Monday, September 17, 2007

One small step

This weekend I had a big party. It was a barbecue/picnic in Golden Gate Park, and it was a beautiful success. I saw people hanging out together who had never met but who had more than knowing me and my husband in common (and don't give me any of your Geek Fallacies -- connection might as well start with who you both know!), people hanging out who knew each other from working together ten years ago, people who said they had no use for kids babysitting a 2-year-old while his single-"parent" guardian got to socialize with some adults for a change. People playing croquet, frisbee, me playing catch with the toddler and the former softball player, the toddler and his new previously-child-disliking friend playing with other little kids and their parents. Lifelong residents giving tips on living here to the guy who had just moved to town -- no bitterness about newcomers or tourists, just advice from a local. People cooking for each other, making four burgers, not just one that was for them and then leaving the grilling to someone else. In the late afternoon sun, everyone lying together on a blanket, with one woman knitting, the toddler at his bottle, my husband taking a well-deserved nap, and me hearing plans being made all around me about "let's get together for ..." from people who had only met that day.

Now, that's what I call a successful party!

There was also a lot of food. I mean a lot. I spent $250 on food and I had told the guests to bring whatever they wanted to grill. People brought lots of meat, veggie burgers, buns (oh, the buns), but they also brought sides, desserts, drinks (oh, the beer). Not many of them took home what they brought, especially since plenty of them biked, walked, or took public transit.

A couple of friends of ours who stayed around till cleanup did take some food home; but we ended up with the bulk of it.

My mission is to use up ALL that food.

I have a bad habit about throwing food out that looks old or just inappetizing. This time I'm not going to do that ... for one thing, my friends have great taste in food and nothing looks like something I wouldn't eat. For another thing, I bought a bunch of high-quality food too, and I'd hate to throw it out.

The first order of business is salad. I bought a ton of salad greens. I don't usually eat that much salad, but we're going to finish it all. We benefit from not throwing out food we spent money on, and we benefit because of the vitamins and nutrients!

Then there's meat. There were 2 lbs. of ground beef that didn't get used. I made burgers yesterday for lunch; today I'm going to cook the rest into ragu sauce, freeze some, and eat some for dinner.

And there's fish. Tuna was put into a salad yesterday (with mixed results; but at least I tried), and trout is frozen for use soon. And there's veggie burgers and plenty of buns. Those are in the freezer and will get used in the fullness of time.

And there's hot dog buns. I don't really eat hot dogs. But I do eat chicken-apple sausages, and those can go on hot dog buns for a little starch. If I end up throwing out or not using all of something up, it's going to be those hot dog buns, and that's OK.

And there's beer. Oh, the beer. We aren't huge beer drinkers and I still have some Christmas ale in my fridge from LAST Christmas. What I want to do is start cooking more with beer, in addition to taking it to parties and stuff. I'm going to start looking for recipes with beer marinade, I know they're out there because I went through another phase where I cooked with beer all the time. I don't fry stuff much but I can beer-batter some fish. But mostly I'll re-gift it to BYOB parties.

And there's cake and pie and cupcakes. I expect these to not be a problem in the next ... oh, three days.

So, that's the one small step. Use what I have left, what friends generously gave to the party that didn't get eaten, what I bought expressly for the party that wasn't eaten. It honors the guests and the gathering.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


It IS very hard to stay off the consumption wagon while you're working an office job. I've found that out. In the week that I worked only three days downtown, I spent more money than I'd spent in the past three-four weeks. It goes something like this: I'm not very hungry when I wake up, so I eat very lightly. Then I get to work and I'm starved at 10:30 -- too early for lunch. So I go out and buy a $2 snack. Then I eat lunch, which doesn't come for less than $8 (except yesterday, when I got a bean and cheese burrito for $4). Then I make do with the office snacks during the afternoon, which aren't proteinful. I have a 75-minute train-bus commute home. By the time I get to the butcher they're closed and I'm too tired or starving to stop at another store that's out of the way and get food for dinner, let alone cook it, let alone wash all the dishes I'm going to need to cook the dinner. So we order out or eat out, which is usually $40. And then I come home and collapse with mindless Internet reading or a book and then I go to bed.

And the funny thing is, when I'm drawing steady pay, this seems just fairly normal.

Not to mention the other seventy five things working makes me want. Want, I keep telling myself, not need. Since I work in a nearly-silent office where everyone wears their headphones, I want -- I will not say need! -- new pads for my earphones because the plastic hurts my ears. I want fancy new shampoo because I don't like going out of the house without my hair smelling like my Lush violet shampoo and vanilla conditioner. If I buy those things at the best price per unit, each bottle is $25. But I want it, for going out of the house. I want new work pants because I only have about five pairs that are usable. The others are stained or not quite business-y enough. I want a new black sweater. I want a new gray sweater. I want to buy a salad bar lunch that's $10.

And when I was working full-time the last nine years, that's exactly what I got.

You see how this goes? Luckily, I'm only in the office from here on out two days a week, working from home the other three. So I can of course get by with only five pairs of work pants and not as many sweaters as I want. If I spend $20 a workday on food, so be it. I won't spend any (or not much) the other five days I'm home, because the stuff I want will be in the house, already bought in bulk or at the co-op.

Then last weekend I was in a wedding. I traveled to Milwaukee and I budgeted for the plane ticket, the dress, the hotel room, the wedding gifts. I also spent almost half of what I had left in my checking account on incidentals. I wouldn't un-spend any of it, but it sure did go fast. It was kind of a shock to see that what I had previously considered a very normal amount to spend on a trip or even a few nights out was actually quite a lot of money. Of course, this is a one-time thing, and so I don't mind the expenditures. It's not the money spent that shocked me, but how much that same money goes when I'm at home and conserving.

But this post is really about something else. See, I'm turning thirty tomorrow. I'm having a little angst.

It's not "Jesus Christ I'm OLD!" angst. My husband is nine years older than I am and I've felt like I'm in my 30s for at least the past four years anyway. It's not "What have I done with my life?!!" angst. I'm happy with my work history, my marriage, my social life, the community I've built up over my adult life to this point. It's not a bunch of other kinds of angst that women, and people, get when they're turning a round number.

My turning-30 brain weasels are basically this: I have not progressed as far as I wish I had since I turned 20.

Here are some ways I haven't progressed (I listed the ways I have above):

I'm not in shape.
I'm not organized.
I'm not focused.
I'm still too much of a drama whore. Pardon my language.

Those are pretty much what I'm going to focus on for a little while. I'm also not financially independent, enlightened, or living quite as ethically and peacefully as I'd like to, but I'm on the path toward those already so I'm not criticizing myself for them. But those other four, well. It's a little late to start, but "however far you've gone along the wrong path, turn back." (Thanks to reader Cindy for that quote. I remember it all the time.)

Here are some brief snippets from my ponderings on these topics.

I have a friend who works out pretty religiously. (I have lots, but this woman is local to me.) She also works full time (on site), has an hour commute each way, gets superhuman amounts of knitting done, cooks dinner based on her diet/exercise plan and doesn't eat out much, and spends time with her partner and closest friends on a very regular, if not daily, basis. Implied in the cooking is that she goes grocery shopping. I also know she watches a lot of TV. I also see her socially so I know she goes out. Yesterday I asked her, how do you do it all? My aim was to try to figure out how she fits in her gym time. She said she has to prioritize her activities. What goes out the window in her life is that she doesn't clean her house. Beyond the time that she has to spend working and commuting, she prioritizes the gym, shopping for the food she cooks, and spending time with her partner and friends over cleaning and organizing. The fallout is that she loses track of things she shouldn't and that she has to go into a cleaning frenzy if she's going to have a party or have family over. Also, she said, sometimes when she's extremely focused on a workout goal, she doesn't ever go out with friends. She also multitasks. She knits while watching her shows on TV, she knits while listening to an audiobook, she straightens her house during knitting and TV breaks, and she knits during her commute.

So most of the way she does it won't work for me. I have to have a relatively clean house or I start going insane. I also don't like the idea that I wouldn't be able to see my friends. But regardless, I have to fit this gym time in there somewhere -- not to mention the grocery shopping. What I need to start doing is budgeting my own time and figuring out where I can replace a one- to two-hour chunk to work out. I don't want to add hours to my day. I don't want to lose any sleep. And I don't want to lose time with my husband. Somewhere, though, there's wasted time in my life. Talking to my friend made me figure out I need to ferret this out by myself and figure out what substitutions I can make.

Being organized and focused will wait till the next post or until I have coherent what to say about it.

The last issue is kind of a big one for me; more than not being in good shape or even having my paperwork sorted out. The last issue may fold into the first issue nicely, if I can get it worked out that way in my mind.

I have a need, and always have, to follow other people's drama. I cannot stand drama in my own life, and I think the way I live reflects that. My marriage is a non-issue when it comes to drama. I'm not saying it's not sometimes chaotic -- there's upheaval and upset occasionally just like in any marriage. And I've had jobs that are full of drama. I left them. When a friend starts causing drama at me, as in not complaining to me about his or her own problems but actually starting it AT me, I usually give them their space and sometimes fall off the planet, but I don't fight them back. Every time I have, I end up feeling like I've been run over by a truck. It's not worth it.

But when I was twelve I got addicted to soap operas. Even though I haven't watched TV for ten years, I'm still addicted.

Now it manifests in getting involved in situations I don't have anything to do with; maybe asking an acquaintance (usually online) how that very public argument with so-and-so worked out, almost salivating over the details, as it were. It's almost like I get a rush from it -- not just trying to help and solve, which I do, but getting to look in, "watch" their drama go down without actually having it happen to me.

This is not the way for a 30-year-old to act.

I want to be clear on something: when drama and chaos are happening to my friends, I don't consider my support and listening and offering suggestions to be part of this drama addiction. It's a different motivation. I want to help my friends, but with people I don't really care about and in some cases don't really even like, it's feeding the addiction. I'm afraid I have a very clear line of who are my friends and who are just "people out there," people whom I'm basically using to give my life a little soap opera to watch.

This is not an adult thing to do.

So I'm going to try to stop it. It's not going to be hard to know where to draw the line; as I said, I know when I'm being supportive of real friends and when I'm spying on someone else's problems for fun. It's not going to be easy, because these same people expect me in this position, and sometimes do come to me for advice. I may be good at giving advice. My real friends consider it and maybe take it, or maybe not. My drama-quotient "friends" and acquaintances never will. But like me, these "friends" are addicted to the hashing-out of drama. They'll miss me in their scene.

I'm going to be leaving some people behind, is the bald fact. My life will be better, not because the people are toxic, but because the way I react and interact with them is toxic. It doesn't matter. It's time to start being an adult about this stuff.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

On the nature of friendship

There are some weird things I've been thinking lately about friendship. Before I was 18, a freshman in college, I had friends. Friendly acquaintances (tons), un-friends (some), best friends (lots), and just plain friends. They were all over my life. I was a very social girl. Even when I was "unpopular" before 9th grade, I was still social. I hung out with my girlfriends and their families, with my parents and their friends and their friends' kids. I hung out alone a lot, too -- about as much as I do now. That's the only constant.

In high school, my friends were my life. They saw me in my good moods, my workaholic stage, my panic attacks, my terrible moods, my depressions, my triumphs. They knew when something horrible happened in my family; they knew when I reached a sexual milestone; they pretty much knew every aspect of me that friends can know. And I knew this about them, too. We didn't hide much from each other; we never tried to put on a certain face. When I was trying to get someone interested in being my friend, I certainly didn't hit them with the PMS monster or bitchface right off the bat. I showed them my best side. But then when that person was my friend, they got the whole shebang (and I got theirs).

Now, it's different. Now I have "real life friends" and "Internet friends."

Some of the Internet friends are people I see in real life; some I've never met. Some of the real life friends I have more contact with online than in person, because they're far away, but I first met them in real life. Out here in The City, there's a lot of overlap. There are people I've met through other people, who I first met online. Or there are people I met first in person but don't see them very often, so I sometimes see them again in The City and can't think of their real name, despite the fact I was introduced to them first by their name, not their Internet handle.

It starts to get a little weird. I seem to have prioritized looking good for my real-life friends at the expense of my Internet friends. To put it bluntly, the 'net friends get the brunt of the worst of me, and the RL friends get the best. I am not sure why this is. Here are a couple of theories:

1) I'm over-clinging to my real-life friendships to the point where I'm afraid if I whine, angst, or otherwise comport myself less than pleasantly, I'll lose them ... AND THEN WHAT? This is absurd. Like my mom would say, if a friend would ditch me because I wasn't sugar and spice all the time, they weren't a real friend in the first place. I know realistically that most of my friends wouldn't decide they didn't like me or want to see me anymore if I had a bad day or two in front of them. But I can't seem to share this part. That means I'm holding back on them. Sure, we get together and have bitch sessions -- about work, guys, money -- but that's topic-based and I don't think I could just show up at one of them's house in tears and say I need some company and comfort. It's like that's not a place I'm comfortable going -- with some of my closest friends! I see writing this that I'm responsible for this lack of closeness. Friendship means seeing all aspects of a person, not just the fair-weather side.

2) I'm devaluing Internet relationships. The Internet is for navel-gazing, snark, gossip, talking about people behind each other's backs and saying things you would never say to someone in person -- right? Well, I don't do that last one, but I do indulge in the rest with my Internet friends. Is this because I think that's what the Internet friends want? They'll find me boring if all I do is talk about how great things are going, I reason to myself. They'll think I'm being smug and self-righteous if I talk about, for instance, the things I write about on this blog (things that I can talk to several RL friends about with no worry about that kind of thing at all). I believe that online, the lowest common denominator is in full effect, and it's my laziness that causes me to sink to that. I'm pretty sure my online friends would like a little more positivity out of me. Who knows, they may think I'm a total trainwreck, like my RL friends think I have it all together. Of course, neither one is true.

So basically I've succumbed to the schizophrenia of having two communities. There are things I'd talk to someone online about that I wouldn't want to bring up to a friend face to face. I don't think that's right. I'm depriving my real life friends of knowing all sides of me, and I'm depriving my online friends of a productive, nontoxic friendship -- which I'm obviously capable of having.

This is the paradox of the modern disconnection culture, or one of them. You cling to the people you know in real life and don't trust that they'll stick around, while you use the people you don't see in person as a sounding board for all your negative stuff you won't show to the RL friends. It's very odd.

There are a few people, of course, who fit into both categories (I'm equally comfortable talking to them online and in person), and these people get the real deal. The only thing that this took was a whole lot of time.