Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties is on Fire

Wednesday, while elicipticalling, I heard on the news that a house had blown up in Pleasantville.

That's weird, I thought. That's where I live. Oh well.

But I kept elipticizing.
I tuned in to another station and they showed the area of Pleasantville where the house had blown up.

That's... um... weird, I thought. That's my neighborhood.

I slowed down my elipticalation.
I tuned in to another station and they showed the cross streets where the explosion happened.

Holy crap, I said out loud. That's down the street from my house!

I stopped elipting.

How does a house blow up, you may ask? The answer involves a little too much knowledge of the piping under one's house for me to answer. All I know is gas leak+cutting wrong wires under home=explosion.


There are a million 'thankfullys' in this story. Thankfully no one was home and/or hurt. Thankfully the dog managed to get out in time. Thankfully homeowners are made to pay through the nose for insurance. Those kinds of things.

So while the helicopters chop-chop-chopped over my head that night while falling asleep, my mind started to wander. And I ended up feeling just a little bit jealous.

Jealous, you say? Hear me out:

L and I are not collectors of things. In the last seven months we have acquired the most 'stuff' we've ever had, and our house remains mostly empty. But we still have lots and lots of things. Stuff. Stuff that needs to be cleaned, dusted, stuff that is constantly being compared to stuff in other catalogs, stuff that goes on top of stuff and beside stuff. Stuff. Stuff and Things. There is part of me that is intrigued by the idea of starting completely over, rebuilding our home with insurance money, hiring someone to purchase things to go into that brand new home (because God knows I hate shopping for it myself), and starting over with a clean slate.

Is this a woman in her thirties thing, or a spring cleaning thing? I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that no one seems to agree with me. The standard responses to my feelings have been:

What about the pictures?!
Insurance wouldn't cover everything!
Imagine living out of a hotel with nothing while your house was being rebuilt!

And it's, true, all of these responses. A woman in her thirties is too old to get all Chris McCandless on people and think that she doesn't need 'stuff' in her life to make her happy. My pictures are priceless. I'm sure hassling with insurance over something this catastrophic would end in a head full of gray hair for me. And living out of a hotel would not be good for Daniel. I know all of this.


What if?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Learns Hard Lessons

Are you getting sick of me complaining about my stress level? I am.

Here's Wednesday:
Buttcrack of dawn: Leave for work
4:00pm: Force myself to leave school and go to gym
5:30pm: Wolf down dinner while grading papers
6:00pm: Walk to K's for a glass of wine
7:00pm: Come home, watch Intervention, plan classes for Wednesday (simultaneously)
8:00pm: Take Dan for his last walk of the day

And here's Thursday:
5:30am: Come home from Dan's morning walk
5:45am: Begin assembling things for the day
6:00am: Realize I cannot find my purse (keys and phone were in my jacket pocket)
6:10am: Call gym, thinking it's possible I left my purse in my locker and a good Samaritan turned it in
6:11am: Realize I left my wedding ring and watch inside purse while working out
6:12am: Cannot feel legs
6:13am: Call K, 100% sure that I did not bring my purse to her house the night before, but worth a try (leave a message, because it's still technically the butt crack of dawn for most people)
6:14am: Remember that Dan was barking strangely last night, and convince myself that someone came in my garage door and stole my purse from my desk, where I always keep it
6:15am: Barf
6:20am: Begin drive to work. Call another friend, K, hysterical. HYSTERICAL.
6:30am: K calls back-- I left my purse at her house

As L was out of town this week, I could only tell him about my near miss via email, to which he responded with man-in-his-thirties type things like, 'stuff can be replaced', and 'as long as you're safe', blah blah blah. Me? I was shaken all day.

I won't list all the lessons I learned in this situation, because there were many. Work out with rings on, even if it's uncomfortable. Think before you leave the house. Stop filling every moment of every day with something. Get a prescription for Xanax. Those kinds of things.

But, more importantly, I realized that a woman in her thirties in only a woman in her thirties for so long. I like this point in my life. Unlike my wallet, and unlike my jewelry, my time on this planet is the one thing that cannot be replaced. It's time to quit the crazy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Gets Naked

I've been spouting a lot of nonsense about what a woman in her thirties does and does not do, but but I think the golden rule of thirties-ness is this: A woman in her thirties takes risks. Not just ones that involve food or new classes at the gym. A woman in her thirties puts herself out there in ways that the woman in her twenties she once was would never do. I think it is safe to say that I have recently done just that.

There hasn't been a time that I haven't wanted to be a writer. I remember sitting at my parents' typewriter when I was about four years old, banging away letter after letter on white paper, not realizing that the gibberish I was typing made sense only to me. I still have my junior high journals, my long angst-ridden rants of the unrequited love I had for S. English class was the only class in my school career it took very little effort for me to do well in, and the times I felt most successful as a student were the times when an essay was involved. When I lived in China, I often would have an experience and think to myself, 'I have to write about this!' Something in me makes me feel that I haven't experienced anything at all until I've written it down.

So, with thirty one years of writing and compiling, I came up with a... manuscript. It's a collection of stories of my time in China. In the three years it took me to complete, I have alternated between 'Hey, this is pretty good' and 'Yikes, this is really bad' in equal measure. I think part of me thought that, with my newfound woman-in-her-thirties confidence, I would wake up one morning and not feel dread at the idea of showing it to someone.

That time hasn't come.

I found out about a local place that offers classes for writers, and one afternoon while nosing around the internet I discovered they were offering a class for creative non-fiction. It took every ounce of courage I had to send a story to the author/teacher of the class, but I did it. And, lo and behold, I am now in the class. Where I have to let three other people read my work. And critique it. God help me.

Last Sunday I went to Kinkos to make copies of my manuscript to give to the other people in the class. Unless you too have gone to Kinkos and asked them to make copies of some of the most intimate stories of your life, you cannot understand how much I shook when I was waiting for my copies to be done. 'Don't read it!' I said to the cashier, who looked at me a little strangely.

When my copies were done, he called out, 'Ma'am! Your book is ready!'

My book? I was still wrapping my head around the word manuscript.

My first class was Tuesday night. I walked in there fairly confidently, but my confidence drained away with every multi-syllabic word used by the teacher. When it was time to hand my 'book' over at the end of the class, I was visibly distraught. With each pass to each person it felt like I was removing a piece of clothing, until I was completely (metaphorically) exposed.

They have four weeks to critique my work, and I'm trying not to spend every moment obsessing over what I expect will be their facial expressions while reading. It's hard. 'Be kind!' I had wanted to say as we walked out of the class, but I stopped myself. This woman in her thirties knows all too well that the truth is often unkind. I don't want kind-- I want honesty. I guess I have no choice to sit back, try to relax, and spend the next month basking in my nakedness.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Discerns

I made a New Year's Resolution this year to eat healthier. As anyone who is a teacher knows, eating well is very difficult to do in my profession. The whole 'three balanced meals' concept doesn't apply when you have 6 minute passing periods and 25 minute lunch breaks where you must supervise detention or plan for the next period. Nevertheless, I made myself a promise, and the bull-headed Taurus in me won't let me fail.

It has been a process. If I were smarter with this computer, I would create you a flow-chart. But since I'm not, I'll explain this way:

January, 2010: Read Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer
It is a well-known fact that I am sort of in love with JSF since Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. If I were single and Jewish, I might move to New York City to find him and destroy his marriage. I'm sorry, but anyone who can write like that is... wow.
Turns out JSF is a vegetarian, and while his book was not meant to push people into vegetarianism, he sure doesn't give a whole lot of reasons to keep eating meat. All-Natural? Organic? Cage-free? Vegetarian-fed? All tricks of semantics to keep you paying more for food, according JSF and his research. And I don't care how much open space a cow has had in his life, the idea that a large percentage are skinned alive does something to the psyche.
But while the idea of vegetarianism is appealing to me on some level, the woman in her thirties that I am knows that it's not feasible. Number one-- I like meat (well, some of it), specifically fish. In my book, God exists because She gave us sashimi. Number two-- the real love of my life loves meat the way that middle school girls love Justin Bieber. I'm not cooking two meals for dinner every night. No way. And Number three-- I tried vegetarianism for a year (the Catholic kind-- the kind where you can eat fish) and I was never unhealthier or fatter. Sure, I could do it healthier. I could avoid the mac and cheese on the dinner menu. But who am I kidding? I won't.
Solution: While I'm overwhelmed with the complexity of this dilemma, a woman in her thirties finds a happy(ish) medium. I'm going to try to cook one vegetarian meal a week. L doesn't know this yet. So, L, when you read this, please try to remember all the reasons that you love me.

January, 2010: Gave up the crap
When I think of the food that defined me in college, I think of these things: Coffee (thanks a lot, K), Cheese puffs, Pasta Roni, Cheese-Its, Easy Mac, Taco Bell, and microwave burritos. I think you know where I'm going with this.
I gave up caffeine last year, and while it was hard (and I do have the occasional relapse), I have felt pretty good about not depending on a chemical substance--albeit a delicious chemical substance-- to get me through the morning. But now that I'm 'eating healthier', I've also given up Coffeemate (Try reading the ingredients on the side of that bottle. I dare you.) and diet stuff. No diet soda, (no soda in general, except for the shui kind), no diet juices, no 'Zero-Calorie' anything. While you might think this would be incredibly liberating, it's actually quite frustrating. Just try buying yogurt (and NOT yucky Greek kind) without some kind of fake-sugar additive. And no cheese that comes in powder form or has a shelf life of over a year.
Solution: I'm a busy woman in her thirties, and it's annoying to have to go to two-three different stores to get the stuff I want to eat. I also don't know if it's worth it. But what I do know is that butter is a million times more delicious than 'I Can't Believe it's Not Butter', and I think that's because it's real.

February, 2010: Read In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollen
Michael Pollen is the Lady GaGa of the food world. I'm only about a third of the way through his book, but here's what I've learned so far:
1. Shop the perimeter (a very posh term nowadays), meaning avoid shopping in the center aisles of the grocery store and all the crap that's found there.
2. Eat mostly plants, which is really, really hard.
3. Eat things that your great-grandparents would recognize as food (which takes Flamin'-Hot Cheetos out of the grocery cart).
I am struggling with this book but remain riveted by it. Everything he says makes sense, especially the parts about eating food, as opposed to food-like manufactured things. But I don't know how to cook kale without making it taste like dirt, and I barely knew my grandparents, let alone my great-grandparents. Michael Pollen has made grocery shopping a stressful situation.
Solution: A woman in her thirties faces tough choices. She also must pick her battles. So instead of whipping out my iPhone to research the nutritional content of a red potato versus a brown potato, I'll just use that silly little thing called common sense that does not get its own chapter in any book, ever.

Which I think is the key. If I had a flow chart here, this part would be the part that meets back up at January. A woman in her thirties uses the all-natural noodle between her ears and eats logically. And, because I never knew them and I like the idea of it, not because they should dictate how I live my life, the next time I go to the grocery store I'll be taking Matilda, Frank, Carmela, Francis, Jean-Pierre, and Jean-Marie with me. They loved chocolate, I just know it.