I'm not going to sugarcoat it, the Trump administration is acting far worse and more quickly than I ever could have imagined. All the good intentions I had about thinking of ways to get Democrats to work with Trump (in order to get as many of our action items on the agenda) have pretty much fallen by the way-side. Clearly, I was hopelessly optimistic/naive.
When news of the travel ban hit the internet, and particularly how legal residents of the United States were being barred from entry, I had a moment of panic. The executive order just seemed so extreme, sudden, poorly thought out, and discriminatory, which doesn't bode well for other policy actions in the future.
And then I felt powerless. What could I possibly do to stop this? How do I prevent the undermining or outright dismantling of what I believe to be America's most important values? Equality for all, is that really too much to ask?
I already voted to keep the lunatic out, but clearly that failed. What other say do I have in the governance of this country besides my ability to vote? The thought of feeling this way for more or less the next 4 years, as I predict we'll be bouncing from one insanity to the next (like cutting 2/3 of the EPA's staff!), was pretty sickening.
I really admire the people who reject the limitations of elections and instantly take to the streets to lodge their protest, but I live an hour away from the nearest metropolitan city. What are us country-mice supposed to do to be heard?
And I know a lot of people are calling their representatives and senators to voice their non-support of various Trump policies and nominees, but unfortunately I don't think my representatives in North Carolina are going to be very sympathetic to my opinions. Such is gerrymandered democracy...
So I gave myself a few days to think about it, asking what can I do to help?
And here's what I came up with at both the national and local levels:
So there it is, my 4 step action plan. I've already finished Steps 1 and 2, and am in the process of step 3 (volunteering for our upcoming book fundraising drive). Like I said though, step 4 is going to be the hardest for me, but my aim is to report back sometime this year that I accomplished that one as well.
If you're feeling freaked out by the Trump administration, have you thought of any ways you can stand up and fight back? I'd love to hear your ideas. They're going to be different for each and every person according to their needs and abilities. I'm not a full-time activist, and I don't think I would be very good at it, but that doesn't mean I can't donate what money and time I have to causes I do believe in.
Let's do this together.
Just a little over a year ago, my husband and I got into such a bad state, that we almost decided to get divorced - going so far as to separate for about six weeks.
Ironically, I think the separation actually saved the marriage, because it gave us both a sense of what it would be like to get divorced. (For this reason, I think trial separations are a great idea.) After giving each other some space, we each independently concluded that despite our issues and faults, we loved one another and didn't want to be apart. So we started talking about what was going wrong between us and how to move forward.
The biggest thing I think we realized was that because of some career choices, we were viewing our future lives as a zero-sum game. The feeling was that one of us would get the career and the life they wanted at the expense of the other.
Realizing we were stuck in this zero-sum way of thinking, we kind of hashed out how we saw our future, and got past this sense of "winning" and "losing." It's a little hard to explain. It's like, last year it felt as if we were on opposing teams, and this year it feels like we're on the same team again. I think finally talking about the goals we both wanted to achieve helped us a lot to reset and refocus.
So this past year has been much, much better in terms of getting along with my husband, although that isn't to say he doesn't annoy me sometimes (and vice versa), but overall everything feels much less adverserial. I think focusing on more ways to have fun together has also really helped, rather than seeing our lives as one big to-do list, career track, or chore.
When he does bug me, I try to remind myself to "not sweat the small stuff," which happens to be my theme for this year, along with several other small resolutions.
And when I get in a really negative funk, I try to remember all the things my husband is good at that I very much appreciate. For example, my husband is good at:
Anyway, he certainly has many other great qualities, but I'll stop there so I don't bore you. It's a pretty good exercise though. I recommend it.
Happy Friday! Although, it doesn't really feel like a Friday to me. My family and I just got back from a once in a lifetime sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands (post on that next week), so I hardly feel like I need the weekend to rest. I'll probably end up working through it in order to catch up on some editing jobs instead.
Meanwhile, I thought it would be fun to start a new Friday series to alert any interested readers to good Kindle book deals that I've found on Amazon. A few months ago, I stumbled on a fantastic kindle bargain ($1.99) for Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. I've only gotten around to reading it now, and of course it's hysterically funny (as Bryson always is), which reminded me how useful it is to hear about these kinds of deals when they roll around.
I did a quick scan of the Literary section of Amazon's monthly kindle book deals and found out they're running a great sale on Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for $2.99. This is one of those books I think everyone should read.
It's about an American WWI soldier who is horribly disfigured in combat and wakes up in a French hospital without his senses of sight, hearing, or smell. He can't even talk, which kind of gives you an idea of the awful extent of his injuries. It's pretty horrifying, especially as he slowly figures out how badly hurt he is, and how he's essentially incapable of communicating with any of the hospital staff. To make things even worse, he's also lost his arms and legs...
Johnny Got His Gun is a book that's unequivocally about war and pacifism. It's written in the first person, which gives it a particularly frightening edge (and in fact, I think I first heard about it on a list of the scariest novels of all time).
Interestingly, the author, Dalton Trumbo, is probably more well known as a classic Hollywood screenwriter, who secretly wrote the Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday, for which he won an Oscar while still technically blacklisted during the McCarthy era. It's a fascinating story. If you're interested, there was a recent movie called Trumbo (staring Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston), which documents his and other blacklisted screenwriters' experiences during this time. Unfortunately, the movie is only OK, but not great, mostly because the screenplay and dialogue are fairly weak (ironically enough). The substance and the story, though, depicts a very interesting moment in history that's worth learning about if you're keen on writing.
Anyway, check out Johnny Got His Gun if you're up for a classic piece of literary/horror fiction. I don't think you'll find it cheaper and I'm not sure if this deal will last beyond the end of the month.
So Happy Friday and Good Reading :)
I think a lot of people take stock of their lives around this time of year. Maybe you're in the middle of trying to figure out what you really want or what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you're debating whether or not to go back to school. But what degree? And at what cost?
When I was growing up, there were two competing messages:
But they're both bull shit.
Do what you love? Yeah, have fun figuring out how you're going to pay $200k in student loans with a fine arts degree. I almost did that. I got into NYU and for about a week, I was so sure I was going to go to film school. I would have loved doing that - but it just wasn't a good idea, and I'm so glad I didn't. Can you imagine? $200K to probably never make a movie? I can never make a movie for free.
Do what makes money? I have a lot of friends and some family that have done this, and they seem to be uniformly miserable. How do I know this? They freely admit it. They make tons of money, but they never to get to use it. Plus, they seem stuck. Like they know what they're doing sucks, but they can't bear the idea of making less money, so they have to keep going. No thank you.
So if those two options are no good, how the heck do you figure out what do with yourself?
I'm only 30 years old, but if I had any advice to give it would be to do what you're good at.
What's the one thing you can do better than anyone else? Don't get judgemental, just be honest. What do people complement you for? What have they offered to pay you to do?
For me, it was editing. Starting in the 5th grade, my teachers would have me help other students with their writing. Friends asked me to edit their college essays. In graduate school, editing was practically my second job.
But it took me 30 years before I figured out that I should probably take this talent a step further and turn it into a career. And once I did, everything kind of worked out. I made just as much money freelance editing this year as I had at my old full-time job, and I was able to do that because I'm good at it (although please excuse any typos in this post, I'm writing quickly).
It wasn't what I wanted to be good at. I wanted to be a cartoonist, but I think I correctly concluded that my drawing skills weren't ever going to be strong enough. Then I wanted to be a scientist, but I was never that good at asking the right questions, and I think that's because I was never curious enough. I liked using my brain analytically, but I didn't read about science in free time. It didn't interest me as much as it should have if I wanted to make a life-long career of it. But I did it because it was challenging , it helped other people, the money wasn't terrible (it was never that great, though), and it was certainly socially acceptable. To be honest, that last reason was a big factor in my decision to get a Ph.D.
But I wasn't that great at science. I mean I was ok. I got results, I published, but it was always a struggle.
Editing doesn't feel like a struggle. It's hard, but it feels natural. That should have been my hint that editing was a good career track for me. But nobody taught me to think that way.
I wish somebody had. Then I would have spent less time trying to force myself into a role and a career that was never going to be a great long-term fit. I wasn't thinking about what career I would be really good at. I was worried about what other people thought of me and the sort job I should have to make them proud, comfortable, even envious.
Fuck all of that. Who cares what other people think. It's your life. Do the thing you're good at, work hard, and success will follow. I really believe this.
It sucks if what you're good at isn't the thing you love, but at least it will provide support so you can do the thing you love in your free time. Also, do you really want to turn your favorite activity into work? That would kind of suck.
Anyway, just my two cents, as always. Do what you're good at.
I'm trying really hard lately to save money. Lowering the heat. Not tooling around on Amazon. And most importantly, not eating out so often (seriously, there's only so much money you can save by switching off lights - it's the restaurants and the shopping that are killing your budget, trust me).
So of course, about ten different items in my house have chosen to fall apart or break, all at approximately the same time...My non-stick pans are no longer non-stick. The scroll feature on my mouse stopped working. And my rice cooker has been routinely undercooking the rice for over a year now. My Dad gave it to me when I was a freshman in college and I've used almost every week since. That's 12 years of service!
I know this obnoxiously Marie Kondo, but I actually thanked my rice cooker and hugged it before I threw it away. I couldn't help it, I was attached! I loved that thing.
But I had to throw it away because it was too broken to give to Goodwill. Plus...I got myself this new rice cooker for Christmas. Once again, it's turned out to be the best thing ever (yep, I guess I'm a grownup now, getting excited about rice cookers.) But the truth is they make cooking dinner so much easier. You just pop in some rice and water, hit a button, and 25 minutes later you have delicious pot of rice. What could be better?
Turns out, having the right tool for the job does make a big difference. Suffering through something that's broken or not working well anymore just isn't worth the money saved sometimes.
Realizing this, I also bit the bullet and bought myself a new wireless mouse. I was avoiding it for so long, because the last one I bought cost over $50! That was almost ten years ago, though, so I didn't even consider the fact it had probably become much cheaper since then.
What the hell was I waiting for! They literally cost $10ish now! I'm a writer and an editor. I use my mouse ALL DAY LONG. I can't believe I was suffering with this herky-jerky, and eventually non-scrolling mouse for MONTHS before I did anything about it. (Does this make me an underbuyer?)
I've also had that ratty old mousepad since college too. But where do you draw the line? If you went through your house and replaced everything that looked a little tatty or wasn't working 100%, you could probably spend $5000 easily. And that's the extra amount of money I want to save up this year (on top of our usual down-payment savings) to set aside for an emergency fund. I'm trying to borrow or reuse old stuff as much as I can, but I also like to have a nice house. It's a tricky balance, and I've never been very good at it, swinging between periods of wild spending to solve (in retrospect) mild problems, to abstaining altogether and doing stupid stuff like eating under-cooked rice for a year because I didn't want to spend $30 on an excellent new rice cooker.
Do you have any suggestions? How can I make better purchasing decisions? Is there a rule of thumb or a list of questions you ask yourself? I'd love to hear your ideas.
I'm done. I quit. It's not working, and I finally realized it. You have my permission to quit too.
I know I've talked about the benefits of meditating before, but I've also talked about how it seems to hurt the language side of my brain (purely anecdotal of course).
In fact, I'm beginning to believe it's a bit of fad. I confessed this to my mother last month, and she was in total agreement.
"When you get as old as I am," she told me, "You start to notice these trends periodically come back."
And in her day it was all about transcendental meditation, and she had some pretty good stories about what a scam that was (it cost a lot of money, I think it still does too). Apparently, some of her friends who really got into it (like meditating for HOURS a day) kind of lost their minds for a while. Obviously, that isn't something I want.
Before I came this conclusion, I tried to meditate daily for over a year (trying different apps, Headspace, YouTube videos), and it never got easier. I kept wondering what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I focus? It just made me feel restless and annoyed.
And then I had this epiphany – dude, I am GREAT at focusing, just not on nothing. The sensation of my butt sinking into the chair is not interesting. Of course my mind would wander, which would lead to this palpable sense of failure each and every single time. Kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it? (This New York Times article does a great job of describing that particular trap of mindfulness.)
However, I am good at focusing on my body when I do yoga. I’m good at focusing on music when I play the piano. I’m good at focusing when I read a book, or take a stab at writing a story. I used to notice this when I was a kid – when I would play the piano, it was like I would “disappear.” That obnoxious voice in my head would finally shut the fuck up. And that was half the attraction of playing.
Realizing this, I recently gave up even trying to meditate (or putting in on my endless to do list), which freed up more time to do stuff that I enjoyed AND actually made me feel more grounded and focused (like yoga, reading, piano, etc.).
Anyway, I just think this idea that EVERYONE SHOULD MEDITATE is just another fad, like skinny vs. boot-cut yoga pants. Different styles work on different people, which is why it’s so infuriating when the powers that be decide what’s best for everyone.
So I say, if meditation isn’t working, find something else. I think we’ve forgotten that any creative activity (dancing, cooking, gardening, painting, writing, etc.) can be just as meditative (if not more) than sitting in a chair trying to think about nothing.
Plus, then you also get to enjoy the benefit of your activity (exercise, good food, fresh vegetables, beautiful pictures, stories, and so on) instead of opening your eyes and realizing you literally just spent 10 minutes of your life doing nothing at all. What a waste of time. (Also, side note, when did the imagination become the enemy? That’s kind of fucked up, right?)
Sorry for the novel-long length of this post. I obviously feel passionately about this topic. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Fuck meditation. The last time I meditated really “well,” I tried to write afterwards and ALL THE WORDS WERE GONE. I literally couldn’t think of individual words. That can’t be good! So screw it. And I’m not going to feel bad about it either. If it works for some people, awesome, but it doesn’t work for me, and that’s fine. I’ll do my own thing.
I will say this, however. I do believe meditation can help when you're feeing REALLY out of whack. I think it's pretty good at resetting your emotional equilibrium. I noticed it helped me a lot when I was struggling with marriage issues last year (I really liked this YouTube video). But once my husband and I resolved those issues, and I wasn't feeling quite so bad, I honestly don't think meditation helped anymore. Instead, I think gardening and yoga helped me more. Just different ways of practicing mindfulness, I guess.
So meditate, or don't meditate. Just don't feel like EVERYONE HAS TO MEDITATE, because I think that's b.s.
What do you think? Do you enjoy meditating? Totally cool if you do. But if you don't, I totally get it now. I'm chalking this up to a learning experience about fads. Just because everyone says to do something, doesn't mean it's actually/automatically helpful.
p.s. This post was partially inspired by this great read at All & Sundry. You should check it out, made me laugh, because it's so true.
Are you going to the Women's March on Washington? If you're not familiar, I think the organizers do a better job of explaining the mission than I ever could:
"The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us."
My family lives in the D.C. area, so I was pumped to go, but it turns out I'm going to be out of the country then. Aggh, such bad timing. I really wanted to be a part of this.
Since I can't be there in person, I decided to donate instead. They're not even half-way to their goal, so you may want to consider donating too if it's a cause you care about. I don't have a lot of money, but every little bit counts, so I'm happy to contribute what I can. Hopefully, others will consider donating as well. I think it's a great way to send a public message to our president-elect and his administration that they aren't above the law, that human-rights matter, and we're going to hold them accountable to those standards.
Are you in?
Snow storm! Wow, this is not a normal amount of snow for North Carolina. We got several inches yesterday, so today I dug out my cross-country skis and got moving!
I've had editing deadlines for 8 days straight, so I've been feeling a little cooped up and stir-crazy. I like to stay active because it makes me feel good, but that can be hard when I'm having a busy work week.
I've written previously about the back pain I've been having ever since I switched over to a desk job. I used to be a researcher and worked in a lab on my feet for hours a day, but when I began my editing business I found myself sitting for eight hours a day instead. My back hurt, my shoulders hurt, and I could feel myself ever so slowly gaining weight due to the decreased activity.
Yoga has helped me a lot to deal with the back pain and build stronger muscles, but the silver bullet has ultimately been one really great Black Friday purchase that has made marathon editing and writing just a little more bearable.
Yep, I did it. I invested in a convertible standing desk. I'm actually typing at it right now.
As you can see in the pictures, it raises and lowers, so you can easily switch back and forth between sitting and standing (which I've found is best - if I stand too much, my feet start to hurt).
If anyone's interested, it's actually called the "Halter ED-258 Preassembled Height Adjustable Desk Sit / Stand Desk Elevating Desktop" and it's on an even bigger sale now than when I bought it (d'oh!). I think I got it for $299 (down from $599) on Black Friday, but right now it's on sale for $239!
This is one of those rare purchases I would make again in a heartbeat (and we all know howI feel about shopping). I use it every single day, switching back and forth from sitting to standing about every other hour or so. My back pain has completely gone away and the minor weight gain has been slowly creeping back off again (as it should, slow and steady is the way to go).
So if you have a home office, or you're just looking for a convenient way to incorporate a standing desk into your workplace, I would recommend this standing desk 100%.
You can see from these pictures that the convertible desk is pretty big. There's a lot of room to put your monitor, computer, keyboard, etc. on it. My actual desk is fairly old and narrow (found it on the street years ago), so the convertible desk hangs off it slightly, which isn't ideal, but it's a fairly heavy device and the center of gravity is shifted further back, so it's not tippy at all. Just something to be aware of. The actual base that it sits on is about 23 inches deep and 28 inches wide.
I've gotten to the point where I prefer to work at my desk standing up now. I have to make some minor adjustments in the raised position to the height of my keyboard using some books, but it's really not a big deal. And I don't know, that might just be me. I seem to have issues finding a desk that fits my size.
Is this an issue that other women have? I feel like most desks are designed for a man. So for example, I've always had to use a little foot rest, like this one, beneath my desk so my legs don't dangle from the necessary raised height of my chair. (As you can see in the images, I still have to use the foot rest when I'm sitting.) It makes me feel like an old lady, but it's better than getting sciatica, which will REALLY make you feel like an old lady (I speak from experience).
Anyway, the desk struggle is real, which is why I thought it was worth it to invest in a convertible standing version. It helps make writing/editing feel less sedentary. Also, and I don't think this is a coincidence, but I've been writing more since I started using it. Based on that alone, I'd call this purchase a win.
Have you ever used a standing desk? They are surprisingly addictive. A few years ago, my Dad got one that doesn't raise or lower (it looks like this) and he swears by it. I think that version is less expensive too. Maybe a nice way to give it a try.
So I just wrote a book review of Ringworld by Larry Niven, but Weebly (my website builder) is being annoying and published it a few posts down for some reason. If you don't feel like scrolling there, you can read the review by clicking this link.
Thanks for bearing with me!
I've never had much success with New Year's resolutions...except for one.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to feel more "put together." I wanted to feel better in my clothing (this is along-standing issue I've had about dressing sloppily).
But instead of resolving to "dress better," I decided I would make one very small change: to always wear matching underwear. Nothing fancy. But my top and bottom would match.
I achieved this by throwing out all the random underwear I owned, especially the ones with goofy patterns and colors from Victoria's Secret, and then I went to Macy's and bought 5 pairs of black underwear and 5 pairs of nude at one of those sales they periodically run. I already owned two black bras and two nude bras. Then when I got dressed each morning, it was a snap to either choose a matching black or nude "set."
5+ years later, my underwear still matches using this same system, and even though no one else can tell, it does make me feel slightly more polished.
I think what made this "resolution" succesful was that I framed it as a small, concrete change that I could make in my life fairly easily. Apparently, making a decision as convenient as possible is one of the best strategies for establishing a habit.
So this year I'm going to try the same thing.
Instead of "I will lose weight," I'm going to:
Instead of "I will save/make more money," I'm going to:
Instead of "I will write more," I'm going to:
I might add more little changes as I think of them and write them here so I can come back to this list if I'm feeling off-track.
None of these things are ground-breaking, but I think they will add up and help me achieve several goals I have for the year, which include:
There may be more, but this is what comes to mind right now.
What are your goals for this year? What small, easy changes can you make to achieve them?
Writer, editor, scientist.