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.


Cindy said...

I understand the drama stuff--I still find myself interested in peoples drama, but in general I try to remove myself from situations where it's a temptation. For me that was online life, for the most part. That wouldn't be easy for you...

working there a way to incorporate walking ( or biking or running?) into your life so you are more active, but aren't spending an hour a day at a gym? (like would it be possible to walk or bike some of the way to work and hook up with mass transit further away than you normally would? bike/walk/etc to the grocery store?) Maybe this won't exactly work for you, but the idea can be adjusted quite easily.

I spend too much money on food while at work (there is a gas station 1 1/2 blocks away), so I hope to go buy some items to bring with me--snack stuff, so at least it's better than I am doing right now.

and in case I forget, happy early b-day.

misha said...

Spend all Sunday afternoon cooking, so you have things to take with you — rigidly plan your meals (and snacks) for a while until you get into a more organized habit. Also, try buying snacky things ahead of time, maybe when you do other regular grocery shopping. Then you can bring it with you to work rather than paying as you go, which always seems to cost more. It will always be a constant struggle, though. It might be easier to fight it if it were only Cheetos and peanut butter cups from the gas station; but the same behavior applied to more healthy snacks, dinners, &c. is just as disorganized (and perhaps destructive) financially.