In the urgent care examination room, I read a poster on the wall while the nurse took my vitals. There wasn’t much else to do while simultaneously wearing three pieces of medical equipment, trying to hold still for a pulse ox, thermometer, and blood pressure cuff.
This poster outlined the clinic’s policy for pain medication. It was pretty long!
I happened to be in a pretty distracting level of pain myself, due to a sports injury, and it had gotten worse during the hour I had just waited. As a routine part of the exam, the nurse asked me to rate my pain on a level of 1 to 10. I told her ‘4,’ on which I will elaborate.
Then I mentioned the poster and how it put things in perspective for me. I don’t like being in pain, but I also have no interest in a prescription painkiller habit.
“I’d have to be screaming on the floor before I would want painkillers,” I told the nurse. “I have enough to deal with right now. It’s like you walk in with one problem and walk out with two problems.”
She laughed ruefully. Nurses are prone to dark comedy. With her level of experience she likely dealt with patients trying to score extra pills on a daily basis.
I avoid painkillers for many of the same reasons that I avoid sleeping pills. I have a firm conviction that almost all medical issues originate in a person’s daily habits, and a prescription is a short-term fix for what most likely started as a long-term problem. I’ve had sleep issues since I was seven, for instance, and these issues are poorly understood. The most common medical solution for night terrors like mine is a prescription for barbiturates.
Okay, great. Two years later I’ll still have a sleep problem, and also a pill problem. Thanks. (No thanks)
I used to work at a drug rehab. The program was court-mandated, meaning that over 99% of our clients came in to avoid jail time. Many of them were clean-cut and looked like any other suburban business professional. They got busted by having multiple prescriptions at multiple pharmacies. It could happen to anyone, I’m convinced of that.
I had oral surgery a few times this year, and I was not offered painkillers. I didn’t take anything stronger than ibuprofen, even when I had sutures in my mouth and couldn’t eat solid food.
I’d rather spend a week thrashing around in mind-numbing pain than spend years fighting an addiction.
This is a philosophical position, and by no means something that I expect to appeal to anyone but me. Painkillers are there for a reason, and it is possible to die of shock. I don’t blame other people for succumbing to what is a built-in risk of a rational, legal, and standard choice. I know this is a neurochemical thing, not some... “willpower” thing or what-have-you.
I don’t believe in “willpower.”
I do, though, believe in the Pain Scale.
Sitting in a veterinary office one day, I saw a little poster on the wall. It was a pain scale for animals. It impressed me that veterinary science had worked out a way to rate the pain of animals who can’t speak or write. We can tell how they feel by looking at them, by the way they behave.
According to this poster, a ‘10’ for an animal might show up as loss of consciousness, convulsions, and possibly death.
Whoa! I thought. Good point. I know I have never experienced a 10 on the pain scale in my life. It occurred to me that few people probably have, even if they’ve been in labor or had major burns.
The pain scale I’ve seen for humans is subjective. It asks us to rate our pain according to what we have experienced before, or whether we feel it is ‘severe.’
A stubbed toe rates as a 1, according to one scale. Everyone has stubbed a toe at some point, and the universal reaction is to hop around swearing a blue streak. This is one of the three reasons I haven’t owned a coffee table for the past twenty years. We don’t call 911 when we stub our toes, though, because we know it will only hurt that much for a minute or two. Acute but brief and not dangerous.
Chronic pain is what tends to get us into trouble. I started getting migraines the same year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a long time ago when there weren’t any reliable prescription drugs for either condition. Those were some tough years.
I figured out along the way, though, how to avoid flare-ups. Everything I ever did that worked was a permanent, often quite radical, lifestyle modification. I figured a lot of things out accidentally, coincidentally, and sometimes by trial and error. Problems like these are systemic, and they are hard to treat because they are the result of multiple inputs. Changing even three things might not be enough to make a difference, and they might not even be the right three things.
If I’d gotten some prescriptions, I’m convinced that I would not have pushed through and figured out how to leave the pain state. I would have thought of myself as a sick person who needed to take pills forever.
Pain is an invader, but it’s also a messenger. Pain tells us, Hey, whatever you’re doing, knock it off. Pain is an opportunity to learn something.
Not everyone is interested in receiving the message from pain. Emotionally - why do we continue to interact with people who hurt us or betray our trust over and over? Mentally - why do we dig in and double down on ideas after we’re exposed to contradictory evidence? Physically - why do we keep eating foods that make us ill, deprive ourselves of sleep, or ignore doctor’s orders?
When I’m in a difficult situation, I like to ask myself, What would an ordinary person do right now? Sometimes I can say, Okay, that’s what I should do, and other times the response should obviously be, Okay, definitely don’t do that. It depends on whether the standard response seems to lead to good or bad results. If the standard response to pain is to get a prescription for painkillers, and a common response to painkillers is to develop a tolerance, then I want to avoid that common outcome.
When I think of the pain scale, my personal version of it, it helps me to stay in my right mind and think about Future Me. The truth is that Future Me has probably already gotten over this.
1 - stubbed toe, paper cut
2 - headache, common cold
3 - migraine
4 - distracting pain
5 - “better get that looked at” pain
6 - “incapable of doing anything else” pain
7 - involuntary sobbing pain (antibiotic eye drops)
8 - cry yourself to sleep pain (losing a fingernail in a metal door)
9 - uncontrollable screaming
10 - unconscious, seizure, coma
I survived an 8, my personal 8, and that was a level of pain that made me believe that torture works. It also helps me to believe that there are of course worse levels of pain within human experience. Maybe I’ve already experienced the worst pain I will ever feel in my life! At that level, I could still speak, could still get up and walk, could go about my business without pain treatment. I knew that my body can heal, that my brain can eventually tune out pain, that this too would pass. Not a single one of the most painful experiences of my life is bothering me today.
I believe that there is a natural neurochemical response to pain, and that this neurochemistry can be permanently disrupted after even a short period of using various pharmaceuticals. I don’t trust them at all. I trust that I can handle almost any painful experience that comes my way, and that almost anything is easier than fighting an addiction.
Open loops are distracting. That’s their nature. An ‘open loop’ is the term for unfinished business, according to Getting Things Done. Sometimes that open loop is a task that needs to be done just once, sometimes it’s a persistent problem, and I think sometimes it’s also a philosophical quandary.
This is why we can get resolution on situations even when they will never change.
I work with chronically disorganized people. The two main things they struggle with are making categories and choosing priorities. This is why they always feel like they don’t know where to start. They’ll cheerfully follow orders, as long as someone is standing in the room with them, and they have no problem getting rid of things or cleaning up really distressing messes. As soon as they’re alone, though, they spin out. They no longer know what to do.
Almost everyone gets into a state like this at some level, tolerating a persistent problem, not knowing where to start or what to do next. We can ignore things that would drive someone else crazy, and vice versa.
The most obvious example of this is someone who clearly needs a new prescription for glasses. We see them scrunching up their foreheads, leaning forward and squinting. They don’t realize they’re doing it, even if they’ve worn glasses for decades and had to change prescription several times in their life.
Another classic is the person who comes to work, even though they’re obviously near death’s door with the flu or a bad cold. Go home! Get out of here before you get everyone else sick, you plague rat!
It’s when we’re struggling that we lose perspective on our problems.
We also lose perspective when life is coming at us from all sides. The harder things get, the less focus we have for what would normally be routine issues. The common cold is an example here, as well. We’re feeling low and only a few days later, the laundry is piled up, the fridge is empty, the sink is full of dirty dishes, the trash is overflowing, the nightstand is covered with bottles, and there are mugs and plates scattered everywhere.
We can use this as an analogy. Has anything been going on lately that is comparably disruptive, anything that has messed with our routines the way the common cold does?
When I come in to work with a client, I expect that almost nothing is working well. Their cars are full of clutter, usually including coins and cash on the floorboards. They have at least a three-day backlog of dishes and laundry. Unopened mail is everywhere. Their bathrooms are terrifying. They usually don’t have enough cleaning supplies, such as a total absence of a mop or even a sponge. They have health problems, their vehicles are breaking down, and if they’re employed then they’re often on the naughty list for being late all the time.
These things work like magic in my own life, because I have systems in place, so I barely have to think about them.
It’s an unfair comparison. The fewer problems you have, the easier it is to deal with them. You can tackle one at a time, especially when they only come at you one at a time!
For a chronically disorganized person, everything feels like it’s happening at once because everything is associated with a constant need.
This is one of the widest open loops. We have to have some kind of philosophical reckoning with the necessity of putting a large quantity of energy and focus toward boring drudgery. Every day.
My people tend to subscribe to the idea that: Why should I make my bed, when I’ll just have to do it again the next day?
The same exact thing could be said for eating meals, bathing, or brushing our teeth. We just keep having to do it over and over and over again!
Most of us eat because food tastes good to us, we bathe because it feels good, and we brush our teeth because minty fresh is better than filmy yuckmouth. We understand the connection between these things we do every day and the positive results we feel.
We can’t feel those positive results for things that we do not do on a routine basis.
It feels fantastic to be confident about your finances and your health, to have a solid reputation for being on time, to relax in an attractive home.
Meanwhile it feels dreadful to experience the anxiety of:
Missing important appointments
Paying unnecessary fines and fees
Getting in trouble at work
Rushing and being late all the time
Frantically searching for lost objects, or wasting hours looking for something
Not being able to get something fixed because your landlord might find out how messy your place is
Those of us who aren’t in that deep should take a moment to pause and feel grateful. As annoying as we might find it to do chores when we’d rather be doing something else, it could certainly be worse. Most of us don’t have problems with our executive function. We can make decisions and take action.
We can, but we don’t always want to. We feel that the annoyance of working on something is not worth it, not equal to the feeling of freedom that comes from a closed loop.
The most commonly procrastinated tasks are writing a will, planning for retirement, and dealing with health issues. This is because we aren’t very good at imagining older versions of ourselves or feeling compassion toward Future Self. Instead of thinking decades ahead, though, we can start by thinking a week ahead, or a day ahead.
Instead of asking ourselves, Why should I have to do this? we can ask ourselves, will I feel better tomorrow if I get this out of the way today?
What would it be like if I was confident about my health and my finances? What would it be like if I spent most of my time in a smoothly running home? Would I feel happy and relaxed if I dealt with my most obvious problems, or would I find a way to continue to feel anxious and distracted no matter what I do?
Action is usually easier and faster than we think. It usually takes us less effort to fix our problems than we thought. Once we finally get started, we’re halfway there. We deal with our routines ten minutes at a time, after all. At least when we are taking action, we can allow ourselves a sense of pride and satisfaction that we are doing something for ourselves.
Close a loop today, and find out how it feels.
Six weeks to live, that’s what the vet told us. He was in one room and we were in another, having a surgical consult for our 10-year-old dog. After absorbing all the information and asking a lot of questions, we wept on each other and then declined treatment.
A year later, he’s still here.
There are few emotional moments as difficult as saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Our love for them is uncomplicated and pure in a way that it rarely or never is for the humans in our lives. This is why sitting in a veterinary office can lead us to make decisions that can ultimately be bad for the animal and bad for us as well. It helps when we can set ourselves some guidelines in advance.
It sucks, but animals have lifespans. Most of them are shorter than ours. We love them, and then they get old and die on us. It’s desperately unfair. Why can’t a dog live as long as a horse? Why can’t a cat live as long as a parrot? Our parrot helped raise this dog, Spike, from a 10-week-old puppy. Now she’s still swinging upside down by two toes and singing to Lady Gaga while he’s a stiff old elderly dog. She’s 21 and she could probably outlive five consecutive dogs during her natural lifespan.
It isn’t fair.
It isn’t fair, and yet that’s part of my attraction to parrots. Long life and few health problems.
Comparing one phylum to another isn’t useful in this context, though. What I am going to offer is a comparison between two dog-loving families faced with similar veterinary issues, what they decided, and how it turned out.
First I’ll offer the test case, and then I’ll offer details about Spike’s situation.
I met a woman at a party. She had a lot on her mind. Her household was broke, she was unemployed, and she couldn’t afford the special high-end groceries she needed for her diet. I used to work in social services, so when I hear “can’t afford groceries” I get into “feed this family” mode and start offering options. Then I found that the family was broke partly because they had recently spent over $20,000 on cancer treatments for their dog.
I didn’t meet the dog in question, and we’re not in touch, so I have no idea how this looks a year down the road. The story was that the treatments worked and the dog was cancer-free a year later. The woman at the party didn’t seem to have made the connection between struggling with grocery money and paying the extra vet bills.
This stuck in my mind because only a couple of weeks later, we found out that our own dog had a liver tumor.
Here’s the backstory. Our dog was diagnosed with Addison’s disease when he was two years old. He hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and he lay in his bed, shaking. I got down on the floor with him and held him all night, certain this pup was going to die. Took him to the vet and found out he has this genetic endocrine disorder which is so serious that most people choose to euthanize rather than try to treat it.
We decided to give him the pills and keep him around. A few years later, that medication quit working on him and we thought he was going to die again, but he responded to a different drug. Now he goes in every month for a shot, and the few days at the end of the cycle, he tends to be shaky and ill. Tough life for a little dog.
Then there was the time he hurt his neck from shaking his toys so much. The vet advised a spinal tap and a long list of other treatments to find out what was wrong. He didn’t do well on the pain medication and quit eating again, and once again we were sure our expensive little dog wasn’t going to make it. We took him off the pain meds and I was able to coax him back into eating solid food by pretending I couldn’t stop dropping bits of my lunch on the floor.
By the time we made it to the Liver Tumor point on the timeline, we had been through a lot as a mixed-species family. Spike had been on countless prescriptions and was on a first-name basis with literally every single employee at no fewer than four clinics. He was a canine celebrity, The Addisonian Dog Who Lived. “Personality plus,” they call him, a great dog with a loving home... and poor health.
It’s like this. 20% of the time, he’s happy and hilarious. He jumps three feet straight off the ground, chases his tail, and does a dozen circus tricks.
20% of the time, he’s curled up in a ball feeling sick and refusing food.
The middle 60%, he’s like any other dog, hanging around sleeping or scratching his ear or following us from room to room.
We’ve known for a long time that Spike probably wasn’t going to get the advanced life span of some dogs. We’ve known for most of his life that his genetic condition would eventually progress to the point that it was untreatable. We had to make the decision early on that when he started suffering more and life was no longer fun for him, we would do the right thing.
Then my mother-in-law died of cancer, her fifth recurrence.
When we decided to decline treatment for Spike’s liver tumor, this was why. My husband couldn’t put his dog through cancer treatment because he saw what it did to his mom. She was a human who could communicate and sign her own forms. Our dog could never possibly understand what was happening to him, what we were doing to him. We knew he might die during the exploratory surgery, much less during radiation and chemo. All that just to buy him another year, a year of constant pain and fear and confusion?
And then what? The same choices again, only with an older dog?
When we declined treatment, the $9100 bill for the exploratory surgery was a factor, sure. It should be for most families. We have an adult child. What if *she* needed help with that kind of money but we had already spent it on our pet?
What if one of *us* got cancer?
Wouldn’t it be nice if veterinary care came free of charge, no matter the animal. Wouldn’t it be nice if they lived forever. Sure, that would be great, but we don’t expect anyone else to work for free, so why veterinarians? The “cost” isn’t a financial cost, though, as much as it is a cost of pain and confusion and dread for the animal. They hate it there, we know that, and when we bring them in it’s often more about postponing our own pain than theirs.
What happened with our dog’s liver tumor, a year after declining treatment? Fair question. It got larger and he developed a second tumor, in his lung this time. He’s still here, though.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that treating our dog for the liver tumor/possible cancer would not have been a good idea. He got this second tumor anyway, and the treatment for the first tumor could not have prevented it. We would easily have spent twenty thousand dollars treating our dog, who is now eleven and a half, and for what?
In the year that we didn’t have to buy him, the bonus year, he’s had a lot of terrible days. He’s also had some great days, where he was so happy and energetic that we just looked at each other with our mouths hanging open. This dog! His vets (he knows the whole team) have no explanation for why he is still alive. We know his day must be coming any time now, and we have the number to call to help his crossing over the rainbow bridge. We’ll do the right thing for him, no question, but why rush when he still wants to jump and play and do tricks?
Did that other family do the right thing by spending $20,000 on cancer treatments for their dog, at the expense of their own grocery budget? They seemed happy about it, and it isn’t for me to judge. Did my husband and I do the right thing by declining treatment for our own dog, partly because we knew it would cost $20,000? Not everyone would agree, and it probably isn’t fair to include the results, because if he had only lived for a month we might have seemed callous and cruel.
We made the choice we did because we felt that it was too much to ask of our dog to tolerate a year of cancer treatments. We also made this choice because spending that kind of money on a ten-year-old dog did not make sense in a broader moral context. If we were going to spend $20,000, why not put it toward a human’s cancer treatment instead?
We’ll say goodbye to our dog sometime soon. We won’t wait for the obvious last day. We’ll make it a party, so his friends can say goodbye too. He can have party foods, even the naughty stuff if he wants it, like fried chicken and chocolate and grapes. We’ll let him go, and it will crush us. But we knew, even when we first held him and he would fit in one hand, we knew he would. We knew that we would love him and he would break our hearts, because we are immortals compared to his kind. We choose this love because it burns so hot, an enormous love for a short life.
If you haven’t already seen the cover of Fair Play popping out everywhere you go, you soon will. Tucked under arms, clutched on mass transit, sliding off a passenger seat, maybe even on your spouse’s bedside table. Equity in household bandwidth is an extremely hot topic these days, with good reason, and Eve Rodsky’s book is a user-friendly take on the subject. Because it’s made into a game, it can be put into use without both parties needing to take a highlighter to it.
(Other titles on this issue, like Gemma Hartley’s Fed Up or Megan Stack’s Women’s Work, are going to be a much harder sell to a recalcitrant, unreformed mate and may not be as easy to implement).
The premise of Fair Play is that in traditional households, even when both parents work full-time jobs, the mom typically gets stuck doing 2/3 of household labor. This appears to be true even when she both earns more money and works longer hours. Yikes! Natural results: resentment, exhaustion, fighting, and perhaps even divorce.
Fair Play not only has a system for diving tasks, it also has scripts to follow for introducing the idea, getting buy-in, dealing with problems, et cetera.
In my experience with two chore-doing and dinner-cooking husbands, the direct approach and clear, specific requests really do work. “I’m doing X, Y, and Z before our friends get here, so will you do A, B, and C?” “Would you rather do Chore 1 or Chore 2?” Various men in my life (roommates, dad, brothers, travel buddies) are often more efficient than I am, and many of them have been objectively better at cooking and cleaning. Credit where it’s due. Division of labor tends to be far, far more about how it is structured, incentives, and communication than it is about motivation or competence.
The incentive part of Fair Play is that both partners get Unicorn Time, which in research is referred to as High Quality Leisure Time. This is so huge and so important! My husband and I build our schedule around our hobbies, classes, club memberships, workouts, vacations, and favorite weekend activities, with the understanding that we can easily fit housework and errands into the crevices that remain. We take turns cooking, not because it’s fair, but because we both specialize in certain dishes that we prefer to eat “our way.” Done right, housework can go virtually unmentioned because it feels like it handles itself.
While Fair Play is a truly great starting place for happier homes, happier kids, and unhappier divorce attorneys, there is one area where it could be improved. That is including kids in the gamification of the household. This book will work for couples with infants and toddlers, sure. In my opinion, any child old enough to play sports or have after-school activities is also old enough to start learning some skills. I didn’t love chores as a kid, nobody does, but it turns out that childhood chores were the reason my husband, brothers, and I all know how to keep house as adults.
Let all adults feel equally competent and equally free of drudgery and bickering!
The hours of my life are as valuable as yours and we both get to make choices about how we use our time.
As it is with time, happiness is an equal right.
What is fair is not always equal and what is equal is not always fair, so don’t expect a 50/50 split. The goal of Fair Play is equity, not equality.
Recognize that you and your partner have already been communicating about domestic responsibilities, just not in the most positive or constructive way.
Jealousy is the parking space; envy is the car.
Envy is what we feel when someone else has something that we think is out of our league, that they got it and there’s none left. Jealousy is when we feel that someone else has intruded on our turf or taken something that belongs to us, like cutting in front of us in line.
Jealousy is probably one of the most misused emotional terms out there. We tend to say it when envy is what we’re really feeling. Many people won’t cop to envy at all, and it seems to be the hardest of the “seven deadlies” to admit.
This is how it works.
My pets are totally capable of jealousy, and they act it out all the time, but I don’t think envy applies to them. Jealousy is when you believe that something belongs to you and that someone else is threatening something of yours. Example: ALL THE SCRITCHES.
If my parrot is getting a scalp massage, the dog will launch himself onto the couch and belly-crawl up to whoever is doling out this attention, then nudge for some of his own. It’s not like “You have a free hand, you can pet both of us.” It’s more like “stop paying attention to her! ME NOW!” And vice versa, of course. “Oh, anyone can pet a *dog*, but not just anyone gets to touch feathers. But you need to give it your full attention, so why not kick him onto the floor?” They’re constantly trying to bulldoze each other out of the way.
Does he wish he could fly? Does she wish she could catch a ball? Not really. Animals don’t feel envy - because they believe they are magnificent. They do feel jealousy because if there are scarce resources around, then they want it all for themselves. They don’t even feel guilty about it.
This is helpful as a demonstration of abundance mentality.
When am I going to feel rabid with jealousy?
When someone else takes the last slice of pie
When I see someone else in a restaurant or store that has locked its doors before I got in
When someone is sitting at “my” table
I don’t feel *envy* about pie, because I can either get the recipe and make my own, or I can order one. It’s just when I’ve got that hankering for yummy leftovers and someone else beats me to it. I also wouldn’t feel envy about someone else walking into a store or a restaurant, because I know they’ll serve me, too. I’m jealous when I feel entitled to a limited window of opportunity that has closed to me.
A few times, I have had the misfortune to meet a woman who is obsessively jealous over her boyfriend. (This is far less common with husbands, because the commitment has been made official in public). In the mind of one of these women, HER man is the BEST man and every other female in the world wants to steal him.
I don’t work this way, at all, and I’d venture that most people don’t. Why on earth would I want someone who was willing to cheat and lie?
Also, why would I want someone with fresh breakup cooties? Dealing with someone on the rebound leads to nothing but trouble, gossip, and drama. Ick.
The funniest part about the jealous lover is when the person they are clinging to so tightly is not a catch. Like, seriously, I got a man, and have you met him?? Off the top of my head, I can think of three instances when a specific jealous woman thought I was after her specific man.
Two of these women finally wound up marrying their man, which, good for them. The remaining one was finally presented with irrefutable evidence that he cheated, broke up with him after many years together, and wound up happily married to someone at least 3x better looking.
I would never feel either envy or jealousy about someone else’s relationship. It makes no sense. The way one person gets along with someone is no guarantee that they would get along in the same way with me! If two people are having what looks like a fascinating conversation, I might find that it’s a topic that doesn’t interest me at all. Dating and marriage are the same way. Hey, have fun talking Inside Baseball over there, or comparing your favorite craft breweries. Bye now!
Envy is an arrow pointing in a great direction to go.
If I envy someone’s house, vacation, or job, that’s my sign to figure out how they got to where they are. Worst case scenario, I could always hire an architect and copy their floor plan, maybe try to get their landscaper to come over and do my place. (I actually live in a small apartment). Whatever their job is, unless they are Beyonce then someone else out there is hiring for that job description.
Celebrity is the most widespread thing there is. If someone is singing then there’s a demand for that genre of music. If someone has a bestseller, then there’s a tested audience for that type of material.
Caveat: Only envy someone their fame, wealth, or number of downloads if you are 100% certain you have fully documented the number of hours/years they put in and that you know you are willing to work at least that hard.
I saw an extremely famous and very talented Hollywood actress in a bikini once. I sat up straighter, feeling great pride, because I knew I had better ab definition than she did. I have no interest in being an actress, but I liked how it felt to compare our gym ethics. I can’t even afford a trainer!
Envy and jealousy are both about social comparison, and social comparison is a killer of happiness. There is only one way to live comfortably with it, and that is to compare downward.
Nobody feels envy toward someone else’s quarrels, their veterinary emergencies, their mess, their debts, their low moods or poor self-esteem.
Personally I love comparing my life to what I read about celebrities, because fame seems to trap them at whatever emotional age they were when they got famous. They often act like bratty children or out-of-control teenagers. I’ve never wrecked a car, slapped a cop, thrown my phone in someone’s face, tried to get a gun through airport security, or been sent to rehab.
I might not be a multi-millionaire, but I can go to the grocery store in peace and there are no paparazzi following me. I know how to live my private life in quiet dignity. Envy that!
The first time I ever saw or heard of a quesadilla was when my younger brother decided to make some. In our kitchen. At home. It’s hard to express just how mind-boggling this was. YOU’RE cooking? But you’re in grade school! What are you making? What IS that? Where did you learn how to do that? I just couldn’t get my head around it. Another kid taught him. Suddenly my kid brother could cook something even our parents had never made.
Dang, it smelled good, too.
I spent the next nearly twenty years continuing to be a bad cook. Both of my brothers went on to spend at least a little while working in restaurants, where they learned to do things like fold cloth napkins in fancy ways.
The only culinary skills one learns in an office environment are how to use a plastic knife to cut chunks off a muffin or donut (apparently - but who is doing that??) and, if you’re lucky, how to slice a sheet cake.
I was in my early thirties before I decided it was time to learn how to cook. I didn’t start with quesadillas, though. I went through my cookbook collection and started with something fancy. It didn’t occur to me to work my way up from simple recipes first.
Thus I messed up a lot of perfectly nice groceries. It would have been discouraging, but I was hungry and I lived alone. I’m also extremely stubborn. I wasn’t going to quit just because I had to eat a few gallons of watery soup for lunch.
Something seems to have happened, where a lot of perfectly good adults out there have no idea how to cook. Everyone is ordering food delivery and not tipping. It turns out the delivery drivers are eating people’s fries, too. This is an all-around sorry state of affairs!
I don’t like delivery food for several reasons.
One, it takes freaking forever. Minimum half an hour even for the lowest quality.
Two, it’s lukewarm at best. Even if a delivery driver actually heated everything on a passenger-side griddle, by the time I got out to the curb to get it, it would no longer be piping hot. That’s assuming I eat it standing on the sidewalk.
Three, the trash. If I’m feeling too tired and sorry for myself to cook, it’s not like I’m magically going to want to haul out five times as much trash as usual.
There are two things I would do before I ordered delivery food, even though one of my favorite fast-casual places is two miles up the street. I would either make a sandwich or microwave a can of soup. I can say this with confidence because I do it every now and then.
How hungry does someone have to be before waiting for lukewarm delivery food for forty minutes actually seems easier than opening a can of soup?
Or making toast even?
My husband makes quesadillas sometimes. This is always funny to me because neither of us eats dairy. The plant-based cheese is finally stretchy enough to melt. It’s also funny because I never ate one until I was nearly forty! We usually have them for lunch on the weekend, though, because we take our roles seriously when we cook dinner.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, though. When either an adult or a child is building basic cooking skills, it just has to be easy and good enough to be its own reward. That’s motivation.
Sometimes, when I was learning to cook, I would just get out a cookie sheet and make veggie nuggets and tater tots. All I had to do was set a timer and flip them with a spatula. A nine-year-old could probably handle that.
When I was actually that age, nine? I could make a grilled cheese sandwich, scrambled eggs, canned soup, and cookies. I was also totally confident about making instant oatmeal, toast, and vast bowls of breakfast cereal. I wish I’d realized there were so many more simple and easy foods a child could cook, because I relied on these simple staples well into adulthood.
I still occasionally ate breakfast cereal for dinner into my thirties.
I could do that today, if I wanted, but it doesn’t even sound remotely appealing anymore. I guess I ate my quota. I cook “real food” now because it’s what I want to eat. It tastes good enough that it feels worth the effort.
We always eat a side vegetable (unless it’s a major part of the main course), and the secret is that hardcore power vegetables only take a few minutes to prep and cook. You can wash a head of broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage in seconds. You can chop it up in a minute or two. Broccoli microwaves for 4 minutes, cauliflower is 7, and you can stir fry half a cabbage in under 5 minutes as well. Kale, chard, collard greens, etc. Ten minutes from crisper to table.
The big secret there is that they cook faster than tater tots. They’re faster than waiting in line at the drive-thru, too.
Here’s another secret. You can pour out a bag of pre-made salad in seconds and throw anything you want on top. Quesadillas, grilled cheese, a donut. If half your plate is vegetables, it doesn’t matter what else you’re eating; suddenly it’s “part of a nutritious breakfast.”
There are several reasons why people “hate cooking,” and the second of these is not knowing how to make anything good. The first is having a perpetually dirty kitchen, and the third is living with selfish ingrates who do nothing but whine, complain, insult the food, and demand more. Those can be solved by making sure everyone in the household is “empowered” to DO THEIR FAIR SHARE. Roommates or whoever.
Start with quesadillas. Basically anyone over eight years old can learn to make a pretty good quesadilla, and after that, there are at least fifty easy meals within reach of a beginning cook. The faster and better we are at cooking simple meals, the more likely we are to think of eating at home first. It’s fun, it’s cheap, and you know the driver never touched your fries.
For all the advice out there to Find Your Passion or Follow Your Bliss or whatever, there is very little recognition that most people don’t actually know what they want. Most people don’t have a passion! Rather than feel motivated or inspired by this kind of talk, they feel inadequate, like they’re missing something. The truth is that it doesn’t require anything like passion, motivation, or inspiration to find happiness and live a pretty great life.
Also, it isn’t as hard as it seems to figure out what you want.
What most people do, when asked what they want, is to start talking about what they don’t want. Seriously, if you charged them a hundred dollars each time they said what they DON’T want instead of what they do, they would notice and they would keep doing it anyway.
It’s simply the natural reaction when people don’t have a clear picture of something they would like better than the status quo.
This is why it’s so helpful to write these things out on two separate and distinct pieces of paper. Paper, so you can put them in your journal, tape them to your wall, clip them to the visor of your car, carry them in your wallet, post them on your fridge, or pin them up in your cubicle at work.
What’s your favorite color? Okay, that’s the DO WANT list. If you don’t want to use a solid color of paper, then make a colored border around the edge or use colored ink. Or not. This is your first choice, your first opportunity to express your preferences.
What’s a color you don’t like? Can’t think of one? Okay, then use beige or gray. That’s the DON’T WANT list.
Every time you think of something that you DON’T WANT, write it on the ugly page with your don’t-wants.
The pretty page is only for stuff you know you DO WANT.
Whenever you start getting wound around the axle about things you don’t want, you can put the ugly page and the pretty page next to each other, then drag them farther and farther apart. Remember that what you do not want has nothing whatsoever to do with what you do want.
When you go out for tacos, you don’t have to think about pizza or sushi. It’s not on the table. It’s not up for consideration.
You’ve chosen. It really is that simple and straightforward when you know exactly what you want.
Almost all choices are non-zero-sum. That means that just because you choose it, does not mean you’re locked in. If you get tacos on Tuesday, you can have sushi on Wednesday and pizza on Thursday. No problem. You can even do one for lunch and one for dinner, or go nuts and have all of them on the same plate!
Almost all choices are minor and inconsequential, as well. Whatever it is that you’re planning to eat for dinner, it will only change your life if you get food poisoning. If you’re the kind of person who worries about that as a legitimate option every time you go out to eat, maybe you could… learn to cook your own meals? Just saying.
Worrying about What If all the time tends to destroy most options. Decision paralysis can take so long that the option expires.
My brothers and I got into an argument one evening. The one didn’t want to go to a restaurant where all three of us had been recently. Fine, we said, Where do you want to go?
I don’t want to go [there]! he replied.
Right, fine, we’ll go anywhere you want. You pick. Where do you want to go?
We went back and forth like that about eight times, and finally we agreed that we would just eat separately. It was nuts. Now, when the three of us get together, we often cook at home. It turns out that my brother’s “I don’t like that restaurant” energy was really more of an “I am willing to make my own beer-battered onion rings and bake my own bread” energy.
This is why it can be tricky to differentiate between the do-wants and the don’t-wants.
“I don’t want to be single anymore” is very different from “I want to marry someone who already has at least two kids” or “I think I might be into polyamory” or “Hmm, maybe I should get a roommate.”
The more specific you are, the easier it is to get what you want - because you know what it is!
One great way to break free from a stuck paradigm is to start asking people about themselves. If you can’t think of what job you want to do, get everyone you meet talking about how they chose their job and what they like about it.
If you don’t like your town and you think you want to move, ask people what they do and don’t like about their hometown. Weekend trips to various cities can be similar in cost to a weekend of going to the movie theater, getting brunch, and going out for drinks back home.
Try things out! It’s a good way to get information without feeling forced into a commitment.
I’m an extremely decisive person and I feel like it makes my life much easier. None of my choices are the end of the world. My clothes, what I eat, what I read, what music I play, what movie I will see, all of these rate an absolute zero on difficulty of choosing. I did put a lot of thought into it before I got married for the second time, but I haven’t regretted my choice of husband or my choice to remarry. That’s because I knew my page of DON’T WANTs was only 10% of the information, and I needed to be clear about the DO WANTs.
Knowing what you want is fine. It does not have to be selfish or greedy - and remember to write down all these negative thoughts on the DON’T WANT page. Good information. What job you have, where you live, your choice of workout, and what you like to eat really don’t impact anyone else. It doesn’t take anything away from other people when you get what you want. It is perfectly okay and safe to have preferences, and if all you’re doing is writing them down, then nobody even has to know.
Job hunting is more like dating than dating is. The dating scene has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, but job hunting really hasn’t, even though arguably it should have.
You meet someone new. Do they like you? Do you like them? What should you wear the first time you go out? Is there something in your teeth? What are you going to talk about? At what point do you DTR (define the relationship)? Are you exclusive? That’s about it. If you’re both feeling it, then you simply start talking and spending time together a lot more often.
You find out about a possible new job. Are you qualified?
Have you spent a minimum of three hours on the application, cover letter, updating your resume, and having at least two people check it for errors?
What’s the dress code? How long will your commute be? What hours are you expected to work… really? (Work/life balance, my left foot. *scoff*)
How many layers of interviews are there going to be? Phone screen? First interview? Second interview? Panel interview?
How long are they going to drag out the hiring process? Four months from application to start date??
Dude, I was sharing an apartment with my first husband sooner than that.
My husband occasionally gets calls from recruiters and headhunters. Sometimes these calls refer to jobs that he applied for up to a year in the past. Here he is, merrily working away, and someone’s human resources department genuinely thinks he would still be sitting around unemployed for a year? Sad but true.
The main difference between dating and job hunting is that in romance, people understand that their needs don’t always line up. Maybe one of them wants kids and the other doesn’t, or one wants to travel and see the world while the other is a homebody. Maybe one person meets someone else. It’s okay. Go in peace, love.
In the world of employment, only one type of relationship is okay, and that’s FULL TIME OR NOTHING. You can’t go in saying, Sure, I’ll work for you, but I’m taking six weeks of vacation a year. Or, Sure, I like the sound of this job but how about a 32-hour week?
It’s like you have to decide on your very first date whether you want to get married or not!
It’s also like your date is the only one who gets an opinion.
Employers seem to want candidates who are both highly desirable and yet somehow highly needy. They’d rather leave a position unfilled for six months than feel like they are lowering the bar in any way.
But what if nobody in the history of the world has ever had that precise package of qualifications?
Let me compare two job listings I’ve seen in the past three months. Both were titled ‘Executive Assistant.’ One paid $38,000 a year and the other paid $150,000 plus bonus. The lower-paid version had a much longer list of requirements and supported a much larger staff. Did you, ah, forget a ‘one’ in the front of that salary range??
The attitude that an employer wants to see is, I respectfully beg for the opportunity to please come work for you. I understand that it is gauche to ask about pay or benefits. I promise to come in early and leave late every day, skip breaks, take a short lunch or eat over my keyboard, never get sick, choose you over every single member of my family no matter what, and never use my vacation time. Oh, did I say “my” vacation time? My bad!
Imagine going on a date with that kind of vibe. “Please may I have the privilege of having a conversation with you?” Barf.
Dating has the aura of choice around it. It’s a mutual admiration society. Both parties find each other attractive and interesting.
Employment should be like that, too, so why isn’t it?
When I pay my rent every month, I understand that I don’t get to live there for free just because I like the view. My landlord understands that he doesn’t get to cash our checks just because he’s a great guy (which he is). It’s a mutually beneficial contract. HE gets the money and WE get to live in the apartment.
A job is the same. Nobody is working there for free. THEY get the benefit of our brainpower and mental bandwidth and work ethic, and WE get the paycheck and benefits. Because it is a financial arrangement, it is perfectly fair and legitimate that we may leave to pursue greater challenges for better benefits and more pay.
Or are you trying to tell me that you do not in fact want an ambitious, driven candidate whose work ethic is an integral part of their identity? Whose self-image is largely built around how good they are at their job?
Most people quit managers, not jobs. Some quit businesses, though. I’ve known several people (and in fact I’ve been one) who quit because they were tormented by what they felt were unethical demands built into their employer’s business model. This is going to become more and more common, from both ends of the teeter-totter.
On the one hand, the bar to entry is so much lower and employment is so high that good employees can either start their own businesses or easily find new jobs.
On the other hand, so many companies are built around toxic culture and extractive or unethical business models that only the desperate will work there. They’ll be embarrassed to admit it, too.
Only a person who is at a low ebb in life will stay in a dysfunctional relationship. Likewise, only someone who feels like they have no better options will stay in a cruddy job with a bad boss.
People take pride in what they do, and they like to brag about how good they are at their jobs. Everyone starts out a new job filled with excitement at how great it’s going to be. There are few feelings as good as the feeling that you’ve been HIRED and you’re going to do a great job! Companies would do well to encourage this feeling and make sure their candidates all continue to feel that the relationship is healthy, solid, and good for the long term.
It’s World Vegan Day, November First. Usually I avoid writing about my lifestyle because it really brings out the troll in people. Times have changed, though, so I figure I’ll share a little, just this once.
What’s it like? Why do I do it? What do I eat, especially on Thanksgiving?
It’s my right as a consumer in a free market to buy and eat whatever I want, and to not buy or eat whatever I don’t want. The market has the right to offer and sell me whatever I will buy.
I quit eating meat when I was 17, and went entirely plant-based four years later at 21. Now I’m 44. That means I haven’t eaten meat for my entire adult life, and I’ve been vegan for longer than I was an omnivore.
My head didn’t fall off or anything!
The first concern that people have when someone outs me about my diet is that I am depriving myself of key nutrients. I’ve been doing it successfully for decades, though, so as soon as they hear “22 years” they don’t want to hear any more.
They think what I eat has something to do with them.
They think my existence demands that they change what they eat.
I genuinely don’t care what other people eat. It’s none of my business, and I’m busy thinking about other things. I don’t want to encourage other people to cross over to my lifestyle, because they’ll just mess it up and then blame veganism rather than their poor application of it.
If I get the common cold, someone will ask, Do you think it’s because you don’t eat meat? (Uh... it’s... the COMMON... COLD??) Meanwhile, at 44 I’m on no pharmaceuticals because I don’t have any chronic health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, or sleep apnea.
Healthy weight for my height
Total cholesterol 134 mg/dL
Fasting glucose 86 mg/dL
I just dropped and did 25 push-ups, no knees. I didn’t think I could do any, since it’s been six months, but I surprised myself. Not bad for 44. My main health goal for life is just to be able to get down on the floor and get back up again without help.
This is exactly what has traditionally annoyed people about the lifestyle. “It’s preachy.” Somehow they don’t think it counts when they start lecturing *me* on Where do you get your protein and You’ll be sorry one day when you find out what you’re doing to your body. *snort*
As a middle-aged woman, it’s an entirely different picture than it was when I was a teenager.
Okay, so, what do I eat?
In the bad old days, it was basically unsweetened chunky soy milk and beige foods made of mushrooms, barley, and tofu. Seventies style. Now, all of a sudden, the dam has broken and we can get everything! Pizza Hut! Ben and Jerry’s! Disneyland! Every major fast food chain worldwide has decided to test the market. I went out with my brother this summer and got a burger from Carl’s Jr. of all places. I can even eat at the mall food court. In about five minutes it will be easy to get plant-based foods everywhere, and nobody will care anymore, which is awesome.
I don’t normally eat all that stuff, though, because honestly fast food isn’t all that great. I’m a good cook and it’s cheaper and faster to eat at home.
What do I eat, then?
My husband eats meat, although dairy makes him violently ill. We eat together. He basically only eats meat on the occasional business trip, maybe a couple of times a month. His choice, not mine. My only rule is “no cooking bacon in my kitchen.” Typically we eat some kind of meat analogue, like Gardein, and 2-4 cups of a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, or collard greens. We eat a lot of potatoes for the potassium.
When he’s away I eat things he doesn’t like, like eggplant or butternut squash. I’m also the one who tests new recipes, so sometimes I make elaborate soups or casseroles.
On Thanksgiving lately we’ve been pre-ordering a catered meal from Veggie Grill, because we can. I often fly off to be with my family, since my parents went vegan a few years after I did, and I fill the fridge for my hubby before I go. We like the holiday roast from Trader Joe’s. The Tofurky is better than nothing, but honestly we don’t like it.
When omnivores try to cook for us, they always leave it on heat too long and it gets dried out and overcooked. That’s true of Tofurky, veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, all of it.
Omnivore [chooses something for us]...
Same omnivore [watching us eat it] That doesn’t look very good
Basically I eat what everyone else does: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. I do what everyone else does: I buy groceries and put them in my fridge, and later I cook them. When I go out I get Mexican or Thai or Japanese or sometimes pizza.
The difference is that I read a couple dozen nutritional articles every year and I’ve also tested a couple hundred recipes over the last twenty years. Not everyone is willing to do that.
Why do I do it? The last unanswered question!
The truth is that the reasons have changed over the years. I first switched over because I heard a guest lecture in my high school philosophy class. I cared about animal cruelty. I started reading more, because that is what passionately ideological teenagers do, and I started caring more about the environmental impact. Now that I’m middle-aged, several of my friends have already died far before their time from lifestyle-related illnesses. I’ve had to visit a lot of people in the hospital and I know a lot of people who rely on prescription drugs and medical appliances to survive. The Standard American Lifestyle terrifies me and it doesn’t seem to be a very good bargain.
Is it sugar? Is it food additives? Is it environmental? Who knows? I don’t claim to know, and I don’t care, either. To me it’s a moot point. (I think it’s mostly dairy) I’m getting better results from what I eat than most of the people I know are getting from what they eat.
Why am I a vegan? Because I tried it as an experiment back in the Nineties and I liked it. I know how to do it, what to buy and what to cook. It quit being an issue for me, my family, and my dates many years ago. It isn’t that big a deal.
If anyone else wanted to try it, I would tell them to do what I did and give it three weeks. *shrug* You can always go back.
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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