Thursday, July 26, 2012

Being busy and related ramblings

I'll confess: I read this article on busyness a while ago and don't really feel like re-reading it. It basically talks about how Americans are all saying how busy they are. And I find myself telling people how busy I am, but when asked to articulate what I'm busy doing, I just find myself annoyed. Here's what my typical day looks like:
6:30am-8:00am--breakfast, read the paper, get ready for work
8:00am-8:45am--drive to work (stop and get coffee if I'm super sleepy)
8:45am-6:00pm--work (I'll leave earlier if I have a random appointment, which happens on a fairly regular fact, probably too regularly to be called random)
6:00pm-6:45pm--drive to the gym or other random appointment (If my appointment is for 6:30, in, say, Hillcrest, then I actually leave work at 4:30.)
6:45pm-8:30pm--gym time, including changing
8:30pm-8:45pm--drive home from the gym (sometimes I have to stop at the library or the grocery store, or something so this takes longer)
8:45pm-10:00pm--make something to eat, maybe watch a little recorded TV, take a shower, do laundry, pay bills, balance my checkbook, do the dishes, etc.
10:00pm-11:00PM--pack all of my bags for the next day, say hello to Captain America, who's just come home from work, brush my teeth, maybe read in bed a little if there's time, and then it's bedtime.

I don't know if this looks like a lot or not because most of the people I know are also busy. Although, I do have a friend who will say things to me like, I think I might go to the beach this weekend. I don't remember the last time I had enough free time to think I might do something. On the other hand, I really am into scheduling stuff, so I'd probably just schedule a trip to the beach if I wanted to go (assuming I had the time).

I would like to have a less busy life, I really would. I dream of finding a cute little neighborhood coffee shop, curling up with a really good chai, and getting lost in a book. Then, I'd walk home, maybe pick up something fresh at the grocery store for dinner. I'd prepare the dinner, and afterwords, Captain America and I would leisurely do the dishes and maybe have a drink on our patio.

But I also dream of paying off my student loans, traveling to Antarctica, and buying a hot tub.  All of this means I have to have a job (not to mention all of our normal bills and expenses require me to work). Which gets me to a maybe unrelated task--Captain America and I need to sit down and review our budget.

But it seems I also need to review how I budget my time.

Gretchen Rubin, over at the Happiness Project, sometimes blogs about busyness. I'm not sure that's exactly how she puts it, but she does discuss it. She's obviously a busy person: she's a mother of two, a wife, an author, a blogger, a columnist, and she's actively trying to be happier, which, to even think about while running a household and holding down a career is a lot to manage! What I like about Gretchen is that her approach to happiness is very, here's what I've tried, here's what worked for me, here's what didn't work for me, and here's what I'm trying next. She never says to be happy you have to do x, y, or z. However, she's a big advocate for eliminating falseness from her life. She's not into being busy for the sake of being busy. She confesses she doesn't like to dress up and go out. She's not a hermit by any means. In fact, she's a member of several book clubs, as an example. But I suspect she'd leave these book clubs when they stopped being useful to her. She also doesn't like false choices, which are not really relevant here, but important to understand anyway. False choices are when you think you have to pick one thing or another, but you don't really. For example, I can make a lot of money OR I can have a job I enjoy. You, at least in theory, can have both, you just have to figure out how.

Anyway, back to being busy. I'm still trying to figure out how to free up more of my time. My commute takes  up a lot of time right now. I have found that when I come in a little earlier and leave a little later, my commute is no big deal. As I'm currently paid by the hour, this is no big deal for me, either, but I could always take a longer lunch. The down side of this is that I'll have to figure out a way to have fewer commitments in the evening.

I had to go to the dentist yesterday and have a root canal done. I apparently grind my teeth despite being a devoted bite-guard user. So I think I'm going to try some mediation. I'm serious. I'd been thinking about this anyway, because I took a class in it a while ago, and it was nice. And mediators sleep better. And I'm currently seeing an acupuncturist and a massage therapist, which takes up both time and money. I'm hoping to determine if I can get essentially the same results from meditation and more stretching. If not, I can always go back to the acupuncturist and massage therapist, right?

Also, despite what Captain America might say, I've stopped recording so many shows that just aren't worth my time. Which should free up time in the evening for stretching and meditation.

The big hurdle to tackle is eating. Everything about eating is time-consuming, especially if you want to eat well. One thing we've started doing in my house is buying those pre-made fruit salads. I'm much more likely to eat fruit as a snack if I don't have to do anything with it. I've got to also remember to get carrot sticks and cashews. I'm pretty good about eating yogurt, and that's a good source of protein and carbs. What I'm still looking for is that satisfying, satiating sweet-tooth item, but one that won't ruin my diet. (If I could lose a little weight and find a way to keep it off, I wouldn't have to spend so much time at the gym.)

And this is why I never get anything done--I'm busy writing blog posts about how busy I am!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rereading? Who has time to reread?

I just read an article about the value of rereading. It was actually a review of a book about rereading. The author of the book enjoys rereading but comments (according to the reviewer) that the value of the book can change because you've changed since the last reading. The author really liked Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye the first time around, but found him annoying the second. But she found she liked books the second time that she didn't like the first time. I ask you: why would you reread a book you didn't like the first time? There have been two instances in my life where I've done it: the book was assigned by two different English teachers many years apart (The Old Man and the Sea--the man is really old and the fish gets eaten before he can get it home) and when I had a really hard time getting into a book that came highly recommended (Great Expectations--it's hysterical if you get the books on cd version).

My sister and I both enjoyed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs when we were kids, but both reread it after college and just didn't like it. The story wasn't as good and the illustrations were lame. I was reading it to someone, and it was really hard for me to get into it because it was so much worse than I remembered it. Was it the time--like something trendy that was no longer in, or was it me?

There are some books that I love rereading (the Harry Potter series--I cry--bawl, really--every time Dobby dies!!), and many others that I keep meaning to, but who has time to reread when there's so much unread to read? And on top of that, every time I read an article in the writing magazine (the same one where the article about rereading came from), I find that many authors use craft books to help them become better writers, so now I have a whole bunch of those to read, too!

I also know people who reread only parts of a book. I've never thought to myself, hmmm...I'd love to get lost in ONLY ONE SCENE OF A TERRIFIC STORY! When I reread something, it's because I really miss the characters. I'll say things to Captain America like, I miss Owen Meany. But I've never said, I miss when Rhett and Ashley pretend to have spent the evening at Bell Watling's. Although that is one of my favorite scenes in the book. But it's my favorite because it shows what sort of man Rhett is, and it illustrates some depth in Melanie's character.

Yes, I'm not going to reread a book I didn't like just to see if my perspective changed, but I will reread a book I did like...if I can find the time!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Catching happiness

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
--Benjamin Franklin

I just watched a documentary called Happy that was given to me by my Pilates instructor, and while the movie didn't really introduce anything new to me, it was still interesting. My Pilates instructor and I discuss happiness a lot. We're both trying to figure it out. And for the record, both of us are actually happy people. We're trying to figure out who we are, we're trying to eliminate bad habits and cultivate good ones, and we're trying to figure out how to fit in everything we'd like to do and find important to do with going to work. Both of us like our jobs, but they take up so much time that everything else has to be crammed in.

One phrase that the movie introduced to me was the hedonistic treadmill, which is basically that cycle we're all on where we want something new, and when we get it, we lose interest in it and then we want something else new. I don't consider my friends or myself to be particularly materialistic or egocentric, but I know we all do this. I recently attended a rehearsal dinner and wedding where everyone had separate outfits for each event. This isn't particularly unusual, but when you think about it, I have two distinct outfits for special events that don't get worn on a regular basis, don't qualify for work attire, and that require special accessories to be complete. I mean, really what have I got to complain about?

The movie talks about extrinsic happiness and intrinsic happiness. Extrinsic happiness is like what I talked about above--it's based on money, self-image, and status. The movie doesn't say this is bad, it just says that this is at odds with intrinsic happiness, which is based on friends and family, feeling good, and feeling a connections with the world. Just like yin and yang, you probably need both, but I'm having a very hard time figuring out how to balance the two.

I had something else I wanted to talk about here and I was going to jot it down before I lost it and then I lost it before I could jot it down so there you are. You may or may not get to learn about it at some point in the future, if I can remember whatever it was.

Ah yes, on a maybe-only-related-in-my-mind sort of way, I've read that kids can really only handle three things. The article was in reference to after school activities and basically said that you have to count school as one thing. So you can sign your kid up for soccer and scouts, but if you try to add in piano, that's where the meltdown will occur.

I have a theory that the same is basically true for adults. I can go to work, exercise, and read, but when I add in taking a class, for example, everything else suffers a little. Obviously this sort of counting eliminates things that have to get done--laundry is not a thing. Grocery shopping is not a thing. You're an adult. You do laundry, and grocery shop, and pay the bills, and a million other things that can't be a thing.

I wish I was good at clip art or something, because I really think a picture would help me explain this. So back to my Pilates instructor and me. Both of us are struggling to lose some weight. Neither of us are fat. We're just not fitting into our respective pants, and we're not happy about it. My Pilates instructor concedes that she can't claim ignorance. She knows she eats a little too much. But, as she points out, it's no fun to go out with your friends and watch them eat burgers while you have to have your grapes or whatever. And she doesn't want to sacrifice her social life.

Figuring out how to be thin is in the extrinsic camp, while having a good social life is in the intrinsic camp. What's a girl to do? The thing is, neither of us feel like we look as healthy and fit as we actually are, which is just frustrating. And what's doubly frustrating is that we both are making healthy changes but are no closer to closing the top button on our pants. Ugh!

So yesterday, I went to the gym for about 3 hours. (This is a luxury for me--I don't normally get to go to the gym for 3 hours.) However, that means that I was more tired AND got less work done, so there's that. I know I need to get more sleep in general, but I can't figure out how to do that without doing less of something else.

I feel like I've talked about how I'm training to run a marathon about a million times already, and you all know I love to read. Typically, I actually enjoy working. Okay, the getting up and getting dressed thing maybe can be annoying sometimes, but in general, I like working. Except lately. I'm just not that into it. I just saw a quote (probably on Facebook) that caught my eye. It basically said, we can't wait to do something until we're inspired to do it because very few people are truly inspired and they're already really busy.

The obvious follow up, is so quit complaining and just go and do it. However, while I wouldn't normally say I'm inspired to work--my job is not particularly inspirational, I'm also generally not uninspired to work. And that's a big difference to me. So it has me thinking about where I am in my life and what I want to be and where I'm going and where I'd like to be and what I have to do to get there. As I'm sure you realize, all of this thinking has gotten me exactly zero answers. What I'd like to do is to take six months or so and just sort of figure things out, and then come back and have all of the options I currently have now still available, if I want to pursue them.

But the reality is that we've all got to figure things out while we're doing a bunch of other things. So I have no advise to offer other than good luck!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, I'm just going to start off with a minor rant: 4 stars is "I really liked it" and 5 stars is "it was amazing." I don't know about you, but in my world, "I loved it" should really go between the two. So, I'm giving this book a 4.5, but it gets rounded to 5 because that's how math works.

Does it annoy anyone else when a review declares the conclusion of a story "predictable"? I feel like every time I read Jodi Picoult, I find the conclusion predictable in that hindsight is always 20/20 sort of way. Books either end in, of course he got the girl, or of course he didn't sorts of ways, and when you read a lot all endings become predictable, but that's not really the reason for reading, in my opinion.

So what I'm getting at is, this is a very, very good book, but it is mildly predictable in that sort of way that books can be predictable when you read a lot of them. Which is not to say that the story is particularly predictable. I'm telling you all of this because I'm a little frustrated with the ending because the story didn't end the way I wanted it to. But when I thought about it, the way I wanted the story to end would have been predictable in the feel-good sort of way. And I've noticed a trend with authors lately (or maybe just in the books I've read lately) that the conclusions are not always feel-good. They're not always feel-bad, either, they're just more real life-ish.

I'm going to give up now because clearly I shouldn't write book reviews when I'm taking cold medicine, but I finished the book before I got the cold, so I can tell you with confidence that I really, really liked the book, and you should read it.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Dangerous AgeA Dangerous Age by Ellen Gilchrist
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book just wasn't very good. It's about 250 pages long, and I was able to read about 150 of them on a flight from Oakland, CA to San Diego. It wasn't bad, either, it just wasn't very good.

In a nutshell, it's about four cousins. It starts off with one cousin, who's supposed to get married that winter, but her fiance dies in 9/11. Then the second cousin and she move to Washington, where the second cousin sleeps with one of the cousins of the man who died and immediately gets knocked up. Then the third cousin sleeps with her former boyfriend/lover/husband ( this point, it doesn't really matter), and she, of course immediately gets knocked up. Then the second cousin marries her baby-daddy. Next, his twin brother, who was injured in Iraq is released from the hospital and marries the first cousin. Meanwhile, the fourth cousin is a tennis coach. Whatever. Then the third cousin's husband dies in Iraq. And eventually, the two babies are born.

The book mostly focuses on the third cousin, who is a newspaper editor. The chapters are short and choppy, and because the focus shifts from all of the cousins to the third cousin, the book is unbalanced. Also, this newspaper editor third cousin is a little too fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants, in my opinion, to actually be a newspaper editor.

By the time I got to the end of the book, not much had happened, and it just wasn't that good.

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