Who I am in the mornings is not who I am.

Once on an outdoor club trip, I was woken up at 5:30 AM, a full hour and a half before we’d set our alarms, by my love-her-to-death-but-too-chipper-for-me-to-like-in-the-mornings friend, who started whispering very loudly (you know the voice!) to our other friend about getting up and making breakfast and the plan for the day. I was right next to them in the tent, and after 10 minutes of this I wanted to cry. I snapped, “I can hear every single thing you’re saying, and no thanks for whispering!” and got out of the tent to go sleep in the car. My friend felt bad so she made the further mistake of tapping on the car window 5 minutes later to apologize. “What!!!” I snapped again. “We have til 7, don’t wake me up til 7!!”

Later that day we were talking and laughing like nothing happened. But for some reason she’s a really easy friend to be mad at, especially in the morning, and so she’s sadly come to fear me.

When another friend told me that first friend, Morning Friend, was afraid of me, I was shocked. I could be prickly, I know, but didn’t everyone see the tender soul inside that responds angrily but just wants a hug and some comfort? Didn’t everyone know I yell when I’m on the verge of tears? And then walk away so nobody sees the tears?

With my girlfriend, I can’t yell and walk away because she can yell louder. I just cry a lot. Which makes me more honest about my feelings but also feels to me like taking power away from me. If she knows I cry, she knows I’m tender. If she knows I’m tender she knows I’m vulnerable.

I’ve tried getting more to the point of being able to cry with friends, instead of yell at them. I’m not even a yeller, usually. I just snapped.

But it shocks me that someone who is so afraid of others’ disapproval (me) could ever seem scary to someone else. That I could ever dominate a dynamic, because I’m just so afraid of other peoples’ disapproval. I think I may be one of those people who drastically changes depending on who I’m with.

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The fantasy world of Konmari and the Gilmore Girls

I used to watch Gilmore Girls with one of my friends who watched the show religiously. The reboot, “A Year in the Life”, was hit or miss for me; I didn’t care about Rory’s plot line at all. It was interesting to watch cosmopolitan millennial reality creep into the sleepy privileged small-town bubble of the Gilmore Girls world, but the grounding factor, the heart of the show, was not the “Girls”-esque casting about of Rory Gilmore, but the tragic aftermath of a mother and daughter who never got along, trying to cope with the loss of their husband and father, respectively, while the best-friendship between mother and daughter falls to the background. It’s why I both hated the show and loved it way more than the original: while Rory seemed to regress in maturity and complexity, Lorelai and Emily seemed to grow and learn even as their dynamic was, on the surface, the same.

Lorelai: [walks into her mother’s house] What what what…
Emily: [ordering around an army of domestic workers] They go outside. The boxes. [turns to Lorelai] Oh, good. Did you call?
Lorelai: D-did I-
Emily: Because today is a very bad day.
Lorelai: Mom, what on earth is going on here? Who are all these people?
Emily: Oh, that’s Berta.
Lorelai: Yeah I know Berta.
Emily: And that’s Berta’s husband… no, THAT’s Berta’s husband, that’s his brother, and I THINK those are someone’s parents.
Lorelai: And the kids?
Emily: I thought they were all hers but now I’m not sure. [picks up a jacket, regards it for a second, then tosses it aside.] No, this goes.
Lorelai: Mom, what… [exasperated] can we get a minute?
Emily: Fine. [turns to the room.] Could you all give us a minute alone? [gestures wildly with hands]
Lorelai: Mom, “alone” looks a lot like “gas”.
Emily: Well I don’t know how else to communicate with them. Leonard Marlin’s daughter works at the UN, I had her come over and she can’t figure out what language they’re speaking either.
Lorelai: Mom, what is going on here?
Emily: You mean with the house?
Lorelai: Uh sure, start with the house.
Emily: I’m decluttering my life. You know Marie Kondo?
Lorelai: No.
Emily: You don’t?
Lorelai: No?
Emily: She’s Japanese.
Lorelai: Okay.
Emily: You still don’t know her.
Lorelai: She’s Japanese?
Emily: Yes.
Lorelai: No.
Emily: Well she wrote a best-selling book on decluttering. So I’m decluttering. I was starting to feel claustrophobic here. You know I’d wake up in the middle of the night feeling like this house was closing in on me, like I couldn’t breathe, you know?
Lorelai: Oh yes, I know.
Emily: So one of the ladies in my garden club had bought this book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She said it made everything better. Are you paying attention?
Lorelai: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Emily: You know it?
Lorelai: Was it written by that Japanese woman Marie Kondo?
Emily: Yes.
Lorelai: No.
Emily: Well people swear by her. She tells you you have to take everything you own out and put it in piles on the ground. Then you pick up each possession and you hold it. If it brings you joy you keep it, and if it doesn’t, out it goes.
Lorelai: Mom, he’s taking the dining room chairs!
Emily: They don’t bring me joy. [turns to maid, gestures wildly] This box needs to be taped. [turns to Lorelai] Oh by the way if I get a terminal disease I want to move to Washington State to die. They let you do that there.
Lorelai: Die? They let you die?
Emily: With dignity, and in your own timeframe. I’ll die there and then you need to ship me back here for burial, which costs a FORTUNE, I found out. So in the safe there’s an envelope labeled “body-shipping cash”. I could also go to Vermont, but we vacationed there once and it was terrible. Squirrels. So Washington it is. [Lorelai hands her a tumbler of scotch] It’s the middle of the day.
Lorelai: Taste it. See if it brings you joy.
Emily: [sits down with the glass in hand] Oh god. I haven’t sat down in six hours.
Lorelai: Cheers.
Emily: [takes a sip, sighs]

In the chaos that is life, we all look for moments of serenity that feel like truth while clutter and noise feel like the things that are keeping us from being our best selves.

For a woman of means like Emily Gilmore, status had been everything. She and her husband were high society–but they were high society together. She had been the perfect wife: knowing all the social conventions, being the perfect hostess, poised and polished always. A member of the DAR and a gardening club and various other exracurriculars open to high-status Connecticut women, her stuff was symbolic of the life she had built that revolved around her husband. Marie Kondo seemed like a wonderful contemporary reference to how the old-fashioned status-obsessed world of the elder Gilmores is no longer relevant. No longer tethered to the homogenous world of her husband’s success, Emily is unsure how to live her life, and it begins with her things: stuff that’s tying her down to an old life she no longer identifies with, now that she’s lost the one partner that made it feel important.

How’s my life going? Well out of curiosity I started reading “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up”, which I found online as a free PDF. Unlike Emily Gilmore, I haven’t had any big changes lately. I just feel my mortality more than ever, and the dark side of Marie Kondo is how, though she is upbeat and infuriatingly excited about the possibilities within the clutter of your life, we seek her (and other minimalists out) as a tool for recalibrating our view on “things”: if they don’t “spark joy” then why are we carting around mementos and clothing and books we don’t need? Millennials are at a strange point in human history when “things” cease to have value, when we are more nomadic than ever.

Sure, many people probably read Marie Kondo because maybe their lives are fine and they just want to neaten up the house. But who is worried about what other people think of their messy house but other people whose lives are messy and they want to conceal it? I don’t buy that this isn’t the next trend in self-help. I should know, I read it. Out of curiosity, of course.

Where I live seems to have no meaning for me. It’s a place to gain experience, but it’s not home. I don’t feel I have a direction yet; I have no job lined up for graduation. I’m the perfect candidate for fitness tracking, bullet journalling, and konmariing.

That’s not to say that any of this is a waste of time. When life feels chaotic and overwhelming, the best thing one can do is start exploring. When I know that, after having moved 10 times in 6 years, I will inevitably move again, being prepared is hardly the worst idea.

I thought when I’d write this post that I’d talk about the incessant pressure that everyone feels for their home to reflect their life, for neatness and tidiness always, to appear to have one’s “life together”. I’ll get to that another time. I’m not sure I’m buckling to pressure though, as much as I am trying to systematically put pieces in order. Or maybe I’m on the selfish path of pushing people away and isolating myself in an attempt to understand myself, thus making me feel lonely thus making having the perfect home/cocoon/amount of stuff feel imperative.

Who knew “spark joy” could be so complicated?

Lorelai: So come on mom, talk to me. [exhales sharply to prepare to address the elephant in the room.] Why are you wearing jeans?
Emily: What?
Lorelai: Because it’s terrifying.
Emily: I started this process with my closet, and nothing I owned brought me joy, so I ran out of clothes. I don’t even know where I got these.
Lorelai: They’re mine.
Emily: They are?
Lorelai: Did you not notice the Billy Squier patch on the butt?
Emily: You can have them back when I’m done.
Lorelai: I have not been pining for them.
Emily: I have to get back to work, kitchen’s next.
Lorelai: Stop. You’re not gonna have anything left.
Emily: That’s okay, what I DO have will bring me joy.
Lorelai: Mom… nothing is gonna bring you joy right now. Nothing. Your husband just died. When some time has passed and you realize you’ve given away all of your carefully chosen stuff, you’re gonna track down Marie Kondo and kill her, and then you’re going to go to jail wearing those jeans, and the Winchester Mystery Family will be living here in your ball gowns.
[pause]
Emily: [teary eyed] I don’t know how to do this.
Lorelai: Do what?
Emily: Live my life.
Lorelai: Oh mom…
Emily: I don’t know what to do or where to go–I’ve forgotten which side of the bed to sleep on. I was married for 50 years. Half of me is gone.

A new year, a new start

Happy Saturday! I’m sitting here looking out at the beautiful noreaster snowfall, trying to focus on preparing for my committee meeting in a couple weeks. I currently am trying to plot data from a 5-dimensional array and debugging is a pain! Though I’ve learned a lot over the years about good coding practices, I still find myself in situations like this and it feels daunting to untangle all the data in a legible way.

I’ve been better about coping with stress; after a series of panic attacks and a crippling week of depression in early December I’ve started prioritizing and straightening out my life so as to avoid getting so overwhelmed again. So I started utilizing a tool that I think has helped me immensely in managing my life and my mental health: the bullet journal.

Here’s how i’ve been organizing my life:

Digital:

  • Google Calendar for events and appointments (nothing beats a digital calendar)
  • Google Docs for lists: books I’ve read, travel stuff, anything I want to be archived and searchable
  • Clue to track my period

That’s it. I’ve tried all those apps to track water or other habits. The iPhone’s step counter is not my favorite (compared to the ease of use of the LG G4’s step counter), so until I find a better way of digitally tracking steps it’s not a primary logging tool for me. I also sporadically use MyFitnessPal, but well I don’t want to obsess over calories and logging what I eat is enough detail for me, so I don’t stick with it anymore.

Analog:

  • A to-do list on a legal pad that I have next to me when I work on my laptop. Simple, detailed, and is the ONLY way I can get nebulous/tedious tasks done. I’ve done this since my lab tech days and it’s great. I try to have one to-do list a day: so each day I turn a new sheet and start listing again.
  • A bullet journal. This has become a wonderful open-ended way for me to:
    • Keep a to-do list to manage other life tasks
    • Log my thoughts/feelings
    • Log food, exercise, money
    • Track habits I’m trying to break

I’m sure you’ve heard of it: a journal that has a monthly, weekly, and daily entry section, and that lets you jot things down quickly and in an organized fashion. Customizable to your needs.

I’ve gone back and forth on wondering if it’s a fad or not. I’ve tried so many productivity hacks that don’t work for my life, and there are segments of the bullet journal community dedicated to worshipping moleskine, leuchtturm, and sakura pigma micron pens. (I’m using mine to log finances; how can I start off a good year with a $50 purchase of materials? If you must ask, I’m using a Black n Red 5″x8″ spiral bound notebook–which I like for the hard cover but I do wish it had a dot grid… and may switch to a composition notebook once this gets used up–along with a Zebra G301 pen. I would also recommend the zebra sarasa as another budget choice. Less than $15 for materials is a good start.)

Why does it work for me? Well firstly because I don’t follow it to a tee. The original method calls for an index, which I didn’t find helpful. Instead I use flags on pages with frequented notes. Second, because I don’t feel like journaling in prose. I blog for that (less often now of course but still) but for myself, lengthy prose never appealed to me. I didn’t realize it was a THING to have a journal in bullet form! And then I love that I can experiment with design elements (for me, it’s for the sake of clarity rather than artistry… but I do like an aesthetically pleasing layout) that I can adjust each day. Unlike apps, where the layout is more or less static and designed by someone else, an analog bullet journal is just a way to write down data in an unconstrained way. (Second best I would say is Google Docs for listmaking/note-taking. Portable, always accessible, and again, customizable.) It’s great if you love data.

Why did I start?

After a year of such chaos that I got literally nothing done for months, it feels good to get a handle on things and figure out exactly what’s important to me. In this order, the things that are important to me are:

  • Develop a satisfying career path, make connections, follow up with contacts more quickly. Start by developing confidence in my work. Start that by recognizing my accomplishments and simply putting in more time; once the momentum gets going I generally feel at ease with my abilities.
  • Develop better health habits, physical and mental. This has been a super important factor for me, but it’s taken years for me to even feel WORTHY of better habits, if that makes sense.
  • Establish deeper connections with those around me by reducing violence (through dishonesty, passive-aggression, lack of empathy) in my speech and actions, by emphasizing honest communication, and by reaching out when I need help.
  • A better handle over finances. This year I’m finally going to budget properly: logging what I spend on, staying within my means, building up savings. I spent money on stupid things in the past, so letting go of those things and forgiving myself was an important step. As is learning to feed myself with actual food (and not whatever-is-in-reach/eating out all the time).

Those are a few steps in the right direction. I’ll update as this experiment goes along. I don’t have everything figured out yet, so don’t let this fool ya; I’m still working on getting a better handle on life. But at least I hope this keeps me out of crisis, and gives me a way to better integrate, rather than compartmentalize, my life, and to become more mindful of the choices I make.

Have you used one? Do you hate them? Do you love them?