat, but I have escaped physical attack a few times when it mattered. Reading a book like The Disaster Diaries helps me fill in a broader schema of the kinds of things it would be helpful to know.
We love to talk about that ol’ zombie apocalypse. I’ve heard people talk about how they would get a flamethrower or a tank. Oh, would you now? From where? Your garage? I like to ask these same people whether they have three days of water stored. Not only do my friends always answer No, they aren’t even sure how much they should have. (A gallon a day per person). They don’t have food, they don’t have first aid kits. They don’t even have extra pet food. Sheridan would probably agree with me that if we like fantasizing so much, we would do well to visualize something both more specific and more practical.
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.