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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Quarterly Check-In, Part Two. Goals, Again. And the Sphincter of Life.

The other day, when I wanted to write, I tried a computer program called Freedom that blocks access to the Internet. You set the amount of time you want to be free from it, and then a green screen pops up and says, “You Are Free.” I have to say that the moment that green screen popped up, I felt a little space open up in my chest. A little what? A space that relaxed? Like a hole? This reminds me of a sphincter. Sphincter is a word I like. It’s a great word. It’s such an evocative word, almost onomatopoetic.

Anyway, the sphincter in my chest relaxed. Yes, I am equating my heart with an asshole, because that is the sphincter that springs to mind when I see the word. There are other sphincters, but let’s be honest, they are not top of the list. Partly because butts are funny. Funny and gross. And because my sense of humor, another top quality, apparently, is on par with your average kindergartener’s. Also, because I don’t really know anatomy, so I don’t really know where those other sphincters are.

I just like writing that word. Sphincter.

Anyway, freedom from screendom with Freedom. When I sit down to write, or really any old time, I do spend too much time checking and scrolling and not writing. The phone affects me like a reflex. I just check and scroll, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email. email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You get it. You probably do it yourself. It’s a horror show. There is no space. No release. I was talking to another grown up person the other day—okay, it was my esthetician, Ruth, who is amazing, and everyone should have an esthetician and get facials. Just the facial massage is worth the time and money—anyway, we were talking about the way social media just squeezes your life. When we were growing up, we had freedom from peers that our children do not have, because they are always on social media. Back then, it was a relief to get away from the intensity and scrutiny of them by them. Sure, we had telephones. We were attached to these cords that were stuck to these things on the wall. and sometimes we didn’t even have those phones in our rooms. Maybe we could stretch the cord to the basement steps, or maybe there was an extension in the attic or whatever. But you could get away. There was a little space. A little relaxation. The sphincter of life released. Nowadays, it’s constant.

So then, later, I took a shower, and there was a fresh bar of soap in the soap dish. This gave me a new sense of release. And then guilt. And insight into my marriage and goal setting. Afterwords, I said to the husband, I hope you don’t get annoyed that you’re always the one who gets the new bar of soap for the shower. But the thing is, if I see a sliver of soap left, I am going to use it. Because I feel obligated to use every last bit of it.

Maybe my epigenetics were affected by my father growing up in the Depression, but whatever the reason, I am going to use up that last sliver of soap. So if the husband wants a fresh bar before the last sud is gone, he is going to have to get it.

And, secretly, I am relieved when he does, because it’s much nicer to soap up with a big bar of soap than a pebble sized one.

This is the way we complement one another. Or irritate the hell out of one another. Depends on the day.

I think I have to credit Gretchen Rubin with being my source for the research that shows that in couples, each partner usually overestimates the amount of work they contribute and underestimates the amount their partner contributes to the working of things.

So with that in mind, I let my guilt sphincter relax when there’s a new bar of soap in the shower, because I imagine the husband both resents me and also feels superior every time he gets a new bar. And then my guilt sphincter tightens right back up again, because that is the nature of a sphincter (and of me and guilt), because I suspect that while he might overestimate what he gives to the relationship, I know I must also do so, and therefore. Well. The point is that sometimes you have to work out stuff like this. By accepting that I am just not capable of giving myself (and thereby also) the husband a new bar of soap until the very last bit of the old one is gone. And there is a reason.

Here’s the thing about soap. It relates to goal-setting. According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D, (HGH, Ph.D) author of Succeed: How We can Reach Our Goals, and whose work I have discussed several times, people approach goals with one of two orientations, prevention or promotion. The prevention oriented person is focused on stopping bad things from happening: being taken advantage of; wastefulness; loss of money. The promotion oriented person is focused on potential benefits: improved efficiency; what you have to gain.

Now, the husband, when he steps into the shower, is about taking a nice, hot, sudsy shower. So for him, a fresh bar of soap fulfills his goal. Whereas I am always—always—going to use that bar of soap down to the last sud. There is no way Dove is going to get me to throw away perfectly good soap splinters. Left to my own devices, I am going to, in fact, collect soap splinters in a soap dish, mash them all together into a sort of soap mound and thereby eke out every last sud. And take that, Unilever. Suck it.

“Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage table.”

This is my favorite quotation from Hamlet. It’s about how quickly Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, shacked up with her husband’s brother after her husband’s demise. It’s a wonderful example of irony. I love to quote it, almost as much as I love to quote from “Auntie Mame.” And I use these words to point out that, thank goodness, I have the husband to get me a new bar of soap. Because let me assure you, it’s no fun to shower with a splinter. It’s a wonderful relief whenever I get in the shower and find a fresh bar of soap. That was not my decision, but I can benefit from it. Thank you, Husband. In this way, the sphincter of life releases a little.

But my point about goals is this. The tendency we have towards goals is one or the other of these.You guessed it, Clever Readers, these orientations are basically pessimistic and optimistic. This is good news and bad news, depending on the goal you have. Some goals lend themselves more to a prevention strategy, and some more to a promotion strategy. When you have a creative goal, for example, says HGH, Ph.D, you want to approach it with a promotion a goal—don’t worry about mistakes. However, when you need something to be perfect, say, a bridge you’re constructing, then you need to be prevention-focused. More good news is that we are not always either promotion or prevention focused, and we can adjust our thinking depending on the goal.

So, some goals are prevention goals. Some are promotion goals. Some can be looked at both ways. Like using soap. Or buying a car. Buying a car involves both promotion and prevention. The promotion part is getting a newer, more updated, more fun, prettier vehicle. The prevention part is getting a safer, more reliable, updated vehicle. And yes, the husband and I recently bought a new car. I was able to get over the loss of money in the bank, and the husband was able to achieve a new vehicle without having to test drive twelve different brands, as I intended, to make sure we had considered everything and weren’t being totally taken advantage of. Which I am sure we were, once we decided on a car we both liked. But now, we have it, and I can just enjoy it. Relief. Sphincter release.

Sadly, I am not the thoroughgoing optimist I would like to be. Because, honest and true, optimists have more fun, tend to see what they might gain from a situation, a goal, or a decision, rather than fester and fear what they might lose or miss, and get to enjoy a fresh bar of soap on the regular. On the other hand, they might overspend on a car and waste precious soap. They might possibly be cleaner than pessimists, thanks to all those suds, but I’ll take you to the mat on that one.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Quarterly Check-In, Part One

As tax day approaches, I am reminded of that old saw, The only things certain in life are death and taxes.  But nobody wants to talk about either of those things, so I thought, as this quarter draws to a close, it's time to check back in with you, Readers, about your New Year's resolutions and goals.

How are they going?

I don't really want to talk about that, either. I am here to brag. Why, you ask?

First of all, I won. Twice. I won a raffle. The prize is a massage, which I can redeem at the farmer's market when it opens.  I also won a gift certificate to a plant nursery by guessing the weight of a boulder. I was at a home show with my friend LL. I was very excited about this contest. I had a feeling when I dropped my estimate in the bowl that I was going to win. Don’t ask me why. I don’t even believe in that stuff. Still, I had a feeling. And I won. I won I won I won. My guess was pretty close—1,967 lbs to an actual weight of 1,948 lbs. In the interest of veracity, I must admit the lady who called burst my bubble a bit, if you can burst a bubble only a bit. Newsflash--you can’t. A bubble is either intact, or burst. So. More like a tire with a slow leak is the metaphor I seek. Leak and seek.

Anyway, she told me someone else had guessed a little closer, but every time they tried to contact this person, the person hung up on them before they could speak. This is the tenor of the times, isn’t it? So they moved on to the next closest guess, mine. Of course, I had screened the call, because most calls are not worth answering, then called them back. I am not above hanging up on intrusive calls.

Also in the interest of veracity, I must admit that I had to check with my friend LL about the weight of a ton before I could make my guess. But I was right.

I am thrilled. Now I can drive 75 minutes to spend $50 on a plant. Or a pot. Or something.

I also won by tackling admin. Admin is what gets me every time. Admin is the crap you just don't want to do, but you know you need to do. And life, I am sorry to say, is full of admin.

So, after delaying for several years, literally, I finally took the advice of the plumber and called Delta about our kitchen faucet. This required girding myself for hours on hold with customer service trying not to listen to their hold music and for frustrating questions about make and model when I couldn’t find the manual for the thing. And then I called. And miracle of modern miracle, all I needed to do was text a photo of the faucet to the man on the phone, and next thing I knew, he was promising me a replacement part, for free.

Still waiting on that, by the way.

But—done. Checked off the list. Weight lifted.

The ease of that admin left me a bit foolish feeling. I know I am writing backwards. My point is, this kind of detail, this annoying stuff of which life is full, is the kind of stuff I normally walk backwards around the earth in the opposite direction to avoid. The husband and I call this stuff “admin.” This is because I caught a segment of an interview with someone who has written a book about this stuff, which she calls “admin.” And she claims to have strategies to help all of us poor avoidant sods tackle our admin. Unfortunately, I don’t know her name or the name of her book, and while I could look them up by looking on the website of our local NPR radio station, or probably even by googling “book about admin”, I haven’t. So while this information might indeed be very useful for me, and for you, Readers, I do not have it for you. Because finding it is yet another piece of admin. And I used up all my willpower contacting Delta.

But, to be successful in life, one must figure out how to conquer admin. As well as how to increase willpower. Apparently, according to this author, some of us are better at admin than others. I am definitely others.

So, how to conquer admin?

There’s a great piece of advice bouncing around the self-help coaches: Eat the frog. I believe this phrase is attributed to Mark Twain. Again, I would have to look that up, and so I will just lamely assume it is a reference to something Mark Twain wrote. Or said. After all, it seems plausible. He wrote that short story about the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County. It’s called, “The Celebrated Jumping frog of Calaveras County.” so it seems plausible he said something about eating frogs. Or it’s plausible that our minds just connect that saying with Mark Twain because he wrote a story about jumping frogs. Frogs and frogs being linked. At least in my mind.

I digress. Now, the saying, “Eat the frog,” means to get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first. Off your to-do list. This makes sense. Eating the frog means getting it out of the way and off your chest and out of your mind and off your shoulders. It means you get to cross something off the to-do list. Something unpleasant.

However, there is also the advice to conserve your most productive time of the day for your most important tasks, such as your creative endeavors or other projects that require clarity of thought and a reserve of energy. And our most productive time of the day is usually first thing. And they recommend saving the admin stuff for later, when you’re not as primed for creative work. That way you don’t burn energy and therefore willpower on less important tasks.

So, which advice is better?

Dunno.

Of late, the husband and I have taken to calling everything we don’t much feel like doing, “admin.” Turns out that’s a lot of stuff. Shoveling snow. Changing light bulbs. Planning meals. Admin. Life is full of admin.

But I think a secret to happiness is embracing admin. I mean, there is no way around it. So. You know. If you can embrace, as in accept that fact, then you have a better chance at happiness. Admin is the frog.

The best scenario is that you partner with someone whose definition of frogs and admin is different than yours. Complements yours, ideally.

This is not the case in my home. We have overlapping definitions of admin. Vast, overlapping definitions. In fact, it’s a miracle anything gets done. I can’t tell you how many times the husband claims he’s going to put a letter in the mailbox on the way to work—our mailbox is across the street in a little mailbox house with other mailboxes belonging to the neighbors—and I find the envelope left behind.

You’d be surprised how hard it is to cross the street to mail a letter.
Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. What do I know. I’m just letting you in on the depth of our laziness chez nous.

This is probably a good time to remind myself of Stephen Covey’s Habit No. 3 of Highly Effective People, Put First Things First. Good old Stephen Covey. Such a fount of wisdom. I myself have always wanted to be a fount of wisdom—or it font, font of wisdom? Perhaps a step along the path to wisdom is being able to repeat the wisdom of others. Anyway, put first things first is Covey's chapter on time management, which boils down to the four quadrants of effectiveness. Or, how to deal with admin in a mature manner, rather than in a hair’s-on-fire manner. I’ve discussed this before on this blog, but it’s been a long time. (http://www.unmappedcountry.com/search/label/Habit%20%23%203) This about the four quadrants of decision- making)
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/7_habits_decision-making_matrix.png


So there are the four quadrants. Ideally, you spend most of your time in quadrant II, taking care of things important but not urgent. Here’s where you do your long-term planning, your self-evaluation, your strategizing how best to whatever. This is in the ideal world. In the real world, sometimes it’s all quadrant IV, mucking about with the unimportant and non-urgent stuff. That’s usually followed by a quick (and involuntary) switcheroo into quadrant I, the important and urgent stuff, the crises. After which you have definitely earned a trip back to Quadrant 4 (unimportant and not urgent; online shopping, playing trivia games, whatever.) Although, according to this handy chart cribbed from Stephen Covey, Quadrant IV should be ELIMINATED from your life.

I think not. We need Quadrant IV. Probably just a lot less time in it.

Honestly, I am not sure which quadrant is the frog-eating quadrant, and Stephen Covey is no longer around to clarify. What I know is that priority-setting, scheduling, and making a plan are three things that make me want to pull the covers over my head and forget.

So we can see why I am not a highly effective person.

Quadrant III is the quadrant we are supposed to delegate. That’s correct, we are to delegate the un-urgent but important things in Quadrant III to someone else who can take care of them. Hopefully this person will have an affinity for admin.

Sadly, since I don’t live in an office, I have no one to delegate things to. I suppose this must be the Eat the Frog quadrant. You have to eat it to get it over with. Unless you can delegate this task to someone else.


I’m thinking, which is the Eat the Frog Quadrant? And I’m thinking maybe I need to rename these quadrants.


URGENT NOT URGENT
IMPORTANT QI  Hair on Fire
Taxes due today
Q2  The place for the Big Boys and Big Girls with Brave Hearts and Minds.

Or- Research whom to bribe to get kid into Ivy. Also, which Ivy? 

NOT IMPORTANT Eat the Frog? Q3

Mixing advice is so dang hard.
Q4 Binge watch “Russian Doll”




After proving to you just how much I avoid admin, I am going to confound you by saying that I actually did google the NPR interview with the admin-coining expert. Here's why: Another handy tip for getting things done is to use your tendency to put off admin to your benefit. Put off something highly unpleasant by doing something less unpleasant that is also easy. Such as googling the author who coined the term “admin.”

Her name is Elizabeth Emens, and her book is Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More. Here’s a blog post about her general idea*. Summary: 4 approaches to admin: The Super Doer, the reluctant doer, the admin denier, and the admin avoider (moi).

So what was more unpleasant that I had to do? I'll never tell. Instead, I will report that I mailed three important letters this week, which balances out the rebate I failed to earn because I waited so long to send in the form that the offer had expired.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Annals of Parenting and Suburban Life: Stereotypes and Success

Big news: I am being interviewed for a podcast this weekend. I don’t yet know when it will be aired, or what it will be called, but hey, I might as well brag about this part because life is short, and you never know if you’ll be around to brag later. Or if later will ever come. I will certainly inform you all if later does arrive and there's a podcast for you to hear.

Small news: I have been busy teaching, and drinking and eating oat products. That’s correct. Oats and oat by-products.

Let me elaborate. There’s my morning and evening mug of oatstraw infusion—that’s a long-steeped herbal tea, or tisane, as they say in France. Supposed to keep me from drying up into a husk as I enter cronehood. So far, so good.

There’s my breakfast steel cut oats, my cold weather breakfast. We all know oatmeal is good for us. Keeps us regular. And also, it’s a vehicle for a bit of maple syrup.

And then there are my oatmilk lattés. More on that in a minute.

I am basically oats at this point.

Sometimes, while eating my oatmeal with walnuts, slivered almonds, cinnamon, sliced banana, and a spoonful of maple syrup, I gaze at something educational or informational on the Internet. Most of the time, what I gaze at on the Internet is neither of those.

Exhibit A: During her last visit home, the college junior showed me some YouTube videos of a young male comedian who dresses up as “Gayle Waters-Waters”, a high-strung suburban mom who’s on an edge as sharp as one of my new Japanese knives (thanks, MIL).* Those knives are sharp. Gayle is always in workout clothes, speedwalking while holding hand weights, cleaning in hyperdrive, or barking at her bland mom friends in their bookclub. She measures her drop cookie dough placement to ensure proper spacing on the cookie sheet, and she has a labradoodle accepted to Carnegie Mellon. And two kids who are constant disappointments.

I have a labradoodle.


And I was recently forcing the 11th grader to look at the Carnegie Mellon website. When I say “forcing” I mean “encouraging,” by the way. No one forces anyone to do anything in THIS family. We lovingly stimulate an intrinsic motivation. That is key to success, by the way. In case you were actually reading this blog post for some information on that topic.

The college student loves this series, and it is amusing, definitely. Gayle is everything to the max, as we used to say back in the ‘80s. But I couldn’t help think a couple things: One, that the college student must think I resemble this person; and two, how very much I don’t think so. And yet, sometimes it hits you just how much of a stereotype you are.

A recent morning, I got in the car to drive the carpool and my yoga mat was frozen.

Other news: I am over the moon about two things, and maybe these are just stereotypical suburban mom things, but still, I am transported. One, is that oatmilk has arrived in our café. Now, I’ve been waiting. I got on the oatmilk train a while ago, after reading an article about it in the NY Times, of course, about two years ago. I tried it almost a year ago in NYC when I went to a (very unstereotypical, people, seriously) writer’s conference in Chelsea. And then I began noodging our café about it. Like, seriously noodging; I stopped one of the owners and talked at him, sent newspaper articles, and asked every barrista if they had oat milk yet every time I ordered a coffee, and I have to say, they went from unaware, to aware and unable to procure, to having it.

Oat milk is in short supply. Or it was, for a while, because every lactose intolerant coffee drinker on the planet suddenly wanted it; whereas the Swedish, who invented it, have been drinking it for years.

And isn’t that irony? The Swedes, who with their fellow Northern Europeans, are among the few peoples who don’t tend to be lactose intolerant**, created the best milk substitute? I believe it is ironic. Really ironic, not Alanis Morrisette ironic. Alanis can have her rain on a sunny day. That is not ironic. It’s just unusual, and often means you can see a rainbow.

On the positive side, here is proof activism works. And now, I can have my morning oatmeal and follow that with a cafe au lait or latté with oatmilk.

You know what else is ironic? Here’s true irony. A long time ago, not long after the Berlin Wall came down, one of my housemates, who was from Texas, traveled across country and met an East German who was traveling around the USA, and brought him back to the big house where we all lived, and he moved in. Eventually they married, and eventually, they divorced, and along the way, he became a citizen and she, my heart-of-Texas-housemate, moved to Berlin, where she fell in love with a German and stayed.

That’s ironic.

I saw my former East German housemate last weekend, along with several other housemates and exes and friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen since the mid-nineties. It was a solid reminder that behind every dang stereotype is an individual. I mean, c’mon, did Gayle Waters-Waters ever dream of living with a bunch of MIT grads in a co-operative house? I think not.

I belong to two book clubs. So, sue me.

Okay, and the other thing about which I am suburbanly happy to a startling degree is that our town is building a sidewalk on my street.

Okay, I take that back. It’s not on my actual street, which is part of a tangle of curvilinear streets developed in the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s on the street you turn off of to get to my street. That street is unpleasant and dangerous to walk on in bad weather or at night and it makes it hard to get into town without a car. But now, we’re getting a sidewalk, and that means connection and walkability.

So doesn’t that prove that I am not a stereotypical suburban mom? Because I want to walk and bike into town. I can wear my yoga mat across my back like it’s a messenger bag.

In other news, one of my students informed me that I am mediocre. I mean, she didn’t say exactly that to me, but I learned it from her. You see, she was assigned, along with classmates, to give a short (3-5 minute) presentation on a topic related to success on which she might like to write her required research paper. So she chose the topic, habits, and from somewhere, she produced a chart, listing on the left, habits of “mediocre people” and on the right, habits of “successful people.”

This chart was not footnoted, no source was named—nor was “success” defined, by the way—so I conclude she drew it up. That is, produced it from herself. And she informed the class that one of the habits of mediocre people is watching TV at night.

Um.

Busted, as they say.

Of course, as I have mentioned here in this blog, sometimes I also watch TV during the morning, for fifteen minutes. What does that say about me?

Well, it’s good to have a college first year presenting an opinion as a fact with no source reference to teach me my place.

If only she’d told me this before I had lunch with a few of my high school classmates from our fancy high school a few weeks ago. We shared our confusion about the many messages about being achieving women with which we were inculturated, and how we have tried to fulfill them in our lives, and how that has left us feeling inadequate too often.

The message boiled down to a intensely flavored bone broth*** called, “Be a Superwoman and do it all, otherwise you are a failure.”

But apparently it’s not that Superwoman stock that was a problem. It was a propensity to love British detective series.

Goddam it, I am not a stereotype.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to drive my Prius to the food co-op to pick up some locally made kombucha.

Catch ya later. Xoxo.



References:

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdPdiQNWDeY
** https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22643754
*** bone broth, by the way, seems to be what used to be called, “soup stock.” But times have changed and now it’s oat milk and bone broth and keto diet and fasting for 16 hours and never watching TV.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year and Other Foibles

Well, the sticky knobs on all the drawers and cabinets have been wiped clean after all the baking and eating and, dare I say, drinking of the last couple of weeks. And when I say they have been wiped clean, I mean that I have wiped them clean. They have not wiped themselves.

That sounds vaguely gross.

Also, it’s disingenuous, suggesting that I have done all the work over the holidays. This is untrue and to prove it, here’s a picture of a gorgeous tarte soleil the husband and our Yankee friend Tom made for New Year’s:
Recipe from www.smittenkitchen.com 


Anyway, 2018 is gone, no point in regrets. 2019 is upon me, no point trying to deny the march of time. That’s pretty much the way life goes, isn’t it? If I can free myself of regret and fear, well, then I will be golden.

Failing that, if I can accept regret and fear, then I’ll be pretty good.  Silver, I suppose. 

I’m not big on resolutions, at least not this year. I’m big on carrying on with the things I’m doing that do some good and cutting back on things I’m doing that are less helpful.

One thing I would like to stop doing is calling the garage door man. I keep calling him—this has now happened three times—and he keeps coming over and discovering that the garage door works absolutely fine. He’s very nice about it. He doesn’t even charge me for it. He just points out what stupidity has prevented me from understanding why the door isn’t going up. Or down. Depending on which you want it to do. It’s kind of like a toddler; it goes up when it ought to go down and vice versa, and it’s always when you’re running late. Last time this happened, right before the dawn of this new year in which I will be more aware of the garage door mechanism, the issue was that somehow someone had pushed the lock option on the garage door button.

This is a public service announcement to those of you who live in suburbs and have garages: if you push the lock option on your wall button, the car button attached to your car’s visor will not operate. The button on the wall of the garage will still work, however, and this will cause you much confusion. Also annoyance. Also, potentially amusing moments of playing chicken with the garage doors, running into the garage to press the button, then running out forgetting the safety mechanism in the overhead door that causes it to go up if it detects anything under it. Anything being, for example, a frustrated driver rushing to get a late child to school. Neither of you will be amused that the door has flown upward again. That's why I said "potentially" amusing. Because it won't be amusing. Next you’re playing a whole song and dance with the other garage door and the button in the car that does work the other side of the garage. It’s a whole fandango. 


Now you know. You are welcome. However, I cannot help you figure out if you have pushed the lock option. Because somehow, mysteriously, I, or the husband, or someone else in my house, did this, and we did not know. Fortunately, the garage door man did know. And was more amused than peeved to be called over on yet another bootless run to our neocolonial revival.

So, I would like to do less of that shit in 2019.


Eventually, I will fully understand the garage door, and then the garage door will finally break and I’ll have to learn a whole new fandango. But that’s sounding a bit Bombeckian for the start of a new year, so let’s back away from the cynicism.

Instead, let’s aim for this Tibetan proverb:

To live well and longer
Eat half
Walk double
Laugh triple
And love without measure



I don’t know if that’s actually Tibetan or a proverb, but I like it. I saw it shared on Facebook by a friend from college.

Readers, here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy 2019.