Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Quick Flit Into the Parallel Universe

I know, I know, I should be working.

But while eating my chocolate chip brownies with hot chocolate for lunch, I picked up yesterday's Sunday Styles section of the New York Times...and fell through the hole into the parallel universe! I was held captive, against my will; much as I craved returning to work, I could not!

Have you ever heard the word vajayjay? I hadn't. But I read every single jot and tittle of the article about how this term for female personal anatomy has become mainstream, overheard in supermarkets and parodied on You Tube. Where have I BEEN? Did you know Oprah Winfrey is trying her darndest to get the word into the REAL dictionary? Between vagaries and vulgarity.

I speak Spanish much of my day to those around me for whom that is their native language. I will not be explaining this article to them. VA-HAY-HAY.

Equally engrossing was the article on Tila Tequila, the nobody who has leapt to fame for just being her irresistible, if incompetent-at-everything beautiful self, on such high culture offerings as MTV's "A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila," and the ever-elevating "Pants-Off Dance-Off." The article describes her appeal: "Perhaps it is how her large head sits atop a pert pneumatic torso. Perhaps it is the way her wide-set eyes give her the look of a figure from an anime cartoon." Admittedly, the piece set out to ridicule her. But--who KNEW?

Two pages later, I eagerly devoured every word of a clever piece about a couple who compared their flaky contractors to bad boyfriends (in their unreliability and excuse-making, not sexual prowess), which had a certain uncomfortable familiarity, given all the remodeling we've done.

In another two pages, I got a peek into the personal life of "wild" Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation and Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, now a law student at Yale, badly in debt but much improved from her birthday a decade ago spent inhaling cocaine.

My work-break included the story of Robert Thurman's kundan wedding ring. The dad of Uma (as well as sons Ganden and Mipam), a Buddist monk, Columbia University religion professor and household do-it-yourselfer saw an artist friend's pendant--a flower-shaped charm set with stones for seven heavenly bodies said to protect you from "the malevolent influences of the planets" and ordered up one for his ring finger. Future brides, keep it in mind.

Finally, the impetus for this blog was provided by a piece on divorce announcements, with several juicy anecdotes about the use and misuse of them. Beside quoting a clearly mistaken sociologist who says "nearly half of all marriages end in divorce," (FALSE--it's 25-30% depending on whether it's a first, second or later marriage) the piece caught my eye because it reproduced a card saying: "My wife left with my house, my car, my money and my best friend...And I miss him."

That, and the relentlessly entertaining wedding announcements that chirp the ages of the couples and the number of divorces (see my previous post on the parallel universe), and the fascinating backgrounds of the newlyweds' parents ("His father works for Nordic-Calista Well Services as a drill operator on the North Slope of Alaska, in the Kuparuk River oil field") rounded out the perfect work-break.

As I return to the normal press of deadlines, I'm fortified by the fantasy world in the pages of Sunday Styles and the lingering crumbs of chocolate still succulent between my teeth. And now, you're up to date on what's truly important, too.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ten Tips for Overcoming Procrastination

See these pictures of ice cream and chocolate? They look pretty good, don't they? Well, if you keep reading, I'm going to tell you to eat one of them. Just not quite yet.

I am going to give you some very useful information, TEN TIPS to help you get your work done. But first...a few words about procrastination. It is the reaction to feeling claustrophobic. When you feel hemmed in by obligation and stonewalled by an assignment that's difficult, you--I mean I--avoid it. By doing things that seem legitimate, like laundry, or phone calls to make appointments, like taking the car in for its servicing, or getting a birthday gift you have to give on Sunday.

When I'm out in my car, away from my computer and the book I'm completing, I feel liberated from the pressure. When I'm on the phone, or at the gym, the assignment goes away. When I'm in the laundry room...I feel guilty. I should have finished writing at least another ten pages before I did the laundry. I didn't even have a full load of whites.

So, as a form of personal therapy, and to benefit anyone who is reading this blog while procrastinating, here are my ten invaluable "tips" for overcoming procrastination. (This is the pot calling the kettle black, to misuse a cliche. These are things I do not do, even as I tell myself to do them.)

1. Do not check your email until you achieve some attainable milestone. E.g. no checking email till you write five more pages.

2. Do not check your blog or write on your blog or check to see if you got any more comments on your last blog. Or even re-read your old blogs, just because you can. Until you write five more pages.

3. Use the same dishes, rinsed out. Do not wash dishes except at a prescribed time at night, after you've written your 10 pages for the day. Or thirty pages, whatever your goal.

4. Turn off the phone and check for messages after those nasty 10 pages are written.

5. Go to the gym on your regular schedule. Do not skip other basic daily commitments, like morning prayers. If you do either, you will feel guilty and you'll pile that on top of your already profound guilt about those incredibly mean and rotten ten pages.

6. Tell everyone you know about your deadline, so each person will be solicitous and not bother you or expect you to do your usual things. And your friends will keep asking, "how's your project coming?" and thereby be another nudge to get it done, since you don't want to have to answer them, "I procrastinated this week."

7. If you must cook for Sabbath entertaining or an event, do not get creative. Make your most trusted and simple recipes. Better yet, make it known that you have no time to cook, and you hope you'll be invited out. When invited out, do not offer to bring something, other than, oh, beer. Everybody loves specialty craft beers. Or chocolate. Some fancy chocolate.

8. Speaking of chocolate, keep some of your favorite at hand as you work. And nuts, crunchy nuts. Better yet, make that chocolate chips and toasted almonds, together. These are stress-reducing foods. You must have them there ON YOUR DESK so you have no excuse to get up and go to the refrigerator. Have a chocolate chip.
Corollary to number 8: Do not go to the freezer and get ice cream. Ice cream is your enemy. It is the number one comfort food--and the number one GUILT food. Like you need MORE guilt, right? Stick with the stress-reducers. Chocolate chips; take it from me.

9. Once you get into your work, don't stop. If you're on a roll, stay up till 3:30 am if you can--just keep going. You do not need sleep if you're on a roll working. When you finish the chapter, you'll sleep. Much better.

10. Live with mess. Consider your dust bunnies furry friends cheering you on. Your inside-out dirty clothes piled near your closet are an artistic new textile sculpture. If a bit smelly. If you are rich enough to have a cleaning lady, tell her to leave your workspace a mess. Your mess is proof you're working.

Well, those are a few anti-procrastination tips that came to mind as I am procrastinating. I think procrastination is an excellent motivator. Now, back to work!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Deadline Madness

I'm in work mode. I've cut down my emailing, stopped going to the market (Husband: "Can I pick up anything for you at the market on the way home?" Me: "a gallon of milk, some lettuce, tomatoes, celery, two loaves of bread, some cereal, fake meat, and about six ready-made salads from the kosher deli...")

In other words, I'm almost copping out of everything. Well, I did the laundry this week, and even ironed shirts (YUCK!) and of course I go to the gym (except--major confession! I stayed up till 3:30 am Thursday night working and just couldn't drag myself to the gym Friday!! I felt like a SHLUB!!) I've stopped allowing myself to hit Target for fun. I barely clean up the kitchen. I'm in WORK MODE.

The good thing is that it's rather fun. I'm doing a project that requires me to learn lots of US History, and, despite advanced college degrees, I'll admit I was "historically challenged." But now--not so much. I have found wonderful articles on the NY Times website archives--articles from the 1860s written in a stilted third-person style. I've read several books a day, and put several on "hold" from the library--and then actually picked them up.

However, I am frustrated, because I'm supposed to write at least 30 pages a week, and, given my lack of history knowledge, and need to read so much source material, it's taking me longer. Which gets me in trouble. Which makes me stressed, and...oh agony--causes me to want to run away and procrastinate.

I procrastinate by continuing with my normal routine. I take lots of Jewish classes, and I should just pass on them. What? Two of them are held at MY HOUSE?? No, gotta keep those. That means I have to CLEAN my house; put out refreshments and clean up afterward. And I can't miss the other classes because the rabbis would notice I wasn't there. One of the teachers is the rabbi of my synagogue; one time I missed a class and he boomed in front of the hundred people at kiddush, "Where WERE you last Monday night? I missed you!" Aarrggghh.

Does life go on when you're on a deadline? Are the events of normality (classes, gym) worth the stress they cause? Why am I writing in my BLOG when I could be working???

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Working Out Vs Working

How much exercise is enough?

I ask because I need to know. I have a big project I'm working on, and I wonder--do I dare skip the gym to work on it?

I admit, I'm a bit of a gym devotee. Five days a week, ie Monday through Friday, I take Step classes, which include weights, and also other accouterments like using one of those big balls, and bands that you wear between your ankles, and those heavy bars (I use 18 lbs) and wrap-around ankle weights, and those half-cylinder balancing foams, and those stretchy rubber tubes with handles at the ends. I like the high-choreography classes, and I'm a bouncer--meaning I do a lot of jumping around, and always include the "extras" for the higher-level workout. I come out of these workouts dripping with perspiration, or, if you're very polite, like Rudolph the Reindeer, "you would even say she glows." A lot.

I've been doing this for a lot of years. Probably more than the age of many of my instructors.

I can't say it's fun. Sometimes when an instructor really does a complicated or innovative routine, without repeating stuff a zillion times, then yes, it's a LOT of fun. I had one teacher a few years ago who was SO fun, I was willing to get up really early to take his classes. Unfortunately, he had AIDS and had to stop teaching. Dare I say that the very best Step teachers I've had were all gay guys?

I take classes compulsively because I'm afraid not to. I don't want to get un-toned. I don't want to lose flexibility. Especially, I don't want to lose the extra energy and endurance I get as a result. I like that I am competent and I like the "regulars" with whom I take classes. They notice if I'm not there (and I miss them if they're not there, too). There's a camaraderie among people who take the same classes together over time. Not really a deep friendship, but certainly a friendship on a level that can only be forged from enduring something challenging together. OK, this isn't mountain-climbing, but there's a degree of discipline in showing up to push yourself every day.

But now, I've got this project, and it crossed my mind that I could sure use another four or six hours a week to work on it. Can I cut out two days' workouts? (That's what I'm considering now.) Would I be consumed with guilt? I need advice. Have you gotten in an exercise routine and couldn't allow yourself to get out? SHOULD I???

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Celebrating Salmon and Winning a Most Practical Prize

The Northwest rain pelted and pinged on my umbrella today, glancing from the pavement up onto my wet shoes and legs. Its constance obscured the colorful wares in each of the booths I passed at soggy Salmon Days, a celebration of the return of the salmon to Issaquah creek that occurs each year with a plethora of art booths, several stages blasting rock music, and displays at the Issaquah salmon hatchery, to which a record number of fish are leaping and wriggling this year, through narrow and rocky tributaries, to return to spawn.

The fish are truly a miracle of nature, as they are born in fresh water streams, yet ride the current to the salty ocean to live their lives, finally using mysterious means to make their way back to the very spot of their births to release the eggs of the subsequent generation--and die. During a fair-weather fair, great crowds line the bridges over the creek, watching the most amazing display of three-foot-long salmon leaping out of the water, trying to ford a gushing waterfall. Those are the stupid salmon, however, because nearby is a "salmon ladder," a stepped tunnel that runs alongside the waterfall that allows the fish to swim upstream in calm safety. It's lined with viewing windows, and watching these huge fish, many of whom have tattered fins and decaying scales after a lifetime at sea, as they make their way in the urgency of instinct to their birthplace, is an awesome experience. The only reason why God would create such bizarre creatures is to instill in us a sense of wonder. Well, that, and to provide a healthy meal for about ten bucks.

In any case, it's all a great reason for a festival, and the fish are foremost in the fun, with thirty-foot-long effigies, carried on poles by eight people, swimming their way through the crowd (above, photographed in a previous year). Despite the rain this year, the hatchery still swarmed with families gawking at the exhibits of fingerlings and taxidermed fish, and the naturalists on the bridge still fielded questions, dressed in their slickers.

Usually it's the finale fair of the season (aren't you relieved to know...), always billed to run "rain or shine." And today was defiantly rainy, with splashing puddles, and gushing spouts drenching visitors when the white rip-stop canopies on the craft-vendor booths suddenly disgorged their collected pools. In a surreal switch, the people celebrating the fish were immersed in their honoree's habitat.
And because it was nearly impossible to see, with sheets of rain, juggling umbrellas, and the swaths of plastic that vendors draped over their offerings, I took only two mediocre photos.

I did leave with a prize, however--Costco had a booth where you could roll two dice, and if you got doubles or lucky 7, the attendants, with great excitement, handed you a plastic bag with a mystery gift inside. I threw those dice against the black-velvet lined tray, and--voila! Double threes! Gleefully, I grabbed my sack and turned back into the rain, opening it as I jostled with my umbrella, walking into the downpour.

I'll always remember Salmon Days '007, not for any beautiful jewelry I bought, nor the rousing entertainment, or even the oddball fishy exhibits...but because I won... a roll of toilet paper. And probably that was the most practical souvenir of all.