Monthly Archives: June 2012

Maximum deficiency.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time management as of late. Rather, I’ve been stressing a lot about the fact that I can’t seem to manage my time as of late. Despite operating under a near-tyrannical schedule, I’ve found that key activities aren’t happening – most notably, blogging and freelance writing – and I assume full responsibility.

I’m lucky to be in a creative profession, but in some ways, being a writer by trade makes it harder to be a writer by choice. It’s not like I’m desperately in need of an outlet, so the last thing I want to do when I get home is park myself in front of a computer. Work aside, I also end up feeling frustrated by the amount of time that disappears into the vortex of “good” behaviors like cooking, cleaning, exercising, and maintaining personal hygiene—not to mention the hours devoted to those oh-so-normal, oh-so-necessary things called relationships, both long-distance and face-to-face.

I wrote this post immediately after finishing school, and I still find that most of it rings true for me. In the layover between penning essays and popping out babies, down time is generally ours to spend as we see fit—a precarious juggling act of wants and shoulds with hopefully more than a little overlap. This is where values enter the equation. The way we spend our time is, at its core, a measure of what matters to us.

In some cases, hammering out a hierarchy is easy. I won’t join Pinterest or watch mindless TV because I don’t value those things enough to let them crowd my time. I find them easy to refuse because the options are off the table. Others are more complicated—for example, I’d like to read more books or volunteer for a cause, but not enough to rearrange my schedule and actually follow through. And then there are the headliners. The big guys. The ones that demand your full attention, even though none of them can have it.

Healthy living is a perfect example. It’s objectively important for a number of reasons, but in order to be executed cheaply and maintained consistently enough to constitute a lifestyle, it’s really freaking time-consuming. Unless you can be satisfied by a dull rotation of spartan food (I can’t, and I’m not looking to be), you’re going to have spend a significant amount of time turning all those whole foods into balanced meals and portable snacks—not to mention the two hour daily sum total spent working out, showering, and packing a gym bag. I don’t do any of this strictly because I “should”—I enjoy both cooking and exercising to unwind, I enjoy eating good food that also works for my body, and I enjoy looking and feeling attractive as a result of keeping up with all of the above. In summation, I value healthy living. Highly. But do I value it to the exclusion of all else, to the point where I want it to hinder my social life or my professional aspirations? Well, no. But time-wise, I often treat it as though it’s #1.

Social interaction presents even more of a conflict, as I can honestly say I would put relationships at the top of my list. I abandoned about 90% of my grand plans for efficiency this weekend to spend time with college friends, and it was: grounding, rejuvenating, just what I needed, et cetera, et cetera. I can’t imagine having made any other choice. I could write a whole blog about how cool my friends are…and yet I can’t help but be aware that every moment I spend with my friends is a moment I don’t spend writing. It is literally impossible for me to do both at the same time. I value my relationships more than anything else, but again—do I value them to the point where I’m willing to let them eclipse all professional and creative aspirations, or even my desire to live healthfully? I can’t honestly say that I do. Relationships can have the plurality of my time, but logistically speaking, they cannot have the majority. This isn’t work-life balance—it’s life-life balance, and it sucks.

The best I can do is spend a morning knocking back mimosas for Pride weekend, and then excuse myself to run five champagne-fueled miles, steam some lentils, and spend a few hours hammering away at my laptop. I resent this. I don’t want to plot my family and friends on a pie chart of values (and I have a feeling I shouldn’t be hitting the treadmill while tipsy). My brother just sent me a sweet text lamenting the fact that we haven’t talked in a month, and I had to table his request to catch up until after I finished writing this post—not because I care less about him than my blog (quite the contrary, kiddo!), but because in order to get through my list tonight, the only time I can speak to him is while fixing dinner. I can chop and chat in a way that I cannot write and chat. So in that moment, he lost. He went on the schedule (as half of a scheduled multitask, no less). Is this heartless? Am I turning into a robot?

Drunkbot. So many levels of That Girl.

I’d mull it over while chopping veggies, but I have to call my brother.

If maximum efficiency requires detachment (or pregaming the gym), how do you know when you’ve crossed the line? Any tips for fitting it all in?

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Veg, out.

It wasn’t bacon.

That’s the first thing I have to say about the end of my vegetarian stint. I use the word “vegetarian” loosely here—not least because I, like many pesco-lacto-ovo vegetarians, still chowed down on fish, eggs, and every conceivable kind of cheese during the two years I assumed the label. No, I was a vegetarian of a whole other errant conceit. Every six months or so, a vicious craving for bacon would overwhelm my senses – usually brought on by a fragrant street cart or a particularly tantalizing photo on Foodgawker – and I, the so-called vegetarian, would indulge it. Secretly. Shamefully. Feeling like a fraud and a cheater.

It was always bacon that led me astray, and it was always a disappointment. I know all trendy, enlightened foodie types worship bacon, pairing it with everything from asparagus to chocolate, but I’m just not a fan. Nine times out of ten, when I think I want bacon, what I really want is the smell of bacon but the taste of salt. I’m always caught off guard by bacon’s smokiness, and the fatty texture honestly grosses me out. Furthermore, nothing takes the taste out of bacon quite like unwarranted, self-inflicted guilt. There’s nothing trendy or enlightened about a bacon cheeseburger scarfed alone in an alley, or a Vosges bacon bar wrapper smuggled out of the house to a public trashcan.

Two and a half years ago, bored with “diet food” but only halfway through what would eventually become an 80-pound weight loss, I  went veg. My decision had nothing to do with environmental consciousness or sad-eyed cows in PETA pamphlets. It was a weight loss strategy, plain and simple—a snap decision made because I couldn’t bear the thought of sucking down another bowl of chicken noodle soup for dinner. I figured eliminating meat would force me to be more creative with my food choices, not to mention shatter a plateau brought on by one too many late-night Taco Bell runs. Since moderation had never been my strong suit, I went for a lifestyle overhaul rather than simply shifting gears or cutting back. There was safety in the V-card. It left nothing to interpretation.

Banning entire food groups from one’s diet is common among eating disorder patients, many of whom welcome the label of “vegetarian” or “vegan” or “gluten-sensitive” as a catch-all excuse for bizarre behaviors surrounding food. While my weight loss aspirations were still fairly innocuous at this point, there were similar motivations at play. Going veg was about boredom, but it was also about fear—about eliminating foods that commonly led me to overeat. Plate after plate of pepperoni pizza bagel bites while studying in my sorority house basement late at night, for example, or a decked-out dollar burger I couldn’t comfortably finish, but did anyway. Vegetarianism meant I no longer had to make those choices on a regular basis. I no longer had to think or explain.

Of course, cutting out meat didn’t solve the problem. I found new foods like Chex Mix and ice cream to binge on, and the rest is a story for another day. That being said, my vegetarian experiment was far from pointless, and in the long run, going veg changed my relationship with food for the better in many ways. I learned to cook as a vegetarian. Fought my way back to physical and emotional health as a vegetarian. I credit my vegetarian diet in large part with my love of natural foods and passion for healthy living. But while I eventually got to a point where I ate well and sufficiently as an herbivore, the label itself remained tyrannical and foolish. Even healthy choices can come from an unhealthy place.

Two and a half months ago, still madly in love with quinoa, chickpeas, and the pounds of produce I consume each week, I shrugged off the label, cashed in my V-card, and ordered a sandwich. A spicy Cajun chicken and turkey sandwich with guacamole, pepper jack cheese, and housemade Jalisco sauce, to be precise. The sandwich is called the Hot Mess, and while physically it more than lived up to its title, my enjoyment of it was anything but messy. I ate my Hot Mess mindfully. I savored every complex, unfamiliar flavor. I stopped when I was full. I saved half for lunch the following day. Not a rash decision (or a rasher of bacon) in sight.

I knew that this return to carnivorousness would be the exception, not the rule. Now that I’ve operated as a (cheating, fraudlike) veggie for so long, I’ve realized that eating a mostly meatless diet gives me something far more valuable than weight control—vitality. I have energy. My skin is clear. I know and care more about nutrition and sustainability and the source of my food, and I love whipping up inventive meatless meals in my tiny kitchen. But I refused to start my life as a New Yorker in a dietary prison of my own making. If I wanted a pork bun or a bison burger or a slice of buffalo chicken pizza, by golly, I would eat one. I would keep it in its place, just as I would any other indulgent dietary departure. I would think. I would choose. And I would not settle for secret bacon.

Have you ever voluntarily followed a special diet? What was your reasoning? Also, bacon—overrated, am I right?

Dude, where’s my estrogen?

My sophomore year of high school, I swore off pants. At the time, my approach to fashion was absurd by anyone’s standards. I plotted my outfits a month in advance, hell-bent against re-wearing any single item within two weeks of itself, and even ensuring that proximate months featured repeat outfits on different color-themed class days. I followed my schedule religiously—whim or weather be damned. Never mind that my vintage dresses and daytime sequins were largely lost on my Ugg-wearing peers. As a peacock-in-training, I had standards. Jeans were for…what? Pigeons.

The fact that I owned enough clothing to observe such a stringent code is somewhat mind-blowing to me now, as is the fact that said hijinks unfolded entirely without leg holes. A quick glance at my outfit archives (yes, I held onto that ill-conceived record) indicates that I wore pants six times in the year 2005. Sure. Casual. The opposite of casual, in fact. I eventually swore off swearing off pants, and somewhere down the line, my favored aesthetic dramatically reversed—so much so, in fact, that I became a card-carrying worshipper at the altar of tomboy style. So much so that one of my friends named me “Most Likely to Wear a Tuxedo to Her Wedding.”

Oh. Hello. This is me, this is my bathroom, this is my thumb-in-pocket pose, and this is what I wore today. Air-dried hair. Minimal makeup. Shirt unapologetically plucked from the men’s department. Literally the same watch as the hipster who tried to pick me up in the Trader Joe’s line. If you were to scroll down, you would see my skinny jeans cuffed over green suede desert boots. I call this look “urban lumberjack” (I typically rotate between “frat boy femme” and “slutty stockbroker,” so this is a step outside the box for me). I spent all of 45 seconds getting dressed.

At the risk of sounding excessively self-congratulatory (what else is new), I’d like to let you know that the gentlemen eat. This. Shit. Up. I’m not talking about construction workers and subway lurkers, either—the type of gentlemen I usually go for eat this shit up. I’m reasonably cute and all, and I’d love to take full credit for my animal magnetism, but I know for a fact that the clothes have something to do with it. I never feel more invisible than I do when I’m wearing a pretty, feminine, conventionally flattering A-line dress. In the age of #whatshouldwecallme, it seems only fitting to define the phenomenon—what should we call Dudes Who Are Into Girls Who Dress Like Dudes?

Having fallen for a number of Dudes Who Are Into Dudes in my day (an unfortunate byproduct of my years as a theatre major), I’m innately distrustful of any lad who ogles, hoots, or hollers when I’m pulling a Twelfth Night. Oh, you like me, huh? You like my curves under this big ol’ button-down? You like the dainty clomp of my loafers on the pavement? Do you also…like it from behind? No? Oops, my mistake. Hey, where are you going?

I kid. Confidence is certainly a factor here. I’m at ease in my tomboy incarnation, and I feel sexier in tailoring than I ever did in frills. Conventional wisdom would cite that in itself as the source of the allure. But after years of dressing to the nines, the idea that I possess a distinctly gamine appeal sets so many axes of my mind a-whirring, namely: What does the popular reception of this ragamuffin aesthetic mean for feminism? Does it represent a breaking of the shackles, or a whole new tyranny to which I now have to ascribe? What does it mean for my personal identity? My female identity? And yes—what does it mean for the dudes who are into girls who dress like dudes?

Male readers, I’m so curious: Do you prefer your ladies casual and unladylike? Is it purely a matter of aesthetic preference, or does it carry a deeper significance for you? Ladies: Do you, like me, feel like you get more attention dressed down than you do dressed up? I have so many questions I’m not even going to italicize. Let’s talk about girls and boys and girls who dress like boys and the boys who love them. Whew.

Browbeaten.

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the eyebrows are the window to the ego. If you want to know whether or not a girl takes pride in her appearance, look no further than the space above her peepers. While approaches range from the full form of a Camilla Belle or Olsen twin to the majestic, bordering-on-drag-queen swoops of a Sara Ramirez, the general consensus remains that any choice is better than no choice, and a refusal to participate in female facial landscaping is a relegation to beauty purgatory. Pick apart any Hollywood makeover and there’s a 98% chance that “dramatic transformation” was brought to you by a pair of contact lenses, a well-executed eyebrow wax, and Anne Hathaway. When it comes to universal standards of beauty, eyebrows talk.

I don’t think of myself as an exceptionally high-maintenance person, but I’m admittedly fanatical about my eyebrows. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fanatical about my eyebrows. They’re thin, somewhat patchy, albino blonde, arched at almost imperceptibly different angles, and viciously maintained by yours truly to combat all of the above. Brow patrol isn’t a hugely time-consuming process – think biweekly pluckings and three to five minutes with a silicone pencil every morning – but for me, that minimum baseline is pretty much non-negotiable. As a brunette, I refused to so much as go to the gym without my eyebrows done (in my defense, I looked like an alien au natural). With my natural coloring, I’m a little more laid-back, but I’ll still abandon my unfinished morning crossword to fix my face. And those three to five daily minutes add up to half an hour a week—nearly 34 hours a year.

According to classic wisdom, beauty and brains are incompatible by nature. A woman can be smart, or she can be pretty, but she can only be both if she’s some sort of dark spirit or tragic orphan or socially stunted disaster (or, evidently, post-makeover Anne Hathaway). This, of course, is ludicrous. I can name any number of women who are both brainy and beautiful. Most days, I consider myself to be one of them. And that’s why it makes me queasy to think of the time I spend actively, ritualistically cultivating my eyebrows, my hair, my clothes, my body—while consequently expecting my mind to take care of itself. Because that’s the catch. You can be born brainy, and you can be born beautiful. If you’re lucky, you can be born both brainy and beautiful. But you can’t spend any given moment becoming more brainy and more beautiful at the same time.

Time I spend plucking my eyebrows is time I don’t spending reading, or watching the news, or even watching the world go by. It’s time I spend thinking of literally nothing but metal on hair on skin, and that is a choice I make—a choice that not only reflects my values, but affects my character. It’s not about the eyebrows. It’s not about the media, or Photoshop, or society’s unrealistic expectations. It’s about the time I spend getting prettier when I could be getting smarter. And while the pursuit of beauty has a maximum return – assuming, that is, that you are willing to devote maximum effort to beauty on a regular basis – I would argue that the same cannot be said of intellect. There is enough to know and see and do in this world that the mind can continue growing far beyond the confines of vanity’s outer reach, and the mind doesn’t reset every time you take a shower. From a strictly economic standpoint, ritualizing beauty over brains is illogical.

I don’t see brow patrol disappearing anytime soon. I don’t see myself wearing sweats every day, or bypassing the gym for the library. Nor do I believe that any of this should be required of me. I see genuine value in beauty—in its ability to instill calm, to inspire confidence, and even to ignite the intellect. I’m at peace with the fact that I love things that are ostensibly frivolous. But I can recognize that the time I devote to my appearance is a choice with a consequence, and I can perhaps schedule a counter-ritual that pays my mind the same unremitting regard I do my face and physique. A mandatory weekly writing date. A commitment to finishing the crossword puzzle. A book on tape, so that maybe, just maybe, even as I stare into refracted images of metal on hair on skin, I can absorb a little something more.

Do you ever think about the long-term consequences of your daily routine? To what extent do you ritualize your personal growth?