Subtraction, Not Addition

Remember back in October when I made goals for this year? Could I have pictured where I am today? Not that today is so crazy different from any other day, but did I know what opportunities or interests would present themselves in seven months? No.

Back in October, I said I would submit for publication in April. That didn’t happen, though I did write an essay and I did get some poems rejected that I had submitted previously. For May, I said that I would write a romance novel (#secretpassion #dreamjob), but I’m not actually feeling it right now. Instead, I want keep working on essays, or just building the writing habit, rather than taking on a shiny new project.

In fact, projects are something I’ve been thinking about cutting out lately. Simplify is a word that’s been floating around my brain lately. Minimize too. I’ve been thinking about doing less, having fewer responsibilities. Instead of trying to fill my days, even to fill them better, I have been thinking about emptying them.

Of course, it’s a challenge. Yesterday on my run, I thought of a couple of friends of mine who just ran a half-marathon (I could do that, I thought), then remembered another friend who did a triathalon last summer (I could do that too, I thought), then remembered a friend’s sister who’d been on the rowing team in college (I’d have great arms) until finally, I had to say, almost outloud, whoa whoa whoa Canter, slow down. Wasn’t the point to do less? 

Oh yeah. Less.

Fewer meetings, less running around means more time to cook, to read, to sleep. More time cooking and reading and sleeping might mean more time writing, but if it doesn’t, well cooking and reading and sleeping are pleasures in their own right, not just a means to an end.

Fewer shirts in the closet means less folding. Fewer products in the bathroom means less digging around when I want the sunscreen. Fewer late nights might mean more time in the morning for writing, meditating, taking the cat outside, but if not, sleeping in is good too.

What would I rather do? What would make me happy? That was the point of this blog, once upon a time.

The best “challenges” I’ve ever done on this blog have been the daily present and cutting out restaurants. They were small (well maybe not the restaurant goal), and there was no definitive outcome attached; it was more about behavior change, an attitudinal shift. That’s what I’d like for May.

May challenge: spend 5 minutes (or more) outside everyday. Walking two and from the car doesn’t count.

Mid-April Musings

I am writing this outside on the patio, half in the shade, feet in the sun, looking over at my cat occasionally as she explores the world. She’s on a leash, but I’m not attached to the other end. We’re working on trust.

I love to watch Hillary outside. She is very quiet, unlike in the apartment when she sometimes runs around screaming like a banshee. I suppose I might too if I was a wild animal in a one bedroom apartment. Oh right, I am a wild animal in a one bedroom apartment. At least I’m not reliant on her to let me out once in a while, though maybe it’d be better for both of us if I was.

I’m taking a second day off (in a row!) after the craziness of this weekend. Derbs, work, derbs for three days straight, and next weekend is all work again. But it’s in the mountains, so it will be good as well as exhausting.

I’m thinking a lot about the usual things: veganism, minimalism, writing, how I want to simplify my life and do more with the time I have. Instead of that, I go on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I don’t spend enough time outside on this lovely patio, watching my lovely cat. I want to make all these changes all at once, to give up everything extraneous, and focus only on what matters: health, writing, relationships. It’s depressing to think of everything that needs to be changed–give up oreos, eat more salads, less Twitter, more poetry, solve world hunger then gender inequality.

I’m trying to remember to take small steps, to give myself credit where credit is due. For taking time off to recuperate. For taking more time when that time wasn’t enough. For eating my vegetables. For going outside.

In one of my favorite poems, Mary Oliver asks, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Maybe I should write a follow up poem to answer, “and how?”

In like a Lion, Out like a…

March has been a crazy month. It feels as though it flew by, and all my typical good-behavior habits flew out the window with it.

In a nutshell, I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been going to poetry class. I haven’t been writing my morning pages. I obviously haven’t been blogging. And I’d like to claim that it was all because I was in New York last week, but it wasn’t. I was skipping classes before that. It isn’t like you’ve seen a post.

So what have I been doing? Working, it feels like, though probably not much more than ever (except last week, which was just one whirlwind of work though it was amazing every minute as well). Sleeping some, it seems; at least, I’ve overslept enough times to skip writing or a morning run this month. Drinking a lot of coffee. Oh to see the number of times that Starbucks appeared in my accounting this month! Well, we’ll save that for another post.

I’ve read some: a book of essays by Jane Hirshfield (which might have been why I slept so much), The Master and Margarita, my favorite trashy romance, a lot of internet.

I don’t want to spend time on what I did to fill my time this month; I want to spend time on getting back on track. I call it “going into robot mode:” that time when I put life on autopilot so that the good things get done because I’m not thinking about them, just doing them. It means getting back into the regular workout routine, regular grocery shopping, regular writing. Not because I want to or because I feel I have much to say right now, but because I know if I do it, something will come.

I did write a bit this month, the start of an essay on my veganism, since everyone I meet seems to have an opinion (mostly the same dumb opinion) about it. And on Monday, my flash creative nonfiction class starts, so theoretically I might still get an essay in before the month is out.

Here’s to Fridays off, afternoons at the beach, and getting back on track.

Small Things

#Warning: Here there be #hashtags.

On Friday, I had a dentist appointment. It was the standard six month check-in, the kind I’ve avoiding for all of my adult life (also my childhood, #familyhabits), but when they asked if I wanted to schedule my next appointment at the end of my last, I said yes, and that easily it was done.

My appointment went well. My past appointments have not.

A couple of years ago I went to the dentist for the first time an eight year hiatus (I still had all my teeth so #nobigdeal) and was scared senseless. The devil dentist informed me that I’d need braces—again!—and that if I didn’t have about $2,000 worth of work immediately, I would likely lose all my teeth by age 45. #Nojoke.

I went home. I cried. Boyfriend very reasonably suggested that I get a second opinion. I kept crying. He looked up a different dentist on yelp and I called an made an appointment. The receptionist was very nice and got me in the next day (I was still crying and I think I freaked her out).

Next day: went to a different dentist in a different part of town. Dentist said everything was fine (obviously everything was very clean, I’d just been to a different dentist). He took new x-rays, said I didn’t need any work, didn’t even have a cavity (#perfectrecord). I may have cried again.  $2,000 was a lot of money then. It’s still a lot of money now, particularly to spend on braces I didn’t need.

I didn’t go back to the dentist again for a long time, probably close to two years. I didn’t have dental insurance and even though my second dentist had been very nice, I didn’t bother to make an appointment.

When I started my new job, dental insurance was part of the package, and since I was paying for it, I figured I might as well use it. I was nervous. I don’t have a good track record of picking good dentists. The last one I picked because they sent a mailer. The good one didn’t take my insurance, so they were out.

About six months ago, I ended up going to a dentist that opened up down the street from our apartment. It looked pretty clean from the outside, and they took my insurance. Plus, I’m more likely to go somewhere if I don’t to drive. Boyfriend looked at me like I was crazy. #Researcher. I figured the worst thing that would happen would be that they’d tell me I needed $2,000 in dental work and I wouldn’t be fooled this time.

I told them my story up front, so they didn’t try to upsell me or scare me with visions of rotting gums in middle age. They did suggest a retainer for my under-bite, and I took them up on that after going home and thinking about it. They took x-rays and they were nice. The dentist was a lady and I’m a misandrist like my mom so I like dentists and mechanics if they’re ladies (#jk but also #nojk). The tech talked to me very seriously about flossing and periodontitis, especially since I still have my wisdom teeth. I let them schedule me for a check-up when I left.

I started flossing. Not every day, but most days. Boyfriend went to the dentist and they suggested he start using mouthwash, so he bought some and now I use that too. These are not big changes. There are probably some people reading this, thinking “oh my god! How did you not floss and rinse before?!” but I just didn’t. I brushed. I didn’t have cavities. I didn’t think it would make that much difference. They were small things. They were inconvenient because I’d never done them.

Shockingly, the dentists were right (not the bad dentist, but probably every non-evil dentist in the world). Flossing and rinsing make a difference. I reversed my gingivitis. I saved some money because I didn’t have to have my wisdom teeth taken out (so far) or any other unpleasant expenses. I didn’t have any cavities. I didn’t need any fillings or caps.

This is a long post to get to the point, which is that small things matter. Small things like brushing and flossing matter, and often times, the tried-and-true method is tried so much because it’s true.

What I thought, what I learned

In February, I’ve gotten up, fairly reliably, at 6 a.m. every morning. Sometimes I’ve gotten up earlier, sometimes I’ve gone back to bed, but most days, I’m up at 6. Usually I start by writing my morning pages, a habit I picked up years ago from The Artist’s Way. I also usually exercise, either meeting a friend at the YMCA or going for a run. I exercise in the mornings because my evenings get away from me. I end up working late, coming home tired, frustrated, and in no mood to run in the dark.

I thought if I was getting up consistently in the morning, I’d have time to write (real writing, I tell myself, is not my morning pages, but my poetry or even imagine, something in prose) but that hasn’t happened. In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought I could squeeze hours of writing and an hour of exercise into one extra hour in the morning (sometimes a very tired hour at that); it defies the laws of physics.

I’m fighting the urge to be disappointed (in physics?). It feels as though I should be able to do more with less. I thought that careful scheduling would let me fit it all into a week, but I forgot to schedule time for rest, for brain-dead time. The thought has crossed my mind that maybe I need to do less with less: less work, less commitments, less expectations, less agreements, but so far, I’ve only thought about it fleetingly before turning back to whatever task is at hand.

February is almost over. I have some pretty good poems to show for it, though I’m not sure when I wrote them. I have some pretty sore muscles and some longer runs under my belt. I have money in the bank, more than in January, though I spent more too.

In March, my goal is to write an essay. That should be doable, since my nonfiction class starts at the end of the month. The trick will be finding time to write, time that is not in the morning, not squeezed in somewhere it doesn’t seem to want to fit. There must be other times, other places. It’s a matter of letting something go.

Welcome to February… Boom!

If January was marked by frugality, February 1st has been the feast after the famine. For the last week or so, I’ve avoided certain expenditures (all wants) in order to keep my net income for January high, but all that money has blown away with last night’s wind storm.

I exaggerate slightly, but only just. In one day, I have spent the following:

  • $33.71 – groceries this morning: peanut butter, oatmeal and coffee. The coffee was on sale, so I got three bags.
  • $77.12 – entry into the Hot Chocolate 15k. Turns out the chocolate is vegan!
  • $19 – entry into a children’s poetry contest that my mom sent me. The poem I wrote is not particularly geared toward children, but it’s not inappropriate for children, and the contest did say “poetry for children up to age 18” so I did it. I’d love to know more about what constitutes “children’s” poetry.
  • $250 – flash nonfiction class with Creative Nonfiction magazine. It’s a month-long class online and I hope it will help me get a feel for what a low residency MFA might be like. I also have wanted a subscription to CNF for forever, and now I have one.

Things still to come tonight:

  • $10 – Practice (and I owe $10 for the last time when I came late)
  • $? – More groceries because woman cannot live on peanut butter and oatmeal alone. She also needs bananas.

Proud

I did my numbers for January a little bit early (since, knock on wood, I’m not planning to spend anything in the next three days) and I have pretty awesome news.

January 2016 was my lowest expense month in the last 13 months (Jan ‘-15 to Jan ’16 inclusively). This month I spent $1,324.54 on my needs and my wants, and spent $0 on eating out. For reference, last January, I spent $2,241, which is a $900 difference!

Now, all of that wasn’t savings from just avoiding restaurants and drinking (most of it is probably not having a car payment), but it certainly reinvigorates my enthusiasm for cutting out restaurants from my budget. It’s awesome to see the numbers so low, and I think that avoiding restaurants helped me to stay mindful of my other spending and to keep it in line with my ultimate goals.

As a result of my awesome low expenses, I was able to put good money towards my goals:
$500 to retirement (not including payroll deduction)
$250 to “house” fund
$250 to emergency fund

Ideally, I’d love to be able to keep this up throughout the year (we’ll see!) but I know that there will probably be months when I can’t, so I’ve already socked aside $50 in each category for February, hoping that a little bit a time will get me there more easily.

Back in the doldrums of my last post, I told one of my friends that we’d go out to eat on February 2nd to celebrate the end of my restaurant ban. I think now that I’m going to have to come up with something else for us to do because it feels wrong to ruin this much success with the exact thing I’ve been avoiding (kind of like eating a big chocolate cake when you hit your goal weight). Plus, I want to see the same or better results in February!

 

Another Post About Food

All I have wanted all week is a beer and a “fish” sandwich from Evolution, a vegan fast food joint on the other side of the park from where I work.

That’s not completely true.

Sometimes I have also wanted pad se ewe from Plumeria.

Not eating out is hard.

I thought I was getting better about it, and I suppose I am if you compare January to December, but it is still really challenging. I still remember how good the food is at Plumeria and Evolution. I still want it.

Upon learning I’m vegan, or vegetarian before that, people have often asked “how could you give up meat? It tastes sooo good!” and, besides the ethical motivation, the fact that I don’t remember what meat tastes like makes it easy to keep up. It’s hard to miss something you barely remember. I can almost taste the pad se ewe now. It would go well washed down with a “fish” sandwich if I could find room in my stomach for both.

There are nine more days in January. What have I learned, besides that it’s hard?

Food is for comfort; at least, when I am stressed or anxious, I turn to food for comfort, and particularly, I turn to eating out as a way to relieve some pressure for providing for myself and as an escape from whatever has got me so anxious. What I make, at least what I made this week, doesn’t comfort me in the same way. It’s sustenance to keep slogging through, but it isn’t a break. Maybe that’s because I eat at my desk or with my computer. #Badhabit.

I plan to permit myself one “huzzah break!” meal in February, then it’s back on the make-it-yourself-bandwagon. I am saving money and I do like a challenge.

Changing Plans

Life has felt extra busy lately, and I know that I make it so. This week in particular work has been exhausting (probably because I worked all weekend as well) so I’ve been feeling unproductive, exacerbated by mega-exercise and derby tryouts. I need to slow down and think more about what I want, then put that into action, instead of letting myself get carried away by the tide of “busy.”

On that note, I’ve been looking at the monthly goals I laid out in October and I’ve decided I’m going to scrap February’s no sugar goal. Of all the things I could care about in my life, how much sugar I eat/drink is just not on the list right now. I’d rather focus on writing or meditation.

So February’s challenge is now up for grabs. I think I’m going to continue the “no restaurant” challenge into February as well. It’s a short month and not eating out is one of the biggest challenges I’ve set for myself, but so far I’ve survived January and my pocketbook thanks me. I’ve also noticed that there are a few online creative nonfiction classes that I’d like to take, and having a little extra money to put towards writing would appreciated.

Earlier this week, one of the poets in the Wednesday group I attend emailed me to compliment my criticism and to ask if I’m in an MFA program. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten positive feedback on my analysis and it’s brought up for me again thoughts of going for an MFA and possibly going into teaching (#inevitable). It’s only been a few days, but taking an online class in nonfiction would give me a nice taste of what a long distance program might feel like. But a class is another way to get busier instead of calmer.

This weekend I’m looking forward to time. Time to run tomorrow morning and talk with the Boy and time to think about what we talk about. Time to recover from long days of work and if the weather cooperates, time to lie in the grass beneath the sun.