Been slodging through Mad Men seasons 1 and 2 these past few weeks, unemployment style. 3 years late, yes. It usually happens like this: people won't stop blabbing about something and it annoys the heck out of me for months, even years. Then I forget about being irritated and in one bored moment, pick it up and can't put it down. The characters are utterly fascinating, even though I pretty much despise all of them by now. Even so, I have to keep watching. And the protagonist, Don Draper is 200% man. He exudes a swooning masculinity from the bygone era of the 1960's. (Albeit, an era where women were constantly sexually harrassed in the workplace by today's standards, blacks could only be elevator bellhops and maids, and copy machines were a brand new invention.) He is the creative director and partner of an advertising firm on Madison Avenue, so his professional persona is spotless. Don is the type of sleek, driven, no-bullshit man who will easily rise up in the ranks of management. Additionally, he is a scumbag serial cheater with very serious emotional issues that prevent him from letting anyone in. Because of his complexity and flaws, you can't help but be hooked in to discover the shady past underneath his cool exterior, and observe how he handles each day as his life starts to fall apart.
His model-esque wife, Betty, is gorgeous, wholesome, and frustratingly shallow, as her life revolves around acting like the perfect housewife. Like everyone else in the show, there is a dark side: she is a terrible mother who not only smokes and drinks constantly (well, everyone in the show does that), but has the emotional maturity of a small child. She is depressed and bored, and goes to a shrink that barely utters a word besides "tell me more." How else could you be if all you did was watch your kids, clean, watch TV, stay in all day, and occasionally get dolled up to go out as the eye candy hanging off Don's arm? She is aware that there must be more to life than that, but what? According to social expectations, her life purpose is complete: she was pretty enough to snag a handsome rich man who gave her babies and a cushy household. You can't help but flinch whenever she attacks tired old Don for petty grievances, or even major ones, because she only expresses her upset through pouting and throwing fits. Unlike Don, Betty is not a master at manipulating others or putting on a composed face. Unfairly, thus she is not as likeable as Don, which is a shame, because she is just as enslaved to a societal ideal.
Maybe it's because I'm a woman, but I am much more drawn towards the female characters in the show, as they face struggles that have mostly been defeated today. [Spoiler alerts! Stop reading here.] Peggy Olson, the fresh-faced secretary from a small town, starts off working for Don. After being hit on by most of her rowdy male coworkers, she realizes that being sweet and modest won't cut it in such a crude environment. She succumbs to the advances of a particularly slimy account executive, only to find that no goodwill or want of a relationship follows his lust. She refuses to dress in a way that flaunts her body, unlike the rest of the women in the office, who are all in secretarial positions. Peggy tends to speak her mind, even when it gets her in trouble, and she comes off as stiff. Even Joan, the curvy red-headed bombshell office manager, cannot convince her to "be a woman, not a man" to get ahead in the office. But Peggy's unflinching resolve lands her a job as a junior copywriter, when she speaks her mind to a client about their product and they like what she says because it stands out from the rest. She goes on to gain a position on a creative team as the only woman and often shows up her pompous male equals by pulling her own weight and more. Still, she is pretty difficult to read. Eternally loyal to Don as he treats he like an equal (a man) and played a hand in her promotions, Peggy also hides a secret at home and shuts down whenever anyone expresses an interest in getting to know her. Totally unrelated, I think she is extremely unattractive and can't be convinced that the males in her office actually enjoy gawking at her.
I also really like Joan Holloway. She is by far the most popular character with the males in the audience. Simply put, she oozes sexuality. If Don is the embodiment of manliness, then Joan is that of femininity. Most men in the show are electrified by the sight and sound of her, and she even has her closet lesbian roommate all worked up. She also gets a lot of points with the female audience too, as she is considerably bigger and bustier than today's depiction of women in the media. Some men of today may not find that attractive, but I think she looks great and it works for her. It's not that Joan throws herself at men. She is more tactful than that. Sure, she parades around the office in form-fitting outfits knowing that all eyes are on her, but she wields that power to her exact advantage. And she is intelligent, which shows through when her superiors give her a chance to do some work with a client. They love her ideas and sign on, even though meeting her in person definitely influenced their decision. But you wonder, what does she really want? Her coworkers have made a number of jabs at her age, that she will no longer be the object of desire. And her lover didn't want anything beyond weekly afternoon meetings in a hotel room. [Spoiler alert!] And out of the blue, she is engaged. Her fiance, a doctor, seems like a nice enough guy. It seems that being a married woman will severely restrict her office interactions and turn down her spark and spice. In a society where being lusted after is the most effective way of getting a man's attention, Joan isn't left any bright options. She rarely shows any of her emotions, especially when she is upset, maintaining a professional demeanor at all times. I feel bad for her too.
The title sequence is pretty awesome. The RJD2 song sounds like it was made for this show- sophisticated and haunting. Excuse me while I go watch another episode.
On Monday morning, my trusty little Civic would not start. It is bordering on eleven years old and never had any major problems up until then. I had it towed to an auto repair shop down the road, and enjoyed a walk back through the Hancock golf course. My boss's boss called me to inform me that he was sorry but that my position had been eliminated due to a company reorg, and that employment would be ending in two weeks, with two weeks of severance. It came as a complete surprise and I spent the day in some kind of shock and muted excitement. I haven't liked my job for maybe two years, and I'd been there almost two and a half. It let me get away with being complacent and doing what I needed to do to just get by. I let myself only complete what was asked or required of me, and nothing more. For the past few months, I had been dumped the most menial and tedious tasks that were pretty offensive to have to do. I didn't converse much with my coworkers and eschewed small talk, since it felt pointless and awkward to maintain. After seeing dozens of people get laid off or quit in front of my eyes, I grew confident that my position would not be eliminated any time soon. But all the while, I dreamed of having another job that wouldn't leave me mentally frustrated and pent-up with unused energy each evening. Yet, it was too hard to leave, the excellent benefits, the acceptable salary, the free iPhone and plan, the extremely flexible hours, the stability. So this forced change presents itself as an opportunity for huge growth.
And I'm scared. After turning my brain and motivation off for so long, they have got to be revived. My resume is pitiful, only really appropriate for applying to similar administrative and HR positions. I can do that some more, but really, it would be a large resignation for the rest of my life. People like to say "it's not what you know, it's who you know." And to take it even further, according to my brother, "it's not who y0u know, it's who knows you." And I have not made myself very known to anyone. As I have said before, networking disgusts me. It's not even about the person, it's about how the person can be a tool to help you later on. It's the game that gets you further in life, but I never wanted to learn the rules or even play.
And in the beginnings of my long job search, I'm coming across a common requirement. It's not skill-based, or even experience-based. It goes something across the lines of "you need to be willing to dedicate your waking life to this position. you need to show us that you will do whatever it takes to make this company succeed." Who in their right mind could qualify? To me, no company is worthy of that much life energy. It's just profit. I haven't found it to be much more meaningful than allowing me to live comfortably, and giving me something to do for eight hours a day. This sort of attitude definitely screens me out from being considered for most competitive positions, which is a shame, since it's the healthier one.
The fantasy that everything wonderful in this world is where I am not follows me to this day. It has been the source of so much unnecessary frustration and jerkface ingratitude, starting from when I first learned how to compare myself with others. I can also relate to a quote by Groucho Marx: "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member." Only now do I see that the rejection of this idea is one leg of the journey towards emotional maturity. For a handful of years I have tasted and savored what Austin has to offer to a young, single, college graduate. Yet, I recall really wanting out a few years back. Forget that Dallas was a mind-numbing prison in comparison, and that I didn't have to move back there. I had my sights on Portland, the dream destination of most people in my boat. Bike lanes everywhere and full of cyclists, useful bus and railways, gorgeous green scenery, and my next best friends. Needless to say, I did not actually do anything to make my move a reality, and just complained about it. I still think Portland is one of the best cities in the US, but I'm glad that I'm still here. Good things exists here too! Like B. : ) And the flurry of new eateries that have popped up in just the last year is quite exciting. The vague five-year plan includes moving away from Texas, but that is still in the works.
Anyways, I have really moved past the original intent of the post. Inadvertently, I feel like I have a black touch sometimes. Just because I feel unmotivated, uninspired and talentless, I unthinkingly assume other people I know are that way as well. Misery loves company? Which is why is has been such a pleasure to see friends succeed, especially creatively. (Because although I have some creative pursuits, I am coming to terms with the fact that I am not talented enough to make a living off those passions). The best example of that is the band of our friend Rob, Balmorhea. (Yes, the name comes from the West Texas state park). Words cannot really describe how joyous, engaging and mature their instrumental songs are. On top of that, they've received high praise from all media review sources. I've seen them play in the dusty sidelot of an art gallery, where the scarce listeners were mostly friends, and at sold out shows at mainstream venues, where breathing and standing space were limited. I am proud of them, because they are a "real" band. I say that sheepishly, as someone who had little faith in them becoming so well known. They've been playing for years now, and only started gaining widespread recognition in the music industry in 2009. Same with another friend band, Follow that Bird!, but to a lesser degree. At the time, when I was hanging out with these guys and gals, I thought their aspirations to be successful musicians was noble, but stupidly optimistic. Fast forward 2-3 years later, and I'm being blown away. I'm just really happy for them, while wondering at the same time if I have the persistence to work towards my own dreams. But then maybe, for every success story you hear or personally know, there are dozens of hidden failures.
Is it too early to be resorting to a blog post? I have only been at work for 1.5 hours. Still trying to work out a viable sleeping plan, since every morning I wake up both late and groggy. Most of the time I feel heavily drugged, and thus, unwilling to greet the new day. This morning, I got up after 6 hours of sleep to use the bathroom, felt fresh and awake, slept for 1 more hour (7 hours) and was fitfully awakened by B's alarms and snoozes, slept for 1 more (8 hours) and fought against a bad pizza dream to drag myself out of bed. By the looks of it, I should aim for that 6 hour mark again. But my bed, with its fluffy down comforter and soft cotton sheets, is so much more alluring than being awake and reading a book, cooking breakfast, surfing the internet, going on a walk, or whatever people do when they get up earlier.
Two things: I have not been truly vegan this past week. I have eaten meat and dairy sparingly, and have mostly stuck with B's diet. And second, his vegan diet officially lasted up until last night, seven days. He hasn't broken it, and he's had a great attitude this whole time, not only staying true to the diet, but also not succumbing to temptation around our friends when they eat meat. But after a discussion sparked by my parents wanting to eat at Salt Lick this weekend but deciding not to because of our diet, we decided that being vegan was not a sustainable option for us. We both dearly missed a combination of the flavors and textures of meat and fats. And that we would aim to eat mostly vegetables and whole grains, and have meat, dairy, fats, and sugars on occasion. "On occasion" is certainly personally defined, so that's what we'll be figuring out. B used to base all of our cooked meals around meat, which I disagreed with. But now we're on the same page. What else did we learn from this experiment? For me, I grew really tired of the same flavors and textures of seitan, miso, vegetable broth... and leafy green vegetables. The taste and mouthfeel of B's favorite veggies, spinach and button mushrooms, are pretty abhorrent to me. I grew up scarfing down greens and ordering salads because my parents taught me that it was the healthy thing to do, but I only now realize that I don't actually enjoy eating them at all. Which just means I have to try harder to eat them more often. But I noticed that I felt really great after each of our meals. No meat-induced heaviness in my belly, but I did get hungry more often.
The bulk of what we ate: miso soup, sprouts, tofu, rolled oats, curry veggie patties, black bean/brown rice veggie patties, brown rice, buckwheat noodles, veggie italian sausage, baked sweet potatoes, hemp milk, seitan, kimchee, kale, bokchoy, spinach, romaine lettuce, button mushrooms, carrots, hummus, green onions, soy sauce, vegetable broth, nutritional yeast, oranges, grapefruit, apples. All good stuff that we sort of got sick of. Perhaps we weren't creative enough? I beg to differ, as meat and fats bring depth to food.
We ate at the Wheatsville bulk food bar one day before getting groceries, and it was quite delicious. We accepted the fact that when eating out, most food options contain added oil and sugar. The tastiest dishes? Vegan mac and cheese, eggless tofu salad, and silken tofu mexican chocolate pudding. Vegan does not necessarily mean healthy! I also got a gift certificate to Beets, a raw vegan cafe, whose entree offerings look extremely unappetizing. In the vein of Wasa crackers as sawdust and cardboard. I had compiled short list of vegan-friendly restaurants to re-check out, including Casa de Luz, Aster's Ethiopian and Mr. Natural's. While I have enjoyed eating there in the past with friends, the enjoyment mainly sprung from good company, feeling positive that I was being healthy, and the adventure of eating something unfamiliar. I never thought the food was inherently tasty, and I probably never will. But if it's for health, then I'm totally open.
I recently stocked up on sweaters when I realized that I only had one sweater that I actually liked. The newly reoffered Bean's Norwegian Sweater (knit in Norway!) caught my eye, but is only available for men, so I shot them an email about making a women's version. So I ordered two boys sweaters, size L, from Lands' End and L.L. Bean. When they came in, they were a bit baggy, short in the arms, and boxy in the torso. That's the trade-off for saving money by getting kids' clothing. That is OK with me, but I was disappointed to see that both pieces were Made in China. I have been feeling convicted lately of buying cheap items manufactured in poor labor conditions. B sympathizes. Can we implement a rule of only buying made in the US clothing? That would make me buy clothes way less often, for sure. Still considering this.
I have never been one to jump on faddish diets. The only one I embarked on was the Lemonade Diet in college, and I was so snack-crazy then that I could only stick with it for three days before cheating at Fresh Plus (post). Another time, spurred by a suspicion that maybe gluten intolerance was making me tired, I went gluten-free for a week, and basically starved for the first couple days, since gluten foods (including many packaged foods) made up most of my diet. I tried out a gluten-free bakery in Westlake and found it very unappetizing (post); all in all, it was an extremely unsatisfying week of eating.
Austin is replete with people who adhere to alternative diets. Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, red meat-free, macrobiotic, raw food, the list goes on. I've known people who eat differently than I do for years now. But never once did I seriously consider joining them. Food was just food, and I had more important things to worry about. Besides, the fun level of restriction is pretty close to zero. 2009 was a big year of food thinking for me. Beyond taste, I was confronted with the political, social, environmental and personal effects of what I eat. We began to try to eat only locally grown produce (if not that, then USA/organic), local meat and eggs, and less processed foods. In all truthfulness, the health factor was less of an issue for me than ever, since I had somehow managed to lose ~15 pounds this past 18 months by allowing myself to be picky and let my moods get in the way of eating. I knew I wasn't fit or healthy, but it's so much easier to ignore the question when you look just fine.
About a month before the wedding, B resolved to start working out during his lunch break every weekday. With holiday and sickness-related exceptions, he has dutifully kept up this regimen. Concerned that he wasn't losing any weight (albeit gaining much more muscle), we discussed the impact of our diet, and how it had changed from when we dating. Turns out that he noticed that we ate way less greens because I dislike eating raw vegetables, and he did not want to fight with me. Same with fish. And I eat way less pasta, even though I love it, because he doesn't particularly prefer it. And I eat way more (red) meat, because he considers it to be a hearty and flavorful part of a meal. It was an unbalanced array of foods. You are what you eat, right? In the end, with our resolves armed, we decided to make another positive, all-encompassing change. I had heard of the Engine 2 diet, developed by an ex-triathlete and firefighter in Austin. I did some research by reading articles and reviews about the diet (conveniently located on his site), purchased the book at Book People, and here we are basically turningvegan for 6 weeks!!
The added restrictions of the Engine 2 diet to being vegan are no added oils, added sugars, refined flour, or alcohol. B's challenges: no cheese, no alcohol, no yogurt, no eggs, and of course, no meat. My challenges: eating "plant strong," no regular desserts, no regular baking, no Blue Sky sodas, no fruit juice. The rules are still hazy to me, and it will definitely be a work in progress, but I think it will be a worthwhile endeavor. With most Americans dying of disease, I don't want to meet my end that way and I have many years to get off this increasingly common, downward path. (Although I have to admit that I won't officially start until the weekend, as I don't want to just throw away the bread and lunchmeat that is my lunch for the rest of the workweek.)
A personal project at work is taking the bulk of this week. I'm investigating our 401k plan, specifically the fees associated with each of the funds offered. This comes on the heels of my own conversion of my Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. My parents urged me to open an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) the year I started working (2007), and I did so begrudgingly. At this age, any amount of extra cash = fun, and it was hard setting aside the money, but I am so glad that I did it. Primer: a traditional IRA lets you put in pre-tax dollars, and the amount is taxed as you withdraw it after you retire. A Roth IRA is funded with pre-tax dollars, and your retirement withdrawals are tax-free. I chose to convert to Roth because I am quite certain that I am in the lowest tax bracket I will ever be in, as the common path is for income to rise along with years of experience.
Anyways, when I converted, I put all of it into index funds. Index funds are like the lazy man's surefire way of gaining interest on a long-term investment. It sounded too good to be true, but as I read more about it, I was convinced. This article in particular stood out to me. The results are based on very long looks at historical market returns. Instead of trying to figure out a way to pick the magic combination of funds, you get a slice of the whole market. There are ups and downs, but overall, it steadily goes up in the long-term. And a big part of that has to do with low fees, since they are not managed.
Anyways, the expense ratio, which is the fee you pay the investment company for a fund, of the particular index fund I chose was 0.18%. High fees and expense ratios specifically will eat away at your retirement fund, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars (or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, if you earn and put in a lot). Please take a look at this chart. Now I'm no money hog, but I'd like to not lose money if I can help it. In poring through the fund information of my company 401k, I calculated that the average fee was around 1.5%. That is a far cry from the 0.18% in my Vanguard index fund. If you look at that chart, it shows that even a 1% increase in expense ratio for a one-time $10,000 investment over 40 years results in no small relative loss, 33.8% (1.5% ER) vs.12.8% (0.5% ER). All this could be avoided if you shop around for lower fees. The terrible thing is that fees are hidden away from the general investor who does not do his/her research, and they are losing so much interest to such fees. I am in the process of trying to find more funds with lower fees, or even new plans with lower fees to present to my boss. I don't want to go as far as to accuse our company's broker (who is by the way a personal friend of the owner) of reaping in huge benefits from our selection of funds, because that would harm me. Let's just say it happens.
If you don't have a 401k, I strongly advise you to open one if your company provides the option, or just open an IRA at Vanguard or somewhere else. Not doing so is pretty much the most financially damaging thing you could let happen for your future self in retirement, and not to mention your family. Any percentage, no matter how small, matters, because of compound interest over decades. (Side note, this is why I am averse to mortgages.) Lately, personal finance has been a consuming interest for me. Not only because I want to ensure that I am set, but because it pains me to see our culture of financial ignorance and the suffering it causes. I want to educate people my age, especially, about this, so they can take care of themselves and their families, and not be enslaved to the vicious side of money. If you have any questions, I would be more than happy to discuss. This is on my list of possible career paths, although I am told that hobbies don't necessarily translate well into jobs.
"To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of Insides, full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no "inside" that is worth reaching... As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain...
And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it."
And, the worst book review regarding this chapter.
Had a relaxing three-day weekend. It kicked off with the Wilsons coming into town from Portland and staying with us. A wicked game of 3-on-3 ultimate frisbee, 1st meal of the new year at Whole Foods, a chilly grill at Zilker, fancy dinner at La Traviata, Xboxing, films (God Grew Tired of Us-sad, PU-239-also depressing), and at home dinners ensued.They're a laid-back, hip couple who traveled around the country the first part of the year, camping out in various parks for a month straight. Their married life path is so different from ours, and that's what makes it all the more intriguing. Thanks for being great guests, guys! Here is their occasionally updated blog.
My long-distance friend Nora's new cupcake business (website). She is married to a Marine and is living on a giant base in San Diego. I'm proud of her for turning a hobby into a possible career! Isn't the frosting just immaculate?
Wordy article about the so-called Quarterlife Crisis. It's hard, but I can't imagine it's harder than any other generation's experience. B has dismissed any mention of graduate school from me, and with good reason. School is all I know really well..
And now, the main topic of the post. Look at these goofy foot-glove thingamabobs. Ask me three weeks ago what I thought about Vibram FiveFingers and I would have scoffed loudly. Barefoot running was a topic of discussion during a recent dinner with friends, and I think we all left pretty openminded about the activity and the not-water shoes. Twoarticles and two sightings later (yes, at Wheatsville and Whole Foods), here I am with a pair. I rushed into REI 5 minutes before closing time on Saturday and got the Classics, since it was the only model in my size (40). The toes were not too hard to wiggle in at first, although I had some more difficulty doing it later on. The other models feature straps and more fabric on top of the foot, which makes them even harder to put on. They felt OK after one night of walking around in them. I was concerned that they were too small, as all of my toes touched the ends of the shoe pockets, with no extra room to spare. These shoes do not fit people who have 2nd toes that are longer than their big toes, and mine are about the same length. However, upon returning to REI for a possible size-up, they told me that the fit was true and that a larger, looser size would defeat the purpose of the shoe. And what is the purpose? To have healthy feet by letting your feet, an amazing piece of natural engineering, do the walking/running/jumping/etc. Unlike other reviews, I did not feel like I was walking around barefoot, since the rubber on the bottom is pretty thick and not as flexible as your own foot would be. To be fair, I did not grow up running around barefoot (which is the healthiest), and still do not, so my feet are pretty tender and callus-free. So this shoe works for me.
I am not a runner and do not plan to run in these. Initially, I was sold on the concept but very unwilling to give up all other shoes. I am a shoe person and am convinced that good taste is confirmed or denied by the shoes one chooses to wear. Snobby, maybe, but that is just something I've always been acutely aware of. But I have to say, when I wore my Clarks to exchange the Vibrams, they felt like crap. They were so loose, and the Superfeet inserts only made me feel very wobbly, as the soles were thicker, and the foot side roll more extreme. My socks were sliding around in them and I noticed that I had to walk more carefully (mechanically maybe?) as to keep my shoes on. Like I said, the Vibrams felt alright, but in comparison to those shoes, they felt like a natural extension of myself. Today I wore my Vans Authentics to work, and although they are not terrible, I do notice them. I notice the right angle edges and flatness of the 1-inch thick sole, and how quickly I start to feel unstable when I tilt my foot to the side over the edge. So, there is something to your foot having rounded edges for stability.
Shoes are something we've learned to deal with, pitfalls and all. B has recently taken to saying that Americans are a masochistic poeple, since they/we have put up with PCs and Microsoft products for so long, because we/they are either too lazy to learn new ways or think there is no other way. And so it is with shoes. I've only had my Fivefingers for 2 days, so I'm not able to give a well-rounded review yet. Besides being quite inappropriate for colder weather (but you can order socks!), I have been really pleased with them so far. I'm not at the point to where I'll recommend them to all my family and friends, as I think it takes a certain amount of nonconformity and boldness to wear these shoes if you don't actually have foot problems, but when/if I reach that point, you'll know. Don't quote me on it, but I have a feeling that these may be the next big alternative trend in footwear, since they help you feel "at one with the earth," similar to the idea that riding fixed gear connects you with the road. Succinct Cool Tools review.
Also, I have to comment on a previous haughty remark I made about Shurons being ugly. I was proved wrong this weekend. I ended up getting a pair of gray-flecked Shuron frames from Gene Rogers Optical. They are quite similar to my current pair, except the lenses are smaller. B helped me pick them out in five minutes. It wasn't until after I talked to Gene that I found out I had only perused the men's section of the store. I had a pretty pain-free experience there. They are a husband-wife run business and after chatting with the wife, she relayed that even though they had been open since 1991 at that location, last year was their best year (due to Yelp and word of mouth). I later found out today that my insurance will not reimburse me for any of it, since he is out of network. That is a shame, since glasses are so darn expensive these days, but I think this is worth it.