Category Archives: Thoughts & Opinions

Maybe I Use Too Many Monkeys

Monkeys. Too many monkeys. My brain is full of them. My cognitive control center is run by a monkey crew, none of whom work particularly well together or enjoy each other’s company. It’s never quiet up there. One of them is always worried about something, and they trip over each other to inform me about the VERY IMPORTANT THINGS that they think I need to deal with RIGHT NOW. They’re jerks. I really wish they’d shut up, because they’re causing some pretty serious anxiety these days and that’s a lot to deal with.

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Many people who seem to have their act together (including my trusted therapist) have suggested I try meditation as a strategy to deal with my anxiety. But I just don’t see how it’s going to work. There are too many monkeys. I know the point of meditation exercises are to quiet your mind, and to just let intrusive thoughts float through and be on their way, but I have too many thoughts. Too many monkeys reminding me about all the things I have to do. Not to mention the 24-hour round-the-clock repeating video of all the things I’ve ever done wrong.

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I envy people who can answer the question “what are you thinking about” with a simple, honest, “nothing.” If I’m asked the same question, the answer takes long enough that the listener should probably take notes to follow along:

This beer is good but I probably didn’t need the calories. But that caramel egg put me over a reasonable count for the day anyway. I should stop if I want to fit in any pants by next month. I need new jeans. When can I go shopping? Oh, clothes, wait. There are clothes in the washing machine, better get that in the dryer before bed. Liam needs socks tomorrow, he wore the last clean pair today. Oh, crap. Liam. I didn’t make Liam’s lunch for tomorrow, I should do that. Nuggets? He had those yesterday, I should probably change it up for him. But he won’t eat much else, this food thing is getting complicated. Maybe it’s time for the meal plan? But that’s expensive, what’s $15 a week come to, $3 a day? That’s a lot. Nuggets are cheap, fuck it. Oh, wait, I almost forgot the laundry!

**Note to my readers: I DID forget the stupid laundry after all.

Even if I could manage to succeed at meditation, I don’t understand how it can possibly fix an overactive mind. I guess it gives you a few minutes of calm, with a reduced heart rate and blood pressure and all that good stuff, but once you snap your fingers and pop back into reality, all those problems you were worried about are still there. And you’re now 30 minutes closer to death without having dealt with them. Even considering meditation makes me more anxious because it feels like a wasteful use of the precious little time I have to get shit done. I get angry just thinking about it. Seriously – just writing these sentences out and thinking about possibly trying to meditate has triggered an anger response in me.

To be honest, I can’t even say that I hate my monkeys. They’re so familiar to me now, and my brain would seem so quiet without them. I just wish I could train them to prioritize better.

Friends who meditate: how? How do you make it work? Have you evicted the monkeys? Or are yours just better-trained? What’s the point of the half hour of quiet, if it just means you’ve got to catch up with the world again afterwards? How can I approach meditation with something other than frustrated rage?




My Third Favorite Cake

Cake with cherries

Image credit: Erich Ferdinand, CC BY 2.0

I have a friend – a good friend, mind you, not just a friend I made up for the purposes of this post – who likes to ask people what their third favorite kind of cake is.

And that makes me crazy.

First of all, being asked about cake makes me think about cake. About at least three different types of cake, all of them proud medalists in the cake Olympics of my mind. So, the BEST cakes. She always asks me this question when I am at work and nowhere near cake. It’s torture. It’s not like being presented with a golden fork and a table full of cakes and being asked which of the delicious soon-to-be-fork-stabbing-victims is your third favorite. That’s high-calorie heaven. But being subjected to a cruel thought experiment where cake only exists inside your head? Inhumane. I think there’s a footnote in some UN document about it.

Cruelty aside, I hate the question because it’s impossible for me to play favorites with cake. I can tell you what cakes I don’t like. That’s an easy question. Like fruitcake – that’s not even real cake. And vegetables aren’t dessert, so you’ll never sell me on carrot cake (although I may pout and lick off the frosting). But there’s a reason it takes me twenty minutes to choose my dessert at the Cheesecake Factory.

I love so many kinds of cake. So many. Chocolate, vanilla, marble, yellow, funfetti, almond, lemon, pumpkin spice. Coffee cakes and cheesecakes. Buttercreams and cream cheeses and whipped cream frostings. Sprinkles! Chocolate shavings! Obscenely large frosting balloons!

Taking out the cakes I don’t like doesn’t do much to simplify the problem. Infinity minus ten is still pretty much infinity. I stare into the abyss and infinite cakes stare back at me.

I love you all, my sweet children. Every layer and every crumb. I love you all. I can’t play favorites.

 

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Don’t listen to idiots.

There’s a very important bit of information that you need to remember when the little voice inside of your head tells you that you suck, and nobody wants to hear what you have to say, and that you’ll never amount to anything.

That voice is YOU.

Think about what that means for a second.

The voice in your head says you’re an idiot.

But the voice is you.

The voice is most likely wrong in the first place. Chances are pretty good that you’re actually a lovely person worthy of love and hugs and wonderful things. But you quietly think to yourself that maybe it might be right, which is why you’re here reading this in the first place.

But that voice is you.

And that means if that voice is correct, and you’re indeed an idiot, then that voice must also be an idiot.

Don’t listen to idiots.

Shut up, voice.

 




Not a real green dress, that’s cruel

Losing lottery ticket

Image credit: Mark Turnauckas via Flickr under CC by 2.0

I did not win the huge Powerball jackpot.

That’s probably because I didn’t buy a ticket. It’s not that I don’t approve of lotteries or gambling; I’ve rubbed the edge of many a penny over a scratch-off ticket, across the table from my Grandmaman, and I’ve carefully picked out special numbers for the Quebec 6/49. I like the fun of dreaming, and holding a little slip of maybe in my hand. Before the numbers are picked I’m not a winner or a loser, and possibilities are endless.

But some possibilities are more possible than others. Statistics are mean. They’re even meaner when everybody in the country is buying a dozen tickets each for a 1-billion-dollar jackpot. So, since the chances of me winning were almost the same whether I played or not, I saved myself a few bucks and dreamed about the jackpot anyway.

If I had a billion dollars (if I had a billion dollars)…

I’d buy me an exotic pet. But not like a llama or an emu. Just another cat. Or two. And I’d build an extension on the back of the house so they could have their own room full of sun and windowsills and great views of bird feeders. I would also buy bird feeders. The kind that defend the seeds by spinning squirrels off into space. The cats and I would all enjoy that quite a bit, I think.

I’d have a bunch more kids, probably, because I could hire a Fraulein Maria to come and governess them and teach them music and make them clothes from the drapes. And I’d buy super nice drapes for their clothes. Good thread count.

I’d go back to school and learn a bunch of things that I want to learn, and pay absolutely no mind to whether or not the courses would be applicable to real life and a good job. I want to learn more medicine and history of science, and literature. And maybe learn German. German is cool. I’ll need a big study to do all this learning in, of course, so I’ll add one of those to the house (over the new cat playroom). One wall would be all windows, and the other three would be floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, with those sweet rolling ladders so I can get to the top shelves. And a comfy chair, and a big imposing desk, and a giant globe and a telescope and microscope and maybe a full-size Dalek just for kicks.

I’d drink better coffee. I know, I know, life’s too short to drink lousy coffee, but the nice stuff is like 50c a bean, so I’m keeping the family budget in check by drinking Kirkland’s Columbian in bulk. So if I had that billion dollars, I’d definitely drink the really expensive coffees via a state-of-the-art espresso machine (Maria would also know how to work an espresso machine and draw narwhals in the perfect foam on my cappuccinos).

Image credit: Marc Smith via Flickr, CC by 2.0

Not many foam narwhals in the image banks, folks. Image credit: Marc Smith via Flickr, CC by 2.0

And yeah, I’d travel and fix up my house and make sure my family was all set for their futures, but that stuff isn’t nearly as much fun.

You’d rather hear about how I’d sign up for a while bunch of thing-of-the-month clubs so I’ll get new wines and bacons and cheeses and pies sent to my door regularly. Because I totally would. And Maria would bring me a slice of my April pie and my narwhal cappuccino and take the children out to the park in their drapes, and I’d spin my globe, poke my finger down to stop it, and see where we should visit next.

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Why I’m Not Paris

paris

Image credit: PugGirl via Flickr under CC 2.0

If you know me on Facebook, you’ll know that my profile picture is currently a smiling photo of myself with my son peeking out over my shoulder from a baby carrier. Meanwhile, many of my friends’ smiling Facebook faces are overlaid with the translucent blue, white, and red stripes of the French flag: a gesture of solidarity with the people of Paris, who have endured great tragedy this week. I’m not alone in keeping my photo in its original state, but as I scroll through my feed, my face definitely stands out for its lack of color.

Why haven’t I changed it? Facebook makes it easy – there’s a little button I can click and it’ll give me a new “temporary profile photo” so I can join everyone in expressing sympathy. But I’m not going to do it. It’s not that I’m not upset by the horror that unfolded in Paris this week. I’m stunned and hurt. So many lives ended so senselessly. So brutally. If it can happen in Paris, it could happen anywhere. It could happen here. It could be me.

But it does happen anywhere. Everywhere. Every day. There are places in this world where death tolls like that are a weekly occurrence, and most of us don’t ever hear of it. Or if we do, we dismiss it because that’s just how it is over there, in those places we’ve never seen. They’re not cities, they’re “war zones” and “rebel strongholds.” How else to explain the lack of Facebook sympathy and outrage from my peers over suicide bombings in Beirut, the day before the Paris attacks? Or the millions fleeing unceasing horrors in their home countries, only to find closed borders? Or the systemic racism facing minorities here in America?

It’s overwhelming, and I can see the need to block out what you can, so you aren’t permanently paralyzed by your emotions. What cuts through are the tragedies that make you think “that could have been me.” Or a loved one. It’s human nature, I guess, to feel more deeply about an event when you can identify with the people involved. I know it’s true for me, but that truth makes me uncomfortable. It’s absolutely not right that it takes the deaths of people who look like me, in a place I’d feel at home, to stir my sympathy and support. It bothers me that the tragedies that break my heart the most always fit the same pattern. It bothers me a lot. I need to do better.

I don’t like the Jen who reacts to tragedy in a selective and privileged way. I don’t like that I’m more emotional about things that happen in Europe than in Syria. I don’t like that it’s easier for me to see myself in someone’s shoes when those shoes are on white feet.

Every single person killed in every single bombing or shooting or conflict was once a “me.” Every one. They matter. They count. They have to. Someone is mourning them. Someone’s life is torn in half by the loss of a son or a wife or a friend. They all deserve to be acknowledged.

No flag photo can say all of that. So I’m saying it here instead.

Reading List

I’m making a deliberate effort to read more, and I think it’s helping to rewire my brain in a way that will make it more productive. Good input leads to good output – eventually. My free time isn’t set up to allow for much book-reading right now, but I’m absorbing some great blogs in the spaces between my responsibilities. Here are a few of my current favorite sources of online input for you to explore, if you’re considering adding to your own reading list. Full disclosure: I know these people, at least in the Twitter sense of “knowing,” but I wouldn’t stand behind their work if I didn’t think they deserved it. I enjoy these things, so I am sharing these things with you. That’s how the world goes ’round.

Getting Ready to Go is a fun little blog about transitions and preparation and how to get from A to B in ways that make sense. Tasha writes most of the posts herself, but often invites guest posters (myself among them, yay!) to talk about their own experiences. Maybe you’re getting ready to go to a friend’s wedding, or getting ready for a wine and cheese date you’ve just been invited to with only 15 minutes’ warning. Maybe you’ve got a guest post you could share with her, too – think about it!

Nicole Dieker is writing a wonderful novel that’s coming out bit by bit as a tumblr serial and it’s really just the best thing. It’s called The Biographies of Ordinary People, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a series of stories about people who are made so real on the page that you feel like you know them well enough to invite them to dinner. You can support Nicole’s talent over at Patreon if you’re so inclined. And you should probably incline yourself that way, because her work is pretty great.

I absolutely love reading Ken-inatractor, because he’s hilarious. He’s a Canadian farmer who’s experimenting with stretchy jeans in his middle age.  I was delighted to see a new post from him last week, because he’s been quiet for a while and I think the world needs more of him. I’m not sure if he’s going to be updating the blog regularly, but his archived posts are absolutely worth looking through if you want to binge-read.

What about you? What are you reading (or writing!) that I should add to my list? Funny, sad, educational, it doesn’t matter. I need to consume more good work, so I can improve my own.

An Open Letter to the People Who Make M&Ms

Dear M&Ms people,

Why would you put an odd number of M&Ms in a fun-size package, when the only acceptable way to eat M&Ms is in pairs?

rsz_mms

I’ll allow you the necessity of a random selection of colors, even when that means I’ll be forced into a panicked on-the-spot decision about whether yellow or brown is a more acceptable mate to green. Multicolored candies are kind of your thing. I understand that the machinery is set up to dump a colorful mix into every bag with no consideration given to those like me who need to eat things in an orderly fashion. It’s just business. But I know you’ve got an extensive quality control system set up. Every bag of M&Ms, fun-size or otherwise, is allowed an exact number of grams of candy with no tolerance in either direction. I just want to know why you’re monsters and set that limit such that an odd number of M&Ms meets your release criteria. You have the power to change this. Do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Me.

It’s a Pooh Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand

I took a few hours out of my day to be with Liam for the Halloween parade at daycare today. I arrived early, half an hour before the big event, so I sat with him and the other kids in his class while the teachers caught them one by one to put their costumes on. The kids are all between one and two years old, so there was a lot of chasing and giggling and crying.

The first little boy to be dressed found himself stuffed into a Tigger costume that he wanted absolutely no part of, and he sat in the middle of the floor wailing and tugging at the scratchy orange velour. Of particular offense was the giant fluffy Tigger head that completely covered his own little head and was attached with a snap he couldn’t undo. As he continued to cry and strangle himself trying to behead his costume, I scooched a little closer to him, with Liam in my lap, and asked “Do you know what’s so wonderful about Tiggers?” He stopped crying and stared at me.

“It’s that Tiggers? They’re wonderful things.”

Blink. Tug.

“Their tops,” I poked his belly, “are made out of rubber!”

He stared at his belly.

“Their bottoms?” I wiggled his foot. “They’re made out of springs!”

He wiggled his feet.

“They’re trouncy pouncy flouncy bouncy,” I bounced.

“Fun fun fun fun fun!”

“The wonderful wonderful thing about Tiggers is you’re the only one! Yoooooooooou’re the only one!”

He applauded my effort and crawled off with Tigger’s head dangling around his neck.

This working Mom thing? I think it’s working.

The calendar says it’s been a year. I’ve been a working mom for a whole year.

I took as much parental leave as my job would let me. Twelve weeks; some of it paid, some not. I spent almost three months with my son after he was born, and it wasn’t enough. I wanted so much more, but it’s awkward to say so when I know that many others don’t get that much. I feel equal parts grateful and cheated for what little time I was allowed.

My first month back was emotional, though I cried fewer tears than I was told I would. I was more out-of-sorts than sad. My brain was so slow, like I was having Benadryl for breakfast and lunch every day, and coffee hardly made a difference. I asked so many questions, over and over, about things I should have known well. It was embarrassing. My coworkers were kind and understanding, but my self-doubt imagined dozens of eyes rolling behind my back. I felt so hopelessly and terminally stupid.

I hid in an empty office three times a day to express breast milk, acutely aware that everyone passing in the hallway could hear the pump going. On my third day of pumping, the door creaked open just as I’d gotten everything hooked up and started – the facilities guy heard a “weird noise” and used his key to get through the locked door to investigate. I changed my “occupied” post-it note to an “OCCUPIED PLEASE KNOCK” legal-sized sheet and pretended his apology made everything totally fine and not embarrassing at all. Because I had to do it again the next day, and the next. Wash my pump parts in the break room sink, put my milk in a cooler in the fridge, and get over it.

Those weeks seem so far away now. A whole year ago. I measure that year by my son and not myself – inches and pounds and milestones and giggles. I rarely assess my own progress. I don’t stop often enough to take stock of how I’m doing and how I’m changing. But while I’m still figuring out the balance, things are improving. I still miss him every day while I’m at work, but I’m sleeping more and that’s definitely helping my brain function closer to its pre-baby capacity. I’ve taken on several projects that I’m very passionate about and very proud of, and I’m seeing glimmers of “me” under the “mom” now and then.

I’ve survived a whole year as a working mom. I’m still good at my job, and my son still loves me. I’m going to go make myself a cake to celebrate.

It’s not beer, it’s me. Or maybe it’s you.

Tasha is one of my best friends. Tasha is a beer geek – she’s serious enough about the stuff that she’s working towards getting her Cicerone certification, which I think is amazing. On her MetaCookBook blog this week, she’s asked for people’s thoughts on the beer community and what sorts of topics they should be talking about. Tough topics – like diversity in the community. I’m very interested to read the replies, but I wasn’t going to join in the conversation, because beer isn’t my world. I can only understand Tasha’s passion by comparing it to my loves of other things, because I don’t really “get” beer. I like the stuff (some of it) well enough. But I’m intimidated by beer geeks sometimes, because I don’t feel like I belong to their “community.” So maybe I do have something to say after all.

I’m not saying that beer lovers are hipsters and phonies and are running this exclusionary club on purpose. Maybe it’s my own perception of “beer people” that makes me hesitant to really get into beer.

I feel like there’s this big movement around beer, and some people take it super seriously. There are beer bloggers and beer conventions and people have opinions. I don’t want to commit to all that. I just want to sometimes drink something that doesn’t suck. With friends who also don’t suck. I don’t read beer blogs or keep up on beer news and I don’t know a lager from an ale. I just know a few kinds I like and I usually order those. So far nobody I’ve ever gone out for a drink with has ever rolled their eyes at me or made me feel bad for liking the “wrong” beer, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel a small twinge of anxiety every time I order. Beer is intimidating.

That’s a totally weird thing for me to say, because I love wine and wine tastings, (hell, I made wine charms this one time) and I get all nerdy over the tasting notes (which are all lies, people – NOBODY tastes plum and leather in Merlot. NOBODY). I learned about wine by going to tastings and having pros guide me through the general characteristics of different styles, and there’s no reason not to do that with beers. Except that I don’t know where to go. And I have this vague impression that the beer tasting rooms will be populated with dudes and I’ll feel out of place and/or not be taken seriously because I’m a woman. There are Groupon “wine and canvas nights” marketed to moms like me, and memes about mommy needing a glass of wine after a hard week, but I feel like beer is for daddy. It’s such a pervasive concept that we’re even slapping it on baby onesies. Why?

mommy wine daddy beer

WHY? (Available at femailcreations.com, if you’re so inclined)

Again, I’m not saying that anyone is making me feel this way. It’s just these hazy impressions I have of “the beer community.” And since Tasha wanted to know what the beer community should be talking about, here’s my thought: why do I feel like the world of beer probably isn’t for me? Is it all my own self-doubt and social anxiety, or is there some subtle signal I’m getting from the beercommunity that this isn’t my place?