Month: July 2013

Art Show Cupcakes

art show cupcakes

Are you kidding me? You actually wanted to make these? This was a test… and you failed. Hard.

Have you not read this yet?

Okay, fine. I promised you a recipe. Here’s the shortened version:

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 cup hydrogenated oil (it’s great for your heart)

Some sprinkles, and whatever else you need to make a legitimate cake.

1. Mix

2. Bake

3. Eat

4. Watch your pants not fit

That’s all you’re getting from me.

Giving Up Wheat

These foolish grains... Are tearing me apart.

These foolish grains… Are tearing me apart.

Abstract: Giving up wheat wasn’t that hard for me… It just took about four years.

Allow me to tell you a tale or two. Tales involving a young heroine and an evil grain of wheat. Once upon a time, some stuff happened… (I’m going to skip ahead a little):

Finally saying goodbye to wheat this last and final time took years and years of having it beaten into my head how bad it was for me. It’s not like I could have possibly learned it right away, saving myself from countless waves of frustration. No, I had to savor defeat via wheat for quite sometime before I finally gave up my masochistic tendencies and surrendered to corn chips instead.

From Eat Right For Your Type Diet by Dr. D’Adamo, to all the hype over gluten-free foods, to the talk about grains in general being crap for you, and finally to the myriad of instances where I woke up the morning after eating wheat and saw my body retaining water (or storing fat) and looking just plain unattractive, it took me about the time it takes someone to get their BS in nutrition to realize that eating wheat just wasn’t treating me so well.

I have no scientific evidence to back me up. I mean, I know it’s out there. I’m just not going to cite any. I’ve read more articles on wheat and gluten than probably most anyone who doesn’t actually have a medical reason to give up gluten has. It used to be a small obsession of mine. The truth is, I love researching and gathering information, but I’m much more interested in how something works for me in personal experience than what an article says. The information may be well-supported, but regardless of how many people applaud the findings, unless it has a direct relation to what I see in my own life, it’s kind of a moot point.

So, I trust if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of why gluten free might benefit you, Google is a much better resource than I will ever be.

Suffice it to say, I know the evidence exists, and I’m sure that eating wheat probably does clog your system and slow your metabolism (at least in bodies for whom that’s a potential issue– one of which would be mine). Whenever you have a problem, it seems doctors recommend trying to give up wheat and dairy to see if it clears. Wheat is a common allergen (or maybe it’s the gluten in the wheat, again I’m not a scientist). Most somewhat-nutritionally-savy people today are at least familiar with the concept of gluten being potentially unhealthy.

But…

I also know that eating wheat is ingrained in many cultures (ingrained— get it?), and that the tradition of eating wheat often trumps facts and data. Plus, it’s addictive. Who doesn’t love bread and pasta and all that other stuff that’s the edible (and legal, in fact, Federally-sponsored) equivalent of dope?

The other day when I wasn’t eating a sub, my cousin told me she’d read an article where one doctor said if you do one thing for your health, give up wheat (yes, even “whole wheat” and all the other variety of labels on bread and pasta that attempt to make you feel better about what you’re eating). Then a moment later I saw her carrying her plate (with sub) to sit and eat dinner. I love that.

No, really I’m being sincere. I think it’s refreshing when people actually do what they want, regardless of research– which is forever in a state of flip-flop, anyway. If you love wheat and you’ve never experienced any adverse side-effects from it, I don’t see why you should deprive yourself. It might not be worth the stress! 🙂 Not to mention, we’re all going to die of something. One of my favorite quotes seems applicable here.

“I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.” –Jack London

The truth is, I don’t care if I live to 100. I’m not that much of a control freak to presume I can  bake a soufflé or raise a respectable canine, let alone choose how long I’m going to live by avoiding every little thing that potentially causes cancer or some other illness (which, by the way, I just read in the news today: is the chair you’re sitting on…).

So while I’m really not the health freak you probably think I am, for me, I simply saw the side effects of wheat in my own body and they weren’t pretty. I’m not one to waste my time trying to prolong my life, but I would prefer not to walk around like a lethargic, puffy-faced zombie.

After eating wheat, I would need more sleep (beyond my usual nine…) I would feel groggy in the morning. My face would be bloated the next day (and I’ve already got a plenty full enough face even on a thin day).

The most recent wheat episode, the straw of wheat that broke the camel’s back, you might say, was about a month and a half ago. It was the night before my best friend’s wedding (that does have a ring to it, doesn’t it?) I had a few cookies, maybe a celebratory mini cannoli or two. We were having a sleepover in the bridal suite, and what can I say, I wanted to let lose.

The next morning, after a crappy night’s sleep, my lymph nodes were hurting. Under my arms, in my neck. It was probably the most wheat I’d eaten in awhile, and I was paying for it. That was one of the last* signs I needed to experience to realize I wanted to flip the bird to gluten once and for all. This sudden burst of anger at a grain was how I knew my on-and-off relationship with wheat was finally coming to an end. (Cue violin)

*This didn’t ultimately stop me from drunkenly eating wedding cake off a stranger’s plate, but after that night, I was done. By the way, great cake, Hil.

Like I said, it took me about four years from the moment I learned of the possibility that wheat wasn’t working for me to when I actually quit for good. I’d quit plenty of times before, but once I reached my weight-loss goal, or I’d get momentarily side-tracked by another study that touted the benefits of whole grains (twist my arm, alright I’ll have a bagel!), I went right back to it.

Truth be told, sometimes I just live so much in the moment that I have a short memory when it comes things that have caused me duress in the past. It’s like I have to re-learn the same lesson 1,000 times until it finally sinks in. This is where writing things down comes in handy. But then you have to remember where you put it. Oh right, on my website…

Besides waking up with cranky lymph nodes the day of my friend’s wedding (congratulations Milary Zoneklinger), there are two other wheat-ups that convinced me to quit, although one of them happened like, three years ago… See? I told you I’m a slow learner. I like to call that one:

Art show cupcakes deceptively placed upon silver platters

Art show cupcakes deceptively placed upon silver platters

The Great Cupcake Mishap

My boyfriend at the time was having an art show opening and we made these really cool mini cupcakes (we decked them out hard). They looked really professional. Okay, I have to be honest: No, no they didn’t at all. (See picture above for confirmation.)

Anyway, cupcakes used to be my favorite food in the world. Well, cake in general, but cupcakes tend to have a perfect ratio of frosting to cake (I love frosting). The cupcakes were (kind of) a real hit. Although they looked really professional (wink), there were still quite a few left over after the show. So naturally, we gave some away and took the rest home.

The rest is history, in which for the next week I substitute breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with mini cupcakes. I figured the calories would equal out if I ate nothing else. Wrong. Well, at least something went wrong I don’t know if it was sugar, carbs, or calories but the result was called: my thighs expanded, and so did the rest of me. After a week, I thought the damage was done. Wrong. I keep gaining weight! Probably for another two or three weeks, I felt like there was nothing I could do as I slowly gained weight, and couldn’t seem to lose it. Luckily I didn’t have a scale at the time. Maybe it was three to five pounds, I have no idea. But for someone who figured they were eating so slyly as to simply maintain their weight with mini cupcakes, it was pretty annoying. I really wouldn’t have eaten all those if I thought I couldn’t get away with it! (And everyone had to hear me complain about my cupcake weight for weeks, so no one got out of this debacle scot-free.)

By the way, if you want it, here’s the recipe for art show cupcakes.

That’s when I realized that for me, sugar and wheat calories weren’t equal to the way my body metabolised (shout out to my friends in the UK!) other types of calories I could consume. There’s no doubt in my mind, if I’d eaten the same number of calories in vegetables, fruits, and even proteins and fats, not only wouldn’t I have gained that weight, I would have maintained or perhaps even lost some. I told my boyfriend he could never have another art show again, which solved the problem until…

My Best Friend’s Wedding (see above)

And,

My Sister’s Fat Foot (see below)

This is the most recent gluten tragedy to befall our family, and hopefully it’s the last. Apparently my sister is just as dim as I am* when it comes to realizing the toll wheat takes on our bodies because she’s been saying for a while now that wheat really effs her up. She continues, however, to drink beer (and get really effed up) and eat wheat (also getting really effed up). One of my realizations as to why I should continue not eating wheat happened a couple of weeks ago when, after a particularly “I don’t give an eff” session with wheat, my sister paid the price. In her feet. I mean foot.

*Yet she’s smart enough to sail rather effortlessly through pharmacy school, so it’s a special strain of stupidity. It’s probably genetic.

Her left foot became so swollen, it was as if someone had re-created it with marshmallows. She was either nine months pregnant or really stupid about eating wheat. Seeing as she hates kids and her stomach was flat, I deducted it was the latter. (Just kidding, she doesn’t hate kids, she just loves them from afar.)

After finally wizening up and quitting the gluten fluency, her foot went back to normal. Whenever she stops, her foot/feet look normal. Whenever she eats wheat, one or both look really stupid. I say she’s lucky it’s in her feet, rather that than her thighs, like me.

Anyway, that was a clear illustration to me of just how strangely wheat can affect our bodies. Granted, we have two totally different body compositions, but I was happy to let her feet do the talking for me. I’d already given up wheat, and this just reinforced what I already knew: that a pirate’s life isn’t for me, and neither is wheat. (But, I still love the open sea.)

I’m so happy that I gave up wheat. Do I miss it? Sure, just a little. For me, wheat isn’t the same as sugar, where if you finally break the habit, you just don’t miss it at all. Ironically, I never had such a hard time giving it up, because I never binged on bread and it never made me crazy. It’s not like I had withdrawal symptoms from going off of wheat, or anything. I think sometimes the more you go through in giving something up, the less likely you are to ever go back. Wheat for me has always felt like a choice. I can’t say I’ll never have another piece of bread in my life, but at this point it just doesn’t seem worth it.

Missing wheat slightly doesn’t override my peace of mind for having given it up. Whatever I can be in the habit of not eating that’s bad for me, I’m grateful for that change. I also respect of the work it took to get there (in this case, it’s more a culmination of time). I used to make dietary changes to lose weight. And whenever I hit my goal, say “Oh hell, let me have some of this as a reward…”

But now it’s not about weight, it’s about my mental and physical health. I’ve found that since my priorities have shifted, it’s not about being able to “get away” with things in my diet anymore like it used to be. I don’t really care if I can “get away” with a one-hundred calorie piece of bread, or some whole wheat pasta. The fact that I even have to think about it kind of takes away the pleasure. I’d rather eat a salad or some rice with an easy conscience.

If I really wanted to eat wheat, I could of course, but I know unequivocally the price isn’t worth it. By that I mean, the pleasure is really canceled out by my inner knowledge. It never was worth it, but I’ve just finally come to a solid realization of that fact. Besides, if rice, corn tortillas, oatmeal, popcorn, corn chips, potato chips and all those other grains/junk foods are still available (not to mention all of the gluten-free products now available), it’s hard to feel like I’m missing out that much anyway. (Not that I eat any of those very often, but I say that to illustrate just a few of the things you’re not missing out on by giving up wheat.)

It’s pretty easy to be gluten free, probably in today’s market more than ever. In avoiding wheat (and now sugar) it is really easy to stay away from all the problem foods that have forever plagued my attempts at a healthy diet. I look at giving up wheat as the gift that keeps on giving.

It also keeps my sister’s feet nice and slender… so she can finally ditch the dead-end pharmacy gig and realize her dream as a foot model. For what more could a family possibly ask?

my sister as a cupcake with a fat foot

my sister as a cupcake with a fat foot (does this mean she’s a cannibal?)

me as a cupcake (rainbow confetti, with my dog karat kake kate)

me as a cupcake (rainbow confetti, with my dog karat kake kate)

Cupcake art courtesy Kelsey McCarthy, 2013

Ginger Tea

It's not that kind of ginger, Ron.

Not that kind of ginger, Ron.

You know you’re a lazy cook when this sounds like too much effort. Sometimes just making something once is enough to get me over the hump. That’s what happened with this tea. Now I drink it every day. It’s suggested in Ayurvedic medicine, and supposedly it helps stoke your metabolism. I just like the taste.

Ingredients:

ginger

water

tea kettle or something more modern with which to heat your water

1. Slice the ginger. I think thinner is better, to create more surface area, but it probably doesn’t even matter. Sometimes I cut it into smaller pieces, and other times I’m laz–I mean, I’m “more respecting of my time” and just do larger chunks.

2. Heat the water.

3. When the water is boiling, throw the ginger in the water, or the water in the ginger. This is one of those recipes where, believe it or not, it’s alright to reverse the order of adding ingredients. Just trust me on this.

*I like to put the ginger in a metal thermos and the water into it. I sip it throughout the day. Spicy.

_______________________________________________________________

Post-recipe game plan:

4. Prepare to fall in love with this strangely refreshing, yet elegantly simple tea.

5. It sounds exotic, and you can impress all your friends with your fresh ginger tea. (But don’t try to pull that crap with me.)

Broccoli

If my broccoli looked like this, I would not eat it.

If my broccoli looked like this, I would not eat it. (We would cuddle instead.)

 

Steamed* Broccoli

*You actually don’t need a steamer to steam broccoli. I’ve never owned one and I do it every day. I’m sorry you were bamboozled into purchasing one of those funny racks. Please accept this recipe, as well as my condolence.

Ingredients:

broccoli

a pot (not to piss in) or pan

water

anything you’d like to put on top of your broccoli to make it more palatable (you can also just plug your nose and choke it down; I find that works best with children under the age of five) 

1. Throw some water in the bottom of a pan. If you can figure out how to make this work, feel free to put it in the top, instead. A centimeter or two will do. If you’re in the UK, you know what I’m talking about 😉

Americans, I’m sorry, this is a secret language I have with the Brits. Maybe Google can help you.

2. Throw some broccoli in the pan.

3. Cook on low/medium/high heat (depending on how hungry you are). It cooks rather quickly. I’m not very picky about how much it gets cooked, but I’d prefer it softer than not. Keep checking under the lid until the broccoli is almost as done as you like. Then turn off the heat with the top on and let it steam the rest of the way. This is called making broccoli green. 😉 Or you can just keep it on the heat until it’s exactly how you want it…

*If your kitchen smells like farts, you might have done it a bit too long. The broccoli is still fine, but your kitchen won’t trust you to use the stove again for at least another week.

4. Open the lid

5. Take the broccoli out

6. Put it on a plate or in a dish. Whichever you prefer. You are the head chef in this recipe.

7. Add whatever you want. I like butter, olive or coconut oil (this being my first choice). Sea salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic.

_______________________________________________________________

Post-recipe game plan:

7 1/2. Eat the broccoli. (Blow on it first. I’m not McDonald’s, so don’t try to sue me for it being too hot).

8. Try to hold back on telling people your favorite food is this broccoli. If you can’t, there’s a good chance that they’ll find someone cooler for president of the ping pong league.

How To Become A Success

If only I hadn't quit babysitting, this could be mine...

If only I hadn’t quit babysitting, perhaps this could be mine…

Am I a success? By my own definition, yes.

But if you ask my family and friends, you’re bound to get a mixed bag of reviews. It might be kind of entertaining. My parents are lovely and say they are proud of me, but I know they would love to see me have a pension, retirement, and health insurance… maybe even a real job (but I think even they know where to draw the line on expectation versus reality). My sister would say I’m lazy and useless, but at least I’m a positive influence in her life and I’m almost always in a good mood (see Testimonial page). Many others would say, “Uhh…nice girl, but successful?… Have you read her bio?” No, of course you haven’t read my bio– I purposefully left that page out!

I am not the world’s definition of success, but I have experienced some small degree of worldly (or what I like to call, extrinsic) success in the past. In past realms of my life, I’ve been a successful academic and started a successful babysitting business. Yes, hardly glamourous, but it served its learning purpose. For most of my working life, I have been able to afford to buy whatever thing I’ve wanted through a mixture of saving, working my butt off (you’d never know it to see me now) and being relatively good with my money. And I often took advantage of that fact. I bought nice things, drove a luxury car that used extra-expensive gasoline, and splurged on a beautiful Persian rug. I’ve taken nice trips, always had a boyfriend, get along easily with people, and my family and I are close. Oh right, I’m also “naturally good at yoga”. 😉

Any of those things could potentially be considered aspects of success to the outside world. I know they’re not mind-blowing, but for the purpose of this example, those are some of the small outside success markers I’ve achieved. (Don’t worry, I’m not high-fiving myself or anything.)

It’s not like I was Donald Trumpin’ it, but for a little while there it may have seemed to some people I was living the life. I had money and perceived freedom. My service was in demand (more on that later), I appeared to be in control of my life, had a convincing smile, and everything was just peachy.

Funny thing, I wasn’t thriving inside at all. I can almost directly correlate the times in which I bought the most extravagant things with my lowest levels of life-satisfaction and happiness. Someone once commented on how happy I was, and felt immediately indignant that  I wasn’t in the running for an Academy Award for whatever performance made him come up with that. It is through working solely for money, buying nice things, and doing everyone else’s bidding (keeping them happy at my expense), that I learned their relative unimportance to happiness.

Now, I’m not sure I always agree with that mantra, more money=more problems, and obviously money has a place in our lives. I’m not about to deem money evil, or say I could get on without it. We all need money to eat, put a roof over our heads, and buy the occasional pair of pants. But I believe that first of all, we all need a lot less money to get by and be happy than we think we do. At least for me, I’ve found that to be true. The other thing is that I think we put way more importance on using that money to impress people and buy things we think will give us an identity we are so desperately seeking, when we could in fact be using that money to increase our freedom and happiness by creating space in our lives. That’s kind of how I’ve been living and so far it’s working pretty well. I’ll be sure to keep you updated if it suddenly crashes into flames…

Regarding working, money, outer success, and happiness, I will say that for me, the following equation illustrates in overly-simplistic terms the path which led to my spiritual demise (for a period of time):

The more I worked, the more money I made and the happier people were with me. Also, the more accepted I was by a culture that seems to have a crush on workaholics. The more I was working, the less happy I was, yet the more things I was able to afford to buy, with which led to an attempt to comfort myself with material goods (hence my collection of designer bags). The less happy I was, the more I felt the need to buy things that validated the reason I was going to work in the first place.

It was like binging on ice cream after a break up. It doesn’t actually get the guy back, and it just ruins your waistline for the next one.

All the things I bought and all the money I earned and people I pleased (none of which ever seemed to include myself) were like putting band-aids over gunshot wounds– really ineffective at mending the problem.

Because I wasn’t getting intrinsic value from my job, I was seeking to fill the void in other ways. I lived this way for years, amassing money and things, but feeling emptier inside while my emotional and physical health declined. To the outside world, I was providing a service my clients greatly appreciated, I was in demand, constantly on the go, and making good money for someone my age, especially at a time when most people were struggling to find jobs.

I loved the freedom of making my own schedule (even though it was a moot point, since I worked every possible moment and sometimes booked myself with three jobs per day, only leaving room to just barely make it to the next one on time). I liked the idea of working freelance for myself, I loved the kids and the families and the bonds I created with them (some of which I still enjoy to this day). Sometimes I would be getting paid just to show up and play Wii while the kid was asleep. Other times I made money by hanging out and watching movies (Paul Blart, Mall Cop is actually kind of hilarious, in case you were wondering) with kids I adored. Sometimes I would pinch myself, and be like, is this real work? I love it. Except, after awhile, I didn’t. Turns out, for me, getting by on imagined perks can only take you so far.

Of course there were some drawbacks to the job itself, but the main thing was that I had reached a point of stagnation in my job. It wasn’t stimulating mentally, and I wasn’t utilizing my talents to their full potential (if at all). I’d always had people tell me I could write, and I really enjoyed it, but there was little room for writing, reading, research, or spiritual pursuit when kids wanted attention and dinner (plus that’s not what I was getting paid for). What had once been a job I was so excited to begin as soon as I turned twelve years old (I think the Babysitter’s Club books may have brainwashed me into it) had overstayed its welcome in my quest for personal development (and having a real life) after thirteen years.

And look, I’m no brainaic, but I’d always imagined more for myself. I’d started babysitting as a temporary gig, to get me through high school and college, as a handy source of income that, for some reason I had some kind of weird talent for. I’d never intended it to become a life-long career, and yet there I was, just about at the age my mom was when she had me, still babysitting other people’s kids. When I turned twenty five, I realized my life wasn’t just going to snap into shape without me taking some sort of charge of it (crazy, right?). And that’s when I became a success.

[crickets in the audience]

Oh, don’t get me wrong. On the outside, my life looked like a sweet mess. I quit my jobs and broke up with my boyfriend within a day of each other. I had no plan. People wondered what I did all day. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how that would go, either. I just knew I had a nagging feeling that I had to quit, and I had to quit now. Like, one more minute would be too much. So I quit.

The coolest thing, was that almost miraculously, I had absolutely no problem keeping busy (I can’t remember the last time I was bored). Not only that, but I became more productive than ever, since I was finally able to craft my own schedule and get as much sleep as I needed. That quickly eliminated all those lost hours of being a walking zombie from not being able to keep my sleep schedule regular enough to fit in with my irregular working hours. I’m sure to most people I seemed (still seem) like first-rate nut case, but I didn’t care. How could I when I was finally living the dream? That’s cheesy, but it’s the line that kept playing through my head as I was eating tuna out of a can and wondering how long my savings would last me.

Some people told me they were proud of me, and one friend even told me they wished they had the balls to quit their job, too. But look, a former-long-time-babysitter who doesn’t work and has no plan for the future fits very few people’s definition of success.  So it came in handy that I’d stopped caring what people thought a while before the shift (or at least I’d stopped letting any nuisance residual sensitivity in that area dictate the choices I made or actions I took). That made for one less thing to worry about.

So how did I finally quit my job? I kind of glossed over that up there, but I think it adds to the story. I did it in progressions, and I saved money as much as I could first of all.

*Fun fact, during my money-making hey-day I once put down an offer on a house, which in hindsight is the most beautiful thing that I got outbid. I also tried again once more but that fell through, also. Seriously, some angel probably flew down from heaven to stop that from happening, that’s how lucky I feel that didn’t happen. I’ve always loved real estate, and in fact I used to say I would never pay rent, I’d just save up enough money for a down payment and move straight into my own home. But seeing it as I do now, if you’re anything like me, to tie yourself down and become house-poor if you’re currently stuck in a job you’d eventually like to quit, is not making it easy on yourself, unless you’re able to flip that house (!!). To have to pay a mortgage and do this would have been next to impossible, and selling your house isn’t always such a quick trick.

So I’d already started two years before, when I quit my second job working as a legal assistant at a law office downtown. I worked for a lawyer whom I’d started babysitting for, and she was the best boss I could have asked for. I did that for about three years, along with babysitting and going to school full time. Although I liked who I was working with, I realized an office job just wasn’t for me. It was also, by nature, a regular job, and although she was as flexible as any human being could reasonably be, the nature of the work required that I be there a certain amount of time each week (I hear that’s a common thing with jobs…). I wanted more freedom, and I was getting a lot of sitting requests. I figured if I switched over to all sitting, I’d have more control of my schedule and I’d make just as much, if not more money. Plus I could wear sweatpants (anyone who knows me know’s that the number one prerequisite for me– although now I’ve downgraded, or upgraded, however you want to look at it, if you even want to go there at all, to an occasional bathrobe day here and again. Maybe I should just keep it to Fridays…).

About a year later, even though I loved the freelance-style of booking all my own gigs and choosing my work hours independently, I was getting antsy again. So I weeded out the regular sitting jobs that made me feel the most anxious. They usually only involved me working one or two days per week. But I’d worry so much about them that even when I wasn’t there, it stressed me out almost all the time. Sometimes it was the parents, and sometimes it was the kids– hey, sometimes maybe it was even me. Either way, the jobs just weren’t the right fit.

So I’d already cut back in the stress department and I basically had my favorite jobs on the line-up. I was ready to go!

This configuration seemed like the best blend of babysitting/having an income and freedom I’d come up with yet. I thought maybe I could keep on doing it indefinitely until I figured out “what I want to do with my life” (a popular refrain of mine for quite some time at that point), so I told the families I’d kept that I wouldn’t book any regular dates (like every Thursday night, for example) but that I would be happy to work for them on a per-diem basis.

The freedom of not having a set schedule was magical. It was more than magical, it was addicting. I loved working here and there, having a totally different plan from one week to the next. I thrived on not knowing when I would get asked to work and I loved the flexibility, but I was still able to keep the money coming in. I’d also upped my prices, which I was able to do because I had my pick of jobs to take. Also, since I didn’t feel strapped financially, I was basically doing it as I pleased. So since I wasn’t really dependent on working for a particular family or not, and when people agreed to pay the higher price, that made each job even more lucrative. Having a take it or leave it approach can be pretty empowering, and luckily I was in that position.

So for a while I was doing these great jobs, basically free to choose whether I would work or not work on any given day, and loving it… for a little while. But then, almost out of no where, that same, familiar sense of dread set in. That’s when I realized that even getting paid great money to hang out in beautiful houses with sweet kids and watch TED Talks or eat snacks while they slept wasn’t enough. I came to realize that no matter how cushy my babysitting gigs got, or how attached I felt to the families, this job was never going to be enough for me. It wasn’t about the money. It wasn’t even worth the money anymore– which was ironic, because I had just begun making more money on the regular than ever before. Even though I had just about all the time and freedom in my schedule I could want, I still wasn’t happy.

For some time after that dread set in, I tried to make it work. I tried to reason with myself that this was ridiculous. After all, what else better did I have to do with my time? I worked a handful of hours per week and most of my jobs now consisted of putting kids to bed and hanging out.

There was no discernible reason I could rationalize putting a stop to the gravy train and pulling the plug on my work. It didn’t make sense to me, which I found really frustrating and kept trying to grapple with. But one day I’d finally had enough. It came when I realized I was literally making myself ill when I thought about going to work. My stomach was in knots. I felt trapped in a device of my own making. I’d worked for these people for five, six years. We’d built up relationships. And even though I couldn’t quite put a reasonable twist of logic to my decision, I couldn’t argue with such a strong feeling that had now overcome me.

I could say otherwise all I wanted, but every time I showed up for a job, it was like a physical affirmation that watching kids, making macaroni and cheese, and changing diapers was all I had to offer to the world. It went against every deeply-held belief I had about myself, and yet, it was what I was doing because I just didn’t want to give up the feeling of having an income, and I didn’t want to let other people down. (I also had a pretty bad case of being a people-pleaser, although I’d slowly been working on that for the last year or so). But it got to the point where I realized I just might have to let some people down, and my bank account wither, in order to be fair to myself and finally start living a real version of life. In truth, I’d never really given myself a chance to prove I could do otherwise, or better.

By staying, I truly felt like I was letting myself down, but by leaving, I was letting the families down, too. I knew I still was doing a good job; in fact I may have been doing a better job than ever before in some ways, because I was much more calm and confident in the role. I’d become more laid-back, stayed more present, actually enjoyed the company of the kids I was with more than I maybe ever had. In a funny way, I had actually built up a skill set over the years, in babysitting, unimpressive as that may sound. But on the other hand, didn’t they want someone who wanted to be there?

I knew there were bright-eyed young girls (the kind of girl I used to be) who would have jumped at the chance to take over my jobs. Maybe they were better at playing pretend with the kids, and I’m sure their enthusiasm would more than make up for any lack of experience they had. Wouldn’t it be better all around, ultimately, to come clean and let them know I had to end it? It felt like breaking up with a boyfriend (don’t worry, I saved that one for the next day)… I was a bit anxious to hear what their reactions, but I had become even more worried about myself and what I would feel like if I didn’t do what I knew I needed to. It ultimately wasn’t even a choice; I knew I had to step down from my jobs. I hoped they would understand, but I had gotten to the point of no return, no matter what anyone said or thought of it.

True to fashion, I did it pretty un-gracefully. I told one mom matter-of-factly as I showed up for a job, as gently as I could, that it was probably going to be my last one for awhile, and another I told via text when she asked me to sit that weekend, sounding like the real flake that I was. I also cited some problem with my boyfriend, which actually came in handy– though it was entirely true. I’ve always been pretty good at demolishing my life in one fell swoop.

So, after a chat, a text, and a little bit of stress, I effectively quit my jobs. A few straggling people called me after and asked if I sat, and although I would have liked to help, I just had to tell them I wasn’t doing it anymore. It wasn’t easy to feel like I was letting other people down, but I’d learned emotionally, mentally, and physically, the ramifications of not following my heart. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore, and I promised myself after all that, I wouldn’t put myself back into a situation unless I absolutely wanted to be there.

I have no idea what the future holds for me. But I can honestly say, it’s not something I think about much or worry about at all. I have faith and through living in the present moment I have found satisfaction and inner peace that to me is beyond the value of anything I got by pushing myself through a daily grind. I believe in helping people, and using your energy and talents to better the world. But I believe in doing so with balance, and in your own personal way. My goal was to find happiness and build from there, instead of the upside-down way I’d try to pursue happiness before.

Now everyday, I am literally living the dream. I’m thrilled to wake up and start each day. I feel inspired and free and more loving to everyone I’m around. I don’t base my happiness on things going perfectly. My life certainly isn’t perfect, nor do I think I’ve got it all figured out, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing. I know I’m wherever I am today for a reason, and tomorrow the same will be true. I’ve found a deep satisfaction in the most mundane things, and deep love for others in the smallest interactions. A feeling of gratitude has begun popping up for things I’m able to do for others, which is something rather new for me.

It’s as if I’m inhabiting a whole new world that was just one degree away from the one in which I always used to live. I drank out of a little bottle that said Drink Me and my whole world’s been just a little bit more colorful and real, in a curious way, since then.

I was talking to a friend last night and we were discussing satisfaction (our definitions of it differed). I told him that I felt satisfied many times each day. He asked me for an example, and the first one that came to mind was lunch I’d eaten that day (a salad I’d made with kale and quinoa and a home-made dressing– dressing is one of the only things I cook 😉 ). He wanted a better example, so I told him about a fly that landed on my leg a few days ago that was the most beautiful color green I had ever seen, like a tiny glistening rainforest. I think he got fed up then and stopped trying to make his point.

For me, my great success is having found a way to be happy, even when someone might look at my life and think, “What’s she got to be so happy about?” (Nothing specific, honestly). And then, ironically, some people might look at the residual material items from my old life, like my car or my clothes or my bags, and think, “Oh, it’s easy for her to be happy– look at what she’s got”. And yet, not only don’t I use most of those things anymore, they are quite literally the furthest thing from my mind when it comes to my happiness. The closest they have come to giving me happiness is through serving their purpose in revealing their unimportance. It took me a little while to realize that, but it’s one of the lessons I’m most grateful to have learned. I consider all the money, energy, time spent at work that I didn’t always want to be doing that paid for these items an ultimately worthwhile price. If I had never owned them, and experienced whatever minute level out outer success that I have, I would have never been able to truly experience just how unimportant outer things are, compared to the happiness within.

And by the way, just to be clear, this isn’t a happiness I have a monopoly on or anything. I’m not special. We all have access to it. My point is that you need very little in life to experience what to me is one of the most fulfilling states of being. We’ve all experienced it at some point, and my goal is to live in that all the time. I don’t think that’s crazy, I think not to try for it is.

You don’t even have to relinquish all of your stuff and go live in a monastery or give up wine and sex. But it does require getting real with yourself. And probably, from the part of you that loves to control things, there’s never a good time for that to happen– or at least it will never seem like a good time. Sometimes, going back to your roots can feel like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice In Wonderland. And you may wish at times you’d never opened that pandora’s box of all the things in your life that perhaps aren’t as good for you as you once hoped or thought. But please believe me when I say it’s worth it. If you’re not happy now with all the things you have, getting more of the same is not going to do a darn thing, except maybe put you deeper into debt or clutter. I think the best part of all of this is that it’s entirely free and truly available to everyone, their right as a human being.

Some people say life isn’t fair. That isn’t for me to comment, but I will say whether that’s apparently true or not, it’s probably not the most enlightening way to view the world and your place in it. You get to choose your world view, so why not choose an empowering one? The one thing that makes me believe life is fair is that it’s actually possible to be happy with your life through such small and available things as connection with nature and loving yourself. Those things don’t have a monetary price, so there’s kind of no excuse. Oh, I’m sure we could all come up with a million, but is that going to make us any better off?

Not to mention, in coming in touch with yourself you begin to see what you would have once considered to be “bad things” as ways you can increase your consciousness and challenge yourself to become stronger and wiser. I learned a lot from all the time and money I wasted doing and buying things that brought me absolutely no inner joy, so it wasn’t a waste at all. It was a super learning opportunity that I’m stronger for today.

So nothing is wasted when you’re living your life this way. It’s all part of your journey, so it becomes fuel for your inner journey. And when you’re wiling to bring things to the light, they’re never as scary as you imagined anyway. It’s like that pile of dishes I tackled by hand today. I was dreading it for weeks, but once I started doing it I felt totally fine about it. That’s like what you could do with your life, except probably not quite as thrilling as me getting those dishes done. 😉

In the end, you can brush this off as hippie mumbo jumbo, but I hope you won’t. Because life may be short, but it’s still too long to spend it unhappy. Not to mention, it’s really nice when you start finding your way back to yourself. You weren’t meant to be your own stranger! And I promise, you won’t bite.

How To Never Be Late Again

This used to be me. (Minus the red jacket.)

This used to be me. (Minus the tail, of course)

I’m really bad at showing up late. And by bad I mean good. As in skilled. I show up late to parties like I care about being fashionably late. I swear, I don’t. It’s just that I have this really, really awfully horrible vice-grip addiction to doing things on my own time. When I say that, I mean it’s become a passion of mine. And because my personal time zone is somewhere like a three-hour to three-year lag behind everyone else, I’m always out of tune with what’s going on.

Say for example I’m lucky enough to finally be in the mood for a party on the night it’s happening. There’s a good chance I’m still reading or writing by the time 75% of the party guests have arrived. By the time 90% of people are there I’m possibly dressed. And as I walk through the door, hoping it’s the right place, 100% of the other party guests are at least three drinks deep. (Hopefully I pre-gammed).

This isn’t something contrived in order to act like I’m too cool for school. (I throw my cool-factor out an imaginary window every day when I sing while riding my bike into oncoming traffic.) It’s just that, for me, rushing to get somewhere it doesn’t specifically matter when I arrive to, is like pulling my fingernails out with pliers.

Why is it so hard? It’s really pretty simple: I know myself, and I found what works for me. Going by other people’s time doesn’t. I guess some people might call this marching to the beat of my own drum. I’m no a musician, but I’m lucky enough to have found a beat that currently works quite nicely. Maybe that will change at some point in the future, but for now going with the flow is my m.o.

I wasn’t always on such good terms with time. I used to live and die by the buzzer. I had two alarms in case one didn’t go off, and I lived in a constant low-level state of fear and stress about being late. I also cared a lot more what other people thought, accepted a lot more invites than I actually wanted, and often went along with other people’s ideal plans instead of my own– all concepts for disaster, if you are looking for happiness and grounding in your life.

In the olden days when my life was scheduled within an inch of itself, I used to make fun of Leo because he said he never knew whether he was going on a trip until the day it was time to leave. He never made plans in advance with his friends, and he always just seemed to do what he wanted, when he wanted. This ensured he was always where he wanted to be, and never where he didn’t want to be. Leo is a very good friend, maybe one of the best, but he’s not about to hang out with someone if his heart isn’t in it. I should have respected that, but instead I’d try to pin him down on vacation and concert plans (my crazy job schedule required that I know in advance) and he’d say something like, “I never know I’m going on a trip until the day I’m leaving”.

Then I’d say, “Leo–you’re so badass, you never know if you’re going on a trip until you’ve already come back from it.”

I thought that was so funny. Now I’m not laughing because that’s what I’ve become, too. Some things rub off on you in a relationship, and Leo smeared his restless spirit all over me.

(And yeah, I’m still laughing. I’m just a little bummed I can’t make fun of him about it anymore.)

I understand the need for timeliness and planning with things like sit-down-dinners and one-on-one dates. I get why you have to be on time for structured things like work and dental appointments. I hear it’s considered “rude” to show up an hour late. I mean, that’s just unproductive and wasteful of everyone’s time. I get it; that’s a common sense idea I actually agree with.

But in my own life, I found myself stressing about not getting to things that had absolutely no actual start time, “on time”. Legitimate start time, that is. (I don’t care if your pool party invite says 4 pm… It’s a pool, not like it’s going to melt. If, however, you had planned an ice cream cake party, I would have taken that four with a bit more authority.) All of my planning and stressing over mundane future events created constant mental tension that had no practical application. You know, like when I would water a plant or go to the store. (That plant needed a schedule!)

When I didn’t know this little secret about just listening to myself and taking action based on that, time and planning for the future used to rule my life. In hindsight I can easily see how it was counter-productive to the things I hold most valuable in my life today, like joy of living in the moment, spontaneity, and living authentically, true to yourself and your motives.

So now, I just go with the flow.

What’s the flow? It’s not your aunt that comes to visit each month, ladies. It’s this compass-like-thing somewhere between my head and my heart (so I guess it’s on average located in… my neck?) that tells me what to do and when to do it. Some people might call it intuition. I don’t really have a name for it, but I know it’s pretty much the best thing I’ve got going. So that’s the thing I try to follow every moment of my day.

I’ve become like a drunken sailor following a compass. I don’t care if it tells me to bathe in the moonlight on the second Thursday in June, I’ve learned to set aside my judgments and just trust it. I’ll listen to my “inner compass” about which route to take home, when to make a phone call, or what snack I should have. I use it for important things, too, but I like to keep it calibrated as best I can at all times.

My inner compass is the formless structure behind my minutes, hours, and days now. This, as opposed to a stream of endless to-do lists and worries about “being on time for doing the dishes”. It helps keep me present and by using it, I always feel as if I’m exactly where I need to be. And the cool thing is, it’s like a muscle, so the more you use it, the stronger and more easily accessible its strength becomes. And the stress of constantly being immersed in time will vanish to the degree you apply this principle to your life.

When I’m using it correctly (which is basically just being aware enough to detect what it’s saying, and then following those instructions, no matter how odd they might seem at the time), my life goes well. Usually, it goes more than well. Awesomeness is what I experience the most when I’m in tune with the compass that has no actual location.

Conversely, when I try to think I know better, or I’m not being aware enough to hear what it says, that’s when my life ends up looking like a rock-bottom miniseries on Lifetime. So for me, it’s like most people with their iPhones: I’m obsessed with checking it.

So if you’re wondering what beat I’m marching to, it’s that compass I keep somewhere between my head and my heart. People may think I’m weird when there seems to be no rhyme or reason for what I’m doing or when I’m doing it. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to me at the time. But this leap of faith has proven time and time again to be worth it.

Probably the biggest benefit to all of this wackiness that I feel happier and more alive than I ever have before. It feels as if I’m connected to the flow of life. It’s like the EAC (East Australian Current) in finding Nemo; that’s what I’m swimming in. Life becomes way more effortless when you can locate this flow and stick with it, and it’s infinitely more fun than exhausting yourself by swimming upstream in the current of other people’s expectations or opinions (or timelines).

That is why I’m ultimately willing to gamble away what anyone else may think of me (that’s not under my control, anyway, regardless of how punctual I am). Whether that means showing up a few minutes late because I wanted to finish writing a piece I needed to get done, or not going out that night at all, I do what I have to do for myself first. I think I can help people best (perhaps not on a one-to-one basis) by being the best version of myself.

For me, this means living according to my own timepiece. It’s not that I want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s that I’ve found something that works for me. And as a tool I’ve found to be incredibly useful to living the way I want to live, it’s simply too important not to trump all other extrinsic scenarios. I may make some people shake their heads along the way, but that’s a small price to pay for the freedom I experience in my daily life. Once you have a taste of that freedom, you will never want to go back. Nothing else is worth it. Your happiness versus anything else, what do you choose?

(And by the way, when you live life in the flow, you automatically become more accepting of other people’s flows. This is for two reasons:

1) Your sense of happiness is considerably less dependent upon what other people do and when they do it. It’s like smoking a joint, straight to your mental construct of time and your judgment about other people’s use thereof. You also don’t take it personally when their timelines don’t match up perfectly with yours. Like I said, you’re just way more laid back. You gain a perspective that all this time stuff is kind of overrated, and it’s simply not worth taking offense over.

and

2) You gain a respect for the flow that means you don’t even want someone to leave their flow for you. You know from experience there’s nothing to be gained by forcing something that’s against someone’s flow. It won’t actually benefit you, or that person, to force a plan that isn’t necessary by any standard but your own, so you’d rather see them do whatever it is they need, than patronize you while not being in full alignment with their own inner compass.)

I finally came to the conclusion the other night as I was riding my bike to see my favorite puppy, that as long as I’m living life as much in line with my wise old compass as possible, I can never actually be late for something. It’s simply a concept in which I’m no longer invested. The beauty of following the place between my head and my heart is that I always feel as if I’m doing what I need to do for that particular moment in time. I’m not constantly looking on to the next thing, and I’m no longer worried that I’m late for something I should be doing instead. There is no instead. And I’ll get there when I get there, and when I get there, that will become the place I am supposed to be.

When People Say You Can’t

This can be you.

I don’t believe in telling people they can’t have a pet Orca.

You know how it is when you’re just chatting along, in the middle of a nice conversation with someone you like, and suddenly it’s like slow motion as you find yourself telling this person about a long-held, deeply repressed dream for your life (like what you really wanted to be was an Orca whale trainer). As if in an out-of-body experience, you see yourself saying the words and you watch the scene unfold with a mixture of horror and excitement.

And you wait for a moment, knowing you probably should have just kept that stupid idea to yourself, as you wait for them to weigh in on the future probability of your dream coming true. You don’t allow yourself the small shred of hope that they will, in fact jump on the Free Willy bandwagon and become your biggest cheering section as you quit your current stable job and head off into the sunset (to whale training school, of course).

What I’m really asking is, do you know that feeling of desperately wanting someone to acknowledge the power of your dream, that against all odds, it is in fact possible that a year from now you could be starring with Shamu at Sea World while wearing a monogrammed wetsuit?

Well I’m here to tell you something, honey buns. Stop it!

Seriously. Stop with it all.

Why?

Well, I’ll tell you why, you big old buffoon. (I say that with love). It all comes down to probability.

There’s a fifty percent chance they’ll egg you on and tell you you should go for it. So, great. Except you didn’t really need a green light from anybody else in the first place, but whatever, no harm done in a little pre-achievement celebratory cocktail.

But then again… There’s also a fifty percent chance they’ll poo all over your idea like a dog who just ate too much cheese (gross– and why does it matter how much cheese that dog just ate anyway? I’m talking about Shamu here.) Look, I didn’t want to go here, but there’s a very good chance they’re going to poo so hard on your idea you’ll be cleaning that stain out of your idea’s Persian rug for weeks. (I took that a little too far, didn’t I?)

Trust me, I’ve been in your position. I used to want to train Shamu, too. Then I realized it’s probably not really humane, what with the whole wild animal in captivity thing… Oh wait, sorry. We weren’t actually talking about Shamu anymore. (Aw, but he’s so funnnnn)

I mean, I’ve been in the same boat in terms of asking around for other people’s advice, or offering up my dreams as sacrifice to the gods of good conversation. I know what it’s like to lay yourself bare to a friend or someone you think has your back, only to have them shoot your dream down faster than some war plane over some enemy territory. (I’m not that good with history, so I can’t provide witty specifics about the plane or its location.)

I don’t mean to make generalizations (okay, actually yes I do) but the people who tell you you can’t do something are almost always the people who never did what they wanted to do in life. They’re the bitter ones whose dreams never came true for whatever reason. And now in the wonderful circle of projection, they’re (most likely unconsciously) taking that not-so-sweet garbage out on you. By the way, I have sympathy for those people, really I do– except I’m just a little annoyed how they’re now polluting the minds of youngins’ who could be out saving the world, which isn’t really cool.

On the flip side, you’ve got the inspirational people who are very supportive of your penchant for black and white mammals that like to do tricks (the whales like the tricks, not the people). These are the guys and gals who found a way to live their dreams, and so are beautifully accepting, and nurturing, of that quality in others. Gotta love ’em.

As a function of my exceedingly loose lips and ridiculous dreams (no really, they are), I’ve been on the receiving end of more well-meaning but downright shitty advice than anyone should ever endure. I have also learned that for any given idea you might throw out there, there will invariably be supporters who say yay and detractors who say neigh, or nay, depending on their accent. So how the heck do you figure out who listen to?

Well, neither. (Duh) Because that would be like basing your future on the amount of cloud cover over Honolulu at noon.

What experience has taught me (as well as common sense probably would have done, if I’d ever thought to consult it) is that it doesn’t really matter worth a damn what anyone says about what you can or can’t do. It’s like Henry Ford said best, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

So why would you waste time soliciting others’ opinions on your future or abilities. (For the record, I’ve found it works best when I don’t talk about my hopes or dreams at all, or at least until they’re well on their way to fruition.) Your life and what it holds is up to no one but yourself. That’s a blessing. Don’t squander it.

If someone builds you up, it may feel nice, but you’re still not any closer to achieving your dream. And if someone tears you down, forget them. I mean, not literally– there’s a good chance they really love you and are just trying to protect you, but seriously, they’re useless to you in this particular situation. Cover your ears and say “LA LA LA LA LA” when they start talking. It’s nothing you need to hear.

Don’t ever let someone determine for you what you can or can’t do. That’s limiting to your life, and it’s degrading to your spirit. It’s also just plain weak. You are much stronger than that. As a human being, I know that about you already. And besides, it’s simply not up to them how you live your life. Not to mention, you don’t need their psychic baggage: you’ve got a dream to chase down, darn it!

You go be the story that inspires them to realize they were wrong and their vision of the world can crack open a little bit. You help them like that but don’t help them by taking on their own little version of themselves and their limits. I’m a person who doesn’t believe in limits, and I don’t think that’s coincidence to how happy I am.

And by the way, just a small note of observation: it’s often the people who love you the most, or see themselves as most vested in your future who will try to convince you to play it safe. It’s usually just because they love you and don’t want you to get hurt, or they don’t want to be party to such a huge failure if your show doesn’t get picked up by Sea World. Don’t take it personally. Keep loving them, just make sure to wear earmuffs when they talk.

I’ve found the best advice or guidance (which is still probably a step below that of your intuition) usually comes from a less-interested party. They don’t mind seeing you mess up! 😉

How To Make Your Weakness Strength

Still not sure how to parlay this weakness into strength...

Still not sure how to parlay this weakness into strength…

Some people might say I’m good at yoga. 

Suffice it to say, that isn’t how I see myself or my practice of yoga. Truth be told, I think proficiency in a pose is an arbitrary measurement; I don’t think yoga is something at which one can actually be “good” or “bad”. So if you’re anything like me you wouldn’t be caught dead saying “I’m good at yoga” aloud. But I took one for the team so I could make a point, so bear with me here.

A year ago I took part in a yoga teacher training. Not too far into the training, with the perfect timing that is so characteristic of me, I realized I had absolutely no interest in teaching yoga. Like, zero. While discussing this with a friend in the training, he was like, “Oh, well that’s a waste because you’re so good at yoga.”

I didn’t really agree, but I knew how he meant that. He was referring to how far I could go into a pose or how easily I could perform a new one. He was focused on the ease with which it came to me, while others sometimes struggled. I understood why he might have cause to think that. Most things in yoga did come somewhat easy for me and I was lucky to make gains in my practice relatively quickly without too much effort.

But I didn’t consider myself good. First of all, because I never really looked around or was aware of what other people were doing (except when I lost my place in the sequence, which was more often than anyone with half an attention span would have) so I didn’t compare myself to others. Second, because I wasn’t motivated to learn enough so that I could teach. I just wanted to learn enough to make it feel even better, and to have more fun in each class (plus I thought the philosophy was cool, and I liked the discussions). Third, because I thought of everyone else as being better than me at yoga because they all seemed more dedicated to their individual practices and had aspirations of actually teaching. Hence, teacher training.

My laissez-faire attitude served me in some ways, but it meant being a teacher was not in my cards. I was so concerned about doing my own thing and just being in the flow of the moment, I kind of had no interest in walking other people through a practice. It just wasn’t the same as doing it myself.

As I went through the summer of yoga, I learned a few things.

A) Just because you love massages doesn’t mean you want to be a masseuse (I’ve said this to so many people regarding my yoga training, I know by now I must sound like a cheesy broken record, but it’s true!!).

And

B) The people who had trouble spots in their practice or had to work more diligently to learn things, were much better equipped to become teachers. In fact, those were the people who went on to teach!

One of the coolest things I’ve learned so far in life is that our weaknesses can absolutely become our most valuable strengths. For instance, I have experienced an eating disorder in my early twenties, which made it a necessity that I focus on nutrition and what works for my body. I know some people who are naturally thin eating whatever they want– and as a result, they might fall into the habit of regularly eating things that aren’t the best for their body. I can assure you, I’d probably be doing that same thing if I had never been forced to watch what I put in my body, as a function of maintaining my mental, emotional, and physical health.

I now consider all the pain and time I suffered in that strange self-created hell as a blessing, because it has required that I learn about nutrition, and even more importantly, that I pay attention to how I feel and what’s going on in my body at any given moment. It’s brought me in touch with myself in a way that has transcended food and eating, and helped connect me with a higher power. It also provided me with first-hand understanding of a struggle which many people silently endure, and therefore a much greater sympathy and compassion.

Same thing with my skin. I’ve had trouble with my skin since I hit puberty. My mom had trouble with her skin, too. We naturally have more oily ski (thanks Mom 😉 ). While having acne-prone skin is not something I’d wish on anyone, the beauty of it is in its cause. You see, the oil that caused my mom’s acne has also preserved her skin: allowing her to look very young and pretty for her age. Her skin is now clear and beautiful, and she’s literally reaping the benefits of having crap skin in her youth. There is always a silver lining, if you are willing to see it.

Just this morning, in my search for information on a new product, I realized that this skin dilemma that so many people struggle with has turned into something people all over the world are actually bonded over. Thanks to the internet, and increased ability to communicate across the globe, there are online communities of people helping people overcome their skin ailments by sharing information on their own experience with acne and what finally worked for them. These people have discovered the strength in what was once their weakness. That is really a beautiful thing.

I truly believe that to never experience struggle would not only not be a gift, it would greatly limit your motivation, or perhaps even your ability, for personal and spiritual growth. Whatever you struggle with the most in life, get through it and learn along the way. Then share what you’ve learned with others like your old self. It is one of the most rewarding efforts a person can undertake in life, and I would be very surprised if you didn’t gain more from it than the people you helped (though I’m sure they’ll gain richly as well).

So go ahead and struggle valiantly. Struggle with love and compassion for yourself and others like you. And do so knowing there are people whose lives you can change unimaginably from sharing your love, empathy, and experience once you are through. Nothing is ever wasted in life if you learn from it.

And you don’t even have to be good at yoga to do it!

The Worst Writing Advice Ever

I'm legit now, right?

I’m legit, right?

I once heard someone suggest that if you “really want to write”, you should go live somewhere where there are a lot of writers.

“Why?” I asked.

“You know, to be around them, see how they live,” they replied.

“Oh right, so I can finally do that anthropology report I’ve been putting off since fourth grade.”

Just kidding, I didn’t say that. If I had asked what was really on my mind it would have been how that could possibly be helpful to one’s writing career. In fact, I’m still furrowing my eyebrows as I write this. But I’ve now stopped, because I know that causes wrinkles.

Here’s the way I look at that:

If you want to find a boyfriend, you go to where there are a lot of boys. You don’t pack up and head to where all the single girls hang out (being hipster, quoting Hemingway).

You aren’t more of a writer just because pretend you like scotch, go for long walks in nature and sabotage all your relationships. Writing is one of the most solitary and remote jobs in the world. You do it by yourself, and you can do it from anywhere. To turn your back on those two beautiful gifts and go live in a writing colony, to me, seemed like a shining example of the antithesis of good advice. I’d rather be a writer among surfers, or a writer among heathens–actually, I think that’s where I am today… 😉

I don’t understand the need to validate oneself by sitting in a coffee shop with a beret and a Thesaurus, and if you want to study how people live, why not study the ones who are a bit more different than you?

From what I can tell, you aren’t a better or more proficient writer because of a lifestyle-makeover based around what other more or less successful people around you are doing. It’s not method acting, you don’t have to get into character. I mean, maybe you do, but you don’t need to become a portrait of what you think a writer looks or lives like in order to be good at writing. That’s probably one of the least-helpful writing exercises I could imagine to devise.

I just knew I wanted to write. And if you just want to write, you don’t have to rain dance before you think you’re finally ready for it. You don’t have to wear flannel shirts, skip town, or date a guy with a goatee.

You just sit yourself down in a chair (perhaps with a little force and determination) and watch the sun move across the sky until you realize you haven’t had any proper exercise in three days.

So yeah, I’m going to go ride my bike. (Sans beret)

Come Clean About Trying To Save Money

Not all tips are created equal...

Not all tips are created equal…

Regarding frugality and my endorsement thereof:

Please note that being a good saver is not the same thing as being cheap. Being frugal is mostly something you do on your own. It usually doesn’t involve other people. It’s one thing if you suggest grabbing coffee or going for a walk versus a lunch date with a friend because you’re trying to save money. I think that’s smart and if you have a good friend, they’ll totally understand. Maybe they’ll be glad to save the bones, too!

But it’s another thing if you always let that friend pick up the tab, or you find yourself not tipping because you want to save a buck.

I enjoy giving generous tips, and I know it’s good karma 🙂 But I don’t often put myself in the position of where tipping is applicable, because at this point in my life, saving money is important to me. But being frugal is never an excuse to short someone who helped you out or offered you a service. That’s not being frugal, that’s called being cheap–and that’s not cool.

If you can’t or don’t want to spend the money, don’t put yourself in the position. It’s okay if you can’t do everything everyone else is doing. You’d be surprised how people respond when you decide to do things your own way; often you’ll find support where you least expected it. Maybe they were just suggesting an expensive date because they thought it’s what you’d want to do, you never know!

And let’s be real: you know in advance if you go out for drinks, order food to your home, go out to eat, get a massage, that you’re going to have to tip. If you can afford to do these extras, that means you can afford to tip. 🙂

If you can’t, then find another way to obtain your food (like the grocery store….) and forgo the special services until you’re in a better position financially. Don’t order food to your front door if you can’t tip generously. That’s a luxury, not a given. By the way, you could always drive yourself to get it, or you could just eat something from your own kitchen, which is usually cheaper and healthier anyway.

By the way, who do you think is paying for the car, gas, and insurance for the pizza guy to get there? He’s using his time and resources to bring you some dinner…so be kind. Use common sense and courtesy. Seeing how far you can stretch your dollars should be a fun challenge for yourself, not a burden to others.

And you never really know where other people stand until you get honest with them. Maybe you have a friend who’s trying to be better with money, too! Coming clean about where you’re at with your finances will feel awesomely freeing. Most people understand, at least good friends will, and you never know who may just want to join you on the frugal path to freedom.

And the saying is true– the best things in life really are free– like smiles 🙂

10 Steps To Frugal Freedom

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

-Henry David Thoreau

I like being frugal. In fact, I always say if I won a million dollars I would plunk it in the bank and keep living exactly the way I do. I’m happy to live the way I do and I really feel that I have everything in life I could want. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world.

There are two ways of becoming rich: working or saving. I choose the latter. It’s much more relaxing, and I actually enjoy the challenge of being as good with my money as I can. Here are some of the things I do or have done, which can help you save money. None of them are going to put a thousand dollars in your pocket this month, but over the course of your life, they can add up to great savings. And I can tell you quite frankly, I don’t feel like I’m missing out by doing (or not doing) any of these things.

1) Shower out

Hot water is expensive. Okay, I don’t know how much it costs. But I know it costs something. Add that up over your lifetime, and I’m sure it’s a good chunk of change.

I am a member of the YMCA (which just happens to be right across the street from where I currently live). I’m on a plan with another family member. Today I walked across the street and took a shower there (no I didn’t work out…). It was good for me to get out of the house for half an hour, since I tend to spend much of my time at home, plus I can take a longer/hotter shower than I normally would now that I pay for hot water.

I’m grateful to have the time and freedom of schedule to do that (although today is Saturday, so anyone could have done it with me, just in a separate stall).

If you belong to a gym with a shower, try scheduling your showers for when you’re there. Or just use the facility as much as you can. You’re already paying for hot water use in your gym membership, so you may as well use it!

2) Eat in

This one’s pretty simple. I actually prefer eating in to going out. This is for a few reasons.

First of all, I like being in control of what I put in my body. I would rather just make the dish myself than sit there and rail off instructions to an annoyed server.

Second of all, I’m usually just as happy with the food I make at home. And even if I’m not, at least I didn’t pay very much for it.

I know, there is some amazing food to be had at restaurants. I live in a town with quite a few nice ones, and I do certainly enjoy it when I go out and get a great meal. But I’m a pretty simple person, and I really like the salads I make at home (in fact, they’re usually better than anything I’ve had out) and I’m one of those gross people who will eat beans and hot sauce out of a can and call it a night. Most times, it just seems like a lot of hubbub to go out just to get something to eat when I’ve got a kitchen full of food at home.

Also, I prefer fruits, vegetables, and simple things that are usually way marked up if they come from a menu. I’ve always enjoyed preparing my own fruit, so it’s never occurred to me that it would be worth paying someone to do it for me. If I wanted lobster, it’s a lot less expensive to get a fresh one from the store and boil it myself. And there’s not a lot involved to melting a pat of butter. Why would I pay more just to eat it at a place whose silverware probably isn’t as clean as mine? Oh right, they’ve got those cool bibs…

Third, I don’t really like having someone serve me. This is just a weird quirk of mine, I know. I just don’t get off on it the way some people do. And also, I totally don’t mind refilling my own water. I do it a thousand times a day at home! As for bars, I never mind mixing my own drink (I’ve been known to out do myself here and again).

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with liking “good service” but that’s just not me. Unless someone pees in my food (in front of me) I’m okay with whatever they’re doing. They have a kind of tough job, and I’m lucky enough to be sitting at a table ordering nice food. I’m not gonna nit pick.

I understand that people like to go for the experience and the atmosphere and to celebrate things. Nothing wrong with it, but in terms of health and finances, it’s usually a better bet to eat at home. I would save a lot of money by doing this, but I’ve been doing it (or not doing it) for so long, it’s not something I factor in as a living expense. However, if you are someone who goes out often and you cut back in this area, you’re going to be rolling in the dough (and probably in your lose-fitting pants).

3) Bike

I ride my bike everywhere I can. This is rather self-explanatory. I consider it a huge luxury to be able to do most of my travel via bike. I must say, it makes the trip way more fun than driving. I listen to music and sometimes even sing. This creates a win-win for me as well as the people whose car windows are down.

4) No Makeup

I didn’t stop wearing makeup because of the expense. And I do still wear it occasionally. But over the course of an average woman’s lifetime, she spends a lot of money on this stuff (don’t ask me for numbers, but I’m sure Google has them).

I used to wear make up every single day. Not only wasn’t it great for my skin, it was like an emotional trap and I got to the point where I wasn’t sure if I could go without it. Now I feel great wearing less or no make up, and wearing it less often. I’ve actually found more pleasure in it now that I have given myself the freedom to decide whether I want to put it on each day. This is just a simple shift in mind set, but it will by default save money in the long run, too.

Note: I don’t recommend you cheap out on the make up you do buy, because what you put on your face and skin is important. Just make sure to do the research because sometimes all you’re paying forty extra dollars for is nicer packaging. And there are some great deals in drugstores. Sometimes even the pros use those really inexpensive brand name things. Usually, it’s a specific product or two per company. This is an area it can pay to read up on, since makeup is by nature a continued expense which adds up over time.

5) Hang your clothes

I hang my clothes out on the line to dry whenever possible. Leo and my sister will tell you (when they get their own blogs) that I’m kind of obsessed with doing their laundry whenever I can, so that I can hang their clothes out as well. I swear, the sunshine is good for your clothes, a natural disinfectant. Where I live in New York, we only have a few nice months of weather where we can do this, and I’m currently taking full advantage. It’s actually sort of fun. It’s more natural and less harsh on your clothes. Apparently all the heat and tumbling of a dryer can really wear them out.

A corollary to this is that I only do laundry when it’s a full load (my housemates often do not follow this rule 😉 ). I also re-wear my clothes until they’re actually dirty. You’ll very rarely find me wearing it once and throwing it in the wash. I have a rotating pile of clothes that I intend to re-wear before they are officially considered dirty. This isn’t something I force myself to do or take to extremes, I just don’t think a shirt is dirty because you wore it once around the house.

Oh, we also don’t use laundry sheets. They’re just more chemicals to come into contact with your skin, and our clothes always smell just fine. I’ve considered making my own laundry detergent, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

6) Don’t buy trash bags

I just use the grocery bags from the store and smaller garbage cans. They’re the perfect size, and I’ve never bought a garbage bag in my life. I also buy food with minimal packaging, so I don’t have a lot of trash to deal with.

7) Steal soap!

Do you have any idea how long bar soap lasts? I like it because it just feels more natural to me, but I’m not really that picky about soap. I just use whatever’s around. But one thing I noticed is that people will use it once or twice while staying in a hotel room, and then leave it. I guess that makes sense; if you want to waste money.

You’re always going to have to keep soap around the house, so you may as well throw it in a plastic bag and take it back home. It will last you forever. In fact, if you do any amount of traveling, you may never have to spend another dime on soap again!

8) Light up your night

I use them instead of turning real lights on as much as I can at night. I keep one in the upstairs bathroom and one in the hall. I got them at the dollar store for…You guessed it, a dollar each.

9) Don’t have cable

Most people I know don’t have nearly enough time or lethargy to watch all the Cable TV they pay for. I personally don’t have enough boredom in my life to watch any cable TV at all (okay, yes my mom makes me watch Bachelor with her on Monday nights, but that’s how we bond, so I take one for the team). I know there are some good and educational TV shows on (there, Dad, happy?) but most of them you can find on Netflix. Or Youtube.

As far as Cable TV goes, I think it’s a total waste. I think having internet is necessary, and I think Netflix is a way better option in terms of getting movies than any of the premium Cable packages. So many things can be found for free online now, and obviously you can get all of your news that way, as well.

I love movies, but it’s actually pretty rare when I have simultaneously the time, energy, and inclination to stay awake for an entire one. When I do feel the need for a movie, I grab it for free from my local library or stream it online. (Yes I still have the password to my dad’s Netflix account…But I rarely use it)

One word of advice: it’s always easier to start off with a lower Cable package and work your way up, if needed. If you do it backwards, it will be the most difficult customer service experience you’ve ever experienced 🙂 Good luck!

10) Buy sales

Grocery shopping is the only shopping I really do anymore. At the grocery store, I pretty much stick to buying on sale.

While I’m there, I spend time to comparing unit prices, looking for deals, and determining the best places to shop for each item. I very rarely buy an item at full price, unless I absolutely need it (and I can’t remember the last time that happened). This is my quirky way of naturally rotating the foods in my diet. It mixes things up and I’m still saving money. Eventually you learn where to get the best deal and it becomes a lot easier.

I shop online for some specialty items, because I can usually get a better deal online than at the local health food store, but again, I usually take the time to compare before buying.

A note on clothes shopping:

When I used to buy clothes, I only bought them on sale. I learned when I was young that I could spend full price on a shirt, and walk back into the store a week later, only to see it had been reduced by half of what I paid. It was then I vowed to never get taken for a ride by corporate clothing stores again! 😉

Up until I stopped shopping, my favorite place to go was a consignment store in town. You could get something like a $400+ like new shearling coat for $70. There was always something new. You never knew what you would find. Most of the clothes were way nicer than what any of the local retail stores could offer. In fact, there were so many great deals and finds, I could hardly control myself. I spent a full year being their most loyal customer and then I realized it was time to stop (packing and moving a few times in as many years will do that to you).

Clothes aren’t the best investment, because they don’t hold their value (hence the great deals at consignment). A tip: only buy something that you know you will wear. Like, out of the store. Don’t buy things just to save for a future time that may never come. It’s more fun to shop for the current event, or wait until you’ve reached your goal weight before adding the dream wardrobe to your closet. If you only buy as you need and will wear immediately, you will more greatly appreciate what you have, while saving money.

Money is best saved in small increments over time. That way, you hardly notice you’re doing it, but your financial statements will. Sure, it might take a little more time and effort up front perhaps to learn to think this way. But I can promise you, practice makes it second nature. And anyway, you spend plenty of your precious time at a job making that money, so why not preserve something hard-won as best you can?

Save money for the fun things in life; don’t get taken for a ride by consumerism and the things we’ve been led to believe we need. I know this may blow your mind, but my life has been pretty awesome without trash bags.

A Word To My Friends In Bangladesh

Thank you to the two people in Bangladesh who read my blog. What a nice surprise! I hear Bengali culture is renowned for its literature, poetry, music, and art, so you guys obviously know a good thing when you see it.

Fun fact: I am a fan of Rabindranath Tagore. He is a fellow Taurus and has a very nice picture on Wikipedia.

If you ever come to the US, you have a place to stay. Or maybe I can come visit you. I hope the weather there is nice.

Also, do you have elephants? I would love one as a pet*.

Please send further information.

*I’ve also heard they make a nice hostess gift.

Why You Can Kind Of Stop Watching The News

“To a philosopher all news is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I used to love the news. I used to think I wanted to be a journalist. I couldn’t wait to be an integral piece in the cog of daily drama. I loved the promise each and every morning that, along with your cup of coffee, you could have a steady stream of images and yarns that invariably made you feel better about your own life. People were out getting shot and mugged, while you were snug and cozy at home, preparing for yet another hum drum day of routine. News has the power to make us feel rather smug about our safe, routine little lives. (Hey, at least I wasn’t overcome with a flesh-eating virus yesterday and my home wasn’t broken into over night!) The Germans even invented a word for it: Schadenfreude (Google it). So I know news has a lot of great things going for it, but just hear me out. I’ll put it bluntly.

If you stop watching the news, your life will change.

First, you gain back a bit of time in your life. Whether you’re mindlessly browsing for “interesting” articles on MSN or you spend every fresh, precious morning parked in front of the tube, I’m willing to go out on a limb here and guess you could be doing something better with your time. Like, sitting with your thumb up your rump. Since at least you’re not polluting your mind with useless garbage by doing so. (Though, being the optimist that I am, I’d be willing to bet you can come up with something even better than that.)

Oh, but you want to be educated? Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider information that is obsolete either tomorrow, a week, a month, or a year from now, to be all that relevant to your intellectual well-being. The important things, you’ll find out by default of living your life. The rest, is probably just sprinkles. (You know, a healthy blend of sugar and partially hydrogenated oil which is probably not all that necessary to your enjoyment and yet you’re still fooled by the colors.)

It’s like that serenity prayer, where you pray for the wisdom to know/accept the things you cannot change. Maybe the serenity came when one stopped watching the news, and realized that sitting on their couch shaking their heads at the misfortune of others was not actually helping anyone. You think you’re being sympathetic, but you’re kind of just wasting your time. There are obviously ways to help people. Watching the news isn’t one of them.

And by the way, it’s easy to see why people get self-righteous about “real news” versus celebrity news. But please step off your high horse. For the great majority of people, they serve the same purpose. One gets thrown under the guise of “intellectual” and the other, “escape” but both are the same thing. News isn’t intellectual. By nature, it’s designed for the masses. You may be more well-informed about the Middle East after hearing one segment, or you may be more informed about the state of Brad and Angelina after another. Both are bits of information, whose source is sometimes questionable, as is the bias with which they’re told. Knowing “facts” that go stale faster than a piece of bread from the microwave doesn’t really make you an intellectual. At least, not by my definition of the word.

And besides, what are you going to do with that Middle Eastern information? Besides use it for fodder to complain about over dinner tonight. I mean, have you ever acted on a piece of news before? Has a news story ever outraged you so much at the social, political, whatever type of injustice you witnessed, that you actually went out and did something about it? If you have, I’m impressed. And this article isn’t for you. (Keep on truckin’ with your save the world gig)

At least the celebrity gossip readers have it figured out. They just go the direct escape route, none of that pretending about upper echelons when, let’s face it you “real news” people are also just looking for escape. You look for escape by digesting news that by default has nothing to do with you and therefore will require no action from you upon completion of the segment or story or article or soundbite. Would you need the news to tell you if something actually news-worthy happened in your own life? I’ve never seen them try to interview someone who’s house just got washed away, only to find it was the first the homeowner had heard of it.

If the information on the news was so important, it wouldn’t need to get re-made every single day. How many times did they have to write The Bible? I’m pretty sure they settled on that script quite a while back. Shakespeare laid aside his editing pen years ago and his results aren’t too shabby. If there’s something to be learned of the human condition, there are so many other ways to do it. It seems to me, “Much ado about nothing” is what Shakespeare thought of when he watched the news.

The most important parts of life are the parts that never actually change. Love doesn’t need a news flash. Neither does peace, family, empathy, understanding, community. You could be spending your time adding more of those to your life, instead of keeping up with the media-Joneses and pretending Nicole Richie is your friend (if she is, please have her call me). If anyone has ever been on their death bed, and even one of their regrets was that they wished they’d watched more news, I’ll eat my hat. The straw one I passed along to my Aunt. I hope she’d understand.

Isn’t timeless endurance the mark of real value? Whether it’s a leather bag, bottle of wine, a novel, or a mummy, we value things that better with age. With news, it’s the exact opposite. Its shelf life of importance is like, zero. It’s hot one minute, a day-old hotdog the next. How can you possibly keep up?

By giving it the old college try, of course. You tune in as much as you can, at least every day. Like plodding toward a goal, some take it slow and steady. Others mainline it as often as they can, stealing away from their uninteresting jobs a few (hundred) times a day. Either way, it’s a habit that’s probably not actually serving you. What do you think they did before radio, TV, and internet? Maybe their wars ran a few days longer than necessary, but at least their daily lives were free of rubbish.

Maybe you can’t go cold-turkey. And maybe you don’t want to. Maybe what Hoda and Kathy Lee are drinking this morning is way too important to your sense of security in the world to just give it up like that. But I say, whatever you get from the news, go find that in your real life.

If you want a sense of drama, go rock climbing or take an acting class. If you want peace and serenity, turn off the screen and watch them increase. Keep the newfound space for quiet time, journaling or mediation. Or connect with someone real in your life. Take your dog for a walk. Just don’t think by tuning into the adrenal glands of society you’re going to come away feeling refreshed. If you still want to watch the news, be my guest. Just do it consciously, and know there’s a whole world out there. The anchors are seeing it, but are you?

And besides, the Royal Baby has already been born. What more could you possibly need to know?

Imaginary Friends for Grown Ups (Celebrity Gossip)

Ever since I stopped reading, or watching the news, I have been a happier person. For me, any area in which I can (and do) streamline my life is a cause for celebration. But this is one addiction that had a special hold on me for years.

Truth be told, I’m a recovering celebrity gossip addict. I’ve spent countless hours (and I really mean countless. If someone told me they had an actual count, I’d tell them to keep me out of it) on celebrity gossip sites, mainly a certain pink one. I vaguely remember the day it started. I was between classes at college in the library and a little bored. I don’t know where or why or how, but somehow out of the blue, I came up with the idea to visit this site that seemed to be sweeping the nation by storm (or maybe I just clicked a link).

What was the harm? I had some time to kill. And boy did it kill time. It didn’t only kill the time I had to kill, it killed a little more. Suffice it to say, while it was at first intensely pleasurable to read about the glittery lives of famous people while ignoring the plights of my own, it was the mental equivalent of sitting a kid down for a 12 hour SpongeBob marathon– nothing great is going to come from it.

There were times when I actually challenged myself to give it up, for say, sixty days. I’d go a week or so with success, then, thinking it couldn’t hurt, I’d find myself in a sleep-walking state, adeptly punching in the web address and sighing with relief as the pink-background-celebrities filled up the screen.

It always started with that quick harmless peek–and always ended with my spending another hour or more, lazily flopped on the bed, consuming visions of celebrities’ lives I was made to feel sorry I didn’t have.

Once I started to realize this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my days, or nights, or early mornings, or anywhere in between, and that I was wasting time in which I could actually be working on myself, it was a bit easier to abstain. But I wasn’t 100% clean.

The problem was, a part of me still wanted to look at it. I was still curious what Posh Spice was up to. That’s when I realized that trying to break the addiction by shutting myself off from it wasn’t the way to go. I knew I had to get to the point where all of those things simply didn’t matter to me anymore, where my life was full and there just wasn’t any more time or space for the intellectual equivalent of a Twinkie.

It wasn’t until I finally stopped focusing on the sixty day trials (and by sixty, I mean writing sixty on paper, and doing maybe ten) and started simply focusing on my life, that I saw a shift.

It was gradual, but then one day, I noticed I almost had to force myself to check in on what my imaginary friends were up to. I wasn’t really into it; it just seemed like kind of a waste of time.

After a little while, I simply lost my drive to bear witness to the rat race of rich and famous people. It came to dawn on me that it just didn’t concern me anymore (maybe it never had?! Blasphemy!), and I was filling my life with other pursuits that actually mattered to me, like helping my boyfriend with his web business or learning material that I could actually apply to life.

Since then, whenever I have accidentally fallen back into my old habit, I am quickly reminded why I gave it up. It all comes down to consciousness and being in touch with yourself. Take a look at your life, even the smallest habits which ultimately create your day. They cannot be over-estimated in their impact on your satisfaction in life, and your happiness.

If you are using celebrity gossip, news, TV, food, anything, to zone out of what it feels like to truly be alive in that moment, you are cutting your own life short. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a little gossip here and there, but if and when you indulge yourself, make sure you’re doing it with awareness, and you won’t be so inclined to let it suck up your entire afternoon. You might even hear a little voice in your head that says you’ve got more fun things to do, and maybe you’ll even heed it.

If your job is so bad that cruising the web is the way you get through the day, maybe it’s time you look elsewhere. If that’s the highlight of your day, you are a member of the walking dead.

In the end, life is too short to spend it keeping up with people who don’t even know your name. (Isn’t there a show about that?)

Babysit My Ego

One of the best things babysitting did for me was keep my ego in check. It helped prevent me from identifying with my career, because I knew it wasn’t who I was; it was what I was doing in the meantime while I figured my stuff out (at the rate of a turtle wading through a field of molasses). I knew there was much more to me than I was expressing through my job, talents and ideas that were hitting a brick wall. And while that was at times frustrating, it also kept me from taking myself too seriously. How can you, when you change diapers and get food smeared all over you for a living?

I certainly didn’t define myself by it. I knew better than that. I never felt bad about myself for being “just a babysitter”, although I knew I wasn’t putting enough faith in what I could actually do, and a good career that does not make!

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with babysitting, and I was never embarrassed by it. However, it’s just not something you’re dying to bring up in conversation, or put on your resume. It’s not like we have a union, and a rousing chat about sleep schedules can only take you so far. I would freely admit it, but I hoped no one would ask me anything further. Or I’d change the subject. “So, did you know I sell drugs on the side?” (That’s not actually true, but it would have been pretty fun to say).

In fact, I once had an over-the-phone interview once and it was going really well, until I started talking about my “babysitting business” (yes, I may have used that term). The guy literally sounded as if he was holding back laughter as I tried to explain what it meant about my entrepreneurial skills, as well as what I knew about children and how they learned (the job had to do with creating content for kids, so I felt it was relevant) and he had all he could do to pretend to take me seriously the rest of the time. It also didn’t help that my dog chose that exact moment to FREAK the hell out about something via incessant and ear-grating barking. He never followed up to let me know whether or not I’d gotten the job. After a few months, I assumed they’d probably chosen someone else 😉

This was a blessing barely in disguise, since I didn’t actually want the job. I may have told myself I did at the time, because I felt desperate and lost, but in hindsight, it was undoubtedly a streak of great luck that I did not get it. Out of that desperation, I would have accepted an offer, and I’d probably still be slugging away with things that have absolutely no interest to me (I don’t think you learn English by a computer program, by the way, you learn it from reading).

Besides, if I’d wanted to babysit full time, it probably would have been a better gig, including more money and freedom. But to most anyone else, creating curriculum for elementary kids sounds a little more sophisticated, and therefore, desirable.

The point is, I could have felt really badly that I’d screwed up the interview by talking about babysitting, instead of, say, my experience working in a law office or how well I did in school, but I have turned this into an example of how not having an ego about my job actually saved me. (Nice work, eh?)

I really believe I would have gotten it if I had kept to more heightened subject matter, and I think dropping the babysitting bombshell was one of the best forms of self-sabotage I could have enacted.

Not having an ego in terms of my work, and not having an identity to attach to (or therefore lose, when I decided to stop caring what everyone else thought) gave me a lot of freedom. I imagine it’s much more difficult to turn away from a high-paying prestigious career. So I consider my lack of wealth and prestige a blessing in terms of a couple less things to overcome in my search for knowing myself.

In the end, I knew I was never “just a babysitter”. And I know a lawyer or doctor or teacher is never just that, either. I learned to look past what people did for a living.

Before I had this realization, I used to be slightly in awe of someone who did something which required a lot of schooling or made a lot of money. I was curious to find out what people did because I wanted to classify them, imagine how much money they made, decide whether or not they could help me get somewhere.

Then, after coming around to this realization, I found myself asking about it less and less. I simply stopped being curious. It seemed like such a moot point, like asking what color their underwear was. In fact the latter probably would have sparked way better conversational material. I don’t need to know what you do to know how I’m going to treat you. I want our interaction to be pleasant and mutually respectful, no matter who you are.

Now I just enjoy people for who they are in the moment. I really don’t care what they do unless it’s a direct point of interest in our conversation. In learning to look beyond career in both myself and everyone else, I have found great freedom. My world has opened up because I no longer have to waste all that mental energy processing and weighing someone’s answer against societal views of someone’s place in the world. In fact, I’ve saved so much time, I took up knitting!

It’s a nice big weight off your shoulders when you finally see everyone as just as good, and no better, than you. All of that job stuff is so fleeting. It has little to do with who we really are, and is constantly changing, anyway. So stop trying to put yourself, or anyone else, into a box, whydontcha? People defy geometry. If you don’t believe that, you’re just selling yourself short.

(But I won’t ask how much you went for).

Why You Can See Me Naked

While some people think I’m such an open and free spirit, there’s a part of me that would much rather have everyone in the world see me naked than read my journal. Come to think of it, maybe that only adds to the whole free spirit thing…

What I mean is there’s a part of me that I keep rather guarded, that most people don’t know exists. It’s something I don’t keep covered by wearing clothes.

I see it like this:

I didn’t create my body, so I have a hard time feeling totally like it represents me. It’s just something I came out with. I didn’t even get to pick boy or girl. Plus everybody has one. How conformist is that?

Also, all animals are naked. I don’t presume to know a naked dog any better than one that’s wearing a Christmas sweater. Actually, I probably know the Christmas sweater dog a little better– that dude is crazy!

But anyway, my body, clothed or not, really has little to do with me, in terms of knowing me or what I’m about. Size of my boobs, nose, or butt, there’s only so much I can control. (Well, they do seem to have a bit more control in California, but I happen to live in New York.)

Writing, on the other hand, is something you made, your thoughts on paper. I don’t think non-writers always realize what a risk that can be. You can think a million things a day, but how many of those do you actually share with people? And of the things you actually do tell people, usually they’re not on record. Usually there’s a good amount of leeway between things you say and how much you can backtrack. Not so much with writing. And my writing goes deeper than what you would usually get in day-to-day conversation with me. It’s a piece of my inner world. (Though I’m also beginning to take my writing much less personally) To me, that’s a form of intimacy.

The way I see it, there are two types of intimacy. And one doesn’t actually exist. One is the obvious, like having sex or seeing someone naked, you know, the physical things. The other is mental or emotional intimacy, the kind that sustains relationships far beyond physicality. The reason you can love your friends and family without sleeping with them (thank god for that). Hopefully, the kind of intimacy you also feel for the person you actually are sleeping with. I don’t think the first one actually exists.That physical kind? I think it’s imagined.

Someone can rape you. Does that mean you were intimate? You can be having sex with someone, and your mind is on someone else. I don’t consider that intimate. What about strip clubs and prostitutes. Are those exchanges generally based on things you consider to be intimate? I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I define it. I believe the only intimacy is on a mindful level; two minds meeting, not two bodies. Nothing purely physical is intimate, but something physical can become intimate when mindfulness is involved, a meeting of the minds.

One action performed unconsciously versus the same action performed with presence can make one intimate and the other violent. There’s a big difference between a massage from your husband and a massage from the guy at the Y. At least, let’s hope there is. The difference isn’t in the physical action– they could give you the exact same massage, yet the intention behind the massage (the state of mindfulness with which it is performed) is what determines its level of intimacy.

This is something I always differed on with my ex, who was better than the secret service about keeping himself covered up. He wouldn’t even change in front of me (and hello, I’ve seen him naked). He was obsessed with curtains being closed, and doors being locked. I on the other hand, always felt that if someone sees me changing– who cares? Seriously, like, I do not understand. It’s not like I get off on it, or walk around with the intention of someone seeing me. I’m not trying to show off, I just have more important things to focus on than middle school locker room concerns. I’m not saying either one is right or wrong, but I will say I spend absolutely zero time stressing about it, and he seemed to spend quite a lot. The point is, someone catching a glimpse or even seeing me full-on nude, isn’t intimacy. Some people seem to think that is, but I simply can’t agree.

Intimacy can only be given. It can’t be taken without your consent. (One exception I can think of is someone reading someone’s journal. That’s pretty treacherous.) I had a boyfriend who would always be asking to read my writing. It was always stuff I’d written but wasn’t ready to talk about. Once in awhile he’d finally break me down and I’d give in, feeling like I wanted to die and take him with me– not in a friendly way. “Sure you can read it, but don’t ask me any questions about it because it’s not up for discussion”. It was still in the stage where it should have only been seen by me, so not only didn’t I take kindly to his insistence upon reading it, I certainly wasn’t going to sit there and do a Q & A session after. I wasn’t ready to be intimate with him, or anyone else, about it. That’s why I didn’t want anyone reading it in the first place. That puts them in an even worse spot because if you’re not willing to talk about it, they’re just going to simmer in their own questions and doubts. That’s one reason you shouldn’t try to pry intimacy from someone. They have to be freely giving of it, or you will come up empty handed, despite your best efforts.

All the time he sat there reading, I felt violated in a way I had been lucky enough to have never previously experienced. Without being dramatic, those are maybe the darkest moments of our relationship that I can recall. This is a good example of why you shouldn’t pry intimacy. First of all, because it’s impossible anyway, and second because it makes things worse. In the end, it wasn’t really his fault. He didn’t know what he was doing and there’s no way he knew how miserable it made me. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt there. He was just trying to get to know me and understandably, he was curious about what I was working on. What I learned from that situation is that no one wins, and in fact the bridges of intimacy can be burned, when it is forcibly attempted on someone.

Force is the antithesis to intimacy. Intimacy must be shared to be real. It cannot be one-sided.  That’s why I say there’s only one kind of true intimacy. And you have full control of it, because only you can give it. I have no problem talking about most anything– except those things which I am quietly growing until they are formed enough to see the light of day. Because until then, they aren’t up for debate, opinion, or discussion.

And that’s the short story made long about why you should never read someone’s journal. Hence those handy little locks that a five year old could pick.

And no, I’m not posting any pics.

Woody Love

Tip:

If you’re still sharing an apartment with your ex, and you come home to find them watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona (a movie you took them to see on their birthday a few years back), and they ask you to crack their back on the floor, and you ask them to crack your back on the floor, the sex scenes are on, and the tension in the room could be cut with a knife…

Yeah, don’t do that. I know it’s hard to avoid this situation because it’s so common, but do try your best.

I don’t know from experience or anything, but I imagine this happens to Woody Allen fans quite frequently.

20 Reasons You Should Take Yourself Seriously (A Helpful Diagnostic Tool)

1. No one ever changed your diaper

2. You never wet the bed (…but sometimes your “friend” who was sleeping in the same bed did)

3. You’ve never farted, nor do you imagine you’ll start now

4. Your job cannot be done by anyone else, ever

5. If you suddenly ceased to exist, it would probably incite the apocalypse

6. You’ve never laughed so hard you cried

7. Everyone laughs at all of your jokes

8. You always only drink just the proper amount of alcohol to remain sophisticated, yet social

9. You’ve never failed a test

10. You’ve never gotten lost

11. Your breath smells like roses and butterscotch

12. You’ve never had an ingrown hair

13. You’ve never dripped food on your shirt

14. You’ve never had a crush on someone who wasn’t also madly in love with you

15. Your nickname is Don Juan (and people say it with a straight face)

16. Your parents are pleased with all of the choices you’ve made in life

17. You’ve never told a lie

18. You’ve adopted more children and given more money to charity than Angelina and Brad

19. The last time you cried was the day you were born

20. People like you enough to put up with you taking yourself seriously

*BONUS:  You write a post this short and there’s not two obvious typos in the first two lines

Why I Quit Coffee

This picture is so out of line.

Because I could.

The end.

Just kidding. It’s obviously not that simple.

Here’s the slightly more complex version of how I came to quit coffee*

*As I started to write this, Leo** began making coffee for the first time in weeks, ironically tempting me in a way that hasn’t happened in…weeks. How fitting.

(**Another vice of mine is continuing to live with my ex after the break up. That’s next on my list…)

Like most other people, I got roped into the coffee drinking scheme somewhere in my life, though I don’t remember when or how I started doing it. But I liked it (or maybe I worked up to that point) and it had its place in my life. Mostly, I used it for writing and working out. With either one, I would time it so that I could get the most writing or working out done, while I was still on the mental and physical high. It was like surfing a wave. If I missed it, I just had to wait till the next buzz, usually the next morning. (Real bummer.) However, eventually my tolerance increased, so the more I drank the less effect it had on me. Sometimes drinking more would actually make me tired. That was fairly annoying.

I took it black, and preferred it on an empty stomach. Any additives only seemed to dilute the effect. Once in awhile I’d make it a “meal” by adding cream or milk and a sweetener. It would help keep me full and sometimes helped with cravings. It also helped keep me regular, which I know is important to a lot of people, though I’ve never had too much trouble in that area (or maybe I just don’t pay enough attention to that area of my life).

There are some other good things about coffee, too. I like the smell of it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The smell of coffee is one of my favorite things in the world. I’ve always loved it, long before I ever wanted a taste. In fact, I think it smells a million times better than it tastes.

But besides those things, I appreciate the tradition of coffee. Like being in a yoga pose, you can literally feel the history, thousands of years (?? I’m shooting in the dark here) of people bonding over cups of hot brown stuff that promised to lift their spirits and give them a momentary boost of energy.

Additionally, I never fully bought the idea that coffee is unhealthy. In fact, the research is so mixed, as often it is, that I don’t think anyone knows for sure whether coffee has an overall positive or negative effect on our physiology. I’ve heard so many conflicting stories, I finally ear-muffed myself on the subject. Not to mention, we often don’t give enough credit to direct observation and experience. More likely, we find ourselves googling strangers’ perspectives on the very thing we are, or should be, the best expert in the world on: our body, how it feels, and what works best for it.

Lastly, it provides some sort of pleasure, or it wouldn’t be such a popular form of socially-acceptable crack (by the way, I still think it’s light-years better for you than sugar). Like those people who see someone smoking in a movie and it makes them want to light up, that’s how I was with coffee. It just made me feel like a part of humanity. Unlike going out for lunch, dreaming of my wedding day, working at a corporation, getting my nails done, living in a big city, binge drinking on weekends, watching Honey Boo Boo, Jersey Shore or the Kardashians (I just don’t understand) it was something I could actually be “in on” with the “normal” people.

“Want to go out for coffee sometime?”

“Love to! It’s already a habit plus I can actually afford it!”

It was my one widely-accepted vice. Meanwhile, riding my bike everywhere, waking up early, preferring solitude and fresh air to parties and air conditioning, and not wearing shoes unless absolutely necessary, these other vices I had were not always widely embraced.

By the way, are those vices? I think they must be. 😉

When it came down to it, I never felt extremely motivated to quit coffee (and thereby cut my single last tie to all of humanity). So why did I bother? (Good question. And thanks for asking, or this whole post would have been for naught…)

There were a few reasons, the first being I was finally starting to take my spiritual practice seriously. And I wasn’t sure why, but I’d heard through the grapevine that coffee could interfere with your ability to listen to your inner guidance, and that it strengthened the ego. It seemed to me most spiritual leaders weren’t downing cups of joe. And it also made sense; I’d witnessed my “monkey brain” on coffee, and without, and it was always much more active when I was drinking the brown stuff. That could only interfere with meditation, and I’d learned through experience I felt much happier the less thinking I did (yeah, I realize that’s not something you usually want to say to a group of strangers). So although I’m usually an advocate of not watching what other people are doing, and just doing what’s best for you, it seemed like there could be something to it, in terms of a spiritual link and helping my practice.

Perhaps an even bigger reason than that, however, was this:

Because I could.

It was helpful that I never felt much of a physical addiction to coffee. I liked it, and I had a bit of a habit with it, but it wasn’t like I was getting headaches or any of the other strong withdraw symptoms when I didn’t drink it. Maybe I was more tired for a day or two, but it wasn’t anything I had to rearrange my life around. Mine was more of a mental, emotional addiction, so it mostly required a change of perspective. And that’s just what I did. I realized I wanted to quit because it seemed like the logical next step toward gaining a bit of freedom back. I knew I could do it, so why not, then? It would be one less thing to worry about.

And when I think about it, that just might be the single reason to quit something: just because you can! If it’s something you can quit, it means it doesn’t need to be there. It means you can exist, and probably have existed, without it before. And it means that to do so, will simplify your life.

Because in the end for me, it comes down to the concept of freedom. To being tied down to a substance–or not. My life right now is about gaining space and freedom, and I didn’t see being tied down to any substance on a habitual basis, as helping my cause.

So if you have the choice, wouldn’t you choose to be free? If you know you can quit, why not do it? You really can feel good without coffee. Seriously, kids have been doing it for years. And they can still run circles around most coffee drinkers. The biggest difference is that instead of highs and lows, you feel more stable all throughout the day. You don’t come up, so you can’t crash. It’s actually pretty nice. And oh yeah, you feel good because you don’t have to think about making or obtaining coffee first thing upon waking. You can even go on a week-long hike in the woods and pack a pound of pot instead of a pound of coffee. Just kidding.

When it came down to it, it wasn’t about coffee or whether I drank it or not. It was about undoing a tie I saw no need for in my life. We so often throw around the word “freedom” like it’s something that we want. And most people, if not all people, do. But what they don’t always realize is that oftentimes they’re slaves to their own creations. They have so many chances each day to expand their freedom, but it’s easier in the short-term to focus on something that someone else “did to you” or an excuse as to why you can’t be fully free.

The simplest way I know to become free in your life, to really experience freedom, is to give up all your addictions. If you think it’s impossible, well I don’t know what to tell you except, if it’s something you have ever lived a day in your life without, you can probably get back to that place. I’m not saying it’s always as easy as how I quit coffee (cold turkey, by the way), but I know it can be done.

The greater the hold a thing (cup of coffee, toxic relationship, poor spending habit, whatever) has on you, the greater the incentive to give it up. In fact, I’d venture to say that the only better reason to quit something than “just because you can”, is “just because you can’t”. If you think you can’t quit something, then you have even more to lose by not quitting and much more to gain by doing it. If you honestly undertake that task (and please believe I know it’s not easy– I’m in the process of quitting sugar, which is my own personal kryptonite) then when you succeed, you will experience freedom way beyond the physical space created in your life. You will know what it truly feels like to be in charge and responsible for your body, your thoughts, your decisions. It’s a feeling of peace you can’t put a price on, not even for all the Starbucks in the world. (I know that’s a lofty statement, but I stand behind it).

So ultimately, it all comes down to the fact that I quit coffee because I could. Oh… So I guess it really was that simple all along.

Do You Want To Go To College?

 Were you ever asked if you wanted to go to college? I wasn’t.

I remember being about five and sitting with my grandma at the kitchen table (in the very same spot where I write this, I just realized– spooky), when she laid a smack-down of the future on me. It was harsh. And it went like this: she told me I was going to college, no if’s and’s or but’s. (Yep. That’s why they call it the smack-down. It hurts!).

My grandma didn’t get beyond sophomore year of high school before she dropped out and she worked physical labor, cleaning houses for a living. She was a very good grandmother and as such, always wanted the best for me. The best she knew was that going to college was the key to success. I remember thinking to myself, “Hm, okay. But why exactly do I have to go to college? What’s going to happen if I don’t? And where’s my say in all this?” It just didn’t sound right to me. Even when I was five. A few short years prior, I was in diapers. I didn’t even realize what college was all about– if I had, I would have been even smarter to be skeptical.

Quite a few years have passed since that night I got the smack-down of the future laid upon me. In the twenty years since then, I am sitting at a table (in the same house, in the exact same spot) and I just have to wonder, what’s the end game? Is college really necessary? How come nobody is willing to update their beliefs about this elephant in the room?

We hear the statistics about college graduates not having jobs, not seeming to be much better off than they were before, and yet we continue to push these kids through a mill of social-norms that often leaves them financially scarred and headed for indentured servitude in jobs they could have grabbed prior to the degree, and with much less debt.

Disregarding “the college experience” which has always seemed to me a bit overrated, from a purely practical perspective, I have to ask myself is college worth it? For me it’s a done deal, I’ve already gone through the education mill. But with each passing year, it seems to me the answer is to that question leans less in favor of leaving home to sleep in an extra-long twin bed with your lab partner, and more in line with getting a job, taking a breath, and really figuring out what you want in life.

So, my question is: Why aren’t we asking kids this question: Do you want to go to college? (Was that confusing? I’m sorry.)

Another question we might consider: What do YOU want to do with your life?

And then a follow up thought: If you aren’t sure, or what you want to do doesn’t involve/necessitate going to college, maybe college isn’t the best (or smartest, or financially sound, or enjoyable, or sensible) way to spend the last few years of your teenage existence.

With all the thought and lip service we give to selecting just which college to grace with our presence, this isn’t a question I hear posed very often. Yet, it seems to me it might just be an important one to ask. (I’m just that weird).

And then I hear the voice of reason–I mean, sorry, parents (don’t know how I got those two confused for so long)–

But why would you bother to ask? I mean, what kind of question is that. Of course you need to go to college, so it doesn’t matter whether you want to or not. Not to mention, you don’t have time to waste thinking about that when you have applications to fill out and colleges to visit, maybe a large standardized test to study for. Now that’s time well spent. Just hang in there, and you’ll have a job like me (except a little less pay, because of the economy, you know…). But cheer up, you know how much I love my job. Really, I do. It’s tolerable on a daily basis.

The thing is, we have been conditioned (much the same way I was at the tender age of five, although I never fully bought into the concept) to believe that we are less-than if we don’t go to college. Less-than what? Less-than successful, less-than the best ourselves, less-intelligent-than the people who do go to college, less-likely to succeed. Just a lesser person all-around.

Not going to college is usually made out to be the worst path a person can possibly take not just in real life, but often even in movies and TV. You can get pregnant before you’re ready, or you can get busted with drugs, but that’s nothing compared to throwing your life away on NOT going to college. (I can hardly utter the words…)

Besides, if you don’t go to college, how are you ever going to get out of town? Maybe people don’t know about all the college graduates that “get out of town for a few years”, rack up some debt, and wind up back in their parent’s basement not long after the last notes of pomp and circumstance have been played.

I think I’d rather stick around for the first year or two and save up enough money to finally move out, not jump the gun and then regress. And I say that being someone who did both: I lived at home for a while before moving out, and then moved back in when my lease ran up after a break up. In my opinion, it’s harder moving back in than it is staying put for a little bit until you can finally be out on your own for good.

Quite a few of my friends from high school have the same, or equivalent jobs, to the ones they could have held (or did) back when we were eighteen, yet they went to school and got the degree that promised so much for the future. In fact, if they hadn’t taken the time out for school, they may have been even further up the ladder to success.

I don’t like using statistics, because there’s one for every opinion (even opposing ones) but from what I’ve seen in real life, it’s a risk whether or not college will pay off. If you’re lucky, which I was, the only real expense of college, apart from books and gas (still a good chunk of change), was that you took time out from your earning capabilities during that time. And that’s one of the best case-scenarios. I didn’t really get ahead, but I didn’t really fall behind either.

Some other people, quite a few of them, are much less fortunate. One friend of mine is in debt with somewhere around a thousand dollars a month. Money she expects to have to dole out for close to the rest of her life. She may be an extreme example, but the real kicker is that she doesn’t even specifically use the degree she went into so much debt for!*

*A side note: that’s not to say a degree is wasted. I don’t believe that just because you aren’t directly using your degree or knowledge, that it’s not doing you any good. I actually believe that no skill set we can acquire can ever be fully wasted. But, I think it’s a matter of how much time, energy, and money you are willing to contribute from your life in order to pay for that particular skill set.

Just because I think a class on basket-making may be fruitful in terms of your personal enjoyment (and also to hold your fruit), it doesn’t mean it’s worth $500 and however many weeks of your time. Then again, maybe it is. That’s only for you to decide. The problem is when you’re not the one making the decision. You may think you are, but it can be hard to differentiate between voices in your head of parents and well-meaning friends, versus your own, which there’s a good chance you have very little experience listening to.

Most big life decisions have always been made for you to this point. That’s another reason the decision of college is a tough one to make.

Speaking of decisions, it seems to me that kids are being given autonomy too late in life. I literally never realized life was mine, to do with what I pleased, until after I graduated from college. After that, with no one was lining up to give me answers on what I should do with my life (or at least not any desirable ones). It made me realize it was just me, myself and I on the open road. Long term relationship not really going anywhere, lots of babysitting, a little drug experimentation, and a total lack of direction.

You know, the things most adventure stories are made of.

My point is, kids should be made to realize that they do have a choice. And you can’t hold them back all their lives and then one day spring this huge decision on them about higher education, and expect they know how to make it. And remember, it does have a lasting effect. Whatever direction they choose, they are the ones who will have to live with the path, so it should be more their choice. And hopefully, they’ve had more decision-making practice than where you’re taking them out to dinner.

Our view of college has not changed with the changing times. By the very nature of supply and demand, the more common something is the less valuable it becomes. That’s quite obvious in its application for college degrees.

We are now witnessing inflation of the degree. In each passing year, the more education you need for the same job someone else was doing practically fresh out of high school. And yet the price of college is going up. Would you pay a premium price for dial-up internet service that was close to obsolete?

Also, I’ve just never bought the myth that educated people are any better than anyone else. Maybe that has to do with my wonderful grandmother. She’s learned from experience, by living, not by reading a book. She knows how to be, because she wasn’t raised on simply learning how to think. That may sound like a case for ignorance, but it isn’t. She’s one of the least-ignorant people I know. She’s also one of the happiest.

College graduates make more money. Sometimes.  Even that’s not cut and dry. Most of the richest people I know aren’t rich because of going to school, they’re entrepreneurs and independent business people who oftentimes, in fact, dropped out of school. And I’m not arguing for ignorance, but if you want actual knowledge, there are plenty of ways to get it outside of a classroom.

I don’t consider formal education anywhere close to holding the monopoly on how to educate yourself, nor do I think it’s the most expedient way. Many of the books I read in school were available in my local library. I could have spent less time on all the superfluous stuff like driving an hour each way, going from class to class, and spark noting/studying topics that were of no interest to me, and just focused on what mattered. I would have actually come out better-read, and more focused.

And yes, we’ve all seen or known people whose lives would be completely different, for the better, if they’d gone to college. People who would have jumped at the chance, who probably regret every day not having found a way to get there. Of course if you know that you want to go, do it! And do it gladly and consider yourself blessed to have such a strong sense of direction and drive, as well as the means to pursue your passion. But there are other scenarios where it’s not so clear. It’s like getting married: if you aren’t sure, don’t do it!

That’s not to say college isn’t good, or that I would recommend not going to college. I don’t recommend anything other than taking a good look in the mirror (hey good lookin’…) and asking yourself if college is what you really want. Or maybe an even better question to start with is, What do you actually want? And then decide whether or not college it the best way to get there.

Because you can’t become happy following someone else’s dream for you. And you can’t become happy just because the world sees you as a success. So you better have an idea of what you actually want.

And sure, there’s a chance you could figure it out in college while you’re ticking off your required courses and shot-gunning shitty beer, but you’re just as likely to figure it out in the real world, while you’re living your life and making or saving money, and not putting yourself into possibly long-term debt.

So, in my story I eventually caved to the outside pressures and did what was expected of every middle class white kid at my school (basically the entire school) and signed my life away for four years of institutionalized, watered-down learning. Did I like it? Sure, sometimes it was fun. And then sometimes it felt like an oddly formal exercise in futility.

Was it worth the amount of money it would have cost me if it came out of my own pocket? Probably not.

I was lucky enough to get a full scholarship to a two year community college, based on good grades, and then my parents paid for the other two years of state school, to which I commuted. I worked during all four years. I had very few expenses, so I was able to save most of the money I made.

The best part was just being around people my age and sometimes intelligent (or maybe just entertaining) discussions. But I also had a sense that I could be working a lot and making a lot of money during that time. I just didn’t see the point. (I was an English major, for god’s sake– and because I couldn’t come up with anything better, a film minor… Yeah).

In the end, yes I’m at peace with the fact that I went to college…

But that’s mainly because I don’t jive with the idea of having regrets.

I think it’s more that I’m glad it’s over and done with, and I’ll never have to wonder to myself, “Oh, what if I went to college?” Then again, if I was listening to my heart and following my dreams, I doubt I’d have the time or bother to worry about something I never wanted to do in the first place…

I think the real reason I say I’m glad I went to college is because it made it a lot easier for me to check it off my list, “Okay, so that didn’t change my mind about not wanting a regular job, even now that my ability to choose one has slightly increased…”

Because I went to school for free and I was still able to work and save money while doing it, it wasn’t such a bad trade. I feel very lucky for being in that situation, which made going to school not too much of a risk.

On the other hand, I think I could have gotten just as much “life experience”– probably more– by just being out in the world and following my instincts.

If I had to do over again, I would most likely independently pursue my interests, while making better use of my time and money. And I would till take a class or two, which being hindsight and all, I would know which ones were good enough to waste my time in. 🙂

If someone has the means and wants to go to school, that’s great. I would advise them to do it as inexpensively as possible. To enjoy the experience for what it’s worth, and realize life may not change a lot when you graduate, or maybe it will. Hopefully you found a way to come out of it all a little wiser, a little more yourself.

And if you aren’t sure, school will always be there once you know where you’re trying to go. But don’t go for the wrong reason, and the only wrong reason is any reason besides the one in which you just want to go.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: the ideal situation is that you take a breather and decide whether or not college is for you, instead of getting swept away by culture, society’s pressures, or the way it’s always been done. Make whatever choice you make for yourself, and no one else.

So, even if you messed up royally and went to college like me, I’m here to tell you that you can always go live on in a farmhouse, wear your bathrobe to work at a job you made up yourself, and cohabit part-time with a papillon who makes Mariah Carey look not like a diva.

Somehow I think that moral took a left turn somewhere…

10 Things I Learned at a Music Festival

[You know what they say about hippie sex? It’s in tents…]

In the spirit of Music Festival Season, I’d like to share some insight about music festivals and their greater importance in life. Yes– even greater than the fact that they allow you to drink as much as you want at the shows and not have to worry about how you’re going to get home.

I have an ex-boyfriend who for purpose of this blog and his sanity (and my safety– just kidding…), will be called “Leo”. Leo is actually the one who took (dragged) me to my first Bonnaroo. One of the great gifts Leo gave me was the gift of outdoor music, the festival atmosphere I never previously knew existed.

The first summer we were together, he took (dragged) me to so many Phish shows, they all blend together into one crazy blur of a memory. But I will never forget the first show, and most notably the first Shakedown (parking lot scene), where I realized that there was an actual world of these crazy (in good ways and not so good ways) people who traveled around, “living off the land” in a modern sense, getting by as best they could, and just listening to music that they loved. It was a total inversion of values unlike anything else I had ever witnessed before.

It wasn’t like my life changed overnight, but something inside me switched on. My world had been cracked open just a little bit. Before that, the most I had been exposed to hippies previously was in the high school hallways wearing muckluck slippers inappropriately in Northeastern winter weather and patchwork pants (and Leo).

This was actually about something new; these people were walking the walk, and not just pretending to be unable to shower while they lived in a mansion on the East side of town. I wasn’t able to implement, or even register, everything I learned from those shows right away. But here are some of the tidbits I have gathered, about what music, traveling for music, and living amongst men, albeit for brief periods of time, has shown me.

1. Traveling is a great relationship litmus

Well, if there was ever any indication Leo would become my ex someday, it could have been found pretty easily within the first three minutes on the road. Quite literally, I can see it now, the moment we first started arguing on our first road trip. Wait…I was going to say it was about half a mile away from his house, but now that I realize it, we actually started arguing more like while we were still in the driveway, as we were packing the car, when I was requesting to go to a yoga class before take-off (because I knew he wouldn’t be ready by the time I was, and he needed to have me on call just in case he suddenly woke up ten hours earlier than he usually did, and wanted to leave right away–which he wouldn’t because anyone who knows Leo knows he needs AT LEAST an hour of warm up time, plus TV or some other sort of media, plus coffee, to get going in the morning. Every morning.)

Either way, I loved the guy, but we fought like cats and dogs right out of the starting gate (thank god there’s no room for another cliche in that sentence). Then a few miles in, we’d find some sort of balance between the volume and type of music we were going to be listening to for the next 18 hours, and my incessant need to pee. Then we would be mostly good until tent set up.

I have flashbacks of pretty much every time we set up camp together because it is probably THE most shining example of how truly incompatible we were. Other people scurried around like well-oiled, friendly little teams, while Leo and I would be looking like candidates for the next great divorce battle (I’m surprised that’s not a TV show). Either I would be doing all the work and it would be “too hot” for him (he’d be smoking a cigarette under the nearest shade) or I would want to go pee, make a drink or whatever, and he would be raring to get the tent set up ASAP. We were, in fact, such a mess when it came to setting up and taking things down, I once harbored a crush on his friend merely because he helped me put up and take down the camp one year.

Lesson learned: travel with your mate. Forget about “taking the car for a test drive” (that silly euphemism for sex before you take them off the market); how you travel together is perhaps THE best litmus test for your relationship (but you can go ahead and have sex, too). You are always going to be coming up against unexpected problems, discomforts and nuisances when you take a trip, especially when that trip doesn’t involve a hotel and nice places to eat/pee. It really shows how a person is when they’re out of their element, and how you are with them. So throw caution to the wind and get off the couch once in awhile. However many years later, I still love Leo– and he taught me so much– but I realize now, if you can’t travel with someone (camping is like the holy grail of this test), then you may want to reconsider spending the rest of your life with them. Life is one big trip, so you better have a good (compatible) partner along for the ride.

2. The importance of community

Most of us don’t have this in our day to day lives. After going to music festivals every summer for the last several years, I’ve realized that one of the main reasons people enjoy themselves so much is the real sense of community that is fostered during this short but meaningful time. First of all, everyone is there for relatively similar reasons: to have fun, listen to music, relax, spend time with family and friends, and do some drugs. Just kidding- most people don’t bring their families. 😉

Leo is good at meeting people, and so he was a good host in this way. Even if you’re not with a natural friend-maker, a lot of fellow concert-goers do the work for you. It’s not rare for someone to come up to you and start talking about a band or a show or looking for dru– I mean, their family member… You will have more interactions with more different people in such a short period of time than you probably ever had in your life. It’s a group of really friendly strangers. I’m a relatively keep-to-myself kind of person, and I love it.

People actually share with and care for one another when they’re out there. If you have to ask a neighbor for anything, they’ll usually have it and happily lend it. Or they’ll offer it to you without you even asking. I can’t count the number of times our neighbors would offer us drinks they were drinking or food they were cooking. It feels very co-tribal, back to the roots of human civilization before everything fell apart. It sounds so simplistic, but it’s actually kind of profound. To be living near people of all different ages, means, styles, personalities, is really quite fascinating. You can be living next to a millionaire with a really expensive car to your right, and have a band of vagabonds to your left. And the funny thing is, you will usually get to know your neighbors more in those three or four days, than you know the “real” ones you’ve lived next to for years.

One year at a festival in Maine, we were camped next to literally a circus troupe of people from Canada– I still don’t know exactly who or what they were, but I think of them fondly from time to time. All I can tell you for sure, is that they drank Bailey’s 24-7 and at least one of them did a lot of acid, like all the time. And they wore some really cool clothes. Come to think of it, I think they organized a goddamn marching parade during the festival. I have no idea how everyone knew to bring instruments and halloween costumes. (Must have missed the memo) Meanwhile, Leo was asking me to hold an umbrella over his head because it was too hot and there was no shade. (He had no shade, I had no shame…We made it work) But suffice it to say, you will meet the most amazing people that you didn’t even know could exist, and all the divides have been taken down, so you can actually get to know them.

Oh, the other really cool thing is all the stuff you’ll hear as you’re trying to fall asleep. The things going on just feet away from your bed, can be hysterical. Crazy conversations, hi-jinx, whatever people are up to is bound to be pretty entertaining. Just don’t forget ear plugs for when you actually want to fall asleep.

3. Walking is good

Walking is great exercise and I’ve always come back from music festivals feeling a little bit lighter. Whenever I was about to go away, but was attached to a certain work out routine, I would always try to figure out how I could possibly keep it up during the trip. And oh, how I tried. I won’t go into trying to do Bikram yoga in my 110 degree tent in Tennessee with sweat dripping off me so profusely I was afraid to get anywhere near my bed or clean clothes. And the ironic thing is, I didn’t ever stick to my “work out” routine (I think the most I’ve done yoga at a festival has been once, and MAYBE twice) but I always came back feeling in good shape. And that’s just because of all the walking I did!

When you’re at a festival, especially a large one, you do tend to walk– a lot. If you’re lucky enough to be far away from the stage, you’re most likely going to be clocking a few miles (or more) a day, unless you’re one of those people who packs a bag and doesn’t come back till dinner or bed– or if you take a shuttle everywhere. We would come back to the site periodically throughout the day to eat, drink and reset for the next thing. But it felt so good to spend almost the entire day just moving. It wasn’t strenuous, but it really did illustrate for me once and for all the benefits of walking. My legs looked better and I swear I lost weight (also probably because I wasn’t sitting around eating all day).

Also, it’s motivating to move because of all the people you will meet, crazy things you will overhear and see. It’s like a movable fest, but slightly different than Paris. It’s another way I was able to get in touch with my “cave-woman” side. I believe earlier humans walked a lot more than we did, and I could feel and see the benefits of doing that for just a few days.

4. Always bring an extra set of car keys

When traveling, it is always good to have a spare set of car keys with you, preferably kept by someone else in a safe place. But especially at a music festival, where getting locked out apart from losing your wallet with $160 in it, is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Picture this: you’re stuck in a sea of cars, people, and tents. Getting someone (probably trying to drive a large truck) in there to help you would be a nightmare. Not to mention you probably already spent plenty between the ticket and gas just to be there, now you have to pay for the decidedly un-fun bill of a locksmith. (Could have spent that on weed! Just kidding.) It would just be a nightmare, so think ahead.

I always try to remember to bring two sets of keys. Also then if someone wants to go back to the site and the other person wants to stay out at the music, they can get into the car without a problem. It’s much easier that way. You don’t want to miss Mumford because you locked your damn keys in the trunk while making a peanut butter and fluff, so do it right the first time and bring that darn spare! And speaking of fluff…

5. Ants love fluff

Yeah, believe it or not, I hate to burst your bubble (I’m certain you were planning on bringing fluff to the show–weren’t you?!) it may not be the best festival food to bring. Being the lazy campers that we are, and not wanting to deal with the hassle and clean up of cooking, we were always trying to short-cut our food needs. We brought peanut butter and fluff to almost every festival. Both don’t require refrigeration (you will understand the importance of that if you know the cost of keeping a cooler stocked with ice in the middle of the summer) and it’s an easy and filling kind-of meal. I guess you could always leave out the fluff, but Leo seemed to need just a little bit of disgustingly sweet food every day. In fact, he used to have a really bad Coke problem. There were always several half-empty cans littering our campsite at any given time. (Oh, what did you think I meant?)

One night I got up to make something to eat, and Leo was out at the late-night music. I couldn’t find a flashlight, or more likely we just hadn’t brought one, so I attempted to make a PB and fluff in the dark. I felt a bit of a strange tingling sensation on my hands, but I thought it was just the cold night air making me feel pins-and-needly. I brought my sandwich back to the tent, ate it sleepily, and then got back into bed. I felt like little ants were crawling over my body, but I figured that was also just my body responding to the cold night air versus being back in the sleeping bag, or something equally less likely to be true. When I got up the next morning, Leo said as if one of our dear friends had dramatically passed in the night, “Fluff’s done for”.

“What do you mean?”

“Go see for yourself.”

He had left it on the ground by the car. It was swarming with ants.

So much for my phantom ant syndrome. I’m pretty sure I got some extra protein in my sandwich that night.

6. You don’t need to drink to have fun (this isn’t a public service announcement…)

The second Bonnaroo we went to was amazing. It was literally the best time of my life, and I never say that about anything. But it was. Being able to re-experience, and then surpass the amount of fun I’d had at the first one sealed the deal for me. It seems in life I have fun doing something, but then whenever I’d try to go back and “repeat the experience”, it just totally paled in comparison. Not so with Bonnaroo. It just seemed to keep getting better and better each time (please excuse my hyperbolic statements regarding Bonnaroo and “all the times” I’ve been. To clarify, it’s more than one but less than three).

But that second time I went, I didn’t drink or do one drug. Not one puff of pot, not one sip of beer. And it was fantastic. In fact, I’d go out on a limb to say it was better than any shows I’d been to while drinking or otherwise impaired.

I used to be the type of person who didn’t drink very often, but when they drank, they drank like a professional (minus the clothes and corporate suicidal-depression). If I was drinking, I wasn’t going to eat and I was going to make sure I drank as much as my heart desired. But that year, I had gotten really into hot yoga, especially Bikram, and so I was all into this detox thing. I pretty much just ate fresh fruit the entire time and lucky for me, some coconut water company was having a promotion that year in which they gave out free coconut water all the time. It was an especially funny coincidence because I’d just paid $100 to have a bunch of it shipped to my house and here they were, giving them out like candy at Halloween. So I was thriving on that. I was just about mainlining coconut water. One morning I got up early and did yoga (and then I think I slept in the rest of them). I was feeling good, and even though our neighbors woke up with beer like most people do with coffee, and Leo was doing this thing, whatever it was at the time, I felt no need to indulge. I’m sure our neighbors felt we were the most square people they had ever encountered, but they were still nice to us.

I knew it was the greatest moment of my life on the first night on the main stage. Arcade Fire. I have never felt that type of energy come over me at a show. It was pure bliss. I was dancing so hard, even though I had never considered myself a “concert dancer”. I don’t know what came over me. It was almost like an out of body experience. Their energy was just beyond words, and I felt so lifted. It showed me unequivocally that feeling good and taking drugs were not mutually inclusive.

In fact, it was the type of high you don’t have to come down or be hungover from, which was even better. It opened up a whole new world for me, mentally, to be able to be that happy and free and in the moment with absolutely no special substance in my body. It had been awhile since I’d gone to a show completely sober. At some point in our lives, most people just start drinking at concerts and never look back. They don’t give it a second thought, or imagine that it’s possible we don’t actually need alcohol, or anything else, as a clutch to truly enjoy ourselves. This was a very important lesson for me. I have a flashback in my mind of at one point glancing at Leo. He had the biggest grin on his face I have maybe ever seen. I like to think it was one of the best shows of his life, too.

7. Keep your eye on the ground (especially at a Phish show)

I don’t know what it is about Phish fans, but they are the craziest group of people you will ever meet. I mean that in a good way. They are SO dedicated to the band, the anthology of music, and many of them follow Phish around the country on tour. One other thing I can say about Phish is that when they play a music festival (like the Bonnaroo they played) it is like a regular Phish show, x 1,000 in terms of madness. I’ve never been an intense Phish fan, but Leo dragged, I mean– brought– me to enough shows that summer to where I built up a healthy respect and appreciation for the band and its followers. Like I said, I’ve seen nothing like it.

One dubious way in which Phish fans stand out is that for some “unknown reason” they tend to lose their wallets. Like, all the time. A few weeks ago my dad went to a Phish show and found a wallet, found the person who lost the wallet, lost his own wallet, and found his wallet all within a twelve hour period. Then, because he hadn’t returned the wallet when he met the person who’s wallet was lost (he didn’t know how to produce the wallet without feeling awkward) he lost the guy again, and had to mail it back to his mom. Haha.

So Phish, being my first big music festival, set me up for what would become a sort of obsession of mine: finding stuff on the ground. At that one show, we found multiple bills (dollars, fives, tens, a twenty) as well as a wallet with about $160 in it.

*Tip, if you find someone’s wallet, try to return it. It’s good karma. We found a brand new Blackberry back when Blackberries were still awesome and we returned it to the owner, which was fun. At another show we found a new iPhone and did the same thing. When you find a wallet, it can be a little trickier. You see, we wanted to return it to the owner (he lived in Australia) but we didn’t want to just hand over $160 bucks to the people running the tent. We knew where that would end up: most likely not with the original owner. So we wrote him a note with our name and address and phone number and said if he got his wallet back, to get in touch with us and we would send him his money. So we took the money out, hid the note inside, and handed it over to the people at the lost and found tent. What’s the first thing they did when they thought we weren’t looking? Flipped it open to check for cash. Then they tossed it aside.

We never heard back from the guy, so I’m sorry to say he must have lost his wallet for good. And he’s probably bummed he never got to become one with any of those fun-shaped pills he had stashed in there, too. I will leave you to imagine whether we left those in it or not…

Anyway, the moral of the story is that at music festivals, you will invariably find something cool on the ground. Actually after our first festival being so successful on “ground scores”, Leo invested in a head lamp for other shows. We would sometimes spend the sets wandering the grounds with flashlights, seeing what we could find.

Sometimes you come up with some really random and cool things. I found a utility knife that was covered in peanut butter and fluff (no kidding) that someone must have just not felt like cleaning, but I took it home and sparkled it up and it’s a great thing. I wish I could remember where I put it. I have an awesome cotton throw blanket that I found, took home, washed and use all the time. Also a Whole Foods canvas grocery bag that someone apparently just got sick of. I found an awesome congo drum, which I still have and love (it was on a trip where I had been in debate the whole time about whether or not to spring for a drum, and then on the last day, someone just left it). I think last year we found a roll of toilet paper, still wrapped, that we took back to our apartment and used. Oh, just all sorts of random things that people throw away that aren’t actually garbage. That’s one thing Leo and I could always bond over– garbage picking. What else is romance for? There are plenty of other random things.

The number one rule of ground scores is: if you can return it, do. The second rule is, if you can’t return it, enjoy it. And the third is, if you’re willing to pay a little attention, you can find some really cool things. Also, since those shows, we have become pretty good about finding things on the ground around town. We’ve found skate backpacks full of Easter candy, wallets, a drunken girl who passed on on the lawn, and many other things that we either took home and enjoyed or helped find their way back home. To be clear, the girl belonged to the latter group.

On the flip side, we have lost some things in traveling, walking around, and at concerts. The one rule that this ultimately applies to is the rule of non attachment. Easy come, easy go. We may have had to give up that awesome utility knife at a car check at another show, and we’ve both lost some things along the way that we’d rather have kept (obviously) but when you’re finding other people’s stuff, and you know how fun that can be, you also hope that someone is finding your stuff and loving it just as much. Ultimately, none of that stuff really does matter and it’s all just a little fun game of distraction in the scheme of life… Just like money and things in real life, but it’s a little easier to see with ground-scores. Also, it seems to nicely illustrate the cycle of karma. We’ve returned some expensive phones to their owners, but last year we also had a lady walk up to us and say, “Oh you look like a nice couple, my husband and I have to leave early, would you like our VIP passes?” and we’ve also gotten gifted free tickets to shows. One time we got our own box seats. A man just walked up to us on the street and handed them to us. We’ve gotten free tickets to quite a few shows and some great deals when we actually did have to pay. It has shown me that what goes around really does come around.

8. You don’t need as much as you think you do

Speaking of stuff, I have to point out that one of the best things about music festivals is that it strips you down to only the essentials. Just as with other types of camping, you don’t get to bring the kitchen sink. So you have to really look at your wants and your needs, and bring them down to the lowest common denominator.

I’ve noticed before that the more I feel the need to bring, the more insecure I am in life. Packing for me has always been a really useful indicator of how I’m feeling at that point in time. The types of things you bring, or think you need to bring, are sometimes really ridiculous (funny at best, a hindrance at worst). At the first Bonnaroo, we met a character I may never forget. Jeff from Florida. He drove a very expensive SUV that was either beautiful pearl white or black, I can’t remember which one. He had a surf board and a campsite that was literally strewn with mangoes (but I’m pretty sure he had no tent). We dubbed him “mango guy” and he was unreal. Also for a few other reasons I won’t elaborate upon here. But the point is, he brought a surfboard and a hundred mangoes… to a farm in the middle of Tennessee. It was just the best example I could think of in terms of packing things you don’t need. Well, the mangoes are fine. But the surfboard probably went unused.

Usually with camping, when you’re forced to leave things you consider “essential” at home, you realize that they weren’t really essentials at all. One thing I love about festivals is that you don’t have to be attached to your phone, you don’t have to worry about work calling, or anything else. If someone wants to talk to you, that’s cool but you’re a million miles from home and about to go see a great band, so it can wait. You’re in the moment and off the map. It’s total freedom. It’s freedom from household chores, from being overwhelmed with the smallest things that make up modern daily living that are, for all intents and purposes, absolutely useless. You’re not going shopping, you’re not carrying your entire closet around. You have one or two pairs of sensible shoes. You’re probably not surfing the internet and you’re almost definitely not watching TV. You realize how few outfits you need, maybe you need less food than you thought. Air conditioning isn’t necessary to survive. Maybe you don’t shower for half a week. You’re still breathing! (Although you will realize baby wipes are pretty much indispensable). It feels so good to be rid of all the trappings of modern day life.

Ever since I was young, I’ve considered it my goal to be the best packer I can be. I always want to bring it down as low as I can, without sacrificing too much comfort. After a few trips of packing a fashion shoot’s worth of clothes, and yet I wore the same tee shirt and shorts for five days straight, I got smart about what really mattered. And I learned I’d rather wear whatever’s comfortable than try to impress my neighbors (the same ones waking up with beer instead of coffee).

9. You can understand timelessness

At a music festival, the only thing that time matters for is getting to the next show you want to see. You aren’t tied down to a schedule, you can come and go as you please. Living life in such a flow is one of the most addicting things I’ve found with music festivals. In fact this is the first summer I may not get to a music festival, and I think the only reason I’m halfway okay with it is that I’ve finally begun living my life in this very same flow. Once you experience that sort of wild freedom, there is really nothing like it and it may be hard to go back. In fact, pretty much every time it’s come time for me to re-integrate into society (especially that very first “appointment” I have made for when I get back) I freak out in varying degrees.

By the way, one of the worst things you can do is schedule yourself to work the day you get back from a festival. Doubly so if you’re driving a long way and you just spent the night (or longer) in a car. Give yourself a day or more, if you’re so blessed as to be able to, in between. It really can be tough going back to the “real world” of time and professional clothing (I’ll save my post on professional clothing for another day).

10. You can experience a RARE phenomenon

(Hippie-drum-circle-roll please): Nature!

Now I know, music festivals are sometimes in the middle of a huge field, or maybe even a parking lot. They’re rarely a chance to get to the bottom of “does a bear shit in the woods”-type philosophical deepness. Nor are they usually your best bet for bird watching, whale watching, or any other kind of “watching” that is the means by which most people would constitute being in nature. But it IS a chance for you to witness something just as great, and just as wild: yourself.

Living out doors, even if you a block away from a neighborhood or you can see a hotel from your tent (or you wake up to what seems like an earth-quake because you’ve camped in your car next to a train track) puts you in contact with yourself in a way you just can’t understand when you’re cushy inside without a care in the world besides where your next bowl of ice cream is coming from (seriously, who’s going to get that for me?). For instance, we were at a festival one year where it was the record heat wave all across the country. It was like 110 degrees, not a lick of wind. Even the Atlantic ocean was so warm it wasn’t helpful in cooling you down. It was all we could do to get to a tree to lie under and try not to move (and then every time I was about to doze off, a freaking horse fly came and bit me– EVERY TIME!!!!). It was like, so miserable you can’t imagine. And yet, it brought every single person there together because we were all just human bodies that wanted the same thing (cold beer– I mean, a break in the heat!). It was the great equalizer and everyone, rich or poor, was experiencing the same thing (okay, for purpose of this statement I’ll ignore the fact that there were people in RV’s camped quite comfortably, probably with ice-cold air conditioning. That’s not real camping.)

When it rains, you’re going to get your feet CAKED with mud like you’ve never seen. You’ll wonder if they’ll ever come clean again (and you’ll be surprised that that kind of mud comes off more easily with water than dirt). You can step in mud up to your calves in some of those mud pits (and it kind of feels good!). You won’t get to wash your hands that much and you’ll be amazed when you don’t get sick from it. You might come to enjoy the amazing refreshment of a cold beverage if you’re lucky enough to come across one, and everything tastes better when eaten outside, so you’ll probably even enjoy that ant-crusted peanut butter and fluff (it helps if it’s too dark to see). You may be forced to survive the elements when there’s a thunder storm followed by a tornado warning and you’re in the middle of the largest field you’ve ever seen (under a metal tent) and the worst concern you have is whether or not you left the tent flap open and all your clothes will get wet (just kidding…that never happened to me) and when you think your tent just may blow away in the biggest winds you’ve ever seen during a rainstorm at the beach. There are things you can’t appreciate unless you are out there to experience them first hand, without an immediate comfort cushion or back-up plan. These things will make you grateful for all the comforts you have every day that you probably didn’t even know you were lucky enough to take for granted and they will also give you a newfound respect for what humans’ lives were like before all these crazy inventions like walls, refrigeration, and iPads.

Like the earthly beauty of an acoustic musical set, at a camping music festival you get to experience yourself unplugged. This is a compilation of many of the other reasons to love music festivals, but to me, aside from the music, it’s the single greatest reason to at least once a year, somehow find yourself sweaty and miserable in an ocean of thousands of people swilling $12 per ounce beer and yelling out the wrong lyrics to their favorite songs.

____________________________________________________

Wait, did I say miserable? I meant…Well, okay, maybe that’s what I meant. Because if you’re anything like me, there WILL be a small (or large, if you ignore #4 and lock your keys out of your car) moment in your trip when you’ll wonder what on earth convinced you to pry yourself away from your Mac to be out here stranded with just an iPhone, in such in-climate weather with such a rowdy group. But trust me, you made the right choice. Hang in there. Maybe take a nap, eat a cookie, and wait till the next set. And if by the end of it all you aren’t already planning your next trip to Tennessee, well… then this whole post was pretty ironic, eh?