Caribbean Vacation – Day 1

abstraction & geometry in BWI
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I’m not really a cruise person. I tried taking a cruise with my husband a few years ago, when we were still dating long distance. There were several problems, mostly stemming from the fact that I was a little cheap about spending money on the vacation; also the cruise was too short, there were too many days at sea on the Atlantic, and the weather was bad. I don’t even remember what the food was like because I was motion sick and miserable for most of the trip. The nail in the horrible vacation coffin was the Country-Christmas music that played over the PA system on loop. We heard the song “Santa looked a lot like Daddy” at least 3 times a day during our 5 day vacation. In retrospect, maybe we should have expected such torture the week before Christmas on a cruise that left from South Carolina.

Given my previous experience, it was a surprise to everyone, myself included, when I agreed to go on a week long cruise with our friends this winter. I rationalized the decision though; the cruise company had already been vetted by a couple who travel constantly, there would only be one day at sea and none in the open Atlantic, there would be no Christmas music, and there would be friends to distract my husband if I needed some alone time. I decided to not think about it too much and just go along with the flow. No decisions, no thinking, and no planning ahead of time.

The day before we left, I spent the entire afternoon packing. I even prepared a thermos of coffee so that when we woke up at 2:30AM to drive to the airport, I would be ready to go. Our flight to San Juan was one of the first to leave the airport that morning so we planned to arrive at 4AM when the American Airlines terminal opened. Much to my surprise, there was already a line of people waiting to drop off bags, probably 50-100 individuals. I looked over someone’s shoulder, while we walked to the back of the line. The stranger’s boarding pass was for a flight leaving at 9AM? Some asshole was checking in for a flight 5 hours early, and I was going to have to wait in line behind him! I mean, we were going to have to wait in line behind him, but that I was the only one pissed off about it. My husband rarely gets anxious so easily.

We waited for about 15 minutes before American Airlines staff finally started calling for anyone from our flight to skip the line. During that wait, it dawned on me that we had something of a time constraint on our plans for the day. Ordinarily, if we were traveling and got bumped off a flight or missed a connection, we could just arrive a day late with few repercussions. If we arrived in San Juan too late, we would literally miss the boat.

Fortunately, the security line was swift and we boarded the flight on time. However, we couldn’t take off because the potable water tanks had been drained overnight and they hadn’t been refilled. To be clear, there was plenty of bottled water available, we just didn’t have water for coffee, or tea, and probably not for the bathrooms.  No one schedules the one hour flight to Charlotte at 5AM on a Saturday unless they have a connecting flight, so the entire plane was full of cranky people with tight connections. Perpetually expecting this task to be finished in “just another five minutes,” we ultimately waited at the gate for over an hour before the pilot finally made the call to leave without the water. For the entire hour I sat there and stewed in the possible horrors.

If we didn’t make it to Puerto Rico on time then we would miss our cruise entirely. What if we made it on time, but our bags were missing? Would we leave with the ship anyways and have to buy toiletries and new clothes everyday? It was something of a relief to remember that we were adults who had enough money to book a hotel at the last minute, or to buy a new flight home early, or to purchase new bathing suits and a set of souvenir tee shirts for the week. We only had a first world problem, not a critical failure.

It’s funny to me because today I can write this and feel very relaxed about the situation. In the moment I was tired, I was hungry, I was carrying a bag that was a little too heavy, and it was a little bit cold out. You know, everything was awful and the world was ending. Despite my best efforts to turn every minor incident into a fucking travesty, we did actually make it to the cruise ship on time.

I slept that entire afternoon and most of the evening. I grumbled when my friends spoke to me. I was reluctant to attend dinner and then petulant with the waitstaff. I was jealous of my friends who could enjoy themselves while I was still feeling like the world had shattered. That’s an explanation, not an excuse.

Expectations and reality don’t always line up and that far off thing in the distance might not be as perfect as it looks, slightly off center, slightly asymmetric, slightly out of focus. Photo was taken while we waited in line in the airport terminal. 

 

Sisters

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After the intense anticipation and glorious adrenaline rush of the new Star Wars, it has been difficult to go back to watching normal films that are just “good.”

Thankfully, my slavish devotion to getting my money’s worth from my Movie Pass brought me back into the theater. Standing in the lobby, our options looked somewhat lackluster. We watched Parks & Rec early in 2015, and I had just finished watching 30 Rock right before Christmas, so Sisters with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler was the best available option without lightsabers. 

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were brilliant together as always. Their chemistry makes me wonder what we might call the female equivalent of bromance (an intimate friendship between two men). My husband’s sister says “we just call those friendships because women don’t need a special word for everything.” My drunk friend on twitter says we call them “lesbians.”

There were lots of great cameos from the television series that made Amy and Tina famous, which wasn’t exactly surprising. What I did find surprising was the number of Asian women in the supporting cast, as the nail salon employees who end the movie as nail salon owners. I’m hoping that their presence in this comedy is a leading indicator that we may be only 5-10 years away from seeing Asian women cast as leads in movie genres outside of martial arts / action.

My favorite aspect of Sisters, is the lingering thought that this story could have been made with all of the genders of the actors switched. There was very little in the plot or in the comedic bits, which relied on the characters being women. There was maybe one insult about tampons would need to be revised before we could recast this movie with John C Reilly and Will Ferrell as (Step) Brothers. I find this observation remarkable because there are a lot of male led comedies which can’t be reversed so easily. Anchorman requires outdated notions of masculinity and gender roles to make the humor work. Zoolander with an all female cast is a documentary instead of a comedy. 

It’s a wonderful thing that we live in a world where women are allowed to make crass, low-brow comedies, peppered with physical gags. It was only a few years ago when Bridesmaids was a new thing.  I look forward to a decade from now when we think of Sisters like a dated Adam Sandler movie. Until until then this is a decent movie that I would watch again if I found it while channel surfing.

I’d say Sisters is on par with the Dolphin Movie.

How to Waste an Entire Month

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So you want to know how to make an entire month disappear without a trace? First, take a week of vacation followed by a week of fever. Add a week of cold weather and tight deadlines in the office. Then mix in a dash of anticipation about a big snow storm. The cherry on top is wasting a week in pajamas while waiting for the world to restart.

Until this last month, until this mysterious January that disappeared, I hadn’t appreciated how many of my daily activities were linked to specific cues. The most embarrassing example is probably brushing my teeth. On a normal week day, I eat breakfast, then get dressed, and then brush my teeth as I’m getting ready to leave for the office. On a normal weekend, it’s the same, except that I might not finish getting dressed until noon. Apparently, on a snow day, I might not remember until 3 pm – because that’s when I finally get dressed if I can’t leave the house.

I wasn’t just ignoring the things I was supposed to accomplish, I was also ignoring the things I wanted to do. I had planned to come home from our Caribbean beach vacation with batteries recharged. I thought that I would be effortlessly productive and bursting with creativity for the rest of the year. But, I didn’t write in the mornings because I was leaving for the office earlier and having my coffee in my cubicle. Somehow, missing the coffee cup cue was enough for me to forget about writing for fun or editing my vacation photos.

I guess that’s the type of adult I am. Bah.

February is coming up fast. I hate February. The combination of bad weather, bad light, and bad food usually leaves me in a bad place mentally. I propose that this year, I just redo January in place of February. We can call it January the Sequel, or January Junior, if I want to be alliterative (which I do).

 

Mystery at Sea

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I had a huge collection of Barbie dolls when I was young. This was equal parts being an only child and taking good care of my toys. I had a beach house, a corvette, and some sort of kitchen playset that was in a radio maybe. The beach house  with that remodeled radio kitchen addition would have been quite luxurious if it hadn’t been consistently over populated. By the end of my collecting years I had at least a dozen Barbies (one of them was black, one of them had crimped hair, one had mermaid color changing hair, and one of them was ::gasp:: a brunette), there were two Skippers, a Stacie, and two Kens. Good odds for those lucky Kens.

One of the Ken dolls wore hard plastic dirty blonde hair and a wide smile. He was alright but had a lug-headed idiot jock feel to him. Instead, we fought over the Ken doll with the “real” hair. He was a much older doll, one of my first, and his dark brown mane was matted and almost spongy by the time I got rid of the dolls in high school, but it was more real than the plastic guy so we loved him.

I remember having real-haired Ken back when we lived in Connecticut, before I was 4 years old. This means that he was from 1988 at the latest. He came with a shiney silver tuxedo with long tails made from a very rough, itchy fabric. With the tuxedo he wore a tri-colored cumberbund; it was white, fuscia, and turquoise if I recall correctly, a true tribute to the era.

Along with the doll, there was a story book in a paper pamphlet. I remember the cover was red and maybe had a butterfly on it? We read this story book a lot actually, enough for me to vaguely remember the plot 25 years later. Ken was going on a cruise and he forgot his suitcase on the shore. There were parties every night on the cruise, and like some sort of Hanukah miracle, Ken figured out how to make his one tuxedo last for the entire trip – while coordinating perfectly with Barbie’s outfit each night!

While we were packing this afternoon, I kept trying to perform a similar miracle, mixing and matching colors and outfits hoping that I could squeeze a week’s worth of clothing into a carry on bag. What if it’s cold outside? What if it rains? What if I spill food on my dress and I can’t re-wear it as spectacularly as Ken did in the eighties. If I just rearrange these two things, or maybe add an extra pair of shorts. Something will eventually make the calculus work out in my favor, my lazy ass favor that doesn’t want to carry a heavy suitcase through the airport in the morning.

I was tired of thinking that I was crazy about this Ken thing. A few minutes of browsing the internet was enough to confirm that Jewel Secrets Ken existed and was packaged with a  paper pamphlet storybook. It turns out that the butterfly I remember was one of Barbie’s masquerade costumes. A synopsis from the collector’s website:

The box contents include a mini book entitled Mystery at Sea.  The story starts with passengers Barbie, Skipper, and Whitney on board the ship “Glamour II”.  Barbie is planning a special birthday party for Ken on the last day of the cruise.  Because she wants to keep the party a surprise, she does not reveal to Ken that she is on board.  Unfortunately, Ken leaves his suitcase with his dress clothes on the dock as the ship pulls away, and is left with only one silver tuxedo.  Three balls are planned for the three-day cruise, and Ken ponders how he can wear the same tuxedo three times in a row.  “Oh I wish Barbie were here,” he laments.  With a little thought of his own, Ken decides to change his cummerbund and tie color for each occasion. Barbie attends each ball (naturally), but is masked in the first two to conceal her identity from Ken. Ken wonders who the beautiful masked stranger is.  During the third ball, the planned surprise birthday party for Ken is revealed, along with Barbie herself, and everyone lives happily ever after.

my ideal (imaginary) day

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When I completed my copy of the Year Compass booklet last week, I came to the conclusion that maybe I don’t journal regularly because my life is dreadful and boring. I also had the suspicion that this belief was tainted by my current mood and the icky icky weather. After some thought, I decided that it would be a useful exercise for me to write down what my ideal weekday would be like.

I woke up, feeling refreshed instead of exhausted. I took care of the cat and put away a few dishes that were left to dry from last night. The dishes reminded me that there were some really delicious leftovers available for lunch today. I plopped a tupperware of awesomeness on top of my gym bag so I wouldn’t forget to bring the food with me. I checked the calendar and remembered that I would need to pick up some pasta to go with dinner for tonight. 

I finished up in the kitchen and sat on the sofa with my laptop. The Late Show or The Daily Show was running in the background while I browsed some photos on Instagram and wrote up some notes for my next comic book review or writing exercise. When the show was over, I just picked up my things and headed off to work. I didn’t need to take any extra laps of the house to find everything I needed, because it was all packed up and ready to go!

When I got to work, I had about 30-45 minutes to work out in the gym. Most days I take it easy, I just switch up my routine to keep it interesting because moving is infinitely better than not moving. I didn’t run into anyone in the gym at the office – especially not women gossiping in the bathroom while I shower.

I did some work at my desk, which was easy and repetitive. I actually felt some satisfaction when I answered questions for my coworkers, instead of disgust. They pay me to figure things out for myself and then tell them what to do – it’s what makes me special, not what makes them idiots. 

In addition to food, I also packed a comic book to enjoy during my lunch break. If the weather was nicer, I would have walked a lap of the business park for exercise, but I can’t go for a walk because it’s been cloudy and rainy for the last month straight. 

When I get home, I cross a few items off my to-do list and then start cooking dinner using the extra ingredients I picked up on the way home. At some point, I have to unpack/repack my gym bag for the next day to get ready for tomorrow. 

So what’s the biggest difference between my horrible, rotten, no-good-day, and my ideal day? Besides my mood and my perspective, it seems like I have a “decision allocation problem.” I need to make some decisions ahead of time, to reduce the number of decisions I have to make in the moment. Like I get home and I panic because I haven’t brainstormed any ideas before that point. The dinner problem is much more manageable if I narrow down my options ahead of time, even knowing if we’re staying in or going out reduces my options by 50% and makes the choice easier for me. 

I think there’s something real to this idea, sort of a conservation of decision energy. It’s a little bit like the spoon theory, or maybe like all of those successful people who wear the same outfit everyday. Unfortunately, it’s clear to me that “making fewer decisions” can’t really be a New Year’s Resolution, it’s not something that can be measured, or at least not something I have the patience to measure. I do believe that having a real calendar help me make a few decisions ahead of time, the big ones. That’s a good enough place to start for now.

the worst (imaginary) day

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I don’t strongly believe in New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because the notion that any particular calendar date is significant seems like romantic or magical thinking to me. I mean, come on, how many different calendars do we have in the world right now, and how many times have we fudged dates and lost an entire week – I’m looking at you Council of Nicaea!

On the other hand, I do love the idea of self-reflection and self-improvement. I understand how sometimes external circumstances are a better catalyst for change than any intrinsic motivation. I mean, moving homes has always been a clean start and an opportunity to build new habits for me. This next house, this renovated apartment, this new dorm room is the place that I will finally keep clean and organized, right? Is that so different from turning a calendar page? Who am I to judge someone else’s source of inspiration?

Ultimately, I suppose that my desire to be seen as rational trumps my sympathies. On the issue of resolutions, I land squarely in the camp supported by observation – look at all those people who manage to stick with their resolutions past the first week.

As something of a compromise between cool logic and seasonal optimism, I decided to complete the Year Compass exercise. It’s a questionnaire booklet that guides you through evaluation of the previous year before you consider plans for the following new year.

For me, the Year Compass was an exercise in methodical self-reflection that revealed an imbalance between where I spend all of my time and where I wish I could spend all of my time. I’m a cubicle slave, so it’s no surprise that my second biggest accomplishment this calendar year was something about reducing model run-time instead of something about my hobbies or my family.

What was actually surprising to me was the very first step of the process. “Take out your calendar for the previous year.” Shockingly, I don’t have a calendar, I have rarely maintained a calendar. I just sort of vaguely remember important things, and only plan ahead a few weeks at a time.

Maybe that’s why we’re scrambling around the holidays, why we didn’t carve pumpkins until the afternoon of Halloween, and why I was at Wegman’s on December 22 buying one of the last unfrozen turkeys to cook for Christmas dinner. It’s also why we rarely cook dinner together at home, because I don’t know if we’re doing anything after work until that afternoon. For someone who likes to plan and needs a certain degree of control, it’s ludicrous that I don’t have a calendar.

In fact, the last time I had a calendar to plan out everything, was in 2007 during the spring-summer. I was working two jobs, going to multiple dance events, rowing in an evening beer-league once a week, tutoring multiple students, house sitting, taking actuarial exams, interviewing for jobs, and moving out of state. I needed to have everything planned out, and it was brilliant. I actually felt like an adult.

After several months of working my first job there wasn’t anything special to write down any more. That’s why I gave up on the formal agenda, it was too depressing. Maybe this is why I don’t journal regularly either. What would I write about?

Today, I was still exhausted when the alarm went off. I made coffee and bullied myself into going into the basement to clean the litter box. Despite caring about my appearance, I waited until the last possible moment to take a shower and get dressed. I didn’t comb my hair. Even though I have several very nice pairs of boots, I chose the same plain ballet flats that I wore everyday so far this week. I went to work and sat in a cubicle where I answered questions in emails and prepared color-coded workbooks.

I had trouble getting excited about lunch and I forgot to pack a lunch again anyways. I’ve gone to Waffle House so many times that I have a regular order, so I’m trying to cut back on that. I’m also on a first name basis with the people who work at the Starbucks near our house AND the one near the office, so I should probably go to those places less often too. Sometimes, I get ambitious and I try to run an errand at lunch, but then I generally get stuck in unexpected traffic or behind someone checking out at Target using 5 methods of payment to buy one DVD. After wasting a lot of energy worrying about lunch plans, I probably decided to just eat some potato chips or something from the vending machine. I barely remember, it all bleeds together.

When I finally got home from work I had no idea what to do with myself. On good nights I get to spend quality time with my husband. On bad nights, I can’t crawl far enough out of my own ass to do anything besides hide on the couch for an hour before we go to bed. I would read more comics, but my backlog pile is so big I don’t know where to start.

So… that’s what I would write in my journal almost every weekday. The specific workbook I’m updating will be different, although disappointingly, the questions I’m answering will probably be the same. My lunch drama will be slightly different. I’ve been trying to think about what an ideal day would be like, how would it be different?

But is that really what I would write down every day? I don’t think it’s a true picture of my life. It’s dreary outside, it’s been cloudy for weeks, and the days are too short. I think that this depressed view of my life is just how I feel when my foggy, winter brain tries to look back on the last year, when I can’t remember if we did anything fun in April besides that last minute ski trip.

I wonder if that’s not a crucial part of the psychology of New Year’s Resolutions; that everyone is slightly seasonally depressed, so it seems like life is worse and there’s more urgency to change.

 

 

This is how horror movies begin…

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I have been struggling the last few weeks. I think that I was using the optimism of writing this November as a mask for feeling directionless or overwhelmed in other aspects of my life. When I (reasonably) decided to stop writing crappy fan fiction, I was forced to face the fact that my depressive symptoms have been worse the last few months. It’s an interesting feeling, to be aware of the physical symptoms of depression without having an obviously depressed mood.

I wanted to spend a few days letting myself indulge in being miserable. On one of the first nights, I was home alone while my fiance was curling with his friends after work. I was in bed, waiting for him to come home, trying to be as disappointed in myself as possible. My thoughts were interrupted by a scratching sound on the ceiling. It was too loud for me to have imagined, too localized to be the house settling, and too erratic to be mechanical. This was the morning of Friday the 13th, I was home alone, and prepared to go into our crawlspace attic with a flashlight. This is how horror movies begin, I thought.

We’ve caught five mice since then. We’ll probably have to replace all of the insulation in the attic of our new house once we’ve killed all of the rodents.

I didn’t sleep well that night and I blame my mood on my poor sleep that weekend. I indulged in Star Trek and leftover Halloween candy for an entire week. I carried my gym bag into work with me almost everyday that week, and just couldn’t muster the willpower to walk 100 yards downstairs to use the gym. I listened to Aisha Tyler’s podcast because she ends her recordings with statements that sound like positive affirmations if you stop listening before the sales pitch “You are amazing… follow me on Twitter.” She’s very compelling though and her words motivated me to visit the vending machine for lunch.

The second weekend, I reread the Hyperbole and a Half book and laughed until I couldn’t breathe. I cleaned a lot. We had a party. Everything started to feel a little bit easier, and I remembered that the world doesn’t necessarily end when I need a mental break. 

We have to check our mouse traps everyday. It feels easier to go up into the attic now.