Thursday, April 22, 2010

Low-Fat Cheese and Scraped Knees

Low-fat cheese is so massively disappointing. Nothing scares you off from eating healthy like something that melts into a fine crust onto your tortilla chips and requires overnight soaking to get off of your plate. Last night, I came home in a hunger tizzy, having worked an 8-hour day at the lab plus 6 hours at my new part time job serving at a restaurant downtown. I piled some chips on a plate, sprinkled some low-fat cheese on the top, popped it in the microwave, and 45 seconds later, voila: tortilla chips trapped under a fine tent of cheese glue. Not what I had hoped for, as you can probably imagine. Considering it was 11:30 at night and I hadn't eaten in 7 hours, however, I could've cared less. But it seemed a fitting end to what had been at the very least a clumsy 36 hours.

I've never been what you might call a "pristine lady." My shirt is typically wrinkled to some degree, my hair is constantly in a state of rebellion against my straightener, and at any given time I have a number of bruises all over my limbs from various unintended meetings with corners (current bruise count: 5). At my serving job last night, this lack of grace seemed particularly noticeable. All of the other women who work there seem to have a level of poise and/or girlishness that I simply did not adopt along my path to womanhood. So last night, as I fumbled with the trays and tripped down the steps as I prepared to close the patio (which resulted in what is now bruise #5), I couldn't help but feel a bit like a black sheep.

There has been some drop in my level of self-assuredness in these 11 months since graduating. I never felt fearless in college by any means, but I did feel like the cocoon of support I had around me kept me from caring about what other people thought and allowed me to develop the overall idea of who I was. Ideas put into practice always waiver, however, and I now feel that this post-college chapter is the truest testament to turning ideas into action: not just knowing what it takes to fly, but actually flying. It's all up to me now, foibles and all, and it seems sometimes to be more difficult to accept my own idiosyncrasies as I'm flying than the flying itself.

So I do what I always do: try to brush it off. Remind myself that no one is perfect, and where one person has poise, they may lack something else. But it's been tough, I can't lie. I don't think it's necessarily something that goes away, but like anything else you have personal qualms with (nose, hips, arms, whatever), is something you grow to accept over time as simply a part of who you are.

Hopefully "who I am" doesn't involve spilling hot coffee and/or a Nutella banana crepe onto someone's lap....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Life Lessons from a Real World Neophyte

I've been living the "real world" life for four, going on five months now, and I'm happy to report I've come away with some wisdom (you proud?). As a means to cushion the transition, I was happy to find a job in the academic world, surrounded by college students on the one hand but logging 40 hours a week and applying for benefits and a retirement plan on the other. The best of both worlds, I suppose you'd say.

Well, recently, I've felt the crotchety old lady in me rising. She may be wiser, but man is she way more easily annoyed by everyone else. I'm trying to keep her under control, but even my body is physically manifesting her, with necessary earlier bedtimes and early onset Carpal Tunnel. (True story. Ergonomics are important!)

Having not known any of this in advance, I thought I'd do my real world-bound peers a favor and divulge some musings I've had, so that they could come into the workforce well armed and prepared to beat that crotchety old lady down...figuratively speaking, of course.

1. The first couple of months after you start your job, you'll probably be more exhausted than you've ever been, and yes, that includes the semester where you didn't sleep because you were writing your thesis on Freud and the Implications of his Philosophies in 21st Century Zambia. Working 9-5, 8-5, 9-7, whatever, is a totally different schedule than college folk are used to. Be prepared for a transition, and don't be too upset when the clock hits 11 PM and you are well on your way to dreamland. It's a good thing.
2. The fastest way to lose your money? Spending it on eating out. Not having a meal plan can be a shock to some, so it's important to understand that while your job may come with health care, it does not come with a fixed number of meal points. Cook your own meals, take your own lunch to work with you. Yes, they make adult looking lunch boxes. Invest in one. You will literally save hundreds of dollars in a matter of months.
3. Piggybacking on #2: Learn to cook. It's not hard, and it doesn't require many tools. Get a frying pan, a sauce pan, and some spatulas. Voila. You're halfway to being as good as Rachel Ray.
4. When you're looking for an apartment, inquire about the neighbors. This is something I highly regret not doing, as above me I have an ongoing opera lasting from about 10 AM til 9 PM 24/7, brought to you by that one guy who apparently has NO practice space outside of his apartment, and below me I have some other guy who loves techno and Armageddon and really wants everyone to know about it. Asking about the neighbors is as important as asking about rent and utilities.
5. This one is primarily for the ladies: Leggings are not pants. This may be the most crucial lesson you can learn. Honestly, I don't even know why it's allowed in college. What happened to sweatpants? Have leggings, Ugg boots and North Face fleeces become the new lazy girl uniform? Kill it, please. No one needs to be that well acquainted with your butt, and I don't care how thin you are.
6. Learn to love Happy Hours. Just because you've entered the working world and fear becoming a trench coat-wearing, briefcase-toting robot doesn't mean you can't still have a good time, and without having to spend a ton of money. It may also behoove you to learn to enjoy drinks that a) don't come with a juice bottle chaser or b) aren't available in 30 racks for $10.
7. Consult your parents, mentors, whomever, about insurance stuff. When you go to your first orientation and learn about every single insurance plan you can sign up for, your head will want to explode. It's a lot of terminology (terminology that you most likely will not understand, nor be told about) and a lot of information, so don't just blindly check boxes and sign by the X's. Talk to someone. And no, just because it's cheap does not mean it's the best.
8. Become very comfortable with the fact that you will most likely not be able to maintain the lifestyle you were living in college. This means financially, socially, physically, etc. And I would also stress that it's not a bad thing; it's just a change. Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures. Being able to buy generic instead of name brand is small potatoes compared to what we've had to deal with evolutionarily.
9. Finding friends will not be an easy feat, unless you're moving to a city where most of your college friends are also moving. Unlike college, opportunities aren't as readily thrown at you. You have to seek things out on your own, which may require a level of courage and risk that seem unfamiliar, and perhaps even silly. But making small changes can have a big impact: Join a gym and sign up for a class. Find adult education classes at the local community college. Befriend the people in the office next to yours. Becoming a hermit is an all too scary reality. Don't let it happen to you just because you don't want to put yourself out there.
10. Stay strong in your convictions. It's easy as a new member of the work force to lose perspective, or get caught up in micromanaging, or be pissed that your boss doesn't let you do anything. Whatever it is, you may sometimes feel your optimism fading, or the idealism from college slipping through your fingers. These things are fantastically great allies to you. Don't let everyone else's negativity seep into you.
11. While you will mourn the fact that college is a beautiful, once in a lifetime event, you will also (hopefully) realize that life outside of college has just as many opportunities to do awesome things. You might just have to look a little harder.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ya Burnt

Hours without hot water: 12
Cold showers taken: 1
Aggressive feelings toward landlord/water heaters: Rising

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 8, 2010


For the past month or so, I have been reading the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. As you may have guessed, the book is exactly about eating animals and the implications of doing so. The implications that, for so many of us, typically go unnoticed.

I do not consider myself to be the righteous, holier-than-thou vegetarian who scoffs at those who enjoy chicken tenders or visits to the drive thru, but this book makes me consider what, exactly, my responsibility is as a “consumer” in the most basic sense of the word. As a part of my journey through this responsibility quest, I decided to try being vegan for a week, just to see what it would be like and whether or not I would go crazy not having any cheese or eggs around.

It didn't seem like that much of a challenge: I made the switch to soy milk back in high school, and over the years have grown increasingly intolerant to ice cream and some cheeses, so I figured the biggest issue I’d have would be egg withdrawal. But I felt secure in my decision. In fact, in the two days or so before I officially began, I found myself starting to phase things out because it seemed so simple. I had recipes picked out, snacks for lunch planned, and was ready for any food-related obstacles that might come my way. I thought I had my bases covered, but I had blindly forgotten one of the most critical aspects of food and eating: its social importance.

You can't one day become a vegan and assume that everyone is going to be on board. While my plan was just to try it out for seven days and see if I thought it was a sustainable lifestyle for me, I soon realized that even that required serious consideration in light of the people with whom I eat. Eating, as all of us know, is an incredibly social act. Eating alone is often considered unfortunate, and any event that we go to is certain to have a large table of food at the center. Without food, something is incomplete.

So here I was, skipping down the first leg of this journey, not realizing that there were already warning signs. Then, at dinner with my boyfriend, he asked a seemingly simple question: "Why do you want to do this?" (Funny how sometimes it’s those basic questions that we’ve forgotten to consider as we internally justify our decisions.) After a moment, I told him that it was simply a matter of giving it a try, and that until I could afford to know where my meat and dairy come from, I would rather not be buying and consuming it. Which is all well in good, he said, but then he gently reminded me that, hey, we eat together a lot, and, hey, he's not ready to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Oh, right. I don’t exist in a bubble. There are others to consider.

At first when I realized this, I became slightly resentful. I felt it was unfair that I should have to alter the decisions I wanted to make for reasons of ease or lack of readiness on the part of someone else. And then I started to think about his family, which already has to deal with juggling gluten-free, omnivorous, and vegetarian diets, and my own family, which is made up entirely of omnivores. While my family has always supported my diet decisions, I could imagine the look on my mother’s face as Christmas breakfasts and traditional family dinners would be forever memories to miss, not moments to look forward to. And as much as I wanted to be able to see the bright side of this decision and deny that anything would have to change, it wasn’t realistic. Things may not have to change for me—but this decision did not just involve me. Furthermore, I didn’t want to become a burden on those who welcomed me as guests. There’s nothing more unfortunate than the party guest who constantly inquires, “Um, what’s in this?” or, “Sorry, I can’t eat that. I’m vegan.” No matter how much you may want to power through it and pretend like it’s not a big deal, my ingrained Midwestern values have bred me not to be a bother. And, honestly, I just don’t want to be.

I made it through my week, and it went pretty well. Obviously, I ended up deciding that this was not a viable option for where I am in life. But that’s not to say that I came away with nothing from being vegan: more than anything, I think veganism serves as an important reminder to vegetarians that we need to focus on the “vegetable” part of our diets, not the easier-to-prepare, more readily available pasta, rice, and bread parts of our diet. From now on, I plan to eat vegan one week a month, just to continue reminding myself of this. Considering all the factors, that’s the best compromise I’ve been able to reach.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

On the Road Again. And Again, And Again

Miles driven this week: 616
Hours spent driving this week: 11
Times the radio played "Celebrate Good Times": 2
Times the radio played "Lucky Star" by Madonna: 3

I would just like to say that any station playing "Celebrate Good Times" more than once in a week does not so much inspire celebration for the song as celebration for when the song ends.

Although I have only been in Michigan for a few months, I have come to the conclusion that Michiganders are by far and wide the worst drivers I've experienced. Nothing personal to those I know; most of my beef is with the strangers. The used Cadillac-driving, bluetooth wearing, blindly texting strangers. I've had my share of experience with drivers, too, so this conclusion was not reached based on lack of exposure. Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, New York, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Washington DC---I've been around the block--driving around it, obviously--and you mitten dwellers take the cake. But it's not as though you're all afflicted with one symptom that universally binds you together. Rather, most of you seem to fall into one of the following categories:

The Rebel Driver. Oh, you rogue, you. When you get behind the wheel, you rev your engine and repeat the mantra "No mercy!" over and over again. As you merge onto I-94, you stealthily swerve past those fools driving the speed limit (or ten miles over). You call no lane your home, but rather bob in and out of them--because wherever you have to be, you have to be at in the next 30 seconds or the little girl gets it. I understand.

The Anarchist Driver. Like the Rebel Driver, you are most likely responsible for the chest pains your driver's education instructor now has to take blood pressure meds to control. But unlike the Rebel Driver, you are ever so slightly more calculated in your maneuvers, although these maneuvers fly directly in the face of what the conformists call "the rules." For you, the far right lane is only for passing. Those conventionalists in the passing lane aren't going your speed, and nothing is worse than having to push on your brake to disengage your cruise control. I understand.

The Geriatric Driver, or, alternatively, Captain Oblivious. Where the Rebel and the Anarchist can't wait to push their accelerators into the ground, you not only tend to ride the brakes (just to be on the safe side), but you neither can identify where nor how to use your cruise control. If you did use it, you might mistake it for auto pilot. This name is slightly misleading, however, as this style of driving does not strike only the elderly. In my opinion, it's more a lack of awareness that leads to your driving style. Anywhere but the road in front of you is where your gaze wanders: the field to your left, the roadkill to your right, the floor of the passenger's seat, your fingernails. As a result, your speedometer typically dips to a speed at which the semis start passing you, which makes the Rebel Driver's job of weaving in and out of lanes a bit more difficult. You should not try to cultivate a romantic relationship with the Rebel Driver.

Commander Oblivious. Unlike the Captains, you Commanders are still relatively new to the road, and honing your abilities to pay attention to anything except driving. Your medium of choice? The cell phone. If you're not texting, you might as well be driving. Oh, wait. That's what you're supposed to be doing. Get this thought and any other cognitive dissonance out of your mind soon, otherwise you may never reach the rank of Captain.

Someday people will be reminded that driving is, actually, an active task that we share with thousands of others, and thus, we have a responsibility when we get behind the wheel. But there's no fun in that, so I guess for now, I'll just have to work on my own style of driving, The Intolerant Driver.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Already, three months have passed. And I have left home, found an apartment (after many nights of confusion and short math equations figuring out just how much I ought to spend on rent), am aunt to a pet Havanese, started my job, and fallen in love with a fantastic fellow. Not bad, for a 90-day hiatus.

Clearly, I transitioned quickly, and I do not have any regrets in that department. In fact, as past precedent would show, a transition that drags its feet is agonizing for me. But to be honest, I have never dived into a transition so quickly, never truly seen how fast I could go from 0 to 60. Now I know, and as a consequence, my foresight has been blurred. Not the foresight I should have had before I jumped off the springboard, but rather, the tool of foresight itself. I'm finding it harder and harder to see anything except what's right in front of me. Which, you know, some would say is a good thing--"Live in the moment"--but this is living in the moment at its most rigid. Living in the moment because trying to live outside of it would mean being unable to fulfill my one true purpose for coming here: my job.

Time to stop speaking in vague terms. My job is insanity. Am I thankful to have it? Yes. Do I enjoy the work I do? Absolutely. But I didn't quite know just how much I'd be molding the lab, what happens in the lab, and how the entire study I'm working on is organized. Honestly, though, I can handle the work. It's not my first time on this ride, and I've certainly been busy like this in the past (albeit not quite as consistently). What seems to be more problematic is how it's rocking my life outside of work, the life that should be spent decompressing and relaxing. Instead, work seeps into that life, constantly triggering small alarm bells in my head. *Don't forget!* *Email him soon!* *What's the status on...* Etc., etc., etc.

In college, this seemed to be less of a problem, because the busyness required of classes and extracurriculars was part and parcel of your life. There was no "work life" and "personal life" dichotomy. Everyone was on the same boat, studying for exams, reading articles, writing papers, and finding time to have some fun, and as such, dividing a strict line between these two parts of life seemed unnecessary. They simply meshed together. Now, things feel different. For some reason, things feel as though they need to be more compartmentalized than that.

I thought I was handling it okay until it hit the one place I most certainly did not want it to hit: my relationship. He said it to me flat out last night, "You're stressed all the time about the lab." He wasn't accusing or judgmental or disappointed, he was just stating the obvious (and also calling out my obvious self-denial about it). Nonetheless, I was disappointed in myself. I grew up in a household with a mother who was constantly working--working in the literal sense, as her job has always been a 60-70 hour a week commitment--but also working to maintain solid relationships with her children and husband. I want to work, and I want to work hard. But I want my job to remain within the four walls of my office. I want to come home and not compulsively run a mental list of what's left to do that I couldn't do today.

And so, I find myself needing to adopt a new outlook. An outlook to match my new, post-college life. The winner? A combination of wisdom passed onto me by my father and none other than the iconic Scarlett O'Hara. "I can't worry about that now," she says. "I'll worry about that tomorrow." The life I cultivate outside of work is just as important as the work ethic I'm cultivating with my first job. That we feel we can shelve our personal lives, deem them disposable before anything else, is another symptom of our culture's obsession with efficiency and hard work. One should not look at a well-lived life outside of the office and think it inherently means their work life is lagging. There must be a balance. I have to believe there is a balance. It's just a matter of keeping myself in check.

To do that? I've turned the email notification off on my phone. Last night, I shut the Internet down on my laptop and baked bread and cooked soup. (All while watching "Julie and Julia," how perfect is that?) I'm now recognizing that I need to stop bullying myself about exercise or downtime and just make it happen. This morning I woke up and did yoga for the first time in weeks. My spine was killing me, but it still felt fantastic. These things may feel small, but they're all means toward one end: taking a mental hiatus from work. Being able to shut my brain off and just be. The work that's left to do will get done. I won't let anything other than that happen, but I need to recognize that running at sprint speed is unsustainable. Slow and steady, right?