Am I stuck in a life rut?

When I was thinking up my goals for 2016, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the goals were to my 2015 goal list. This is partly intentional: I want to continue reading and writing and running and who knows what else. While these are all admirable goals, one thing that crossed my mind was whether I was stuck in a rut.

The case for it is clear. My typical day looks like this: get up, eat breakfast, do work, grab lunch, more work, eat dinner, do whatever for the evening, shower, bed. Almost the same thing, day after day, with little variation during the week. Occasionally I go to a write-in during NaNo or a board game group or an evening run when the weather isn’t miserable. The weekends are reserved for recuperating from the week of work: more focused writing, catching up on reading, cleaning, and whatever else comes up, then getting bored on Sunday night because how can I relax even more. It’s easy to do this, week in, week out.

Keeping up the same weekly routine makes getting stuck in a rut even easier, doing the same things over and over until they become second nature and then, well, not do much else. Even between jobs, I maintained a routine similar to the one mentioned above, but more than that, I’ve been making habits out of some things. I’ve been making reading a habit over the past couple of years, and considering I read zero books in 2013 (yes, zero), this is one habit I’m rather proud of now. I’m trying, time and time again, to make writing a habit that I don’t have to think about before doing. And now I’m trying to make running a habit, although this habit may not stick through the winter.

But now what? I find myself thinking on a regular basis. I pride myself on being interested in many things, and even though that interest list isn’t quite as extensive as some people I know, there’s still a decent amount of variety. There are also many other things I’d love to dabble in but haven’t for one reason or another: knitting (although I’ve probably forgotten how to knit), programming, exploring new places, traveling, dabbling in various historical eras and civilizations, watching the many well-known movies I’ve never watched, expanding my social circles,… and the list goes on and on.

While some of these things are dependencies (can’t travel without the money to do so, for instance), I can do many of these items on their own. I don’t need any extra resources beyond time and energy to improve my programming skills, nor do I need to spend much money to get back into knitting. Unfortunately, none of these things can be combined as an attempt at multitasking. (Knitting and movies can in theory, but I’ve tried. I stopped knitting ten minutes into the movie.)

In the grand scheme of the universe, my life isn’t even a blip on the radar. Life is short, so I’m going to get out of this rut and make the most of it. Let’s do more.

Music and Its Strange Associations

Music is a powerful thing, and its effect on the brain has been studied extensively. It’s easy to associate some songs with life experiences, connecting romantic songs to a romantic partner, singalong-worthy songs to road trips, and even songs with a location to that location. But music is powerful enough to transcend these associations, making some music-life connections stranger than ever. Here are a few of those associations.

“I Try” by Macy Gray: When I was a kid, I used my tape player to record my favorite songs on the radio, then carry the tape and my tape player everywhere to listen to those songs. By March 2000, “I Try” was constantly playing on the radio and I had adopted the song as a favorite. It was also spelling bee season, and March meant competing at the regional bee for a chance to go to the national bee in Washington, DC. Despite all my best efforts, I placed fifth and left very upset because of the easy word I missed. Back in the car, I drowned myself in the music instead of talking to my parents. The first song to play? “I Try”. And I did try, even tried my hardest. And that’s all I can do.

The Dresden Dolls’ self-titled album: This one always gets an interesting reaction when I explain the association with number theory, a field of math that’s about special numbers like primes and perfect numbers. But toward the end of that semester, I was struggling. We were moving quickly to complete the course material and I didn’t understand a lot of the material that was on the third and final test before the final exam. Elliptic curves, cryptography, all fascinating materials, all reviewed so quickly that I didn’t understand it the first time or the second time or even the third time. Number theory was the last of my exams that semester, and I put all my extra energy into studying for that exam, usually with some kind of music in the background. One album that stands out was the Dresden Dolls’ self-titled album. Think dark cabaret with some rock mixed in–lots of loud music designed to strike you right in the heart and brain. And strike me in the heart and brain it did–every time I cracked open my number theory notes, “Coin-Operated Boy” played in my head even when I was listening to something more soothing that I don’t remember now. When I opened the envelope containing the number theory final exam, “Girl Anachronism” played in my head, It stayed there through the exam, making my effort at concentrating a difficult one. I still made an A- in the class. Thank you, past self.

“Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey: My last semester of college had finally arrived. Despite my possibly-poor life choice of taking a course overload and finishing a second major, the world economy crashing left and right with no end in sight, and a breakup with a guy I had been dating for almost a year, I was still determined to end college on a high note. The course load meant a lot of time at my library study carrel. Stack two, next to the literature and humanities books I was using for my French thesis. Books and piles of papers everywhere around the carrel, making me thank any gods out there that this was my reserved carrel. And of course wifi. Thanks to the wifi, I spent a lot of time listening to various Pandora stations while studying, often shuffling all my Pandora stations for maximum shuffle effect. “Don’t Stop Believing” was one of those songs that came up regularly. And if there was one thing I was determined to do, it was to never stop believing in what I could do. Sure, I was practically living in the library, trying not to cry at the drop of a hat. (I did nearly cry in front of my math advisor once a few weeks after that breakup, but that’s neither here nor there.) And sure, I was honestly not sure how to make it through the end of the semester without some voodoo and a few more hours in a day. Because when “Don’t Stop Believing” came on, none of that mattered. I was going to get through somehow. Streetlights, people. This song also led to my longest NaNo novel to date–my third 2010 NaNo novel, which pushed my total word count over 300k. (Semirelated: Another song that came up regularly was A Fine Frenzy’s “Almost Lover”, which was definitely appropriate for the time.)

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley: I visited San Francisco for the first time in November 2011. It was the trip of a lifetime: visiting NaNoWriMo HQ, meeting Wrimos from all over the world… oh yeah, and exploring this brand new city, even if I only had the money to stay for a weekend. I stayed in a hostel near Union Square and spent Sunday morning wandering around the area near Union Square. The ice skating rink had been set up. If I had the money to spare, I might have gone ice skating. I didn’t have the money, so I leaned on a railing outside the skating rink and lost myself in thought for awhile while “The Boys of Summer” played. Did I have to go back to Georgia? Couldn’t I just stay in San Francisco forever, stay with my new Night of Writing Dangerously friends and NaNoWriMo people, stay in this part of the world where tech ads were normal and the weather was perfect, if a little drizzly later in the afternoon? All those years of noveling and getting to know other writers and helping out newbies and feeling like I was part of something that mattered, all that was building up to a trip home. And by that point, nothing was stopping the tears. My seat on the flight back to Atlanta included a radio station. I plugged in my headphones and chose an 80s station. The song was nearly over, but the next song started up immediately. As “The Boys of Summer” played and the plane prepared for takeoff, I looked out the window and sobbed my eyes out. Sometimes music leaves a trail to your heart, and sometimes it helps you find the heart you left behind. This time it did both.

Adventures in Anxiety, Part Three: What If?

Missed the other posts in this series? Check out Part One and Part Two.

Most people (possibly including you) would never guess that somewhere underneath the cool exterior lies a bundle of worries. I can leave the house without having a panic attack, I can make small talk with strangers, and I’ve made speeches in front of large audiences with just a few jitters.

While some of my anxieties are expected, others manifest themselves in ways few people would expect. Continue reading

Adventures in Anxiety, Part Two: Getting Help

Did you miss Part One? Read Part One here.

My first round of therapy happened during my last year of college. As a kid, I would try to befriend the new kid before all the other established social groups could. While many social groups were established things, I would wander from friend group to friend group, eating with them at lunch and talking to them in class but rarely getting invited to birthday parties or even to hang out after my many extracurriculars. In high school most of the friends I did hang out with on a regular basis were older than me, and by junior year most of them had graduated, leaving me in the socially awkward dust.

This behavior continued through college, and by fall of senior year my emotions had caught up. I talked about this with a couple of good friends and finally decided to take advantage of the mental health services on campus. I sat down, we talked for a few minutes, and when we started talking about friend groups and being social, I burst into tears while trying to make sense of what was going on my brain.

That was the real problem: I had no idea what I wanted to get out of these sessions, but whatever it was, I didn’t want to go through these tearful appointments and struggling to figure everything out while sitting on a couch. Sure, I usually felt better after these sessions, but some of the emotions weighed on me for a few hours afterward. Writing would be better, not that I had much time for my paper journal. A few weeks later, I stopped going altogether after forgetting to reschedule a session.

I was much more prepared for the second round of therapy. It was early 2013, and the guy I had been seeing for the past couple of months had called it off. He was the first guy I had dated since graduating from college several years before (coincidentally, around the same time as Therapy, Round One). He pointed out that I was really bad at deciding things, like where to eat or what to do for the evening. I explained how I was really bad at making decisions and initiating things. He said I needed therapy.

He wasn’t wrong. A few weeks later I did research and walked into my first therapy session.

My therapist got straight to business, even giving me homework after each session. My early assignments included observing my interactions with others and taking note of what my body does. This is stupid, I kept telling myself. Why should I be paying attention to things like my breathing and heart rate and headache? I already worry enough about aches and pains. Is adding more stuff to pay attention to even necessary?

As a result, I wouldn’t put much effort into these assignments, thus disappointing my therapist. Months passed, as did many tearful sessions. Something happened as the time went by, though. The tearful sessions decreased in number and frequency. I started noticing things: the perma-headache that liked to hang around longer than necessary, the feeling of wanting to cry all the time that often accompanied the headache, the way I took deep breaths to counter the tightness in my chest.

Every week my therapist asked me to fill out a questionnaire rating how I did on certain things. The specific items on the questionnaire were topics I expressed interest in improving: making decisions, making plans, initiating things with others. Rating myself on the questionnaire was the hardest thing I did some weeks. What was a four? What about a five? What if I was somewhere in between–what rating would that get? And what kind of scale was this, anyway–linear? Logarithmic? I tried to maintain a consistent scale in my head, but some weeks I failed at this miserably.

A couple of things happened as time went by. One, my self-rated assessments did improve to the point where sometime the following summer, I ran out of things to talk about without going over the same stuff over and over. And two, I finally saw the meaning of all those exercises my therapist gave me in the beginning and therefore was ready to cope with them on my own.

I was ready to take on my worries with these newly developed skills. And if I ever needed to, I could always come back.

P.S. Part Three is up. Read it here.

Adventures in Anxiety, Part One: Beginnings

A few weeks ago I took an online version of the GAD-7, a test that can help measure anxiety. I scored 13. This classifies as moderate anxiety, one that could be diagnosed. Interestingly, taking the test made me anxious. Did I really experience these symptoms every day? What about over half those days? Exactly how many days did I experience a symptom like a headache? I might have. At least, I might have experienced those symptoms a lot over the past week, but that didn’t mean I experienced those symptoms a lot over the past two weeks.

These questions should have been easy to answer, and yet they weren’t. That should have been the first sign. Continue reading

On running

Whenever fitness and health come up, most people assume that since I’m tall and thin, I must automatically be in good shape. These people clearly haven’t seen me try to run from zombies or take a flight of stairs to my apartment with groceries weighing down my back and hands, but the misconception remains nonetheless. There’s an underlying assumption in our society: thin people are all gorgeous and in the best shape, and anyone who isn’t supermodel thin is a lazy being whose main hobbies include sitting on the couch and watching Netflix while enjoying a Costco-sized bag of chips.

While I won’t deny my interest in sitting around and eating chips (particularly salt and pepper kettle chips–pass them over), this assumption is certainly not true. People’s exercise and fitness habits are as diverse as humanity itself, and that’s not getting into how genetics like to screw with our bodies. And my fitness habits involved me sitting in front of my computer, tapping out key after key in an attempt to make something. If exercising my wrists and fingers contributed to overall fitness, I’d be a younger Jane Fonda.

Unfortunately, finger exercise doesn’t count. When some of my friends started working on their fitness over the last year, the friendly peer pressure rubbed off on me, much like it does during NaNoWriMo with talk of higher word count goals and one more word war before bed. I can walk like no one’s business, but my dislike of walking without a destination makes me put off going for a walk for the sake of fitness alone. Why go on a walk if I’m just going to turn around and come back? I reasoned with myself that this line of thinking made no sense. If I had to run for any reason, I was screwed.

My newfound adventures in fitness started sometime in late March. I was returning home from somewhere and approached the top of a hill. Then I started walking down the hill faster and faster, letting gravity take its course. My fast walk turned into a gentle jog, one that I maintained when the hill turned to a flat surface. I jogged most of the 2km back home and wasn’t as exhausted as anticipated. Hot sweaty mess? Definitely. Hot sweaty mess so exhausted that I wanted to flop into bed without a shower? Not quite. My fitness standards are low, but they’re not that low. Continue reading

Attention, Audiobooks, and Me

Confession: I am terrible at doing nothing. Or to be more accurate, I’m terrible at doing only one thing at once.

This doesn’t mean I’m always multitasking, having my mind on Twitter and IRC and whatever I’m working on all at once; in fact, the opposite is true. Our brains were’t meant for multitasking, and switching between these tasks all day, every day, means that instead of doing all the things, I find myself getting very little done. If I don’t respond to something during the standard workday, now you know why; if I let myself lose focus on one thing, it takes a long time to get back in the sweet spot of getting things done while not beating myself up for doing other things during the day.

This need to maximize my getting things done means that I don’t do games or movies or TV shows or Youtube videos well. I have to devote all my attention to these things in order to follow what’s happening. But still, the guilt creeps in. When I’m devoting all my attention to one of these activities, especially lately, I think: What ELSE could I be doing? Can’t I take on something else to maximize productivity and therefore feel less guilty about all that time I do spend browsing the Internet or chatting with people or playing casual phone games? This isn’t from lack of trying. I’ve tried doing other things while watching a movie or show, but eating a meal is about as complex as this multitasking activity gets. Interestingly, I don’t feel this way about reading books, probably because I can listen to soft music while reading and because I truly enjoy books.

Why do I bring this up? I started running last month. The idea of running or walking without a destination in mind is simultaneously fun and guilt-inducing. Why am I wandering around? Sure, these activities are helping me get into shape, but isn’t there something else I can be doing too? What about listening to something besides the same songs on my phone? The guilt and antsiness don’t show up (or at least, don’t show up as much) if I’m walking with a destination in mind. But when I’m wandering or just going on a run (where the destination is the same spot I left), the antsiness creeps in. Can I be doing more right now? Why do I complain about not having enough time for everything if I’m just going on a run with no destination in mind, with nothing new to consume?

This feeling isn’t unique to running. I experience the same feelings to a lesser extent while doing chores around the house, but the ability to stream new songs without using mobile data mostly alleviates the guilt. Music is the obvious solution here, and I have a small collection of tunes on my phone for this purpose. But lately the tunes have become repetitive, despite containing many of my favorites. I needed something new.

Audiobooks were the next solution. My brain doesn’t process spoken works of fiction well, so I was hesitant at first. A couple of months ago I brought an audiobook on a road trip for a friend’s wedding, and I had no idea what was going on at all. Something about Disney World and being immortal, but the back cover could have told me that.

Nonfiction was a different beast, I told myself. Nonfiction books are practically designed to be read in chunks. Especially if the nonfiction dealt with light topics that don’t require analysis after every paragraph, I could probably listen to and process a work of nonfiction. So I went back to my local library’s audiobook selection, selected a book on moral psychology (The Righteous Mind), and then hit play while cleaning the house on Saturday monring.

And you know what? It worked great. I was already familiar with some of the experiments in the book, but even the new findings were easy to take in and process while doing an activity that didn’t require all of my focus. I took the audiobook out on a walk yesterday afternoon and took in everything fine there too, despite missing a few parts when a car zoomed past.

I haven’t finished the current audiobook yet, but so far it looks like nonfiction audiobooks and I are going to get along just fine.

(Side note: if Baby-Sitters Club audiobooks are a thing, let me know because my familiarity with the storyline and the short book lengths would make these audiobooks just right.)

State of the Sushi, April 2015

While this site is all about me and the things I like, it’s not a true lifeblog, at least not the types of lifeblogs that I wrote ten years ago. But there are some things that Twitter and other social sites aren’t quite as great for, and getting the big picture update of one’s life is one of those things. Enough stuff has happened lately that it all seems like a blur, so here goes.

Fitness! I mentioned that one of my 2015 goals was to get off my butt and get moving. I barely made any progress on this during the winter, but then lots of things happened. Spring happened, which was a welcome arrival for me because my body was sick and tired of winter. But an even better thing happened than spring (and no, I don’t mean fall). Accountability happened. It’s well-known[citation needed] that having an accountability buddy makes you more motivated to accomplish a goal. This applies for just about everything, from writing a novel to going to the gym. I still have no plans (or money) for a gym membership, but several friends are also tracking their fitness and trying to get healthier. I’ve joined them in this quest, and having several someones to stay accountable to has been really helpful. I’ve already reached my 50k for the month (yes, 50 kilometers; that’s roughly 30 miles, or a mile a day). It’s the 17th, so I may have up my goal. More on that in a minute.

While we’re still talking about fitness, I also started running recently. In a surprising turn of events, I have not started to hate everything yet. It started innocently enough; I was walking home from somewhere a few weeks ago and reached a downhill stretch. “You know, I’m already walking pretty fast,” I told myself. “I could go down this hill a little faster.” So I started running down the hill and got home relatively unscathed. That’s when I started thinking to myself, “Hey, I could make running a regular thing.” I’ve done exactly that since. I’m still alternating between walking and running, but I’m pulling off a 15-minute mile consistently (and not dying in the process) by combining the two. In related news, a friend and I are doing a 5k next weekend. It’ll be my first; it’s her second since she did one a couple of weeks ago. Also, ducks are involved.

Camp NaNoWriMo/Wikiwrimo! These are going together because they are, at least for my purposes, the same thing right now. See, I have a terible track record with Camp NaNoWriMo. I usually try to work on a second draft, and for some reason that doesn’t work well for me. That’s why I decided to work on Wikiwrimo for camp. Since writing 50k words in a wiki full of existing content is a challenge at best, and since tracking characters is easier than words in a wiki, I decided to add 50k characters of content to the wiki. Most of this content has come from adding 2014 stats and content to the regional directory, and so far I’ve finished the rest of the world outside of the US (and Ontario, since that province has a lot of NaNo regions). I’m at around 45k characters added so far with plenty more to add in May. This way, all the 2014 regional info will be updated before new Municipal Liaisons are selected and some old ones step down. Since a lot of regional pages don’t exist and I’m creating them as I go, this has added a lot to my character count as well, meaning I’ll hit 50k soon and will probably up my goal.

But what would I up my goal to? I thought about 75k, and then I remembered that I’m at 50k for my exercise goal as well. Why not up both of those goals to 75k? Or more challenging, keep the two counts as close as I can for the month. When I up (or lower) one goal, that lowers the other as well. Hmmmmm. That could work.

(Oh, and the funny part? This has taken about as much time as writing a novel, even if 50k characters is much smaller than 50k words.)

Reading! I’m well on track for 60 books this year, and I’m going to try and finish reading book #50 by the end of this month. This will put me very close to on track for 120 books like last year, especially keeping in mind that I don’t read too much in October and November. Okay, let’s be honest, I’m almost certainly shooting for triple digits again, even if it means reading another big batch of Baby-Sitters Club books one night.

Writing! …Okay, I haven’t done as much writing lately. That’s a lie. I’ve written in my paper journal a LOT ever since things from meatspace have started to calm down. But I haven’t touched my fiction, and as you can probably guess, I haven’t written in here at all. Time to get back on that train.

Social life! Let’s see, what has happened over the past few months? I hosted an out of town friend, I hosted a taco party for Valentine’s Day with people who would snicker at that term as much as you and I are, I went to a conference on diversity in tech and gaming, I went to Charleston for a friend’s wedding, I met a cousin who was visiting from South Korea (and hosted her for a weekend of her stay), I went to a few board game nights, and I saw a live Welcome to Night Vale show. That’s just since the beginning of February. Whew. That is a lot now that I look at it all typed out. I’ve been cherishing all my free time on the weekends because introverts gotta introvert.

Anything else? I think that covers the big stuff, but I’m willing to talk and write about any of these things in more detail. So ask away!

The State of the Sushi, 2015

Look at that, a week and a half into 2015 and I’ve already broken my weekly blogging resolutions. Fortunately resolutions are often bigger things to work toward as opposed to falling off the wagon at the first sign of failure.

Books: I thought it was a good idea to start the year off with several books that would make good doorstops. I also thought it was a good idea to request holds on several ebooks while reading more ebooks, all while my physical book holds came in. The two of these combined mean I’m scrambling to read all the books currently in my possession. I’m making decent progress so far with four books read in 2015, but thank goodness for my library’s four-week checkout period on most books. There should be a book review post up around the end of the month, so look for that.

Writing: Remember all those books I mentioned? I haven’t worked on Wikiwrimo much at all since NaNo ended thanks to reading all the books. I haven’t been writing much anywhere–on here, or my paper journal, or fiction. Time to get back on that boat.

Assorted personal stuff: The holidays and my birthday have come and gone, and that leaves us with a cold, miserable winter standing between us and spring. Did I mention I hate winter? It’s cold, we don’t get snow here, and the lack of sunlight and going outside regularly makes me want to crawl into a hole until spring. At least cold weather gives me an excuse to drink lots of tea, as if I needed a reason.

I’m also still open for freelance/full-time gigs, so get in touch if you want me to write a thing. Or social media a thing. Or do lots of other things.

That time I opened a tea tin with a hammer

In case you didn’t know, I love tea. Despite the self-imposed tea-buying hiatus for the majority of this year, I finally bought more tea. To be specific, I spotted a 24 Days of Tea advent calendar from a DavidsTea store in San Francisco. Those things went out of stock on the website in hours, and the closest store to Atlanta is Chicago, so I handed over some money and a calendar became mine.

I was a good Sushi. I let the tea sit and didn’t open any of them until yesterday, December first. After getting home from my Thanksgiving weekend, I cracked open the advent calendar with a tiny 1 on it and was rewarded with my tea of the day: Forever Nuts, a fruit and nut blend that I heard turned water into a beautiful reddish pink.

Sweet, right? I got to work opening the tiny (but very cute) tin. Note the words “got to work”. See, here’s how the process should have gone. Step one: open tin. Step two. Brew tea. Step three: profit.

Here’s how it really went.

Step one: Attempt to pop tin open, but the lid is practically glued on.

Step two: Attempt to unscrew the lid, thinking it’s one of those tins you have to unscrew, but nothing budges. Grab one of those rubber grips and try. Nothing moves.

Step three: Repeat steps one and two a few more times until it’s pretty clear the lid isn’t budging. Start to suspect the thing really is glued on.

Step four: Tweet your frustrations, then repeat steps one and two. You know how complaining about an annoyance sometimes makes it go away? If only it were that easy.

Step five: To Google! Look up ways to unseal a container, even though you’re already familiar wtih most of the tips. Try steps one and two again for good measure.

Step six: Grab a knife and stab the top plastic part of the jar. Manage to get a cut or two in there, but nowhere near enough to scoop out any tea. Try steps one and two again. You know, just in case.

Step seven: Bang up the sides of the container. Try steps one and two again. Tweet again.

Step eight: Refusing to accept defeat, grab a hammer and hammer the sides of the tin until it finally budges. Enjoy tea and hope to any gods listening that the other 23 days aren’t like this.

#24daysoftea: Now with hammers!

I earned that tea. I just don’t want to waste half an hour of my life on opening the others.