Living by the Numbers

Even though people claim to have a poor relationship with math, we sure do live in a wriggly snake pit of numbers. For example: I have two children, one cat, one husband, one mom, and two siblings. I have a numeric value for how quickly I solve certain types of arbitrary problems (an IQ), another numeric value for a measure of my mass (my weight), and all manner of numeric values for my eyesight, my hair length, my ring size, my pants size, my bra size and even the size of my feet.

I don’t generally mind all my numbers because put them all together and they add up to one of me, but I mind a whole lot when my numbers are used as a comparison for myself vs. someone else’s numbers. I can accept – begrudgingly – the need to standardize sizes some kind of way so that I can buy a clothing item with a reasonable expectation that, given a certain number, it means something relative to my ability to wear it without it either cutting off my circulation or falling off of me. Got it. But then we have to get all immature about it and use our numbers to shame and/or brag. Oh my goodness, she wears a size 00, she’s so lucky. Ummmm, why? Or, she needs to stop eating so many deserts – she wears a size 14. So? Stop it. Just stop. No. Take a time out or a nap until you can make better judgments.

This is not to say that I am completely unaware of my numbers. Nope, I am aware that my number is bigger than some numbers and smaller than others. I don’t blame commercials for this, nor do I blame some plastic doll. Does anyone really think they ought to look like Barbie? Scratch that; I know the answer and I am not smiling. If I am going to be silly and compare myself to others, I will most definitely compare myself to a living person who represents a quality I admire – and when I do that I am not thinking about whether I can borrow their clothes. I have to remind myself that clothing sizes are not a measure of human worth and awesomeness.

I would like it if my brain wouldn’t get stuck on the sizing loop, but after a particularly fruitless shopping expedition of looking for blue jeans that involved the sales clerk recommending a store with jeans better suited to my age bracket (oh yes she did), I have concluded that the blue jeans of my dreams are somewhere sitting beside my sewing machine waiting for me to make them. My body didn’t do anything wrong; it was minding its own business of respiration, digestion, and locomotion, so it’s my brain’s fault for overthinking the numbers. My best way to rid myself of this numeric nonsense is to create a story problem: if a woman goes jean shopping on a Monday and the relative humidity is 80% while a train is coming down from Chicago to Tampa at 60 mph with a stop in Kentucky because it’s pretty, how much does the size of the blue jeans matter? Not a bit.

I am now heading out to the movies with a friend wearing my favorite blue jeans because they are the exact comfort level I want. Also, I cut the tag out of those a long time ago.

A Scientific Quest

Questing is great fun. Whether you quest for love, dinner, adventure, sales or memorabilia – even the word is awesome. Take, for example, a conversation that recently happened in the house of AlwaysLiz:

Husband: “How was your day?”

Me: “Really great. I quested for science courses today.”

Husband: “Very good.”

While I’m aware the conversation sounds mundane, it is greater than the sum of its parts. My husband is perpetually considerate enough to ask about my day, and I usually have some snippet to share. His response is “Very good” if he can tell that the information I’ve shared is positive. In this particular case, it was “Very good,” followed by “Are you taking a class this summer?”

The quick answer is no, I am not. The longer answer is yes, yes I am. I am undertaking the most lovely of scientific quests: a review and continuation of the science I learned over 30 years ago when I was in high school and knew everything. Now that I’m on the other side of 50 and cruising along, perfectly secure in the conviction that I don’t know everything, I realize that anything worth knowing is worth relearning if I’ve forgotten a thing or a plenty along the way.

This brings me to my strange, sometimes antagonistic, relationship with science. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, I have brains in my head and feet in my shoes, but I didn’t go to Science-land when I went to college. I went to hang out in Humanities town, with some business classes and French tossed in because why not? I took a math class for fun, and a physics class to get the science credit – and it was in that physics class that I realized I hadn’t paid much attention in high school. Not that I disregarded the whole notion that the universe is an amazing place made up of incrementally smaller parts, little Matryoshka dolls of atomic and subatomic particle-ness stacking within each other with ever-expanding and no-edge type limitlessness.

No, I found the universe to be compelling and quite harmonious but freaky as crap. I do not apologize for this. I am at heart a dreamer, and there’s nothing quite like the notion of an asteroid hurtling toward Earth at a skamillion miles per hour (that really needs to be a word) to give me the heeby-jeebies. Further, in a less universal (ahem) notion, there’s diseases on Earth to obsess about. Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, and so forth are absolutely fascinating, and under a microscope quite lovely, but again there’s that whole nightmare-inducing component. It’s kind of like when a student gets lice, we all get itchy. Just saying.

Enter my daughter, who has impressed me time and again how awesome science and math are when one approaches it with a sense of humor and a certain method. Those of you who are science-y call this scientific inquiry, but I am still not invited to the science-people party even though I window shop occasionally, listening to my daughter tell me stories of experiments gone awry and other experiments gone well and ruminations on nature and global warming and things that People Should Really Care About. Because I do care, I am now embarking on my science quest. I started today, with Biology Crash Course. I have been a fan of John and Hank Green via Vlogbrothers and the Crash Courses of History and Literature but I have stayed away from the science courses because, again, I have felt uninvited to the party, an intelligent layperson who is content to listen rather than participate.

As Hank Green was talking about covalent bonds and the octet rule, I started laughing. Leave it to the brothers Green to write and present information in a way that would resonate with me: gossip, happiness, and the fundamentals of life. The whole episode started off with a presentation of how carbon is a tramp. Brilliance. I am no closer to being able to participate in a science-y conversation of science than I was 15 minutes ago, but I am on a quest and my adventure is a productive one.

When my husband comes home from work tonight, he will ask me about my day and I will be able to tell him that I started my science quest. He will respond, “Very good,” — and it will have been.

The Art of Waiting

Part of being a human person is waiting. We wait for our turn in line, for our appointments, for the flight to get called, for the announcements to be made. For people who are not good at waiting, this becomes something of a problem. “Hurry up,” we mutter at the child who is still saying goodbye to the 10 best friends they just met, “We have errands to run!” Then we become surprised at their general lack of joy in running errands with us. Enter the tension, the bickering, and the flat out arguments that result from our mismatched perceptions of time. I am sure there’s some longitudinal study about this, but it certainly feels like waiting comprises much of our conscious time. If we spend so much of our time waiting, it stands to reason that we should get better about doing it.

Judging by the number of horns beeping in traffic and humphs while standing in line, this is not a skill people care to master. We could – and often do – spend this time fussing and whining. I would like to think that when my life is over, I will have laughed more often than I fussed, but there are days where this is probably an optimistic goal.

If you hate waiting, imagine how the people around you feel. We’ve got all this festering energy percolating around and we’re not popcorn, so any degree of explosion we’ll have is going to be named something else: road rage, being the angry customer, or more aptly, being a jerk. It’s no one’s particular fault that we have to wait, we just have to. Hopefully, we remember our kindergarten manners and behave as such on the outside, but inside we remember the laundry, our other appointments, and our more preferred activities. It begins to show. Tempers get short, kids start to fuss, we start to fuss, and then everyone joins in on the fuss-tival (I had to).

Instead, I have been practicing how to wait. I am a fan of daydreaming, reading, and chatting, as long as the people I’m chatting with haven’t passed their optimal level of waiting patience. I’ve swapped recipes, brainstormed how to fix sewing mishaps, even played games with kids while in line. When there’s someone to talk to, I have fun waiting, probably because I’m not waiting but socializing.

If I don’t have anyone to chat with, I have reading and daydreaming at the ready. The only unfortunate thing about this is that all too often, my name gets called right when I’m in the middle of mentally rehearsing my acceptance speech for whatever award I think I’m getting, or when the plot of a story takes a great twist. I did, once and only once, ask the doctor to wait a moment while I finished a sentence on a student’s paper. My health care professional did not appreciate being told to hang on a second when he was already running late. The imp in me grinned, but externally I thanked him for his patience.

I have learned that waiting is an art form. If we reframe the waiting and make it something else, then we’re not really waiting. We’re having free time imposed on us, and we can use that wisely (plan your dinner party, write your thank you speech, sketch the rough draft of your opening arguments) or not (fussing). I am currently on hold, waiting for my turn in the phone line. This afternoon, I have another appointment. Clearly, I will have ample and continued opportunity to practice this craft.

Jawline Journeys

 

Last Thursday I had my final appointment at my TMJ doctor’s office. TMJ, in all its acronym-istic glory, stands for the temporomandibular joint, a disorder of the jaw, where the joint is misaligned, misplaced, or gone fishing. For the last fiveish years, I’ve been treated for a case of TMJ so wondrous that my jaw locked and my mouth wouldn’t open all the way. While it wasn’t all that unusual to my doctor, it was weird to me, painful, caused headaches, and seriously impacted my ability to eat food. It wasn’t life-threatening, I kept reminding myself, but it was definitely life impacting. Initially, I realized I might have a medical problem when I began having to cut bananas because I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough to eat one straight out of the peel. I figured the locked jaw would clear up on its own. When it didn’t get any better and, in fact, got worse, I went to the doctor. This was about six months after my jaw locked for the first time. I’m an idiot.

I have mentioned before that I adore this doctor and his entire office staff. They were professional, fun, pleasant, and tolerant of the fact that Italklikethisallthetime. They got used to the jokes I’d tell when I was nervous, and the fact that when I’m scared I will hold someone’s hand, doesn’t really matter whose. This only happened once, my first treatment, and then I was fine, mostly because they were fine and we could all be fine together. Their calm was sustaining.

My jaw tendons required a type of therapy that redirected the tendons back to where they were supposed to be. The tendons were stubborn, much like the owner of the jaw they were misbehaving in, but eventually they realized that my doctor was the boss of them and they’d better stay put. For the first time in ever, I followed directions. You want me to practice opening my mouth to the point just after discomfort but just before it feels like it has been hit by a jackhammer? Okey doke. You want me to wear an appliance that holds my mouth somewhat open while I teach middle school? Ummmm, okay. You want me to use warm compresses twice daily? You betcha. I’ll see those compresses and raise you one more. I would have attempted to stand on my head and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to my jaw if that had been prescribed. Thankfully, it wasn’t. I can’t stand on my head any more without a wall to stabilize me.

Eventually, the pain went away, the mobility improved, and then finally, I could chew big people food again. Do not underestimate how awesome it is to eat food with your teeth and jaws working together in harmonious tandem. It’s glorious. First, I could eat a banana without a fork and knife. Then ground meat. Then chicken. Finally, nachos. God, how I missed nachos. Once I could eat them again, I cried real tears of real joy over how great it is to eat without first cutting food into bite-size pieces.

I didn’t really think about the fact that there would come a day when I would no longer need jaw therapy, even though I joked that I was looking forward to missing them. This past Thursday was that day. My doctor measured my ability to open my mouth, checked the alignment of my jawline, and pronounced me good to go. As in leave. As in all done. While I was thrilled to be rehabilitated, I found myself wondering who was going to need their hand held, or who was going to give the office staff goodies to celebrate the wonders of chewing, or even who was going to like them as much as I do. Of course, I realize that there are already patients under their care who fill all of those categories. It’s just not going to be me.

With hugs to anyone within reaching distance, I graduated from the office. Like all good patient-graduates, though, I consider that place an Alma Mater of sorts. Every time I chew food without cringing or yawn without tearing up, I will remember them with thanks.

 

Joy

Do you remember when you were young and you would spin in a circle with your arms spread out, whirling and whirling until you dropped to the ground from the dizzies? You’d watch the clouds spin from your ground-level vantage point, if it didn’t make you too woozy. Essentially, you were self-inducing the same feeling you would later come to recognize as drunk. The point is, though, that you would spin in the circles for the simple joy of it. No need for someone to correct your technique or tell you that you were spinning wrong, there was only this moment when you played with gravity and gravity may have pulled you to the ground, but you still won. It was wondrous.

Then you “grew up,” stopped spinning because you realized that it gave you an upset stomach, or too closely reminded you of being drunk and nauseous. Other activities induced similar feelings of ‘glad to be in the moment’ for you: maybe it was spending time with friends, or spending alone time with a special someone, or reading a book, jumping from planes – whatever it was, you did this thing for the simple fact that it brought you joy.

Being joyful is a tricky proposition during adulthood because there’s so much that threatens it. How can a person be joyful when there’s so much pain? Joy isn’t a constant, or at least not for me, but it is there among the other emotions and deserves its nurturing too. We do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to allow ourselves that small respite from everything else we’re supposed to be doing to engage in the activities we love. I submit that our capacity for joy is one of the few things that makes life bearable. It isn’t money, or 500 skamillion friends, or an overabundance of things to do: it’s an appreciation of the moment, a connection to the very things that make us glad to be hanging around on this planet in the first place.

I am serious about protecting my own joy. This is an awkward time of year for many people, and definitely for me. I don’t handle conflicting demands on my time very well and instead usually opt to behave in a zombielike fashion because it’s easier that way. That is until this year when I promised myself I’d simplify. So far, and I admit it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, I’m doing well at cutting the excess out from the to-do list so that I can enjoy myself (go figure).

One of the most enjoyable activities for me this time of year is sending holiday greetings. Even though I’m killing trees and spending money on postage, I like to send a happy hello to another person that they can hold in their hands – like a 49 cent hug, I suppose. I know email is quicker and the graphics on my social media are all cute and what-not, but I haven’t put my hand to pen to cardstock so it doesn’t give me the same happy feeling that getting paper cuts on my tongue from licking envelopes does. That’s my unapologetic nod to doing a thing that makes me happy.

The other nod is that I love movies. On the big screen, popcorn beside the point. I love hanging out in an alternate reality for a length of time so that I can feel the feels without any sense of responsibility for them or any need to make them better. It’s the same reason I like to read, but my more immediate circle of friends understands the reading more than the movies. Why would I love to go spend too much money for a couple hours of escapism? Well, because it’s fun. The movie I saw yesterday, for its entire 130 minutes, momentarily filled a place in that part of me that still believes there is no problem that can’t be solved as long as we have hope. I left the theater with the same feeling I had when I used to whirl around in circles until I fell: a little woozy, but joyous.

As a warm-up with hopeful carryover beyond the New Year, I encourage us all to engage in the activities that bring us joy. They aren’t less important than our other commitments; that’s like saying our commitments to other things are more important than our commitment to our own health. That said, with all movie-going, card-sending joy in my heart, I encourage you to do the things that bring you joy. If it’s spending time with people, go do it. If it’s sitting around the house eating Cheetos, bring extra napkins to wipe that orange-y goodness off your fingers. If it’s writing your story, or telling your truth, or walking the dogs, go. You deserve the joy.

The Power of Routine

Teachers are procedural superninjas. We spend the first days of school teaching the students how to enter the room, how to complete their bell work, how to get ready for class, where to put the homework, and so much more. It is astounding to sit and break down what we consider mundane routines, or the things we do because that’s how we do it. Not important? I present to you the age-old debate of which direction the toilet paper roll should face. It’s okay … I’ll wait while you argue about this either internally or with someone else.

Routine is everything. Still don’t agree? Change the order in which you get dressed, or do laundry, or make your sandwich differently. You will feel that there’s a disturbance in the force, young Skywalker. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is something else entirely if your routines interrupt the flow of your day or interfere with you going to work or living your life, but routines are also something of a life enhancer.

I submit to you the need for a routine of productivity. Have you ever noticed that when you have a lot to do, you either get a lot done, or you don’t do anything at all? I am on my A+ productivity game when I have conflicting priorities. I am also well aware that I get distracted by sparklies – lately in the form of a tech game on my tablet. I also know that these conflicting desires between relaxation and fun, work and chores creates a type of creative tension. In the act of having much to do, I notice that I putter. I do this activity for a bit, then that activity for a bit, then back to this, and so on, and nothing gets completed in a timely fashion.

I don’t believe in 100% structured time, but I do believe in the power of routine. In an effort to up the ante on my productivity so that I have more time for my sewing projects, I have been teaching myself to mind my time a bit better. I have a set time to come home because I pick up my son on the way. I began spending the first half hour after he’s home doing my housekeeping/ bookkeeping, managing the house type chores, and then working on homework and projects in a 25 minute work/5 minute break schedule called the Pomodoro method. At first, I rejected the notion that a break should “only” be five minutes. My five-minute break became 10, then 15, then I would realize I spent more time breaking than working. Oopsie. Because I only use timers for cooking, I put my phone on vibrate and set that timer. For me, that works a lot better and I can whoop out some major productivity before dinner (or before bedtime, if I have appointments after work). It keeps me from ‘needing’ a snack that is, in reality just another task avoidance technique, but also allows me to get the snack during my five-minute break if that’s on my personal free/happy time agenda.

After feeling all satisfied about the increase in productivity, I began to wonder about those times when I don’t have conflicting priorities or when working on anything at all is not on my horizon because of life. That’s the test of routine, isn’t it? I’ve been known to counsel others to keep following their routines when they were working through difficult times, but I hadn’t applied that notion to myself until recently when a friend passed away. I needed to grieve, and my brain got muddled along with my heart, but I still had my job and I still had homework to do. I decided to follow my routines. I did the coming home routine, then the productivity routine, and then when I was finished with my to-do list, I had the time to mourn her loss and send my shouts out to the universe in thanks that I got to know her.

We need our routines. They help us get projects done on time, certainly, but they also help us when our thinking is otherwise distracted, either through stress, confusion, grief, or some combination of any of life’s events. I now wonder whether that’s why my stereotype of a British person includes time for tea. We’re doing the day, we’re breaking for tea, we’re back to doing the day. There’s comfort in routine, and I am absolutely in favor of that.

But first, let me (not) take a selfie

Confession might be good for the soul, but it’s definitely not good for the ego. To wit: I am not particularly photogenic. If I grin with reckless abandon, the photo looks like I’m in pain. If I try to look like I have a secret, it tends to look like I have to go to the bathroom. The only time I look like myself is when I’m not paying any attention to someone else’s camera/phone/camcorder. In other words, there is no selfie that will ever turn out well. This also doesn’t bode well for driver’s license photos, staff pictures, yearbook pictures, etc. In an era where everyone’s everything is exposed everywhere (sorry, got stuck in alliteration land), I am blissfully undocumented. Most of the time, I prefer it this way.

When I peruse my social media, I delight in pictures of my friends’ vacations, their children and grandchildren. I am a huge fan of pictures of particularly well-presented food as well. Recently, however, a picture of myself and a friend appeared on social media, which caused a familial frenzy. We don’t live in the same geographic area, so pictures are a great way to keep in touch. So are letters, though, and I usually draw stick figures to accompany the lines for visual effect. I am a) older and b) still not photogenic, so any current photos aren’t really all that useful.

I know there’s a lot I could do to “become” more photogenic: stand a certain way, angle my head a certain way, and wear certain colors. Ultimately, I have to wonder why I should bother. If I look best when I’m not looking, that must mean my best angle is face averted away from the camera. Either way, I don’t really care whether I’m in a picture or not. It bothers me slightly that I don’t look more like me, but not enough that I’ll practice making smiley faces in my mirror or on my phone or whatever it is people do to figure out their best face.

Today, I was reading a fantastic article about swimsuits and how to look great in them, and I realized I’ve been a bit hypocritical about the whole celebrating oneself business I’ve been espousing. I am healthy and vibrant, but I don’t like pictures. I love swimming, but I hate swimsuits. Well, that’s kinda silly, now, isn’t it? If I look like a person and dress like a person, and I’m person-shaped, I’m probably a person who doesn’t need to stinking worry about whether or not I have thigh gap or thick ankles or whatevertheheck it is people worry about.

I will continue to be relatively unfeatured in pictures on my social media. It’s not something I’m comfortable with, obviously. I will still delight in the photos other people post, even as I have to wonder how many pictures they took or how long it took them to realize they had to stand just so to look that fantastic. I will remain elusive and relatively undocumented, a modern-day Audrey Hepburn without the acting chops.

 

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