2011

If I evaluate 2010 based on how well I met my list of objectives, then the year was one big flop.  I may have done a little bit of one or two of those items, but for the most part, I’m in very much the same rut now as I was then.  That is, of course, if I want to consider it a rut and if I want to evaluate my year based on a rattled-off list of activities that I one day decided would make my life perfectly balanced and enviable–activities which, by the way, probably reflect more of other people’s priorities and happy-makers than they should.*

Blegh.  No.  Let’s not.

When I remember 2010, I definitely won’t be remembering that I didn’t cook a new dish every month or that I didn’t read enough books, nor will I congratulate myself on figuring out how to keep this giant house clean most of the time and learning how to better manage my workload.  I won’t think about any of the garbage that caused major changes in how I felt about where and with whom I work.  Those aren’t the things going into the 2010 files in permanent storage in my brain.  Nope.  Not even a little.  And that’s probably another compelling reason that choosing a word for the year, instead of a list of resolutions, works better for me.  For 2011, I’m going with

Sometimes mine gets lost. . . and those are the less attractive moments of life.  Sometimes I need a new one.  Often, if I think about someone else’s, I’m more kind and patient.  And seeking out and experiencing alternative ones always makes me a better person–sometimes more informed, sometimes more conscientious, but always somehow better.

So this year will be dedicated to perspective:  to seeing things from multiple angles and distances, to maintaining an authentic one, and to remembering that they’re all relative.

_________________________

*Note to self:  Look, kid, you’re 33.  And you’re not a silly little inexperienced, immature 33 either.  You have your shit together. . . at least a good part of it.  That doesn’t mean it’s too late to branch out into new things.  Of course it doesn’t.  Don’t be ridiculous.  It does, though, mean that you should be beyond trying on other people’s priorities and lives.  This isn’t a costume party.  And you’ve never liked the available slutty girl costumes anyway.

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Bee’s Rules to Live By

Maybe it’s that I just turned 33.  Maybe it’s that I just finished the most terrible semester (part of a remarkably bad academic year) of my career.  Maybe it’s just my usual penchant for self-analysis (have I written yet about the television-drama styled meta-narrative that runs through my head constantly?).  Whatever it is, I’m busy being reflective lately, and inspired by a recent piece in O, I’ve been working on my rules to live by.  Here’s what I have so far:

1.  Be authentic.  I am a geek.  I am clumsy.  I am loud and easily amused.  I am not sexy in the traditional open-mouthed, messy haired, bedroom eyed sense.  I am, though, sexy in my own quirky way when I own all of my awkwardness and really let it fly.  It is when I am most myself that I am most comfortable, most beautiful, and most successful.

2.  Be kind.  Being kind is different than being nice.  Kindness is thoughtful.  It is intentional.  And it’s universally applied without expectation or judgment.  Sometimes it’s proactive, like looking back when you’re about to walk through a door to make sure there’s not someone behind you for whom you should be holding that door.  Sometimes it’s reactive, like choosing to be patient with someone whose grumpiness could very well be caused by awful personal circumstances (that would make you feel like a twit for responding any other way).  The beauty of kindness is that it is its own reward.  No matter how the creature on the receiving end responds, I always feel better in my gut because I was kind.

3.  Find joy in the seemingly small things.  Chucks.  Dark chocolate.  Dry red wine.  Extra sharp white cheddar cheese.  Multi-colored toenails.  The smell of clean clothes.  Fireflies.  Little games, like guessing what tip HP will leave the waiter.  Walks with Abby in various weather conditions.  Silly moments when HP and I both repeat the same line from whatever show we happen to be watching.  These are the things that bring me joy–not just contentment or surface-level happiness but way down deep in my gut pure joy.  I’m not really sure why these always get called “little things” because for me, they’re so clearly what matters most.  The day I stop feeling karmic pleasure at not stepping on worms the rain has washed onto the sidewalk is the day I stop being really, deeply happy.

4.  Know what’s worth fighting for, and then fight for it.  I hate having people be upset with or otherwise disappointed in me.  It really doesn’t matter who they are or whether I usually value their opinions or not.  That someone could possibly be feeling negatively about me tends to get my stomach acid in crazy eruption state.  I also, though, have a natural sympathy for the less powerful, less privileged, less heard, and there are times when that overpowers my extreme desire not to piss people off.  There are times when pissing people off is necessary, and in those times, it’s really your responsibility to do so.

5.  Smile and laugh freely.  Memo to the universe:  we are not given a limited smile and giggle bank at birth.  Cheesy smiles and belly laughs cost nothing.  Coolness levels do not immediately decrease with each baring of the pearly whites.  Intelligence does not improve with somber expressions.  Do you get it?  You lose nothing by smiling.  Instead, you give the world a little gift, a little pick-me-up, a little reassurance, maybe even a little kick in the pants.

6.  Celebrate people you love.  When you’re a kid, you get these fantastic birthday parties with people singing and presents.  You get gold stars on homework–sometimes even scratch-and-sniff stickers that smell like banana splits!  You get at least once-a-year awards ceremonies with certificates acknowledging the smallest of progress.  Then something changes.  The awards ceremonies stop, and so as not to appear boastful or self-centered, you stop announcing your successes and sharing your good news.  Ok, that’s fine.  But at that point, it becomes everyone else’s responsibility to celebrate you.  Friends and loved ones deserve to be celebrated. . . and not just at big moments like weddings and retirement parties.  We should all know our friends and loved ones well enough to know when some small accomplishment is a big victory and to know how best to help that person celebrate.

7.  Take your own advice.  I try hard not to be an opinionated turd who tosses out how-things-should-be-done tidbits like free t-shirts from one of those sweet air cannons at most indoor sporting events.  In my head, though, I often find myself knowing how a situation could’ve been better handled.  I have enough clarity to produce a list of rules to live by, after all.  But as with all of those internal judgments, these rules are much clearer in writing than they are executed in my daily life.  We all have inherited wisdom that sticks with us for good reason.  I, for one, would probably be better off if I applied it to myself more frequently.

Sometimes I’m not a Bee. Sometimes I’m a pita.

Because my navel-gazing blog exists, you already know that I think pretty highly of myself.  I find great humor in silly little inconsequential stories.  I think lists of things I like are entertaining reading material.  I’m under some delusion that someone might find my very personal goals and dreams of interest.  It’s no surprise, then, that I happen to think my husband, HP, is a pretty lucky guy; I mean, he gets to live with me.

Once in a while, though, the constant analytical metanarrative in my head offers commentary on something I am planning to do, currently doing, or have already done, and I remember that I am, in fact, quite the pain in the arse (hence the sweet pet name “pita,” given by that lucky guy who gets to live with me).  So for the record, I give you the top ten ways I am a pita on a regular basis:

  1. I always forget to replace the toilet paper.  I was raised better than this.  I know it’s inconsiderate.  Still, somehow, I use the last sheet and then get preoccupied in fiddling with zippers and such and completely forget to get a new roll.
  2. I leave my long hair in a disgusting pile covering the drain cover after every shower.  It is gross–gag-inducing clumps of water+shampoo+conditioner-slime-soaked hair.  I should not leave this dirty work for anyone else.  I know this.  Still, somehow. . . you know.
  3. I collect travel mugs filled with days-old coffee and bring them to the kitchen only after they’ve begun to produce a stench (and some interesting green organisms that are far more than simple mold).
  4. I cannot keep secrets–particularly when intoxicated.  I very regularly share information I’m not supposed to either because I’ve let something slip or because a magical beverage has led me to believe that everyone on the planet is a trustworthy dear friend.
  5. I’m a cryer.  If I’m touched by a beautiful moment in a 30-second commercial, I will very likely be brought to tears.  If it’s a television show about people doing nice things for others, I will become a blubbering, sobbing mess.
  6. I have constantly changing, completely uncontrollable, and never predictable eating preferences.  Today, I may hate ham.  Tomorrow, I may crave it.
  7. I am a planner.  I am an organizer.  I’m a list maker (duh!).  If there is an army of unruly ducks in a pond nearby, and you want those suckers lined up in neat rows, I’m the girl for the job.  If you just want to go with the flow and see how things work out, I’m probably the most annoying creature on the planet (even when I’m trying hard, hard, hard to restrain myself).
  8. I have a childlike appreciation for surprises paired with a scholar’s research and critical thinking skills.  This means people like to surprise me because of the reaction they get, but it also means surprises are hard to pull off because if I have any idea whatsoever that something might just be coming, I will think, interrogate, and research in order to figure out what.  Even if it means I ruin the surprise for myself (which I hate), I cannot control the excitement-driven inquiry.
  9. I’m completely uncomfortable with anyone important being unhappy with me (and exceedingly so when it comes to my partner), so I cannot possibly wait for cool-down time.  I will immediately apologize, promise not to behave in such an offensive manner again, and expect to be immediately forgiven and back to business-as-usual. . . immediately.  That is unless we’re talking about something I really believe in, in which case. . .
  10. I am stubborn.  I mean heels-dug-so-deep-I’m-up-to-my-neck-in-mud stubborn.  I come by it honestly enough.  I’m fairly certain the combination of my stubborn parents’ genetic material resulted in some kind of super gene on the stubborn DNA chain.  It doesn’t help that nearly all of my accomplishments in life are a direct result of that stubborn tendency, so it’s been reinforced repeatedly.  Still, there are most definitely times when I should learn to shut it off (both the stubborness and my mouth) and choose my battles more carefully.

So there you have it:  proof positive that I am a turd.  Y’know. . . just in case you thought life over here was all sunflowers and daisies.

On happiness, optimism, and my unbreakable rosy specs

“Bee, you are fascinating.  This is a very exciting case.  How have you done it?”

“Done what?”

“Dealt with it all?  Turned out so well?  Ended up here, doing what you’re doing, and being so. . . well. . . happy?”

The last time I visited a therapist, this was the conversation.  I was working on my Ph.D., and I was visiting Dr. Fascinated because I’d just had a panic attack while watching a fantastic performance (at least the part I saw) of The Vagina Monologues.  One minute, there was a woman describing sexual brutality during a war, and the next minute, I was sweating, hyperventilating, and going all butter noodle in my seat.  The people in my row were going to stop the show and get an ambulance, and I was mortified. 

Only complete mortification at the prospect of further public humiliation could have motivated me to see a therapist.  I had, after all, managed to survive, learn from, and blossom through several shitty experiences all by my clumsy little self.  The shit functioned as fertilizer, and I grew.  I grew in a direction I was happy with.  And apparently, that shrink thought I’d done a fine job (grad student+smile+sense of humor=psychologically well adjusted).  He was so impressed, in fact, that instead of talking about my panic attack issue, he begged me to return so that he could study me and write at least an article, probably an entire book.  I shit you not.

Just as people all have their own ways of eating Oreos, we all deal with the shit life throws in our general direction (or sometimes straight into our faces) differently.  Some become reactive shit throwers.  Tired of being victimized by their very own personal shit sources, they choose to become someone else’s resident shit flinger.  Others, who’ve learned to get comfortable being on the receiving end of shit, volunteer to serve as the target in many a marksman’s shit shooting practice.  I, on the other hand, opted to work my way out from under my own shit and grow above it.

Ok.  Enough shit talk.  You get the idea.

People who don’t know my stories tend to have an amusingly wrong idea of where my optimism—often understood as naïveté—comes from.  I’ve had students speculate on my high-class, private-Catholic-school-and-horse-riding-lessons style upbringing, as if my perspective and mood are a result of never having known inconvenience, much less trauma.  Colleagues have accused me of youthful folly with the idea that I hadn’t yet been properly schooled by the cruel injustices of the world (the guaranteed injustices that would one day most certainly knock me on my smiling little arse.  Yes.  I’m so happy even my arse smiles.).

Thankfully, my chosen attitude and my faith in good are not nearly so fragile as those explanations would posit.  Nope – my happiness is a survivor’s happiness.  It’s a conscientious choice to be happy, to believe that people are good, to live life with enthusiasm and vigor, and to package up the little negatives, throw an “exception” label on them, and ship ’em off to someone else who has more personal storage space than I do. 

The point is that it’s all a choice.  It has to be.  If it’s not, we’re all victims.  If it’s not, then Bruce (before he was) Almighty was right:  “God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I’m the ant.”  Or a dung beetle as the case may be.

Whatever the metaphor, it doesn’t work for me.  That’s not what this is about.  That’s not what I’m about.  The only glass in my life is the unbreakable lens in my rosy specs.  Oh, and those happy goggles?  Excellent eye protection so that when the shit’s flying, I can still see my way out.

Spring has sprung in the subdivision

Sunshine, blue skies, sprouts of daylilies and daffodils.  Spring has arrived at our house.  On our walk today, Abby and I found out the whole neighborhood is feelin’ it.

Sidewalk chalk on driveways

People washing cars

Dog friends in their yards, ready to greet us on our walk

Super Yard Neighbors doing who knows what to their lawns

The smell of burning fall leaves, left over in firepits from before the snow started

Motorcycles and convertibles pulled out of garages

At some point, I will have forgotten how painful it was to walk Abby in sub-zero temperatures through three inches of snow.  I will be annoyed at the amount of yard work there is to be done (and my utter failure to make even the smallest dent in that list).  I will be self-conscious about how bad my flowerbeds look.  Today, though, I’m grateful.

It’s about time you got your act together, Mother Nature.

Journey to B.O.’s

A four-day trip to Key West from the Midwest–two days of which include travel–might seem a little silly.  But with that whole Eeyore situation, it was a brilliant, fortuitiously timed gift from My Favorite In-Laws (MFIL). 

Hot Plumpster (HP) and I woke up (at some ungodly hour involving a number that comes before my usual 5 a.m. alarm time) to get the travel part of the first day over with.  We’d be landing by noon and sipping fruity beach drinks by 1.  That was the master plan.

Of course, my master plans never work.  The cosmos must remind me on a regular basis that I am not, in fact, in control and that I do not, no matter what I actually think, always have THE.  BEST.  IDEAS.  There will be days when the crosswinds are far too strong to land a 737 on the shortest runway known to Delta Airlines.  Days when you get so close to Key West that you can see it from the plane window just long enough to wave goodbye as you head back to Miami.  Days when the best idea any Delta folks have is to call two Greyhounds to bus a planeful of people from Miami to Key West (which will delay said passengers’ arrival a full four hours).  It just so happened that I was on a 737 headed to Key West on one of those days.

Epic travel fail, right?  Nay.  Nay, I say!  It was more like a clandestine moment of God knows better. 

 For those of you unfamiliar with blue on a map, that’s all water.  And here’s what all of that blue looks like from a bus window.

So the trip really started with four glorious hours of sight-seeing.  When I wasn’t looking at this, I was appreciating quirky little street-side bars and shops and ogling pelicans, seagulls, ducks, and manatee-shaped mailboxes.

The other book end of our trip–and probably my favorite meal of the long weekend–was our accidental lunch at B.O.’s Fish Wagon.  Yes, it is called B.O.’s, and yes, I really do love it.  It’s true.  I had lovely (award winning) stuffed shrimp and at Conch Republic, fish nuggets and chips at Hog’s Breath, fantastic queso dip and sangria at a little place down by the southernmost point, and shrimp and asparagus pasta at A&B Lobster House, but nothing touches the food at this place:

We only arrived there accidentally.  MFIL had said they’d never been as we passed on our way to the art fair one day, and on our last day there, HP and I had a couple of hours to grab lunch and get showered before we headed to the airport, and B.O.’s is where we ended up.

At the entrance, HP ordered a fish sandwich with fries and a soda, and I ordered the shrimp and chips with a Key Limeade (“Excellent choice” the order dude said.).  Keith, the rough-around-the-edges construction worker in front of us, was buying lunch for his buddy.  His lunch total was $42.  And even after the guy operating the cash register ran the numbers again (because Keith was clearly not impressed and was ready to use his calloused hands and tool belt if necessary), the total was still $39. 

B.O.’s is not inexpensive.

HP and I found a table and sat, taking in the writing on the walls, on the tables, on the ceiling and hanging buoys.  I read all about what year L.D. and O.D. visited. . . then got married. . . then, I’m judging by the strikethrough, got divorced.  I enjoyed that all of the visitors had agreed to leave one another’s chalk postings alone.  There was a gentleman’s agreement, apparently, not to mess with someone else’s marking.  That was nice.  I appreciated being in a place where a same-sex couple could be just as affectionate as HP and I without worrying about stupid reactions.  I liked watching customers freak out when they realized that their $23 oyster sandwiches did not, in fact, come with fries.

But then I got really hungry, and our food still had not come.  And everyone who knows me knows not to mess with me and my food.  Alvin, who ordered behind us, even got his sandwich.  His name was Alvin.  I was hungry.  I contemplated walking up and just taking his sandwich.  His name was Alvin.  I could’ve taken him.  I didn’t, though, so we waited some more. 

B.O.’s is not fast.

B.O.’s is, though, some good eats.  Key Limeade really is an excellent choice–not so acidic that it hurts to drink but not so sweet that it tastes like soda either.  The fish sandwich is a MUST.  I stole at least three bites of HP’s.  Not only is the fish really great, but B.O.’s Key Lime mayonnaise (a yummy tartar sauce creation) is heaven.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly–not chewy and overdone.  And HP and I agreed that the just-made, just-cut fries were yum.  B.O.’s also makes cocktail sauce, which is more saucy than pasty with a healthy kick of horseradish.  It and the Key Lime mayo are so stinkin’ good that I dipped my fries in those instead of catsup. 

Delicious.  Delectable.  Desofreakinfantasticyou’llwantitforeverymeal.

When I have more days next time, I’ll do more off-the-beaten-path eating in Key West.  But I will always go back to B.O.’s and I will always order a fish sandwich, fries, and Key Limeade.