I read The Good Gut with keen interest. The gut microbiome is only beginning to be studied and understood in the context of human health. Anyone who has multiple, seemingly unrelated health issues would do well to read up in this area. This book would be a good start. Justin and Erica Sonnenburg are married PhDs who are raising two kids based on their gut research, and the tone is relatable and relaxed. Let your kids play in the dirt, let the dog lick their face, quit using antibacterial soap, and eat some vegetables. The advice is simple and straightforward, and the book has a selection of recipes at the back.
"What is the Microbiota and Why Should I Care?" That's the name of the first chapter, and it's a good place to start. The Good Gut is focused on the basic science of gut flora. By the time we get to the personal dietary recommendations, a solid foundation has been laid. It makes sense when connections are made between gut health and antibiotic use, asthma, eczema, obesity, serotonin levels, autoimmune diseases, and possibly even autism. The connection with inflammatory bowel disease is more obvious. A skeptical attitude toward commercial probiotic products prevails, and I agree. Why not just eat vegetables like our ancestors did?
Gut problems are the secret that can't be named. People are understandably mortified to talk about these issues, even with a doctor. It surprises me, though, how incredibly common they are. The reason it surprises me is that it's not a problem in my world. I'm 41 and I've never had food poisoning. I accidentally drank a glass of tap water in Cancun, and all that happened was that I felt nervous all evening. When I pick up something, such as a norovirus that went around my office for a week or so, I lose my appetite and sleep more, but that's it. The difference between me and most people is that I eat a high-fiber diet and I haven't eaten meat since 1993. I've been vegan since 1997. (I was also delivered naturally and breastfed, two factors that, according to the book, are relevant to gut health). When The Good Gut mentioned the American Gut Project, I decided to participate later this year. The question of gut flora is testable. We can obtain objective, measurable data and compare them to other samples. I am very curious to know more, just as I'd like to know more about my DNA.
My one issue with The Good Gut is that almost all the recipes rely on dairy products. It's been my observation that my acquaintances with the most digestive issues tend to be heavy dairy consumers, and this seems to be supported by research indicating that not everyone has the genetic ability to digest milk into adulthood. What a weird idea anyway; no other animals besides humans eat the milk of another animal, or consume it past infancy. Anyway, the book's recommendations to eat a high-fiber diet are clear and frequent.
Life is full of great mysteries. How do magnets work? Why is there gravity? Why don’t Grape-Nuts contain either grapes or nuts? Why is this person dating that person?
Some of these questions will eventually be answered satisfactorily. Perhaps in the afterlife we will be allowed one “Stump the DJ” question, such as “What is the Voynich Manuscript about?” Other questions, like why people settle for bad relationships – well, those we can answer for ourselves. It’s funny, though. Just like other people use our name more than we do, because they’re speaking to us or about us, other people often also have more insight into certain parts of our lives than we do. A really bad relationship or core incompatibility can be spotted in minutes. This is an irresistible topic of gossip because it’s so instructional. When we pick apart why other people are unhappy together, it helps us to get a handle on what we will or won’t accept in our own relationships.
Why two people are dating or married should be an obvious matter of fact. They like each other, they respect each other, they make each other laugh, they find each other attractive, they’ve made a private universe together that they both enjoy inhabiting. These basic expectations often come as a shocking surprise to people who are just beginning to wake up to the fact that they have trapped themselves in daily misery with someone unsuitable. Hey, guess what? You aren’t required to be with anyone at all, much less anyone who annoys you. You don’t have to have a “reason” to break up with someone. They don’t have to “do anything” to cause the breakup. You just realize that you aren’t emotionally invested or compatible enough to stay together, and you part ways.
Breakups are sad, of course, but they’re not nearly as sad as staying with someone when the thrill is gone away. “Don’t do me any favors.” Staying with someone you don’t want to be with anymore is prohibiting that person from finding true happiness with someone else. It’s also wasting your own life. As a Questioner speaking confidentially to any Obligers out there: “Psst! Your life counts too!”
Here are some weak, unimpressive reasons to stay in a relationship:
It was my first love
Moving out would be expensive
“Think of the children” / cats
He/she has a lot going on right now
I don’t believe I’ll meet anyone else
I want to lose weight/get my degree/reach enlightenment first
If I found out someone had to talk himself into reasons not to break up with me, that would be it. He wouldn’t have to pull the plug because I would do it. Then I would ask myself how it was possible that I didn’t notice anything was wrong. At what point had we quit sharing our emotional reality with each other? What else was I not noticing in my life? Basic incompatibility isn’t anyone’s fault. Living in an emotional desert or a state of denial is someone’s fault, probably the fault of both parties.
I knew I was going to have to marry my husband when it occurred to me that I would always be curious what he was up to. I couldn’t imagine a time in my life when I wouldn’t be interested in his thoughts, his opinions, his projects. He’s a cool guy. It was a good risk on my part because everything I found interesting about him when we started dating is even more interesting now. If I met him today, I would be even more likely to make friends with him and want to eat lunch with him than I was 10 years ago. On top of that, we have a decade’s worth of shorthand and inside jokes that I could never begin to explain to anyone else. I don’t know if I could even communicate with a random new person now!
This certainly isn’t true of every marriage. I had dinner one night with an old friend who was going through a painful divorce after many years together. It was obvious to me why they were no longer a couple – she had grown as a person and he was pretty much the same guy he was 20 years earlier. I pointed out that if she met him today, she wouldn’t even have a cup of coffee with him, because he totally wasn’t in her league. They had nothing in common (anymore). She looked stunned, and agreed, because what was so clear to me was a news flash to her. Growing apart tends to happen gradually, in the same way we realize it’s time to get a haircut or buy new socks.
Loyalty and commitment are important. It’s important to bestow them on the right people. Sometimes the starting assumptions of the relationship have altered along the way, and we find ourselves living under a different regime than what we signed up for. That’s called a game-changer. It’s fair to reevaluate if the other person is behaving differently, being selfish or unfair, lying, being more of a taker than a giver, naysaying you, isolating you from your friends and family, abdicating responsibilities, pressuring you and badgering you to do things you don’t want to do, or refusing to meet you eye to eye. When you know you want out, best to do it quickly. It gives both of you more time to regroup. It might be an important wake-up call. I know my divorce was for me. Oddly, a friend told me afterward that my divorce made him realize he needed a divorce as well. These things ripple outward.
What we’re looking for is a model of love relationships that actually works. Historically, anthropologically, people got together and stayed together for practical reasons. There is safety in numbers. People in primitive conditions couldn’t raise children alone, and many babies never made it to age 7. Both parties had to do demanding physical labor from sunup to sundown. This whole idea of the love match is a recent one. It used to be that what you wanted was someone to be at your 6 if you were attacked by wolves, someone who would also bring home a certain amount of calories as many days as possible. Now? Now we want someone who’s romantic, physically attractive, a good roommate, a good listener, who is also a self-actualized human, good cook, skilled money manager, etc. This is a very tall order when we’re contemplating a lifespan that may pass 80 years. In some ways, our expectations may be impossibly high. In other ways, well, you just have to put your foot down and say, “This is my life and I want what I want.”
There is nothing better than loving someone who is awesome. My marriage is a delight to me, and I wouldn’t wish anything less for anyone else. We didn’t “have” to be together. We were both self-sufficient economically and emotionally. Our skill set overlaps a great deal. We got married because it meant we could spend more time together. Often, we’re doing separate things in separate rooms, which is fine, because we’ve mutually agreed to do that and because it keeps us both from getting boring. We need our own independent interests, our own friends, our own headphones. We are constantly running to each other or texting when we’ve discovered something fascinating that must be shared. We’re together because we want to be. Would I give him one of my kidneys? Of course. Our relationship is about a lot more than mutual obligation and duty, though.
Why am I with this person? Well, duh. I love him. I’m physically attracted to him. I like hanging out with him. I’m proud to claim that he’s mine. He’s funny and he says fascinating, unpredictable things. He has a huge list of skills and interests. I feel safe with him. He’s generous. I like the way he is as a friend, confidant, and advisor to other people in his life. His pet is bonded with my pet. We have a good working relationship in the practical terms of money, bureaucracy, home environment, and travel style. I respect and admire him for a thousand reasons. I like his cooking. He doesn’t snore. Being around him has been a profoundly good influence on my life. He’s helped me to be more confident, and he’s taught me how to sleep and how to think like an athlete. It’s not just that I’m impressed with him as a person and a friend, though. I like being his wife. He’s good to me. He does nice things for me without being asked, which makes me want to do nice things for him, too. I trust him to be honest with me, to safeguard my secrets, and to be on my side. We’ve crossed streams together, physically and figuratively. He’s not just on my zombie apocalypse team – he is my zombie apocalypse team.
I could go on and on about my husband all day. It would be fairly easy for me to write that list of the thousand reasons I admire him, and in fact I might, since our anniversary is coming up and all. The reason I’m sharing, though, is that I’ve realized what we have is not necessarily something other people realize they could have. A lot of people seem to find themselves in relationships because they started talking, dating seemed like the obvious thing to do, and then moving in together seemed like the most obvious thing after that. Why that person, though? Why this person at this time? Are you simpatico? Would you be friends if you weren’t a couple? If you met today, would you hit it off? Are you caring for each other and doting on one another, or merely tolerating each other? Maybe the bloom is off the rose somewhat, but could you take another step closer and reach another level of intimacy? Are you giving all the love you have to give? If you are, best to check and make sure you’re giving your love to the right person for the right reasons.
I was standing in the laundromat one afternoon, folding my clothes. Another woman had brought her daughter and another little girl, both about five years old. They took a fancy to me, as little kids often do when they see mommy-aged ladies without children. The little girls asked me questions, in between running around the machines. One came back and patted me on the behind.
“THAT’S a big butt you got there.”
“That wasn’t very nice,” I said. Her mom piped up. “What did she say?”
I told her.
She snorted. She didn’t even pretend to disagree.
I was a size 8 at the time, nowhere near my top weight, and I was only 20. I hadn’t been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or thyroid disease yet. I had no idea at the time how long a journey lay ahead of me. I knew I carried my weight in my lower half, a body type referred to as “pear-shaped,” and that that was supposedly healthier than “apple-shaped,” which corresponded with higher rates of heart disease. Other than that, I didn’t give it much thought. Having a big butt was sort of like being a car with a bumper, or a duck with tail feathers. Big butt, so what?
As the years went by, I learned affectionate terminology for this area. Booty. Junk in the trunk. Badonkadonk. Moneymaker (appropriate when you're always working your butt off...).
Every now and then, though, I would catch a glimpse of it, following me everywhere I went like some stalker. There it would be, photobombing me. There it would be, pushing its way into the dressing room where I went to try on clothes. There it would be, snickering at me when I left again to find the next size up. I remember one night when I tried on 35 different pairs of pants, trying to find one that simultaneously fit my waist, hips, butt, thighs, and short legs.
Now that I’m thin, 90% of clothes in my size fit properly. Who knew?
I started to make more money. This gave me more options in life, and that included clothing. I have always been a tightwad, and I started contemplating whether anything good might come of upgrading my wardrobe. Maybe better outfits would lead to a promotion. I was single and lonely, and perhaps adapting to a certain ‘look’ might help me meet an eligible gentleman. I felt an undefined dissatisfaction when I looked at my reflection in the changing room.
It occurred to me that what I wanted wasn’t new pants. I wanted a new BUTT.
I could spend any amount of my hard-earned money on higher-end fashions from higher-end stores. I could hire a personal shopper or wardrobe consultant to give me a makeover. I could buy some compression garments and try to squeeze myself into a different shape, although those tended to bulge above the knee, which needs a separate name because it’s upside-down from a muffin top. None of these options was going to give me what I really wanted, which was a caboose that didn’t look like a sack of potatoes.
How much of the beauty and fashion industry would still exist if all women felt total body pride?
I don’t color my hair – I like my tinsel. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t get professional manicures or pedicures. I don’t get anything waxed. I don’t have a dermatologist. I don’t wear high heels. Not only do I not wear Spanx, they don’t even make them in my size. I don’t have any store credit cards. I don’t “shop.” Other people can do what they want, and spend what they want, but personally, I don’t feel the need. When I walk down the street, I hold my head up high, throw my shoulders back, and shake that thang. Take your hats off, ladies and gentlemen; what you see before you is a marathon runner.
The thing about having a nice butt is that it works in every situation. It’s reliable. This is a butt that can get me up a 6,000-foot elevation gain. This is a butt that can get me over a wall obstacle. This butt has climbed a rope, jumped over open flame, and scuttled its way under barbed wire. It even fit through the dog door one keyless night. It’s a very capable set of buttocks.
The other interesting thing about my new butt is that I tend to catch my husband staring at it. Whatever you might say about marriage and long-term love, having a mega-fine posterior is not a hindrance.
I have stretch marks, and I always will. They start at my knee and work their way up my inner thighs, my hips, and my butt. They’re not red or purple anymore. Now they look a bit like sparkly silver lightning bolts. I don’t have a problem with this. They’re like the action lines in a comic book, indicating all the super-powers resident in my lower half. I’m proud of these silver lightning bolts because they’re proof of how far I’ve come, from chronic pain and fatigue to adventure racing and backpacking the world’s beauty spots. If you have a problem with my stretch marks, I will use my newfound lower body strength to kick you into orbit.
I didn’t really do it on purpose, of course. If I’d known the magic formula for having a nice butt when I was in my teens or 20s, I wouldn’t have cared. I would have thought I was above such concerns. Besides, I never looked at my own butt. How could I, when I was always sitting on it? Now it’s more like a consolation prize for being over 40. It’s hilarious to see young men check me out and then realize that I’m older than their moms. This butt of mine is the result of years of running and clean nutrition. It’s merely one symptom of an overall lifestyle that includes kicking serious ass as well as owning one.
Free stuff is the hardest to let go. Why is that? It's one of the many paradoxes of clutter. Another is that we tend to want to control stuff even after it leaves our possession. We want to give it a Forever Home, as though it's a lovable elderly pet. We'll happily give it away, as soon as we can find a properly worthy recipient who will truly treasure it and use it more than we do. Likewise, we'll cheerfully take in other people's clutter when they need someone on whom to pawn it off.
Now that we're past Peak Stuff, there are hundreds of billions of small, portable objects in the world that nobody really wants. Things were over-manufactured in absurd quantities for a long time. Things like race-car-shaped VHS tape rewinders, shoulder pads, and promotional t-shirts. It's hard for us to countenance the reality that our epoch's greatest monuments will be our landfills. Therefore, we'll live in piles of clutter before we'll throw things away. One day, we'll be able to dump all the excess coffee mugs and souvenir pens of the world into our 3D printers and turn them into useful things, or jettison them all into space toward the formation of our own planetary ring. Until then, someone is going to have to rent some storage units for all this stuff.
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo. All this clutter has to go. Who's a sucker that I know?
My grandma gave me her exercise bike. She bought it at some point around 1980. When she dropped it off, she said, "And I don't want it back!" She said she had been trying to give it away for years (nearly twenty years, given the date) and that people kept bringing it back. I probably spent less than an hour on it, total, and it went away during my divorce. Goodwill could have its own chain of fitness centers, completely empty, yet full of equipment. The sound systems could be from old 1970s stereos. They could use the machines to drape all the donated clothes on.
You could probably set yourself up with a complete houseful of items that were cutting edge in 1980, for free. Possibly even 1990. Go back too far, though, and suddenly it's vintage.
Fitness equipment. Yarn and fabric. Construction remnants. Hobby kits. Baby clothes (maybe). We'll habitually throw away hundreds of dollars of spoiled food in a year, we're delighted to spend money on things we don't need, but when it comes time to evaluate our material possessions, suddenly we're concerned with tracking every last penny. If we can't sell it, we want to make sure it isn't "going to waste."
Sometimes, the great clutter swap actually goes well. We made jam last month with my dad. He was given all the equipment by a guy who was clearing out his house and knew he wouldn't use it. A pressure canner, jars, and all the accessories - he even got equipment I don't have, and I've been canning for ten years. I crocheted an entire king-size afghan out of acrylic yarn remnants collected from my crafter friends. It's called the Ugly Blanket and my husband loves taking naps under it. I don't crochet or knit any more, though, so don't be trying to send me your cast-offs. (See what I did there?)
When I give something away, I want it to be without strings. I no longer want any psychic ties to the item in question. It's played its part in my life and I'm done with it. I read the book, I'm not that clothing size any more, I'll never use whatever the heck it is, so goodbye. Most likely I never should have bought it or accepted it in the first place. When my goal is to own only things I use, need, want, and like, there's no place for anything else. I can't care what happens to something after I let it go. Who's to say where that item will go next? Maybe the carefully vetted, hand-selected person I give it to will never use it, while there's someone looking desperately for something just like it at the Salvation Army a mile from my house. The important thing is that I unload it while it still has some life in it. While it's still relatively stylish or before it becomes obsolete.
Everything becomes obsolete eventually. Refrigerators, for example, are one of the two items it's actually better to replace even when they still work, because the newer models are so dramatically much more energy-efficient. (Incandescent lightbulbs are the other). Appliances and cars make way for less resource-draining models, as does anything else that takes batteries. Electronics are obsolete almost as soon as they hit the shelves. Any "media," whether music, movies, or software, that exists in corporeal form is already done. Clothes, games, toys, books, art and decorations - almost everything will eventually look funky and dated. That's why we're trying to give it away in the first place. Stuff is like the first bite of dessert. It's overwhelmingly delicious! Oh [moan]. Then the second bite is awesome. The third bite is great. After that, it's just eating it to be eating it. When we buy shiny new bags of stuff, it's the same way. Temptation, followed by thrill, followed by excitement, followed by complacency, eventually followed by the stuff hangover. What is all this junk and where did it come from??
Clutter comes from our insatiable desire for MORE. If we only bought what we absolutely needed, well, the economy wouldn't be doing too well. If we only bought what we actually used, we'd spend most of our time at home because we'd be busy using our stuff. We'd be busy reading, watching movies, making all sorts of crazy stuff in our kitchens, and using up at least a skein of yarn a week. Instead, what we do is to buy everything we want. Or, well, we buy what we think we can afford out of the ever-lengthening list of what we want. The less secure we feel about our finances, the less we feel we can ever have of what we truly want, the more focused we become on getting and acquiring and shuffling and churning material objects.
This is why rich people often have virtually empty rooms with nothing but a couch and a million-dollar view, while poor people have stuff piled everywhere. This is also why homeless people push shopping carts.
When I was poor, I loved thrift stores and library book sales. I took home a lot of hand-me-downs as tips from my babysitting and housekeeping clients. Basically, any chance I had to take something free, I would. As a result, I had a storage unit for several years. I bought a lot of small, worthless junk, much of which I never really used. It wasn't until I was in college that it finally struck me: I could have nicer things if only I focused on buying fewer, higher-quality things. Five pairs of ill-fitting shoes from Payless that gave me blisters would equal one pair of comfortable, higher quality shoes that lasted three times as long. I started living a nicer lifestyle without earning any more money.
I've gone from sub-poverty to upper middle class. As I've become more financially comfortable, I've noticed that I'm much less interested in shopping, owning objects, or going to restaurants. I started to feel at a visceral level that I would always have plenty to eat - and I lost 35 pounds. I started to understand that I could afford almost anything I wanted (any book, any album, any movie ticket, basic clothes, camping gear, a kayak) and thus, there was no hurry to bring any of it home. If I want it, it's there. Stores will bend over backward to sell you anything you want to buy. They're not going to run out. Waiting until there is an immediate need means I am getting the freshest food, the most current clothes, the cheapest and highest performing electronics, etc. There's no rush. I can just rent a kayak if I want, anyway.
We can only wear one outfit at a time. We can only read one page out of one book at a time. We can only work on one project at a time. Yet we're uncomfortable if we feel like we're running out of options. That sense of needing an object to represent a choice is stronger under a feeling of scarcity.
Part of the attraction of owning stuff, of buying stuff right away, comes from the sense that the money will disappear. When I was poor, I often used and heard the expression that a certain amount of money was "burning a hole in my pocket." It's pent-up desire for things we haven't felt we could afford, coupled with the full knowledge that an unfortunate need will come up and the money will have to go to that. We've never been able to keep more than a certain amount in our savings accounts at any one time. What's the point? Buying a small, inexpensive object is as close to luxury and leisure as many of us can get. I can't go on a vacation to Europe, so I'll go hit up the thrift store instead. I can't go on a cruise, but I can buy more fabric. It's not hurting anyone.
It is, though. Having tons of stuff restricts life and reduces options. Storage units are the worst example of this. Spending $100 a month to store boxes of things with literally no resale value. I know of someone who spent $20,000 on a storage unit, and is now finally downsizing it. The years go by before you know it, and meanwhile, the stored stuff is getting funkier and sadder by the month. Usually when people finally realize they can't afford a storage unit, they try to bring everything home and cram it back into the house. Tons of stuff makes the house harder to clean, causes stress and quarrels, and can even lead to accidents. It creates a fire hazard. Being surrounded by stacks and piles and boxes is the opposite of abundance. You can't possibly use it all at once, you can't remember exactly what's where, and you can't find the really important stuff when you need it.
The way around it is through appreciation. We finally realize that we've always had exactly what we truly needed, or we wouldn't be here. We understand that we can't level up in life until we release our hold on the current situation. We stop being so eager to bring home bags of stuff. We stop caring so much exactly who receives our cast-offs. The constant trickle of clutter stops, and with it, the constant trickle of money. We remove our focus from material objects and start thinking more strategically. What do I want out of this life that doesn't revolve around stuff?
Inside me is a dainty, feminine, frilly, floral print coward. She flails and flaps her hands and squeals like a little girl. She's a total ninny and I hate her guts. No matter what I do, I feel like she's the real me, waiting to get rescued by some dude on a white horse. I'm on an endless mission to try to find the secret of courage, hoping that one day, something scary will happen and I'll finally feel brave enough. I'll be able to rescue myself.
I've taken self-defense classes. I've escaped a rear chokehold and I've fallen on the ground, bounced up, and fought back. I've been attacked by strangers on the street more than once and I've lived to tell the tale. I've put out open flames with a fire extinguisher. I've been first on the scene when someone had a stroke, on two separate occasions. I've chased down a toddler who was about to run into the street. Still, I don't feel brave.
I've hiked into the wilderness, with nothing but the food and gear on my back, no cell phone reception, at least a full day's hike from civilization. My husband was there, though, so I don't feel like that counts. It's like being a Disney princess and only succeeding with the help of some talking animals. Technically, my husband is a talking animal, just one with extremely advanced mathematical skills. Nothing I do is really brave when I have him there to back me up.
I've waded through mud, climbed a rope, crawled under barbed wire, and jumped over open flames. Emergency responders were standing by, though, so I don't feel like that counts. I knew I could quit. I didn't, but I knew I could. It was only a dress rehearsal.
I've encountered a bobcat, coyotes, a six-foot snake, and a raccoon that came up and patted me on the elbow. I've been stung by stinging nettle and bit by a fire ant. Still, I don't feel like I know what I'm doing because I've never seen a bear or a mountain lion. Not that I want to. I'm just a lacy little piece of long pork, after all.
I ran a marathon. I got passed by a blind runner and a para-athlete with a colostomy bag, though, so I don't feel like it counts. That was two years ago. I don't feel like I can keep calling myself a "marathon runner" until I start training for another race.
I've spoken before an audience of three hundred people. I once translated "We are the Champions" into Latin and sang it to a live audience, if you can call what I do singing. Whenever I perform in public, I feel like they're obligated to clap and that they'd applaud no matter what I did. It's not like they bought tickets just to see me.
I self-published a book. It's sold copies in multiple countries on at least three continents, every month since I put it out. Still I don't feel like a "real writer." Anyone can do what I did. It wasn't that hard and it didn't take that long. It's not like I made it to the New York Times bestseller list.
I've done karaoke. I've ridden a mechanical bull. I've been on the TV news. I've marched in a parade. I've been sea kayaking. I've bought train tickets in a foreign language. None of those things count in my mind because I've already done them. I remember what it was like. There's nothing unexpected or frightening in my memories. I know the outcome, and it was fine. Not impressive, not all that dramatic, but fine. I didn't die, anyway.
When I talk about various things I've done, they seem like minor bullet points. I've never been kidnapped or held hostage. I've never been in a burning building. I've never saved anyone's life. Well, I don't think I have, not directly anyway. I've never broken a bone or had a concussion. I don't have any dramatic scars. I don't even have a tattoo, partly because my attention span is too short and partly because I have such a low pain threshold. Nothing I've done impresses me, so why would it impress anyone else? I always find other people's stories more interesting. When I share my own stories, I feel like a big faker. I'm only an imitation badass, because I know how frail and puny I am on the inside.
The truth is that if you're not scared, it wasn't brave. Courage lies in doing something despite the fear. Courage is acting against your impulses to hide and protect yourself, and doing the right thing anyway. Real courage is more about things like standing up for someone else and sticking to your convictions, even when the consensus is against you. Jumping over open flames or calling for help when someone collapses in front of you? Those are no big deal, because nothing is really at risk.
We're really brave when we're vulnerable. We're brave when we apologize. We're brave when we take emotional risks, not just physical challenges. We're brave when we reach out and open our hearts to people, even when we're afraid we'll be rejected. Being a badass shouldn't mean being bad, and it also shouldn't mean being an ass. There is strength in perseverance and determination, and there is also strength in being receptive and flexible. True strength and courage lie in upholding our own values, living up to our best selves at the times when it feels the most difficult.
The path that Ryan Holiday took to writing a book about humility is quite surprising. It's almost the exact opposite of what one would expect of anyone from our culture, anyone of his generation, and especially anyone in his field. Barely twenty-nine years old, Holiday achieved early wealth, fame, and distinction in marketing, entrepreneurship, and writing. First book: bestseller. His explorations of philosophy in general and Stoicism in particular are well worth the read. Ego is the Enemy is a concise, provocative book. It has the rare quality of working as a touchstone, a book you can keep beside you and dip into over and over again.
Not a day goes by when some public figure or other does something ridiculous that undermines their reputation. Usually, it's an angry tantrum, a sexual indiscretion, or a drunken or drugged escapade. Before I even finished that list, some famous face probably sprang to mind. How many careers have to be destroyed by rampant egos before we start to realize that this could happen to anyone? Including me. Including you. When we let ego rear its ugly head and start making our decisions, we're heading for a fall. What Holiday has realized is that all of this was well known in antiquity. Philosophers whose writing has survived into our era already gave us a training manual for avoiding the traps and pitfalls of egotism. In fact, several of them. Popularizing the wisdom of five millennia is holy work. We can't afford to forget this stuff, and we need it now more than ever.
It's hard for us to hear a message that encourages humility, because we're constantly being fed messages about self-esteem. These are by no means incompatible traits. Humility somehow includes and acknowledges the possibility that we can do great things, and in fact that we can do more if we pace ourselves and avoid ruining our own legacy. The focus is not on how I am personally great, but on the reality that I can personally accomplish great things that live after me. When I've really done something worth doing, on the epochal scale, my name may have faded completely until the accomplishment feels inevitable, simply part of the background of the world.
When I met my husband, who is an aerospace engineer, he told me he'd always wanted to invent something so important that it would be named after him. I'm an historian, and I laughed. "If it's named after you, that means it's so obscure that only specialists will use it. Nobody remembers who invented the really important stuff. Who invented the scalpel? Who invented the button?" He replied, "Button" - possibly true, but the biography of the Miss Button who may have introduced the concept is lost to us. (Buttons as an object are much older than the Germanic language from whence that name is derived). (By the way, we both laughed really hard during that conversation). Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair, a revolutionary innovation but not one for which he is best known.
Ego is the enemy because narcissism is destructive. That's the great paradox. When we're motivated by concerns over our public image, how we compare to others, how well-liked we are, how much money we'll make, or when we'll get our next hotly desired gratification unit, we're sinking our own ships. We can never be satisfied by these pursuits. Acting out of any impulse based in social comparison will only undermine the very image we seek to perfect.
Ego is the Enemy should be taught in schools. If ever there is a Fame Academy, this should be the core text. It would eventually eliminate the root cause of the majority of our celebrity gossip, but that's okay, because there is plenty of work for us to do with that time instead. For Ryan Holiday, that work will probably be furthering his efforts to make Stoic philosophy more accessible for lay readers. For the rest of us, only time will tell.
Spike heard that his sister got to do a guest post about the philosophy of a parrot. Everyone knows that dogs are better than birds. Dogs have been man's best friend for at least 15,000 years, and parrots aren't even domesticated. Every dog has his day, and here is Spike's worldly wisdom.
Wag your tail, even if your tail is just a nub.
Wake up early and chase your tail before breakfast.
Drink lots and lots of water.
There is never a bad time for a nap.
Go for a walk every day, and if you can't, just jump three to five feet straight up until you've had enough.
Every time someone puts food or water in your dish, rush straight outside and do a couple of laps around the yard. Do it again when your sister gets her dishes filled just to be on the safe side.
When you chase your tail, make sure to stop and go the other way or you'll turn into a corkscrew.
Greet people effusively every time they come home.
You can hear everything in the world if you listen hard enough.
Gender isn't everything. I'm an N for Neuter and Sissy is a U for Undetermined. Defy categories.
There are over two hundred breeds of dogs, and that means at least one for everyone!
Bark at the mailman or he might get inside.
Ball. BALL. BALL!
Vigilance! Do a perimeter check of the yard and each room every day.
Ask nicely and you might get a belly rub.
Don't leave perfectly good food on the floor.
Conserve water and don't bathe unless ordered.
Get your shots.
Roll in the grass.
Every now and then, run with your leash off.
Carry your ID everywhere you go.
It's good to get back to the garden and get your paws in some nicely turned soil.
Nice dogs usually have nice humans.
I don't know. Am I a good boy?
Chocolate is actually bad for you.
Insects are high in protein.
Snuggle. Snuggle in groups.
Stuffed animals have an expiration date.
If you want to make new friends, bring them a ball and put it in their lap.
Appreciate delightful fragrances, or any kind of fragrance, really.
Who says an old dog can't learn new tricks?
If you're good enough, you might get a cookie.
Stop making vague, half-hearted intentions. Just don't do it. Don't decide to "lose weight" or "save money" either. These are not goals. They're projects. Taking on a major life change is complicated, and you'd already be doing it if you knew how. You might never have needed to make a project out of it, because you simply learned how to avoid having problems with money, health, or body composition. Most of us are never taught this stuff, and the answers definitely are not obvious; otherwise, they wouldn't be problems for almost everyone in our culture. "Getting healthy," just like "losing weight" and "saving money," is a natural result of behaving in certain ways.
People who start a fitness program with the goal of losing weight or becoming healthier exercise less than people with any other fitness goal. That's about 32% less, according to Michelle Segar in No Sweat. Why else would anyone exercise, though? Let's look at some more interesting ideas.
Tired of being miserable in the heat every summer
Want to go to the beach or the pool, wear a swimsuit, and ACTUALLY GET IN THE WATER
Want to play with kids or grandkids without getting tired
Want to be proud of how I look in full body photos
Want to have only one size of clothes in my closet
Want to wear a dress, skirt, or shorts without my thighs chafing
Want to stop having to wear compression shorts under things
Want to be able to sit on the floor and get up again without holding on to something
Want to learn to cook new foods
Single and want a broader range of people to date
Attracted to fashions that aren't available in my size
Want to fit comfortably in an airplane seat
Want to be able to run up and down stairs in case of emergency
My dog deserves to get out more
Want to set a good example for my kids
Don't want my kids to fall into the same patterns I did
Want to know what it's like to be fit and strong
Want to get back into something I used to love (dance, racquetball, roller derby, swimming)
Want to try something new (surfing, kick boxing, SCUBA diving, riding a unicycle)
Want to do something I never got to try when I was a kid (ballet, karate, gymnastics)
Want to run a marathon
Because my grandmother wasn't allowed to do any of this stuff
Because I want my neighborhood to be safer, so I'll be outdoors with my phone and video camera
Want to look at gardens and get ideas for my yard
Want to spend more time at the park while the weather is nice
Want to be in a better mood and not be so irritable or depressed all the time
Want to have more energy and not be exhausted by dinnertime
Want a reason to spend more one-on-one time with my kids
Want more alone time
Want to get back to romantic times my partner and I used to have when we were first dating
Want to look how I want to look
Want to be done with this part of my life and try something new
Want to loosen up my chronic neck and shoulder tension
Want to get more natural Vitamin D
Want to save money on gas
Want to get to know my neighborhood better
Want to train for a triathlon
Want to meet new people who share my new interest
Want to look better than my ex's new partner
Want to look better than my ex
Want to get a new tattoo that would look better on muscle
Want to live up to my own standards and values
Want my outsides to match my insides
Want my partner to be able to pick me up and carry me down the hall
Want to be able to pick up my kids and run to safety
Want an outlet for my high drive and ambition
Want an excuse to get away from my roommates more often
Want to be able to travel with a smaller suitcase
Want to be able to scratch the middle of my own back
Want to do a cartwheel and a hand stand at least once in my life
Want to support my friend/relative in changes they are having to make
Want to be perceived as a high achiever
Want to look strong and physically intimidating so I feel safer
Want to know how to defend myself in a physical attack
Want to sleep better
Want to be able to climb into a tree fort
Want to make the most of my dream trip with all that walking and all those stairs
Want to pretend I'm in a spy thriller
Want a deeper connection to my cosplay character
Want to save money on fabric by wearing a smaller size
Want to do less laundry: smaller clothes = fewer loads
Want to find out if exercise will help get rid of my migraines
Want to know if I can get the same results so-and-so got
Want to look great on TV
Want to be able to do the limbo
Want to feel confident when I walk into a room and people look up
Want to find out how much I can improve my athletic performance
Want to learn about gardening and how to cook what I grow
Want Future Self to be impressed and grateful
Want to make the most of the rest of this year
Want to do it now because I don't want any pressure on New Year's Eve
Want to wear something super glamorous on New Year's Eve
There is no one good reason to do something. There are also no bad reasons if they lead to positive results. Nobody is allowed to tell you whether your motivation for doing something is okay or not. Lots of people complain about political correctness, but then they insist on it when it comes to body image dogma. You're allowed to think whatever you want about your own appearance, and decide whether or not you are satisfied with how you look. You're allowed to make your own decisions about what you think is beautiful and sexy. You're allowed to make any changes you want to make. If people can get plastic surgery, get manicures, dye their hair and/or cut it however they want, get tattoos, wear makeup, wear high heels, do cosplay, and wear different styles of glasses frames, then we should also be able to change our body composition without comment. If people do have comments, smile and thank them. Change the subject if you're not into hearing what they have to say. You might be surprised, though, at how little pushback you get when you start making decisions and doing what you want.
You can always change back. If you try something and don't like it, you can simply go back to what you were doing before. Most people do go back to their default. The trouble is that we usually revert to our defaults unintentionally. It's good to make choices and do what we planned to do. It's good to pursue what we want as we try to be our best possible selves.
A clean house is a sign of a wasted life. It’s also the sign of a sick mind, a broken computer, a broken sewing machine, no Internet, a boring life, a dull life, and a dull woman. I love Pinterest; whenever I want to talk about a pre-feminist, belligerent, misguided, dumb meme, I can always find plenty of examples. Basically, if you clean your house at all, nobody is allowed to be friends with you. It’s like the episode of The Twilight Zone when everyone shuns the man except the blind guy at the soup kitchen, and even he is informed that he needs to sit at a different table. NO CLEANING, EVER!
You know what I think is the sign of a wasted life? Talking about things you don’t like. If you don’t want to clean your house, just don’t clean it. Don’t put up signs or fridge magnets or throw pillows or coffee mugs making statements about it. Just do all those fascinating things you’re doing that are the opposite of wasting your life.
What is wasting your life? Resentment. Regret. Envy. Distraction. Procrastination. Settling for less. Negativity and pessimism. Snarky gossip. Dissatisfaction. Missed opportunities to make real emotional connections with friends and loved ones. Letting years go by without pursuing your dreams.
What else is wasting your life? Looking for things you can’t find, like a missing shoe, or the outfit you really wanted to wear that is marinating in the laundry hamper. Wasting money on fees and fines and late payments or items that never got returned as planned. Buying things that never get used, because money is really life energy and you worked hard to earn it.
Wasting your life is constantly complaining.
Wasting your life is living among dirty dishes and dirty laundry and garbage every day.
Wasting your life is always having dirty floors and dirty counters and moldy tubs.
Wasting your life is being surrounded by clutter at all times.
Wasting your life is fighting with other people about housework. Ever.
Wasting your life is buying into the story that society demands that only women do housework, and that a smart way to rebel is to live in mild squalor.
Apparently, I’ve wasted my life, because I like to live in a clean house. I’ve wasted my life getting married to my best friend. I’ve wasted my life going into business for myself. I’ve wasted my life traveling on four continents and counting. I’ve wasted my life learning to read music and play two instruments. I’ve wasted my life writing a novel, writing and producing amateur plays and a musical, and learning to draw cartoons. I’ve wasted my life studying foreign languages and learning to write in six different writing systems, seven if you count the International Phonetic Alphabet. I’ve wasted my life learning ballroom dance. I’ve wasted my life taking showers with my parrot. I’ve wasted my life riding a mechanical bull. I’ve wasted my life on all those overnight backpacking trips. I’ve wasted my life marching in eight parades. I’ve wasted my life learning to spin two hula hoops at the same time. I’ve wasted my life running a marathon. I’ve definitely wasted my life translating We are the Champions into Latin and singing it while a crowd of people held up their lighters.
Thank goodness I’m an organ donor, because otherwise my life would have no point at all.
The reason I write about housework is because I think people have gotten wound around the axle unnecessarily. Life is easier in a clean house. It is a one-time deal to get uncluttered and implement a housekeeping system. I don’t think it’s a woman’s job, unless she lives alone, in which case it would also be her job to decide whether to do it herself or contract it out. These rancid anti-housework memes just perpetuate the outdated, hateful stereotype that scutwork is women’s work. Negotiate with the people who share your home, get some robots, or figure out a way to streamline it and make it easier. Throw out your dishes and use paper plates. Rip out the carpets. Move to a smaller place, such as a treehouse. Earn more money and hire a cleaning service. Managing a home is certainly no more complicated than managing a business, which many of us do. In fact, I think it’s a great practice run for entrepreneurship. Test out various schedules and incentive systems and see what has staying power. Practice your negotiation, communication, and managerial skills. Delegate.
I advocate for cleaning the house because it enables a fascinating life. It cuts away distractions, like finding mysterious stains on things you wanted to wear, or being constantly unprepared, distracted, and late. Opportunities are missed. Irritations build. Marriages slowly, gradually disintegrate. A clean house may not guarantee a happy life, but a dirty house prevents one. How can anyone be completely fulfilled, satisfied, passionately engaged in life, and living a dream while surrounded by grime and postponed tasks? How can anyone have a happy marriage in the midst of unresolved quarrels or power struggles? Does anyone really think that a grubby house is an absolute requirement of good parenting? Who is teaching the kids the basic administrative tasks of life?
Yeah, I clean my house. I cleaned it when I worked full-time and when I was unemployed. I cleaned it when I was chronically ill and I cleaned it on rest days when I was training for my marathon. I cleaned it when I was a nanny of preschoolers and I cleaned it when I had teenagers in the house. It’s not that big a deal. I do a little when I’m on the phone; I do a little when stuff is in the microwave; I do a little while listening to a podcast or audio book. I do a little during cooldown after my workouts. I do my share and my husband does his. Most of it we delegate to labor-saving appliances, the price of which is amortized by not having pay cable. Almost all individual housekeeping tasks take 5-10 minutes. I’ve read anti-housekeeping threads on social networking that obviously took more time than that.
Housework is exactly like physical fitness, nutritious food, and following a budget. They are necessary parts of life. Respecting their necessity is the only way to get the best possible results. Paying attention to these areas on a daily basis leads to significantly less effort than ignoring them until they get out of hand. I’m busily wasting my life being healthy and fit and debt-free in my nice clean house, because maintaining these states is like coasting downhill on a bike. You only have to pedal a little every now and then to keep going. My goal is mental clarity and as much free time as possible. Keeping a clean house makes it easier to get my real work done, find things when I need them, and focus on the most important relationships in my life.
Simple Matters is a dreamy book. Erin Boyle basically lives in Pinterest, or on her own blog anyway. Looking at pictures of spaces like this can be incredibly aspirational as well as inspirational. I've been working toward minimalism for many years, yet not a square foot of my home looks as pretty, peaceful, or intentional as anything in Boyle's book. She makes me want to do something about this.
An example of a project from Simple Matters was to cover dated kitchen tile with white adhesive paper. My kitchen also has dorky tiles that don't go with any of my decor. I'm pretty sure both the kitchen and bath in our current rental house were last remodeled in the mid-1980s. It never occurred to me that something so simple could take care of this minor annoyance in my life. As a renter, there are limits to what I can do to make my space feel really homey, or like something I would have chosen. Adhesive paper to cover the country-cutesy tiles in my kitchen? That's a project I can afford and that I can find the time to do.
Boyle's take on simplicity is a blend of efficiency, best use of small spaces, sustainable and non-toxic materials, and aesthetics. This goes well beyond decluttering and into style. The many photos demonstrate the point of minimalism, which is to live intentionally and to have only carefully chosen belongings that add to the quality of life. I admit that I was captivated by Simple Matters to the extent that I now want to downsize more items (like books) to make space for a few attractive design elements. Anyone who is looking for more motivation to continue a challenging space-clearing job may find that motivation in these pages.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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