Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 311: Mantra Monday - Be Inspired... But Show Up and Get the Work Done!

... But Show Up and Get The Work Done!
Sometimes it feels impossible to just sit down at my desk and make progress on my dissertation (or fellowship applications... or my unending email backlog... or - gasp! - blog posts...).  The truth is, I've had a bad habit of procrastinating for as long as I've had responsibilities. I know no easy cure.  Procrastination means feeling obsessive urges to clean my kitchen before I can write a sentence.  It means "needing" to organize my closet before I can my second sentence. It means playing games of solitaire between every completed paragraph of a 20-page paper (I'm not kidding).  It means feeling anxious often.   Like a lot of creative types, I wax poetic about needing "inspiration."  Often, it doesn't show up, so I get "inspired" by looming deadlines.  All-nighters ensue, and I end up needing days to recover.

Back in high school and college this process felt kind of romantic and special.  Emergency deadlines made life exciting, and I wasn't even jealous of those folks who ran their races the "slow-and-steady" way (how boring!)  But these days putting things off just makes me feel immature (while procrastinating) and then as though I've aged rapidly and painfully (when recovering from said procrastinating).

The good news is that I've improved dramatically since college.  Instead of being motivated only by the "stick" of looming deadlines, I occasionally move towards the "carrot"of feeling sane, productive, and well-rested.  I've also abandoned the myth that I work "best" under pressure, because I don't.  Instead, I know that I write best when I'm feeling positive and confident, and when I regularly set small, achievable goals (and then accomplish them).  Even knowing these things, I still struggle with procrastination.

I recently found myself on a website offering advice on "how to overcome procrastination" (I should have been working... ironic, eh?).  I read this quote and found it compelling (perhaps even... inspiring!):
I think Mr. Close (a painter - I googled) has a good point.  Waiting for some kind of phone-call-from-The-Almighty each workday is foolhardy at best, egomaniacal at worst.  I agree with Woody Allen's similar insistence that "80 percent of life is just showing up."   Yet I'm still not anti-inspiration.  The truth is that I could never work on anything that didn't, itself, inspire me.  That's not something I'll ever give up, but it's a truth I need to take more seriously during those times when I feel stuck.   I fundamentally believe that the questions I ask in my research are important and interesting.  I believe even more strongly that teaching has the potential to change my students' lives (well, when I'm lucky enough to have a teaching position anyway) .  Finally, blogging makes writing FUN! (How's THAT for inspiring?)  So, this week, I'm determined to not wait for inspiration to "strike." but to instead to focus on what I KNOW inspires me....  To "be inspired" .... but then "show up and get the work done."

Anybody else out there battled procrastination? If so... share tips!  Or share your pain.  Feel free procrastinate on whatever you "should" be doing, by commenting on my blog.  :)

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 304: Mantra Monday - Leave That Zit Alone!

This week's mantra is not terribly ambitious, but still heartfelt.  

Leave that zit alone!

Yes folks, I managed to grow myself a zit this weekend, and it's driving me nuts.  It's one of those particularly painful little guys, in a tender spot just under my nose.  When I brush against it I have to sneeze!  Torture.

You may remember from my post several months (wow. months!) ago on Day 80, that I used to have awful acne that has (mostly) cleared up, thanks to two rounds of Accutane.  These days I'm meticulous about my skin, which keeps things mostly under control.  When that doesn't work, I have an arsenal of products on hand to fix what ails me, be it dry&flakey skin, sensitive&burning skin, oily&shiny skin, or - egads! - zits.  So now I'm dealing with the last thing on that list.  I know what to do, but it's really hard to follow my own directions.  Here is what I SHOULD do, once at morning and again at night:
1) Clean face using gentle cleanser.
2) Gently apply a mild zit-zapper (I like 2.5% Benzyl Peroxide) to the spot.
3) Cover entire face with fragrance-free, oil-free moisturizer (w/ SPF in the morning).
4) If morning, gently pat a bit of concealer on the spot.
Steps 1-3 are easy, but steps 4 and 5 are a real challenge without a mirror.  I can't see my face, much less my zit, so I've decided to eliminate the concealer bit in favor of my normal makeup, which includes a tinted moisturizer.  On Mondays I don't wear makeup anyway, so that makes things simple, albeit stressful.

But then there's Step 5.  Step 5 doesn't just mean no picking or prodding, it also means no constantly-touching-your-face-to-see-if-the-zit-is-bigger/smaller/still-there.  And that last part is what I'm probably going to struggle with.  I'm hoping to adopt a "Who cares!?  It's a zit, not a tumor!" kind of attitude, but without being able to look in the mirror I don't actually know this for a fact now, do I??!

As silly (or icky) as this week's mantra may seem, it will be a challenge for me to accomplish without looking in a mirror. On Day 80 I joked that "MIRRORS CAUSE ACNE" after learning that American teen girls became more obsessed with having clear skin once mirrors became common in middle-class households.  I'm hoping that NOT having mirrors in my household will help me just forget about my skin and get on with my life.   
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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day 301: Fun Fact Friday - Narcissus Was Trying to Stay Hydrated!

My week of staying hydrated has been perhaps too successful.  I've been running to the ladies room more frequently than puppy Noelle goes out to her potty spot!  Between the two of us I think we're averaging 3 bathroom breaks an hour.  With all this focus on water, I couldn't help but recall one of the most stunning mirror myths in our cultural history: that of Narcissus.

Oil on canvas by Caravaggio, 1597-1599.
In a beautiful (pun intended) warning of the dangers of vanity, the story of Narcissus is of a handsome youth who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, not realizing that it is merely an image.  In the version told by the poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses, Narcissus rests by a spring and, while drinking from it, "a new thirst grows inside him" and he is "captivated by the image of the beauty he has seen" and falls deeply in love with "all the things for which he himself is admired."  He then wastes away with love for himself, trapped by the inability to leave his reflection.  A while later his body is gone, and in its place is a narcissus flower.

Yikes - I wish one of you had warned me about this risk when I told you I'd be drinking a lot of water this week!  Luckily, none of my coffee mugs has been "grande" enough to clearly reflect my own "image of beauty" ... I'm sure I would have been quite captivated, had this been the case!

In all seriousness, I'm surprised I haven't already written about the Narcissus myth.  A wariness of destructive vanity is at the heart of this project.  I was once trapped by my own image, though it was more of a love/hate relationship.  Whether we stare obsessively at our reflections because of extreme pride and self-love, or due to crippling insecurities, the result is the same: we might not literally die from it, but in those moments we stop actively living our lives.  I'm tempted to track down a potted Narcissus plant to keep on hand as a reminder of this lesson.  Any green thumbs out there know how to grow one (and keep it alive!)?

For you art fans out there, check out this intense painting of the Narcissus myth, by Salvador Dali.  
Oil on Canvas by Salvador Dali (1937)
By abandoning the romance in favor of an image more treacherous and surreal (again, pun intended!), this painting captures the Narcissus myth more to my own experience of vanity.  What do you think?
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Day 297: Mantra Monday - Drink More Water!

Back on Day 220 I wrote about the importance of Rest, Activity and Nourishment, and decided to focus on "rest" for the week.  It was an astounding success and I'm now addicted to my earlier bedtime (FYI, I used to be a real night-owl, so 11pm counts as an "early" bedtime for me!).  I set my iPhone to ping at 10pm every night as a reminder to wind down, unplug, and get into bed.  Avoiding alcohol on weeknights helps me sleep sounder, and wake up feeling even more refreshed.  Speaking of "refreshed," my mantra for this week builds on the 3 things listed on Day 220... I'm determined to stay hydrated as a way to "nourish" my body.  So this week's mantra is pretty simple:
Drink More Water!

Visual lesson on healthy kidney function
I feel more in tune with my body when I give it what it needs.  I've become great at feeding myself a variety of nourishing foods, eating when I'm hungry, and stopping when I'm satisfied.  But sometimes I still struggle with hydration.  Back when I lived in the throes of anorexia, I restricted liquids along with food to the point that I experienced 5 episodes of kidney stones (beyond painful!) and mild-but-permanent kidney damage.  Luckily, having two kidneys that work at about 85% is an okay deal (people with two healthy kidneys can actually donate one and still live long and healthy lives!), but I don't want to push things.  I'm not invincible.

Diesel's frighteningly expensive blockage-
dissolving cat food,  next to my SodaStream!

When my cat, Diesel, almost died from a urethral blockage a few weeks ago I was reminded again of the importance of staying hydrated.  If I'm going to worry about keeping a cat waterlogged, I ought to afford myself the same attention.  So this week I'm loading up on water, tea, low-fat milk, and anything fun and lowish-sugar that I can make with my super-nifty-fizzy-drink-making SodaStream (a wedding registry must-have). Bottoms-up!

Who's with me?! Anybody else out there struggle to stay hydrated?  Any tips?  

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 294: Fun Fact Friday - Talmudic Support for My Hypothesis that Mirrors Can Help Us Feel SEXY!

Monday's post (about my somewhat subdued libido as of late) ended up being one of my favorite.  Well - to clarify - even though I felt a little iffy about sharing some more personal details about my relationship with Michael, the post garnered some of my favorite responses from readers.  Thanks to numerous comments and emails, I have four things to report:

1) I feel normal instead of weird or less womanly.
2) Michael and I decided to start watching The Tudors together.  The first episode was.... inspiring. :)
3) I actually bothered to wear a matching (RED!) bra + undies on Tuesday, and it did make me feel prettier.  Thanks Kristi Lea!
4) Finally, I learned a new Fun Fact!  

My dissertation advisor, sent me the following message.  Remember when I questioned whether looking in the mirror might have helped me feel sexier?  Check this out:

Hi Kjerstin,
Interesting post that reminds me of some talmud that I've thought of before in relation to your project. It goes something like this:
The rabbis were talking about why there are mirrors in the tabernacle or holy of holies or some sacred Jewish space and the answer is that mirrors are holy because….  During the time that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt and the men were so exhausted from hard labor that they had no interest in romance/baby making, the women would use mirrors to make themselves beautiful and get their husbands into the mood. Thanks to their ingenuity, the Jewish people continued to reproduce during this trying time. So, this provides talmudic support for your hypothesis that mirrors can make women feel sexy! 
Okay, how fantastic was this Fun Fact?!  First, I love hearing any story in which women save the world.  I think we do it a little bit every day just by being who we are, but it's great to see these heroic (heroine-ic?) roles being recorded in our religious and cultural artifacts.  Second, I like learning about reasons to appreciate mirrors.  In less than 3 months I'll be done shunning mirrors.  This story reminds me that spending time in front of a mirror doesn't have to be accompanied by insecurity and it doesn't have to represent a departure from living in accordance with my values.  Hopefully by the time I return to mirrors I'll have learned enough to bring the good stuff back with them.  Who knows... maybe I'll spin a 180 and attach a humongous mirror to the ceiling above our bed!  (well, okay, probably not that one!).

Thanks again to those of you who commented and/or emailed this week!

P.S. For those of you who find today's "Fun Fact Friday" inspiring, I tracked down a more "official" version from a website offering Weekly Torah Teachings.  I copied some below, and you can read more yourself, here.
You find that when the Israelites suffered hard labor in Egypt that Pharaoh decreed that they should not sleep at home or have sexual relations with their wives. Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta said: What did the Israelite women do? They would go down to draw water from the river, whereupon the Holy One prepared small fish for them inside their pitchers. They would sell some of them, cook some of them and buy with them wine and go out into the work fields to feed their husbands.
After they had eaten, they took their mirrors and looked into them together with their husbands. The wife would say: I am better looking than you. The husband would say: I am better looking! And in this way they aroused their sexual desire and became fruitful and multiplied, as it says And the children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and multiplied and became exceedingly mighty. (Exodus 1:7)
It was through the merits of these mirrors that the Israelites were able to continue to have children even under the demands of harsh labor.
As soon as the Holy One told Moses to make the tabernacle, all of the men came to contribute. Some brought silver, some brought gold or brass, onyx and other gems to be set. They readily brought everything. Whereupon the women said, “What have we to contribute to the offerings for the tabernacle?” They came and brought the mirrors and presented them to Moses. When Moses saw the mirrors, he was furious with them. He said: “Go and punish whoever brought these mirrors! What possible use could they have here?!”
The Holy One said: “Moses! You look down on these, but it was these mirrors that raised up all of the hosts of children born in Egypt. Take them and make from them the washbasin and its base for the priests...”
-- Midrash Tanhuma, Pekudei #9 

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Day 290: Mantra Monday - Return to Romance... in 15 Minutes a Day!

This is a picture of Michael and me from 3 years ago. ;)
At what point does feeling comfortable with both yourself and your partner start to kill the romance?  I'm trying to avoid overanalyzing this too much but there's no way to deny the truth: Michael and I are in a serious slump in the romance department.  (I almost called it "a romantic slump" but that would be incorrect.  It's a very unromantic slump.)  We used to be crazy for each other... holding hands all the time, smooching in public, lots of smooching in private, and frequent "you're so hot I can't help it!" butt-pinches whenever we could get away with it.  During our year-and-a-half of long-distance dating we spent hours on the phone most nights when apart, and hours in the bedroom when together.  It was awesome.

But all that romance took time away from other thingsimportant things - including time for work, time with friends and family, and time getting exercise.  Since moving in together, we've both been able to re-invest in all of these other things, which feels great.  Our lives have more balance, and it's phenomenal to finally share a home (not to mention 2 cats + 1 puppy).  But for some reason - or perhaps for many reasons - this reshuffling of our lives has dampened the romance.  We just aren't lusting after each other the way we used to, and it's a bummer.

I fear that some of this might be related to my no-mirrors project.  I've been so much less focused on my looks (which has been wonderful for my body image and confidence!), but in doing so I've spent the majority of my days comfortably hanging out in a tee-shirt + slouchy jeans, wearing minimal makeup, and with my hair always in a pony-tail.  At bedtime I change into elastic-waistband PJ pants that come practically up to my ta-tas, worn with (what else?) a huge old tee-shirt.  Does Michael still find me attractive?  Amazingly, yes (not that he wouldn't prefer a slightly less schlumpy wife!).  But I don't feel very sexy.  This came as a surprise to me.  I really thought that focusing on how I feel instead of how I look would make me feel sexy all the time.  But I may have underestimated the extent to which primping and grooming have helped me feel attractive and sexy.   Anyway, despite feeling increasingly comfortable with my body, I haven't felt particularly amorous; I've rarely been "in the mood" lately, and it doesn't help that Michael has been too exhausted after work to put much effort into "setting the mood."

An example:
Last Thursday night Michael and I went to dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant.  I even dressed up (i.e., changed out of my PJ pants) for the occasion!  After complaining for a 30 minutes about the exhaustions of house-training a puppy, I felt a glimmer of that wanting-to-snuggle-and-kiss kind of feeling.  So I leaned over the table, looked longingly into Michael's eyes, and said "Any interest in giving me a full-body massage when we get back home??"  (I even suggestively wiggled my eyebrows.)  He perked up (this must have sounded better than hearing more about the house-training).  He said "Ooooh, that sounds fun!"  But once we were home, Michael's energy dropped like a sake-bomb.  He haphazardly scratched my back for about 5 minutes, and then started bargaining for "payment upfront."  I know that sounds awful, but don't worry: at this point we both exploded into giggles and exchanged some tickles (I also gave Michael a "full-body massage" by rubbing his left bicep).  But that was the extent of it.  Bonding: check.  Sexy-time: uncheck.

So, do we still adore each other?  Absolutely!  Do we still find each other attractive?  Yep.  (I still think Michael is crazy-handsome, and he seems to think I'm somewhere between cute and gorgeous, depending on the day.)  Do we have a healthy relationship?  The best!  Are we having fun and enjoying time together?  Absolutely!  (Just not so much in bed.)

We've talked about this "issue" a few times.  We're not panicking, but we miss feeling excited about this special part of our lives.  So this week I'm sharing a mantra with Michael.  We've decided to spend at least 15 minutes being romantic with each other, EVERY DAY this week.  When I suggested this, it (sadly) sounded really ambitious.  That made us feel ridiculous, and then determined.  So.... this week's mantra is:

Return to Romance... in 15 Minutes a Day!

I'm also going to make an effort to dress with a bit more pizazz, and to at least ditch the pony-tail most days.  Hopefully this will help push me in the right direction, though it will of course be a delicate balance between caring about my looks just enough, but not too much!

How much is "feeling sexy" related to "looking sexy" for you?  Have any of you dealt with a "slump"?  If so, I'd love advice, ideas, and suggestions - but please keep your comments PG-13.  

P.S. Mom, Granda Rita & Grandma Ruth - if any of you have suggestions or tales of similar experience.... please, please, please comment anonymously! 

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 283: Mantra Monday - New Years Resolutions!

Happy 2012 everyone!  I hope you're all recovering from your holiday festivities.  I, for one, could use another week of vacation to recover from my vacation!  As I mentioned last Wednesday, my holiday season was a bit more stressful than usual, with a brand new puppy and a very sick kitty.  My household is still pretty hectic, but at least we're all back home and healthy (or, at least, recovering!).  FYI, Michael and I loved getting all of your feedback on puppy names.  We've decided on "Noelle" but it was a close call.

In the spirit of welcoming the New Year, today's "Mantra Monday" is actually a short list of my resolutions for the entire year of 2012.

1) Just Say "No"
Between my dissertation, my work at About-Face, this blog project, and a new puppy, I've got lot on my plate in the coming 12 months.  Everything I've mentioned here is incredibly important to me, and also time consuming.  Add quality time with friends and family, along with exercise, adequate sleep, and a sprinkling of leisure, and suddenly there are barely enough hours in the day.  I simply cannot add anything more to my list of responsibilities and activities without risking my mental and physical health.  So, I'm going remind myself to "just say no!" to any extra time commitments that might present themselves.

2) No alcohol on weeknights!
I started avoiding alcohol on weeknights a few months ago when Michael and I had our first serious budget conversation.  We've always loved sharing a bottle of decent wine with dinner a few nights each week, but since we no longer tolerate the really cheap stuff, the expense was adding up.  We decided to cut wine out of our weeknights as a way to save money, but almost immediately I noticed an improvement in both my quality of sleep and in how I felt, emotionally: on nights without alcohol, I fell asleep faster, slept more soundly, and woke up feeling less anxious and ready to greet the day.  I was shocked, but soon became hooked.  Despite knowing better, I returned to more frequent imbibing during the myriad holiday festivities with family and friends.  I enjoyed a lot of fun and memorable nights, but also a lot of exhausted and cranky mornings.  Time to get back on track!

3) Run at least one half-marathon, preferably two.
I've completed 10 half-marathons since I graduated from college in 2004.  Sadly, I've only run one in the past 3 years (ever since I started dating Michael! hrmmm...).  I've never been a particularly fast long-distance runner, but being able to run 13.1 miles without stopping makes me feel really proud of myself, whether it takes 2 hours or 4.  I probably won't have time to train for a race until summer, but that gives me several months in the meantime to start building my strength and endurance.

4) Don't look in the mirror until March 25th!
No peeks, no cheats, no "window-shopping," and no going crazy!

Four resolutions might seem like too many, but I think I've picked a balanced set of things I'd like to accomplish.  What are your resolutions?  Any suggestions for how I can be sure to fulfill mine?

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