An Obvious, Not-Obvious Thing
I think I was 20 or so when I first thought to myself, “The first step in growing up is realizing that you’re still a kid” or something like that.
Even at the time, that seemed very obviously like a Step Zero kind of idea: like, not even Step One in the actual program of working on the thing, but the step that makes you realize there’s a thing to maybe work on in the first place.
- … Though, in fact, I’m not at all enamoured with the idea of growing up for its own sake, and never have been. More on that later, ! maybe?
At the time I was still rather blindly invested in the idea of myself as being mature-beyond-my-years. That was a problem because, in fact, I wasn’t so much preternaturally mature as developmentally delayed in a way that completely hoses up the cultural signals of maturity.
Like: it’s hard to get in trouble by doing stupid things with your friends when you don’t have any friends. Not getting in trouble can make it seem like you’re making good choices, when in fact you just haven’t had to make those choices in the first place.
It’s easy to follow the rules when you’re developmentally still at a stage in which you actually really like rules. This can make it seem like you’re a mature and prudent individual with clear foresight when, once again, you might not actually be equipped to make prudent decisions or be at all good at figuring out how your immediate actions might impact your long-term outcomes.
It’s easy to sound like an old soul when you basically learned how humans talk by reading books written by people who died a hundred years ago (and let’s not forget the social weirdness of growing up in the ur-nerdy, monomaniacal worlds of ballet and classical music, in which children tend to behave almost as if they come from another time, because the culture of the artform selects for a kind of old-world obedience). None of those things mean you have any idea how to have adult relationships.
When an actual 8- or 10-year old comes across that way, we assume that—appearances notwithstanding—they’re still not yet in a place, developmentally, that qualifies them to march forth into the adult world and, like, provide for themselves, navigate complex adult relationships, and … all that stuff.
When someone who’s 18 or 20 comes across that way, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Things Aren’t Always As They Appear. Instead, we congratulate them for their apparent maturity and are then flabbergasted when they make a disastrous hash of actually Adulting.
This can be just as true when the person in question is yourself. It can be hard to see our own deficiencies. We are, by nature, standing too close, so to speak.
Which brings me to The Obvious, Not-Obvious Thing.
I have spent a huge chunk of my life trying to prove that I could Live A Normal Life Despite My Differences/Disabilities, without understanding that simply acting as if they didn’t exist was, perhaps, not the best strategy. (Okay, full disclosure: I still do this on the regs. Long-established habits take time to change.)
As a result, I’ve basically lived a life in which I’m constantly angry at myself for the mentaphorical equivalent of failing to make it up the stairs in a wheelchair when there’s a ramp RIGHT HECKING THERE, for G-d’s sake. Or, at least, there’s an easy enough way to add one.
- Caveat: there are, of course, still many, many situations in which there is neither a literal nor a metaphorical ramp. The fact that the culture at large behaves as if people with disabilities are failures in those situations is another post entirely, and one that lots of people have written better than I might. Likewise, deciding to climb the stairs in your wheelchair because you actually want to is a totally valid pursuit.
Anyway, lately (and belatedly, given that anyone who’s spent more than two minutes around Buddhism should hecking well know better, but there I go becoming attached to a concept again—specifically one about how I should or shouldn’t learn, which seems hilariously apropos), it has begun to occur to me to forgive myself, as it were, for being what I am.
Like … I might be able, with immense effort, to change some of these things to some extent—but why do that when there are other ways to reach the same goals? And why be mad at myself when I struggle? It’s not like being mad actually helps (in this circumstance).
In other words, it has begun to occur to me that instead of continuing to ram my metaphorical wheelchair into the stairs and be angry at myself for failing to climb, I can accept the metaphorical wheelchair situation and, like, add metaphorical ramps instead. (This seems relevant to this year’s intention, “Ask for help.”)
It has begun to occur to me that instead of fighting to change some of the limitations (for lack of a better word) that my brain imposes, I can accept that they’re there and figure out how to work with them—to harness them where it’s possible and to accommodate them where it’s not.
I guess I used to assume (albeit unconsciously) that I would “grow out of” things—that one day I’d learn how to do things the “normal” way (which is difficult enough for “normal” people, come to think of it) and … that would be that, I guess?
It’s not an unreasonable hypothesis—after all, at one point, I didn’t know how to tie my shoes, and then I figured it out and now it’s automatic.
It is, however, an incomplete hypothesis, or maybe a complete one that I’ve overgeneralized. (Teaching has been helpful, I think: it’s made the idea of different people having different strengths and weaknesses real to me in a way that it wasn’t before.)
In the past, for example, whenever I figured out a way to actually get myself to sleep in an almost-normal pattern, I I would simultaneously feel pleased with myself (This is it! I’m finally doing it!) and incredibly anxious (But what if something happens and I can’t sustain it?). I would cling white-knuckled to the System I’d devised. Then I’d be terribly disappointed when, inevitably, something interrupted the System and my brain happily reverted to its night-owl default because, yooooo, chronotypes are a thing.
I felt this way despite understanding that last point (chronotypes are a thing, though they tend to wander a bit over the course of our lives and we can force ourselves, with effort and routine, to live contrarily to them).
It takes several weeks to condition myself to sleep on a different cycle than the one my brain wants, but only about two nights off-pattern to reset back to square one. This is frustrating, obviously—but it doesn’t have to feel like a disaster.
I can remind myself that stressing out about it only makes things harder, and that while more than a few nights in a row of sleep deprivation can have dangerous consequences for my mental health, I now know how to combine a handful of tools (strict sleep hygiene, medication, and sheer physical exhaustion) to make myself sleep. Ideally, I should actually apply them before sleep-deprivation-induced mania takes hold, but even if it reaches that point, I now have the safety nets in place to prevent actual disaster.
In short, I’ve learned to tell myself, “It’s going to be okay” and believe it.
And though I’ve been reading and hearing about it for years, only recently did I develop the ability to apply a measure of radical acceptance. Like, how hard can it be to say, “Ah! I’ve managed to get to sleep by 1 AM and wake up by 9 AM for three days running. That’s convenient,” without feeling like THIS IS IT! I’M FINALLY DOING IT! or freaking out when, inevitably, I don’t get to sleep until 4 AM at some point?
Really hard, apparently.
But I’m learning to both say and feel, “It was handy to be awake by 9 AM and well-rested for a few days, but it’s no big deal that it didn’t work out today.” (Admittedly, it would be harder to do that if the company weren’t on hiatus. But we are, so I might as well work on developing this skill while sleep-scheduling demands are still on easy mode.)
I can also be fine with understanding, for example, that I’m not good at the kind of abstract planning that Adulting requires, or at managing money (or literally anything else) unless I keep things very simple, or at making phone calls (I joke about this all the time, but I also spend a lot of time being annoyed with myself about it). And being fine with understanding those things could help a lot.
Like, it turns out that when you stop being mad at yourself, it actually really is easier to start looking for ways to approach problems and get stuff done, just like everybody has been saying since forever.
So, basically, my current hypothesis is this:
Why not accept that what I am and where I am right now and begin working on building ramps so I can live without constantly feeling like I’m fighting an uphill battle?
I’ve also only just kind of realized that “accepting what I am right now” is different than “clinging to an idea of What I Am.” The first option leaves room for change and, frankly, for just being wrong. I might not actually understand all that well “what I am right now,” but if I accept that I can try different strategies until I find one that works, then it doesn’t really matter that much anyway.
If I can fail without getting angry at myself—that is, without judging myself—it’s not actually that hard to try again, or try something else, or to allow myself to rest before trying something else, or, you know, whatever.
And maybe I can even learn that it’s okay to fail. We can’t all be great at everything, and the world would be boring (and I wouldn’t have a job as a dancer, probably) if we were.
The Badger Cabinet Problem, Episode 01: Possible Solutions?
D installed new cabinets in our kitchen some while before I arrived in his life.
He bought them as a lot, rather than having them custom-built, because he’s the frugal kind of person who does that kind of thing and makes it work (I love that about him).
Anyway, I think our cabinets were originally intended for a more typically-sized and -laid out kitchen. This led to one significant problem: a deep, inaccessible well in a corner where two cabinets should connect, but don’t.
I’ve dealt with the problem, thus far, by shoving things I rarely use into that deep, dark well.
This is all (ahem) well and good until I actually do need to use them. Then, it’s a giant pain in the neck to pull everything out of the near end of the cabinet so I can fish around in the far end, hoping against hope that nothing with big, sharp teeth is hiding in there(1).
- Okay, it’s fairly unlikely that there are, say, badgers living in my cabinets, but there’s still something I instinctively dislike about shoving my arms into dark hidey-holes.
On the other hand, if anyone needs a secure place to stash the One Ring for a few decades, my Badger Cabinet is probably a good choice.
Anyway, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with a better way to manage the Badger Cabinet, and I think I’ve finally figured something out thanks to a really expensive sliding spice rack.
Denis would almost certainly murder me if I spent nearly $80 on a sliding spice rack right now, or even $45 on the single-tier version that holds “large containers,” but he almost certainly(2) won’t murder me if I buy some appropriately-sized plastic or metal bins and some of those stick-on felt slidey feet, as long as I don’t spend too much money.
- I say almost certainly because D doesn’t understand my desire to organize things into easily-removable units. He has no problem with removing 15,000,000 individual small items in order to access one large item, probably because HE NEVER PUTS ANYTHING AWAY, EVER(3). /me stomps off in a huff
- Seriously, this is true. You should see his work bench But he makes up for it by his many other excellent qualities, like knowing how to do plumbing and already owning a Fancy Stand Mixer so I didn’t have to buy one ^.-
One set of bins could go up front, so rather than removing a bazillion individual bottles of miscellaneous oils, tins of baking powder, bags of baking soda (I have discovered that you can buy baking soda, which I use both for cooking and cleaning, in 2-pound bags), I’ll just have to remove a few bins.
The slidey feet will make it easier to get the the bins in the back out.
Et violà—no more sticking my poor, naked arms into potentially badger-infested dark holes.
I will have to measure our fancy stand mixer to confirm this, but it might even be possible to move the Fancy Stand Mixer (which currently lives atop the fridge, where I can’t reach it for fear of dropping it on my own head; that thing is heavy) to the cabinet, where I could potentially wrestle it free without risking cranial injury. Then I could actually use said Fancy Stand Mixer.
That or else I could move the Fancy Stand Mixer to the spot on the countertop where the SodaStream and several cookbooks currently live, then move those guys into the cabinet above or onto the top of the fridge.
I could even move all the random junk that lives in the large cabinet under the flatware drawer up into the Badger Cabinet and then use it to store things like the bread machine (also currently inaccessible due to its precarious perch atop the fridge) and possibly some of my loaf pans, cupcake molds, and so forth.
There’s also a Badger Cabinet on my stove. Right now, it holds all the muffin tins, loaf pans, and so forth, but they’re not very well organized. (Okay, really, they’re barely organized at all.) I have some plans to improve that situation; the challenge is finding the right parts. I’m thinking a combination of slim tension rods and some kind of heat-resistant shelf could work.
So there we have it. A possible solution for the Problem of the Badger Cabinet. I’ll check back in once I try implementing one of my possible solutions.
Things Left Unsaid
A long time ago, my Step-Dad said to me, “You won’t be able to keep eating like that when you get older.”
At the time, it pissed me off. I was like, What does he know? Who is he to tell me how I can and can’t eat?
And, in point of fact, there were a lot of things he didn’t know — which, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is pretty normal even for parents who live with their kids, and my Step-Dad wasn’t living with us yet at the time (in fact, he wasn’t even officially my Step-Dad yet, though he’d been in my life for several years by then). Kids are independent beings — the more so they older they get — and while it’s important to know the important stuff, it’s impossible to know all the stuff.
If I remember correctly, I was working my way through an entire stack of Saltine crackers, rabbit- (or possibly typewriter-)style: gnawing my way horizontally across the cracker, then back the other way, until each cracker was gone.
Basically that’s what I lived on during the day — Saltines, ramen noodles, Chunky soup, sometimes hot dogs, the occasional grilled cheese sandwich(1).
- True story: it took me until I was like 18 to figure out that if you put butter in the pan or on the outside of the bread, your grilled cheese sandwich will taste a bazillion times better. I persisted in not understanding this even though I regularly ordered clam rolls or hot dogs at Friendly’s largely because I loved what they did with the buns. Apparently, I imagined that this was some kind of unknowable Restaurant Magic. Seriously, childhood self: WTF?
I mean this, by the way, more or less literally. This was during a long stretch (read: my entire life) during which I found it nearly impossible to fall asleep before 2 AM and thus rarely woke up with enough time to eat breakfast; during which, to compound matters, I found most of the offerings of my school’s cafeteria singularly inedible (okay: in fact, I had never found school cafeteria food at all edible). Had it not been for the deli cart that sold little sandwiches on Kaiser rolls, I would have eaten literally nothing during any given school day.
So, basically, I would come home and shove Saltines (or ramen, or Chunky soup, or hot dogs, or… and almost always or rather than and, by the way) into my face because I was more or less starving. But, of course, my Step-Dad didn’t know that. He came from a world in which kids eat breakfast at home and lunch at school and maybe a snack in the afternoon. He had no way of knowing that one of those things wasn’t happening at all and the other was happening, but inadequately.
And I had no way of explaining any of this, because it was all just normal to me. I didn’t think there was anything weird about the fact that I never managed to fall asleep before 2 AM, for example — that’s just how it had always been. Your own normal is your own normal, and as a kid it’s not always easy to tell when your normal, like, maybe isn’t.
Normal, that is. It’s still yours.
Anyway. I digress.
So, basically my immediate response, because I’m a hot-headed little prick and frankly it tends to be my go-to, was anger. I did not welcome what felt like unfair and undue criticism from someone who still, at the time, seemed like an interloper(2).
- This wasn’t, by the way, his fault: I think he did a very reasonable job, under the circumstances, trying to integrate into a family in which it is both fair and actually pretty accurate to say that the kids had more or less been raised by cats up until then. In case you’re wondering, cats don’t do a great job teaching you how to human. I love cats, but in some ways they make lousy humans. Anyway, my sister and I weren’t having any of it.
In fact, all I heard was unwelcome criticism. I didn’t hear the part that went unsaid: that this guy, in fact, actually cared about me.
The content of the message, of course, is debatable in 2016, in a world in which we’re beginning to see the question of body diversity very differently than we did when I was 12 or what have you … though I suppose a steady diet of Saltine crackers is probably less than ideal from a nutritional perspective, at any rate.
Even in the last few years, we’ve really begun to rethink the way we approach nutritional issues with kids (if not, sadly, so much with adults). We recognize that, in a world already rife with soul-destroying messages about size and weight, we have to be really thoughtful about how we talk to them about food and body size and everything in that whole arena.
So surely there could’ve been a more body-positive way to have that conversation — one with a little more “Hey, Saltines are great, but you could probably use some hummus or something to go with them so you don’t get scurvy, because scurvy is going to make gymnastics/skiing/horsebackriding/dancing pretty hard,” and a little less, “Whoa, there, buddy — you’ve gotta learn to slow down, or you’re going to get fat when you’re older,” with all its unspoken implications about the validity of fat bodies.
But, at the end of the day, cultural baggage notwithstanding, there was that other, more important message — the one that’s so hard to hear, so much of the time, when the people who love us offer what they very sincerely intend as constructive criticism.
It’s the message that goes, “Hey, I want you to be healthy and happy, because I care about you, and I want you to avoid these pitfalls that I’ve fallen into myself.”
Things have changed a lot in the intervening years. My Dad died when I had just turned eighteen. My Step-Dad was an unexpected ally: he understood my hurt, my anger, and why I wandered around wearing my Dad’s Air Force jacket all the time. My Mom and Step-Dad married when I was nineteen (like so many other important events in my life, including my own birth, that involved a major blizzard: does anyone wonder why I scheduled my own wedding for May?). My sister and my Step-Dad reached a detente, then an accord.
I realized, most importantly, that my Step-Dad makes my Mom happy, and that they work well together, and that, in the long run, that’s what matters.
We are still a family that talks in ellipses; a family in which so much is left unsaid. After a while, you learn to kind of hear between the lines. You figure out that, sometimes, “Hey, you should put something warmer on,” really means, “I love you; don’t get frostbite.” That, sometimes, the Yankee stiff upper lip makes it hard to pronounce the words.
Not to say that everything’s perfect now. On our trip to Marco Island, I was kvetching about my eternal nasal congestion and how it makes sleeping difficult, and Step-Dad piped in with, “Especially when you get older, you should make sure to get checked for sleep apnea.”
From somewhere in the depths of my psyche, my preteen self awoke and bristled and almost said something like, “OMG DAD SRSLY?!!!”
And then I took a breath and realized that I was missing, once again, the thing that went unsaid: “Hey, I’ve had a couple of friends who’ve really suffered with this thing. I care about you, I worry about you, I don’t want you to have to go through that.”
I’m not sure if I gracefully said, “Oh, thanks, yeah, good idea, I will.” I think I said something more like, “Oh, yeah, I know a couple people with sleep apnea, it sucks.” I don’t actually remember, because I was really kind of busy being annoyed at myself for being annoyed in the first place.
But I hope that, whatever words made it out of my mouth, that my Step-Dad heard the things I left unsaid.
That he heard, “Thank you. I love you, too. That means a lot.”
Modern Monday: Thoughts on Picking Up Combinations; Also on Food
I’ve been working on a strategy for combination-acquisition that Modern T recommended to me, and I really think it’s probably the best way to go.
In short, instead of hand-miming or subtly marking the combo as it’s handed out, you just stand (or, in some cases, sit) there and watch — really watch and ingest; get a good, solid mental video.
Then, if there’s a repeat of the demo or a verbal explanation, you can mime or mark as needed. It also helps to program in the counts (and swing and swing and swing and around, or what have you) on the repeat if you think you’re going to get lost.
This approach prevents you from missing critical points — the direction of a turn; what exactly happens during a change of direction; whether there’s an extra step or a direct weight transfer; what’s happening with arms and necks and shoulders and backs.
I did this throughout most of class today. Sometimes it felt really weird to be standing there just watching while much of the rest of the class was doing the subtle-marking method and my brain cells were firing like crazy, trying to make parts of me move.
On the other hand, it worked.
Throughout much of the class, I had the choreography down about as well as anyone. I felt solid doing it, even though sometimes my body was busy going, “WTF, THIS IS NOT GOOD BALLET, I WANT TO DO GOOD BALLET.” Sometimes my body doesn’t get the memo that modern != ballet.
To be frank, this kind of watching is hard for me. I tend to space out (and then start jiggling) when I’m standing still (thanks, ADHD!) — so this kind of “just watching” involved a very conscious, intentional imbibing*.
I totally failed to apply this lesson going across the floor. I started out with good intentions, but then realized I was in somebody’s way, took a step — and suddenly I was soft-marking along and missing really critical elements (Wait, isn’t there a third triplet? And is that hop-tour lent thing on the upstage leg or the downstage leg? And why am I doing it as if it was an sauté-fouetté?!).
As such, my across-the-floor combination was a straight-up disaster.
I did it wrong, then did it another flavor of wrong, then did it a still another flavor of wrong… Literally every pass (and we did the combination at least four times each way) was a new, unique, and different kind of more-or-less entirely incorrect.
Yeah, I got a bit frustrated, there. Like, seriously, for once in my life, when Modern T said, “Do you want to do it again, or are you guys done?” I was the one who said, “I’m done.” (And then did it twice more anyway.)
But, at any rate, I learned a valuable lesson about how I absorb choreography (and, um, knowing is half the battle, I guess?).
Moving right along.
Some thoughts I’ve been kicking around with G+ friends have led me to reflect on my eating patterns, and I’ve realized that I eat quite differently for a strongly dance-based lifestyle than I did when I was training for bike racing.
I’m not at all sure I’m Doin’ It Rite™, but — at any rate — I’ve noticed that dancing doesn’t seem to make me as hungry as cycling (I think I’ve touched on this before) and that my “fueling” strategy is quite a bit higher in carbs than it was for cycling.
Some of this, of course, is sheer disorganization. I have not adapted amazingly well to my current schedule, which often involves dance classes in the morning, a brief break in the afternoon, and aerials or more dance classes in the evening.
Basically, I am not good at changing gears, and thus am not the kind of person who can get much done in the gap — so I do less cooking than I should and more, well, scavenging for anything quick, basically.
I have at least finally managed to mostly get on top of breakfast, for the most part. Breakfast is usually ~113 grams of plain Greek yoghurt, ~70 grams of unsweetened frozen berries (I happen to particularly like the blends that include cherries), and 25 – 30 grams of whatever kind of not-super-sugary granola looks promising.
If this sounds astonishingly precise for me, I promise, it’s really a function of the fact that it’s easier to scoop yoghurt out with a spatula, weigh it, and hit “tare” a few more times as more things are added than it is to shove it into a measuring cup, then transfer it into a bowl or whatevs.
I also have fancy yoghurt bowls that keep the crunchy stuff separate until you’re ready to eat. Using frozen berries means I have to make the yoghurt parfaits ahead of time, which saves me from having to fumble around with the kitchen scale in the morning.
On days that I fail to crawl out of the crypt bed in time to actually eat like an adult (or at least a toddler), I still tend to desperately chug protein shakes on the way to class. For such emergencies, I use Orgain (Creamy Chocolate Fudge) because it’s low in sugar, decent in the fiber department, tastes okay, and isn’t horribly expensive. My base of choice is unsweetened almond milk, but it’s perfectly good with regular milk. I usually add coffee concentrate and a touch of vanilla extract, but it’s acceptable without.
Dinner is frequently some species of pasta — I’m particularly fond of ziti and penne rigate — because I can make that ahead in huge batches and reheat it later. My sauce of choice comprises an “Italian seasoned” tomato paste, a ton of diced tomatoes (usually canned, because laziness), basil, oregano, garlic, onions (sauteed in a little olive oil and red wine), sometimes mushrooms, and either meatballs (sometimes frozen, sometimes turkey) or sausages.
This makes it sound like I plan better than I do.
If I were really any good at planning, there would be far fewer nights on which we eat dinner at 9 PM when I’ve arrived home at 7:45
Interestingly, I almost never ate pasta when I was racing bikes (except when I was intentionally carb-loading). Training rides tended to make me insanely hungry and I would just go crazy with the pasta; I generally substituted raw cabbage for the actual noodles (the sauce heats the cabbage just enough to be crisp-tender, which is awesome).
I’m much better, now, at figuring out when I’m full, so I actually do eat pasta. I still often add either raw cabbage or raw baby spinach, though (because veggies ftw).
In the past, my breakfasts were also generally lower in carbs than they are now.
Meanwhile, lunch is just a horrible, ongoing, unmitigated disaster of food-on-the-fly right now. How desperate my choices are depends upon how well I’ve walked that fine line between just enough breakfast and way the hell too little breakfast*.
I am not too proud to admit that I lunch has recently featured such stellar choices as a fried chicken sandwich, half a Whopper (apparently, I can’t eat an entire Whopper), or pizza from a gas station’s convenience store.
This doesn’t really seem to be making any impact on my baseline health statistics (if anything, it’s the only thing stopping my blood pressure moving from “low” to “undetectable”), but it probably does significantly impact my ability to not be a horrible, face-eating hypoglycemia monster by the time my evening classes roll around.
So basically, in summary:
When I raced bikes I was hungry all the time, limited my carbs, and was much better at lunch.
Now, my appetite is more manageable even though I burn roughly the same number of calories on any given day (if not more, because I have more upper-body muscle than I used to — so, seriously, wtf), I eat pasta like it’s going out of style, and I am terrible at lunch.
The next step, then, is to figure out how to eat lunch on the fly without spending a gajillion dollars. I mean, obviously, I know how to eat lunch (open mouth, insert
foot food), but the question is how to plan ahead and make food to bring with me (because apparently it’s not super safe to just leave a giant bowl of pasta in your car and assume it’ll be nice and hot by the time you get out of class…).
So that’s today’s installment. Not incredibly informative to anyone who isn’t me, I’ll wager, but it has helped me identify a “next step” I wasn’t thinking about (that is, how to handle lunch).