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.

Dedicated to Finding Joy

liz-new-year

This is not a New Year/New You blogging post, though it certainly looks like it: more colors, a different vision statement, and as I get better about linking objects and media, pictures. Yes, Philosophically Purple is going to get all visual in your faces. Well, not really, but more so than in the past.

I began writing this blog because I was just on the other side of middle age (50 when I first posted) and thought it would be fun to ruminate and giggle while typing. I achieved that goal, but then I began to see that what appeared to me to be an interconnected path of blogging looked to the outside world like I lacked focus. After all, I have written about anything from cupcake dispensers to Carrie Fisher (rest in peace, you superawesome woman of greatness). Where was the continuity? The branding? The concise thought?

The quick answer: not here. And after careful reflection, I submit that I don’t want it to be. Any human person with a grain of life in their noggins doesn’t think about just one thing, or even just 50 things. We are all of us capable of profound depth in our thinking and our ability to connect with each other contrasted with the desire to eat brownies with an ice cream chaser as a meal, to hell with what we’re “supposed” to have for dinner. That is me. That is my vision. Well, not to eat the brownies and ice cream as dinner, at least not all the time, but to be able to wonder about wisdom, kindness, life, love, and finding joy.

I will continue that mission haphazardly and unapologetically optimistically. I believe that the energy we bring with us into situations can either help or hurt others, and I am committed to being a force of positive energy. I am also still a pretty big fan of quotespirations, so I included mine in my subhead: Here’s to reminding ourselves that kindness matters and that joy is contagious.

Happy New Year.

Look for the Helpers

Fred Rogers of the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood show from yesteryear, once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It’s an understatement to say that the news has been a wee bit scary this year, and particularly recently. I am certain that on other elections people have been where I was on November 9, staring stunned and horrified into my coffee. I don’t like that feeling.

I’m left with the question: What did America just do? This election has been like when a party breaks up too late and friends are left passed out on the sofa when the parents come home. We were only playing, we didn’t mean to do anything wrong, we’d apologize. Sorry we messed up the house.

But we’re the parents now, and our house has been messed up for a while. When we don’t take steps to understand each other, isolation and fear ensue. This is not a leap of logic, this is basic kindergarten manners. Go make friends with the new kid, my grandmother would tell me, they look like they could use someone to talk to.

I love my country and I know we can behave better than this. One of the aspects of my nation that I took for granted until recently was its can-do spirit, its celebration of the underdog who rises to the top. Ask anyone who saw the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. In this election, though, there was no underdog, just candidates slinging mud that got splattered all on America’s face and there’s no one to wipe up the mess for us. That can-do spirit has taken a beating.

“This isn’t my mess, I didn’t do this,” I hear people saying. No, this isn’t any one person’s doing, but this is definitely a mess. We all live here, so we’ve got some work to do. If we are going to move forward we’re going to have to remember that it might not feel like it right now, but that America is a beautiful nation full of potential. We’re going to need to bridge the gap between what we have been doing and what we could be doing. However anyone voted in this election, and remember we have the right to disagree, we don’t have the right to hurt each other. To remix Mr. Rogers’ quote, there have indeed been scary things in the news, so we need to look for the helpers.

In fact, rather than looking for helpers, we need to be the helpers.

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.

Celebrate Yourself (and keep going)

My friends tease me that my catch-phrase is “I celebrate you.” I celebrate names on papers, first trips after getting a driver’s license, and winning Nobel prizes with equal amounts of congratulatory gusto. Yes, equal. I have noticed, however, that I’m doing much less external celebrating lately, and the reason is simple: I can’t celebrate for you or with you if your fervor in drawing attention to yourself far exceeds any measure of congratulations I could offer.

I’m not just talking about selfies. I think they’re fun, spiffy, and contain just the right blend of self-congratulation and attention seeking to be mildly annoying and occasionally excessive. What I am referencing is the attention seeking that validates one’s reason for the effort. Did you really just get an A in Chemistry so that I could celebrate you? I surely hope not.

I hope, for all our sakes, that our reasons for exerting extra effort don’t rely on someone else drawing attention to that effort. If you want to run a marathon, that is awesome, but your joy should come from the fact that you lived through the experience and not from the fact that I will hug your sweaty, electrolyte-depleted self and say congratulations.

People who succeed at whatever endeavor they undertake don’t attain their goals so that someone can shout hurray from the mountain tops or so that they can prove someone wrong. They may begin that way, but they succeed on blood, sweat, and grit because that journey becomes more about themselves and less about others. Their successes are mental, not public. Of course people like knowing their efforts are appreciated and will work harder in response to that recognition, but at some point don’t we have to put on the Adult Pants and celebrate our own selves without the validation from the multitudes?

I am reminded of a video clip I watched recently about a person who lost 70 pounds in her quest for a more healthy lifestyle. That’s awesome and I would hug and celebrate her if I knew her. The thing she mentioned having to come to terms with is how little people cared about her weight loss, and how sometimes people undermined her efforts or gave her negative attention for it. That made me sad at first, but then she pointed out that she began to understand that her healthy eating journey was hers. In other words, the things that are most important to you are most important to you, not necessarily anyone else.

We definitely need to do a better job of celebrating others, but we also need to do a better job of recognizing that our own efforts are ours, and not for someone else to celebrate. I am reminded of the phrase that “You have to toot your own horn.” Well, good, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is obligated to sing along, or that you’re any less worthy if you don’t get a parade in your honor with confetti and balloon animals. It just means that we should all build some internal motivation to be a better version of ourselves each day without seeking permission or acknowledgement from others. It’s time to get out those Adult Pants, get to work on whatever thing of awesome we’re passionate about, and let the confetti fall where it may.

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