When Life Feels Like Getting Hit in the Face by a 2×4

Disclaimer: I have not been hit in the face by a 2×4. I did know someone who had one fall on their head and suffered a severe concussion. So there’s that.

I’ve been posting less because I’m in the weeds of doing some work that is taking a hell of a lot longer than I think it should. This is, maybe, because it’s difficult work to do and takes more energy than less emotionally taxing work does. It’s also something that speaks to the very real thing we all face: failure. It’s made me realize I’ve been on and off struggling with my career for at least the last five years. That’s not…a pretty thing to think about. When it was bad, it was bad.

There’s been a lot written about people being jealous of their friend’s lives via social media. Humblebrag is a real word used by real people in 2k14. (This guy whining/parody whining about his friend drives home the need to promote vs. being annoying.) There are people I know who are young and extremely successful. Like, they own their own companies, are meeting the president and freaking JK Rowling, and travel the world. Their lives look shiny, and it’s weird when people tell me my life looks that way, too. It sure doesn’t feel like it, and while things aren’t rock-bottom bad, they aren’t I-chilled-with-Bruce-Willis good, either. It’s a spectrum, and you never know when failure will start to give way to the good times or when those nice moments will break apart like the Titanic and suddenly you’re drowning in the North Atlantic.

Metaphors, man

On its surface, success looks the same for everyone, but it can be a wildly different journey for every person who ‘makes it’. The biggest disservice we do to ourselves is to say that there’s only one path to being successful. We’re human; patterns is what we do, but the world is weird. People that take risks sometimes fail and sometimes they strike it big. Quiet people, loud people, smiley people, the Grinch…they can all be successful. There’s no ‘personality type’ that guarantees success. Some people seem to do well without effort, but the truth might be that we just don’t see the work they do or understand their methodology. The 10,000 hour rule is thrown around a lot, but there’s an interesting variation to that rule that says that different people achieve that ‘plateau of mastery’ with less hours, and some people can never reach it or only after much more effort and putting in that time/energy effectively changes their outlook on life anyway.

The nuggety center hidden in the story of success, I think, is the role failure plays for each person. Those friends who are doing quiet well for themselves? I know some of them have pushed through some obstacles. There are other friends who are in the midst of their own struggles, but it doesn’t mean they won’t come out of them. Struggle teaches us patience and focus. When you’re pissed, what’s really important to you? When every other word coming out of your mouth is ‘fuck’, what do you do? Where do you turn? With writing, we talk about the rejection letters. An agent rejected you, a publisher rejected you, here’s the first 1 star review…maybe your great book falls under one of those categories that’s worn out right now. It really can feel like you’re looking down a tunnel where the light at the end is a big, old train ready to run you over.

Trying to convince people to take a chance on you

The only thing that has kept me going somedays is me and my mania. Healthy, I know. And there are totally days I don’t get going (my attitude is basically a cup of coffee and a giant middle finger. Pleasant, I know). There might be some of you reading this who’ve been homeless, who’ve been struggling with addiction, or have lived through natural disasters. The world is a horror, and everyone feels like a failure in a variety of big and small ways. But the world is also weird place, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do think the brain is a resilient organ; you can trick yourself into optimism or slide into envy. People notice which direction you choose, by the way, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

I used to think intelligence was the most important characteristic someone could have (arrogant, I know). Now, I think the #1 virtue award might go to patience. If you’re patient with most people, sometimes they’ll show you things you didn’t know they had in them; in turn, you might surprise yourself in return. Things can really hurt, and time can at least allow enough other things to come into your life to crowd out the misery. Daily struggles become routines; maybe taxing, but manageable.

I’d like to echo the words of Miss Dahlia: you’re not alone. From one random internet stranger to another, it’s not just you. Many of us have been down the rejection road, done the failure tango…you get the idea. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to stay there or cuss out the heavens, shaking your fist.

He’s kind of an idiot, but you’ve got to admire that attitude

The Joys of Working Your Ass Off

Hurry up and wait — it’s the most frustrating emotional loop to fall into. This makes my life choices — research and writing — a hell of a patience test. I’m low on patience and not fond of surprises. This summer? It was trying. The moving, the constant travel, the settling in, and the endless check list.

And there’s only one solution to this: meaningful work. A new lab means new machines, new experiments. I got more into backpacking this year. I’ve written nearly 300k words in the past six months. These things? They’re the only antidotes I know to tedium.

On the hiking end, I got to go back to the Olympic Peninsula. And it’s awesome and beautiful, so I’m going to leave my favorite pictures from that trip here. Because, if nothing else, you can always have the mountains.

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You’re going to need the XL bleach bottle

There are times when it feels like someone threw your brains into a plastic cup like the dice you play Yahtzee with. Except you’re not playing Yahtzee. You’re playing Jenga and the dice are being chucked at the tower because I don’t understand how family game night works. But I do understand metaphors. And this is a metaphor for how it feels to move. You don’t know what genre-bending mash-up you’ve gotten yourself into, but you’re sure as hell in it. Knock that tower down. Roll a full house. There’s no scoring system for this.

In the Game of Moving, the points are made up. The rules don’t matter.

The first step — plan ahead. (Don’t worry, even if you skip this step, everything else still applies.)

The second step — planning ahead is a pipe dream. It means you might actually get a few things done, but it won’t be enough. You swept the floor? Whoops, do it again. Sent a box to Goodwill? Send another three! You filled your trash yesterday? Look at all this other junk you have to throw out. (You will learn, despite any effort you have made, you’ve still got too much crap.)

graph of throwing crap away

And start packing boxes. Then start packing in earnest. See all that stuff on the floor — it all has to go. Now. You discover you don’t know where to put your hair clips and random headbands because they didn’t fit into your scheme of boxes. Everything ends up traveling together (in questionable wrapping that may result in more than one glass breaking) because making ‘themed’ boxes by ‘type’ of item gets too complicated.

If you don’t have a time turner or aren’t a time lord, you’re going to run out of time. There will be at least one night where you’re scrubbing your kitchen, carpet, or bathroom at 1 am when you say to yourself (because no one is sane enough to help you), “I’m going to die of bleach inhalation. This is such an undignified way to go.”

When you leave a room — after declaring victory on scum, mold, and stains, you’ll sit down at your computer. It’ll be blissful to take a quick rest. When you go back to inspect your handy work, you will blanch in horror. You left a wine stain on the carpet; there’s a line of scum on the shower shelf. You forgot to scrub the wall around your trashcan. The only appropriate response: fuck it — grab the bleach, carpet cleaner, and bucket.

You will clean the floor more than once.

Even after you’re moved everything out and vacuumed up dust bunnies that look like tumbleweeds, it’s not over. You have to do the apartment walk through. You’re confident you’ve cleaned every spot — but you haven’t. You forgot the inside floor of your oven. Pro-tip: oven cleaner is another product you’ll need because you have to clean the oven. If your property manger is nice, you’ll get the chance to clean it up before he signs off on your apartment. If he’s not — whelp, say good-bye to more money.

Somewhere along the line, you lose the lists of what you need and what you don’t. Lists are for people who have plans. You’re being truly spontaneous now — whatever makes this move work is what you’re going to do. It’s an adventure designed for sadist germaphobes. You’re just unlucky enough to be playing their game. But at the same time, you’re moving — you’re onto something new. Something that might be better — but if not better, definitely novel.

So maybe you’re winning the game of moving. You picked bleach as your weapon. Your possessions might be reproducing while you sleep — but damn it, you’re going to win. Because in the Game of Life, you can most definitely roll a Yahtzee.

Basement Magic

I turned my basement into an apocalyptic talent show. The cause of the apocalypse was almost irrelevant — although I preferred natural disasters. The important part was that recovering from an apocalypse required putting on a mixed tape and dancing. Hence, I was very territorial of my reconfigured basement being that it was in the perfect atmospheric arrangement for end-of-the world dance-offs. The space was perfect, and I was definitely going to play this game all week, thank-you-very-much. All my favorite toys (from dinosaurs to Barbies, Disney dolls to action figures) got the invite to rebuild a (much more glamorous) society — with fun and dresses and music.

My grandma’s basement suffered a different fate — that of a roller rink in a magical fantasy world. There were werewolves prowling at the doors, but if you were in the bunker turned skating arena, you were safe. It was an extremely 90s pop influenced Fortress of Solitude. Once again, there was a pathological reliance on CDs, mixed tapes, and the radio (these are clearly what you need to survive in a harsh, barely settled fantasy land). The downside to this was there was always a tremendous number of spiders and silver fish in the basement, and these are way worse than dragons, orcs, or werewolves. Apparently those creepers still inhabit fantasy worlds.

In the real world, I’ve been in a tornado and don’t consider the damages of disasters to be funny in the slightest. But that’s what play-acting is — a cathartic way to deal with fear, shame, and guilt. In our age of Big Disasters, it’s not a huge shock that I play-acted those out. There’s something random and completely inevitable about natural disasters — there’s a lack of control. In fiction, you get that control back. It’s magic — it’s choose your own adventure. You get to pour whatever glitter-infused lotion you want onto the things that keep you up at night. Being separated from your family is no problem when you get adopted into a magic, fantasy bunker of disco-awesomeness. Your house is destroyed, but you can rebuild with Batman, Sailormoon, and their dinosaur friends.

But like all things, the literal days of Basement Magic came to an end. Basements are storage places, workshops, and game rooms now. But the macabre fantasies blended together with the touch of absurd (you really need mix tapes to survive) lives on. We all fear something (from silverfish and spiders to failure and death), and we crave community — a place to be safe from the wolves at the doors in our own heads. You always need someone there to help you pick up the pieces. And sometimes, that person is fictional — an idea instead of flesh and blood. And sometimes, that person is a phone call away, and when you don’t know the way back to the basement, they most certainly do.

Life experiments: Juice cleanses

I’m taking an exciting vacation in ten days. I’ve been saving money and doing work, putting the trip as far back in my mind as possible so I don’t get distracted. I’m not the type of person to check out until I’m out the door and hoping a plane. This is why, when I went shopping yesterday, I had one of those moments where, I realized for me, I had let myself go.

It started with my hair. I looked in the mirror and realized my hair was two colors. Two freaking colors. I had the tacky bottle dye job (saving money) and the root re growth to show how little I’ve cared for…oh, the last six months. To top it off, I was bloated and decided to wear skinny jeans out. And I didn’t wear make up because I care a lot less about putting make up on when I spend my entire day alone and working with rodents. This is just how it works, people.

“Letting myself go” is a relative term, and a phrase I kind of hate, even as I realize what it means. Basically, to cut down stress, I take an approach to let the little things (laundry, cleaning, putting on make up) slide unless the occasion is important. Think ‘job interview’ or ‘giving a presentation.’ There should be room in life to not care about trivial things. We should give ourselves the freedom to go after goals without the nagging voice of “Do the laundry! Have the perfect house! Paint your nails!” ringing in our heads. I have things I want to do that are more important than devoting a chunk of time and money to chasing this high-maintenance version of femininity. For example, read 18 things to consider before moving in with your boyfriend, and please, for the love of all the things, let me know if you’ve known ANYONE who hangs up their flip flops. In addition, if you have ever made a cut bow in your toilet paper or decorated your freaking trash can with bows, let me know so I can say there are people in the world who’ve actually done those things. I do not believe these type of people exist, and if they do, I’m certainly not friends with any of them. I hate wasting time, but that said, I have a baseline of femininity, and I express it in some culturally typical ways.

That said, I had the ‘crap, I fell below my own personal level of femininity’ moment standing in a Macy’s dressing room. I called the hair salon on the bus ride home and made an appointment. My hair is a single color. Sometimes, life is that easy. I lucked out and got a woman who had a lisp, so she didn’t try to make idle chatter with me. I went to a very good stylist, but she talked way too much. Idle chatter bores me, and why are you asking me about super personal things? Just because you’re touching my hair doesn’t mean you’ve become my magical confidant.

I come home from the salon, and the second issue smacks me in the face: I’m bloated and feel terrible. This is different from the hair and femininity issue, but they’re all tied up in that knot of self-image problems. I looked up this article about DIY juice cleanses, which I read and made fun of a few months ago. I know what it means to cut water weight. I know how much water weight I can cut in a two day period if I absolutely need to hit a number on a scale. That said, ‘quick’ weight loss is just that: water weight and maybe a pound of real weight. The safest amount of REAL weight you can lose in a week is around 2 pounds while being completely functional. Even then, your body wants to sit at a specific weight, and it’s best not to fight nature. Eat veggies, get protein, drink water, and you land where you land weight wise. That said, when your diet (my diet…) goes to shit, you feel it. And man, I am feeling it. For me, it’s that I’ve started bad snacking habits. They crept in at work, and eating more sugar just causes me to crave more sugar. Couple this with a general increase in my cravings for dairy, and it’s the perfect storm of bad eating.

And this is how I read an article about juicing five times in a row before deciding that I was going to try it. Granted, I’m going to try the juice part for about 2-3 days. I’m going to try a slew of different recipes, but that’s the goal: lots of raw veggies and a bunch of water to reset my palate. Because when I’m too lazy to cook chard, something is wrong. When I let other foods squeeze out veggies in my food budget, I need to reset the baseline because it’s skewed.

The rough idea is to take the do-it-myself approach. (Money. Saving money is awesome.) I spent my week grocery budget on raw product and a box of unsalted cashews. No cheeses, no pasta, nothing else. Just fruit and veggies. I made the ‘green juice’, which seems to be the foundation of every juice cleanse that exists. And…well, kale has a really powerful after taste, even when it’s mixed with kiwis and granny smith apples. I also made the banana-cashew-lots of water-cinnamon drink to take to work for lunch because I’m going to need some substance at work. I played “will it blend?” with a variety of veggies, and I’m going to tackle more recipes tomorrow.

I have vowed to not eat anything more solid than the juice pulp for two days. The only exception is coffee, and even then, I need to drink only a cup to prevent headaches. Also, I will not do the master cleanse. If I want lemon juice, I’m gong to squeeze a lemon, add agave nectar, and dilute it with water. Why, why or freaking why, you would think ‘hey, I know what this lemonade needs! Cayenne pepper!’ I know what the intended affect is, but your liver and kidneys are pros at filtering toxins from your body. Cleansing, in the most literal sense, isn’t eliminating any magical toxins your liver and kidneys didn’t get to first.

My goal is to reset my palate quickly. I don’t own a scale. I don’t care how much weight I gain or lose. I just need to feel better, and a fair amount of that comes from a slippery-slope cravings slide. Once again, cravings are a personal thing. What I consider ‘normal cravings’ isn’t universal, but you can reset your cravings. The sugar in the fruit part of the drinks should work well enough to put a cap on the sugar cravings. After I finish the initial pulp n’ water days, I want to make a real focus on eating raw food. This isn’t because I believe cooking magically makes food unhealthy; it doesn’t, and in many instances, cooking allows you to absorb more nutrients from veggies. Basically, I want to stop being lazy with how I’ve been eating. There’s no magical bullet, I’m well aware, but the goal of feeling ‘less crappy’ is one I’m going to prioritize this week.

Living while introverted

I am an introvert. Surprise, I know, being part of that half of the population. It’s like being a woman. Flip a coin, and you could probably guess my gender and particular social inclination. The most common reactions to being an introvert are “You’re not shy!” or “But you go out a lot!” Well, yes, but here’s the thing: I require ridiculous amounts of me time. I need large chunks of space and time to myself to be creative and to just think. I’m not a ‘group work’ person. It’s not because I don’t like other people, but it’s usually because, if I work in a group or with a group, I still need swaths of time to go off and work on my own. Introversion has little to do with being shy and all to do with enjoying silence and a sense of open space in the world.

And this is why I hate “how to fix your life, you shy introvert!” type help articles. I read them because I’m a masochist. This is the latest piece I came across. The article should have been about ways to make sure you get out of your house more because it’s about how to get out of your house in the age of extreme creature comforts. It’s more about being lazy than about being introverted.

I hear you! I’m a total introvert and the creature comforts of home are usually a lot more enticing than a social outing. The amount of awesome that you can stuff into a small house makes it incredibly hard to get out and leave. The fact most people have a big flat screen TV, can stream just about any movie or TV show on demand, and can automate the delivery of pretty much everything makes it easier than ever to stay cooped up inside. Still, social interaction is good for you, so let’s take a look at some ways you can motivate yourself to get out of the house every now and again.

There’s the assumption introversion never means leaving your house. Wrong and wrong. I go outside a lot, work a job, go for walks, travel, and all kinds of other things, but I’m still an introvert. I can do a lot of these things without interacting closely with other people. I guess the reason I like my little apartment is because I crave my own space. Even when growing up, I craved my own spaces, little places where I could go, think as long as I needed, and feel completely comfortable. It’s about me time, not about vegging in front of the couch. There are out door places, places away from my apartment, that qualify as ‘me’ spaces. I had this seat in the library I always tried to sit in because I loved its location. I felt completely comfortable in that corner, tucked away from loud groups of people, and I did a lot of solid work there. At home, I loved my swing set. I had my swing, which was different from my sister’s swing, and I would go out there and swing for hours. Seriously, I was obsessed with swing sets. If my sister came out, we would play, but I liked to get out there alone and just swing.

This is introversion. This is not being shy but an in your bones need for solitude.

That being said, being an introvert doesn’t make you better. It really doesn’t. Being a women doesn’t give me magical estrogen powers. It’s a 50:50 population split. Flip a coin, it’s just like that. As a society, we put a lot of value on extroversion because it’s essential for community building. In case you were wondering, as social animals, humans are all about community building, so this is why we do prize extroverts, but once again, flip the coin. You’re not better, just different.

That being said, what if you’re an introvert who wants to interact better with people? What if you want to learn how to socialize in a way that makes sense for you? “Must I fake it?” on the ‘Since You Asked’ blog by Cary Tennis is the best advice I’ve ever read about how to be an introvert in a world that values extroversion. Here is the question and the best part of the answer, but read the entire thing.

Question :

I was wondering if you could give me some meta-advice. See, I’m quite shy and introverted socially, so I have difficulty in making friends or moving beyond a superficial level of acquaintance. I read self-help books and the like — I’ve even had a little counseling — for advice in how to amend this, but I’m seeing this apparent dichotomy in such advice that I don’t know how to resolve. On the one hand, they say that to make connections with people you should turn your attention to the other person, ask them questions about themselves and their lives, and so on. On the other hand, they say you should always try to “be yourself,” don’t try too hard, act as comes naturally to you. But with my personality, I have to “try hard” to generate conversation, to think of questions to ask people, and to not revert to going on about my own inane opinions if nothing immediately springs to mind (to say nothing of ignoring the feeling of artificiality produced by this strategy). If I acted as came naturally to me I would not be talking much (except to people I already know).

Answer:

The uneasiness of the introvert in a social situation has to do with the signals you are getting from the rest of the people that you do not exist. So assert your existence. You needn’t do this in any obvious way. Just feel your toes. Feel your hips. As you stand in a circle of people, feel your breath. Look at the other people. Allow yourself to look at them and think about them. Notice how their mouths move, how their eyes change, what kind of hair they have, what their skin is like, what they are wearing and where it came from. Regard them. Hold your space. Do not worry that you will be called upon, or that you must be ready with shallow patter. Just calm down and observe. Be a million miles away.

This holding of your own space is a form of quiet aggression that can redress the imbalance between the extroverts and the introverts. Yes, the extroverts command airspace. They say phrases. Their faces move. But you have the right to your own thoughts. If what they are saying is ludicrous, you do not have to laugh and pretend. If you make them uncomfortable, they will find some other guacamole.