Friday, January 18, 2013

3. enjoy beer.

Were I a writer of odes, I’d dedicate a book of them to my beverage of choice.  O, the bitter bite of hops, the sting of bubbles on my tongue, the heady scent of yeast that fills the head with a nostalgia for a life not even lived—full of knights and castles and beer goddesses with trays (and corsets) overflowing with nectar and big tables of heavy wooden planks, a visual and aromatic palimpsest of rings of ales sweated down the stein and spilt from the tankard!  And laughter.  (“Does anybody remember laughter?”)

Ahem.  It’s been 18 days since I’ve drunk a beer. I embarked on this endeavor to eliminate mother’s hoppy helper because I wanted to deflate my beer belly, and I was certain this, along with a sugar ban, would work. 

My company’s diet plan recommends you make goals that are SMART—that is  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.  Specific: I gave up beer and sugar—mostly for weight loss.  Measureable: My clothes should fit better; I can count the beers I don’t drink.  Achievable: I can go a month without beer and sugar.  Realistic: People don’t have to drink beer or eat sugar.  Time-based: What the hell—it’s a month.

But does this make my goal smart

In the eighteen nights, the more than 400 beerless hours, I have lost at least 216 ounces—13.5 pounds.  Of beer.  My body, on the other hand, empty of sugar and wheat, deprived of beer, has lost not a sip of weight.

And I am sad—perhaps sadder than I’ve ever been.  And it’s not the alcohol.  I’ve had a couple shots of frozen cake vodka.  Not beer.  I’ve had some gin and diet tonic.  Also not beer. Could I go a month without it?  Yes.  I could go a month without playing my guitar or taking a picture.  But why would I? Why should I?

My husband would argue that I should because it's good discipline.  He once stopped drinking beer for a year.  The following year, he gave up ice cream.  To what end?  Some people climb mountains because mountains are there.  Others climb them to get to the top and experience the breathtaking view.  That's me.  I want the cherry on top.  (Not only because I enjoy tying the stem in a knot with my tongue and teeth.)

Every day, just like most other people I know—happy or unhappy—I go to work.  I have a long commute and a nine-hour day.  It’s dark when I wake up, and it’s dark when I get home.  And life, as the death of my 75-year-old father proved, is just too short.  In half of the time I’ve already lived, I’ll be his age.  Twenty-five years.  That’s 9,125 beers.  Of course, I don’t have to drink one every day.  But unless my physical and emotional health and those of my family and friends are impinged by my 12-ounce golden-brown liquid in my special snifter, the goal to go even another day without a can of joy, a bottle of pleasure, is stupid.

Why live without the things that bring delight to your life and cause others no displeasure?  Put a beer in my hand, and a smile will light up my face.  And you will be happier, too. 

So tonight, all ale (well, one) will break loose.  In the words of a band whose very name is something I’d banned this month:  “Stick around for joy.”  

Friday, January 4, 2013

2. call bullshit

I call bullshit where I see it, and I’m not going to stop, despite the letters from a motivational speaker disguised as The Universe, despite Internet memes that spread like a plague of Airwick flowers, despite those who let go and let karma, and despite the conscious breathing I’m doing in the new year.  Bullshit needs its callers.

Every day, someone I like passes on one of those misattributed stories or partial truths or total hoaxes.  Once, when I Snopes’d someone (yes, I just verbed a proper noun—is that bullshit?), she wanted to know who made me the Internet police.  Ouch.  But take the five seconds to enter that thing you’re sharing into a search engine to check the veracity, or the bullshit callers will be on you like flies.  It's not just a lie, and it does more than stink.  If you don’t believe me, try becoming the victim of a rumor or admiring the emperor’s threads in front of people who know he’s naked. Smart people. People you want to impress.

This photo is making the rounds (complete with extra comma and comma splice):

It’s tough to argue with the good advice that warns us away from the drama of others and steers us toward people who love us.  So by all means: weed out the folks you don't need in your life.  A regular weeding is good for the friend garden. 

drawing by Kurt Vonnegut
But if your friend is an asshole, please supply a swift verbal kicking before you pluck him.  Because a prayer only sends that asshole out to leave his bullshit in a bag at someone else’s front door.

It may surprise you to learn that even assholes have feelings. In fact, all but the sociopaths and narcissists among us really don’t want to be thought of as assholes; some don’t even know their behavior is asshole-ish.  But it’s not enough to tell someone his behavior sucks if you continue to reward him with the pleasure of your company or an action that says it doesn’t really matter to you. 

“You know, you come over and eat all my food and drink all my beer, and you never contribute anything.”


 “That’s OK.  Can I pour you a beer?”

Will your complaint and its consequences precipitate a change in your friend? Depending on the friend, probably—but at least possibly.  And if it isn’t worth the effort to save the friendship (some relationships aren’t healthy for a host of reasons), at least send a mean person off with a performance review.  Praying for a meanie doesn’t heal the meanie or your heart, and it doesn’t make you a better person.  What does?  The favor of telling him why it didn’t work out.  After all, when you get fired from your job, don’t you want to know how to prevent the same fate with the next one?

Yes, life is too short to surround yourself with assholes (regardless of the validity of having happiness as a goal).  

Last year, my motto was ask for what you want.  I still live by that, and it works.  I don’t mean you always get it; I mean you learn to stop wishing in silence and act toward a goal.  If you don’t get what you want or need, you move on—sometimes just to a slightly altered goal or a step closer to it or to a workable compromise. 

Asking for what you want works with friendships, too.  If your friend is an asshole, it might be simply that you didn’t ask him to stop being one, which is like asking him to continue being one.

Here’s a second message co-opted from the Book of Face.

I had a friend who let everyone borrow money, and no one ever repaid her.  When they needed more, she reminded them, gently, about their prior debts, then she forked over more cash. She asked me why so many people took advantage of her, and I said: Because you let them.

Those people who create drama in your lives create it because you let them, and simply cutting them loose might not help you.  (It sure doesn’t help the rest of us!)

In truth, most people are damaged.  If we love them, we help them mend the cracks as best we can, and they help us mend ours.  But people who don’t treat us right don’t need our prayers.  They need a bullshit caller.  And maybe so do we.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1. breathe

The nail that holds my kitchen calendar is in the side of a bookcase, and it's pretty tight despite the hundred times we lean on the pages hanging from it each year.  So my 2013 calendar goes up unceremoniously.  I don't tap the nail with a hammer for good measure, a gavel bang to say that it starts right here, right now.

I'm a sunrise person.  I like the promise of a fresh start each day, a way to do good, make amends, create a thing.  So Rosh Hashanah and New Year's Day and my birthday are favorite holidays because they are the beginning of something, unfolding like a flower, lush with promise.  

And pressure: to be better, skinnier, smarter, funner, livelier, fitter, fancier.  To be -er right now and every day.

So at 12:01 a.m., I wished the world joy, pretty hair, and loose pants—with a typo.  It was an unintentional-but-deliberate Freudian slip of a typo.  I began my wish with "My 2013," instead of "May 2013."  I cringed a little as I hit Enter anyway.  With that, the pressure to be perfect was off, and I simultaneously declared 2013 my bitch.

This past week, bloggers have been posting their wisdom about how to handle the coming year.  They've shared aphorisms and quotes by famous people.  They've given advice on making manageable goals.  They've compiled unconventional resolutions and even non-resolutions.  Someone even suggested goals that have you working out less and eating more carbs.  Skinny people suck.

For 15 years, I have battled severe insomnia.  It began with some early waking and accelerated into a complete inability to sleep.  I was on anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills, and I still slept only half the nights.  It wasn't until I gave up sugar that I started sleeping normally again and got off all meds.  I went from relying on lots of pills to needing none.  Before last night, my last sleeping pill was in July, while I was crying in a hotel bed during a work convention after my father died.  For the last bunch of years, I mostly need sleeping pills when I travel.

Last night, though, I was frustrated by the four teenagers awake too late in my attic, and I succumbed to the little blue pill at 3:00 a.m.

It ruined the entire year.  Unlucky '13.  Right?  As day one goes, so goes the year? 

I took that sleeping pill, and I hugged a stuffed monkey until I drifted into unconsciousness for six blissful hours, missing the first sunrise of the year.

But I saw the sun set last night, and it was beautiful.  And I said goodbye to 2012, the year my husband lost his job, the year my father died.  A sleeping pill at the end of a very bad year is understandable.  But a sleeping pill at the end of a very nice day—one that included a good movie with my husband, my favorite sushi and beer with my best friend, and cocktails at a favorite restaurant—just is.

I have things to do this year—a novel I want to write, some work goals to tackle, some health improvements to make.  But most of the work is going to have to be done in my mind, the place where everyone's real work gets done, sort of like that Silver Linings Playbook in the movie. 

This morning, the crows greeted me at the back window.  My husband rubbed my shoulders.  And I'm about to walk down to greet my friends and neighbors at the annual block party pig roast.  The only thing that I absolutely must do each and every day is breathe.  That's tough to do right.  Breathing is automatic, but good breathing must be practiced.  My own breath catches.  I inhale, and then I hold, expelling an inaudible gust of air in a thrust.  Breath should flow in and out smoothly.

I figure if I work on the breathing, the rest of what I need—whether it's sleep or exercise or relaxation or concentration or strength to renew, get fit, rest, write, or just get through life's tragedies, old and new, great and small—will come much easier.

I have everything I need right here: air, airways, beating heart, and 365 fresh, new days in 2013.