Anne with an E, Netflix's recent adaptation of the classic Anne of Green Gables story, was going to be a hard sell for me no matter what. My cousin and I used to watch the first video tape of the classic 1985 miniseries over and over at our grandmother's house, desperately wishing we had the second tape to see how Anne's story turned out! We loved her. I don't know why but little girls love to imagine themselves as orphans. Maybe it's the only way children can envision independence at that age. Anne was our perfect heroine.
Eventually I did get to see the end of the series thanks to Blockbuster, and later power-read my way through the novels, sitting on the floor, propped up against my bed, as happy as an any 11-year old could be. All of this is only to say that I'm one of those people who is deeply invested in the Anne of Green Gables story.
So you're probably not surprised to hear that I didn't care for Anne with an E. To be fair, I could barely make it through the first episode. It's such a radical new interpretation of the story, and I don't think it works.
What made Anne appealing in the books and the 1985 series was that she was smart, imaginative, hard-working, and courageous - in spite - of her horrible childhood prior to life at Green Gables. The new series basically says that she is all of those things - because - of her past. Those are two very different characters, and while the latter might be more realistic, that her flights of imagination are coping mechanisms brought on by childhood trauma, it's not particularly pleasant or interesting to watch. It's strident and dark. The Anne of Green Gables story was anything but those things. It was optimistic, fun, and funny.
I don't love this trend in TV nowadays where everyone and everything is unhappy and serious. When I want to hear a story, it's usually because I want to escape those things. There's a place for catharsis, but I don't think it's in children's literature. Maybe that's where the creators at Netflix got things wrong - trying to take a children's story and turn it into adult entertainment. See how wrong that sounds? Who's bright idea was this?
Have you seen Anne with an E yet? If so, what did you think? I should probably push through the series, if only to see if it gets better, but it doesn't according to the New Yorker, so I think I'll save my time and energy for other things. (Like moving this weekend - wish me luck!)
So a weird thing happened to me. After basically ignoring 97% of the apps on my phone for the last five years, and questioning the value of apps in general, I fell in love with two just this past week. They're pretty fantastic, so I thought I'd share:
Forest: With everything I've been going through lately, it's no wonder I'm having problems focusing on my work. For a while I tried the Pomodoro technique, which works, but most often I'd forget all about it and slide back into anxious procrastination. Then I heard about Forest, which uses the same concept, but ties your working periods to a virtual growing plant. You just set the timer for how long you want to focus, the app "plants" a seedling, and if you can stay on task for the entire period without getting distracted on your phone, then the seedling grows into a tree. But if you get distracted, the plant dies...so you try really hard to stay on task. You can collect trees to build a forest and I find that oddly satisfying. Maybe it works for me because I like to garden and I can't stomach the idea of killing a tree! (I wonder if there are similar apps out there for people who would be more motivated by a tamagotchi-style pet.)
Also, the more successful trees you plant, the more points you earn, which you can use to "buy" other kinds of trees and plants to grow in your forest. So there's a gaming element to it, all of which gives me motivation and accountability to stay focused while I'm editing for a client. I also like the fact that I can set timers for myself that remind me to "plant" a tree so I don't forget to use the app. Forest costs $1.99 in the Apple store, but it's honestly one of the better 2 bucks I've ever spent. Last week I was barely able to work for longer than 15 minutes at a time without getting distracted by sad thoughts or logistic questions about my upcoming move. But since I started using Forest, I've been clocking hours of solid work time, which I so badly need to do at this point, if only for the distraction and the money.
I'll admit, I heard about Forest from Cupcakes & Cashmere, which is kind of a hate read for me, but they very occasionally introduce me to something new and useful., For whatever reason, it's almost always technology related, which I guess is just a sign that I tend to lag behind the times.
Skyscanner: I'm guessing I'm pretty late to the Skyscanner party as well, but I still think it's a great app to check out if you want to travel as inexpensively as possible. My best friend invited me to spend a weekend with her in Dallas this summer. Sounds like fun! Except, for obvious reasons, I'm trying to be careful with my money right now. To be honest, I don't think I understood how to use this app when I first tried it. I searched for flights to Dallas and it gave me a list that seemed no different from Kayak or any other airline ticket search engine. You fiddle and fiddle with your travel dates to lower the price, but it feels like you're shooting in the dark.
But then I noticed a bottom tab that said "Explore." I clicked on it, then entered the city where I wanted to go, and BOOM - a dozen upcoming flights appeared of various dates and lengths that were by far the cheapest of all the fares. I just filtered the results to show only the weekend flights, and within 15 minutes I had found and booked the best deal that also fit my schedule. The only trade-off is that you can't choose specific days to depart and arrive, but there were plenty of reasonable itineraries to choose from, and it wasn't hard for me to be flexible given the open-style of my friend's invitation. All I had to do was confirm that a time also worked for her and we were good to go.
So now because of Skyscanner, I get to see my friend and have something to look forward to, all without breaking the bank. Can't argue with that! So pro-tip, use the "Explore" feature on Skyscanner,
Have you found any good apps lately that are actually making a difference in your life?
Buy this book and read at least the first four chapters.
I'm seeing a counselor to help me through my divorce and this was the homework she gave me after our first meeting. From what I understand, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, was one of the first books published on cognitive behavioral therapy that was aimed at lay people. It's very easy to read, but most of all, incredibly helpful.
The point is to teach you how negative thoughts create negative feelings and moods, like depression and anxiety. By learning how to identify various patterns of cognitive distortion (basically, mistaken, illogical thinking) through different exercises and activities, we can retake control of our mood and get back to feeling good again.
It might sound a little hokey from the way I've described it, but the book is most definitely not. When Burns explains cognitive behavioral therapy, the answer seems so obvious and clear: I'm going through a difficult time, my brain is filled with negative thoughts, and those thoughts are making me feel even worse. When I analyze those thoughts using the methods prescribed by Burns, I realized they weren't actually based in reality - they're distortions of reality. And as I realize this, it's easier to shut them down, and my mood has improved accordingly. It's really very cool. It's not a linear improvement, but I can tell I'm on the right track.
One of the coolest takeaways I've learned from this book so far is that the key to self-confidence is getting rid of these negative thoughts. I'm a child of the 90's, so I grew up in a culture of participation trophies and "good job!" at every turn in what I think everyone now agrees was a misguided attempt to boost self-confidence in kids. The idea that self-confidence may in fact be more about silencing that inner-critic instead of creating some kind of false inner-cheerleader was sort of mind-blowing.
So if there's any silver lining to my divorce, it's that it has encouraged me to seek counseling from a professional who has introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy, and I can already tell these are techniques I'll be able to use for the rest of my life to help me manage my anxiety. At the moment, it's really helping with my situational depression, which is hardly unexpected given the circumstances.
If you're curious about the different kinds of cognitive distortions we all experience to some degree, here's a link that lists the ones that Burns identifies as the most typical. One of the exercises you can do is write down your negative thoughts as you experience them, then identify which cognitive distortions they fit on that list, followed by a more rational response to each distortion (basically, explain to yourself why that negative thought isn't actually true). Study after study has shown that when this type of cognitive behavioral therapy is used in conjunction with medication, it's more effective at treating depression than just medication alone.
I've mostly written this blog post so I can come back to it and easily look up those cognitive distortions as I'm working on these kinds of exercises every day, but maybe you'll find it helpful too if you're struggling with negative feelings of any kind at any point in your life, not just divorce.
Also, I hope readers of this blog understand why I'm writing about divorce right now. It won't be forever, I promise. I hope to get back to discussing reading and writing again soon, but for the moment, I really need to do this in order to focus on getting better and figuring out the new "normal" in my life.
Last month I mentioned that my husband and I were in the process of separating. It's a sad, difficult decision, because it's mutual and we're both conflicted. We're not mad at one another, we're just not sure how to fix the same problems that keep coming up. In short, we just want and need different things. I suspect this is a fairly common problem, but that doesn't make it any easier.
So I've been doing a lot of self-care to help me through this. I've found it harder to write fiction, so I'm letting myself take a temporary break from it (the pressure to write was making me feel crazy), but I have been keeping a journal, which I find very useful to work through my thoughts.
I've also been doing a lot of other activities to help me feel more stable. In brief, here's my list of what to do during a breakup, just in case it's of any help to you.
1) Give yourself a weekend of "Treat Yo Self." Eat what you want, watch what you want, spend what you want. Not forever, but for those first horrible days it really helps to treat yourself. For me, I bought myself a new pair of shoes, watched Mad Men, ate at Taco Bell, and laid in bed all day.
2) When you're done with Treat Yo Self weekend, then consciously practice A.C.E. This works. Such a helpful tool. I keep track of my A.C.E. activities in that same notebook that contains my logistics list and my journal. It helps to keep this information all in one place.
3) Call or talk to your parents, but don't smother them. After those first few days, I made myself try to get over each emotional low for at least an hour. If I couldn't do it on my own, only then did I call my mom. It helped prove to myself that I was tough and that I would eventually be able to get through a day without totally relying on her for emotional support. It gave me confidence in myself.
4) Find a small notebook. Instead of calling your ex, write down what it is you would say. Write out your thoughts and feelings. Patterns will emerge. You'll realize what was really bothering you. When you have a weak moment, consult the notebook to remind yourself that there are real issues at stake and you are making the right choice.
5) In that same notebook, make a list of logistical things you need to do (e.g., where are you going to move, money stuff, possessions, insurance, etc.), then put it aside. Add to the list as you think of anything else that needs to be done, but don't worry about it yet. After the first week or so, only then begin tackling each item one by one.
6) Watch When Harry Met Sally. Excellent and very optimistic breakup movie.
7) Take long walks, go for a run, strength train, take a dance class, whatever. Just make sure you're getting regular exercise. For me, the best part of my day is taking my dog on her long morning walk. I always feel better when I'm outside with her.
8) Put away the junk food and make sure you're eating healthy meals again. For me, that means cutting out the processed food (or limiting it to the occasional treat). I love to make this soup.
9) Call your friends. Make plans to hang out. Remind yourself that you have a lot of people in your life who care about you and vice versa. I'm going out to Dallas this summer to see one of my best friends and it's the first thing I've had to look forward to in a while.
10) Smile and be nice to everyone you come across. I don't know if it's just because I've been wanting more warmth lately, but I've been dishing out the smiles and small talk with all sorts of strangers. And people are awesome. Without fail, they are so nice right back at me. When you feel lonely, a smile or kind word from a stranger can mean so much.
11) Make a list of people you admire who have gone through a divorce. It really shows you how normal it is. Here's my list:
The point of all this is only that there are positive steps you/I can take to work through this. It's a challenge, but not a disaster, particularly if we keep a good attitude.
For more tips, check out this google doc compiled by the Death, Sex, & Money listeners. There's a lot of great advice in there.
Pretending to be someone else, if only for seconds at a time.
Sometimes I like to think of myself asNora Ephron. I find this particularly helpful when I'm struggling with whether or not to write. If I'm Nora Ephron, the answer seems more obvious: sit down and write, because you're a writer, even when you feel like shit. That, and make sure you get something good to eat.
At other times I like to pretend I'm Eleanor of Aquitaine, who I learned about on this two-part episode of the History Chicks. She generally seemed to have her shit together (smart, rich, powerful), even while married to two different monarchs of varying quality. I like the fact that she and and her husband, Henry, King of England, got to a point where they had done more or less everything they had wanted to do together in their marriage, and then effectively went their separate ways. It's a valid option if Kings and Queens did it.
And sometimes I just pretend that I'm a normal person, going about my day. This helps me get through my editing work. I don't know why, but telling myself, "I'm a normal person, getting a can of seltzer water," somehow makes it easier to then sit down, work, and forget about the fact that I'm going through a divorce. It helps keep self-pity from getting in the way of productivity, because sometimes you just have to get your work done even if you'd rather curl up in bed and watch Mad Men. Also, it's true. I am normal person, even if I have to remind myself of it occasionally.
Have you experienced heartbreak? What helped you get through it? I could use some tips.
After Donald Trump won the election, I made myself an action plan to resist the administration on whatever level I realistically could, if only to feel like I had some small amount of control and positive effect on a world that seemed to have lost its mind. My plan included supporting organizations that I feel strongly about, including the ACLU and the Washington Post, with whatever money I could spare. But I also promised myself that I would donate more of my time to take part in protests, since it's one of the few means we have of exercising our democratic rights at the national level outside of an election.
I'm an introvert, so this was no easy promise for me. There have been many times in the past that I've thought about participating in a demonstration or volunteering my time somehow, but haven't because I'm shy and often struggle with getting out of the house and interacting with other people. Once I get my butt moving, I almost always enjoy the activity, but I know how drained I'll feel by the end of it, and that's been a major obstacle to doing more. I'm working on it, because introversion is no excuse for letting your country circle the drain.
So several months ago, I decided to attend the March for Science. I was going to drive up from North Carolina and stay with my parents in Maryland in order to demonstrate on the National Mall on Earth Day. It was a good plan.
Then my husband and I decided to split up, and frankly since then, it's been really tough. It just feels like I'll never be happy again, even when I know we're making the right decision. I'm trying not to wallow in my sadness and self-pity, but it's hard when you're losing someone you love. Understandably, a lot of my good writing, exercise, and productivity habits have deteriorated over the last few weeks as a result. I'm definitely still working at finding my sense of equilibrium again.
Yet ironically, one of the few things that separating from my husband made easier was attending the March for Science, since I wound up moving back in with parents and was only a hop-skip-and-a-jump from D.C. anyway. Even though I've been feeling pretty low of late, I still managed to get myself out of the house on Saturday, in the pouring rain, so that I could march for a cause I really believe in. This wasn't easy, but I'm glad I did it.
A lot of people were out there marching against the suppression of truth and data by an administration that unabashedly favors big business in the face of damning evidence to choose otherwise. Another perhaps less publicized reason why we were marching was to save our jobs. The Trump administration has proposed unprecedented cuts in funding for scientific research, particularly in the medical field, which makes so little sense. You would think that an administration that claims to put America first would also support American research, so we can all benefit from the basic and applied studies that result in new technologies that can save and improve lives AND make money.
I stopped doing research about a year ago, but I now work as an editor for scientists, helping them to communicate their findings more effectively so they can publish their work faster and in better peer-reviewed journals. So if there are cuts to funding, it will certainly affect my customers, who will either have to tighten their belts, or in some extreme cases - close down their labs and stop conducting research altogether. Under those conditions, very few researchers are going to be able to hire someone like me.
And in the big picture, it's such a loss. Why should we stop supporting scientists, whose highest aim is to find new information that could keep our planet and our bodies healthier, but also could be used to employ more engineers and companies to create amazing new devices and technologies, which will make more jobs! It can all be traced back to the work of a few lowly graduate students and their over-worked, under-paid, and under-funded advisers. It's an investment that pays off. There are so many reasons for supporting science with public funding. I couldn't possibly do the argument justice.
So I marched to show my support, along with several thousand like-minded people around the world. To be frank, it wasn't much fun. It was wet, cold, and over-crowded for me, and I have no doubt that my current state of mind colored my experience more negatively than I would have wished, but I'm glad I did it anyway - using my presence like the vote that I feel was taken from me back in November.
Here's some pics if you have any interest. They don't really do justice for how many people were out there that day, far more than I had expected. Some of the signs were fun, the chants were pretty weak at best, but how much can expect from a bunch of nerdy introverts who have traditionally shied from making political statements. This was a big move for my community and it shows how seriously we take the administration.
Sorry for the delayed post this week. I'm kind of struggling right now.
I'm not a religious person, but I think we all possess some degree of a gut-level belief system. What some people call prayer, I think of as good thoughts and positive energy. Even if at a logical level, I believe such thoughts can have no effect on a rudderless universe, I still appreciate them for what they are. Good intentions I guess. Compassion. Empathy. These are valuable regardless of their effect because they bring us closer together.
These are the kinds of things I've been reading about in The Book of Joy, which I've been finding helpful, given the circumstances. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu basically say it again and again, but a joyful life doesn't mean an absence of suffering or sadness, it's the continued aim to love and connect with others. It's to be generous in all ways, giving yourself whole-heartedly to someone else. It's to feel yourself be part of a community you care for and vice versa.
I would recommend this book to everyone, not just those who are struggling with some kind of loss. It discusses big ideas without getting too abstract. It's very readable and relatable. It's also a good daily reminder to think about myself less, even if that feels hard right now.
If anyone follows my reading list (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the books I've read in 2017), they might have noticed there's a lot of Nora Ephron in there lately. So why is that?
Well, it's because I decided to leave my marriage.
And to make a sad situation a little more bearable, I also decided that the late great Nora Ephron would be my "spiritual" guide through it all. I'm joking of course, but you know what I mean. I figure if you can write a story like When Harry Met Sally, then you might have some helpful thoughts to share about love and heartbreak.
My husband and I went through some problems about a year and a half ago. We even separated for a little while, but got back together after deciding we could work things out. Unfortunately, even though I thought we had made really good efforts to work through those problems, they kind of reared up their ugly heads again. I guess I finally realized that I had done everything I could think to do to save my relationship, but it wasn't enough. I know I gave it my best shot, which makes this time around marginally easier. Last time I felt like I hadn't actually done anything to fight for my marriage and that it wasn't fair to ourselves to walk away so easily. So we tried, we definitely did. At least I feel good about that.
It's one of those sad situations where no one has been "wronged." There was no bad behavior. I never stopped loving him, and I don't think he stopped loving me. We just wanted different things. We also needed different things and weren't able to communicate those wants and needs very well, if at all. Talking about hard issues was never our strong point as a couple. So it's nobody's fault, really, or maybe it's everyone's fault. I don't know. But that doesn't make it any less sad or frustrating.
I go through waves of feeling ok, and then waves of despair where I can barely function. And then more often there are the waves of numbness where it feels like I'll never be genuinely happy again. It's also really hard to let go of the good memories and what they meant to me. It feels almost impossible to say goodbye to a man who has been my best friend for 13 years. So yeah, to say this is rough is an understatement.
Anyway, what does that have to do with Nora Ephron again? Having been divorced twice and married three times, I find she has a funny sense humor and poignancy about it all that I'm finding very comforting. Of the three books of hers I've read in the last week or so, I enjoyed Heartburn the most, which is a thinly veiled novel about her divorce from Carl Bernstein (of Watergate fame) when she was 7 months pregnant. The other two are collections of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing. Some of the essays are excellent, others are more or less blog posts, but this one really helped me put things in perspective:
"For a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. And now it's not." - Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing
I guess the point is, although this may seem like the end of the world, that everything I've ever known or worked so hard to build is falling apart (and I'm the one who's actively torpedoing it, which makes it feel even worse, even though I feel like there's no other way for us both to move forward with our lives and ultimately be happy) - well, this too will pass. There's going to be a new normal, even if I don't know what it looks like yet. And one day in the future, this divorce will not be considered the most important thing that ever happened to me, even if it feels that way at the moment.
So right now I'm just trying to be grateful for all the things I have and have had, and trying to be as hopeful as possible. I'm incredibly fortunate to have two supportive parents who've opened their home to me, my dog, and my cats while I figure out our next step and deal with the necessary logistics of the situation. I'm also incredibly fortunate to have a job that I can do anywhere, which makes it possible to move here for the moment.
And I also don't regret my marriage or our time spent together. We did, saw, and made some pretty amazing things as a couple. 13 years together and I wouldn't take back a single one. He's a wonderful person and I really wish him all the happiness in the world. So all things considered, I'm really incredibly lucky. The present is a challenge, to be sure, but I can work through this and everything will be alright in the end.
I can play the piano. So can my Dad. When I was growing up, he would critique my playing while I practiced, which was every. single. day. Let your imagination run wild on how well that worked for our father-daughter relationship (and then imagine how much everything improved when he finally stopped trying to teach me, because that's how that story ultimately ended).
But when it was still happening, it would generally go like this:
"You're timing's not right in this measure. Play it this way."
Just saying those words was usually enough to start a fight, because there was nothing that infuriated my Dad more than an attitude of "I can't." In our house, you got in less trouble for letting a swear word slip than saying "I can't."
Yeah, it was extreme, but there was a grain of truth to it. There was no physical reason I couldn't play a note a certain way. And I certainly understood what to do. Saying "I can't" was just a defeatist attitude that did nothing to help me.
I wish my Dad had taught me not to say or think "I can't" in a nicer way (he has a temper, so do I, it wasn't pretty), but now that we're past all that fighting, I'm sort of grateful he made an effort to excise that phrase from my vocabulary. Honestly, I don't think I say "I can't" much if ever when it comes to trying to achieve something. I know I can, in theory, it's just a matter of learning how, working hard, and having a little luck roll in my favor.
So I don't say "I can't" anymore.
But you know what I do say a lot?
"I worry that..."
I think I say this phrase at least once a week, and that's being generous. It's probably a lot more often. It's this constant refrain in my head: vocalizing worries.
And it helps nothing. It's as bad an attitude if not worse than "I can't."
So I'm trying to stop saying or thinking it, because I wonder if it will have the same effect as getting rid of the phrase "I can't" from my vocabulary. Maybe I can stop worrying so much if I stop using the words that make it possible to do that.
Because the worries are driving me crazy, and yet I have this suspicion that I can control this if I make the effort. I'm pretty sure I can, and I think I'll be a lot happier if I do.
I'm Polish by descent, so growing up, we ate a lot of sauerkraut. Always the store bought stuff, usually caramelized with some onions. It's delicious.
But lately I've been getting into making my own sauerkraut. I use red cabbage because I like the added color it gives to my meals. I eat it with sausages and meat loaf, but more often I put a scoop of it in my salad for some added sour crunch. Supposedly it's healthy to eat fermented foods, but I try to just eat as many vegetables as I can. Sauerkraut just happens to be a very delicious vegetable :)
It's surprisingly easy to do if you have the right tools. My mother-in-law got me this crock for Christmas last year.
I just chop up 3 red cabbages into thin strips, knead them with some salt (~1 tablespoon or so per cabbage), and then I pound the cabbage down in the crock with this wooden stick that my mother-in-law also got me, which makes the job so much easier.
Then you cover everything with a cabbage leaf or two, weight it down with the two pickling stones the crock comes with, and squish them down again with the tamping stick until enough water comes out of the cabbage to more or less cover everything. Then you put the lid on the crock, pour some water into the water seal (the groove in which the lid sits), and let it sit on the counter for 2-3 weeks. Check it every day, squishing down the weighting stones each time. If there's a little scum (dried up bubbles basically), just scoop it off the top. The fermentation microbes make the mixture too acidic for any nasty bacteria to survive.
After at least 2 weeks, remove the lid, remove the weighting stones, remove the big cabbage leaves, and behold the beautiful red sauerkraut that's ready to be put mason jars and kept in the fridge for whenever you need it.
It's really very easy (though a bit physically demanding during the "kneading" stage). Three cabbages make me enough sauerkraut to last for about a third of the year. Yeah, we eat a lot in this house...it's just so good on a hot dog!
Writer, editor, scientist.