Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Other Side


It's been nearly two whole weeks since my last blog post; since I wrote about wedding brain, I done got married, threw a banger of a party with my new husband and my entire family (in-laws and outlaws, that gang is), came down with a wretched cold, and had to re-plan part of our honeymoon on the fly when our original Air BnB host soured. I've also devoted equal time to admiring my new wedding ring and the Jewish high holidays, which are happening right about now - working for a Jewish fundraising organization means I've started saying "Happy New Year!" in September, which is a new thing for me.

Planning a wedding meant that my life turned into a cyclone in the final days before our ceremony. I misplaced three pie plates, an entire chocolate cake, a pair of shoes, and an impressive amount of Tupperware. M and I fought like banshees, made up, and then fought again. I learned how to cornrow my own hair, how to walk in 4.5 inch platform wedges, and what it feels like when my dad cries as he walks me down the aisle. We planted a tree - one that blooms in the month of husband's birth, and that has heart-shaped leaves. There was maniacal rushing. There was a glowing photo session. There were some dirty looks and some dashing around the farmhouse in my underwear, well past the point of caring who saw me and who didn't. There were tacos. There was cider. There were dark 'n' stormies and there were love potions. There was so much laughter.

This cyclone means that I'm left with a mosaic of memories - the boys moshing along to "Sabotage," the bartenders singing along to "Close to Me," the speeches that referenced M and my ultra-challenging camping trip, the tiny boxes of chocolates and brief moments of respite from hosting where everything just gelled. I emerged from our wedding weekend feeling like Mike and I were the center of a universe full of love and friends and family. (And also viciously hungover, and with a pile of beef ribs and dim sum that would kill a man.)

Taking on a project like a wedding actually tests the mettle of a couple's relationship. I was surprised to find out that trying to throw a catered party for 100 people was stressful–the magazines make it look so easy! At some points, it felt like more like the day was something that we were trying to conquer rather than celebrate. But through it, he kept making me tea. And we kept going for walks together. And we kept on going. When the day came, it was more than perfect. It captured who we are a couple: private people who love to dance, mushballs who can still wangle a shovel, and part of an extended and involved constellation of people.

I'm a writer, and one with a decent vocabulary at that, but there is no word in the English language for the feeling of gratitude and dedication, the feeling of earned joy, the feeling of enveloping love. 

I've never believed in "the one" - the destiny of two people who are meant for each other. Because that denies all the work that goes into relationships: keeping them fresh, keeping them kind, keeping them loving. Real life doesn't work like that, and even great couples sometimes have bad days (or months). Instead, I believe in "the choice." We get to choose our love stories. We write them as we go. And I'm lucky— despite my utter failure to express exactly how amazing and energized and cherished I felt this past weekend—to have M as my amazing co-author in this love story of ours.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wedding Brain


 There's this buzzing in my ear right now, and it's going something like this: call the caterers // have you emailed the rental place yet // oh my god what if nobody comes // what if everybody shows up at three-thirty instead of four // we will never have any money again // it's going to rain // itsnotgoingtorainITSGOINGTOHAIL.

This is my brain when it's been set to "wedding."

 Before I got engaged, I used to roll my eyes at brides who were like, "People are being mean about the seating arrangements!" I'd think all these self-congratulatory thoughts about who people were going to sit where I damn well told them to sit, or else. And since then, I've been sat so far away from the head table that I was practically outside - and this, admittedly, stank - and I've looked morosely at my own seating chart and hoped that my cousins, who are fun, aren't P.O.'ed that I've basically done the same thing to them.

A rundown of the crazy things I've done so far:
  • bought crazy-expensive childrens' sandals from Italy because they fit my stupidly tiny feet.
  • nodded as my parents offered to buy a new fridge so that we would have a place to store cold beer in a barn.
  • had my hair done like a Viking warrior-woman, only the end result was more 1960s beehive, and I hated it.
  • hauled about three thousand pounds of poop-dusted hay out of the barn where we're holding the reception.
  • build stone stairs, using a pickaxe and my bare hands. Like, literally: my bare hands. It was very paleo-home decorating chic, if I do say so myself.
  • said the words "radiant orchid" out loud approximately one million times.
  • debated how much booze is enough booze, how much Elton John is enough Elton John, and how many tacos is enough tacos.
  • cried at schmaltzy poems on the internet.
  • had screaming fights with M, sometimes about things that should be lovely (the words, "I can't believe we're fighting about our fucking vows" have definitely been said, by me, horribly).
  • listened to Bank's song "This Is What It Feels Like" about three hundred times, which is how many times I would put it on our dance mix if I thought I could get away with it.
  • tried to explain to at least three girlfriends that, yes, while this is "my special day," I'm actually sort of nervous about being the center of all that attention. My star isn't that shiny, y'know.
  • tried on about fifty puffy princess ballgowns at The Bride's Project, which was stupid-fun while being completely wrong for me, style-wise.
  • biked home holding three plastic bus bins in my outstretched hand; it a feat that I wouldn't have even attempted six months ago for fear of accidentally windsailing myself into traffic, butnow ain't no thang.
  • promised my friend that, if she ever wanted to elope, I would still buy her a bread maker.
  • wondered what would happen if we decided to elope.
We're getting married in just over a week. Let's see if my brain makes it to then.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Meanwhile, I Keep Dancing


Whoops! In all the running-around excitement of last week (whirlwind work weekend/cottage trip/epic friend hangout/what-have-you), I completely forgot to update this blog. To be fair, I have a good reason: I am going crazy.

Because we are getting married, and because we're doing it in a venue that has to be transformed from a semi-broken poo- and hay-storage unit into something that, at the most, will be thrillingly amazing (and at the least will be structurally sound), my brain is on fire basically 24/7. I go to sleep thinking about lists of things we need to do. I wake up thinking about those same lists. I email from the subway and I text from work. I call people and call them again. We make plans. We make things. We are trying to create an experience for ourselves that we're proud of, that we can point to and say, "We did that as a couple, with our families and friends. We love each other. We made this." And sometimes, part of that experience is shooting bolt upright at three AM wondering where we're going to find tiki torches.

This whole process reminds me of that beautiful quote from Hillel: I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing." Sigh. Yes, right? Because that is this.

People keep showing up for us in a big way, and I'm so grateful. I have so many anxieties and fears (death, divorce, unhappiness, embarrassment, etc), and these people keep poking my brain and my feelings and saying, "These are cobwebs. There's nothing," and then I can breathe again. Sometimes, that means talking; other times, that means hoisting a nail gun to build a dance floor. After all, we need a place to dance while we celebrate our wedding.

A true story: one of this weekend's projects was to build a set of stone steps around the side of the barn where we're holding our reception. The ground there is literally full of rocks - we had to break it apart with a pick-axe—and the flagstone that had been set aside was fifty meters away, under the front of the barn, piled in a heaped mess of craggy corners and spiders. And yet: my brother, running on three hours of sleep and a whole complement of his own personal anxieties, built the top step. And yet: my aunt and I carried the flagstone around the barn and laid it out on the grass. And yet: my uncle puzzled out the rise and run of the staircase. And yet: I followed my brother's template to build three more stairs. And yet: my friend and I shoveled gravel to fill in the crevasses. And yet: my dad built the final three steps. And then: it was done.

This wedding, this process of joining M and I together, is happening in the context of a group of people who want to see us do well. Nothing we do is in a vacuum. He and I keep turning to each other to say, "If we can get through this, we can get through anything," and that feels so true. We've already been through more as a couple than most people go through in a decade of marriage: death, mental illness, unemployment, medical mishaps. We're strong.

But, you know, at three AM, with the tiki torches looming, I can forget that.

So this is yet another gratitude post: a thank you to the people who are rallying around us in the final weeks of preparation. They keep reminding us, by showing up and working hard, that we're worth all this work. They hold us up when we get bogged down, and their help gives us the space to breath together as a couple. This is the whirlwind, a pile of chaos and tantrums and sleepless night (and so many emails). But this is also dancing. The dancing keeps us sane.

Image of Sliding House via Material Strategies.

Friday, August 22, 2014

#100happydays


Not so long ago, I had a friend turn to me admiringly and say, "You're so good at doing all the self-care stuff. The gratitude practice, getting regular exercise, going to therapy, doing stuff like the 100 Happy Days challenge." It took me by surprise, because I do "the self-care stuff" because if I don't devote large amount of time to actively trying to feel good, I often devolve into feeling, well, terrible.

In an effort to continue carving out these moments of feeling good, I recently did the #100happydays challenge on Instagram. The premise is pretty straightforward: using whatever social media platform you feel happiest on, take a photo/craft a tweet devoted to a moment of joy. Do that every day for 100 straight days. Don't let excuses like "I don't have time" whinge their way into your protective #100happydays cocoon. Feel your life become more joyful. Blah blah blah: transform!

I did mine on Instagram, where there are currently nearly nineteen million photos tagged with the #100happydays hashtag. (Tellingly, there are about 44,000 photos tagged #day97, which might tell you something about the average Happy Days-er's ability to follow through.) I took pictures of acorns, of friends, of kombucha projects, of family members, of my fiance, of food, of flowers, of a rainbow, of cats, of graffiti, of a baseball game, and plenty of other things. Each picture is a moment in time, and many of them make me smile as I scroll back through them. I had forgotten about some of them: honey balls with a friend, for example, or a lovely, lounge-y park afternoon with M devoted solely to reading magazines and talking about our honeymoon.

Some are clear gimmes: the picture of a fig in front of a Beastie Boys poster, for example, is nothing more than just two things I like. I'm not capturing a moment of joy; I'm getting in my daily shot. The shot of me cuddling with a friend's baby isn't quite happy, per se; it's a bit bittersweet and guards my complicated feelings about babies and motherhood. I probably posted more shots of my emerging kombucha project than anyone cared about, and there's a conspicuously lack of photos taken at my office.

About halfway through the hundred days, I realized that usually, I wasn't exactly capturing a moment of happiness. I paying attention to these moments solely so I could take a picture of them. They were still happy, sure (I mean, who doesn't like sitting in a park with a can of Coke Zero and a fresh issue of Entertainment Weekly?), but I was seeking them not for their joyfulness, but for their posterity. And that's sort of...not the point. The pictures became the point, not the feeling they were trying to capture.

Here's the thing: I'm a person with flaws. I'm quick to anger and I'm slow to forgive. I insist on being right, even to the detriment of being kind. I live with many kinds of fear and anxiety, and it damages my ability to get out of my own head. I can be, and have always been (my mother can attest to this) willful.

But I'm also a person who tries to be better. I'm trying getting to know myself, and what makes me feel great. When I feel great, more pieces of the puzzle seem to fit. Unlike a lot of people, I've worked hard at knowing, naming, and working with my emotions. I am honest without being cruel. I live for creativity: writing, cooking, making. I try to make space in my life for things that sustain me: smart work, physical exercise, friends and family. And while the idea of #100happydays was intriguing, the actual practice left me a little cold. A friend of mine, who often bucks convention and grins doing it, started tagging her photos #happyeveryday. When I asked her why, she shrugged. "Why stop at a hundred days?" she replied.

I guess this is why the #100happydays challenge was a little disappointing. I like gratitude logs  - for a while, I had a practice of writing down the five best things that had happened to me that day, and M and I like to play an out-loud version of this game in bed before we go to sleep. But those are sweet memories that I can bring up at the end of the day: they're sparks of love and life that become brighter when we look at them. They're not Christmas lights I hang just to liven up the room.

Image via Instagram, duh.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Feelings

I am tired.

I'm tired of reading the news.

I'm tired of feeling broke.

I'm tired of advocating for myself in a workplace that doesn't seem to give a shit.

I'm tired of grinding my teeth when I sleep, of worrying that buying a fancy magazine will break the bank, of reading Tumblrs that make me cry. I'm tired of beige walls. I'm tired of dressing in office-appropriate outfits to go into work alone. I'm tired of FOMO. I'm tired of being tired when I get to work because I bike, because I can't afford transit.

I'm tired of people telling me that this is "the real world" and that I just need to get used to it. Why the fuck would anyone's life advice be "get used to people stepping on you, don't fight it, just do your best not to notice it until you can take all those valuable skills your learned under someone else's boot to your next job"? HOW. IS. THAT. HELPFUL? How does that mitigate the day-to-day? Seriously, I'm asking. I want to know.

I am thisclose to buying a tiny house (with what money though LOLOLOL), picking my twelve favourite things, and just going to live in the woods somewhere. I am so fucking tired. Of everything.

I want to write a righteous and empowering post about how I overcame all this garbage and figured out my life in 92 Easy Steps, but right now I am not overcoming shit. I'm mired in it. When I get to the other side, maybe I can write some pithy, salty post about how I flipped my hair and won the day. Right now, though, I am too broke for my usual self-pity cheesecake, and besides, I have a wedding dress to fit into in a month, so who wants to eat cheesecake when she can obsessively look at her upper arms in the mirror and fret that they're getting jiggly?

Sorry. I got a little carried away there.

Wishlist, stardate today:
  1. A proper date with M. We have been so busy with all the wedding planning and various other extracurriculars, not to mention the $$ situation, that it's been ages since we had some fun couple time. I miss fun couple time!
  2. Peace in Missouri. Good lord, it is crazy that I even have to wish for that, but here we are.
  3. A job where I feel in control and proud of the work I do.I am paralyzed by the idea of going back to school, because my student debt is real and looming, and I am loathe to add to it. On the other hand, I've qualified myself only for jobs I hate. I feel totally stuck, and stupid for being stuck.
  4. Metaphorically, I feel like the ground is moving beneath my feet. For real, I would like that feeling to stop.
I'm going back to bed. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Kombucha-fication of Kaiko


There is a science experiment happening in my kitchen right now. It's pretty low key - just a couple of glass jugs with some paper towels banded around them, no big deal, nothing is fucked here, dude - but inside those glass jars, I am growing magic.

Disgusting magic, yes; but magic nonetheless.

I first discovered kombucha years ago, when I was going through an expensive and not-entirely-reasonable phase of buying my groceries at Whole Foods despite having an annual income of $22,000. (I was dating a dude who was this sort of proto-foodie: he did zero cooking, but still had Major Opinions on food. It was complicated.) (And by complicated, I mean dumb.) I grabbed a bottle of something called Wonder Drink, because I'm a sucker for packaging, and when I cracked it open, I was pleasantly surprised. It was vinegary, yeah. Most kombuchas are. But it was also effervescent and sweet, with a creamy foam that wasn't overpowering the way soda pop can be.

It was also three dollars a bottle.

I come from a family of DIYers. My mom's hands are constantly in motion: knitting, sewing, reupholstering, gardening, painting, sanding, chopping, stirring, making. My dad, before he became a project manager, was a carpenter, and he still owns and uses a truly mind-boggling collection of saws. My dad, like all dads, went through a phase of home-brewing his own beer and wine. I grew up with the sound of drill as my Saturday-morning alarm clock. We are a family of home-cooked meals, of crayons ground into the carpet, of "want to build a deck this weekend?" When M and I decided to get married, we undertook the project of cleaning out the barn on their farm property, a project that has easily cost 100 man-hours so far and helped coin the phrase "poo-dust."

My own DIY streak is a bit lazy, but it's there. I find my truest self is when I'm making something - dinner, usually - that combines the opportunity to use my hands and my brain in equal parts. (Plus, the joy of solo kitchen dance parties can't be understated.) I spend the past winter compulsive knitting. I'm not afraid to plan something out  and devote a few hours or days to its completion (see: the cardboard Viking ship I built, then set on fire, for my 30th birthday). The very idea of making something beautiful can be a powerful drug: I spend too much time on Pinterest and Ravelry, looking up recipes for citrus curds and patterns for legwarmers.

Which brings me back to kombucha. When I went on my six-month no-Coke Zero/no-booze "cleanse," I was hard-pressed to find an alternate drink that was still interesting. Since water is for chumps, I dove into the deep end of high-end and esoteric beverages. I tried kefir and about 60 different kinds of ginger beer. I drank Fresca and San Pellegrino with abandon. I brewed enormous jugs of Moroccan mint ice tea.

And I bought lots and lots of kombucha. All flavours. All brands. I can tell you with authority that the Tonica Vibrant Blueberry flavour tastes like cough syrup; that Rise's Mint Chlorophyll looks horrible but tastes good; that GT's regularly has snot-like clumps of the SCOBY (more on that in a minute) floating around it, which is fucking disgusting; and that Wonder Drink is good but its flavours could stand to be more intense across the board. I know my kombucha shit, is what I'm trying to say.

But when an opportunity presented itself for me to start brewing my own kombucha, I hesitated for a moment. Like any homebrewing project, making your own kombucha could be a recipe for disaster. Who wants self-inflicted diarrhea? Not this girl! I made a promise to myself (and to M, who thinks kombucha is disgusting) that this operation would be clean, sanitary, and use only top-quality ingredients.

Then I started brewing. The main question mark in this process is the SCOBY, which is a "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast" (and before you throw shade on bacteriological food, think about yogurt and kimchi, please). The SCOBY is terrifying. Kombucha brewers are always optimistically saying things like, "It's like a pancake!" but if you were served a pancake like this, you would throw it over the patio fence and into a bush. It looks like uncooked alien placenta. It looks bad. Like, ideologically bad, as if it is plotting things in the night.

But when you combine this horrible "pancake" with tea and sugar, the yeast and bacteria in the SCOBY start converting the sugar into bubbles and a wee amount of alcohol. Left alone too long, it will turn bitter (but won't we all?), but after 7-20 days, the tea will be in the perfect zone of bubbly, sweet, and acidic. Take out the SCOBY, resist the urge to perform an exorcism, start a new batch, throw some herbs or fruit into your newly brewed kombucha, let that sit for a day or two to flavour it, strain the everliving hell out of it, and then keep it in the fridge. If you're feeling sassy, add some gin. If you're feeling unsassy, keep it plain.

Boom. The whole operation will run you the cost of bottles (2.49 per at your local Asian import store), a couple big glass jars (ten bucks each at IKEA), and ingredients. And guys? Sugar and tea aren't exactly an bank-breaker.

Plus! IT IS SO FUN. Handling the SCOBY, making sure everything is all clean and set up in its place before the bottling process, daydreaming about flavour combos - it's all the hallmarks of a good DIY project. I'm saving money on one of my favourite drinks, I have this little bright spot of a project, and I'm making something fun. Plus, it feels like my countertop glass jars are the spiritual daughters of my dad's beer-making garbage pail: I'm carrying on a family legacy of making stuff, and making stuff happen. And that's truly delicious.

Image (of my own kombucha!) via Instagram

Thursday, July 31, 2014

See The Work



I entered my first writing contest this week, and to celebrate, I spend this morning pretending I was on a talk show and interviewed myself while I was in the shower. This is one of my favourite self-rewards after a bunch of tough work: I picture myself in Jon Stewart's hot-spot chair, being totally charming and wearing something really flattering and expensive. I am super well-spoken and he is just delighted by me, and then my book/article/blog post goes on to sell one million copies. Somehow, in these fantasies, my forehead isn't the size of a billboard and I make Stewart laugh so hard that, sputtering, he has to go to commercial, which is very gratifying.

Obviously, this isn't likely to happen any time soon, but this is incredibly useful for motivating my easily distracted brain and my lazy fingers to actually get the band back together and make something good. Creativity is its own reward sometimes; other times, I want to see my name in lights.

I've read that feeling engaged with meaningful work - in other words, feeling like the time we spend doing something actually matters - is one of the most overlooked motivators when we're at work. And likewise, having a framework that supports that engagement is one of the best things an organization can do for their workers. It's not enough to tell people that if they work hard and make the company more money, they'll get a raise or a bonus or an extra vacation day; what people need is buy-in (believing their own work matters) day-to-day encouragement (knowing that someone sees their hard work) and the time to figure sticky problems out on their own schedule (knowing that their supervisors trust them). Leaving appreciation out of the equation is a recipe for disgruntlement. (It's also only one of the reasons that bad HR and management practices make me so incredibly crazy, but that's a blog post for another time.)

Creativity often happens in a vacuum, and without the benefit of any framework of support at all. The Twitter hashtag #amwriting exists for a reason, y'all: it's the voice in the wilderness, the "can anybody hear me?" of the person behind the desk, working on a deadline or a passion project or an underpaid blog post, just looking for some validation. Everybody loves seeing the finished product, but the process of getting there is hard work. It can be lonely. Joining writing circles, craft fairs, and stitch 'n' bitches works sometimes, but you still have to actually do the work, and for a writer, that's not something you can do by committee.

I spent the second half of last year writing out a first draft of my very first novel: a murder mystery set on a post-apocalyptic farm. I set word count goals. I tracked my own progress. I made a spreadsheet of each chapter and would often reward myself with a Nia class or a slice of really good cheesecake at the end of the day. In short, I managed myself, and recognized my progress, and I gave myself time to figure the whole sprawling project out. It was one of the first times in my life where I felt like the work I was dong mattered - not like I was making a different, exactly, but that my brain activity and my hand activity synchronized. The first draft turned out to be only so-so, but that's okay: I can edit like the wind and find the gold inside.

And yes, I also interviewed myself in the shower then, too. Not only does it help me keep going, but when I forced myself to explain what I was writing about, it helped see where things had stopped making sense. That's a good thing to know.

I look forward to the day when I can have a job where I feel encouraged and recognized: where my work feels seen. Today is not that day, but that's okay. Maybe one day I'll be an HR guru with a little side business as an internationally beloved science fiction author. Maybe one day I'll end up in Jon Stewarts hot-spot chair after all...and if I don't, I can keep the dream alive, one shower at a time. 

Image via Warby Parker Class Trip