It’s my birthday, a time I like to think about what I’ve done over the past year and what I want to be doing by this time next year. Typically this includes asking myself why I keep trying to plan something special, because somehow or other I always seem to manage to mess it up.
Classic birthday fun: Discovering stinging nettle the hard way, getting a second-degree sunburn in a weird pattern that didn’t fade for two years, stepping barefoot in puppy leavings, and now, sitting around for forty minutes at a bus station in Aberdeen because nobody updated the website with the school holiday schedule.
In a way, I think of it as good luck. If whatever dumb and annoying thing that’s going to happen to me through my own ineptitude is going to happen on my birthday, then maybe I can avoid that sort of thing the rest of the year?
Also, it’s raining, something else I try to see as a sign of good luck. It rained on our wedding day (Northern Hemisphere in August) and there is a superstition that this brings prosperity. After ten years I can tentatively say that this seems to have been borne out.
At some point in the last year, I made a list of “43 for 43” - things that I wanted to do for fun, to make the year special. I can only claim to have completed a dozen of the 43 items. That’s because this thing called “fun” doesn’t come all that naturally to me. I tend to be an intense, driven, restless sort of person and if I don’t plan and calculate, all the fun tends to get left off the list.
Sixteen of the items are fitness-related and I didn’t do any of them.
One thing I can say I’m proud of crossing off that list: I helped celebrate my brother’s fortieth birthday. If I hadn’t started nagging everyone about it almost five months in advance I think it probably would have been a last-minute family dinner, rather than a memorable vacation weekend.
I am good at recognizing spontaneous opportunities when they come along. That’s why I can claim to have done a bunch of random fun things in spite of myself. For instance, since we came to the U.K. I have taken serious advantage of the widespread availability of vegan food. I’ve had a sausage roll, a Magnum bar, and a Jaffa cake, and I even tracked down a bag of Starburst! (With blackcurrant!) We’ve walked fifty miles in five days, including days when we spent 9-10 hours on a plane or a train, and I’ve spotted twenty species of birds for my life list so far.
Eat, walk, look at birds, repeat. That’s sort of me all over.
If there’s one thing to do on a birthday, it’s to think about your favorite people, favorite places, and favorite things. Are you spending time with your loved ones and doing what really matters to you?
I realized when camping last month that I hadn’t been in a forest in two years. It took five minutes to commit that that should never happen again. I had forgotten who I was.
That brought up a series of thoughts about things that are “really me” that I haven’t been doing much lately, if at all. Traveling, cooking and having dinner parties, distance running, spending time in the woods, heck, even doing cryptograms. Too much focus on goals and self-improvement can eventually crowd out everything else.
Then I remember that it’s been a tough year. I spent a lot of time ill for about eight months, started having the occasional episode of migraine or night terrors after a four-year hiatus, and then rounded it out with a bunch of oral surgery. Whee. I can forgive myself for not having some kind of “perfect year” or hitting every single benchmark.
Of course I can also say that I feel like I deserve better from my physical vessel and that I’m hoping for better health, vitality, and well-being in the coming year. I want to get back to running again. I miss hills for breakfast. Also I can hardly wait until our lease is up and we can move to a place that doesn’t have loud, early-rising upstairs neighbors. I’d prefer to be thinking about more interesting things than why my neighbor feels the need to do her vacuuming at 8:00 AM.
When she was a little girl, did she dream about being the world’s most meticulous housekeeper?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to read every book in the world and I wanted my own parrot. One down, one to go.
Incidentally, Noelie just had her 21st hatch day. I owe her a berry.
I’ve been nodding off in the middle of writing this, on a bus with the heater on, having slept poorly in a sleeper car on a train last night. Snapping awake made me feel like a doddering elderly person. If I’m lucky that will happen one day! One day I’ll be quite old and I can tell patient young people what it was like in the Eighties, when phones had cords, VHS tapes cost $99, and you had to go to your friend’s house to play games or watch music videos.
I might be halfway through my life, I might go tomorrow, and maybe I’ve got another 65 years. Who knows? Who knows what sorts of dramatic changes and technological innovations I’ll see in my time? What will become of me?
All I know is what I’ve learned, which is that it’s good to be grateful for what you have, it’s good to stay in touch with your values, your family, and your old friends, it’s good to see the world, it’s good to save money, and it’s good to take care of your health and your teeth.
Now I’m off to start my personal new year with some travel, some time in the woods, some more intensive journaling, some birdwatching, and the absurdly early bedtime suitable to a lady of my age and station.
Boredom is one way to avoid the fear of missing out. Simply don’t care about anything and have no interests. Problem solved! For those of us who aren’t really capable of feeling bored, FoMO can be a real problem. No matter what we’re doing, there is always something else going on that sounds amazing, there are always tons of choices and alternate paths, and always the potential sense of loss for the roads not taken. It can eat a hole into any experience.
Fortunately all it takes is an attitude adjustment.
There are a bunch of ways to do it:
First and most boring, we can try to remember how lucky we are that we’re doing this right now instead of, say, lying in bed with the flu, getting a root canal, or loading a moving van. Oh yeah! Suddenly I am remembering what a great day this is!
Funny how we only feel like we’re missing out on the variety of appealing options, not the depressing or scary options...
We can try to remember that no matter what we’re doing, someone somewhere else in the world is doing something equally interesting. That person might happily trade places with us. Desire for novelty is built into the human system, and in that way we have much in common with crows. Just because we can see the attraction of something else does not mean that the other thing is superior to what we have in front of us.
I had occasion to think about this while walking in London. My husband and I passed a pair of Brits. He wore a Los Angeles sweatshirt and she wore a Disneyland t-shirt. They’d gone all the way to our neighborhood at some point, because it is so great, and we had packed up and met them all the way in their neighborhood for the same reason. Hook arms and do-si-do, swing your partner round and round.
We can try to remind ourselves that we can always make plans and come back again another time. Travel is simply a question of priorities. There are tons of ways to make it happen, from relocating or working in a travel-related field to house swapping to saving money, and lots and lots more. People are doing it every day.
One way of looking at vacation FoMO is to regard it as a sign that we are enjoying ourselves and we’ve discovered something that we like. Not everyone has a passion, not everyone is very much in touch with their sense of fun or their heart’s desire. Longing to stay somewhere or to go back again is a bright blinking arrow pointing in a clear direction.
What I’m working on right now is the sense that, rather than missing out on something or anything, I’m really just constantly surrounded by almost infinite possibilities. Every time I read a book, I’m not missing out on a hundred million other books, I just happen to be into that one at that moment. Every time I have a conversation with a friend, I’m not missing out on conversations with other people, I’m just fortunate to be catching up with this particular friend at this moment. When I’m somewhere on vacation, likewise, I’m not missing out on anything.
Even though it feels that way sometimes!
This FoMO feeling, it’s insidious. It’s like a leak in the ceiling.
Everyone told us, when we asked where we should go in London, “Oh, you should definitely see the Sky Garden.” Never mind that it turned out to be booked solid for the entire window of availability. Same thing with the Buckingham Palace garden tour. If we were to shed a tear every time something like that happened on a trip, we’d never have any fun at all.
Instead we realize that a place like London is absolutely full of magnificent parks and gardens, most of which are free to visit, have no lines, and include plenty of places to sit.
We find ourselves in Kensington Gardens, with ringneck parrots landing on us and eating out of our hands, something we had no idea would be a possibility on our trip, or in this lifetime.
FoMO is a denial of serendipity. Ultimately it’s a way of trying to control that which should not always be controlled. The point of travel is to see the world the way it is, not the way we’ve imagined it from our sofa cushions at home. It works so much better when we leave room for a bit of magic. In that sense we’re only really missing out when we stay at home and refuse to disrupt our boring old routine.
Comparing methods of dealing with jet lag is my gift to the world. I’m convinced that sleep is mystical and that what works for one person may not work for someone else. I’m somewhat less convinced that somewhere out there is the perfect method for me. Why quit trying, though?
What follows is a rundown of three methods of defraying the mental cost of jet lag.
The first time we came to Europe, we flew to Iceland to live in a tent. We didn’t sleep at all on the flight, thanks to a young family, the father of whom sat by himself on one side of the aisle refusing to help his wife deal with their children on the other, both of whom occupied themselves by continually kicking our seats.
Keep this in mind if you are jet lagged and trying desperately to stay awake. Simply find a place with seat-kicking children and they will gladly assist.
On the Iceland trip, we set up our tent in the morning and “took a nap,” which used almost our entire first day. This method is not recommended for adjusting to a new time zone seven hours away.
On our second trip, meeting in Hamburg, I decided to try pre-adjusting by going to bed half an hour earlier every night for two weeks. I relied on melatonin at the time, and it’s hard to tell how much of a factor that was. The night before I left, I had night terrors and woke up standing in my bathroom. I barely slept on the plane and was so tired I stood in the EU line at customs because I thought it stood for “Estados Unidos.” Then I couldn’t remember how to operate a turnstile. Went to bed and snapped awake at 2:00 AM for three hours.
But then, by the second night I was adjusted to local time.
That is the main thing to keep in mind about jet lag. It’s generally terrible on the first day, but if you eat meals at the local time and make yourself get up in the local morning, it basically goes away.
What happens if you try to stay on your home schedule for sleep and meals? I have no idea. I’ve never tried.
My motivation in travel is to see as much as I can see, and see everything I can’t experience at home. I want to look at nature in daylight and I want to visit attractions while they are open. Most things that are open at night, like theaters and clubs and bars and shopping centers, are basically the same as what we have at home, so it doesn’t pay to sleep through it.
On this trip, I followed my husband’s method. A frequent business traveler, jet lag is a persistent problem he can’t afford to have. He takes a Benadryl at local bedtime. Personally I don’t do well on Benadryl, so I tried Unisom.
Can I say, I think we’ve got it??
I took a Unisom at 6 PM my time on the plane and sort of slept lightly for six hours. We landed at noon local time. I didn’t feel all that tired or dopey and I was even able to navigate a turnstile.
These are the past travel mistakes that I did not make:
Did not leave my coat in the overhead bin and have to run back for it
Did not get yelled at by customs officials
Did not tell anyone the wrong airline and have them wait for me in the wrong terminal
Did not get on the wrong transportation heading the wrong direction
We were able to find our way through the airport, go through customs, find the Underground station, board a train, and make it all the way to our station without mishap. Then we got out on the wrong level and found ourselves out back by the service doors, and got redirected by some station employees.
“Are you lost?”
“If you’re talking to us, you’re lost. There’s no one else out here but us.”
We made it to the hotel and managed to resist the siren call of the mattress. We went out and walked around in the natural afternoon daylight until dinnertime. My husband, who had only slept four hours, was out cold before the clock struck eight. I made it another hour.
We both woke up at 9 AM local time, having slept at least twelve hours each. Feels like success.
That’s my new jet lag method. No more spending two weeks trying to adjust in advance. No more napping in the middle of the day. And if anyone else allows their children to kick our seats on the plane, we’re going to make them trade seats with us.
We’re going on an international trip, and you can trust this advice on packing, because I am literally typing it up in the back of a Lyft on the way to the airport. I finished using this method under two hours ago and there’s no time to change my mind.
That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Changing your mind? Like, packing in a rational manner based on experience and real world activities is excruciating and unfair? All that really matters on this trip is that I feel that I have at least twelve separate cute outfits to spread around the room?
I don’t get it. To me, underpacking would be a fabulous excuse to go out and shop. Not that I enjoy shopping, but there is that possibility that a foreign store might have some kind of exotic garment I would cherish forever.
If I overpack, there will be no opportunity or space for such a magical item. Aren’t I then missing out more by overstuffing my bag than I would be by leaving things behind?
I did buy something like this once. We were in Akureyri, and there was a super cute vintage boutique, and we went in because I had lost so much weight backpacking around Iceland that I needed a belt. Someone had put up a collection of locally designed t-shirts, and I bought one with a white raven on it. I loved that shirt and wore it probably once a week for two years. Now it’s in my go bag, where I see it now and then when I check inventory.
(The belt got worn until eventually it was recycled).
Backpacking is how I learned how many changes of clothes to bring on a trip. Four days are my limit for a camping expedition, based on how much food I can carry. It turns out that’s the outer limit for a damp microfiber towel as well. Therefore, I know four changes of clothes will fit in my bag and I know to plan a trip to the laundromat by the fourth day.
“But I can still fit more in my bag!” Great, then your bag won’t weigh as much and you have room for souvenirs. Or you can switch to a smaller bag, or share one large bag with your travel buddy, or stop needing a checked bag. Unlike packing piles of extra clothes, going minimalist actually does result in endless options.
Wear one, pack four. Simple. It solves so many problems.
The “wear one” is the travel outfit. I have two reliable travel outfits, depending on the weather. Whichever one I wear, it’s mostly irrelevant to the rest of the trip. I’m wearing it both directions. I know that what I will be wearing has pockets and layers and that it’s stain-resistant.
Most trips are going to be short enough in duration that it doesn’t matter if the individual garments mix and match. I can fit four changes of clothes and at least two pairs of shoes in my carry-on. It can get tight if it’s heavy winter and I need thermal underwear, but it still works.
For advanced travelers, there is this concept of the capsule wardrobe, where almost every garment goes with almost everything else. I decided to extend this idea to my everyday wardrobe, and not worry about having special vacation outfits. This has definitely helped to ramp down my packing anxiety.
“But but but... what if Lawrence of Arabia and Antonio Banderas show up to take me out in their limo and I need a BALL GOWN with a CRINOLINE???”
Well then. I’m sure when that happens there will be a fancy outfit laid out for me when they show me to my changing room. In the meantime, I’m going to assume that this trip isn’t going to be that type of movie. While I do live in a musical, borne out by the fact that our Lyft driver was singing along with “Hey There Delilah” on the way here, so far it hasn’t required much in the way of full costume changes.
I don’t wait for adventure to happen to me. I bring my own.
What about the “pack four” outfits?
It literally doesn’t matter which four outfits I pack. They don’t have to mix or match. Sometimes if they do, it causes confusion, or I stain something and the whole edifice comes crashing down. I just lay them out across the bed, A B C D, making sure each stack has the appropriate socks etc.
The other trick is to make sure everything goes with one or the other of two pairs of shoes. Wear one, pack one. Ideally you will be wearing the bulkier, heavier pair on the plane, unless they are very fancy boots with lots and lots of eyelets to unlace at security.
This trip, just like our last trip, is going to involve a combination of hot weather and cold, rainy weather. This is annoying, but it isn’t changing my formula. I’ve simply packed two hot weather outfits and two sets of cold weather outfits. We have already planned to do laundry at our hotel on two occasions during the trip. Since we’ll be going different places every day, it’s not like anyone will notice or care that we’re repeating the same outfits.
It seems like there might be another advantage. When we go through our photos after the trip, it will look like we’ve been very very busy and that we’ve seen a bunch of tourist attractions on the same day. Wow, you guys really get around!
We’re in the lounge right now, as I finish this up, and I’m proud to say that I can pick up my travel backpack with one hand and hoist it onto my shoulder. We were able to carry all our stuff up flights of stairs and walk quickly. We haven’t had to squabble about luggage and we haven’t had to pay extra. We both agree on the policy of Wear One, Pack Four, and I’m pretty sure it will work for anyone
Naysayers are going to tell you that the pursuit of happiness has something wrong with it. It’s deluded, it’s selfish, it’s impossible with the world in the state it’s in. They think they’re being contrarian. On the contrary, that is the default view. It’s contrarian to stand up for happiness as a worthy, even necessary, moral goal and ethical - well, I won’t say ‘duty’ - ...option. Ethical option. Part of this is because of all the negative things that happy people don’t do.
Happy people don’t act up.
Let’s catalogue this.
Happy people are not belligerent.
Happy people don’t vandalize things.
Happy people don’t abuse their kids or hurt animals.
Happy people don’t spread negative gossip.
Happy people don’t sabotage others’ happiness.
Happy people are not motivated to cause harm.
See what I’m saying here? A person who did engage in these negative activities would, ipso facto, not be a happy person. Someone who is content, grateful, even cheerful, would not be inclined to do these things. Probably the thought would never cross their mind.
This is a good measure of whether something is a wise course of action or not. Is this something happy people do? Or is it something a happy person would not do?
‘Happy’ does not necessarily mean ‘carefree.’ A counterargument could be made that a ‘happy’ person is a hedonist, a sloppy and irresponsible person who leaves a trail of mess and debt. Really, though? Such a person would eventually start to receive increasing amounts of criticism and disrespect, and that is not consistent with longterm happiness.
An inconsiderate person is missing out on the happiness of doing nice things for others. There is also a missed opportunity for earning respect and gaining an excellent reputation.
Not that striving for reputation is all that good an idea. Depending on the opinions of others is not the path toward happiness, it’s rather a narrow and muddy track into the brambles. Happy people are happy because they have found something inside themselves that makes them that way.
Probably a lot of widely different things make happy people happy. Speaking for myself, I find that things that make me happy aren’t always on other people’s radar. They aren’t noticing things that are, for me, a constant wellspring of delight.
Delight is certainly one ingredient of happiness!
There’s a corollary to the idea that happy people don’t do certain things, and that is that unhappy people also don’t do certain things. Seeing a quadrant diagram here... Happy people do things that unhappy people don’t do, etc.
Unhappy people don’t delight in small things.
Unhappy people do not seek out awe-inspiring experiences.
Unhappy people do not create their own atmosphere of domestic contentment.
Unhappy people are not consoled by nature.
Unhappy people do not spread good cheer to others.
You never know when a single comment or facial expression can make the difference in someone else’s day. Anyone who has ever worked in customer service can testify to this. People have their reasons for being rude or throwing tantrums, and maybe they’re good ones, but probably they’re not.
A single kind remark or empathetic gaze can make someone feel connected and cared for. Far more often, all sorts of sniping cruddy little bits of sarcasm or dirty looks are going to be fired throughout the day. It tends to spill over onto innocent bystanders.
You never know when the person on the receiving end just got fired, got a bad diagnosis, or had a death in the family. You never know when someone overheard something snappy at a low moment, and it contributed to their overall outlook on life. Unhappiness spreads like mold spores, and unhappy people like it that way.
On the other hand, you never know when a simple smile or word of courtesy is going to make the difference. It may be the first time someone has made eye contact with that person and smiled at them all day. It may be the first time someone has spoken directly to them or treated them kindly all week. It may be the first compliment they’ve ever received in their life.
Unhappy people don’t think about these things. Unhappy people think about themselves.
It’s possible to shake out of a mental spiral. Disrupt it. The quickest way to do that is to do something nice for someone. Thinking about someone else is a minute you didn’t spend thinking about your own problems. Maybe you still have the same problems you did a minute ago, but something positive has come from it, and nobody can take that away.
Happy people have this built into their worldview. Most of the nice things that happy people do are instinctual and don’t require a moment’s hesitation. Happy people don’t wait to be kind.
Because happy people believe in happiness, they are much quicker to fix small problems before they become bigger problems. Unhappy people believe in unhappiness, and problematic situations fit well in that worldview. Happy people don’t tolerate persistent problems.
It’s possible to stay unhappy while fixing persistent problems, if you want it that way. When I was young and poor, I would come home and scrub the bathtub whenever I’d had a rotten day. I figured I could be sad with a clean bathtub or a dirty bathtub, and at least I could have a nice soak in the clean bathtub. On the worst days, at least a depressing mess isn’t contributing to everything.
I believed in my ability to affect my own circumstances. Therefore, I did.
Happy people don’t quit trying. Happy people know there’s a better way, and they’re not going to give up until they’ve made it back. This is why happy people are the ones changing the world.
There must be people cooking out there, but who, and where are they? Everyone I know seems to be scrambling between protein bars and stale sandwiches. Who is going to cook a nice dinner when it’s often nearly 8 PM before they get in the door?
This is where I advocate for Dinner One and Dinner Two.
It’s true that nobody has the time for anything. Actually it totally isn’t. Everyone gets the same 24 hours. Good person, bad person, busy, not busy, nobody gets any more time and nobody gets any less. We just use it up while we try to pour it from one bucket into another.
I started to realize how much time I could reclaim when my husband I were first dating. He preferred, over what I always saw as the enticing reward of weekend brunch, actually cooking a hot breakfast at home? Why? Who on earth doesn’t like to go to brunch? He pointed out that it involved driving across town, putting your name on a list, standing around for an hour waiting for a table, finally getting seated, waiting twenty minutes to order, waiting half an hour or more for the food, and then waiting another twenty minutes to get the check.
If he made the breakfast, we could eat, clean up, and take a nap in the same amount of time.
He sealed the deal and proved his point by making massive hubcap-sized waffles.
I started cooking dinners from scratch around the same time. I had grown bored of the selection of frozen dinners available to me, and I also realized that I really wanted two of them. I would always be hungry afterward and round out my meal with a large bowl of cereal. If I started buying double meals, I’d double my grocery bill, and also my trash. What if I tried cooking, making some soup or something?
It took so long, though! I didn’t like having to go directly to the kitchen when I got home from work, and then, because I was new to cooking, have to work for ninety minutes before I could eat.
That was the beginning of Dinner One, Dinner Two.
I would come home and cook something quick and easy, one of the microwave meals on which I had been subsisting. I would eat it, and only then would I get started on the real meal, Dinner Two.
Dinner Two was fancy. Dinner Two would be something I really wanted to try, something I’d look forward to. Since I had already eaten, I could take my time and enjoy myself. I found that I liked cooking for myself as long as I wasn’t hangry!
When you’re only cooking for yourself and yourself alone, it can be miserable or it can be fantastic. The misery is when you just aren’t motivated and you find yourself eating directly out of a can, or shrugging and eating a bowl of cereal and then just going to bed. As a bachelorette, I ate meals alone that I would never, ever feed to a guest.
The fantastic part of cooking for yourself and yourself alone? Actually there are several. One. If there is a mess in there, it’s your mess and you have nobody else to blame. If you keep it clean, it stays that way. Two. You can make whatever you like, and nobody else will complain. Three. You get all the leftovers. If you stock something, it’s still there later.
(The trick to that last, if you have roommates, is to hide special leftovers in ugly containers. Wrap it in foil, use old stained and melted plastic containers, or reuse a frozen okra bag as a sleeve. Hide it behind the spinach. Write up a label reading ‘CABBAGE STEW.’)
It was cooking Dinner Two while listening to audio books that convinced me I could learn to be a good cook. I would eat a small serving when it was ready, because I was never satisfied by my cardboard-encased frozen meals. Then I would portion out the rest in containers, some for lunch and some for dinner.
Depending on the recipe, I would have anywhere from 3-8 servings.
If you have a small freezer, it will fill up with leftovers very quickly. After the third time I did Dinner Two, I didn’t have enough room (or containers) to fit any more. As I ate servings from earlier batches, I would free up more space, and that helped to add more variety. My goal was to have at least six different kinds of leftovers stored in there, which was about the same as the frozen aisle at my grocery store.
Bringing homemade lunch was fun. I would carry it in still frozen, and by lunchtime it would have defrosted. I would heat it up, and people would wander into the break room, sniffing, saying, “That smells good!” A far cry from the microwave popcorn/diet cola “lunches” of my friends. Our office park was too far from civilization to go to a restaurant for lunch, and the cafeteria served the singularly worst sandwiches I had ever tasted. Nothing I made could be had locally at any price. Conspicuous consumption!
Dinner Two bought me time. Every batch meant I traded one evening of cooking and cleanup for roughly two additional dinners and three lunches. In a sense, they pop magically into existence. They seemed to stack up at a rapid rate. A couple of times I even managed to feed a friend who dropped by for a surprise visit.
With time, I learned to be faster at food prep. I invested in better knives, bigger pots, grander glass pans. Not only could I cook more, faster, I also found a bunch of recipes that took less than half an hour. A few dinners in my repertoire can be on the table in ten minutes!
I prefer cooking for a family or a dinner party to cooking for myself alone. It gives me a reason to get fancy. I eat better, and certainly I eat more fresh vegetables. It doesn’t hurt to have extra hands to help with the cleanup, and someone else to trade nights. In that sense, Dinner One and Dinner Two can represent an alternating schedule.
Cooking from scratch and cooking in batches has a lot going for it. It saves money, tastes better, and frees up all the time everyone else is spending waiting in line, waiting for a table, waiting for delivery of what is so often disappointing and unsatisfying. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the more variety you have on hand. In another way, Dinner One, Dinner Two is a form of time travel, a way to send gifts, money, and time to Future You.
I went back to the Twentieth Century today. It was a nice little visit and it reminded me of how much I love living here, 20% of the way through the Twenty-First Century. The dioramas are excellent and the docents really put their hearts into it.
Actually what happened is that I wound up crying in the parking lot of the Department of Motor Vehicles and had a major bummer of a day, but I’m trying to find some humor in it. Maybe some self-improvement, too. Otherwise I fear I shall spend my afterlife in Limbo, in a gray cubicle where I face an endless line of the dissatisfied, disgruntled, and perturbed.
I set out with great intentions. I would wait at the DMV for about an hour, get my drivers license updated before it expired later in the month, and then head to the movie theater. Hooray!
For an orderly person, this should have posed no problem, and I am considered by many to be just such an orderly person. I alphabetize my spice jars, I sort my clothes by color, I’m a paperless minimalist, by Jove!
That’s where everything started to go sideways. I’ve lived in the Future for so long now that I forgot the customs and traditions of the pocket of time where I started, the time of rotary phones and phonograph records and paper calendars.
I had a couple of false starts involving my dog’s peculiar habits - he will only eat if I stand three feet away, facing away from him at a 15-degree angle and studiously ignoring him - and the local bus timetable. I’d made it all the way to the bus stop when I realized that I had forgotten the four separate forms of identifying documents I needed!
By the time I made it back to my apartment, the morning cloud cover had burned off and I discovered I had completely sweated through my shirt. Not only did I have to find my documents, I also had to change clothes, a consequence of trusting the weather app on my phone.
My passport and drivers license were already in my bag. My social security card was in the fireproof safe, like I thought, but it had gotten flipped upside down and buried under another document. I have used it for literally nothing whatsoever in the ten years since I remarried and took my husband’s name. While I was leaning over looking for it, I smacked my head on the wall, giving myself a nice goose egg. Then I needed to find two other paper documents, such as a utility bill, bank statement, lease agreement, or change of address form from the post office.
I had to dig stuff out of the recycling bin, because we do all that stuff digitally and have for a decade.
I finally got my act together, or so I thought, and looked at the bus timetable. For the third time that day, I had missed a thirty-minute bus by one minute, so I elected to call up a ride share. For the first time in the two years we have lived here, I was unable to get a signal on my phone, and spent the next five minutes wandering around trying to load the app. Finally I had to cross the street.
Last century I would have owned a car and driven it. Why would I try to use my phone outside??
When we pulled up at the DMV, the driver started laughing, because the line wrapped around two sides of the building. It was 3:00 PM, though, and I figured I still had plenty of time to do this and catch my show.
*muffled sound, whether chortle or sob to remain unknown*
After fifteen minutes in the baking sun, a gentleman came out and asked for everyone’s attention. He said the day’s appointments were already overbooked and that there would be no time for the non-appointment line. He had all the gravitas of a man who has heard every possible complaint, excuse, and grievance, legitimate or not, and faced them down as a stoic must. Civil service will be the making of you, or the undoing.
Maybe six people left, not including me, because I am an optimist, she cried!
Just because I couldn’t find an appointment slot at any DMV within thirty miles of me within the three-month available booking window, and had just been lectured for a systemic problem that was not my fault, did not mean I should give up!
I checked the movie schedule again, and the bus schedule, and figured I might as well stay another ten minutes. I could make it to the lobby and at least find out what forms I needed to fill out.
A helpful young lady came out with a rolling cart and asked if anyone was applying for a Real ID. As the only one who said yes, I got her undivided attention. She looked at all my documents and approved of them. Then she gave me a slip of paper with a QR code that guided me to an online form. If this sounds like Future Tech, well, welcome to 1994.
This was all looking great! I had my sheaf of pre-approved documents, I had the web form all filled out, the line was moving, I had missed my movie but it looked like I might actually get my stuff done. Not too shabby! I even made it inside the building, where, after 75 minutes of waiting, another employee waved me over, looked through my papers, and gave me... a number!
With seven minutes to spare, I got to the window. The finish line, closing in, oh my gosh I think we’re going to make it...
Then we had a dispute over my lease agreement, that went like this for four bars.
“There’s no signature” [pointing to blank line on form]
“It’s a digital signature” [pointing to digital signature line on the same page]
I fished out another document from my folder, and that satisfied the clerk, much in the manner that Cerberus exhibits a taste for honey cakes.
Time to pay. I put my debit card in the reader and I entered my PIN.
Fail. Oh drat. Fortunately, I carry a backup, so I tried that. Fail.
Who uses a debit card? I realize I haven’t touched either of these cards in at least three years.
It all came crashing down. I don’t carry cash, as a rule, and I didn’t have 38 cents, much less 38 dollars. I got rid of my checkbook several years ago when I realized that my first name was the only correct information on my checks, and my online bank doesn’t offer such a bizarre relic. These are the only three methods of payment that are acceptable, because of course nothing else exists in this, the Twentieth Century.
They don’t accept:
Credit cards or Apple Pay or Venmo or Square Cash or PayPal or... anything.
I call my bank and, of course, they are unable to tell me my PIN. They suggest using my account number and routing number, which are also unacceptable. At this point it’s after 5 and I’m starting to realize that this transaction may not work.
I come up with a Hail Mary. I’m surrounded by fellow time travelers who understand my culture. I’ll break character and ask one of them for help, or the abort code. I’d really like to get back to my ship now.
I ask no fewer than seven people if they’ll cover me and let me Venmo them, on the spot. I’ll even pay them extra for the service. $50 for $38. Every person says No and looks at me like I’m insane, or a scam artist.
Oh no! I’m not just trapped in the Twentieth Century, I’m in a low-trust zero-sum zone!
This is particularly depressing, having just left World Domination Summit, where I’m quite certain every person in the building would have teamed up to find an easy way to resolve this silly and trivial dilemma.
Instead I was sent away empty-handed, to come back and start from scratch another day. Another two hours in line just to start the transaction, where the same papers would be professionally assessed for a fourth time.
I still had stitches in my mouth and I was tired. I had a splitting headache. I had worked so hard to be cheerful and kind, and I had heard so many rude people being rude, and now I’d have to come back and repeat the entire experience, and I cried.
Then I managed to get on the wrong bus (and does it matter if it’s 18 minutes late, if it’s the wrong bus?) and I didn’t get home until 7:30 and I was cold and I had to pee.
What did I learn?
My systems check, much like a gravity check, had failed. I need to find out why there are problems with two of my bank accounts and why I couldn’t use my debit cards. I should probably start carrying cash again. I need to audit my files and my banking data. I need more practice figuring out what to do if I can’t use my phone. I need to practice complicated transactions like this ahead of time because I don’t need to be spending six hours this way. I also need to make sure I have my ducks in a row before I leave for the airport for my first international trip in a few years. I need to remember my history lessons before I go to Twentieth Century places like the DMV or the IRS.
Most of all, I need to appreciate just how great it is to live in the Future.
Two pitfalls, both alike in dignity,
In California, where we lay our scene
Threaten our heroine with penury
And cost a lot of dollars flat and green.
Yeah, so, oral surgery is expensive. You know what else is expensive? The veterinarian. This is a story of unexpected bills and how one household chose to deal with them.
At time of writing, it’s just past the summer solstice, or more prosaically, the very middle of the program year for our medical and dental insurance coverage. In our household there are two adult human primates, one Canine-American, and one little gray parrot. Three of us have some variety of health insurance and the other is basically a ball of fluff with a beak.
Last October, our dog wasn’t doing too well. We took him to the vet and came back with a chilling diagnosis. He had a liver tumor. It was nestled into a very complicated area. The vet spent almost two hours with us, drawing diagrams and going over her recommendations.
They wanted to do exploratory surgery to take a biopsy of the liver tumor and find out if it was cancerous.
If he survived the surgery and the biopsy indicated cancer, then they recommended chemotherapy and radiation.
Best case scenario: our little 11-year-old dog would live as long as one more year. The exploratory surgery would cost $9100, plus obviously more for the chemo etc. Without treatment, she said, he had two months to live.
Then the vet left the room to give us some privacy.
We cried on each other, talked it out, cried some more, and declined treatment. It wasn’t the money, although that was a factor. Cancer treatment was fresh in our minds and we didn’t think it was fair to put our dog through that. An extra year of life just to spend all of it at the vet? A dog’s worst nightmare? We knew if he died on the operating table that we would never forgive ourselves.
The cutting, the sedatives, the cone, the stitches, the pills, radiation burns, we couldn’t do that to him. There was no possible way to explain to him why we were torturing him and why he felt so sick. We’d give him his last few weeks or days with lots of love and a dignified exit when his time came.
The decision to forego treatment, in retrospect, was really smart because the little guy was up bouncing around and chasing his tail the very next day. At time of writing, his “two months to live” is closing in on ten, and as far as we can tell he feels fine.
Now it’s my turn. Fortunately, my diagnosis is nowhere near so dire, and it certainly helps to have that perspective. My problems are merely dental. The dog in question has had several teeth removed, as well, and every time he grins with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth we are reminded that teeth, they’re a good thing.
I’m midway through a series of oral surgery. I still have sutures in my gums that come out this week. Still a crown to go. We’ve maxed out our dental insurance for the year, will be paying for that crown in cash, and to my understanding it doesn’t even come with rhinestones.
This is where our financial decisions really start to matter.
The thing about oral surgery is that it’s a race against time. There are different options depending on whether the tooth can be saved. The more time goes by, the harder it is. The options get progressively more complicated, more painful, less attractive, and more expensive.
This is why we can’t just wait until January to accommodate the billing cycle of our insurers.
Hey, Mister Endodontist Sir, please can’t I set up a payment plan for this rather large bill?
So far we are $3500 out of pocket for copays. I’m crossing my fingers that the suture removal will be fully covered because I don’t plan to be doing that myself.
The crown? Who knows? Let’s just say that we’ll probably be exchanging homemade potholders for the holidays this winter.
The years in question are 2018 and 2019.
When we were told it would cost nine thousand one hundred dollars to find out whether our dog’s liver tumor was cancerous or not, we had no idea that we would be spending thousands of dollars on dental work within the next year.
If we’d done it all, the veterinary surgery and the root canal and the resorption surgery, we would be over $13,000 into it with a few thousand still to go.
Can you afford that?
Yeah? Want to Venmo me?
We always find a way to “afford” things. Veterinary work is one of the big ones. They have it down to a system, with private cry rooms well-stocked with boxes of tissues that they undoubtedly order by the case. Cry it out and pay the money. A few years ago, we also passed on paying for a spinal tap for our dog, who turned out to have wrenched his furry little neck shaking his stuffed tiger toy. He wound up being fine, although we don’t let him have that type of toy any more.
I wish I could say that all this oral surgery I’m having done is unnecessary. Historically, it would be. I’d just have three missing teeth on the top right, and, at forty-four, I’d look eighty-four. Probably like the majority of ladies still walking the earth at our advanced age. Technically it’s optional to continue to have teeth.
Confirmation bias plays a role here. We have the benefit of hindsight to say that “we were right” in passing on our dog’s spinal tap, in passing on a liver biopsy. What’s important is that we had policies in place, decisions we talked out while Spike was still a little blind pup you could hold in one hand. We made decisions about his likelihood of survival and roughly where the financial line was versus the statistical odds that any given veterinary expense would do him any good.
If I were ninety, would I still pay to save three teeth? Not sure. Eighty? Probably. Seventy? Yes. I’m not even fifty and I plan to get a lot of mileage out of these things. We lived through an earthquake of significant magnitude this weekend, though. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I spent the summer in a dentist’s chair, only to be crushed by a falling building before the stitches even came out?
We can’t know the future, but our decisions influence it. We’ve been faced with some tricky ones. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t revolve around money, around our sense of what we can and can’t “afford” and a dollar value on such intangibles as our beloved pets or the teeth in our very heads. In this world, well, sign here.
The End of Procrastination: could there really be one? Is there a way to stop a basic tendency of human psychology when it affects literally everyone? (Those who believe they don’t procrastinate should ask themselves about their retirement planning and fitness goals, since those are the most commonly procrastinated tasks). Petr Ludwig explores this desire to avoid all those things we think we should be doing and how we can convince ourselves to get back on track.
Laziness and procrastination, contrary to popular belief, are not the same thing. Laziness, if there is any such thing, means that someone is perfectly happy not to do something and may just have low standards. Procrastination is avoiding something that someone thinks they really should be doing. Start here, if you think you’re a lazy procrastinator, because you can’t actually be both! Pick one, why don’t you.
Personally I’ve been leaning more toward laziness because it’s summer. Also, I’ve found that I get the same amount done whether I stress out or relax. As I’ve gotten better at just jumping on the most obnoxious task of the day and getting it over with, I’ve found that none of the time I spend stressing out is productive. It’s the same with the weary dread of procrastinating, knowing that time is passing and beating yourself up over why you aren’t doing the thing you should do.
The End of Procrastination teaches valuable concepts like self-regulation, hedonic adaptation, and decision paralysis. There is a method for habit tracking that should be attractive for those who like bullet journaling. Perhaps the most valuable concept for me was the idea that you can plan your day with two different paths. If you get stuck on one path, use the other. It seems simple, but sometimes all it takes to break up a stuck energy pattern is to do something different.
This is a research-based book full of great diagrams. It’s fun and easy to read, which of course creates a double bind for the committed. Are we procrastinating more by fully enjoying it or by reading it only partway through?
Now that I’ve read The End of Procrastination, I’m going to sort out a box so I can find my missing thank-you notes. I’ve got a little task I need to do.
Procrastination can be overcome once you improve your motivation, discipline, outcomes, and objectivity.
Don’t procrastinate when it comes to fighting procrastination.
How many times in your life have you tried telling yourself what to do and haven’t obeyed?
How can you avoid the hamsters of failure?
I like a good euphemism, especially for self-talk. When I tried to come up with a better way to think about oral surgery, the term “dental reset” came to mind. Works for me. There’s a lot going on, and I wish it was already over (and paid for), and grouping several procedures into one batch is helping me deal with it.
Dentistry is amazing from an historical perspective. I remind myself of this. Not very long in the past, the best available option for even the wealthiest person would be to have a tooth removed without anesthesia of any kind, that or let it decay in place over a few years. Poor dentistry was probably a factor in decreased longevity because of infection and the difficulty of eating while mostly toothless.
That’s why I can still smile while signing off on a copay of over a thousand dollars just to not be awake for all this.
I’m straightedge, I won’t drink a beer, but go on ahead with that IV and the oxygen!
My image of a root canal, before I had my first one last month, was a vague and nameless horror. People speak reverently of root canals in the same way they do of automotive collisions. All I knew to expect was misery. IT WASN’T THAT BAD THOUGH!
Resorption repair: not that bad either.
In neither of these procedures in my dental reset have I been offered painkillers, which is great because I wouldn’t want them anyway. I was prescribed Vicodin for the extraction of my wisdom teeth, and I quit taking it on the second day because it made me feel so ill. That, and my mom found me passed out on the bathroom floor... In my opinion, painkillers don’t treat pain, they just make a person too incoherent to complain about it.
Sometimes you have a problem. Then you get a prescription and you have two things: the original problem plus a pill problem.
I woke up in the same dental chair where I started, which was an improvement over my wisdom tooth experience. Then I had been taken to another room and laid out on a cot, which was disorienting and upsetting. Waking up alone in a strange room without being told this would happen! This is why I think one of two things. Either anesthesia has improved as a practice over the past 25 years, or I’m better at tolerating it.
Or my endodontist is a genius, which is likely in either case.
Okay, so the anxiety. We got home from the airport after 11 PM, knowing I would have to be in the dental chair at 8 AM the next day. The first thing they told me was that they might not be able to save the tooth and we’d have to deal with that later.
Hitting all my buttons:
Large bills, due in full
Dying under anesthesia
Being moved around while unconscious
Going around toothless, even for a day
Wondering how much more of this I will confront in the next 40-50 years
Teeth are the sine qua non of the middle class. I really didn’t want to be losing three teeth, especially not on the same row, and I didn’t feel all that impressed with the alternatives. Isn’t 43 a little young for a bridge?
Basically what happens with resorption is that the tooth starts to sort of dissolve. It doesn’t hurt and you can’t see it with the naked eye, so the only way to find out it’s going on is with an x-ray and a smart dentist. I love horror movies but come on. The procedure involves cutting into the gum tissue to fix the damaged root and then voila, sutures in your gums.
The biggest struggle with willpower that I have ever had in my life has been to keep my tongue away from those sutures.
I sat in the dental chair and, I kid you not, the song playing was “Band on the Run.” Paul McCartney singing:
IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE
I woke up and they helped me into a wheelchair, where I immediately started shivering, an aftereffect of sedation.
I felt basically fine, though I think my appearance alarmed the rideshare driver.
My husband had to take the day off work to be with me, which was actually good because he was able to catch up on work email accrued during our trip. It turns out it was also helpful because he paid attention and remembered all the specific details about flossing and brushing and anti-inflammatories and the prescription medicated mouthwash.
I didn’t realize until about twelve hours later, after sleeping off the residual anesthetic and reading all my brochures, that there are a lot of reasons why someone can’t be alone right after this stuff. Apparently anesthesia makes a lot of people violently ill and it can even make you stop breathing. Yikes!
In actual fact, I had some of the best sleep I’ve had all year and woke up feeling refreshed. I went to check myself out in the mirror, expecting bruising and puffiness and circles under my eyes. Since all I did all day was drink fluids and nap on and off, I looked... rather dewy. If anything, if there is any swelling, it seems to be making me look younger.
If you’ve been contemplating this kind of endodontic magic, obviously your experience might not be the same as mine, but don’t be scared. I haven’t really been sore, or dizzy, or nauseated. I’m hungry and not loving the soft foods diet, and the suture is mildly distracting, but I’m sleeping fine. I can get the stitches out next week.
It seems fair to mention that, especially for my age, I’m in pretty great shape. I didn’t have any of the health problems listed on the intake form, such as diabetes or heart disease. I’m at a healthy weight. I work out. Circulation and respiration matter here. I also suspect that I’m having a relatively easy time because I’ve been a vegan for 22 years. I may not be experiencing the standard amount of inflammation as someone who regularly takes in a lot of sugar, coffee, alcohol, salt, and saturated fat. No idea.
They were able to save my tooth! Sweeter words were never heard. This is probably the best and smartest thing I’ve spent money on all year.
Root canal: Fine
Resorption surgery: No big deal
Crown: To be scheduled
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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