Snow Day

Thursday, February 26, 2015

SnowHats_all

Coneflowers wearing their snow hats

I don’t think this picture does justice to how amazing those coneflowers look with four inches of snow piled straight up on top them, like little men with stovepipe hats.

Buses not running, classes cancelled, exam postponed.

Je-m’en-foutisme

Thursday, January 1, 2015

For a while, my friend Ann and I have been joking about our motto being “Who gives a shit anyway.” This postcard came across her desk and she gave it to me. I watched the honey badger video.

Honey badger doesn’t care.

Ann tells a story about her friend Claudia going to see the performance artist Laurie Anderson speak in New York City. Someone in the audience asked her how she handled comments or criticism about her work, about what people thought about her. And her answer was something along the lines of “Oh I don’t worry about that at all. No one else really cares what you’re doing.”

Her point being that people are more or less self-absorbed, they’re too worried about themselves to worry about what anyone else is doing, so it’s really not worth thinking about.

So that’s really been a guiding princple of ours. Just do what you want to do, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks you should be doing. Who cares about them anyway.

I don’t think I realized when I wrote last year about Julia Child and quoted the Laura Shapiro biography with Julia’s quote from a French Chef episode talking about needing to have what the French call “je m’enfoutisme” that that’s basically what that means. (According to Google Translate, the literal translation of “je m’en foutisme” is “I don’t care attitude”.)

So I’ve been talking about that a lot lately.

In an interesting coincidence, I turned on the radio last week for the first time in ages and the People’s Pharmacy was on and the guest was researcher Brené Brown.

Brené Brown had a TED talk go viral a few years ago and is very popular among a certain segment of the internet, especially the personal growth and development folks. A friend and I had a series of conversations a few years ago about her and her research.

So it was kind of funny that I turn on the radio for the first time in who knows when and here is Brené Brown, and she’s talking about the things she usually talks about, connection and vulnerability and shame.

And I don’t remember the exact context, but she’s giving an example that involves a scenario at work where people are asked to take ownership of a project, and someone might speak up and be excited about it, and others will ridicule that person for caring.

She said this idea of not being willing to care about things is a big problem, people who just don’t care.

So that seems funny to me, I’m going around telling everyone they need to channel Julia Child and have je-m’en-foutisme and Brené Brown is talking about how bad it is to not care.

And that reminds me of another story that Brené Brown tells that made me think of a similar story that I liked better.

Brené Brown tells a story about how her daughter was at a sleepover and decided she didn’t want to spend the night, she called home and asked to be picked up. Brené went and picked her up and told her she was very proud of her for being so brave and calling home and admitting she was scared, for realizing she just wasn’t ready to spend the night at someone’s house.

This made me think of a story I read that Duke basketball’s Coach K told. He said that once when his daughter was young, after Duke had lost badly to UNC, she called home crying and asked him to come get her, kids were taunting her and being cruel. She wanted to come home. He told her he wouldn’t come get her, that that’s not how they did things. He said, “I’ll bring you a Duke sweatshirt.”

I love that story. I’ll bring you a Duke sweatshirt.

So I’m not sure what the point of this is, except that maybe I’m old school, taking Coach K and Julia Child over Brené Brown. I dunno.

And I feel like when I came up with the idea for this post I actually did have I had a point, but now I don’t, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I’m done with school on April 29 and I am hopeful that my brain will recover enough to allow me to start writing again. Right now just getting from one day to the next is the best I can do.

Onward and upward, and happy 2015 to everyone.

Bus Metaphors

Friday, November 14, 2014

I’m spending a lot of time on the bus these days. And this has been making me think about some of my favorite bus metaphors.

My favorite of course is the Ken Kesey quote from Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: You’re either on the bus or off the bus.

My second favorite is the great bus metaphor that the late Kenyan scientist and environmental activist Wangari Maathai outlined in a speech I heard her give in 2009. She talked about how to know when the approach you’re taking isn’t right — what happens when you are not on the right bus.

I think in response to a conversation I had with a friend about that bus metaphor (though I don’t remember the details right now), my friend sent me a link to a piece by photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen that describes his Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

I re-read the Minkkinen piece the other day and was struck by the phrase, “We find out what we will do by knowing what we will not do.”

Life is a process of elimination.

If you are lucky, you get to something you want to do before having to go through too many things that you will not do.

If you’re not lucky, you get stuck doing something for a very long time that you really don’t want to do at all. And maybe you eventually get to something you do want to do, and maybe you just watch a lot of tv.

We find out what we will do by knowing what we will not do.

Everywoman is Not Everyman

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sometimes everything I see or hear or read gives me an idea for a blog post. And sometimes there is nary a blog thought in my head, I forget that I even have a blog at all.

Guess which place I’m in right now.

So while I am here, thought less, I will just give you this.

spell check changing everywoman to everyman

Ignore always

WordPress spell check is sexist.

Maybe I’ll have more ideas soon, but for now, that’s what I got.

Hope all is well with everyone in blogreaderland.

The Holiday Corridor

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I have to make a small confession before I start this post, which is that I am mildly addicted to reading advice columns. “Ask Beth” was a particular favorite of mine back in the day. I also used to love reading “My Problem and How I Solved It” in Good Housekeeping magazine. I don’t know why, I just dig that kind of thing.

A couple of years ago I read this pathetic letter to Carolyn Hax, proprietress of the “Tell Me About It” column (syndicated by the Washington Post and appearing twice a week in the Raleigh News & Observer, which is where I read it) from someone who had a terrible time with holidays, her immediate family was generally dysfunctional and she had no close relatives. She had tried various approaches — volunteering, inviting people from church, inviting friends of her kids — but none of them had panned out. She and her daughter had spent the most recent Thanksgiving “eating turkey in the kitchen and reading newspapers,” and she felt that they were destined to spend the rest of their holidays that way. She wrote to Carolyn asking how she could help prepare her daughter for coping with this sad life.

Carolyn acknowledged that there were some real problems in the letter-writer’s life that she needed try to address, but also pointed out that the rest of the letter seemed to be her taking things to extremes and wallowing in self-pity.

CH’s main piece of advice was that the letter-writer simply let go of the “traditional Thanksgiving script,” and write herself a new one — that she should look at the holiday as nothing more or less than a day off from work, and take it from there.

The reason this letter struck me is not just because eating turkey in the kitchen and reading newspapers sounds like not a bad holiday to me, but because it reminded me of how worked up people get over holidays, and how difficult it can be for people whose lives might not have turned out quite the way they had imagined, to deal with certain situations.

And I thought CH’s advice was generally good, but I would have added one other small bit of advice, which is that the first thing you need to do if, for whatever reason, you find the holiday season distressing or depressing, is to …

TURN OFF THE TELEVISION.

And possibly the radio, too.

Just take my word on this. You need to kill the commercials.

You can’t avoid all holidayness — you will have to leave the house at some point, and Christmas decorations are everywhere — but if you have the television on you are simply bombarded with it. It’s a lot easier to ignore front yards with reindeer in them and baking displays on the end caps at the local Stop and Shop than it is tune out a continuous barrage of commercials involving people giving each other expensive gifts and attending fabulous parties with a whole bunch of beautiful people who live in perfectly decorated houses and who all love each other.

That’s just all I can say. Turn off the television. I guarantee that you will feel better the instant the screen goes dark.

[Aside on living without television…
If you are at a loss as to what to do with yourself now that you cannot watch television, my suggestions would be to:

(a) read something interesting (may I recommend David Copperfield, it is 900+ pages long, that’ll keep you out of trouble for a good long while)
(b) get back to an old hobby (knitting, sewing, woodworking)
(c) acquire a new hobby (ceramics, welding, boxing)

Make holiday cards, paint your house, clean the basement, bake cookies for the neighbors, trace your genealogy, dig holes in your yard and then fill them up. Who cares.

If you like having television for background noise, see if you can substitute listening to music, or talk radio (NPR or whatever else you have access to), or even audio books. Whatever you can do that is commercial free.]

This will help you, as Carolyn advised, to “write a new script.” Because you can now think about what is important to you, and what you want to do, and not get all caught up with what you feel like you should be doing based on what you think the rest of the world is doing based on what you see on tv.

The other advice I would give, which she did touch on but didn’t emphasize quite enough, in my opinion, is …

Don’t worry about what the rest of the world is doing.

If you want to be with people, then be with people, and if you want to eat turkey in the kitchen and read newspapers then do that. You can cook and eat a big meal or go to McDonald’s and buy a Big Mac or not eat anything at all. You can spend the day with family, or with friends, or with your dogs, or by yourself. Or any combination thereof. It’s all good.

And if you’re worried about what other people will think, if they will feel sorry for you or just feel like you’re odd, if you do some nontraditional activity, I would give you the advice that someone told me the artist Laurie Anderson gave in response to a question about what other people thought about her and her art. Laurie Anderson reportedly said, “No one else really cares what you’re doing.”

And that is the truth.

No one else really cares what you’re doing. Just do what you want. All the time. But especially during the holidays.

I Am Not a Blogger

Monday, October 28, 2013

So I’d heard a few people mention Afford Anything as a blog they like. I’d looked at it briefly a few months ago, but decided to take another look over the weekend.

It seems like a well organized site, with focused, well-written articles. Though it seems to me that it is not really a personal finance blog, it’s more of a “lifestyle design” blog. And, like most lifestyle design blogs, it is all Rah! Rah! Quit Your Job! Travel the World! Move to Thailand! Buy Rental Property! PASSIVE INCOME PASSIVE INCOME PASSIVE INCOME!

Yeaahhhhh!!!!!!

Which makes me cower in a corner and cover my head.

Please do not make me travel around the world and own rental property. Please.

I can’t even manage to fix my own house, much less take care of a house I don’t even live in. Every time I take time off to do things around the house I am SO GLAD when I’m done and I get to go back to sitting at my desk figuring things out on my computer. All these people who see rental property as the way to a fabulous future kill me. Man. Total torture.

Also the whole “outsource everything and do your job for four hours a week while travelling the world” is completely not appealing to me. For one, I am a control freak, and therefore find the concept of outsourcing problematic. Also I do not like to travel. With the possible exception of places that I have a prior relationship with (i.e., places I used to live, places I’ve visited often, or places I visited once and enjoyed) or where I have someone I really like a lot who lives there that I can stay with.

I know, weird. But whatever. That is me.

Here are some things in life that I like

1. sleeping in my own bed
2. walking around town and running into people I know
3. going to a restaurant that I’ve eaten at before and had a really good meal, and getting the same thing again. Because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
4. riding my bike for ten, twenty, thirty mile rides and knowing exactly where I am
5. sleeping in my own bed

Did I mention sleeping in my own bed?

Can I just have my nice peaceful life here in North Carolina? Is that okay? I will even pay extra to get my wisdom teeth removed by my friendly local oral surgeon up the street, instead of going to Thailand or Costa Rica for it. (This is especially useful if a week later you get dry socket, you can just go up the street and get that taken care of, and again six weeks later when you get an infection, you can also get that taken care of right in your own neighborhood.)

A lot of these blogs, when I read them, I wonder if these are real people. People who move to Thailand and write ebooks about location-independent lives and make a living off their blogs. Do people really do this?

Do they like it?

I read blogs like that and it makes me think that I’m just not cut out to be a blogger. Because all I have to write about is things like hanging my laundry and mowing the lawn.

And sleeping in my own bed.

Because that is my life.

There you have it.

How It Begins, and How It Ends

Friday, October 18, 2013

[Ed. Note: Last year around this time, I wrote a post that referenced an essay by Umberto Eco, published in the collection How to Travel With a Salmon and Other Essays. Below is something I wrote just afterwards, but then didn’t post because after writing it, decided that it wasn’t relevant to anything, and, in the end, I wasn’t sure what the point was. But I’m doing a little computer housekeeping and I just read it again. And I decided not to worry about whether it is relevant, or whether it has a point. It poses an interesting question. I like it. That is enough.]

The essay in Umberto Eco’s How to Travel with a Salmon that follows “How to Eat Ice Cream” is also great. It’s called “How It Begins, and How It Ends,” and, like “How to Eat Ice Cream,” seemed to speak directly to some of the themes I’ve been thinking about and writing about lately — specifically the idea of what brings happiness.

The essay is about how when he was a scholarship student at university, he and his friends learned that they could bribe the usher for admission to films and plays, but the dorms were locked at midnight, so they had to leave before the end of the show in order to get home in time.

“And so it was,” Eco writes, “that, over a four-year period, I saw the theatrical masterpieces of every time and place, except for their last ten minutes.”

He talks about all of the things he doesn’t know — “if Othello punched up Iago before setting off on a second honeymoon, if the imaginary invalid’s health improved, if everyone threw rice after Romeo and Juliet, and who was Bunbury” — and thought he was the only one who suffered from this problem. But then he happened to have a conversation with an old friend who, as it turned out, “suffered from the same anguish in reverse.”

As a student, his friend had worked at a theater run by students and had taken tickets at the door, but because many people arrived late, it was always the start of the second act by the time he was able to slip into a seat and begin watching the production.

Well to make a long story short, Paolo and I exchanged confidences. And we discovered that a splendid old age lies before us. Seated on the front steps of a country house or on a bench in the park, for years we will tell each other stories: he, endings; I, beginnings, amid cries of amazement at every discovery of prelude or catharsis.

He runs through some of the things they will learn, about Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear.

Missing the beginning or end of a story would always seem like something to be avoided — of course you would want to know the whole story. But Eco ends the essay with an intriguing question:

Will we be happier afterwards? Or will we have lost the freshness of those who are privileged to experience art as real life, where we enter after the trumps have been played, and we leave without knowing who’s going to win or lose the game?

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