September! I’m always going to associate the month of September with going back to school and hitting the books. It occurred to me the other day that reading is one of my favorite things, and that maybe with a little planning I can find more time for it. There’s something about that feeling of a fresh start, of a brand-new month, that always seems to have a little extra momentum. Starting on the first, I’m going to treat myself to more reading time.
For the last decade or so, I’ve been recording everything I read. Looking through Goodreads, it appears that I only read five novels in August, two in July, two in June, and two in May. This is the least amount of fiction I’ve read, like, ever. I can’t even explain how it happened. I literally read more fiction than this in grade school, when we still called them chapter books. My favorite thing to do to relax is to kick back with a book, so why am I not doing it?
A few years ago, I started dedicating the month of October to my favorite genre, horror. I always used to watch a horror movie on Halloween, and I had a list of highly rated classics that I would save for my first viewing. I would also read a classic horror novel. Gradually my list got too long, too fast, and I started extending Halloween a few extra days, then a week. When it occurred to me to just make it THE ENTIRE MONTH, I felt absolute delight. Even better than a bag of free candy! I did it, too, and October 2017 was a blast.
Out of nowhere, I suddenly had the idea that I could set aside September and November for special reading projects as well. Immediately I started to think about what these projects would be, and whether it might eventually make sense to do something like that for each month or season of the year. For instance, I usually save dark and dramatic books for January, because why mess up beautiful sunny weather with sad topics?
One of my thoughts is to set aside one month of the year for finishing off any books I had stalled out on. That’s most likely going to be December this year, and probably every year of my life until I learn to quit over...BOOKING myself. No I will not apologize for that pun so don’t ask. I love starting out on New Year’s Day with a fresh slate, and I usually rush around in December trying to close all my open loops, read through my news queue, purge my closet(s) and cabinets, clear out my desk, and not have any unfinished business. Perpetually, my “to be read” pile is the most behind-hand of these areas.
The worst of my “why am I not reading this” categories are fiction and fitness. I tend to buy exercise books that are about three years beyond my current ability, and then just... gaze at them from time to time. I recall a book I bought in college about yoga poses you could do in your pajamas without getting out of bed. Like that. I tend to let my fiction picks stack up, because as it turns out, I hate reading paperback books, but it also drives me crazy to want to read something that hasn’t been released as an ebook yet. It’s a FoMO thing.
Isn’t that the deal with reading plans? With buying books in advance? With having a news queue or a playlist or a bunch of open tabs or a movie queue? We like making all sorts of media choices for Future Self, thinking we know better today what we’re going to want to do for fun someday in the future. Then Today Me is looking at all these stacks and lists and feeling totally overwhelmed. What we do for entertainment shouldn’t feel like homework!
Back to my idea of having a seasonal reading plan. At least right now, this feels refreshing. It feels like something fun, rather than having to industriously read through my TBR list in order. My October “all horror, all day, every day” plan is one of my favorite times of the year, even though it spooks my husband. There’s that sense of getting away with something, of having a secret thrill.
You know what I think I’m going to do? I think I’m going to make September about classic novels that I always wanted to get around to one day. I keep looking at these “100 best books of all time” lists with a wistful feeling. Every time I do, I think, “Oh, I’ll just read one of those every week” or “every month” or “I guess never.”
Right at this moment, I’m also thinking that November could be about memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies. I LOVE that stuff. I often find myself reading a memoir when I’m procrastinating on something else. I particularly like the idea of listening to audiobooks when they are narrated by the author. Maybe there are also some documentaries to add in, since I sometimes watch stuff while I’m on the elliptical.
This is how I do my reading:
Audiobooks for errands, chores, cooking, walking my dog, and otherwise doing boring stuff
The occasional hard copy of a book, if I must, either on my porch or on the elliptical with two giant rubber bands holding it in place
Ebooks for long bus rides, the elliptical, or reading in bed in dark mode
What am I planning to read?
SEPTEMBER - CLASSIC FICTION
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
Wise Blood - Flannery O’Connor
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
NOVEMBER - MEMOIR, BIOGRAPHY, AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Life in Motion - Misty Copeland
Bicycle Diaries - David Byrne
Leap of Faith - Queen Noor
West With the Night - Beryl Markham
Oh the Glory of It All - Sean Wilsey
Choose Your Own Autobiography - Neil Patrick Harris
We didn’t spend our anniversary together this year. How could we, when my husband was off on a business trip? It’s hardly the first time this kind of thing has happened: he’s been sent on travel on our anniversary, on his birthday, on Valentine’s Day, and he was even in China on my birthday one year. That’s okay. At our stage of life, we fit in marriage where we can. We’ve been together long enough that we’re clear on our priorities and how we fit together.
There’s a bit of a lie in the previous paragraph. True, we weren’t together on the date of our anniversary, and it’s also true that we barely saw each other the last half of the month. First I was out of town, then he left a few hours after I got home, and there hasn’t been a 24-hour period where we were both at home together for two weeks. We did, though, take off for a two-day weekend in Las Vegas - before he had to leave again the day after we got back.
Why Vegas? That’s the first place we went on our first trip together, and we’ve gone back every year, either for our anniversary or his birthday or something. We know our way around. We have favorite restaurants and shops. There are memories behind practically every doorway. The rest of our vacations are all about adventure, but Vegas is where we go to relax and play. We remember ourselves as a newly dating couple, as newlyweds, at all the milestones of our time together.
We celebrate that we still enjoy each other’s company. We celebrate that we still have chemistry together, that we’re at least as physically attracted to each other as we were when we started dating, and possibly more so. We celebrate that we agree on how to save and spend money. We celebrate that we can plan and carry out trips that we both anticipate.
After nine years, we’ve learned to appreciate more and more how rare it is for a middle-aged married couple to continue to have fun together.
We don’t fight - we make policies. For instance, I made us late for dinner reservations because I took too long to get ready. (Step 1: Be the first to take ownership when you are at fault). Then we reframed it. Policy: When we go out for a special occasion, I need an extra 15 minutes for hair and makeup.
We divide the labor. I’m in charge of researching restaurants (because of my fringe diet) and choosing shows (because let’s face it, I’m the best). He’s in charge of choosing our seats because 1. He cares more and 2. He has an easier time reading the seating chart.
We pack light. We’re both one-bag travelers. We help each other pick items for our respective capsule wardrobes. We backpack together. On Vegas trips, we check an empty suitcase, because this is where we do the majority of our clothes shopping for the year. Also, we both believe in the possibility of carrying an empty suitcase without encroaching on it.
We help each other put on our sunblock. That’s an especially big deal since his squamous cell carcinoma! I guarantee that nobody else would be as careful in applying *my* sunblock as *he* is.
We budget. OUCH, right? Not really. We save 40% of our income, and that’s after factoring in our vacation splurges. We’d simply rather live in a dinky, no-frills studio apartment on 20% of our income, and go on the occasional lavish vacation, than the alternative of paying double on rent, being in debt all year, and having to pinch pennies.
I have this thing about the hedonic treadmill. That’s what they call it when you adjust to a lifestyle upgrade, it becomes your new normal, and then you don’t even find it fun anymore. It’s really important to me not to become jaded or to expect luxuries as my baseline. I want to make sure I ENJOY THE HECK OUT OF my splurges. I’m pretty sure I can remember almost every dish of our fanciest meals, even years later, and that’s because we only indulge like that two or three times a year.
Frankly, this is part of why I’m married. Once I asked my husband why he married me, expecting that he would choose my sense of humor or my sweet nature. “Your frugality,” he said. Respecting your partner’s financial efforts, concerns, and priorities is the bedrock of marriage, unless you’re so rich you literally don’t have to care, which, that isn’t us or 95% of the world probably. Showing you don’t care about your spouse’s money worries is a fundamental rejection of what matters to them. Would you feel the same way about their health, their family relationships, their dreams, or their friendships?
That’s the other thing. We care about each other’s personal life, and we believe that we’re each entitled to one. We’re entitled to visit our families by ourselves. We’re entitled to have our own private friendships. We’re entitled to travel alone. We’re entitled to our own work projects and side hustles. We’re entitled to equal physical space in our home for our personal interests. We’re equally entitled to make requests about how we spend our time and resources as a couple. We support each other, because we each want the other to have the maximally fulfilling, fascinating life.
This is why it doesn’t bother me that I’ll spend my wedding anniversary alone. Our wedding day wasn’t our marriage, and neither is our anniversary. We’ll spend the day doing all of the things we’ve agreed on. He’ll give his utmost to this, his favorite and most interesting job of his career. I’ll bust my rump at the gym with my gym friends and work on my public speaking challenge. We’ll be faithful to each other and our budget. We’ll send texts back and forth throughout the day and discuss pictures of our pets. We’ll plan our next vacation and our next project together. We’ll try to decide what we want to do on our next milestone, our tenth wedding anniversary.
Better get it in the calendar now, or otherwise, who knows what we’ll both be doing?
I’m going to write about body weight, because this year it’s relevant to my interests. If this is triggering for you, I apologize, and hopefully you already know to protect yourself by closing tabs and stopping yourself from reading further, because this isn’t directed at you. I’m writing about my body, which belongs to me, and my body image, which is A+ and also belongs to me. I can’t write about other people, their bodies, or their body image because those are all outside of my expertise. Probably what I write will not reflect the experience of most people who ever lived. I say that because I rarely read anything written by other people about their bodies that fits my feelings or my life. If you’re still reading, then maybe you’re curious what it would feel like to be someone else?
Someone who likes being a person in a body? Someone who experiences this thing called “my body” as cooperative, convenient, and useful?
Okay, so the main way I relate to having a body is that it is the vehicle I use to carry my consciousness from place to place. Another way I use my body is as a test lab for the performing of interesting experiments. There is a huge amount of divergent “health” “information” out there. The way I make sense out of it is by trying it out on myself and seeing how it goes.
The first thing I discovered is that sleep is my main health priority, without which nothing in my life works. Being sleep-deprived makes me moody, lowers my energy, and apparently interferes with my immune system. I sleep as much as I can and I feel totally entitled to it.
The second thing I discovered is that my own personal body weight is strongly correlated with what used to seem like random, unconnected issues. The heavier I am, the more migraines I get. The heavier I am, the more often I get colds and flu, and the longer it takes to recover. There is a certain specific body weight, above which I get headaches and night terrors, and below which I do not. Above that weight, I’m prone to dizzy spells, and below that weight, I’m not. I have lurking suspicions that all of these things are somehow connected to thyroid function, to the endocrine system, or to hormones in general.
These are the reasons why I monitor my body weight. Apparently other people do it because they care what other people think of their appearance? Or they tie it to some kind of performance metric so that they have a stronger sense of autonomy and control? Perfectionism? Self-loathing? I dunno. I don’t even clean my house for those reasons, although I do run a tight ship. I pay attention to how much I weigh because when I don’t, my life sucks and I feel like crud all the time. When I do, it’s straightforward and fades into the background. It’s just the simplest way I’ve found to keep tabs on the most obvious, easily tracked trend line on my physical dashboard.
(I can step on the scale every morning, and I don’t have to use a measuring tape on various parts of my body, draw my own blood, or take other kinds of samples which I lack the laboratory equipment or knowledge to analyze).
I like numbers. They feel like a neutral feature of the world, like... sand. Or pebbles. They’re just there and they only have the meaning that we ascribe to them.
All right, so here’s what happened. I’ve been training hard at martial arts all year, and along the way, I gained a bunch of weight really quickly. Some of it was muscle, and most of it was adipose tissue, also known as excess body fat.
This became a problem because, for the first time in 3-4 years, I started having headaches and scary sleep episodes again. I kept thinking, Oh, that’s just a fluke, until one morning when my husband remembered me doing stuff in my sleep and I did not remember. I HATE THAT. There’s basically nothing more humiliating and dreadful to me than when I... sleepwalk, flail and hit my husband, scream, have conversations... DO THINGS in my sleep and my conscious mind has exited the building. I’d genuinely rather have incontinence than this. It makes me feel like I’m developing dementia. That was the trigger. I absolutely cannot allow myself to continue up that road. My sleep gets shattered, and when that happens I can’t focus during the day, it destroys my productivity, I feel weepy all the time, and I just start getting sick a lot. None of these things are what a fork is for.
Time to slow my roll.
I knew exactly how I’d gained the weight, because I’ve done it so many times and also because it was somewhat intentional. I had this idea that if I added more muscle, everything would be fine. Apparently not. I think what goes on in my body is that whatever blood sugar conversion process is happening when I up my calorie intake and add body weight, whatever it’s composed of, that’s the thing that triggers all my other health issues. I was doing it too quickly.
My goal was to gain 15 pounds of muscle in a year. I put on 4 pounds the first month, maintained for three months, and then put on an additional 5 pounds the fourth month. May 1 I weighed ten pounds more than I did on January 1. By my birthday I’d gained a full-on fifteen pounds. Okay, that would be AMAZING if it all came from muscle! Muscle on a female frame of my size happens at a rate of about a quarter-pound per week. Let’s say I had 8 pounds of muscle which I dearly loved, and 7 pounds of (additional) extra body fat which I did not want or need.
What to do?
Handle it in a competent, businesslike manner, the same way I would pay off a debt or clean out a closet, of course. The same way I tackle most problems.
It was surprisingly simple, again because I know what I’m doing. I had gained the extra weight by adding about a thousand calories a day to my diet, often in the form of French fries and cake. This was on the advice of my husband, who noticed how exhausted I was when I would come home from class, and suggested that I eat more. Once I built my endurance, stamina, and strength from training hard for 8 months, I was ready to switch gears.
This is what I did. I set a deadline: my wedding anniversary trip. I set a goal: two pounds per week. I made guidelines, which I followed: keep a food log every day; avoid desserts, fries, appetizers, and sweet drinks for the duration; add cardio. I was very, very pleased to find that I could handle an hour-long martial arts class and an hour on the elliptical on the same day!
My arms and legs have been getting really strong, and I’ve been seeing muscle definition I never had in my life before. I also had this tubby belly. As far as I can tell, almost all of the 8 pounds I lost over four weeks was sitting right there, right in the stroke-risk, heart-disease sector of my midriff.
During the process of cutting weight, I felt more energetic. I’d really missed my cardio workouts, and it seems like it has helped my overall mood and energy level. I also use that time to read the news and catch up on my email, which is helping me to feel more organized and productive. The result was that not only did I make my goal, I came out on the other side feeling like I had my life more together.
My hubby bought me a new bikini for our anniversary, which, let’s just say they come in every size for a reason. If you want to wear one, wear one. For us, it symbolizes a commitment to spend more time relaxing in the hot tub.
For my next trick, I’m going to work on learning more core exercises. This is the one obvious area of my body where extra muscle and attention would be interesting and useful. I’ve never known what it was like to have a strong core, and I’m determined to find out.
One way to define the word ‘organize’ is in the radical, political sense. It can help to keep this in mind while contemplating Getting Organized in the women’s magazine, top-down, social trend manner. The point of Getting Organized is to focus your energy, clear your mind, and introduce enough structure in your life that you actually do everything you intend to do. Harnessing your rebellious streak is one way to take ownership of this process. Remind yourself that power is not given, it’s taken. Agency and initiative are yours to command, but nobody is going to hand them to you.
Here are some orders against which you can rebel.
GO TO BED EARLIER. If you’re tired and burned out, if you never feel like you have anything other than low energy, then getting better quality sleep is mandatory. However! Sleep procrastinators are staying up late to try to gain more personal time and assert some autonomy. If you do insist on staying up late, why not use that time toward Getting Organized? Late at night, you can still make a strategic plan, write a comprehensive to-do list, clear your inbox, shut off notifications, hunt for a better job, update your resume, study for an advanced degree, write a book, delete and cull and sort and file. You can even aggressively clean your house if you have some resentments and anger to direct at your partner, housemates, kids, or neighbors.
GET RID OF STUFF. It probably would make your life easier to edit your possessions. A lot of people, though, are using their piles of stuff to set physical boundaries when they aren’t sure how to negotiate emotional or social boundaries. Taking up space in a psychological sense, in a way that makes a huge and measurable impact on the world, would probably take more ACTION and less stuff-stroking. Until that point, why not hang on to the objects that you own and instead journal, meditate, or do some deep inner work on your emotional reality?
EXERCISE. I always associated society’s demands that I sit still, keep my frilly clothing immaculately clean, and passively maintain a sweat-free ladylike demeanor as Victorian social control. Girls of my generation were barred from participating in sports and strongly discouraged from being physically active or getting dirty. As an adult, I choose to do mud runs and obstacle courses, put on boxing gloves, and train in martial arts because **** YOU I DO WHAT I WANT. Sitting, though, is a time-honored tradition of political resistance and civil disobedience. Maybe the time I spend kicking and punching things, you instead spend mobilizing a campaign. *shrug* Working out can be a great way to release stress and tension, but maybe you need to retain that tension to fuel your cause?
SAVE MONEY. There are only a couple of things more empowering than financial independence, and knowing where your money is going can be a great source of clarity and resolve. This can be approached in other, bolder ways. It’s a common entrepreneurial strategy to “burn your ships” and know that you will have to push yourself hard to earn enough to reach your stretch goal in a short time period. I talked to a client after we spent three weeks sorting through piles of unpaid bills, collections notices, speeding tickets, overdue rent, and back taxes. She asked how much she owed, and I didn’t want to tell her, but I did, because knowledge is power and the truth will set you free. “Ten thousand dollars, is that all?” She basically marched out and landed a better job, feeling that it was easier and less stressful to “just earn ten thousand dollars” than to painstakingly negotiate repayment plans or follow a meticulous budget. Go big and go home.
EAT BETTER. Most people seem to experience keeping a food log or watching what they eat in any way as a soul-destroying prison. I found it fascinating and terrifically empowering, as I was finally able to assess the root cause of my migraines and night terrors. I weigh in every day because I’m working to put on fifteen pounds of muscle in a year, and how else will I know if I’m gaining enough? As a backpacker, marathon runner, boxer, and all-around endurance athlete, if I don’t make sure I get enough calories and micronutrients, I’m going to bonk. Ingredients lists, nutritional information, food logs, scales, measuring tape, and body fat monitors are tools for massive strength, power, and a BACK OFF, BUDDY attitude from the eighteenth dimension. If you want them to be, they are.
LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE. Honestly, if you’re an observer of pop culture, you’ll see that living your worst life and being your worst self is likely a quicker path to fame. It’s an undeniable way to differentiate your brand. Who wants the pressure of living your best life? Sounds like a lot of work. I think it might be more interesting and productive to define your most mediocre life and try to nail that first.
Ultimately, if you’re not the boss of you, then nobody is, and that’s something unique and particular in its own way. Wild tangle of brambles, you do you. Rebellion can be intriguing, it can set your world on edge like nothing else, and is it burning your flame in the most gorgeous way possible? A flame with a constraint can send a rocket into space. Where is your rebellion taking you?
Avoiding malls is one of the main tenets of my lifestyle, but recently I had occasion to visit a couple for the purpose of buying clothes. It only took about five minutes to remind me why I hate malls so much. They have so, so many problems. They are not responsive to what people want from them. The troubles that they are having now are mostly the same problems they were having twenty years ago, when they first started really annoying me. Shopping malls deserve to die off.
Here are my issues with shopping malls, in ascending order:
10. Wi-fi barriers. Ask for every scrap of my personal contact information so I can have temporary access to extremely low-bandwidth wi-fi. This is how you compete with my ability to buy everything that ever existed online, in my home, 24/7?
9. Car-centric design. I don’t drive, and trying to get from a sidewalk to the actual mall building is a nightmare. As a user of alternative transportation, I am stuck carrying my bags around with me, whether to a restaurant, movie theater, or additional stores. Lockers would be nice. I’ve actually been hassled by theater ushers because they thought I had too many shopping bags. So, yeah, drive me away and prevent me from spending more time and money at your facility.
8. Other shoppers. Leaving their drinks on shelves, dropping garments on the floor, walking one mile an hour, blocking aisles with huge carts, ignoring their children for extended phone stroking breaks. When I last walked through a mall, a fight was being broken up between a pit bull and a German Shepherd, neither of which presented as service animals.
7. Seasonality offset. By the time I want to buy sandals, they’re sold out in my size in every style. When I want to buy sweaters and a new jacket, I’m looking at spring dresses. Huh?
6. Food courts. Very predictable offerings, virtually nothing for anyone who follows any kind of alternative diet. What’s the matter, don’t you want my money?
5. Email bombardment. Every single store wants my email address, because every single one of them intends to send me email every single day. Why on earth would any brand think that this is a good idea? How incredibly short-sighted and rude.
4. The clothes. I’m a middle-aged woman of almost precisely average height, average shoe size, and textbook-indicated body weight. Almost nothing fits me. Most mall stores don’t carry my size at all, even online. All I want out of clothes are that they cover my body, fit my frame, and have pockets that hold my phone. I want them to play nicely with the washer and dryer without leaching dye on my other clothes. I want shoes I can walk comfortably in for twelve hours a day. Apparently zero of these characteristics are permissible. Instead we get weird embellishments, mysterious cutouts, mystifying care instructions, three-inch heels, and almost nothing a mature person can wear in a business environment.
3. The perfumes. They are probably gross and overwhelming to most people. To a fragrance-sensitive person like myself, perfumes are a minefield. I have walked into a shopping mall before, trying to get to a specific store, and had a migraine before I made it three minutes down the hall. One scent would be bad enough, but the miasma of all of them combined makes it a major obstacle.
2. The kiosks. Most annoying thing ever. Do not make eye contact with me, do not approach me, do not speak to me, do not interrupt my conversation with my friend, definitely never follow me as I rush past you. Whoever approved this sales model obviously does not care how loathsome it is to the majority of people trying frantically to get away.
1. Malls are designed around what brands want to SELL, not what people want to BUY. We want to buy practical things that serve a specific purpose. We want things that are easy to maintain and that last a long time. Often, in my case, I want something specific that either doesn’t exist or that isn’t in stock. Meanwhile I find myself surrounded by tens of thousands of things I do not want and never will want.
Note that I use the word ‘people’ rather than other terms like ‘shoppers’ or ‘consumers.’ I despise the idea that my core identity is ‘someone who consumes,’ which would be a grievous insult to most people throughout human history, akin to calling someone a ‘useless eater.’ A taker, not a giver; a user, not a producer. I also reject the idea that my mission in life is to ‘shop’ or buy things. I’m a person. I’m a person whose purpose in life is to love my friends and family, be a part of my community, create art, solve problems, think original thoughts, and appreciate nature. Sometimes I do chores, and occasionally replace my shirts, but these are externalities.
What will happen to these immense buildings after the retail apocalypse has continued wiping out storefronts, brands, and entire retail complexes? What will happen to all that commercial real estate after shopping malls have died off? I think they’ll be filled more and more with community gathering places such as various types of gyms, or offices for social services. Otherwise, unfortunately, these temples to consumerism will probably turn into desolate ruins, and all because they can’t get it together and figure out how to respond to what people want from them.
Pick Three is the answer for anyone who feels constantly busy, burned out, and utterly confounded by the concept of “work-life balance.” When I first saw the cover of this book, with its cheery sticky note implying that Sleep is something optional, I scoffed at it. Ha, if other people think they can have a happy life by just sacrificing sleep, then good for them, but not me! I gave Randi Zuckerberg a chance to make her case anyway. Now I agree with the book’s subtitle: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day).
There is great good sense behind the suggestion to Pick Three. The “three” are: Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, Friends. (Or, you can choose your own, such as: Netflix, School, Tacos, Dating, Yoga). Trying to make equal time for all five every single day will lead to doing poorly at all of them. Zuckerberg offers ways that different people have structured their lives and made decisions about their big three. We’ll recognize ourselves here, as different people are profiled who have had to work around disability, addiction, major illness, losing their parents, relocating, having a disabled child, and other serious challenges. This is real life we’re talking about here.
For instance, I’m a Sleep person because I have to be. I feel lucky that this is my biggest health issue, but it still is one! I have a parasomnia disorder, and when my sleep starts getting messed up, I quit functioning. Not only that, but anyone who sleeps under the same roof as me is impacted, because with pavor nocturnus I flail in bed, sleepwalk, scream in my sleep, and even run through the house opening doors. I feel irresponsible and unfair when these symptoms resurface. I see others with garden-variety sleep procrastination who are irritable and snappy due to their VOLUNTARY sleep deprivation, and I shake my head. This is manageable. Leave sleep out of your Big Three only for brief periods when you know you usually get plenty of rest. If you usually don’t, then why?
There are ways to combine some of these elements. In my personal life, I’ve chosen Sleep, Work, and Fitness because I keep having to relocate, and my oldest friends all live hundreds of miles away. When my Family needs me, I drop everything to travel to them, and my main three get put aside until the crisis has passed. This is part of why I work three weeks in advance and mostly outside the time dimension. My projects can keep going even if I lose a week to something urgent. Most of my social life happens at my gym, because that’s where I’ve made most of my local friends.
Pick Three is a book about self-forgiveness and self-compassion. It’s also a book about being good to the people around you. When you feel a sense of purpose and that you’re making strong choices, it helps you to be fully present with your loved ones and give your utmost to your most important contribution. Feeling overextended and under-appreciated leads directly to resentment, hostility, and low quality of life. A book like Pick Three can help to reevaluate and check in with yourself to see if you really are living your values.
Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but I simply can’t bring myself to log on to Facebook. I’ve tried. A couple of times in the last few years, I’ve put a bunch of thought into it and resolved that I should force myself to check in, at least once a week or so. Then I log in and remember why what used to be fun is now so repellent to me. Since I’ve replaced it, I don’t miss it. There are a million more satisfying things to do with my time instead of Facebook.
When I first got an account, I didn’t understand it or what it was for. I feel the same way about Snapchat today. Huh? What? As time goes by and I get older, I’m sure I’ll gradually become infinitely less hip and I won’t even know the names of the newest forms of social connection.
One day, I sorta figured out the kind of thing one would post on Facebook, and I shared my first link. Instantly it returned a lot of laughter and commentary. For me? Gee whiz! I felt like I was part of a conversation. It was exciting and gratifying to make my friends laugh in multiple cities and states at the same time. I could see why people liked doing this kind of thing.
Then I visited my family, and one of my relatives was playing FarmVille. I should do that, I thought, as a favor. I could reach out from a thousand miles away and do little chores or send little gifts, a minor way of waving hello. It would give me a reason to log in more often and connect better with my friends.
File under: BIGGEST MISTAKES IN LIFE
I utterly failed to understand why most people loathed social gaming. I had no more hook for gaming in general than I ever have had for coffee or booze, but this thing got into me. I lacked the social awareness or sophistication to see how obnoxious I was becoming. It wasn’t until more features were added to the game that I lost interest in it and never logged in again. Too late, of course, to repair my reputation with various people. If I’d never set up a Facebook account, I would have blissfully gone through life never becoming addicted to an electronic game, and that alone would have been enough reason to stay away.
For a few years, I checked Facebook several times a day. I would look up and two hours would have disappeared.
Again, arriving late to the party, I didn’t understand that certain online behaviors were already cliched. I believed that my “friends” were actually my “friends” and I kept trying to make emotional connections that blew up in my face. I reached out, looking for connection and validation.
Years later, I finally saw the pattern for what it was. I would always, always feel worse after logging in to Facebook than I did before. I never felt that I got back what I was putting in.
Social comparison wasn’t the problem. I like my life, my real life anyway, and in many ways I’m doing better than most people I know. I would see someone fighting in public with their partner, or complaining about their cat barfing on the carpet, or some other problem that I don’t have. Whew, I would think, that would definitely be annoying, glad that’s not me. Sorry, hon.
I had a series of problems that stemmed exclusively from Facebook, problems that were never a part of my life beforehand and have never been a problem since. I’ll list them in increasing order of salience.
Ten, a close friend cut off relations with their extended family. I knew this had happened, and that was enough for me; it’s none of my business WHY a friend is or isn’t talking to someone. I just respect their wishes and their privacy. That’s why it was so incredibly creepy when a member of this extended family reached out to me with a long letter, wanting me to intercede in some way. This never could have happened in person, with a distraught and sketchy stranger showing up on my doorstep. Likewise all the icky ‘friend’ requests from bots or horny strangers.
Nine, a steady stream of pictures of meat. Pictures of food in general.
Eight, Throwback Thursday. I have no nostalgia for any period prior to, say, 2008, and even then I was dealing with a lot of health issues. Let’s keep it to the current year!
Seven, rants from people about game invites. I saw about 10:1 “don’t invite me to games” rants for every game invite I personally received. Can’t you just... spend one second blocking each game as it pops up? She said defensively.
Six, no matter what I shared, there would always be someone who believed that nobody should ever share that category of thing. Don’t share your workouts. Don’t share schmoopy pictures or posts of you being happy with your husband/date/handsome cardboard cutout/invisible friend. Don’t share your charitable contributions. Don’t share vacation photos. Don’t share party photos. If you accidentally had a good time one day, don’t tell anybody.
Five, spoilers of the two TV shows I actually watch.
Four, bizarre anti-information, conspiracy theories, rants, baseless opinions, and pseudoscience. Nobody thanks you for Snopesing them. I guess we just live in a world with seven billion parallel alternative universes now.
Three, constant super-hyper-extra-polarized political everything.
Two, the meanness. Piling on, chastising, lecturing, pedantry, flaming, trolling, and outright insulting of fellow humans. It didn’t feel any less bad to see friends of friends doing it to each other than it did to see people try to do it to me. It just made this seem more pervasive and inescapable.
One, it made me like people less than I did before. It permanently destroyed friendships that were perfectly fine out in the real world. The intense, unprecedented pain of being UNFRIENDED. A.k.a. “You’re dead to me.”
What do I do instead of Facebook? I hang out with actual real physical people in my community. In person. In real time.
I started taking classes at a martial arts school. Unlike most other gyms, we partner up, and the close physical work has a magical way of creating bonds unlike anything else I’ve ever done. I feel that I’ve formed true friendships there, and even better, the kind of friends you know for a fact would physically have your back in a crisis.
I joined Toastmasters, a public speaking club. Right now I’m a member of three clubs and I have a total of five under my directorship. Unlike anything else I’ve ever done, Toastmasters has given me the stories of my new friends. Deep listening to someone else’s story drives home empathy and compassion. It can’t be helped. It’s innate to how our brains work. This is where you find out how fascinating and lovable your neighbors really are.
In both martial arts and Toastmasters, I’m spending an hour at a time with people of every age, race, gender, sexual orientation, education, income level, and many linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I don’t usually know what my friends do at their jobs, how they vote, what their homes look like, or what car they drive. Instead, I know more about what lights them up, what makes them laugh, and what interests them.
Instead of Facebook, I talk with other people in person. We hug, we laugh, we high-five, we trade stories, in some cases we kick each other in the thigh and throw each other on the ground. What we never do is to talk politics, insult each other, rant at each other, criticize each other’s punctuation or spelling, or permanently shun each other socially.
Social media had infinite potential to change the world and build community. It also has endless power to annoy people and lead directly to misunderstanding, misinformation, confusion, and hurt feelings. Instead of Facebook, what if we reach out and spend more time getting to know our neighbors?
“There are plenty of good things to look forward to as you grow older. So accept the aging process, and don’t waste years in the gym.” - Barbara Ehrenreich
“Who says going to the gym is a waste?” - Me
Buckle up, because I’ve got a rant coming out of me and it’s going to move pretty fast.
There’s this sick myth out there that the only reason a woman goes to the gym is vanity, that she cares about her external physical appearance, and that this is wrong and should be stopped. Personally, I think that if vain people want to make changes to their appearance, that’s their right, but it’s a moot point! We don’t begrudge people wearing the clothes they prefer, teetering in impractical shoes, dyeing their hair literally every color of the rainbow, getting professional mani/pedis, bleaching their teeth, spending thousands on orthodontia, removing moles, having full-body tattoos or piercings or henna treatments. Why, then, would bodybuilding be excluded from this catalog of personal expression?
Back to what I said about it being a moot point.
I don’t know anyone who works out for appearance reasons, and that includes men. Which, are we judging men and women by the same standards here? Because we should be, or at least we should if we believe that all humans have full bodily autonomy.
Why do people work out?
I work out because I want to avoid or delay getting Alzheimer’s disease, and also because a cancer scare and a fibromyalgia diagnosis at age 23 were, shall we say, inspirational. I work out because I’m physically frail and I see it as my only option to stay mobile. If that isn’t true for you, I’m so, so happy for you, but do not DARE to come at me for prioritizing my health and independence.
Why do other people besides me work out?
My friend is training to be an FBI special agent fighting human trafficking. She wants to pass the physical.
My friend is training to get into the Air Force because she wants to become a pilot.
My friend is training to get into the Navy, like the previous four generations of her family.
My friend is training because he’s 78 and he wants to keep active. He can still get on the floor and do pushups.
My friend is training because he was choked against a wall and he wants to be able to defend himself.
My friend is training to set an example for her little daughter. So is her best friend, who has a daughter about the same age.
My friends are training because they’re married and it’s something they enjoy doing as a couple.
My friend is training because she’s been fascinated with martial arts all her life, and she eventually wants to master every form.
My friend is training because she was a college athlete, and she craved something else when she could no longer play soccer.
My friend is training because she and her sister run marathons together.
My friend is training because he wants to apply to the police academy.
My friend is training because it helps manage her depression.
My friend is training because she lost 100 pounds, and now she can.
My friend is training because she does roller derby with her daughter.
My brother is training because he fractured his spine in three places in a construction accident, and being able to run is a celebration of life.
Can someone explain to me why “accepting the aging process” somehow implies being completely sedentary? Why sitting elegantly in a chair is somehow proof of deep wisdom, and anyone who has the temerity to join a gym is foolish?
I have a gym membership BECAUSE I accept the aging process. I believe I am very likely to live to be ninety, and I have a significant chance of living past one hundred, because I stay current in gerontology and because my relatives tend to be very long-lived. This is not an optimistic viewpoint. On the contrary! Outliving my meager savings by decades is scary, deeply scary. I’ve watched several of the women in my extended family retire into poverty, frailty, and economic catastrophe. Being forced to quit working due to health issues and then running out of money well before I die is a near certainty, unless I plan carefully to avoid it. Being poor, ill, and dependent on others is pretty much the opposite of aging gracefully. Agreed?
I wasn’t able to have children. There won’t be anyone who is somehow obligated to care for me. That means financially and also physically. What will happen if I let my health decline to the point that I can’t get out of a chair on my own? Who will come over if I fall or if I’m bedridden, too weak to phone for help? I’m forty-three and it’s by no means too early to make contingency plans. High on that list is the physical training to fall properly.
I love working out with my senior friend, and I hope I’ll celebrate his eightieth birthday with him at our gym. He’s a lovely person, and he’s also an excellent reminder of what I want for myself, just thirty-five years into my own future. We do “sprawls” (falling forward) and “breakfalls” (falling backward) several times per class, and each and every time, I think, “I’m doing this for Future Me.” Today is my last opportunity to build muscle and bone density for Old Me, and I’ll tell myself the same thing tomorrow morning.
Yes, aging is a natural process of accruing wisdom, valuing friends and family, and celebrating one’s legacy. All of that is ever so much easier to do with vitality, high energy, and physical stamina. I didn’t have those assets in my teens or twenties, but I do now, and that’s because I’ve “wasted” so many years in the gym. Not only do I intend to waste many more, but I also plan to open my own gym when I’m sixty. I’d like to set the example for younger people that it’s never too late, and also demonstrate that there are forms of wisdom that can only be accessed through action and physicality.
Technically everything is in my living room. I found myself explaining this to a new friend the other day. She was trying to visualize what it’s like to live in a studio apartment. Our front door is our bedroom door as well as our kitchen door. We don’t have a back door; we’re built into a hill. While we do have a bathroom door, when you’re in there you’re also in our closet. Almost all our belongings are on view at all times. It really tends to bring home the message of minimalism! Living in a studio is a great demonstration of the value of evaluating our stuff by room, not by individual object.
Our stuff should argue for itself. It should be obvious why we have what we have. Everything we own should serve a purpose, and its existence in our personal space should be self-explanatory.
If this seems simple and easy to understand, let’s extend it. Each room in the home should also explain itself. We should be able to use every part of our personal space in the way that is most helpful.
I wake up in the morning, having spent the night in my bed, with my head on my pillow and my body under the covers. I walk into the bathroom, where I shower with soap and dry off with a towel. I go to the closet and put on clothes. I go into the kitchen (area), get a bowl and a spoon, and make myself some oatmeal for breakfast. These are easy, obvious parts of my day. My morning is supported by my environment and by my possessions. Boring, right?
Let me just say that none of those steps are obvious, simple, or easy for chronically disorganized people.
My people might:
Not always sleep in their bed, even though they have one
Sleep on a bed that is partly covered with non-bed stuff
Sleep on a bed without sheets, a pillow, or blankets
Have closets with no clothes hanging up, and clothes all over the floor
Shower irregularly and be out of soap and clean towels
Not have a shower curtain
Have broken plumbing that hasn’t worked for months
Not have any clean dishes in the kitchen
Be out of their favorite breakfast food
Have no morning routine to speak of
What makes life hard for my people is that they can get very caught up with individual possessions, and they have trouble categorizing. The house might be full of stuff, yet they might be missing a lot of the “obvious” necessities that keep a household running.
Basically my people can be relied on to have lots and lots of books, clothes, decorative items, and packaged food. Most of the time they have true hoards of craft supplies and holiday decorations. They’ll have lots of stuff they never use, because it’s there, like sheets that don’t fit any mattresses in the house, or washcloths, or booze bottles when they don’t even drink alcohol.
Look a little closer, and they don’t have stuff like a kitchen sponge, can opener, working lightbulbs, an extension cord or a hammer or a first aid kit or a fire extinguisher. There might not be curtains on the windows. They may have bought stuff they needed, then left it in the package, and in fact it may still be in the original shopping bag months later.
This is why I talk about evaluating by the room, rather than by the thing. Individual objects are not useful if they’re still in the package or the bag, if they’re not stored near where they get used, if they’re buried under piles of other stuff. Individual objects are not useful, of course, if they’re not actually useful things. I’ve known two bachelors who constantly had a wet towel on the floor because they’d never gotten around to installing a shower curtain. “Wet floor” isn’t exactly something you can hold in your hands and ask if it sparks joy, am I right?
This is what our rooms should be doing for us.
A bedroom should facilitate restful sleep. The bed should be warm and comfortable. If the room is too bright, an eye mask should be ready to use. It should be as quiet as possible, and if not, a fan or white noise can help.
A closet or dresser should store clothes so they’re ready to wear. It should be easy to put together a matching outfit that fits. There should be enough room to easily take items out and put them away again later. Anything that won’t fit in the available storage space should probably be bagged up and eliminated.
A bathroom should facilitate personal hygiene and grooming. All the plumbing and lighting should work.
A kitchen should facilitate meal preparation. Anything on the counters or the floor that gets in the way of meal prep should be questioned.
A dining table should facilitate eating meals or doing other projects. Anything that makes a table unusable should be questioned. A table is not a permanent storage option for piles of things.
A couch is for sitting. Why would anything be kept on a couch or chair that prevents someone from sitting there or stretching out and taking a nap?
That’s the basic idea. Whatever living areas we have, we should be able to use them. A bed is for sleeping, a kitchen is for cooking, a table is for using, a chair is for sitting. Whenever we have any kind of stack or pile of stuff, it’s detracting from our ability to use our space. We’re paying rent for it, but our stuff is not. If it isn’t earning its keep, get rid of it. What’s the point of storing so many cans and packages of food that you can’t cook any of it? What’s the point of owning so many clothes that you can’t fit them in your closet and you can’t find anything to wear? What’s the point of having tables and counters so covered with things that they can’t be used?
Many of us have an unfulfilled dream of something we’ll do “someday.” So much of the time, it turns out that the reason we aren’t already doing it is that we don’t think we have the space. This is why I do my headstand against the door every night, because I don’t have any blank wall space that’s wide enough. How much would we all be doing or making if we had clear tables, clear desks, clear floor space? How many parties and gatherings would we have if we felt like we had enough room to host? Let’s think first of what we would ideally do on our best days, and then arrange our living space to allow these dreams to come true.
I’m a shy person, so much so that even standing up to say my name would leave me trembling and turning purple. Shyness has interfered with my friendships, my career, and my love life. A cute boy once asked me to dance, and I was so confounded by my attraction to him that I couldn’t answer. He shrugged and walked off. I’ve struggled even to share such information as whether someone had left their lights on in the parking lot. People who know me well will probably be very surprised by all this, because I’m fine when I’m with familiar faces. Shyness strikes at inconvenient and illogical moments. I didn’t want my shyness to interfere with my ability to make an impact on the world, so I’m pushing myself to learn to overcome these feelings. Maybe my efforts can help you, too.
First off, being shy is totally different from being an introvert. I’m a shy extrovert. It’s possible to be a shy introvert or an introvert who is not shy. Lots of introverts are very famous celebrities such as singers, actors, models, and comedians. They have no problem performing, as long as they get plenty of time to recharge alone. It seems helpful to distinguish shyness from introversion or extraversion, because while introversion is a character trait, shyness is an issue that can be mastered.
Two things have been helpful for me in getting a handle on my shyness. First, it takes a mission, a vision that is compelling enough to make fighting these feelings worthwhile. Second, much of shyness is physiological - it’s a physical state as much as anything.
How do you develop a mission? Many or most people have at least one cause that resonates with them, whether it’s feral cats, literacy, or protecting the Earth from asteroids. The sense of a mission starts to kick in when you start to realize that you can personally make an impact. More, you can influence others and bring them along with you. You don’t necessarily have to appear in public, perform, or give speeches to make this happen. Leading and organizing is based very much on Getting Organized.
I joined Toastmasters in January 2016 to force myself to overcome my intense dread of public speaking. It worked! The process is the same as what I’m learning in martial arts: stress inoculation. Exposing yourself to stress, fear, or pain in small doses can build your resistance and resilience, just like practicing a musical instrument or a foreign language in small increments increases your skill. Learning to give one-minute speeches led to four-minute speeches, then ten minutes, until I can now give hour-long workshops or speak on a microphone without those familiarly awful feelings of trembling, getting choked up, and turning colors.
Now I’m working on a leadership level called an Advanced Leader Silver. This entails an official role as Area Director, meaning I’m in charge of improving performance in five clubs in my area. I have to go to regular district meetings, respond to a certain volume of email, visit my clubs, and track a lot of information. Almost all of the work involved means processing email at home, listening, taking notes, and writing reports. For a shy person, 80% of the tasks are not a big deal. It’s the 20% that involves meeting new people, standing up to speak to them, and overcoming the ‘threshold anxiety’ of walking through a door and joining a group of people. The formalities of a training seminar or club meeting agenda are very helpful in facing this, because there’s a highly predictable structure, and almost all of it involves other people talking.
How is leadership different from anything else? Many people are acting in a leadership role somewhere in their lives, often without realizing it. The parent of a child plays ‘leader’ every day. Driving a car, ordering food, shopping and running errands - all require a certain amount of initiative and organization. Being the leader means taking an aerial view of a situation and spotting opportunities, bottlenecks, and pain points. A leader has a strategy. Here, again, many people have an innate critical mindset that they don’t realize could be useful in a leadership role. This shows up in lengthy product or restaurant reviews, for instance, or in any comments section. Someone always has a bunch of ideas for better ways to copy-edit something, introduce design improvements, or relate to other people or groups in a different way. Why not redirect that energy toward a group or organization that will actually be receptive to that input?
My approach toward leadership is strategic. My first instinct is to move toward the information flow. I want to figure out what the rules are, where I can learn more (handbooks, manuals, FAQs, websites, etc), who is where on the org chart, where I can find contact info, and how I can get to the locations where the action is happening. Other people will move directly toward the people, wanting to start by getting to know everyone, establishing connections, and forming an inner dossier of who knows whom and who does what. I’m most helpful in explaining things when people are confused, doing scut work, and encouraging people to do things when the only thing stopping them is nervousness. My way of earning loyalty is by demonstrating that I will show up, do what I was asked to do, follow through, get questions answered, and stick around to clean up after events. These are ways to get involved without being fried under the spotlight or having to pose for dozens of photographs.
The things we learn to do when we push ourselves are useful in every part of life. What I’m learning as I work on public speaking, leadership, and martial arts is that very few situations are inherently scary. It’s mostly a matter of building emotional intelligence and learning what makes other people tick. Feeling nervous and shy while meeting new people is a near-universal feeling, one that’s so common that you can count on sympathy when you express it. Find whatever means more to you than your physiological struggles with shyness, and you can defeat those feelings while making the world a better place.
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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.