insomnia #22 aka “I Want to Know What Love Is”

It worries me that the songs most often stuck in my head are by Foreigner. 1.) I’m not that old. 2.) Foreigner, really? Why not The Cure or Violent Femmes or Concrete Blonde or Elvis Costello or Nirvana or PJ Harvey? Bands that seeped into my adolescence, bands that soundtracked me into adulthood. Bands that meant something to me. I’d welcome something recent – I do listen to new music daily, after all – anything decent, something to reassure me I’m neither obsolete nor lacking in taste.

But, no. It’s all “Jukebox Hero” and “Cold as Ice” and “Urgent” bouncing around in my skull as I’m lying in bed at 3 a.m. unable to sleep. That, as much as the inability to stop the concurrent roil of thoughts, forced me out of bed.

Let’s talk about surfing instead. As ever, I don’t surf enough – there is no enough – but I did get out for a session earlier this week, scored a few fast, head-high rights in a friendly crowd before the wave shut down like our time had run out. (“Put another quarter in!” we joke, those of us familiar with quarter-driven mechanical animal rides.) The wind accelerated as we paddled around in search of that one more, one more, one more that would finally take us in to the beach. I need a new wetsuit (again) and the breeze on top of the cold water had me shivering – by the time I managed to pick off a left, my calfs were cramping and my knees stiff.

But, still. Surfing was better than not surfing. The current never relented and my shoulders ached the next day from all the paddling – “It should be called ‘paddling,’ not ‘surfing,’” one of my friends regularly jokes – and the ache made me happy.

I should read something and I think I will soon. When did the habit become always to turn to the computer? Alison Bechdel’s marvelous Fun Home waits to be finished, New Yorkers pile up alongside Mental Floss and The Atlantic as if our living room is a waiting room, only I never find myself sitting down, killing time until someone is ready for me. Instead, I am the person people are waiting for as I finish the dishes, fold the laundry, pay the bills, complain that the bathroom needs cleaning, announce for the millionth time, “I have so much to do.” Last year, I practiced making Sundays a no-screen, no-car day with the only exception being to look up the swell and/or drive to the waves. It was lovely to lie on the couch, book in hand, or jaunt out to the beach sans phone, and I think I will try it again.

Does everyone obsess about improving themselves? We absorb endless messages about how to be smarter, happier, more successful. Thinner. (Always thinner.) In between the “22 Things Happy People Do Differently” and “8 Facts Will Make You More Productive” (both of which I have bookmarked, along with “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 a.m.” and “5 Scientific Secrets to High Performance“) – in between these manifestos on How To Be Better are treatises on the importance of self-acceptance. I often wonder at what point we’re allowed to stop striving and say instead, “Look, this is how I am.”

Because I know a lot of people who wear their faults without regret, embrace their curmudgeonly or messy selves or, more likely, just get on with the business of living as if part of them isn’t hovering above, watching and judging their behavior without pause. Oblivion to one’s effect on others has drawbacks, but sometimes I would appreciate a break from so much worry.

I was reading an advice column – partly because I enjoy advice and good writing, and partly because I’m a human who does things and has people, so I can usually relate in some way to what’s happening (unless it’s Savage Love, which, perhaps sadly, offers problems more exciting than my own) – when a line in a letter from a frustrated former employee regarding an open position at her prior workplace resonated: “I don’t think I actually want the job; I’m well aware of the frustrations and challenges of that particular role. What I want is for them to want me.”

Oh, yeah. I know that one. Even if I don’t want to come to your party, I will be hurt if you don’t invite me.

And then it was as columnist Heather Havrilesky climbed into my brain with her response:

“…So you wanted someone to show you that they noticed all of this hard work. You wanted to feel wanted. Instead, they said ‘Sorry, we just can’t promote you.’ Here’s what they DIDN’T say: ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough.’ That’s what you HEARD, but that’s not what they actually said.

“…And maybe you’ve never seen a therapist. Maybe… you return to old slights as if there’s some important mystery to be solved there, as if the more you dig up buried disappointments, the more you’ll learn about what you did wrong. You figure you fucked up something, or maybe there’s something off about the people involved, and if you look really hard at the mess you left behind, you might figure it all out.

“…I will work tirelessly to be understood. I will explain and re-explain. And at some level, I am absolutely certain that, with enough explaining, I will be understood and embraced—at long last!”

That last one, seriously. My friends laugh (at least I hope they laugh) about how prone I am to following up conversations with emails elaborating on “What I actually meant in case I wasn’t clear” or “I didn’t mean to be a jerk when I said such-and-such.” Havrilesky’s lengthy response could have been aimed at – or written by – me. Which is kind of crazy, right? Because I’m not lacking in validation or (I think) confidence. But we take the good feedback for granted sometimes, weight the criticism as if it means more, then spend our efforts trying to prove ourselves to the wrong people. (Please note how I switched to third person there. Because it’s not just me… right?)

Which is why the advice in the final paragraph should be taken to heart:

“Some workplaces, some bosses, some friends, some relatives, some exes will never want you, and will never appreciate all of the amazing qualities you bring to the table. It has nothing to do with you. Forget them. Build those parts of you that make you feel peaceful and accepting and satisfied and soft and vulnerable. Make a religion out of letting go. You do great work, and everyone knows it. Don’t fixate on the indifferent. Keep yourself surrounded by people who look you in the eye, listen closely, and really seem interested in you as a person. Try to do the same for your friends. Stop working so goddamn hard for once in your life. You are already good enough.”

Look, this is how I am.

 

 

Life’s obvious lessons or it’s amazing what you can get done when…

I’m writing because I told myself to write this morning. After all, I’m between full-time gigs and was supposed to use January and February to 1.) finish my novel; 2.) surf every day; 3.) whip the yard and garden into shape; 4.) do all the house projects that I’ve been too busy to do while working 40-plus hours per week. And read and work out and go for hikes and make sure I’m carving out enough family time and couple time and maybe take that tango class we’ve been promising ourselves we’d take for years.

Yeah, sometimes I tend to overestimate my ability to accomplish – although to be fair, the days when I am disciplined about my time often end with a small glow of satisfaction warming my brain. One of my favorite scenes in Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues was when Denzel Washington’s character, Bleek Gilliam, explains to one of his girlfriends that you have to do the same thing at the same time each day because that’s how shit gets done. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) Less exciting forms of research reinforce that concept: Routine is good for accomplishment.

The other key, courtesy of my friend Niki Bezzant and a mantra I’ve uttered approximately one gazillion times over the past decade (including on this blog, I’m sure), is this: “It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t arse around.” (Or as we say in America, “… when you don’t fuck around.”)

So here I am, writing because I told myself I should write first thing in the morning while the house is quiet and the sky is too dark for a surf adventure. Sure, I’m running behind already – the sun came up an hour ago – and the house’s silence has been broken by my husband clomping downstairs and into the kitchen where he’s putting water on for coffee – the water whooshes out of the faucet, the gas clicks on, the kettle clanks down, the flame whooshes to life like I wish my imagination would. Nonetheless, I persevere. (If you’re reading this, I can’t promise it will get any better. Please feel free to go admire my lovely rainbow photo on Facebook instead – none of the thousand or so words I will write here will come close to matching the beauty of that moment. If only perfect prose was as easy to stumble upon as the right combination of sun and rain.)

Now my husband is blowing his nose and I want to kill him. It is hell being married to a writer. Or a wannabe writer. Or maybe just me.

What I thought I would write about going in was transition. And value. Transition because the past several months have encompassed so much change and value because that was the concurrent theme.

I’m now wondering if I can lift the rest of the post up from the preceding deadening sentence.

It’s not that I didn’t know the job would come to an end. But my coworker and I had just found out our funders planned to continue supporting our work. We’d high-fived at a conference in Southern California – “Havin’ a job! Yeah!” – which made the call from my boss a week later surprising. Regret tinged her voice as she went down the list of talking points concerning the organizational layoffs, which included the elimination of my position (and my coworker’s). She sounded sad enough that I made a joke in an attempt to reassure her I was okay. After we hung up, tears came. This job had been the palace ball and I’d been Cinderella – except, this being real life, no Prince Charming would be swooping in to collect me (and pay my bills) after the fact*. On the upside, I had six months to figure out a next step. On the downside, even when you know it’s not personal, being told you’re no longer valuable enough to the organization to be kept on can mess up a person’s self-perception.

Looking outside of Humboldt reinforced what I already knew: I have neither the educational background nor the big world experience to score a serious job. This triggered a lot of what-the-hell-have-I-done-with-my-life thinking. For a while I couldn’t imagine being hired by anyone for anything. Maybe waitressing. At some point, I’m embarrassed to say, a certain bitterness settled in. I am good at some things, damn it. But, my thinking went, those things aren’t valued by the stupid people in this stupid world that we live in. Why isn’t the ability to put words together in a semi-pleasing way with a minimum of typos a job that pays a living wage? Why isn’t being able to get along and find commonality with all different folks an existing job I could apply for? Why do incompetent douchebaggery types still have jobs and I don’t? How come people don’t come courting me if I’m as rich in talent as my performance reviews – and supportive friends – suggest?

This is not a productive way to think – and I am all about productive – but pulling up from the self-esteem nosedive isn’t easy. Because some truth exists to it, right? If the question asked is, “Why don’t people want me?” then potential answers inevitably include, “Because you suck.” This is where I started getting hung up on value, predominantly my own worth (as measured by what people were willing to pay me to do), but also what I elevate to importance in my own life and how that relates to the greater world.

As all this was happening, my youngest kid graduated high school, my middle kid moved away to Santa Cruz, my oldest continued her own adult life down in Long Beach. With only one kid in the house, my husband and I took over the upstairs – the master bedroom and a small room I’ve turned into a walk-in closet/project space. Although I worry as much (or more) than ever, our hands-on parenting days are over. For a couple that never lived together before having kids, this new chapter is without precedent and raises a whole bunch of questions. If parenting is inherently valuable and we’ve focused on that to the detriment of our careers, what happens now? Who will we be without parental obligations defining us? How will we relate to each other without the children’s needs being the center around which we revolved? With the breathing room to consider the future, what did we see? And, more importantly, did we see it together?

Here are some things I learned, in no particular order because time is short and the keyboard battery is low:

  • You can’t make people value you. Your kids, your coworkers, the people you wish would hire you, the people you wish would love you. All you can do is do what you love doing, work hard, strive to do it well. Maybe someone will pay you to do this thing for a living someday. Maybe someone you look up to will turn to you and say, “Hey, this is real good.” But you have to do it for the love of doing it, because you believe in the fundamental value of what you’re doing. If you build it, they might come – but if they don’t, you sure as hell better enjoy stretching out in the sunshine admiring the clear, blue sky.
  • Life isn’t fair – hardly a new concept, sure, but still, a hard one to swallow when you’re considering unemployment while people who are obviously far more horrible than you are whistling while they work. The problem with brooding on the world’s unfairness is twofold: you might forget all the ways in which you yourself have been lucky and you put yourself at risk for turning into a grudge-bearing asshole. I’ve been guilty on both counts in the past. (But I have SO MUCH character at this point!)
  • Booze does not help. It’s the worst in fact.
  • How to get over yourself: Express appreciation, daily, to people you love and admire, especially those who’ve tolerated your self-pitying behavior. Distract yourself from freaking out about your life by engaging in it. Take the goddamn tango class with your spouse already. Invite those gracious, kind, fun friends of yours over for brunch. Read books that take your brain to another place. Go new places, whether restaurants or hiking trails, together or alone. Get the fuck away from the computer.
  • Take more walks on the beach and fling yourself more often into the ocean (metaphorically if necessary). Nothing – and I mean nothing – like being out in the fresh air in this place of beauty to give you perspective and kick you into a more positive gear. Bitter? Insecure? Hike or bike until your legs give out. Rent a kayak and paddle the hell out of the bay. Whatever. Push yourself physically until your mind turns that corner.

Which is a good note upon which to end. It’s another (drought-riddled) glorious day out there and I’ve got a beach calling.

*The way things went, the folks who fund my conservation work still wanted to fund it, enabling me to find a job with a different environmental organization, thus making them a suitable stand-in for the prince. Rejoicing commenced.

insomnia #21 aka 2013 Year in Review

If I were to make a list of things I’d most like to leave behind in 2013, insomnia would be up there. I blame the evening’s red wine this time, but the cause could just as easily be falling asleep too early with too much on my mind. It’s a horrible thing, thinking.

My arsenal of sleep aids – herbal teas and tonics, Tylenol PM, relaxation apps – are failing to do the trick tonight. Rather than lie in bed kicking my husband every time he nears snoring, I’m here in front of the computer, writing.

It seemed potentially more productive. New Year’s Eve. Why not take stock?

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January: Our sweet dog died, my younger daughter was detained in London en route to Ireland, I wrote my first Five Things, and a friend and I attended the Presidential inauguration.

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February: My older daughter turned 23, my husband and I relived the ’90s by seeing Soundgarden in Oakland’s Fox Theater, I moved into The Link and I went on an epic surf-work trip to Central Cali, the first of many excursions I’d take with my dear friend Casey.

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March: Spent another week along the central coast, my younger daughter turned 19 and I wrote my first (and so far only) cover story for the North Coast Journal.

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April: My first Five Things column ran in the NCJ, I tripped to Sacramento and Santa Cruz, and I helped coordinate a memorial service and paddle out for John “Moose” Mason, a man whose sudden death brought forth such beautiful tribute from so many people that I found myself thinking, “We should all be so loved” – and that we should all be so kind and good as Moose.

May: Some idiots filming an ad at Moonstone high-centered a Dodge truck on a rock, launching me into Surfrider mode and ending with me being named a “Humboldtian of the Week” on Facebook, a work trip took me to D.C., we attended my fabulous brother’s fabulous wedding in San Francisco, where I stayed on for a conference after – four hotels in 10 days.

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June: Traveled to Long Beach for work and some time with my older daughter, stepped in as the NCJ’s music columnist, spent Summer Solstice at Shelter Cove, wrote about the dead whale that washed up on my beach and was given a six-month layoff heads up.

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July: Played cornhole and bocce ball for the first times and failed at neither, took a vacation to Seattle that included a whale watching tour through the Puget Sound and a stop in Portland on the way back that included visiting a friend with whom I shared a room when we were 18 – and all the required reminiscing that implies, and wrote my favorite Five Things so far.

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August: Threw a most excellent birthday party for my husband’s 50th, was hired on to do part-time outreach for Humboldt Baykeeper and moved my younger daughter to Santa Cruz.

September: Played a small role in Humboldt Made’s big premier, guested on Sherae O’Shaughnessy’s Late Night gig, traveled with Casey to San Diego for the annual Surfrider conference, helped cover the arrest of alleged crossbow killers in Manila, helped clean up around a homeless camp for Coastal Cleanup Day and wrote about it.

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October: My kickball team raised $2,697 for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood and came in second in the annual tournament, Casey and Kj joined me for my second excursion to a foreign country, this one a long-anticipated trip to Manzanillo, Mexico, where we spent six days surfing, swimming, reading, drinking and eating tacos – best vacation ever – followed by a closer-to-home excursion to track gray whales and see humpbacks, a transcendent experience.

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November: My son turned 18, my friend Grant and I took off to New York for a week, where I stayed with my brother and his wife and celebrated my own birthday – 44! – at The Comedy Cellar, and upon returning home, my husband and I moved into the upstairs master bedroom after 11 years of downstairs living.

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December: Held what was likely my favorite Ocean Night ever, wrapped up my job with Ocean Conservancy, made plans for a next chapter with the Northcoast Environmental Center, tripped down to Santa Cruz to visit our younger daughter, reminisced about a time I almost died, and trekked up to Crescent City for an especially memorable surf safari due to cramming five people in a Honda CRV, finding fun waves under endless sunshine, a rescue by me of a person drifting out to sea, stinky sea lions, piles of fish and chips and hours of excellent conversation.

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In between and throughout all that, a million photos of sunsets, sunrises and various bodies of water. Also, surfing. My wonderful writers’ group. Parties. Music. Books. Movies. Food. The requisite ups-and-downs and various heartbreaks involved in being a human people who spends time with people. Most importantly, a ton of love and good best friends. I aim to transform this list of things done into something larger and life-useful at some point, but for now, what a reminder that I am a lucky, lucky girl.

5 Things to Know Before You Go Out Dancing

1. What do you mean, you don’t go out dancing? That’s crazy! Dancing is fun, fun, fun! And good for you – bumps up the ol’heartrate, increases physical endurance and provides the social contact necessary for maintaining a positive outlook in this messed-up world. If you’re a guy, know this: women prefer a man who can get his groove on. (I think we all know why that’s true, but just in case, allow George Bernard Shaw to explain, “Dancing: The vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music.” Mmmhmm!)

2. However, you men people, also know this: No one wants your creepy ass rubbing up against her thigh, butt or any other body part. What makes you have a creepy ass,  you ask? Because you’re rubbing up against some woman who does not want you to do that! No means no means no and a woman is far more likely to like you if you stay on the side of fun that includes respect. Having to point this out seems ridiculous, but I spent part of last month’s 100mph Soul Party running interference between some skeevy dude and my girlfriends.

3. Also in the stating-the-obvious column: wear shoes you can wear all night long. No, not your gym shoes – unless you’re going to bust out your best Electric Boogaloo moves – because sexy is good, but if you’ve strapped in and your pinky toes are going numb before you’ve even finished applying your lipstick, that’s not a good sign. Dazzle people with your confidence and they’ll never notice what’s on your feet.

4. The best dance parties aren’t always the most popular ones. Sold out shows mean wall-to-wall people, which means you can’t move and also that you’ve become a C & C Sweat Factory. Weeknights offer more than you might think: for example, you can get your skank on this Monday at the Jam; rock out to some country soul on Tuesday at Hum Brews; Wednesday, Nocturnum goes all Whomp Whomp with “Dubstep/Dnb/Glitch/HipHop/BadassBassDriven/LazerFilled/WaistMotivating/FootTapping”; Cherae Heights throws back to the ’80s and ’90s on Thursday; you’ve got barn dancin’ at the Bayside Grange on Friday, where they will even teach you to dance; and Saturday’s list of body-moving possibilities presents you with so much choice you might stress out about which dance party to attend! But you know what’s a great antidote to stress? Dancing! You can also rally a bunch of friends and take over any place with floor space and a decent jukebox. Hell, have a slumber party and Spotify up all your old faves – Madonna’s “Physical Attraction” and AC/DC’s “TNT” being two on my all-time list.

5. Don’t overdo the booze. You might think you need to get drunk to loosen up, but the difference between dancing and flailing can often be traced back to an unfortunate decision to answer, “Yeah! I’ll have another!” Figure out the pace that works to keep you happy on the floor without being on the floor and stick to it. Drink lots of water! Don’t do shots. (In fact, unless you’re toasting the dead, don’t ever do shots.)

Bonus: Still unsure? Find some inspiration listening to Mike Dronkers’ Midday Dance Party every Friday at noon on KHUM 104.3/104.7. You can bop around the office or in the privacy of your own home! If you absolutely need to take some lessons first – or you’re ready to step up to actual steps – you’re in luck! We live somewhere people love to dance! Here’s a beginning look at what’s offered, but check out other publications and flyers around town.

5 Things To Know When You Get the Flu

1. You will not get sick at a convenient time. You will not have cleared your calendar and scheduled six days in which to experience feverish mucus-filled cough spasms uninterrupted. You will find yourself sick two days before a non-negotiable work trip, three days before your beloved dog has to be put down, a fact you will process from afar in a DayQuil-NyQuil induced haze, and you will return, still sick, to news that your daughter is currently detained after being denied entry into the UK and your husband’s toothache that he finally went to the dentist about is actually a gnarly abscess that needs surgery yesterday — but no one can do the surgery till the month after next. All these things will make you appreciate that all you have is a case of the flu, but then again taking care of everyone’s needs feels impossible as the fever rises through your skin like a hundred icy insects nibbling on your flesh and you can’t stray too far from the box of Kleenex because your nasal passages threaten to burst open at any moment and you’re coughing so hard you actually pee in your sweats. So when you get sick, you will have to just do the best you can. And accept that your best might not be very good.

2. You will tire of pharmaceuticals that make you dizzy, spacey and dehydrated, so you will revert to your faith in garlic, ginger, lemons and hot tea. You will drink approximately 108 mugs of tea in the span of six days, all of which help, none of which cure. You will transform onions, garlic and ginger into a broth, add chile peppers when you have them, lemon, too. The concoction will feel so good, so warm and healthy and pungent on your throat — you will be sure that this time you are on the mend. Five minutes later, you will have your worst coughing fit yet. You will continue to believe that the food helps because you must have faith that something will bring this greasy, sweaty, phlegm-ridden chapter of your life to a close. You will ask your husband to buy raw honey because you read that it has antibacterial qualities.

3. You will find reading novels too exhausting — you have to stop and cough, stop and blow your nose, stop and make tea, stop and pee from drinking so much liquids. Magazines and short stories are a much better fit. You will attempt the North Coast Journal’s crossword and find it too taxing. Maybe you should just watch 30 Rock on Netflix for a while.

4. You will notice, from your forced exile, that life goes on without you. You will be relieved at first, as this epiphany means you can feel slightly less guilty about curling up under your germ-laden blankets and demanding someone else to please feed the cats. But from the fetal position, you will worry that perhaps your light has dimmed, your value peaked. You’re just some old, sick thing now. Have faith that this, too, shall pass.

5. You will get restless and wonder if you’re using your sick time to the fullest. As long as you’re stuck at home, shouldn’t you at least reorganize the bookshelf or purge your closet of all those sweaters you’re never going to wear? People are cold! Homeless! You’re sick, but you’re sick from the vantage of privilege. Lying around all day will infuriate you after a while. You are not designed to be useless. You will channel your frustration into scrubbing the bathroom sink and toilet — you would’ve done the shower, too, except the exertion has triggered a coughing fit that felled you, so now you’re lying on the bathroom floor, trying not to heave your lungs out, remembering the good days when you were merely puking and hungover. At least that had an end in sight.

Some practical advice (I am totally not a doctor!):

1. Try to avoid the sick! Follow all the usual advice: Get enough sleep, eat healthy, slow down, exercise and wash your hands. Eat your garlic. Dose yourself with immune system boosters — ask about specific recommendations at Moonrise Herbs or Humboldt Herbals.

2. If you feel it coming on, hit the grocery store right away and stock up: garlic, ginger, onion, lemon, chile peppers, raw honey, broth, several boxes of tea. I like the Yogi Teas, especially Breathe Deep and Egyptian Licorice. You can also get some excellent bulk teas at the herbal shops. Chop up all the veggies and throw them in the broth. Heat and eat/drink as often as possible. Don’t heat the raw honey, I’m told — I just take a teaspoon now and again. If you have enough energy — or help — I love these soups, especially the Greek Avgolemono.

3. Fever making your eyeballs ache? What a great time to catch up on podcasts. Just close your eyes and let yourself be entertained away. I’m old-fashioned and still a fan of This American Life and Radiolab, but a world of funny/thoughtful options is out there for the discovering. You know.

4. Ask for help. If you don’t have a live-in person obligated to care for you, text your friends. People like to help. And seeing how sick you are will make them feel better for not being you. You’re reminding them how great it is to be vibrating with good health and not encased in sweatpants with unwashed hair stuck to a perspiring face. The least they could do is drop by some soup and magazines.

5. Ride it out. Make lists of what you’ll do when you feel better. Read about people whose plights are worse than yours. Fuck around on Facebook. Write in your journal. Request songs on the radio. You’re sick. You get a pass from productivity.

Bonus: If you can’t take to bed and need to pop the cold medicines, do it. No shame in utilizing modern medicine when you need to. I find that whatever dries up all the runny nose mess also dehydrates the hell out of me, so I advise lots and lots and lots of water and also a teaspoon of honey helps to coat a dry throat. Good luck.

How to Enjoy Christmas

Look, like many people I know, I spent years hating Christmas. For all the usual reasons. Being broke and feeling pressured to buy stuff. Juggling visits between all the different households. Caving to social pressure to partake in holiday traditions I find meaningless. Biting my tongue to keep from explaining why I find them meaningless. Struggling to add “prepare for Christmas” to a life already full of multiple jobs and children. Watching plastic crap flood American households. Smiling over gifts I didn’t ask for and don’t want. Giving gifts for the sake of show rather than delight. The consumerism! The waste! The strained familial relationships! The Christmas season typically triggered dread, stress and resentment.

And then I kinda figured it out. (more…)

insomnia #18, in which our protagonist is dismayed that self-improvement is still on the to-do list

“So at what point do people get to stop trying to improve themselves and just accept their flaws as the way they are?”

I asked my friend this question over lunch, stealing some of his fries while waiting for his answer.

“Never,” he said. “I don’t think you ever stop trying to be better.”

Damn. In that case, I shouldn’t have eaten those fries. Really, I’d hoped for something more along the lines of, “Oh, usually around 42.” Something that would let me off the hook. A response that would allow me to give up the so-far unfulfilled promises to myself to shed the remaining irresponsible behaviors keeping me grounded at pretty good instead of soaring at great. Alas, apparently I must redouble my efforts towards progress instead.

On the upside, having struggled with the same (boring, childish) bad habits for, oh, my entire adult life (small strides, though, small strides!), at least I can refer back to an old post and not have to write everything out again.

Humboldt County stuff I like #1

In addition to the ocean, beaches, bay and forest, I also love several local businesses/people. I don’t have gobs of excess money to spend – especially after covering food for the family, medical bills and my bar tab, but here’s some places I go. Here’s a rather random smattering (more to come as I get inspired – I like a lot of places and people!):

Praxis Fitness Keeping me in fighting shape – cause I need it! Not just to rock my short skirts, but also to surf better, bike farther, dance longer. I leave Praxis feeling awesome, which makes going there all the more worthwhile.

Cassandra at Parker’s Beauty Bar A good cut makes your look. Cassandra keeps me stylish. Not only does she excel at cuts and color, but Parker’s in general is a blast. Complimentary beer and wine, plus fun reads, from Amy Sedaris- and Posh Spice-authored books to celebrity gossip mags.

Rebecca at Bloom For all your waxing needs. And when I say “all,” I mean “all.” And that’s all I’m saying about that.

Casey’s Skin Care Studio Also for waxing, plus facials and more. Casey is a class act.

L C Nails The closest thing you can get locally to a San Francisco mani-pedi. Also massage chairs! (Note, one option on the massage chair triggers a knob nailing you right in the tailbone. Or thereabouts. Watch out! Otherwise, fun.)

Oberon Best Bloody Marys in Eureka, hands down. Also a lovely atmosphere and attentive service. I mostly go for the Bloodys plus snack as dinner gets a bit pricey.

Cafe Nooner Everything is good, especially the Bleu Noon sandwich. Warm days, you can eat outside.

Jambalaya A wide-open space, pool table, stage for the bands, hearty food and cocktails. Both birthday parties I’ve had here have excelled.

Go Go Bistro I should go here more, but it’s inconveniently located in Henderson Center. However, the mac’n’cheese makes me swoon, so….)

Overlooked with John Matthews Because while you can listen to the same music you listened to in high school, you’re so much more interesting when you follow along with John.

Lost Coast Outpost Hank doesn’t write enough, but when he does, it’s so worth it. In the meantime, stay entertained with news and music from KHUM, KSLG and The Point right here. Plus I contribute.

Obligatory Seven-O-Heaven mention here.

Humboldt Baykeeper Because they kick ass at making sure our bay stays healthy and protected. Executive Director Beth Werner blows my mind with her smarts, her passion and her modesty. She’s my hero.

Yes, it’s an indulgence-heavy list. I also donate regularly to Doctors Without Borders and pick up a lot of trash while walking my old yellow lab on the beach. So there.

(Addendum: Those last couple lines may come off defensive and flip. I don’t mean to be either – the hypocrisy of professing to care about others and then spending “extra” money on anything but charitable causes troubles me, but I’m not vying for sainthood yet, just trying to balance being good with having fun.)

Regarding the North Coast Journal’s ‘Really?’ cover story

Thinking on the NCJ’s current cover story regarding a local beauty pageant — coverworthy because here in Humboldt, we rarely hosts such events. Whether because we’re enlightened or just unimportant on the circuit is open to debate, as are the larger questions in the story: Do beauty pageants damage young women’s self-esteem? Do they send the message that looks supersede everything else? Is a teen beauty pageant an appropriate fundraiser for an arts collective? OK, maybe those sound like rhetorical questions, but room for thought exists.

I thought about this at the gym today, climbing on the scale first to see what damage the recent road trip had done. A road trip that included an hour-long shopping session trying to find a bikini that didn’t make me want to flee from the dressing room mirror. On one hand, I thought, I sure am glad I don’t live somewhere I have to wear a bikini on a regular basis. On the other, I’m disappointed my body is not capable of rocking a two-piece at all times.

This particular road trip involved returning to my hometown, the place where I spent my teen years hating myself for being such a hideous beast. Sunkissed blonde hair, a killer tan, big blue eyes and an hourglass bod — you know, horrible. I went without meals, made myself throw up, took speedy drugs to kill my appetite and was disappointed I never truly developed an eating disorder. What a loser, right? At 5’6″ and 125 lbs., I wanted to be 100. I look back at photos and am still appalled — not because I appear obese, but because I spent all that time thinking I was when I should’ve been reveling in the glow of young sexy womanhood. (Experience turned into short story here.)

I have daughters. I tried to shield them from influences — media and otherwise — that would diminish their sense of self-worth. I tried to ensure they cultivated talents beyond being beautiful, because at some point, even pretty girls need brains and personality to get by. With mixed results, cultural norms able to reach even behind the Redwood Curtain. But I think the Humboldt vibe, the lack of TV, the focus on a multitude of ways in which to succeed have helped. I like to think so.

That said, being “pretty” is not a bad thing. Beauty’s long been appreciated in all sorts of cultures, albeit differently defined in various eras by various people. Maybe we attach too much importance to being hot and not enough to being smart or kind, but even today, fashion magazines aside, it’s not as hard to be pretty as people make it out to be.

Almost anyone can shape his or her body into being nicely defined without too much fat. Well-fitting clothes go a long way, as does a good haircut and understated makeup. Those superficialities out of the way, confidence, humor, charm and generosity overshadow most perceived physical “flaws” — that’s why otherwise less conventionally attractive people end up shining in social situations, emanating sex appeal, while otherwise prettier people are left leaning on the wall to wallow in their insecurity. Or sometimes people have both naturally chiseled features and killer personalities. Life’s unfair like that. But people who decry those who happen to be beautiful as if they’ve done something wrong remind me of people who stop liking something, a band, perhaps, or a restaurant, simply because it’s become popular. Like, quit your whining, already, you sour-grapers.

All that really matters is people strive to be the best versions of themselves on all fronts. A beauty pageant can crush a tender young soul or it can be a lot of fun. However, given the depressingly common amount of self-loathing among teen girls, examining the ways in which we, as a culture, induce and reward eating disorders, cosmetic surgeries and other unhealthy behaviors is not only worthwhile, but imperative. I hope the event is a blast for the people involved and I’m glad the NCJ opted to highlight the issues surrounding it.

I should sleep, but…

Just for the record, I am not all about the gloomy. In case I need to point that out. My life has always been a mix of good luck and less so. I am somewhat used to the rollercoaster ride. Last year was particularly fabulous; this year has been especially challenging. But even these past troubled months have served up lovely moments with friends, a trip-of-a-lifetime to New York, and lots of laughter and joy on the ol’domestic front. I continue to love both my main gig and my weekend moonlighting on KSLG. I get to speak to people about taking better care of the ocean and I get to be on the radio. Pretty sweet.

I’ve been surfing a lot.

True, lately I’ve felt that I’m losing both my bearings and my sense of humor. Also true, some problems can’t be fixed and that makes me sad. Other problems have solutions, but finding them requires patience and self-discipline, both of which are hard for me to practice and that makes me grumpy. Some problems fall in between; I can’t fix them alone, but I can act in ways that might help. That means I have to accept some things require me to step up and yet are not completely within my control so results aren’t guaranteed. That scares me and makes me feel lonely.

But I know all this, which is good. (And I’m terribly sleepy, which makes my writing bad!)

Wishing a suitable ending sentence would allow me wrap up this post on just the right self-effacing, slightly-corny-yet-endearing note, but nothing’s coming to mind. So… um… well… good night!

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