Proposing new curse words

You know how rude words are formed, right? A word is banned from polite society and thereafter, only the gauche dare use it (for a while).

This means that we have a mechanism if we are extremely sick of certain words and want a very long break from hearing them: all you have to do is clutch your pearls, grimace, or gasp next time you hear it, and if enough of us play along, pretty soon everyone-who’s-anyone avoiding such vulgarities.

Here are some terms I’m going to be fanning myself and bleeping out starting in 2021:

  1. “New normal” ?
  2. “Unprecedented” ?
  3. “Virtual” ?
  4. “Socially distanced” ?
  5. “Zoom,” as any part of speech. I don’t care if you’re talking about how quickly you plan to drive. Do not say this in mixed company!
  6. “Safe” or “safely” (see my previous post about people’s insane semantic drift on this one. It is and has been meaningless and we should be ashamed to say it.)

Will you join me? Remember, we can only collectively shun words if we act collectively.

What words will you be fleeing from next year?

2020: finishing strong? finishing.

Six months ago, I set the following goals for the second half of 2020:

  • Take an online course on intuitive eating: ✔️, and I developed a Lot of Feelings about food and eating.
  • Play the piano at least three days per week, and be able to play one specific song fluently by the end of the year: I never decided on One Big Song to perfect, but I’ve been playing most nights and getting out the old song books I had as a kid and it’s a huge joy for me and maybe the neighbor I share a wall with.
  • Write a SFD (shitty first draft) of Book Three: I’m on my way, but the first draft is not close to done. Then again, I did a lot of research and I’m having a bit of a love affair with the writing it right now (to borrow an image from Elizabeth Gilbert). That feeling is the pinnacle of delight for a creative hobby. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s recognition. No, the best it gets is the itchy pull all day to get back to creating, and then the rush and the flow when it’s time to do it.
  • Perfect my query letter and send 60 queries for Book One: I did not make the query letter perfect, nor did I send anywhere near 60 queries. I sent a few, and then put it aside, and then woke up one morning with my soul telling me it was time to send more, so I did, and now I’ve put it aside again.

Six months later I’m noticing how these goals mostly seem a bit pushy, achievement-oriented, perfection- and recognition-bait. Finish the class! Do the song good! Finish the draft! Make the letter perfect and then snow New York under with it! (“That seems normal, as they’re goals,” you might say, raising your eyebrow.)

I’ll think about that the next few days. How to set goals that are specific and measurable but also more oriented around a state of being than around constant doing? Looking for balance in the immense sweet spot between “bored and aimless” and “overstretched.”

Let me know some things you’re proud of yourself for in 2020!

My covid-safe gatherings

I’ve been doing a lot of covid-safe gathering recently. Let me tell you about a recent event:

It was a small group—just me and a few safe friends. We rarely see anyone, so we see each other a lot.

That’s how I choose all the groups I see: I make sure that they’re all full of people who don’t see people. All of the people in my groups limit their contact to people who they see. We’re all really safe this way!

But we know that’s not enough. We also kept six feet apart except when we got closer than six feet, and we kept masks on at all times except when we were actively eating, drinking, taking photos, yelling, singing, talking, or breathing near each other. 

With just a few alterations, such as seeing only people who you want to see and wearing masks except when you don’t want to wear masks and staying six feet apart except when you want to get closer than six feet, you too can have a covid-safe gathering.

(Disclaimer 1: This is satire.)

(Disclaimer 2: If you feel attacked, please know that I don’t mean to be attacking anyone specifically. I am far from perfect. But also if the shoe fits maybe you should think about that.)

(Disclaimer 3: If your mental health is suffering due to isolation, please reach out to your support network (or add to it) in a way that aligns with the public health guidance. We’re in the home stretch.)

A Christmas crossroads

It’s Christmas night. ⠀

A choice now stands before you.⠀

If you are totally done—whether because you’re overwhelmed, sad, broke, lonely, furious, hung over, stuffed to the gills, or sick to death of sleigh-bell songs—you may be done. Take down the lights, heave the tree to the curb, turn on normal music, avoid wearing red for a few months. You made it! Congratulations!⠀

Or, if you’re not done—if you feel like you haven’t gotten your fill of Christmas movies or songs, or you have tons of treats left to eat, or you love how the lights look in the deepest dark of winter, or the festive trimmings make you feel better in a hard time, or you are so close to some insight about the nature of divine incarnation—I have great news. You’re just getting started! All the “Christmas” you had before yesterday was a heretical bonus. Christmas has just started today, and it’s twelve days long, so feel free to kick up your feet and get settled in. ⠀

In case you’re wondering, I’m in the second camp, and I don’t plan to take down the lights maybe ever, but I anticipate the Christmas-music hangover to set in pretty shortly.

Wherever you are, I send love and best wishes. Be kind to yourself and to others.

The soul can speak but it whispers

I’ve been trying to get very quiet sometimes lately, like as still and quiet as you’d get if you were crouching in the forest hoping a beautiful wild thing would come wander over and lay its head in your hand. It takes a bit of practice. The general volume inside and out of my head is historically a bit more “auctioneer” than “anchorite.”

But I’m trying. I’m turning down various knobs and finding more room for quiet, more of the time.

This way, sometimes, I can hear my soul. She doesn’t say much, but if I get quiet enough, I’ll move toward something and she’ll say one of two things:




Maybe in time she’ll move on to full sentences—or I’ll turn down the knobs even more so I can hear her at length.

But for now all she does is turn me subtly like a divining rod, and whether it’s her moving me or me, I’m grateful.

Little house projects for weathering the pandemic winter

Are you looking for little house projects for now that the weather is cold and the pandemic is raging horribly and it’s (maybe) vacation time? Are you someone who wants to go to bed with a little smug smile at having knocked something off of a to-do list and doesn’t actually want to do real projects? I’ve got your back, and I’ll provide the estimated time-intensity of each project so you can work them into your schedule.

1. Untangling the blinds pull cord. Estimated time: five hours. Estimated bandaids needed on the raw stumps that your fingers will be: ten.

2. Organizing the files on your computer, which you’ve ported from computer to computer for the last fifteen years. Estimated time: two hours (initial attempt); a month (fresh hell of seeing evidence of the half-completed organizational attempt on your desktop); indefinite (abandoning the project and saying you’ll get back to it next time you have a minute)

3. Deep cleaning. Tier 1 deep clean: actually dusting the molding or whatever you call the thing at the base of the wall, in the places where there is no furniture blocking it so it poses no difficulty: One hour. Tier 2 deep clean: Moving the furniture to properly clean the floors underneath: Three to six hours depending on square footage. Tier 3 deep clean: I have no idea what this consists of and I don’t want to know. Infinite hours; impossible task.

4. Taking everything off your streaming queue that you put there sometime in a fugue state for some reason, as though you really wanted to watch that Flemish-language sitcom about an unhappy family: thirty minutes.

5. Scrolling through the entirety of the streaming services (all of them) adding everything you might want to ever watch to the queue that you have just emptied: a further thirty minutes.

6. Lying on the floor, wondering about how carpet is made: until bedtime

This one goes out to the history majors

There’s only so much we can hold in our feeble meat brains.

That’s why generations lose things. They slough off language and stories and places they loved, all to make way for the riches the present holds.

After three generations we have forgotten even the names of those who went before. There are too many of them, and the tangle of who they all knew and loved and what they ate and thought and felt is too heavy to carry into the future.

But that’s why there are people like us who remember for all of you. We trail the line like pack mules, our satchels full of your discards. Hungry and starving and grateful for what you no longer want. We pass it back and back to the back of the line, long after any of us are gone, not really knowing why. Only knowing “this might be important,” and we stuff it into the sack and press on.

Sheet music is not the patriarchy.

So much for my recipe rant. When it comes to the kitchen, I deplore fussiness. 

But why do I bristle so much at recipes (such that even the word itself in my head sounds a little mocking: rEciPeee) but I love to follow sheet music?

Sheet music straightforwardly tells me which notes to play when, for how long, and how loudly. It doesn’t explain why. Often I’ll be struggling and counting aloud and finally get the hang of a polyrhythm and then I go oh, that’s what you were asking me to do. Why didn’t you just say so? And then I smile and try it again. Contrast that with the cursing that resulted when I realized I was making barbecue sauce from scratch when I could have just saved the time and saved Ian the dishes and used the perfectly serviceable Sweet Baby Ray’s languishing on my refrigerator door.

Could it be because playing along with sheet music is somehow more creative than recipe-following? This theory doesn’t seem to hold any 115-degree water to me. Some people find cooking to be a wonderful creative endeavor. Just look at what they make on the Great British Baking Show.

But, to my point, think about how stressed and furious they are at Paul during the technical challenge (for the uninitiated: this is when they are given a highly fussy, unexplained recipe to make an arcane something-or-other) compared to when they are making what they chose to make. And I dare you to find me a better human encapsulation of the patriarchy than Paul Hollywood.

I think when it comes down to it, I like cooking okay, but only about a half-hour’s worth a day, maximum. If you keep me in there for 35 minutes, I expect a pretty good explanation as to why my time couldn’t be better spent reading or writing or exercising or sleeping or talking to my loved ones (end of 2020 list).

But if I’m playing piano for more than 30 minutes, it’s because I chose to. Even if I was following instructions as closely as I could that whole time.

Really that’s all I ask: just the tiniest bit of autonomy and I’ll resonate like a perfect chord.

Recipes are the patriarchy

Recipes are the patriarchy. Hear me out. 

Have you ever had someone basically Simon-Says you in your own kitchen without telling you why?

Have you then been gaslit when things didn’t turn out well because you must not have been obedient enough?

Sounds like every time I try to make a fancy dinner. Also sounds like patriarchy. Coincidence? (And in case you’re wondering, yes I may be trying to excuse some of my recent oven explosions on the basis of equality.)

I’m not above following instructions. I just like to know why I’m doing it. If you tell me to heat water to precisely 115 degrees Fahrenheit, I might get annoyed and text my friends about it. But if you tell me to heat water to a given temperature range that promotes yeast activation without scorching the poor beasties—at that point, I’m down to follow. 

Think of it as a corollary to that rule about teaching a man to fish. Don’t tell me how to bait my hook; tell me why I need to do it this way. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a better way to do it. Or maybe I’ll decide to go to the fishmonger instead, or skip the fish entirely. Big fan of informed options.

So that’s my first hot take: go ahead and give a gal some instructions to follow, but at least fill her in on the logic. Let her decide which steps are for her and which aren’t. Maybe she doesn’t want to make barbecue sauce from scratch without being informed that that’s what she’s up to.

Which brings me to you and your ilk, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

If you aren’t familiar, this many-cleped man is one of several chefs on Serious Eats. He and his co-conspirators are always finding the “best” way to make everything. If you would like to make merely tasty—even merely exceptional—food, don’t bother. If you want the A/B-tested absolute best, go there. You will have to buy four different kinds of chilies, inexplicably, for a recipe that will involve microwaving chili water until you have essentially created poison gas inside your apartment. Your eyes will burn for days. But the end result will taste about two percent better than other bean chili recipes you’ve previously had.

I admit, I’m a little salty (unlike the beef stew I tried to make, which may or may not have called for salt; I stopped obeying at step one when I realized that they were calling for me to use three pots and a baking sheet for a stew.)

Anyway, it needed a lot of salt, but I suppose I have only my rebellious self to blame.

Times when it’s too difficult to work

I’ve been doing some analysis for productivity’s sake, and I’ve figured out that there are a few times during the year that it really doesn’t make sense to expect much output. If you manage these times appropriately, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck at the times with fewer obstacles. Let’s take a look:

November? You must be joking. That’s almost Thanksgiving, which means there’s holiday prep to do, and early Christmas shopping.

Obviously December is out for the same reasons.

January? Are you mad? We’re recovering from the holidays. 

February is too short to work. Why get started when you have to stop right away?

Pretty soon after that you get into that sweet, all-too-rare shoulder-season time when it’s far too pretty to work. 

Then it’s Memorial Day, and you’ll want to take some time out for that, because you worked hard this spring.

Then it’s peak summer vacation time, so you’ll be off for that, as well as the post-Labor Day time when you can actually go enjoy the places that were too touristy all summer.

After that you’ll want to take some time off to enjoy the beauty of the fall leaves, and then it’s about time to bow out to get ready for Thanksgiving again.

So I’m just penciling this out—it looks like we have a solid week in March that is looking pretty good for productivity. Not that Monday, though, because it’s healthier to wind up slowly from a nice rejuvenating weekend. Same with Friday; you don’t want to brake too hard at the end. Wednesday you’ll want to take some time for a mid-week breather.

Tuesday and Thursday should be good. Obviously you’ll need the morning for exercise and errands but it looks like roughly 3pm (after post-lunch nap) to roughy 4pm (tea break and dinner prep) should work great.

See you from 3-4 pm that Tuesday and Thursday in mid-March.