Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On getting very naked....

Is there some weird chance the perfectionism could be labeled an "addiction"? It's easy to call something an addiction when you can see it. Like, in-your-face see it. I guess I never really thought about it before, but I suppose there are mental and emotional addictions as much as there are physical ones. I mean, I understand that all addictions come from a psychological place; it's just that so many of them end up manifesting in a physical way. We smoke or drink or eat (or don't eat) or obsessively exercise or whatever. And when we can see an addiction, we can more easily address the thing(s) that actually brought it on in the first place. 

But when it's something that's inside my head, it's harder for me to want to deal with it. I can hide it, I can ignore it, and I can give in to it. 

I can't really determine when my obsessive need for perfection began, but I know that it's been going on for a long, long, l-o-n-g time. My personal favorite moment of insane perfectionism involves cheesecake(s) and well over $100 in groceries. I was 22 when I first decided to give cheesecake a whirl. I'd had my springform pan for long enough that I needed to put it to use. So I bought all the necessary supplies for a cheesecake and found what seemed to be a good enough recipe and I mixed together a cheesecake. The crust was absolute perfection. I know without a doubt that I kill it with graham cracker crumb crusts. When it came out of the oven, the cheesecake didn't rise the way I thought it would; it sunk in the middle. It looked so sad. So I scraped the entire thing into the trash can and started over. Four more times. The fifth and final time, I was just too exhausted to try again, so I filled the giant, sunken cheesecake with cherry pie filling and called it a day. It was probably the longest baking day I've ever had. It was sheer madness.

My perfectionism rears up most readily in my cooking and baking. If something doesn't look the way I want it to, I beat myself up almost endlessly. I've probably thrown away thousands of dollars worth of food in my adult lifetime just because it didn't look right.   

I'm in a near-constant state of worry when it comes to people's perception of me and my life. I want to be the perfect cook and baker. I want to be the best-dressed in whatever social situation I find myself in. I want to be the perfect wife (which is turning into a whole new challenge with wanting to be the perfect Navy wife and the perfect Chief's wife) and to have the perfect marriage. I want my house to look perfect, my writing to be perfect, and my hair and makeup to be perfect. I want to plan the perfect parties. I always aim for perfection. 

When something doesn't go the way I plan, I start to lose my mind a little bit. It stresses me out. I work very hard to make sure things go "just so" and when they don't, I get very upset. I worry that people will think less of me. I worry more than anything that I'll let someone down or disappoint them.  

Worse yet is the feeling that not only have I disappointed another person, but that I've disappointed myself. 

Disappointing myself is something I've learned to both fear and regard. I feel like it keeps me in check. It makes me aim to do my best. At the same time, it cause for a lot of concern when it comes to my perfectionism. This is especially true in how I view my physical self. I beat myself up, both physically and mentally, over the way I look. I feel (probably excessive) shame when I don't look "just so" in whatever outfit it is I'm wearing at the time. I get angry at myself when I don't or can't lose the weight I want to and then get frustrated when I know that I can actually do it, but lack the discipline that's required. I vacillate between being content with my physical self and disgust that I can't fit into the jeans I want because of my gut. Is there any more awful feeling than that of contempt for oneself? 

The thing with perfection (and probably with any addiction) is that it's something that's been a part of me for so long, I don't know how to behave without it. And I don't know how people would react if I didn't do it. I find myself saying things that addicts say..."I can stop whenever I want" or "It's not really that big of a deal" or "It's not interfering with my daily life", but when I allow myself to really think about it, I can't stop, it is a big deal, and it does interfere with my life. 

One of my biggest fears is that I'll transfer this bizarre addiction to my children. I fear that they'll hate themselves as much as I have hated myself, that they'll feel as worthless as I have, that they'll crave perfection the way I do and place all their worth in what they think people think about them rather than concerning themselves with being educated, kind, well-rounded, and faith-full individuals...all the things I should be concerning myself with rather than worrying about throwing the perfect party or baking the perfect cupcakes. 

What I really don't want is for my future children to confuse perfection with love. I've done that before. I still do it sometimes. I fail to love myself when I'm not perfect and I fail to understand that people who love me - really, really love me - don't expect me to be perfect. 

The addiction of perfection inherently causes imperfection. It almost always causes failure at some point. I've been a huge proponent of "If you can't do it right, don't do it at all." It kind of makes me wonder about all the things I've missed out on because I was too afraid to not do it perfectly. Just in the last five minutes, I've remember about a hundred things I didn't do or quit doing because it didn't go perfectly quickly enough (or at all). And all those things I quit doing? I still beat myself up over...especially that big, huge "quit". I can't even forgive myself perfectly. Sheesh. 

So I think what I'm coming to realize is that I need to start thinking not about WHAT I'm doing, but WHY I'm doing it. The problem isn't that I want perfect cupcakes...the problem is why do I think the cupcakes have to be perfect in the first place? Why do I want the perfect body? Why do I want to throw the perfect party? Why do I want any type of perfection? It's going to be incredibly hard. And as with any addiction, I fully expect this to be a lifelong struggle. I expect to relapse. I expect to give in to perfection. I, frankly, expect to fail. 

But in my failure, I will try to love myself. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On eating my feelings....

Now that I no longer have a 9-to-5 (something I do actually miss from time to time), I've taken quite a liking to cooking. There's always a new recipe I want to try and old favorites I fall back on. Yesterday was an "old favorite" day: pulled pork tacos. But it definitely didn't go as planned. 

I went grocery shopping on Monday, like I always do, and picked up (what I thought was) a pork butt so I could begin the process of slow cooking some shredded pork. Tuesday came and I pulled the pork out of the refrigerator to discover that while I may have looked at the pork butt, what I actually brought home was something quite different indeed. I'm not foodie enough to tell you what it was without digging through the trash to read the label, but it was in no way what I was planning on cooking with. What I actually brought home was bone-in and required me to cut off animal skin. Gawd, it was gross. I've never pulled skin off anything other than chicken and this.was.gross. I used kitchen shears, a carving knife, and finally a serrated bread knife which is what did the trick. It was foul. Never again will I make the mistake of NOT picking up pork butt. 

And whatever this cut was, it sure didn't shred easily. Normally, after about four hours of slow cooking, I can just use my trusty tongs to shred the pork. Not this monster. My shoulders actually hurt a little from all the pulling and prodding and jabbing and cutting I had to do to cut the meat off the bone. GAAAAA!!! 

Additionally, this cut weighed in at over three pounds. Now, had it been all meat (as I'd hoped I'd purchased), the shredded pork would have filled my slow cooker and soaked up all the delicious marinade (homemade green chili and Rick Bayless skillet fajita sauce, on recommendation from a friend). Not so much. I think I wound up with about 3/4 of a pound of meat after trimming all the fat and removing the bone. There was so much leftover marinade I was able to package it up in the freezer for the next time I make this meal with the correct cut. 

I've never been much of a cook, so trying new things is very fun for me and I'm learning a lot of tricks and techniques. The other day, I learned how to chop an onion without crying though I still tend to use my handy chopper tool more often than not (because it's fun and makes me think of the friend that gave it to me). 

What I'm coming to learn is that I'm much better at complicated recipes. The harder it is, the better I'll probably handle it. If it's easy, I will surely mess something up. Maybe this comes from 30+ years of baking (wherein exactitude is a requirement). Maybe it comes from my perfectionist being. I don't know. I really don't care. All I know is that I enjoy cooking and from everything I've read, seen, and heard, that's the whole point! Well, that and the eating, of course! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On expecting the very best....

I'm a perfectionist. Often to a dangerous degree. It's not something I'm terribly proud of, but it's also not something I deny. I tend to get very uneasy when things don't go according to plan, that is. It's hard for me to adjust when I have something set in my head and it goes a completely different direction. Many of you have probably been witness to this. 

There are two areas in my life where perfection is becoming increasingly more important. Writing and running. I don't mean to say the activities themselves need to be perfect (Lord knows my injuries and editing errors prove that). What I'm really after is aesthetic perfection. I need the conditions to be right in order to get the most out of it. 

When it comes to writing, I need solid instrumental music that doesn't lapse into anything depressing ("Moonlight Sonata") or irritating ("Canon in D"); I prefer loads of natural, sunny light; a cup of hot coffee and my water bottle are necessities; and, above all, a comfortable space to be in essential.  A desk that holds the necessary writing tools (laptop, pen, journal, etc.) as well as the space for my coffee and water, not to mention several of my office-y accoutrements, and, of course, a comfortable chair. Right now, all I have is a folding TV table and a rather uncomfortable couch. There's barely room for my laptop on this thing, let alone my coffee and water. Sigh. And there's almost no natural light in our little apartment (never choose a home that faces north or south) which is incredibly annoying, but is an entirely different topic. 

The one thing I know I can always control here (and in running) is the music. Right now, I'm enjoying a Pandora station based on the stylings of The Vitamin String Quartet. If you don't know them, go to their site immediately. Okay, now that you're back, you can probably see what I love about them so much. The music is familiar and fun, but without the distraction of lyrics (I'm a chronic sing-alonger, which isn't helpful when I'm trying to write). 

My writing conditions could obviously be far worse. Fortunately, they're going to get a lot better in a few weeks when we get to our new house, full of very large windows and space for me to set up shop. And yes, I am counting down the days. 

When it comes to running, I'm finding that I'm increasingly becoming a "conditions snob." I really just want to run in weather that's absolutely perfect for me. Slightly overcast, 50-60*F, and a hint of a breeze. I blame the desire for these conditions on my first half marathon. Literally every single training run I went on, I was provided these conditions. It was a little ridiculous how lucky I got. The thing is, though, I really want to push myself to run in less-than-ideal conditions. I have some pretty fantastic cold weather gear so I should really get around to using it. 

Running, however, is becoming a far greater teacher than coach for me. I'm learning things that I honestly never thought could be taught. Things like patience and forgiveness of self. Injuries will teach any athlete patience. Just ask anyone who's ever jumped back in the saddle way too soon. Forgiveness of self is a far more difficult thing to learn, though not impossible. I no longer feel bad for wanting perfect running conditions (I can always use the dreadmill), but I'm finding there are really only two situations I absolutely will not go out in: rain and extreme cold. 

If I can forgive the weather its missteps, then surely I can forgive myself when my knee buckles and I can no longer run. It just means I'll walk the rest of my route. It means I'm allowed to be disappointed by a less-than-desirable pace, but I'm not allowed to give up because of it. It means that some days I'm the champion of the world and other days I'm a haggard old bag who can barely put one foot in front of the other. What forgiveness of self means is that I am enough. 

Giving up my perfectionist self is going to take a lifetime of learning. But as with any skill, it's not achieved overnight. It's a step-by-step process, taking pride in the small wins and not becoming unhinged by failures. And today, despite the weather, but because of amazing music, is a win. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

On punching the clock....

Since the middle of August, I've been completely without schedule. For as long as I can remember, I've lived life in fifteen minute increments. It's easy for me to keep a schedule and, generally speaking, stay on task. 

Without this strict schedule, I tend to lose focus. I haven't written nearly as much as I'd have liked to. Nor have I read as much as I'd have preferred. Yoga and run training are haphazard at best. 

So last week, I decided to take charge of my life again. I created a schedule of every day, Monday through Friday, blocked out in half-hour increments, each of them filled with something that I need or want to do. So far, it's gone fairly well. Waking up each morning with a cup of coffee and a bit of "emotional" reading before the puppies or husband gets up has been a refreshing way to start my day. Not that I don't love all of them...but "me time" is something that's always been very important to, well, me.

Scheduling my time has often gone with a feeling of, "I only have [this many minutes] left to complete [task X]!" which inevitably leaves me with feelings of either anxiety or despair. Now, especially when it comes to reading, I am left with feelings of happiness mixed with delightful anxiety. The kind that makes me think, "I only have [this many minutes] left and I still want to read a hundred more pages of this book!"

Writing is a bit more of a struggle when it's on my daily schedule. When something feels like I "have" to do it rather than I "get" to do it, I can get exceedingly distracted. Like right now. I've been sitting here for twenty minutes and I should definitely either a) have more written or b) be well into the editing phase. It's a little torturous. I wish I could be far more disciplined when it comes to writing. I suppose that's a little bit what this whole exercise in scheduling is about.

Working out? That's a whole different beast. I tend to get very lax with my training regimen. If it gets to be too late in the day, or I get distracted with something else, or the weather is crappy, I just throw in the the towel before I even start. I get especially lazy when I don't have an event to train for. If I don't have a reason to get off my ass, I just don't. I don't have any races in the immediate future and a slight injury from the last one has sidelined me more than I'd have liked. I despise working through and waiting out injuries. I don't have a great track record with patience and when that's the only real cure for this injury, it makes me a little loony. Which all just means that I need to find other ways to work out without exacerbating injuries and still maintaining a schedule. I guess I do sort of have a goal I'm working towards right now, though it has far more to do with yoga than running. Running, though, has certainly taught me a lot about patience...and it continues to teach me patience. I'm used to running miles and miles every week. Now, I'm relegated to a mile a day, three times a week. At least for right now. It's very frustrating and anyone who's dealt with a sports-related injury knows the feeling. I find myself saying, "I used to be a good runner." Well, the truth is, I'm still  a good runner. Maybe what keeps me a good runner is knowing when to slow it down.

So that's that. I've given myself a schedule to force myself to do the things I want and need to do. The real challenge is making sure I have the discipline to keep up with it. Accountability to myself is the hardest part...but disappointing myself is far more difficult to deal with.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On turning into a mental zombie....

I remember a time in my life when writing was all I could think about. I like to call this period:


Granted, my degree is in writing and editing, so the central focus of my entire undergraduate career revolved around writing. But, oh, the interesting things I got to write about! I created a new government. I dissected American Gothic literature (which was a labored, but worth-it effort). I wrote about Canada and Japan and how both of those countries have made an indelible mark on my heart. I got to write about, fight about, and talk about cheerleading and it's validity as a sport. I tore apart my grandmother's favorite movie and fell even more in love with it by doing so. I even wrote several technical instruction manuals (something I'm very good at, but also find incredibly boring). 

I remember when writing for a magazine consumed me and was my ultimate goal. Specifically, I wanted to write for Vanity Fair or The New Yorker. I realize these were (and are) very lofty goals, something so few people will ever get to do, but a girl's gotta dream, right? 

And then I graduated, got my fancy degree, and, well...stopped writing. 

Yep. I essentially stopped using the degree I'd worked so hard to get. 

I suppose there are plenty of people out there that experience this very same thing. Going to all the trouble of getting the degree and then having to get a job doing something entirely different just to pay the bills. It's the curse of the floofy liberal arts degree. (To be fair, I have had one job that actually paid me for my writing and it was a ton of fun, even if it was just the one copywriting job...I loved it.)

So, now that I have all this time, I'm trying really hard to set aside parts of my week devoted to writing. I'm reading books on writing (the irony destroys me). And I'm trying to engage my brain more fully, even if that means I'm just having conversations on Facebook about the weird Right, the nutty Left, or idiot clothing CEOs. Whatever it may be, I need to keep my brain from going into atrophy. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On wanting and having all the things....

Christmas is coming. Prepare yourself. Oh, wait. If all the malls and stores are correct, Christmas has been here since mid-October. And it

I love Christmas. I always have. It's a part of how I grew up. I'm that girl that spends all year just waiting for the day after Thanksgiving so I can start putting up the tree and the decorations and begin my annual marathon baking sesh. I love shopping for things to give my friends and family. Even more, I love wrapping up the gifts in delightful paper and ribbons, perfectly coifed for their spots under the tree.

But something about Christmas this year is throwing me for a loop. Possibly, it's been throwing me for a lot longer than that. Or maybe it's just coming to head this year because this is the first Christmas in my adult life I haven't had my own job. I don't know. What I do know is that Christmas is out of control. It got crammed down my throat with a consumeristic vengeance this year and continues to do so. 

For a long time, I've been curious about the draw to Black Friday. I've only ever "done it" once, probably about fifteen years ago. I don't like the crowds and I don't like the fighting over stuff. I hear the stories every year about people getting trampled for a damn XBOX and I just shake my head. What is wrong with us? And that's even when stores had the decency to stay closed until 6a.m. on Friday morning. 

Now, corporations are actually making people work on Thanksgiving? Really?! Under threats of losing their jobs if they don't? What is wrong with us? I remember when the only stores that were open on Thanksgiving were grocery stores and even those were only open until noon. Grocery stores open on Thanksgiving? I can make my peace with that. I'm a professional ingredient forgetter. I can appreciate that Kroger is open for a few hours on Thanksgiving morning. But Toys R Us? Kohls? What in God's name do we need RIGHT FREAKING NOW that can't wait until Friday? I don't understand what bargain could be worth making someone be away from their family on (what I thought was) a lovely family-centric holiday. 

Which begs the question: are we really thankful? For anything? So many of us spend the entire month of November talking about things we're thankful for, but come Black Friday, how much of that do we remember? I wonder what that really says about our culture. 

Something that's weighed on me for many years now is that of responsible consumerism. Ever since I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" back in undergrad, I've been more interested in knowing where my food comes from. Not only that, I'm growing to appreciate local economy much more than I ever thought I would. I love going to local farmer's markets and supporting CSAs. And that's to say nothing of my support for locally brewed beer (it should be clear by now that I love craft beer). 

But what if I were to take it a little further and consider where my stuff comes from?  What if, this year, instead of buying mass market Christmas gifts, I choose to make them? Or buy them from a local artist? Or even from Etsy? What if I chose to support local economy as much as I can? Or what if - oh my god - I bought gifts from the Salvation Army or the ARC? Inexpensive, creative, and supportive of those that can benefit from how I spend? 

So this year, I'll probably be doing the same thing I always do on Black Friday: sitting at home, drinking boozy hot chocolate or hot cider, playing cards with my family, maybe even decorating for Christmas. I'm lucky enough to get to spend this Thanksgiving with some of my extended family, something I haven't done, well, ever (we used to get together for Christmas every year when I was much younger, but never for Thanksgiving)...and there's not a way for me to describe how excited I am about this! Between Grandma's cooking and my delightfully hilarious aunts and my cousin and my uncle who knows how to make a killer cocktail, I can't quite contain my excitement for this year! 

But when it comes to gift giving, I'm going to play it down a bit, employ some alternative choices, and just...enjoy it. 

If you're interested in reading some other thoughts on this topic, here are some blogs I've come across recently (this is certainly not a new topic): 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On finding a new career....

The question was posed some weeks ago: If money wasn't a concern, what would you want to do for a career? 

My answer: All of the things. 

There are just so many things I want to do and learn and experience. My first idea was to be a professional student. If I could get paid to just go to school and get degrees and learn things, I'd be a pretty happy girl. But then, what kinds of things? 

I really want to learn languages. Spanish, French, Arabic, and Japanese are on the top of my list (for now). My heart beats in a lot of languages...I wish I could speak all of them. I feel like a lot of the world's problems stem largely from a lack of communication, a lack of understanding. Or maybe even an unwillingness to understand. I would just like to talk with people, on their level, in their language. I watch people's eyes light up when my brother recognizes their dialect of Spanish and starts talking to them. I also remember how relieved I was when I was lost in Japan and someone just talked to me in English. There's something really lovely about hearing another culture speak your language. The art of communication is something special indeed.

I'd also really like to spend all my time learning to dance. To just be twirled around a dance floor for hours upon hours every day would make so many of my dreams come true. I love dancing. I love the music, the expressions, the pictures. I love the technique and the history and knowing which forms belong specifically to which style. I want to listen to Frank Sinatra and dance the foxtrot all the live long day. I want to go to salsa in Brazil and know that I don't look like a crazy person.

The lazy person in me (and she comes out with a great deal of force from time to time) wants to get paid to sit around and watch movies and TV all day. I have terabytes worth of movies I have yet to watch. **As an aside, I find it hilarious that I now talk about the amount of music and movies I have in terms of digital storage and not in terms of CD books or shelves.** I've been wanting to watch all the Best Picture winners for a long time. I've probably seen a few and don't know it. But I want to make a point of watching that which was deemed "The Best" by some arbitrary group of filmmakers and critics (or whatever).

Then there's cooking and baking. I've actually semi-seriously looked into going to culinary school. Then I quickly remember I barely know how to handle a chef's knife. But I would love to know how to cook like Julia Child or Gordon Ramsey or Giada or even Rachael Ray (with her blasted EVOO!). I just want to know how make delicious things all on my own. Now, I know that much of cooking (even baking, to a certain degree) is a lot of guess work, making stuff up, and trying to re-create flavors you've had in the past. But there are essentials that I want to know. I want to understand the chemistry behind why some things work and other things won't. I want to understand cooking at the most basic level so that I can move beyond that into the complicated (and delicious)! Just don't ever ask me to make a deconstructed salad. I'll just give you five bucks and send you to Whole Foods. Bam! Deconstruction at it's finest!

And much like learning languages, I'd love to get paid to travel. Honestly, this is probably the most desirable option. To wander about the world, experiencing all the cultures, eating all the foods, seeing all the history...and then to write about it. That would be the most ideal existence for me. It really combines all the things I love: travel, reading, writing, and eating. And maybe some dancing thrown in for good (and hysterical) measures. It's like an "Eat, Pray, Love" thing, but without the depression and anxiety at the beginning. Yeah, I'm sure I could get used to that.

Oh, and yoga. Can't forget the yoga. I don't think I ever want to be an instructor, but I would like to bring a mat with me wherever I go and find my spiritual center in whatever country I'm in.

So much of the world has so much to offer...we just have to be willing to take it in, without judgment, without pre-existing notions, without fear.

This is what I really want to learn through all of the aforementioned ideas: to live life without reservation.