Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surviving is Easy

image source

Today at work, I had the singular opportunity to don a chemical warfare suit to practice for a listening test. This was the first time I came into contact with the company's clients, which happened to be the U.S. government this time. It was a challenge getting into the mask, as there was a long rubber seal at the neck, much tighter than the tightest turtleneck, and I had to smother initial panic at the little space I had in there. The breathing, speaking, and listening apparatus was identical to what pilots use, so what made up my soundscape was a microphone squealing and ragged breathing noises. My partner put on the suit as well and we took turns reading out words and choosing them from out of a list. It wasn't too difficult, but the feeling I came away with was, surprisingly, adrenaline at the thought of people actually using these suits in the wild. And I really wished during that hour that I was doing something exciting and dangerous in the getup. Pardon my naivety, but my brain raved, "it's so cool that people in the military gets to use stuff like this!"
Life here is so very civilized and safe. Is this why we invent and play complicated survival and military video games and are drawn towards zombie apocalypse shows and movies? Does that contribute to the military's allure? Is it positive for our mental and psychological health that we will probably never have to worry about surviving? Have humans developed this far to sit at mundane office jobs for the majority of their adult lives? Now I'm not complaining about my wonderful, cushiony existence. It's just that I felt something alive today that was markedly absent from my daily experience, and it was powerfully attractive. Adrenaline, for starters. Is that sick, pondering this while people across the world are actually under threat of death and injury? It's so foreign.

Jerk me back to reality, Internet. Here we have a frosting decorating pen recommended by The Kitchn. Ooh fancy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Workyear Begins

It's a Monday night, and I have it all to myself, as usual. B's out playing games and I'm practicing learning how to entertain myself. You'd think that by 25 a person would know him/herself well enough to do the things he/she likes. Nope, not here. For some reason, I have a hard time enjoying myself these days. I get discouraged easily, defeat plans with negative self-talk, and wonder at what I could be doing or be involved in that would be fulfilling. I am aware of all of this- the trick is to put an end to it. Chill out! Life is good.

Happily, last week I secured a part-time job that will allow me to keep my current one and have me working 40 hours a week. The company is a good deal further away (off 620), but traffic isn't so bad going that direction, and I am sort of excited about the work I'll be doing. 0 client contact, data and operations management, using Salesforce, Basecamp, and Excel to improve on processes and assist in the data entry and project creation aspect. I have some experience doing this, which is what helped me land the job, but in this position, I'll have a more autonomous and independent role. Is this my one true passion? Who knows. But I feel confident enough of my grasp of the software and their expectations that it will keep me pretty occupied. Plus, it gives me another chance to be more creative and reflective in my work, even if it not a "creative field." A good thing to practice in all aspects of life. This is so critical to personal happiness, imo. I start next Monday. In the meantime, I'm gonna bum around and savor my last sleep ins.
One thing that is always on my mind is finances. I can't help it- I worry over the large purchases (necessary or frivolous) and wonder how we could save more. Luckily, we have always been able to pay for emergency purchases, yet I know we could do so much better. Most financial experts say to aim for 6 months of expenses in your emergency fund; this year, due to lack of not much adjusting during my unemployment and kickstarting student loan payoffs, we've never had more than $1000. Naturally, this deeply bothers me. It's so difficult and time-consuming anticipating monthly bills, purchases, and setting aside the extra for savings. The main problem is that we think we have money in the bank (which we do), so we splurge on eating out or getting a new piece of furniture, when that money was saved for a future bill payment. So then we end up having to borrow from savings (really, ourselves), and that's how it stays low. This is hugely frustrating to me, because we don't spend loosely on small things, like most Americans might have used to. A latte here, a snack there, a soda later, a few dollars each day add up over time. We don't fall into that trap. While I am bordering on neurotic about money, B is the opposite. He takes it easy and finds it easy to forgive (himself and) us when we overspend. Psychologically, he is much better off. Yet I don't want to miss out on reaching big financial goals because we ate out too many times a week or kept buying stuff we didn't need our whole lives.
I've been flipping through my copy of Smart Couples Finish Rich. It's a pretty good primer for people (not just couples) interested in getting their finances off to a good start. Nothing in there that I don't already know, but it's good to remind myself to stay on track. One of the points was that as a couple, you need to get together and discuss your dreams and set common goals. I don't think we've really done this beyond occasionally talking about leaving Texas and moving to Sweden one day, which I've realized, will never happen unless we start doing something to make it happen. We also talk about shorter term goals, like visiting my cousin in New York, or taking a road trip out to West Texas, both of which are entirely doable. It takes money to travel and to fulfill some big dreams. I think we need to start putting aside money to make these trips, alongside building our emergency fund. This will take a great deal more discipline and a full-time job on my part to achieve. B, if you are reading this, let's get on it!! Part of the problem has been that I have the vague notion that we should be spending less money, but we have no specific alternate purpose for it.
One thing I have to watch out for is being too extreme. I have a tendency to be very black and white about things, taking frugality to the point of ignoring my wants. Likewise, B has the opposite tendency. I know this is common for many couples, and I really hope we can smooth out our philosophies out and one day make a shared one. Well I really started this post to write about a handful of updates, but I guess it took a turn to the moneysides. What else...
Snorri has been really lethargic these past 24 hours. He didn't move from the couch the entire 9 hours B spent there playing Fallout 3 (that's another topic). Usually he is pretty active in chasing Boyd around or playing with his toys. I decided to take him to the vet today and see what was up. I pushed him into the cat carrier and he yowled mournfully during transit, completely unresponsive to my reassurances. It was really disconcerting hearing him like that. Even though it wasn't walk-in hours, the clinic squeezed us in between appointments and after inspection, the vet declared that Snorri was physically fine. I wonder if something happened during the 3 days we were out of town for Thanksgiving. It's a mystery!

Here is a NYT article I read today about a 91 year old athlete who is super fit. Above is a photo of a similarly fit Japanese octagenarian, Mitsu Morita. The article investigates the link between rigorous exercise and a healthy, long life. All the more reason to take the time to develop a lifelong disciplined exercise regime.

Today I watched part of a debate (Youtube clip) between former British prime minister Tony Blair and author Christopher Hitchens on whether religion is a force of good or evil in the world. We watched a similar debate on the BBC last year, on the Catholic church in particular. In both cases, the audiences at the end voted that religion/Catholicism was not a force for good in the world. Very interesting turn of events from a generation that was largely brought up to be god-fearing. What is not debatable is that many crimes and stupidities have been committed in the name of religion. And that one does not have to be religious to love his neighbor. And it's easy to see politicians driven by their religious fanaticism ruining the landscape of American politics these days, which is truly unfortunate.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


my lack of updates as of late. I've been thrown in a whirlwind of open doors, closed doors, government regulations, and looming deadlines, as it relates to job opportunities and the terms of my unemployment benefits. I know I'll come out of this with something, but I'm trying to secure the absolute best something possible. What Color Is Your Parachute? is my study guide. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Next Level

As I may have mentioned before, I've been going on Monday Night Rides with whomever is available, going 25-30 miles in and around town. They've really been boosting my aerobic endurance, as I have given up my hatred for hills and and am coming to accept (if not enjoy) them. At 54 degrees, tonight marked the first chilly ride. It also offered some new lessons. I layered up with an Under Armour polyester base shirt, an American Apparel (55% cotton, 50% polyester), a jersey knit scarf, and my Marmot windshirt (100% polyester). Bottoms consisted of cheapo long black cotton leggings from Forever 21, AA poplin shorts on top for modesty, and SOS North Carolina cycling socks. No wool yet, as I am not too eager to provide more luxurious munchies for our resident moths. I might try wool blends first. The scarf was a lifesaver, as I flipped it over my mouth and nose because the cold air was reviving my cough. I ended up only unzipping my jacket a few inches after heart-pounding climbs, never overheating.

Here's the route Tyler, Stephen, and I took. 15 minutes in, I noticed that my handlebars were noticeably tilted to the left. My bike fell over while I was waiting for my ride partners at Quacks, and apparently the stem was not bolted on tight enough. It was folly to not bring my newly acquired (and effing awesome) Leyzne multi-tool, as I was running out of space in my bento box. Always pack the multi-tool! And I gotta get a handlebar bag or remember to wear my jersey. I wasn't able to bring a pair of gloves and my keys, phone, wallet and Clif bar in the bento box made a ruckus on bumpy surfaces.

In hindsight, I am happy that I got rid of my large, wide English saddlebag. Only the smallest seat bag (the one I found off Craigslist is Banjo Brothers Mini) won't get in the way of my thighs. To me, the balance of carrying just enough stuff is a challenge to figure out in the beginning. I want to have a rear rack for strapping on a jacket or extra layers that I get rid of during the course of riding, but if I rarely use it, that's 1 or 2 lbs of extra weight I'm hauling up a hill.
Other additions that would have helped: seamless undies (!), not wearing the shorts on top (extra fabric and seams really rub after 10 miles), a warm cap to put under my helmet, plastic toe-clips that actually fit, bar-end shifters. Articles of clothing that did not reek afterwards: thermal shirt, leggings, jacket, scarf. Not bad at all. The Under Armour shirt was pretty cold on my skin when I stopped- it's definitely part of their "heat gear" collection. It's pretty neat to put my setup to the test and figure out better ways of dressing. I'm trying to "deserve" my gear, which will help me decide what is truly useful and what is vanity. Ah, I'm gonna be sore tomorrow for workout...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Model for Living

"Comparison is the thief of joy." Somebody said that somewhere and it is meant to encourage us to, well, stop comparing ourselves others and try and be happy with our lives. Lately, I've been examining other people's lives, people I know and people I've only heard about, in an effort to look for a loose model on which to base my own. Let's face it, neither you or I are going to craft a totally original, completely off-the-wall life. We aren't all that different from the average of those around us. Right now, I feel like I'm at a standstill, having had plenty of time to reflect on my personhood. If I continue to be lazy, comfort-seeking, and dependent on preset paths, I won't do much at all in this lifetime and I'll face an unbearably crushing amount of regret on my deathbed. Definitely one of my biggest fears. Also, the existence of too many choices is crippling. I also wonder at my avoidance of risk, how it would lead to less opportunities and a less fulfilling life. So many self-help/ business articles urge you to take risks to reap huge rewards. So, who's it gonna be?

My mother. In many ways, I have missed my chance to start out like she did. An immigrant from Hong Kong, she completed her bachelors and masters degree in CS in the states early, and toiled as a test engineer my entire childhood up until I left for college. (She took 5 years off when I was born.) When she decided that she paid her dues and had provided a comfortable environment for her children, she started pursuing a masters in counseling a few years back. She loves helping people, has a heart for the suffering, and is currently amassing her practicum hours in a school talking to at-risk teens.
My father. He had a similar path to my mother, working as an engineer for a defense company for 20+ years. After a religious epiphany (also spurred by the 2000 tech bubble), he switched to a polar opposite field by attending seminary and becoming a pastor, later reverend. In my mind, seminary is no walk in the park with all the dense theological texts you have to absorb, and also learning Hebrew. So for my Dad, a non-native English speaker, this was no easy feat. He was employed at our home church for nearly a decade and cultivated quite a number of fans from the congregation, due to his humor and charisma. He recently accepted a position in the largest church in Hong Kong, citing his boredom with DFW and his desire to travel the world as reasons for the change. Better late than never, huh?
My friend B.W. A recent graduate in film, she works contract editing jobs while shooting independent projects and researching for her sometime feature film in her free time. In short, her life is all about film, a she has realized her passion since childhood. She doesn't have loads of cash and has a tight budget, but she loves what she's doing.
My friend E.W. He is currently in Afghanistan working for a NGO, learning the language, traditions, and cuisine. I have no doubt that he is having the time of his life, and he is growing in ways that I can't even imagine. In a society where college grads are expected to get good jobs and start saving for a house and family, he chose a starkly alternate path. One much less comfortable, more illuminating, more dangerous, one which promises nothing certain in the future. In reading his blog and seeing his photos, I gather that he is experiencing things and gaining a valuable perspective most Americans will never come across or adopt.
My friend T.P. She is a super-busy mother of 3. Her life consists of making sure her kids are fed, clothed, and safe, the errands run, and the house kept relatively clean. Once I asked her what her career goals were, and she paused and admitted that she had not thought about them in years. Nursing, she responded.
My friend L.G. He owns a small bike shop in East Austin and works more than 40 hours a week. This dude's life is all about bikes. He is an integral part of the community, has spent decades working on bikes, and is well-known for his excellent service.
And, some people I don't know. Keith Malloy, a badass Patagonia ambassador who surfs and tackles environmental issues. The grizzled guys at Austin Metal Authority, who hammer and shape metals into functional and ornate pieces at their East Austin studio. Trent, the author of financial blog, The Simple Dollar (that's his full-time job).
Honestly, I can't any see a hint of myself in any of these examples. Alternatively, I could just get pregnant and take on motherhood as an identity and job and relieve myself of this hard reflection. Haha nope.
[As a note, I began writing this blog post as a way of procrastinating learning about accounting basics in preparation for a phone interview tomorrow. Tsk tsk!]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on Twitter

Now that I've been using it for 881 days, here are some of my conclusions:
Everyone wants to yak, but few people tweet anything worth reading. This is why I try to keep my tweets per day down to a minimum- even I usually almost don't care about what I'm about to say. And the people who don't tweet very often? They are most likely too busy living life.
For every captivating tweet, I will ponder it for 5 minutes, max. There's a live feed competing for my already too-short attention span. I get on Twitter for quick friend life updates, and the occasional newsworthy link. That's it. Life prefers to carry on without distraction. At least for me, this sort of distraction is the "enemy of purposeful action."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Plaguing Thoughts

extreme introvertedness
necessity of networking
seeking community
the point in talking to people you don't like
benefits of trying/ trudging ahead
importance of belonging

life calling as a myth
role of failure
is it really OK for women to not have grand careers
is relying on the outside world for structure weak
what creates drives in others

limits of effort
looking-glass self
comfortableness as anti-growth
causes of success
meaning in expertise
accept or try to improve weaknesses

too much entertainment
too little enlightenment
lack of respect for art due to information overload
real benefits of strongly filtering media
real benefits of being very culturally informed
right balance of consumption and creation