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With a bang, not a whimper

Don’t Eat Lunch at Your Desk. Go Outside. — September 1, 2016

Don’t Eat Lunch at Your Desk. Go Outside.

Don’t eat lunch at your desk. I know it’s tempting, because you’re already sitting there. But that’s exactly why you shouldn’t eat there. Instead, get up and go somewhere else. Ideally, go outside.

But it’s hot outside I’m sure you’re whining. I know. I live in Washington, D.C., which is a literal swamp town, and it’s hot as balls here. They need to sprinkle the city in Gold Bond, that’s how hot it is.

I don’t care. Go outside.

There are no good reasons to eat at your desk. Not one.

Oh, you have work to do? Here are three jobs that are important enough to merit working through lunch:

  1. President/Prime Minister
  2. Life-saving activity (i.e. EMTs, ER personnel, etc.)

I couldn’t think of a third one, sorry. But even if I could, it would not be whatever it is you do for a living. Oh, you’re a big, important Finance Lawyer Executive So-and-So? Take a break from making enormous sums of money and go outside for 30-60 minutes to rub elbows with other human beings and engage in an activity other than earning or spending money (try reading!). It’s good for you. You need it more than most.

Oh, so you work for that big, important Finance Lawyer Executive So-and-So, and he’s a real asshole and gave you too much work? Fuck that guy. He should go outside and you should, too. Also, you deserve a better job. It’s illegal to deny an employee a break for meals during a standard eight-hour work day. Take your legally mandated lunch break and use it to Go Outside.

Maybe you don’t plan to work through lunch. Maybe you plan to stare idly at Twitter while nibbling on a sandwich. Don’t do that. Do that later, when you’re supposed to be working. Right now, at lunch time, Go Outside.

Why outside? Because it is not inside. Outside is a universal good. Outside is so essential to your humanness that even convicts get to go there once a day.

As I already mentioned, there are other people outside. Some of them are great, and some are terrible. Some of them will smell bad, especially if, like me, you live in a literal swamp town. Others will tell loud, inane stories about reseeding their lawns while you try to ignore them from the next table. That’s good. Being annoyed by other people is normal and we all need to do it sometimes. It should remind us how to be less annoying ourselves, and also that we are not alone in the universe.

It’s dirty outside. It’s loud. It is either hotter or colder than inside in a way that is often not pleasing. That’s good, too. Get dirty, be uncomfortable. Later, when you go back inside, you can remedy these situations and you will be grateful. Gratitude is a nice feeling.

So don’t eat lunch at your desk. Go outside.

Is Donald Trump Actually Lord Voldemort? — August 22, 2016

Is Donald Trump Actually Lord Voldemort?

It is possible that Donald Trump is just your run-of-the-mill megalomaniac rich guy. But it is also possible that he is Lord Voldemort, aka He Who Must Not Be Named, aka the Dark Lord, aka Tom Marvolo Riddle, the ultimate bad guy. We likely will not know for certain unless or until Trump casts the Cruciatus curse on the press corp at one of his rallies. But as I always say: if you must wait, speculate!

Let’s examine the evidence.

Evidence That Trump is Voldemort

Core Message Reeks of Hypocrisy

Lord Voldemort sought to consolidate power in the wizarding world by keeping Muggles out. He promoted “pure-blood” wizards, railed against Muggle-born and half-Muggle wizards, and executed a campaign of savage violence against all Muggles.

Yet Voldemort was actually half-Muggle. His mother was a member of the pure-blood (and therefore creepily inbred) Gaunt family, but his father was the wealthy Muggle townie Tom Riddle. Voldemort was the result of the very thing he claimed to most despise — harmony between the wizarding and Muggle communities. Granted, the Gaunt-Riddle relationship was encouraged by a wicked little love potion cooked up by one Merope Gaunt, but let’s not let that get in the way of the fact that Merope thought the Muggle Riddle was one fine piece.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign similarly rest’s on a Voldemort-esque “America First” platform, where America is defined as that one tiny sliver of it that is comprised of white, Christian people living in small towns recently blighted by the outsourcing of local factory jobs. Trump has promised to keep both Mexicans and Muslims out of the country, just as the Dark Lord swore to keep Muggle-borns out of Hogwarts.

We have yet to discover that Trump is secretly a devoted Muslim with Mexican heritage, though given the nature of his campaign, we would only be mildly surprised to learn this is the case. However, Trump’s anti-immigrant screed is still loaded with hypocrisy. Trump’s wife is an immigrant, and may have skirted the letter of the law while working in the U.S. prior to attaining citizenship. Trump’s real estate projects have not only employed plenty of Mexican immigrants, but many of them were and are illegal immigrants. Trump’s professional success and personal happiness are based on an open border policy, yet he claims to want nothing more than to wall off the U.S. from the rest of the world. Suspect!

Like Voldemort, Trump’s opposition to outsiders seems to have more to do with consolidating his own power than a genuine policy position. Voldemort capitalized on the self-congratulatory racism of pure-blood wizarding families like the Malfoys and Blacks, while Trump capitalizes on the self-aggrandizing racism of certain white dudes who believe the only thing keeping them from personal success and happiness is the d’urn imm’grants. Whether Trump/Voldemort actually believes the racist shit he is saying is irrelevant — the goal is not ideological integrity, but gaining the trust of the angry horde in order to take over the Ministry/White House.

Strange Commitment to an Objectively Weird Look

Most villains are vain. They have to be, as they have so much excess insecurity that it must manifest itself any way it can. Villains often channel their vanity into “signature looks” — nefarious mustaches and copious amounts of pomade are popular, as are monochromatic wardrobes and snakeskin boots.

Most of the time, though, you get why the villain thinks he looks good even if he looks ridiculous. They usually take something that is okay in small doses and then go over board, like Cruella with animal prints or Kylo Ren with hoodies.

But Trump and Voldemort both make bizarre aesthetic choices and then go full tilt. Voldemort liked snakes, so he got rid of his nose and made his eyes glow red. Trump believes a full head of hair is a sign of virility, so he… listen, we still don’t know what’s going on up there, and probably never will. But it doesn’t look good, and yet Trump is weirdly proud of it.

If this just seems like evidence that Trump is like Voldemort and not Voldemort himself, ask yourself: does Trump’s hair look like the work of a powerful dark wizard? Does it? Be honest.

Mean Girl Treatment of Most Loyal Followers

Regina George has nothing on Voldemort/Trump.

When you are a terrible person who does terrible things, you become paranoid that other people might not like you (don’t ask me how I know this). Rather than get some therapy and learn to be less terrible, people like Voldemort and Trump simply demand absolute loyalty from their friends and followers.

Loyalty is an abstract concept. Someone can say they are being loyal, when really they are feeding Albus Dumbledore important information about your plans to murder children (rude!). In order to make sure his “friends” were actually loyal, Voldemort was always testing them. He tested no one so much as the Malfoy family, which is weird because the Malfoys were pretty damn loyal. But Voldemort was constantly testing them anyway, assigning young Draco Malfoy the job of killing Dumbledore (literally the most powerful wizard of all time), taking Lucius Malfoy’s wand, and using Malfoy Manor as an evil lair/prison/torture facility. These tests were always imposed as “honors” the way a mean girl honors her friends by making them wear ugly bridesmaids dresses to her wedding. But they were loyalty tests, just to see how far Voldemort could push people and still make them grovel at his feet.

Trump hasn’t stolen anyone’s wand (that we know of), but he does play an amusing game of musical chairs with his campaign staff. Some sycophant is always without a chair, even though the campaign assures the public that he will stay on “as an advisor.” Lewandowski and Manafort are outsiders looking in, and yet still they grovel. Very loyal. Tremendous.

And of course, Trump tests his PR team every day just to make sure they are still paying attention. Trump hates it when people stop paying attention. Much like Voldemort hated it when many of his supporters believed he’d been killed by Harry Potter and abandoned the cause. It’s almost as though… Trump is the persona Voldemort dreamed up to make sure no one can ever look away again.

Evidence That Trump is Not Voldemort

Anagrams

Donald Trump is not an anagram for I Am Lord Voldemort, the way Tom Malvolo Riddle is. However, it is an anagram for Rump and Dolt and Dum Portland. The Dark Lord is very committed to a certain kind of symmetry, and Rump and Dolt is not that kind of symmetry. Which leads us to the most damning evidence against this theory:

Syntax

Maybe I’m being tricked by the British accent, but Voldemort seemed a lot more articulate than Trump. He certainly relied less heavily on the words tremendous and beautiful. Let’s do a side by side comparison. Here is a quote typical of Voldemort’s use of language:

“I see the truth looking at me from within his worthless mind… Months of preparation, months of effort… and my Death Eaters have let Harry Potter thwart me again…”

(J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003)

And here is a typical Trump quote:

Voldemort liked his nicknames, but I don’t think he would have embraced “Mr. Brexit.” Too colloquial.

So maybe Trump isn’t Voldemort. Or maybe he’s just a shadow of Voldemort, the embarrassing American horcrux he never intended to make. Maybe Trump is just a big Voldemort fan.

Only time will tell, but in the words of Mad-Eye Moody, constant vigilance! If you see Trump or one of his minions harassing a muggle, alert the Order.

Women Love Sports, NBC Loves Money — August 6, 2016

Women Love Sports, NBC Loves Money

American women* watch the Olympics because there are women in it. Next to the Women’s World Cup, it is the highest profile sporting event in which female athletes get to participate. Where else could Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and the US Women’s soccer team all compete in the same place at the same time? For women who enjoy sports (which is the majority of women), the Olympics is the rare moment when we get to admire and cheer on other women on a stage as prominent, if not more, than the Super Bowl or the World Series.

If you oversee NBC’s Olympic coverage, apparently none of this has occurred to you. Instead, you just assume that women watch the Olympics for the melodrama. After all, ladies love drama and hate sports. Sweating is icky!

Here is NBC’s chief marketing officer, explaining how the women who watch the Olympics are different than “real” sports fans:

The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one. And to tell the truth, it has been the complaint of a few sportswriters. It has not been the complaint of the vast viewing public.

[Business Insider]

If there were an Olympics in mansplaining, Miller would be a podium favorite.

Saying that women are “more interested in the journey” than competitive outcomes, or describing the Olympics’ appeal to women as though the sports themselves were incidental is insulting. It’s also incorrect. Women like sports for the same reason men do.

I hate having to throw my bona fides in here, but here they are anyway: I’m a huge sports fan. I must watch or listen to over 100 baseball games each year. I have actually watched the NFL combine on purpose before. The Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl win earlier this year is one of the highlights of my adult life. I’m not a special or unusual sports fan — I’m totally normal. But pro sports in the US treat me like some kind of unicorn because I don’t have a dick.

The Olympics are different. Strong, competitive, driven female athletes are the norm. The journalists covering the events are more likely to be women, as well. It’s refreshing and exciting. It reminds me what keeps some women away from watching the NFL or the MLB. It’s not the laser focus on results over “the journey.” If you’ve ever watched a team during a losing season, you’d know there is plenty of focus on “the journey” in non-Olympic sports, too. It’s just nice to feel like you belong.

So why does John Miller and NBC think women watch the Olympics for the same reason they watch the Real Housewives franchise or Grey’s Anatomy? Well, I have a theory about that.

They don’t.

NBC doesn’t pre-package it’s Olympic coverage because that’s what women want. And they don’t invest in those sappy, tear-jerking, athlete profiles for that reason either. They do it because that’s what the corporate sponsors want.

NBC wants to maximize viewership during their prime-time coverage, so they time delay their coverage of the most popular events to force viewers, men and women, to watch during primetime when commercial presumably cost the most. And both NBC and the corporate sponsors have financial incentives for getting viewers emotionally invested in the stories of certain Olympians — those Olympians can help NBC and its sponsors make more money by promoting their products and making appearances on other NBC properties like the Today Show. They aren’t trying to please their women viewers; they are exploiting them.

So the next time NBC and John Miller want to justify their cynical, corporate approach to Olympics coverage, leave women out of it. You aren’t doing it for us, you’re doing it for the cold hard cash. We are not your scapegoat.

Now I’m going to go live stream some men’s gymnastics. I’d love to watch it on television with commentary, but NBC refuses to air it because they want to force me to watch the recorded footage tonight in prime time. Lucky for me, I can skip their treacly prime time coverage and go see a ballgame instead.

*This post focuses on coverage and viewing of Olympic sports in the US. I don’t know enough about the sports culture, viewing habits, or coverage of the Olympics in other countries to speak to their dynamics.

“Guts and Grace”: Michelle Endorses Hillary, Makes Me Cry — July 26, 2016

“Guts and Grace”: Michelle Endorses Hillary, Makes Me Cry

I have a couple posts in the hopper about Hillary Clinton and why I’m with her, after opposing her in 2008 and having misgivings about the Clinton collective in the past. But right now I’m just basking in the reflected glow of yet another First Lady who is way overqualified for the jobs of political wife and White House hostess (though she’s damn good at them anyway). Some of my favorite quotes from Michelle Obama’s speech last night:

And look, there were plenty of moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being picked apart for how she looks or how she talks or even how she laughs. But here’s the thing. What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.

This is something I have thought a lot about over the last couple weeks. Hillary Clinton is a former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State who gets called a bitch and tramp by people who disagree with her. Sometimes she even gets called these names by people who do agree with her on policy, but who dislike her anyway. That she still gets up in the morning and works as hard as she does is impressive and inspiring. It’s no coincidence that Michelle Obama, who has experienced a great deal of that vitriol herself, is the one to point it out.

Leaders like Hillary Clinton, who has the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her.

“Guts and grace” perfectly encapsulates Clinton’s best qualities. And the reference here to the glass ceiling, echoing Clinton’s speech at the convention in 2008, is a reminder that Clinton and Obama are part of a long line of women who have been willing to fight for  a seat at the table so that the women who come after don’t have to fight so hard.

 

That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.

And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.

And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.

Some charismatic orators can elevate prosaic prose with their delivery. Michelle Obama is a good orator. But these words stand on their own. Because I time delayed last night’s speeches, I had read this quote before I saw Obama say the words. They made me tear up even before I saw that they made her tear up, too.

Michelle Obama deserves a nice long break after she and her husband leave the White House in January. Knowing what we do about her, that break will not be restful. She will fill it with exercise, gardening, parenting and cracking wise. These are things she deserves to do, finally, in private. First Lady is a terrible job that pays exactly nothing, but Obama found joy and power in the role. Guts and grace, indeed. I’m going to miss her.

It’s Time to Retire the Term “Maiden Name” — March 3, 2014

It’s Time to Retire the Term “Maiden Name”

Last names and marriage are a tricky issue for women. Some of us (me! me!) choose to keep our names, others choose to adopt the names of a spouse. Still others choose to hyphenate, or invent a new shared last name, or just drop the last name altogether and go first-name-only like a pop star. Whatever a woman does with her name upon marriage, though, she must choose that path. Unlike most men, who can default to keeping their own names (a convenient cultural norm), women must proactively make a decision. This is one of those instances in which choice and freedom are at odds with one another.

No matter your personal opinion on the Name Game, however, there should be one thing on which we all agree — “maiden name” is a stupid phrase. I’m keeping my name, and it’s not my maiden name. It’s just my name, and I’m not a maiden. I don’t even know what a maiden is in this era. The whole concept of a maiden — a pure, unsullied, unmarried girl — fails to make sense in a world where men and women are supposed to stand on equal ground.

We should also be weirded out by the way the word “maid” sneaks its way into the conversation, a reminder of our historical insistence that women are for cooking, cleaning and minding the kids. Is a maiden just a maid in training? I don’t want anything to do with that. That’s not a knock on maids, who do a difficult job and should be well-compensated for it. It’s a knock on the idea that all women should just be unpaid maids. Maiden, indeed.

Have I mentioned that I’m 33? That seems like an advanced age for a maiden. Does that make me an old maid? See what happens when you start referring to women as maidens? Suddenly 33 seems ancient. The average American woman gets married just shy of 27, so apparently we have a lot of old maidens running around.

I’d tell you the average age of marriage for men, but why bother? They get to be men whether they’re married or not. There’s no such thing as a bachelor name. Men just get to have names. They don’t have to make a shitty choice upon marriage about whether to keep that name, or adopt a brand new name in order to ensure that their family and future children have a shared name.

[Side Note: My fiancé, who is both awesome and rational, made no fuss about my decision to keep my name. Instead, he noted reasonably that since he had no interest in changing his name, he could not expect me to do so. And that was the end of that.]

So don’t ask me what my maiden name is, because I don’t know what you’re talking about. It just sounds like a lot of nonsense to me.

Ladies, Pay for Your Own Damn Drinks — February 26, 2014

Ladies, Pay for Your Own Damn Drinks

There are lots of things men can do to make the world a more equal place — promote women in the workplace, give us equal pay, and take responsibility for childcare, among others. I’m a proud feminist and I fully support all of these things. But the cause of gender equality is not a one-way street. Ladies have to get on that road, too, and I recommend we bring our wallets.

I don’t offer a lot of dating advice, since I was never terribly good at dating. But I do have one tip for women out there:

Pay for your drinks.

That goes for your dinner, too, and your movie ticket and your popcorn. You don’t have to be fussy about it. Just take out some money and pay for shit. If you hate splitting checks, just take turns picking them up — you can pay for the tickets and he can grab the concessions. Or if he buys cocktails on Date 1, you can pick up the burgers on Date 2.

Honestly, I don’t really care how you go about it. Just pay for things. You don’t have to pay for all the things — getting treated is one of the nice things about relationships. But pay for some of the things, ideally about half of them. No one needs to take out a calculator, but if you care about equality, try to make it feel equal.

This might seem obvious to you, but plenty of your fellow ladies disagree. A recent study by researchers at Chapman University found that a majority of both male and female respondents still adhere to a dynamic wherein the man foots the bill:

Consistent with conventional norms, most men (84 percent) and women (58 percent) reported that men pay for most expenses, even after dating for a while. Over half (57 percent) of women claim they offer to help pay, but many women (39 percent) confessed they hope men would reject their offers to pay, and 44 percent of women were bothered when men expected women to help pay. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of men believed that women should contribute to dating expenses, and many feel strongly about that: Nearly half of men (44 percent) said they would stop dating a woman who never pays. A large majority of men (76 percent), however, reported feeling guilty accepting women’s money.

[emphasis mine]

Listen, everyone likes getting stuff for free. I don’t blame women who reach for their wallets half-heartedly, hoping their dates will insist on paying. I’ve been with my boyfriend for five years, and while we both pay for things all the time, I know we also both really like it when the other person insists on paying.

But this is the statistic I don’t get: Forty-four percent of women were “bothered” when men expected women to help pay.

What the what now?

Why would it bother you that someone expects you to sometimes pay for your food and entertainment? Are you a small child? Grow up. I get not really wanting to pay, but getting offended because a man doesn’t want to finance your entire relationship with him is about as retrograde as it gets.

I’ve heard plenty of excuses for this kind of behavior, and they’re all bullshit. Some argue that since women are expected to spend more money on their appearance, men can pay them back by footing the bill. But this is essentially a defense of the status quo. If you justify your free drinks based on the fact that you feel social pressure to dye, wax, buff, and manicure yourself into fighting shape, then how will we ever fight the ridiculous beauty standards that produced that pressure in the first place?

I’ve also heard sensible women (and men!) say that men should pay early on in relationships to prove that they are serious about their interest in a woman. I have some sympathy for this argument because I’ve been out there, and it is true that sometimes it’s hard to tell if a guy actually wants a relationship with you. It’s a tricky problem and one of the hardest aspects of dating.

You know who else has this problem? Men. While women are sometimes stereotyped as gooey creatures who all want nothing more than marriage, anyone who has spent more than 20 minutes in the company of actual women knows that’s not true. Plenty of women play the field, and lots of them will bide their time with a guy even if they don’t see a future with him. And that guy might have a hard time telling the difference between a woman who really likes him and one who is ambivalent.

I know I said I don’t give dating advice, but here I go anyway: there is no special trick to dating, and there’s definitely no shortcut to finding the right person. You can play these little games about who pays and who calls who and turn dating into a test of affection. And it might work! And it might not. It’s a crapshoot. Sometimes you get burned and sometimes you get lucky. Dating is trial and error.

That’s why expecting one gender to underwrite the whole endeavor isn’t fair. You don’t know if this is your future husband or just some guy whose name you will struggle to remember a year from now. And he doesn’t know either. So to keep it all on the level:

Ladies, pay for your own damn drinks.

Meta Review: Pregnant Pauses — December 11, 2013

Meta Review: Pregnant Pauses

Perusing online product reviews is one of my favorite activities. I can vicariously experience the thrill or disappointment of purchasing without spending any money. More importantly, online reviews are often accidentally hilarious.

Today’s selection is a review of Anthropologie’s Leopardo Sweater Dress (see what they did there?), currently marked down to $99 from $178. I love puns, cashmere, cats and sweet pre-holiday deals, so it’s right up my alley. But luckily I checked the reviews, because it turns out that Leopardo is a two-timer. Reviewer Leopardspots1 writes:

I was so excited about this dress until I saw it in the window of the maternity wear store, A Pea in the Pod. Seriously?!

Love the idea of this dress and the quality is nice, but it’s such a turn off to know it’s being sold as maternity wear as well. It seems like that’s something Anthro should look into before they buy stock of an item. Gorgeous fabric and I like Velvet designs, but I don’t want to walk into work matching with the pregnant woman in the office. Such a huge let down.😦

I ought to be offended on behalf of pregnant women (also known as, statistically, most women at some point in their lives).  What does this lady have against the gestating? I don’t see how winding up in the same outfit as a pregnant woman is somehow worse than wearing the same outfit as a non-pregnant woman.

It’s also odd that the reviewer seems to believe that all clothing should be segregated into maternity and non-maternity, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Is she aware that even if this dress were not available at a maternity store, pregnant women are allowed to shop at Anthropologie, and could still choose to wear this dress? Pregnant ladies are already restricted in what they can eat, drink and do; are they also banned from shopping anywhere except A Pea in the Pod?

But mostly I’m just amused by the ludicrous nightmare world the reviewer has conjured for herself.

I envision Leopardspots1, decked out head to toe in leopard-patterned clothes, jauntily marching into work. There, she encounters her worst nightmare — her lone pregnant colleague, wearing the exact same collection of spots. A crowd gathers and Larry, the crass jerk from Accounting, starts chanting “cat fight, cat fight” under his breath.

Just as it’s about to come to blows, Leopardspots1 and her pregnant adversary realize that the odds of finding another person as obsessed with leopard as they are is quite slim. They embrace and become close friends. Leopardspots1 knits a leopard-patterned onesie for the little one. Their families vacation together on an African safari. Eventually they leave their office jobs and open a clothing boutique devoted entirely to animal prints, where maternity and non-maternity clothes intermingle unabashedly.

I might actually buy the dress, even though it’s only available in petite sizes now. I bet it would look cute with boots.

How To: Make Yourself Feel Confident — December 8, 2013

How To: Make Yourself Feel Confident

Every once in a blue moon, I feel like a super star.  I do something really well, and people notice and tell me I’m great, and it seems like I can do anything — start a business, write a novel, drink an entire bottle of wine. I try to use these flashes of seemingly unlimited confidence to tackle the hard stuff — ask for a raise, finish a tricky project, learn a new skill. But inevitably, the feeling fades.  I go back to my usual self, kind of unsure if I’m getting anything right.

It’s hard to get things done in this state of mind.  Self-doubt is a mean companion, undermining even your best efforts at competency. If I’m facing a tough deadline at work or trying to tackle a new skill on the trapeze, the last thing I need to be telling myself is, “Too bad I always fuck things up.” And yet… that’s often what runs through my mind, even though I’ve succeeded at lots of things in my life. I too easily forget about my victories and instead dwell on the nagging sense that I’ll never achieve my goals.

Recently, a friend showed me a pretty obvious, but brilliant, trick for shutting that self-doubt down. It’s easy — particularly with the help of modern technology — and effective:

Just remind yourself of how good you are.

First, a little context. My friend and I were getting ready for a little flying practice, as in flying trapeze practice. I’ve been flying for about five years, for her it’s been even longer. You’d think after 5+ of training on an apparatus, and hundreds (maybe thousands?) of trips off the board, it would be easy to do.

Not so — right now I’m pretty nervous to fly. There’s no particular reason for these nerves. It’s just that I’ve been doing more and more flying “out of lines” (without a safety harness or a lines puller to slow me down as I hit the net), and as I’ve become more independent on the trapeze, I’ve had a crisis of confidence. What if I mess up? What if my aerial training doesn’t kick in, and I freak out and hit the net at a weird angle? Despite the fact that I’ve worked hard to prove to my coaches and colleagues that I can be trusted with the responsiblity of flying sans safety lines, sometimes I have trouble proving it to myself.

My friend wasn’t having the same crisis, exactly. She was just having trouble motivating. When you fly all the time, you’re not always in the mood. Like training for a marathon or learning a new language, flying is really damn hard. Sometimes you’d just rather take a bath than climb a 30 foot ladder and jump off a platform while holding onto a swinging bar.

But my friend is clever. If you want to be good at something really hard, you have to learn how to motivate. So she pulled out her phone and started watching old videos of herself flying, successfully.

Confidence is about perception.

My friend understands that self-doubt is just a feeling, not a fact. Remind yourself of the facts. She did this by looking at old videos, conveniently stored on her cell phone. I could do the same, or I could go low tech and just talk through my last successful catch with a coach.

If I can use this trick to get myself swinging high in the air, it should apply to lots of other, less dramatic, tasks. To prepare myself to write this post, I went and read a few I’m proud to have written in the past. Looking at my successes quieted my “Failure!” voice, which created enough space in my brain to actually conceive and write a post.

Whatever it is you’re trying to work up the courage to do, go find concrete evidence of your ability to do it. It’s harder to doubt yourself when you are looking right at a clear refutation of that doubt.

Of course, this raises a key point: what if you’ve never been successful at this task before?

All is not lost! No one is born competent. You have to work at it. If this is your first stab at something tricky, remember: this is where confidence starts. You try, you learn, you try again. Eventually you get good. And once you’re good, you can always look back on those successful tries as evidence. Go make some evidence.

Excel (A Poem) — November 26, 2013

Excel (A Poem)

The spreadsheet is orderly
As spreadsheets must be
All the little boxes stretching out into infinity
Past the monitor frame, through the desk, through the window, through the Earth
“We are endless!”
They call out, uniformly

I fill them up
with all the disparate pieces of my life
My “project”
I let the orderly little boxes stretch from my fingers to my toes
Sic them onto the mess and watch as it is gobbled into their borders
“I am bound!”
I sing, boundlessly

The mess is unwieldy
Too small in parts and too big in others; it clings to the old ways
The messy ways
Always drifting across the lines and slipping out of place
I lament the resolute refusal to belong anywhere in particular
“I am limited!”
The mess cries in defense

A deadline looms
And I tremble at what it means
Judgment day
Demanding a final, if imperfect, order be imposed
We scramble, the mess and the boxes and I, to find accord and marry our disparate visions
“It doesn’t matter!”
Bellows the deadline

It just feels that way

Health Insurance Sucks, But Obamacare Makes It a Little Bit Better — November 19, 2013

Health Insurance Sucks, But Obamacare Makes It a Little Bit Better

Beginning on January 1, 2014, I will be enrolled in a health insurance plan.  This should be a mundane fact, unworthy of mentioning, but it isn’t.  I have been uninsured for the last eight months, ever since I was dropped from my former employer’s plan after being laid off (fun fact: I was let go just after completing open enrollment in late 2013, so I wasted several hours evaluating my company’s new plans and selecting one, only to lose it two months later). Getting laid off is awful. Losing your health insurance as a result of getting laid off is just salt in that wound, a constant reminder of your new status on the fringe.

I can already hear the tsk, tsks.  You lost your job and didn’t immediately secure health insurance for yourself?! Irresponsible! And there’s some truth to this. I have spent most of these eight months without health insurance worrying about the fact that I don’t have health insurance. I think of this era in my life as “That Time When I Would Have Preferred Death to Injury Because I Could Not Afford the Hospital Bill.”  What a fun, exciting time.  Here is how I spent it:

Step One: A Few Carefree Hours. Just before losing my health insurance, I milked it for almost all it was worth. I updated prescriptions and had a check-up. When my insurance lapsed, I wasn’t that freaked out because I had a clean bill of health. What could possibly go wrong? Hint: everything, which is why health insurance exists.

Step TwoGoing Outside. Oh, shit. Have you ever noticed that the world is full of things that can maim you? Cars, angry dogs, poorly maintained sidewalks? Escalators are death traps, if you think about it, and I recommend that you don’t think about it. I took a part-time job as a photographer to help cover costs while I job hunted, and it required me to climb up ladders and into lofts and scramble across nets. These are fun things to do! But they are slightly less fun when you are constantly worried about imminent maiming.

Step Three: Exploring Shitty Options. Having determined that life without health insurance is risky and nervewracking, I looked into my options for individual health plans. They were terrible! I could stay on my employer’s old plan through COBRA, but my out-of-pocket costs would have been $700/month. What a perfect solution for the recently unemployed person trying to keep expenses down while she job hunts.

The other alternative was Washington DC’s pre-Obamacare insurance exchange. There, I found plans ranging from $100/month for bare-bones coverage to $500/month for decent coverage. I probably should have just signed up for one of these plans to assuage my imminent maiming fears. I actually went through the process of applying for a cheapo plan, but then…

Step Four: The False Hopes of the Almost Employed. Have we discussed the emotional and financial roller coaster that is job hunting? No? Let’s do it.

After six weeks without health insurance, I found myself right on the cusp of a new job. This right-on-the-cusp status lasted two whole months. I kept putting off buying a plan because it seemed like I was maybe two weeks away from starting a new job with health insurance. And I was! For a long time. During this period, I not only worried about developing a mysterious tumor, I also worried about getting in a car accident while driving to interviews.

Another fun fact: stress weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to infection. I seemed to have a permanent head cold during this time. Nothing impresses potential employers more than a pocketful of tissues and the sniffles.

Step Five: Employment! With a Catch. I finally became a fully employed person again in June. This was a great relief, especially because it coincided with my landlord jacking up the rent. I was also getting really bored. Looking for a job is a job in itself, but it’s a really dull one.

So then I got health insurance and everything was great, right? Nope. Because even though I was working 40 hours a week (sometimes more), I was not a full-time employee with any one company.  I now split my time between my photography job and a new consulting gig, and while together they pay the bills, neither one involves enough hours to get me on the company health plan. Back to the individual health care market I went.

Step Six: More Shitty Options. Back on the pre-Obamacare exchange, I found my priorities had shifted. Now that I was making an actual livable wage, it seemed short-sighted to sign up for some cheap insurance plan. Instead, I started really examining the more expensive plans in detail, weighing monthly premiums and deductibles against actual coverage, co-pays, and exclusions. It was a mess. I came close to just packing it all in and signing up for some plan in the middle several times, but felt frozen by my lack of knowledge.

This paralysis wound up being a good thing. It turns out that many of the plans I considered didn’t meet the requirements of Obamacare, and would have been cancelled this fall under the new regime. The downside, of course, was that I spent several more months uninsured, worrying about every stomach ache (ulcer?), headache (brain tumor?) and joint pain (torn ACL?).

Step 7: Obamacare, a Big Hassle With Results. Open enrollment for individual health insurance began on October 1st. It took me a month and a half to navigate the system, getting approved to shop for a plan, find a plan, and finally enroll in a plan.  But today, I did it. Annoyingly, it doesn’t kick in until the first of the year. I just have another month and a half of fear and then I can be maimed in a car accident, no problem.

The process of enrolling was frustrating, I’ll admit. DC’s new exchange website, while not nearly as plagued as the federal one, is full of glitches. I had to fill out the same forms several times, and sometimes I’d log on to look at plans and would be kicked out with no explanation. These are all problems that need to be fixed, and I really wish they’d invest more heavily in making the technical stuff work before they launched the program.

But… I have health insurance. And thanks to Obamacare’s minimum requirements for all plans, I can feel confident that my coverage won’t be completely awful even though I still don’t fully understand it and probably won’t until I need health care and have to negotiate with my insurer to cover it. At least I know my plan had to pass some standard before it could be offered.

So, yes, complain about Obamacare. The roll out has been terrible and it needs to be fixed. But don’t act like everything was great before, and this new law is ruining our healthcare utopia. The American healthcare system is deeply flawed, particularly for people like me, who lost their jobs or don’t qualify for an employer-sponsored plan. Obamacare takes actual steps to address these deficiencies. If you’ve never worried about having health insurance, maybe you don’t care. I hope you never have to find out. For the rest of us, at least this administration had the courage to try and do something to make it better.