Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Rebel Rebel

I'm halfway through Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before.  I was about to say what a 21st century book it is -- happiness through productivity! -- but then she had to be all classy (classical?) and quote from Michel de Montaigne about habits.  I have read a lot of self-help books, I have done many personality quizzes: this is by far the best book I've read on the subject.  It's thorough, it's readable, it's practical.  Best of all, it's personal.  There are some who talk about habits as a way to work better, but most examples are individual habits in order to simple live better.

It's taking me awhile to complete because I find every chapter gives me food for thought on how I function.  Part of the reason I've been such a connoisseur of self-help books is that I am flat-out terrible at follow through. I did have a successful go at a New Year's resolution list way back in 2003, but since then it's been a downhill slump. (I wish I had kept that list. It included: eat more cheese, learn to drink tea, learn prayers in Latin, drink more water.)

There are lots of reasons why I'm terrible at keeping plans, even plans I make for myself.  I have a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder because three years ago I found myself unable to do my work, despite genuine interest and knowledge of what I was doing.  It was creating a lot of friction between my boss and I, to say the least, and I was feeling increasingly helpless.  I was also feeling the creep of a perpetual bad mood, so I found myself in therapy with a wonderful ex-Buddhist monk and got slapped with the anxiety diagnosis as well.  Considering my family history, it was not too surprising.  When I returned for a consult after going on medication, I reported that it "felt effortless to be cheerful." Clearly there was something bigger going on that was beyond my willpower.

The ADD diagnosis, though, I find myself on the fence.  When I need to work I take medication, but otherwise it's just a facet of my personality.  In fact, the "disorder" part of it bothers me.  I maintain that the only reason why it's a problem is that I live in a society where specialization is highly valued. My brain is no good at sustained high focus.  It is excellent at doing several things at once.  This is why I was able to get through high school and college with decent grades while still being sociable and having multiple jobs.  When it came time for a job where I did the same thing for hours upon end, a job where I work largely alone and that involves significant mental focus, my brain got busted. I've been trying to figure out how to trick it ever since.

Back to Gretchen Rubin. Her particular brand of personality profiling revolves around tendencies, specifically how one reacts to expectations and requests. There are four: Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, Rebels.

The "You Might Be A Rebel" list goes a little like this:

  • If someone asks or tells me to do something, I often have the impulse to refuse. Keyword here is impulse; I often have to fight that impulse.
  • Other people sometimes become frustrated because I won't do what they want me to do. God help you if you ask me more than once.
  • I enjoy a challenge as long as I choose to accept it and can tackle it in my own way. 
  • If I'm expected to do something, even something fun, I have the urge to resist: the expectation takes the fun out of an activity that I enjoy. See also: why I hate theme parks and most holidays.
As I read, the insights keep stacking up. With people I've decided I like/trust/respect, I am an Obliger.    If you've displeased me in some way, or I think your reasoning is questionable, I will Question the hell out of you.

A few days ago I mentioned how I'm not into excuses. Little did I know how prescient I was being. I read tonight -- "Rebels don't make excuses to justify doing what they want."  

Maybe prescient is the wrong word.  My self-awareness about how I function is kicking in.  I'm better able to identify what I'm doing when I react rather than assume I'm going on some sort of weird autopilot. I'm enjoying the self analysis by reading this book.  Things are making sense to me.  More on it later. 

Monday, November 13, 2017


I finished my stress cleaning today.  Perhaps it wasn't a great use of day care time, but it felt good to organize Brian's drawers, to scrub Oxyclean into the grossest parts of the carpet, to vacuum out the pantry, to refill and line up the spices in the cupboard.  Now the place is at Dishes Zero and Laundry Zero. It's a peculiar kind of bliss.

When I clean, I'm reminded of my aunt telling me about my great-grandmother. "Her house was always spotless,"  Pauline said reverently. "She took a lot of pride in keeping a neat appearance."

After a pause, perhaps realizing that this description wasn't going where she wanted it to, she added, "She was a very gracious lady."

I think a lot about this great-grandmother of mine.  She was widowed when my grandfather was nine months old, after my great-grandfather took his own life.  According to the newspaper article -- strangely graphic in its detail, compared to today -- she was living with her mother-in-law at the time.   Later a great-aunt of mine pointed out that she had converted to Catholicism in order to get married.  This was 1927, after all.

I wonder if she cleaned then, to get her mind off of it, to meditate on a way to get through the turmoil while simultaneously being useful.  Did she come to clean my grandparents' house after it became painfully clear that her son inherited that same madness that drove her first husband to his grave? Did she teach my mother how to cast an eagle eye for dirt?

These are all questions I'm a little too afraid to ask. I didn't know about the full story of my grandfather's struggle with mental illness until my grandmother was dying.  It was only then that the dams burst.  I didn't have the heart to tell any of them -- my mother, my aunts, my uncle -- that their particular brand of neurotic and codependent dysfunction made total sense once I knew more about the bigger picture.

I'll never know the full story, of course. It died with my grandmother. I think she meant for it to happen that way.

It seems these matriarchs were good at cleaning the past, too.  When I asked Pauline, by far the aunt I was closest with, whether or not Grandpa was schizophrenic, the answer was a little too offended and emphatic for me to be believe it wholeheartedly.  The newspaper archives are much more blunt about the truth, though.  My grandfather was on trial for manslaughter.  A psychiatrist found him unfit to stand trial, so instead he disappeared into a mental hospital for four years.  When it happened, my grandmother had 8 children, ages 1-13.  They remember what she did to get them by.  It nearly broke them when she passed.

I did not know about this until I was 28.  I may know how to clean, but clearly I've got a lot to learn about the art of scrubbing.

Pauline, too, cleaned to quell a weary mind.  She suffered from a host of ailments -- skin cancer, lupus, and finally uterine cancer -- but I can only recall a handful of times when she wasn't cheerful. She cleaned her own house until the end -- down to the hour, in fact.  While she napped her heart gave out, tired from decades of dutiful labor under duress.  She had just finished scrubbing her kitchen floor.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seven Sunday Takes

There are not quick takes. These are "I've got a lot of crud on my mind" takes.


I meant to write something pithy and listy on Friday.  No big deal, I thought, I'll just do it on Saturday. And here we are, one hour to go on Sunday night.  Here's what I've learned about myself recently: excuses are not my thing. I just don't care to give them or to receive them and react to them, any of it. It either happened or it didn't. Moving on.


We are inching forward with the whole reality of 3/4 of our income disappearing in February. {It's more like 2/3 at payday, but losing the benefits are what's really going to hurt us.}  I've scribbled down a few notes on what I need to start thinking about and tomorrow night we're going to do a bit of planning.  Overall we're still pretty positive about the change but I think the rolling exhaustion we had this weekend -- sleeping 9-10 hours, taking shifts with the kid in the morning so the other could bury themselves in the covers -- may be related to us processing the news.


If there's something I'm good at, it's dwelling.  Luckily the house was dingy so I spent the better part of my weekend cleaning it. Why and how does everything suddenly go to hell at once? The kitchen took most of Saturday.  Today I finally got around to the bathroom, dusted, took out the trash, folded clothes, grocery shopped, and even made a loaf of bread. Did it ever feel good to put things in order! Also, what a great excuse not to keep putting off this very serious planning!


I enjoy a good epitaph or memorial.  Found one yesterday that was bittersweet:  "To the tree -- your three apples miss you." That's enough to make me miss the tree, too.


I'm annoyed with myself because I forgot to check before I went to the store to see if we needed garbage bags. (We did.) And now I've concluded that it makes the most sense for me to stop at Target tomorrow morning because we also need laundry soap and diapers. That better be it, because I hate getting in Target cycles. It's like Target is a hydra, and every trip I take there spawns three more trips because inevitably I need something.  Blech.


Relatedly, one of my to-list items is probably going to be "really figure out how to reduce your consumption."


The bread I stayed up late to bake is out of the oven.  The cats are asleep, the rest of my family is asleep, I should be asleep. Good night. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017


I had modest goals for my birthday. I made waffles this morning and the beauty of waffles is that there's always enough for the next day.  I wanted to make a Bakewell Tart but needed ingredients. Alas -- the weather was frigid and the wind was biting. I didn't feel like bundling myself and the kid and trudging to the store. The day slipped into a malaise -- my own fault, we really should have gone outside -- and only turned around mentally after I talked on the phone with my dad for a half hour. The messages that rolled in from friends cheered me, too. Facebook's good for something, it turns out. 

I ran errands when Brian came home. Picked up some sausage to accompany my roasted root dinner, washed it down with brut apple cider. The lack of tart caused me to buy a slice of cake, of which I ate half. I will devour the rest tomorrow during nap time. I will still make the tart this weekend.

I wanted to write more about goals I have for the year ahead -- figure out hairstyles that aren't the three I usually do, remember friends' birthdays, plant a tea garden, figure out how to finish that writing project I've been picking at for six years -- but I also had a work report to finish up.  Dragged my feet but finished.  Ergo, posting this at 12:55am on November 10th and back dating it to the 9th. 

31 trips around the sun completed. Here's getting to 32!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Gales of November

I am not terribly enamored with the month of my birth. It's a time of darkening, when the evening light doesn't so much fade as it just disappears. It's also often cloudy and when it's not, the angle of the light at the right time of day can feel blinding. I get my worst headaches in November, and they are from being in the car around 4:00pm on sunny days when there's no escaping that light. 

So it should not surprise me terribly that November is typically the month where a bad job or work situation suddenly goes sour.

In 2009, Brian (then just a boyfriend) was in an organization that did lots of field organizing for environmental issues, but paired that work with lots of door-to-door begging for funds.  If you live in a college town, chances are you've seen them out prowling in your own neighborhood. The begging for funds was more important than the policy work.  The pay was abysmal.  He called from Minneapolis (where they had sent him with the other poor souls to beg) and said he quit.  He didn't even say good-bye to the people he was staying with.  There were a few true believers in that crowd, and he really didn't want to hear it. That was November 14th, I think. 

In 2012 I took a job as an independent contractor for a Farm-to-School program that was funded by the CDC.  I mention the "independent contractor" part because the woman who hired me did not know what that actually meant, and towards the end of that miserable and confusing time, told me she wasn't going to sign any contract with me and that status was just so she didn't have to deal with paying my taxes. Wrong answer.  Highlights of that job included this woman accusing me and the grant liaison of conspiring against her when she couldn't answer questions about the community group who wrote the grant and sponsored the program...because she had made up the community group.  It should not surprise you that it took me months after I quit to get paid.  November 19th, four days before Thanksgiving.  

My husband is leaving his current position at the start of 2018.  He put in his notice yesterday.  He doesn't have a job lined up for after and, frankly, at the moment we could care less.  His currently employer has a reputation for high turnover.  Most people average about two years there. He's been there seven. 

The stakes are a little different now than they were back in 2009 and 2012.  I'm grateful we don't have a mortgage to worry about.  One of the benefits of graduating college in 2008 is that I'm fairly skittish about the housing market, and will probably remain so for the rest of my life. But we do have the kid now, and with him comes worries about insurance and keeping the rent paid and all those other things that come along with adulthood.

We aren't worried, not yet at least.  His job has been such a source of stress that the prospect of finding something new seems like a relief. We have been talking seriously the past few months about shaking things up. The age old questions of "What are we doing and what is this work for?" have been nagging at us. 

I have a feeling we're going to field a bunch of "But what about Reed?!" questions from the family, as if we weren't thinking about him with the future in mind. My answer is fairly simple: he deserves a dad who isn't stressed out because his employers thinks they pay him enough to erase the work/life balance. 

I've been anticipating this change coming for some time, so the news wasn't terribly surprising. I'm still chewing on the reality of it. When you're 31, seven years seems like it's been your whole life.  It's not, but it's the only one we've known since 2010. We'll see where we go from here. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


It's easy to be civil with strangers.  The real battle is family.

You know how there's the dark internet? I think my mom browses Dark Amazon, which is a place of nightmarish flashy toys scrawled in barely understandable Engrish and questionable graphics and self-published books with copyright infringement issues. My mother is an impulse shopper and her favorite target in the past year is my kid.

I'm trying very hard to be intentional about what sort of materials my children are exposed to. I'm strict on media consumption, even for myself.  I find a lot of comfort in the Montessori approach of exposing children to real materials and real things of beauty from a small age. I'm also uneasy with plastic -- I feel I have a moral obligation to dispose of it properly, and often children's toys are not made to last. These things have already sucked out so many resources for this world, caused so much pollution, and are not priced in a way that would make any of those problems real to those on the demand side of the product.

You know what doesn't mix well with spouting treatises on global economics? Pitting it against a grandmother whose love language is buying something on sale at Kohl's.

I am working on becoming a gracious gift receiver. I understand that some people are just delighted to buy small children toys, and small children are perfectly poised to always say yes to something new. But the amount of crap that's flowing into my house is getting me down. Would I have been more receptive if it was a ladybug scooter that showed up to my house this morning instead of a fresh-from-China plastic mobile (given for no reason other than "It was cute!") whose copy proclaims "Children can be arbitrary when his small drivers"? Probably, if I'm being honest.

However, this is a sticking point between me and my mother. Our tastes are different, to put it lightly. Mine stem from a bunch of values and beliefs that I've developed the past fourteen years living away from my family, and when I try to voice them, I find myself reverting to my status as youngest, whose point of view is often ignored because what do I know?

(An aside: all this wedding activity the past few weeks has me remembering my own.  Eloping, I should mention, did wonders for my parents taking me seriously.  When I got told "do what you want," in regards to our wedding and I replied "I want to get married at San Francisco City Hall," the answer came back "No, on second thought, do something else, and let us suggest many things you may not like, or even hate," the husband and I went and did it anyway. As the kids say these days, BOOM. Mic drop.)

My mother also takes inventory of the things she buys us, to the point where I hate accepting gifts from her because if there's a crowd, she will find a way to mention what of our attire or belongings she has purchased.

So, handful of people reading this thing, let me ask you: strategies for dealing with the overbuyer? Nice to ways to say "just because I got rid of it doesn't mean I don't love you"? I'm flailing here.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Break

Good things from the weekend:

  • The wedding itself went well. My husband had lots of fun, an adjective he does not often use, and the baby was his charming self for large parts of the day. 
  • Sarah and Duck. I have been rather good about limiting screen time, but every now and then I need something to distract and entertain, particularly when stuck in a hotel room. God bless the BBC and this wonderful children's show it produces -- it is quiet, creative, and clever. The episodes are 10 minutes each, which is perfect. It's magical without being annoying or ridiculous. In the first few episodes, Sarah and Duck plant some shallots, bake a cake, and visit Scarf Lady's wool stash. Sounds like a normal weekend around these parts. 
  • I took two naps on Sunday.
  • And then I went to bed at 9:30 on Sunday night.
I was not kidding about being wiped out. 

Good things from today:
  • I love him I love him I love him but oh my goodness going to work this morning was a welcome respite from child care. 
  • Brian took the day off and did both day care drop off and pick up. He is also doing bedtime tonight while I am hiding out at a cafe, under the guise of working and planning. 
  • The work project I was ready to commit my entire week to is going...quicker than expected? I'll save my delight at its efficiency until Wednesday, when it will leave my hands. 
  • Scheduled baby-sitter time for myself on Thursday afternoon. It might be spent working, it might be spent writing fiction. At any rate, I do not really care how I spend it. I'm just excited it's there. 
I am being hard on myself about taking a break from the kid.  Did Ma Ingalls ever leave Pa on his own with the girls so Ma could go complain on the Internet?  No, but I'm fairly certain she would have if given the chance. I am not the martyr type.