I was a picky eater as a child, and over the years, I’ve collected food-related fantasies that loosely fit into “If I were royalty, I would request…” Today I categorized those food fantasies into three main groups.

High Effort Food Fantasies

The prime example of this is grapefruit or pomelo. When peeled properly, grapefruit pieces are pristine juice-laden pods without membrane to distract from the tart and fragrant experience. But this state requires much effort – peeling off the skin and pith, separating the membrane, removing the seeds. Industrially peeled grapefruit is not comparable, especially when suspended in sugary fluids for unknown periods. If I were royalty, I would surely request freshly peeled grapefruit, likely prepared in my presence so I could watch expert peeling.

On the other hand, I would also request a steady supply of sunflower seeds that i would crack myself.

High-Consistency Food Fantasies

Blueberries rank highly on my list of favorite summer snacks, and I imagined they were solid blue on the inside until last year – a surprise, but not disappointing. Small fruits are disappointing in that every instance differs in sweetness, texture, ripeness, etc. I expect the royal grapefruit peeler would also study how to control or select for perfect-consistency blueberry servings. I’d be content too with a giant blueberry the size of an apple with consistent flavor and mouthfeel throughout.

With the blueberry studies underway, I would outlaw sandwiches that are too large to hold and sandwiches where the innards slide around during consumption (seriously, how unsavory does that sound?). I would instead request sandwich sets of multiple bite-sized mini-sandwiches, each containing the same proportions of ingredients. None would contain crusts.

Top of the Muffin Fantasies

Many of us, like Elaine Benes, fantasize about popping off the top of the muffin and throwing out the stump. I’d like to eat only asparagus tips and the soft centers of chocolate chip cookies. These fantasies would be the most easily implemented, but they make me feel worst about my personal goodness. It’s treating food enjoyment as a zero-sum game, whereas I could imagine that the society would eventually develop a robot to peel grapefruit, for the enjoyment of all. Waste comprises an indispensable part of the luxurious enjoyment of top of the muffin fantasies.

Why did I write this?

I don’t know, perhaps to make use of overthinking. Perhaps to publicize the urgent crisis of slippery-innard sandwiches.

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Freestyle sessions at Lloyd Center started again this morning, after a year under construction. I skated by myself for an hour and almost ran into the tree a couple of times doing backward spirals. Silly holidays. The rink is even smaller now, and the ice quality is mediocre, but I’m thrilled to have a skating venue 15 minutes away by bike!

Physical proximity to enriching things is so essential. I’m grateful to live in a small city with a range of transportation options, including consistent support for biking. In October I visited Atlanta, GA and I was shocked at how treacherous it felt to walk there – I was nearly run over while crossing WITH the pedestrian signal. I expect the drivers get grumpy from often sitting on unpredictable freeways. Did you know that more roads actually lead to more traffic? The 8-lane highway planners in Atlanta missed the memo.

Playing violin was my main activity growing up. I played in my school orchestra, a community orchestra, in musicals, and occasionally elsewhere. My peers considered me “good” (on a non-serious level), and so it surprises many people that my parents rarely attended my performances. My mother told me that among other reasons, she doesn’t like music and that my orchestras didn’t sound very good anyway.

I think many might consider this unsupportive, that a parent would choose to miss a culminating landmark in their child’s growth. But I had no complaints then, and I appreciate this choice now. This experience makes me question how we define ‘support.’

For example, the aggregate support I received from my parents for playing the violin was extraordinary. My parents bought me violins, paid for my lessons, and coordinated my transportation to and from rehearsals. They doled honest criticisms with a confidence I could improve, and they encouraged me to practice when I was dispirited or forgetful.  They did these things without complaint, without any expectation I would make a career of it, and mostly because I expressed an interest in third grade. How amazing is that?

Often we overlook our needs for real support and default to imagining support centered on the Final Thing – like a concert, a graduation, a book release. Actually it’s in our daily routines that we need the most support.

 

 

Sometimes people ask me for investment advice because I used to work in finance, so here it is:

  • Avoid buying individual stocks unless it prevents you from gambling. Buy index funds instead, or use Betterment/Wealthfront.
  • See a good therapist.

I started seeing a therapist soon after I moved to Portland, and I’m sure I could attribute to it a proportion of returns in my well-being or even my income, far exceeding single-digit stock market returns from the last two years. So if you have extra funds available, I would recommend finding a good therapist. Not seeing one would be analogous to not getting checkups from a doctor or not taking medication.

Why I love seeing a therapist

Sometimes people figure that a good friend who listens is basically a therapist, but this could not be more wrong. A stellar, solid friend might occasionally ask you difficult, uncomfortable questions about who you are or who you want to be, but it’s unlikely. Your friends bring their own baggage, opinions, and needs. Not to mention most of your friends probably lack degrees in counseling.

A therapist has mental frameworks for understanding your motivations and how you experience your life. This allows them to sort out what’s normal in your experience from what’s damaging or unproductive. It’s easy to think that ‘normal’ is simply what we experience often, and forget that other people might experience a different ‘normal’ that’s objectively better or worse. For example, for how many of your friends do you know their daily dinner routines growing up? Or your friends’ bedtime routines? There are so many small things that amount to personalities, habits, and assumptions about the world.

Examples of things I’ve learned:

  • I worry about how long it’s taking me to find a life purpose, when other people my age are building impressively famous things or running for political office or writing important books. I’ve internalized that it’s okay to spend time meandering and seeing what activities feel meaningful (or not) to me. My therapist recommended reading Dreams from My Father. I remember reading about Obama’s early life and thinking “Oh, I like this guy – he seems a little lost, but I really hope he succeeds!” And it was fun to re-remember that I was reading about our president.
  • I’ve stressed a lot about sending emails and messages at work. I’ve frequently had the experience of sitting in front of an email, thinking, for example, “If I say ‘it seems’ here, is that more uncertain than I feel? If I remove it, I sound way too certain… what if I move it to the end of the sentence? Is this important enough to send in email?” It was through discussing this internal conflict that I realized it’s okay to send people messages that aren’t significant. I developed a policy of always sending messages that came to mind (assuming they weren’t offensive) – at worst, people would ignore them.

This is essentially the attitude that’s allowing me to blog this month. You probably won’t think worse of me for supplying useless advice, at worst, you’ll just ignore this!

There’s much negativity towards the concept of a routine – e.g. they’re rigid, boring, unremarkable. Sometimes I inquire about my friends’ routines, because otherwise no one bothers to describe their daily lives. It’s considered too dull to discuss, but I think it’s fascinating how it can be hard to imagine the details of the lives of even our  best friends!

I’ve come to relish my routine, and I crave it when it’s unavailable. It includes:

  • Programming
  • Going skating / some sort of skating-oriented exercise
  • Talking to Max
  • Talking to a group of close friends on facebook messenger
  • Attempting the NYTimes crossword
  • Writing (this month, at least)

Transitioning to a career in software was an important step for improving how I feel about my routine; at least, I’ve realized this in retrospect. When I worked in finance, I did all sorts of quirky activities to avoid admitting that most of my time was spent thinking about the stock market – I was the ultimate dilettante, weekend warrior, etc. Now, I don’t mind admitting that I spend most of my time asking computers to do things, or asking people how to ask computers to do things!

Savoring a routine depends on a belief that the routine helps us accomplish something we value. Partially this comes from an awareness of what doesn’t matter to us too. Last year I decided to give up watching movies entirely, because I noticed that no movie has ever changed my life. A few years ago I modified my wardrobe so I wear essentially the same thing every day, in different colors (I make exceptions for summer dresses).

One of my friends told me that annually, he considers how his life is going and makes decisions about what he should do regularly in the next period. Then he just does those things, without re-thinking those tasks too frequently. I think this sounds ideal, because it’s nice to combine deliberation with letting our habits drive us forward. In the end, our identities are unlikely to be the vacations we took or crazy things that happened to us, unless we fold those into what we do daily, weekly, routinely.