My Next Decade

Today is August 17, 2015. My next decade, the fourth, will begin two months from today. This is all too soon for my taste. Imminent, I say. 


Something compels me to accomplish more than usual before the clocks strikes 6:34 pm (the moment of my birth, though how that is determined, I do not think I want to know just yet) on that very day. It is not as though I am going to die two months from now; no, I will only be turning thirty. 

Lately I've been in a home organization and improvement stage. A frenzy, even. So far this summer, in July and August, I have: 

  • straightened up the basement and consolidated the piles of junk 
  • put away my teaching materials (that were sprawled all over the basement) 
  • shelved my teaching books (these were in bags on the floor) 
  • ordered frames (from this company called Framebridge that does it all for you, no less!) 
  • ordered art (from Lisa Congdon; from, whose site navigation is less than optimal, but whose products I would otherwise never find; and from society6, which I stumbled upon while wilfing
  • purchased towels to replace the towels I used in high school and college (more accurately, allocated those towels to dog bathing duty) 
  • HAMMERED a nail into the wall and hung a scarf rack
  • hung my scarves on that very rack 
  • ordered a jewelry stand so I stop losing earrings 
  • cleaned and organized the porch
  • planted red impatiens (and remembered what they are called!) 
  • straightened up the book situation all around the house
  • reorganized and even labeled items in my bathroom 
  • started a Pinterest board for children's books 

OK, that last one is really not related to the rest, not at all. I just really like beautifully illustrated and meaningful children's books. Maria Popova, who runs the site Brainpickings, somehow, among all the other books she reads and writes about, finds amazing children's books like this one in which a cactus longs to be understood and hugged, and this one in which a girl tries to recapture her own heart after many years of feeling its loss. 

I am learning how to use a crockpot. Attempt #3 was yesterday. I feel quite foolish for not discovering it sooner. On a different note, I am trying to embrace this mode of living--not giving a damn if validation comes my way or not. I may be trying to put forth a more concerted effort to wash dishes in a timely manner. 


Also, I am trying to (once and for all!) figure out my personality by reading Me, Myself, and Us by Professor Brian R. Little. I haven't watched his talk yet; I can't sit still long enough. However, I'm almost finished with the book, and, so as not to spoil another post, will only reveal the following: I am a moderately self-monitoring introvert with relatively high levels of neuroticism and conscientiousness who possess free traits that conflict with my primary traits. 

Over the next two months, I'll look at how this decade-commencing birthday is prompting me, and others, to consider and reconsider what we expect from ourselves and from society. What do birthdays make us do? What do they force us to consider, other than the obvious? 

Let's be honest, though, I'm not going to become an early riser or learn how to hang curtains anytime soon. 

Freedom from Domesticity

I've always abhorred crock pots. No matter that I've never had one, I knew all I needed to know: that they symbolized the tethering of a woman to her kitchen. 

As far as kitchen appliances go, they rank the lowest. Others, like the ice cream maker and the waffle iron, which mostly sit idly on the counter or forgotten in a drawer, at least serve a worthy purpose: pleasure. But then, there are others such as the electric mixer and the blender that are worth the counter space they consume. They do, actually, make kitchen life easier and more efficient, and that, I believe, is what we want our machines to accomplish. 

Years ago, I wrote a story in which the female protagonist, upon being abandoned by her romantic companion, hurls the crockpot out her apartment window, where it hurtles through falling snow until it crashes into nowhere else but this man's unfortunately located parked car. 

Back when I wrote that story, the character's actions represented my antipathy toward all things domestic. My vision of her flinging the crockpot solidified my rejection of, and resentment toward, what I felt was the inherent connection between domesticity and femininity. Why is it always women who are featured, smiling blissfully, in advertisements for home improvement and products? A kitchen appliance does not a happy woman make! 

See, the problem with the crockpot is also its blessing: it allows one (male or female) to plan and construct a meal in advance of when one wants to consume it. Really, it alters the time at which one puts together said meal and in theory makes cooking easier. But what it also does is require a certain level of planning. You cannot simply look in the pantry when your belly starts to rumble and then decide to use the crockpot. No, you must find a recipe, stare at that recipe, decide what you do and do not already have, go shopping, follow the recipe, and then start the device with enough time for it to cook the food just slowly enough to be ready when you want it to be ready. A hassle, indeed. 

Here goes nothing ... 

Here goes nothing ... 

But it turns out that it is a pleasant experience to have food ready when you want to eat it. I discovered this well-known fact just last week. There is something delightful about returning home to an actual dinner. It is almost as though you did not make this meal yourself--the veggies chopped themselves and the meat made its own marinade and everything hopped itself right into the pot in synchrony. The passage of time, of even just six hours, soothes the memory of the earlier labor, or at least it did for me, just this one time. 

I think I will call my Chicken Tikka Masala dish a success. I found the recipe, purchased the ingredients, plopped all the pieces into the pot, left the device on (and did not burn down the house), and returned home to warm, edible food. Four days have passed since this momentous occasion, and though I have yet to actually scrub the pot (why is there not yet a device for that?), I remain at once gratified by the ease of using the device and bewildered by the strange sense of pleasure that using it inexplicably brought to me. 

Chicken Tikka Masala with Sautéed Kale and Rice

Chicken Tikka Masala with Sautéed Kale and Rice

Podcast Binge Results: My Favorite Episodes

Scene: At home on a weekend afternoon. 

Me: Gathering the requisite canine-related items to take Schroeder out for a walk. I tell Jacob I'm taking Schroeder out. 

Jacob: "You just want to take Schroeder for a walk so you can listen to a podcast." 

OK, fine, that is true. But also to get steps. Last Thursday (albeit during my spring break) I reached 20,000 steps. I hadn't hit that milestone on FitBit since our visit to Japan last summer. 

Anyway, with all this podcast listening happening, I'd like to share some of my favorite episodes. The explosion of the podcast as a cultural medium has meant that it's fairly easy for just about anyone to make one. However, it's actually quite difficult to make an exceptionally good one. Perhaps I have just been listening to Terry Gross ask difficult questions for far too long. 

Disclaimer: This list excludes the most famous podcast of all time, Serial, because I haven't listened to it. Yet. The "yet" is actually a "maybe, yet," because I haven't convinced myself that I can sink 12+ hours into a story. Half an hour for pleasure, yes. But hours upon hours? I think that's where my resistance comes in. When I listen to a podcast, I feel strangely compelled to absorb information, knowledge, etc!! 

Here's my list! 

1. The New Yorker Fiction Podcast -- March 2015: Etgar Keret reads Donald Barthelme. I sound like a walking contradiction because this is, indeed, a story. But this podcast passes the "teach me something" test because of the way that Keret and fiction editor Deborah Triesman discuss Barthelme's story, "Chablis," which was published in the magazine in 1983. Also, it's a captivating story, one that held my attention while I walked Schroeder at an unspeakably early hour. 

2. Fresh Air -- March 18, 2015: Daniel Genis. Genis, the son of a Soviet emigre, was convicted of armed robbery back in 2003. He'd gotten addicted to heroin and held people up with a knife to get money to pay his dealer. While in prison, he read over a thousand books. Terry asked her characterisically difficult questions, such as something to the effect of: "You had relatives imprisoned in Soviet gulags. How did it feel to be incarcerated for armed robbery?" Genis has written many articles, including this one on sex in prison that the Woolly Mammoth Theatre referenced for their current show, Lights Rise on Grace, and has a book coming out soon. 

3. RadioLab -- Season 13, Episode 3: How Much Would You Pay For A Year Of Life? RadioLab reporters delve into the controversial buisness of drug pricing and interview both doctors and patients. Another, but weirder, RadioLab favorite is a recent episode called The Living Room. An accidental voyeur discovers something about herself as she peers into lives of neighbors without curtains. 

4. Death, Sex, & Money -- April 8, 2015: In Sickness and In Mental Health. I stumbled across this article via Twitter, quickly taking in the horrors that struck one woman as her husband watched and did his best to help. These people are courageous for sharing their experiences with the whole world. Amazing. 

5. StartUp -- October 2014: How To Name Your Company. Alex and Matt, co-owners of a new media company, tell the story of how they came up with their company's name. It might not sound thrilling, but Alex, a former public radio superstar, tells a story that is both entertaining and informative. 

6. Dear Sugar -- Episode 6: How Do I Survive The Critics? As usual, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond answer a reader's question and delve deep into the issues that surround the question. This time, however, they invite on George Saunders as a guest. He explains how he faces criticism. Sidenote: Why do people criticize him? I kept wondering how he could feel so confident and composed when dealing with nasty or critical feedback. (I tend to prefer the nasty, since it's easier to disregard.) I felt better about accepting feedback and even criticism after listening to how Saunders does it. 

7. On The Media -- April 2, 2015: Jon Ronson and Public Shaming. After Ronson was the guest on the Daily Show, I looked him up and found this podcast. Ronson discusses his new book on shaming here in much more detail than he could on TV. It's fascinating and horrifying to see how people's lives are indelibly changed by strangers on the Internet. 

Please take a moment and share your favorite podcast episodes! 

What Fills My Head

Enchanting Podcasts: Or, How I Motivate Myself To Walk Schroeder In The Rain 

I used to judge people who wore earbuds while walking their dogs. However, now that I've found some awesome podcasts that I actively want to listen to, I get why people do it. Not listening to anything can mean that I spend too much time in my own head, which isn't always good, or that I start talking to Schroeder in "Schroed voice," which can make for some embarrassing moments when other humans materialize.

So, here are some of my favorite podcasts, both new and old: 

Being Boss with Emily Thompson & Kathleen Shannon 

These are two creative lady entrepreneurs who talk all about their work and give great advice while being hilarious and authentic. I don't have a favorite episode; they're all SO good. I even listen to the ones about issues that are not at all related to me (like motherhood) because they are just so empowering. Emily does not mince words! Kathleen is so endearing. They make anything feel possible. 


Dear Sugar with Cheryl Strayed & Steve Almond 

These two dish out life advice relating to love, identity, etc. They receive and read letters from listeners who ask deep questions and then give thoughtful responses. I always feel like I'm listening in on someone else's therapy session--for free! 


Good Life Project with Jonathan Fields  

I've only listened to one and a half episodes so far, but the gist is that Fields interviews fascinating people, people who have endured huge trials or happened upon fascinating discoveries, and asks them hard questions. The podcasts are long enough to delve into tough issues. It's like Fresh Air, but for those interested in psychology and health. 


Starr Struck Radio with Mary Catherine & Ben 

What a funny couple! They talk about all sorts of things, but my favorite episodes so far have been about morning routines and motivation. I tried the whole morning routine thing and see its value, but I still cannot force myself out of bed. You can read more about that experiment here. And as for motivation, well, they made me realize a lot of mine is negative. Eeks! 

Disabling the Snooze

After shutting off both alarms yesterday and waking up a whole hour later than I intended to (hence no morning routine or blog post), I decided I had to take more preventative steps last night, the most punishing of which was to disable the snooze button. That's right. I don't even have the option, in my zombie-like state, to even have the opportunity to press the wrong button.

I took other preventative measures as well: I added a backup alarm at 5:45, increased the volume of the now three alarms, and selected more grating sounds for each intrusion into my slumber.

If this doesn't work, I might need to arrange for a whole marching band to enter my bedroom before sunrise. I can keep making all of these extreme efforts, or I could, as some have proposed, just go to bed earlier. If only it were that simple ...

Actually, it probably should be that simple, but I (stubborn as I may or may not be), just won't accept that solution. Or maybe I will. If I were to go to bed earlier, I would miss out on precious reading or Jacob time (though not in that order!). We usually eat dinner around 7:30 or 8 when he comes home, and then watch Jeopardy!, and then he either goes to the gym or watches college basketball (or professional baseball, or tennis, depending on the season), at which point I get back to work on planning, grading, or imagining cool things to teach that I'll never have time for, or I just wilf around.

Does this mean that we have to change our ENTIRE routine? I like this new morning routine, albeit I like it better without the morning part, and I like my introverted time at night to read, and I want to also, ideally, see my husband.

As a sidenote, I've been hearing about this concept called "decision fatigue" lately, the idea being that the more decisions you make, the harder it gets to make decisions. (I'm sure that's an oversimplification, but it will have to do for now.) And when I think about all the decisions I have to make in a day as a teacher, all the decisions that I have to make so very quickly and that are so very significant, well, it's no wonder that 1) I like to make slow, methodical decisions when I can, and 2) I am worn out of making sound decisions by the end of the day (or, as we now know, in the morning).

Disabling the snooze means that I'm denying myself the autonomy I crave. I guess for now I have to concede that doing so gives me more of what I want even more--time to write in the morning and time to read or work in the evening, and then time to read again just before bed--so much so that it's worth it to disable the alarm, rendering me powerless to its early siren call and eliminating my choice to make a poor decision when I'm barely awake.

I think I might have just talked myself into this whole morning thing. Yawn.