Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Secret Slob

"You remember I said before that Ackley was a slob in his personal habits? Well, so was Stradlater, but in a different way. Stradlater was more of a secret slob. He always looked all right, Stradlater, but for instance, you should’ve seen the razor he shaved himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs and crap. He never cleaned it or anything. He always looked good when he was finished fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway, if you knew him the way I did. The reason he fixed himself up to look good was because he was madly in love with himself. He thought he was the handsomest guy in the Western Hemisphere. He was pretty handsome, too - I’ll admit it. But he was mostly the kind of a handsome guy that if your parents saw his picture in your Year Book, they’d right away say, “Who’s this boy?” I mean he was mostly a Year Book kind of handsome guy. I knew a lot of guys at Pencey I thought were a lot handsomer that Stradlater, but they wouldn’t look handsome if you their pictures in the Year Book. They’d look like they had big noses or their ears stuck out. I’ve had that experience frequently."
- J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

There are certain passages in literature that stay with a person. They hit upon a deep truth, presenting it in a way you'd never thought about before. And at the tender age of 16, I had that moment with J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Not the whole book (though it was great too) but the specific passage above. Because when I read it, I was finally able to put words to my personal shame: I am a secret slob.

I'm not a secret slob in the "I take great yearbook photos but I'm actually average and have a dirty razor" sense: I'm rarely the most attractive girl in a room or a photo (I do live in Los Angeles, after all), and I take pretty decent care of my personal care items. I mean it in a life sense.  As in, superficially, I am a shining example of success: I have a job that sounds very impressive with a good salary with room for growth, I have a great husband, I have an apartment I love in a neighborhood that should be trendier than it is (which means it's on the cusp of being discovered... and we are therefore the "cool" kids who were here first), I can handle myself in a yoga class, I love the farmer's market and homecooked meals, Jason keeps me up to speed on the cool bands and pop culture happenings, I read the NYT/Atlantic/Economist regularly, I like going to museum and art exhibits, I know where actual microbreweries exist in Los Angeles, and I can even fool people into thinking I have a sense of personal style. In other words, I seem to have some modicum of my sh*t together and I am conversant in the hip buzzwords for urban living.

But secretly, I'm falling apart. Behind the scenes, things are a mess. There's never enough time. I'm always one yoga class away from a panic attack. I'm an intellectual mess, barely finding time to write, to reply to emails, or to cross things off my to-do lists... at work or in my personal life. I barely pull myself together to even make the to-do lists and, when I do, my spur-of-the-moment thoughts are scattered on post-its all around the house, hidden under piles of unopened mail.  In fact, I am a major piler: piles of mail, piles of paperwork, piles of clothes that I tried on and discarded at 7:30am and never bothered to re-hang, piles of books I've been meaning to sell... piles that attempt to contain my messy life into some semblance of precarious order. Piles that a cat can easily knock over as she runs across the table, scattering things in every direction. Piles that become heaping overwhelming mounds until I breakdown and toss half the papers. I actually manage to clean dishes regularly and clean up after the cats and their tumbleweed hairballs (because I may be messy, but I'm not dirty).  But oh, the piles. Any dinner party at our apartment necessitates weeks of planning and, um, hiding piles of crap in closets.

That's right. I'm a secret slob. I live with piles and mess and survive because we have a lot of closet space to hide things when guests come over. But, since the wedding, things have become worse. We had so many piles (gifts, goodwill leftover wedding crap, new photos) that it became emotionally overwhelming to consider having a dinner party. How could we invite people over when we didn't even unpile our new photos or art pieces and get them on our walls? We couldn't. We were failures. We were never going to finish cleaning or decorating our apartment. Instead, I was going to be left with this d*mn Ikea bag full of picture frames on my floor for the rest of my life.

Personal photo, sans pretty effects. Because this bag is real and raw and ugly.

This Ikea bag became everything I hate about my secret slob self. It's full of picture frames and plans that are seemingly abandoned to piles of "someday, I'll get to this." It's bright blue, ugly, and crackles loudly when the cats leap on it. It makes my failures known. It reminds me of all the other piles that are sitting around my apartment, all the other half-done projects. And even worse, it taunts me because I've been trying to get rid of it for months.

The Ikea bag reminds me that, despite all our hard work, the pile never seems to go away. Every seeming step forward feels like zero progress, because the darn bag is still there. Despite braving Ikea in the weeks after our honeymoon (on a Saturday afternoon!!!) and buying 18 picture frames, I still feel like a failure. Despite conquering the painful negotiation of which pictures to choose for our new photo-and-art wall, I still feel like a failure. Despite printing and cutting said pictures to the appropriate size and ordering a large professional print of one, I still feel like a failure. Despite working through our photo layout disagreements and establishing a cohesive design for the wall, I still feel like a failure. Despite several evenings spent with a measuring tape, a leveling tool, hammer, and nails to painstakingly hang each picture, I still feel like a failure. Because the bag is still there. Even when I'm actively trying to eliminate piles... months later, the stupid Ikea bag is still there.

Piles upon piles

Other piles seem to find strength in the Ikea bag's audacity, hanging out with the bag in the corner, smoking a proverbial cigarette and jutting their chins out, daring us to try and organize the chaos. There are two chairs we still haven't built that hang out with the Ikea bag. There are the leftover serving bowls from the wedding that we haven't quite figured out where to store. There's a box of goodwill wedding items. There's a bike that never quite finds its way into the garage. Together, they all stick their collective mound-pile tongue out at me and laugh, knowing that my secret-slob self will continue to deal with it because I have a high tolerance for piles that pile on. 

I'm convinced more people have stuffed-with-piles closets than they're letting on. Because I've been working to get rid of this d*mn Ikea bag for months now, and I can just finally see the bottom of the bag, now that most of the pictures are hung. And it's not like I've been goofing off and ignoring the bag: instead, I'm learning that careful I-love-this-room design takes time. Lots of it. And other life-piles are always lurking to claim immediate deal-with-me precedence over long-term design planning. Like buying groceries. Or doing laundry. Or sudden all-hands-on-deck work deadlines.

The truth is, my piles aren't a public broadcast of my failure. They are a public broadcast of my choices: I choose to live with some level of messiness because I have other things I want to succeed at. And I can't have it all. And I choose to live with some piles because I'd rather cook real food and spend time over dinner with my husband... in addition to everything else. I choose to forgo hiring a maid for a number of reasons but, right now, because I'd rather save money for important dreams like trips, children, and a home. And at the core of it all, I know that if I chip away at the work for long enough, I will conquer a pile or two. Or even an Ikea bag. And all the surrounding piles of crap that can no longer find refuge in our messy corner. 

I am a secret slob. Despite that, I am strong and determined enough to tackle even the most cruel and persistent of piles. The Ikea bag is hording just three measly frames. Its end is near. It will be mere days before I empty it, once and for all, and reclaim a small corner of my life.

Until the next pile encroaches, of course.

 First framed photo success - framing images of flowers (from our wedding and personal travels) to decorate our bed headboard.

Second framed photo success - finally starting to hang photos on our living room wall.

Monday, July 11, 2011

10 Things to Try When You're in a Foul Mood

Screaming in digital - Day 27
via rutty on flickr

There are bad moods, and then there are desperately foul "get the #@$$%*^I%^#! out of my way if you remotely know what's good for you" moods. The kind of mood that descends from grumpy and irritated into into unfathomable hatred and rage, without any single identifiable reason (which, of course, makes it even worse). The kind of mood where you have to stop yourself from throwing your cat across the room because she dared to taunt you with her contentment by proffering a fuzzy tummy for you to rub. The kind of mood that makes you want to shred your partner to pieces, even when you know they haven't done a thing to deserve it, because you're that angry and you're assuming that they love you enough to eventually forgive you (ummm, don't try this unless you've recently saved up a LOT of good partner points.)

When you are in the sort of dark place that inspires a violent emotional response to fuzzy pet love, there's no sort of "walk it off" remedy. Thinking about a relaxing drink on the patio with a cold drink would probably lead to shattered glasses and not calmed nerves.  And punching a pillow is a sad joke of a rage-relief method. So instead, you might consider some of the following instead:
  1. Turn on your I HATE THE WORLD playlist to just past acceptable neighborly levels, "singing" at the top of your lungs, and getting into serious elbow grease cleaning mode.  At a minimum, this playlist must include: Hole, Bikini Kill, the Hives, Rage Against the Machine, and whatever random assortment of punk songs you have on your ipod. (btw, I hate cleaning. But there's something cathartic about literally attacking crud while howling to a battle hymn f*ck the world playlist.) 
  2. Kick fallen peaches into the street. Repeatedly. Aim for the car that is using TWO spaces to park (there's always one, f*cker), and no doubt was the reason you had to circle for 20 minutes to find a freaking parking spot.
  3. Take out the recycling, making sure to HULK SMASH each and every glass item as you hurl it into the bin.
  4. Turn the playlist music up full blast and scream for 20 seconds. Turn the music back down to normal levels and headbang, air guitar, or otherwise jerk around in energetic dancey motions. Make sure to jump on the couch as part of your routine. 
  5. Cry. Make sure it's a deep sob fest of red-faced chest-wrenching crying-so-hard-you-go-silent wails. Wimpy everyday weeping clearly won't do.
  6. Work out, as hard as you possibly can, while watching terrible reality tv. Make sure it's the sort of show that lets you feel smug and morally superior while also offering you the opportunity to scream epithets and insults at the screen. 
  7. Take some time with your post-workout shower. Get creative.
  8. Cancel all plans that night. Tell yourself it's not because you're considerate enough to not inflict your friends with your mood. Tell yourself it's because you're an *SSHOLE D*MNIT.
  9. Make bread. Knead and punch that dough down. Pretend that the smell of fresh baked bread is not actually making you feel better and give yourself permission to tear off chunks of bread and stuff your face with every morsel of sweet delicious carb.
  10. When you've finally exhausted yourself, indulge in pizza/thai food/insert weakness here, a hard drink, and a movie or tv marathon of something that has received your partner's eye roll of dismissal. Brush crumbs onto the floor. Just because.  
The next day, after you've awoken hungover from both booze and rage, tummy still distended from your carb fest, with embarrassing memories sending you groaning back under the covers, apologize to your partner. Profusely. Snuggle and heal, consoling yourself (and your partner) with the knowledge that these tazmanian devil furies very rarely happen but that, when they hit, you need to honor the crazy emotions with a safe, worthy, outpouring to match.

Additional suggestions for foul mood activity tips and playlist songs are more than welcome in the comments.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Small Steps: Day One

Today was the first step in my accessory-styling adventures. And here are my first impressions of the experiment:
  • Even just making the effort to coordinate fun pieces made me more conscious of my presence. I feel GOOD today. Even if I skipped my morning workout (shhh. And that wasn't part of my stated goal this week anyhow.)
  • Clearly, all you blog people who take great "look at my daily outfit" photos were not squeezing in between my overflowing dresser and single full length mirror, where the morning light isn't so great. You probably also used a real camera and not your iphone. Whatever. I don't need artistic renderings of my clothing mashups (mishmashes?). I need to document my process. 
  • I hate that my clothes don't fit. HATE it. Some are too big, some are too small, and nothing looks great. I'm trying to remind myself that THIS is why I'm focusing on the accessories. I need a DISTRACTION from the larger issue of my wardrobe and a way to still feel put together until some undetermined point when we have enough money for a mini-shopping spree for new essentials. 
  • However, I think I did a good job of pulling together professional-fun-casual look for non-client days (keep in mind this is California. Life is more casual here): Brown work slacks with a tucked in light blue shirt under a khaki casual short blazer. I added fun pointy-toed brown kitten heels embellished with gold zig zags, a bold blue statement piece necklace (whose statement-ness is mitigated by the blazer), and a thin woven mustard belt.
  • I make bad styling decisions in the early morning. I am decidedly NOT a morning person and, by 8am, the coffee hasn't quite kicked in. I've decided to blame my bleary-eyes on my unfortunate belt decision. It seemed like a good idea at the time, mostly because the belt I really wanted to wear didn't fit and I thought I needed a belt. I would have been better off without. Because it's so thin, it cuts my body in half in an unbalanced way. A thicker belt might have been fine. Also, while the color works, the woven style is too casual. I knew this, but I just didn't want to believe it because I wanted a belt. Harumph. I'm not sure how to mitigate the sleepy-styling issues. Don't recommend picking an outfit the night before. It's just not going to happen. Sorry. 
    Overall assessment: I'm off to a decent start. I'm happy with making coordination a priority and with the outcome of my look. I can't change the fact that my slacks and blazer are a bit too big, so I have to put up with the ill-fitting-ness for a while. (That's something they don't mention in style blogs, do they? That some of us don't have the luxury of well-fitting clothes right now? Hmm?) But, aside from the belt, I really like the concept. So yay.

    (I promise I won't post style photos every day for a month. I just got excited about my new project. Whee!)

    Small Silly Goals and Big Scary Steps

    On Monday morning, I love/hate the moment I make my workweek to-do list. Love it, because it gives me direction and priorities in a sea of competing deadlines and client needs. Hate it, because I'm inevitably setting myself up for failure. In my line of work, the to-do list is never conquered. It's like a reproducing cell, multiplying in an exponential fashion, with no end in sight. Unless you're giving birth to a deadline-oriented project, like last week's grants. I happen to like those sorts of projects because deadlines are both inspiring and limiting. 

    When I take yoga classes, the teacher always talks about "setting your intention" before you begin your practice. I like yoga for the stretching and the way that hard physical movement clears my brain of thought-clutter over the spiritual side of things. But with yoga, the hippies got something right in a big way: setting a single, doable, "focus on this" approach to the class like "remember to breathe properly", or "hold posture/correct form" or "you WILL make it through every d*mn downward dog without going into child's pose" helps stop me from checking out everyone else's perfect yoga bums and focus on my own process. These small daily goals keep me in the moment while also moving  my practice forward, instead of allowing me to worry about how my bum or yoga skills compare with where I want to be.

    When I kickstart life improvement processes, I tend to start with the Monday-morning approach to things: write everything down, triage the most important items, get overwhelmed with the hugeness of my goals, and decide to read something distracting instead. So I'm thinking I need a bit of a yoga approach in my goal setting. I need a way to direct my focus instead of setting strict goals. I need a way to stop getting jealous of the perfect yoga bums (and "perfect" lives around me) and to stay in the moment of single step of the journey instead of worrying  about the big picture.

    I know where I am, which is a good place, but not not nearly good enough. I know I'm not living up to my potential. I know I haven't found my "passion" yet (and there will be a lot more talk about passion in upcoming posts and what I think it is and isn't). But I also know where I've come from. Two years ago, I was stagnant. I had a great job (on paper, at least), a great relationship, and great friends, but the ease and comfort were actually a bit discomfiting. I couldn't picture my life in five or ten years because I wasn't inspired or enthusiastic about the big-picture possibilities. The little picture - the everyday vignettes - were great enough to usually mask my vague sense of discontent.

    Without direction or ideas, but tired of feeling bored, I just started taking tiny steps in any direction, stumbling forwards, backwards, and sometimes downwards. But the motion itself was a relief, until I suddenly realized I'd created a whirlwind of doing: wedding planning, volunteer teaching, entertaining,  blogging, and even managing full schedule (plus) at work. Despite my exhaustion, the whirlwind cracked open my world and, somewhere amidst the chaos, I started to dream again as I caught glimpses of the possibilities.

    Part of the reason the current big picture is giving me panic attacks is because it feels so huge and far away. But at least I can finally see one. The post-wedding calm finally gave me space to birth the first rumblings of my secret dreams. But even with the merest wisp of an outline, I can already tell that my dreams will require hard work, a lot of sacrifice, a leap (or seven) of faith, and very few guarantees. I'll finally have to admit that I can't have it all, despite my overachiever tendencies, and that I need to choose. That whirlwinds are as unsustainable as stagnancy.

    But I'm not sure yet what choices I should make and what paths to follow. Or if clear pathways  even exist. I just know, from experience, that I need to take a first step. to get out of this current stagnancy. And then a second step. And so on. That the tiny consistent actions will gather momentum. But I also know that I need to focus so I don't end up in the whirlwind again. But the big picture is making me panicky. The Monday-morning type task list feels impossible because I don't have a clear vision in mind.  And so the yoga approach reminds me that I can achieve clarity by focusing on the action itself. The journey needs to become my focus again. I need to set a direction for myself, with small clear goals to mark a pathway. Not necessarily the pathway, but just a clear sense of possibility.

    So I'm starting a new feature here, because several of you have mentioned feeling equally adrift, bewildered, and confused. None of us seem to know where or how to begin. We're either paralyzed by ennui, fear, or choice. None is particularly helpful. So today, I'm admitting to one direction (of many!) And then, I'll identify manageable small-task focus-goals that set a direction. And then I'll see where those baby steps take me. And I think you should join me, if you're so inclined. Share your direction publicly. Give form to your wispy secret dreams, even if you think they're small or silly. Because small dreams of little joys and silly dreams of joyful hopes are important too, especially because small victories create confidence and faith. And because the heat of July is just right for small goals and sunburst hopes.

    In fact, my first dream is definitely small and silly: I want to define a sense of personal style. Hoo boy. Writing it down makes me realize that it's not terribly small, but it could be seen as silly (even if it's not.) But instead of diving into my closet in a What Not To Wear panic (especially since our budget is somewhat constrained right now and new clothes aren't a real option), I'm just going to think about accessories, since I already have a ton. This month, I'm promising to wear a fabulous piece of jewelery every day. And, if I'm so inclined, a belt or scarf. That's it. I have to accessorize every day instead of rolling out of bed and throwing something on. I just have to pay attention to myself. Teeny steps. We'll see where they take me and what ideas they inspire.

    If nothing else, I finally took the first step in moving past wedding recap writing paralysis with this post. I don't claim that this first step was a perfect post, but at least I'm finally trying. I know I'll stumble towards something more coherent soon, both with my posts and (fingers crossed) my style confidence. And from there, who knows? So I'd love it if you joined me here in publicly claiming and working towards your goals. This is a safe space for messy vague thoughts, since I'm more than a bit messy and vague too. But just try taking a step. If you do, we can check back again at the end of July and celebrate baby steps with a celebratory cocktail recipe. Seriously. Since I'm set on finding a perfect Friday-evening-on-the-porch cocktail, I figured this was a good space to chase down that dream too.

    Via flickr

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Our Videographers - Help Support Independent Film

    I haven't talked much about our videography. I wasn't planning on having any. I thought having video would somehow change my memories of the wedding day, shifting them over time from the ephemeral emotional memories into whatever superficial moments were captured on film. But at the last minute, my mother made a serious plea for video. She wanted to be able to send the ceremony to her family overseas, who couldn't attend. And our dear friends and talented aspiring filmmakers offered to make us a wedding video as their gift. They'd already made a wedding video and music video for our friends Britt and Mike over at Bowie Bride, and it was amazing. So we figured it was kismet, and I got past my reservations about videography.

    I am so happy I did. The video is too personal to share, but suffice it to say, I never thought a three minute music video of wedding highlights could be so perfectly encapsulate the energy of our wedding or pick up so many of the emotional moments that still make me cry. I was a blubbery mess by the time I'd watched it once, and as a music video it was removed enough from the strict emotional story of the day that my memories have remained intact. And the video is gorgeously done.

    However, it's simply too raw to post on the internet here. So I've felt terrible that I can't really promote our friends to help with their fledgling wedding video business. But since wedding videos are a side business and their main project right now is developing an independent film, I can happily jump in and support that. Because hey, it has a talented female director, Jocelyn Kelvin and, if you know anything about Hollywood, you know we need more female directors. And our amazingly brilliant friend Brock Wilbur wrote the screenplay.  And the film uses video games to explore relationships, from well outside the traditional shoot-em-up violence or male-driven mainstream video game cliches. They've been getting great early good press in the video game community and I can certainly vouch for their movie making talent. Here's a bit more: 
    Your Friends Close” takes us into the evening of a going away party for a husband and wife team of video game designers who have created a groundbreaking new MMO game that questions our relationship to reality, personality, and how well we can truly know one another. (For those of you who are proud nerds: it’s based on the Turing test.)  The game requires such huge resources, the couple is leaving California to develop it at a company in Paris. When it turns out one of them may not be going, the party devolves into a game for the newly vacant “throne.” What happens to what we call friendship?

    The film explores what lengths we are willing to go to in order to win....and what we lose in the process.

    I have to say, I'm a giant nerd, but not generally about video games or technology. However, our friends are using the format of video games to explore something deeper. And Brock and Jocelyn know how to pull emotions out of words and celluloid. If you think the idea of a video-game based movie is technology-driven or cold, you should check out Brock's beautiful essay about family, loss, adoption, and video games for a sense of the potential nuance of their project. And just in case you wanted to start your week with some heart-wrenching storytelling.

    If the idea of a woman-directed video game/relationship film intrigues you, please consider checking out their film idea and funding their project on Kickstarter. They've hit the point where they can make the film, but they still need to pay for a good deal on credit cards. So every dollar helps. So if you love the idea of this film, help them out. Tomorrow morning is the last day to fund their project on Kickstarter.

    And if you need a low-cost, high-talent wedding videography package, give me an email and I'll link you up with Brock and Jocelyn and their talent.

    This is not a sponsored post. This is just a chance to support local artists, a woman-directed enterprise, and friends who are taking the leap to pursue big dreams. All of which, I can absolutely get behind and cheer for.