It’s been four weeks since my last check-in

white tulipsNot going to put any schedule on these anymore, because it just doesn’t work.

Anyway, since I last checked in, I went with the family on a short trip (by train) to D.C. It was a sunny trip that coincided with the climate march, which we didn’t join I guess because we chose to explore the museums, which were cool and comfortable, instead of letting the kids be scorched by the sun outside. We kind of expected to run into the march at some point and join in for a short period of time, but somehow we just missed the whole thing. I feel a bit conflicted about that, like maybe I shouldn’t advertise it, since I’d like to project a more militant image, but no many would be fooled anyway, right?

The highlight of the trip was a breakfast we had at a place called A Baked Joint. I had a salmon bagel with fried capers that I had dreams about the following night, so “dreamy” is the proper adjective here. The Spy and Space Museums were fun too. Food and museums—this was all our trip.

I packed brilliantly for this, all the clothes worked out perfectly except for the bag which snagged my clothes and I am right now considering getting rid of. But I’ll wait for a bit before I do anything I might regret. I am working on a packing post, since it was the first time I was happy with all my clothes and I don’t want to forget how I achieved such a feat.

I have been reading some good books. My friend Charity let me borrow two of Michelle Paver’s scary books, Dark Matter, A Ghost Story and Thin Air. I liked both quite a bit, although they could have been scarier. But very pleasant and entertaining reads. I also read Wicked, by Joanne Fluke, which . . .  was okay for a gym read. I loved, loved, loved Mariko Koike’s The Graveyard Apartment (read this one on my way to D.C. and back). There is nothing like Japanese horror, is there? It’s not a perfect book by any means, but it is gripping and chilling. I have just started The Cat in the Coffin by the same author and it is very promising also. I find even the titles of these two books brilliantly simple and scary.

I finished the last season of Wayward Pines on Hulu. Really good, I thought. Now I am giving The Strain a try and it’s okay, I think. Although the Alien-type parasite coming out of the mouth is a bit too revolting for my taste. I am also watching Hotel Beau Sejour on Netflix, a Flemish-language ghost series, and it’s very atmospheric, which I like a lot, but rather slow moving, which might be a problem for some, but I don’t mind.

The weather has improved and although it’s still kind of cold most days (I am wearing a wool sweater and wool socks in the house right now), but it’s sunny enough to be pleasant and to start to get me out of my winter’s funk. I think. I am feeling much less anxious and even a bit optimistic, if I dare admit it. Like not all is lost and life is not over just yet.

Here is a list of things that made me cry last week:

I’m sure there is a lot more that I am forgetting, but this is about it for now.

10×10 closet challenge

Ten items of clothing for ten days. It’s one of those challenges that flourish over on Instagram, although the credit for initiating it goes to two style blogs, Style Bee and Unfancy. Since I had been following some of the women who did it several times in the past and derived a lot of pleasure for watching them mix and match those few items of clothing, I felt an impulse to join in and play along.

I am not a capsule wardrober or much of a minimalist when it comes to the number of clothes I own. I like options, get bored quickly and enjoy my thrifting adventures that contribute to my about-to-burst closets. But this challenge might be interesting, I though to myself one morning, and in ten minutes I had a pile of ten items to wear for the next two weeks (I didn’t include the weekends in the challenge).

My thoughts after the challenge: I like options and I get bored quickly. Still it was fun, because I didn’t take it all too seriously and I switched my items around later in the day when I felt a need for it.

All my items came from the thrift shop:

  1. wide-leg, cropped denim (Allen Allen USA, thrifted)
  2. straight-leg black denim (THVM, thrifted)
  3. oversized cotton black sweatshirt-dress (J.Jill, thrifted)
  4. black, knit linen, long-sleeve top (Madewell, thrifted, )
  5. grey, knit linen, boxy top (made by me from a dress of my daughter’s)
  6. white cotton boxy top (made by me from thrifted cotton bedsheets)
  7. white silk&angora cardigan (Moda International, thrifted)
  8. grey cashmere long cardigan (Cynthia Rowley, thrifted)
  9. Birkenstock London, black leather (thrifted)
  10. Black suede oxfords, (G.H. Bass, thrifted)

I did include outwear (the two cardigans) and shoes in my initial ten, but at some point during the challenge I decided to switch the shoes for two more items of clothing. I ended up only adding one pair of leggings.

It was a frustrating exercise. The fun part was the companionship and camaraderie I felt with the women who participated on Instagram, but the getting dressed itself was annoying. My enjoyment of my clothes was somewhat diminished by the limitations of the exercise. My clothes are not useful and functional, they are playthings. I kind of feel like the minimalist and utilitarian approach to clothing can only suit those who don’t really care about clothes, but I know it is not true—many women who do capsule wardrobes and reduce their options love their clothes. So I don’t know where we differ, but this is not for me.

Which doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do it again as an exercise. It is good practice for vacation packing, for example, although I have been known to take ten items of clothing for merely an overnight trip.

My favorite outfits to wear were probably 4 and 5. 1 is a good contender also. I don’t know if I could name a least favorite—they were all pretty good. Maybe outfit 10 was out of my comfort zone a bit, with too much going on, and outfit 7, where the scarf annoyed me with its bulkiness.

That’s about it. I had a good time and I plan to do it again, given a chance. Nothing earth-shattering.

Bi-weekly (?) check-in

Haven’t been feeling very chatty in the past two weeks. I go through these phases of withdrawal regularly, when I can’t bring myself to talk to anyone, say anything about myself, and I generally just want to hide. I am surprise I still have any friends at all, considering this terrible behavior. I certainly don’t deserve the ones that I have.

My need to hide usually coincides with feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, when I feel like I have no reason to show my face out in the world because I haven’t been productive, useful, etc. These moments have become more frequent later and have made me understand one thing: the more I withdraw, the worst I feel. I am not my own best companion. So the instinct is not right, in this case. I should be looking for people in times of discouragement.

Not having been able to finish that New England story in time really brought my work to a standstill. I didn’t know what to pick up next and felt unproductive which in turn really made me not produce anything. Then the small kid got sick and didn’t let me sleep for several nights in a row, which drained me.

But I have been upping my gym frequency which I’m feeling good about. I even bought my first ever pair of sneakers, just because the elliptical was starting to hurt my feet after a while in the canvas shoes I wore to the gym. I am taking my Kindle and a water bottle with me in the evenings, when the husband is back from work, and retreating into the neighborhood gym for about one hour. So relaxing and satisfying! Although it hasn’t helped me lose any of the weight I’ve gained over the winter.

The weather has also improved around these parts, and I have been to the playground with the little kid two days in a row. I didn’t even take my Kindle with me, but instead just tried to enjoy being out and in the sun.

Have been watching Father Brown on Netflix every night. I enjoyed the first season the most. Maybe it was the lightest in mood, and it became increasingly darker.  Nothing is as satisfying as a good dose of darkness, but I was looking for more small town coziness in Father Brown. Still enjoying it nonetheless.

I read an article in the dentist’s office about the Twin Peaks revival. Has it aired yet? I haven’t checked, but I am almost afraid to watch it, because I’m afraid it will ruin it for me. It was interesting to see how the actors have aged in the promotional pictures. They all look very good. Was a bit disappointed not to see Lara Flynn Boyle in the cast. Donna was such a pivotal character and for some reason the one I identified with the most.

I finished reading The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and kind of hated it all the way. I just felt like it was going nowhere. Not a good feeling. I’m really not into the classic (old) narrative style at all anymore. Glad to be done with this one. It only reinforces my belief that good scary books are just very hard to find.

I am still working on the Daphne du Maurier biography, while also reading (mostly at the gym 🙂 ) Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough and Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly. Mayhem looks good, although I am bothered by the too many characters introduced too abruptly. But the Jack the Ripper London is fascinating. Ten Days in a Madhouse, is non-fiction. It started as an investigative reporting article and the book was originally published in the 1887 as a journalist’s first hand account of insane asylum conditions in those times. It is not the easiest read, both in terms of writing style and subject matter, but very interesting nonetheless, considering the unique perspective.

The weather has been much nicer these days so I got to go out without the winter jacket, or any jacket for that matter. I started a 10×10 challenge (10 outfits from 10 items of clothing) on Instagram to have some fun with clothes, and it’s going all right, although I have moments when I feel the anxiety of being trapped in the horror of only having a small assortment of clothes at my disposal. Clearly not cut out for minimalism.

I haven’t been wearing my scarves lately, since the black&white wardrobe experiment and I miss them. I bid on a beautiful silk square on eBay which was a sort of Japanese brush design, really pretty, but someone outbid be quickly, which I can’t say I feel too bad about: I prefer to buy on my thrift store trips, which are all sorts of fun, rather than by sitting my couch. But this scarf was a beauty and I have a feeling I am going to be looking for this exact one for a very long time. Still, I must trust my thrifting magic. It is going to come my way sooner or later. Just putting it out there. And it is something to look forward to. Instant gratification is for wussies.

 

Check-in this week

I am becoming slightly more involved lately with the Unitarian Universalist congregation in my town and over there every meeting starts with a “check-in”—where we go round the table and talk about our week, days, where we are. I always dread the check-in and never find anything of importance to say. But I am thinking I could do it regularly on the blog. I’m not good with sharing my inner workings, even with the people closest to me, so why not try to do shout it from rooftops in a more public space, right? Right. Here we go. (I’m sure you’re all curious just like me about how long this is going to last.)

This past week has not been one of the easiest and mainly because of the weekend snow storm that we were contemplating. My parents back in Romania have been gardening and basking in the sun for weeks now. But here spring always comes so late, it’s disheartening. Winter never leaves before it sucks out all the will to live we might have had. And thought the pattern repeats every year, I haven’t yet become used to it and don’t know when I will.

I am tired and I hate my winter coat so in spite of the cold this week I haven’t put in on. I have a lighter, unlined coat with only a minimal wool content (it’s 70% rayon and 30% wool). It fits me differently than the model, hitting close to the knee, and besides I have modified the hem a bit with a few darts to give it more of a balloon shape. I am enjoying it a lot. I can’t wait for sunnier days when I can wear my several long wool cardigans with only t-shirts underneath.

I had plans of finishing a New England short story for a particular publication but it proved more difficult than I though and the story just didn’t want to come to life. Although I have been collecting first-witness accounts of insane asylum stories, and that part has been fun.

I have been trying to finish a collection of horror tales called Nightmares, A New Decade of Modern Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow. I picked up the book while walking by the new additions shelf in our town library on the way to the children’s room, like I do all my library picks that are not digital. I’ve been observing how some stories are predictable and yet haunting, while others are highly original but don’t manage to keep my attention or capture my imagination. It’s a very good collection, though, I’d recommend it.

And yes, I am reading stories by men too. I am slowly relaxing my rules regarding reading only women writers, when it comes to genre fiction and non-fiction.

I am also progressing in the Daphne du Maurier biography. Biographies are usually my weakness and I go through them in no time, but this one, well, no so much. I can’t yet put my finger on it. Maybe I really cannot identify with the subject at all, or maybe it doesn’t offer as much depth into her character as I’d like.

But the book that has been slowing me down the most is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I mean, it’s well written but very slow and full of descriptions of this old house which are captivating only up to a point. I feel like the classic prose style adopted for this book is its downfall. It’s been touted as Gothic, but really, I can’t see where that comes in, except for the decrepit house character and a mere suggestion of the supernatural, but that doesn’t do it for me.

I ended our subscription to Acorn TV this month. I was hoping they would have a larger collection of British cozy mysteries and comedy, but most of it is drama, and I have enough of that on other channels. But I watched the whole Agatha Raisin (I always remember it as Agatha Apple) it is an adaptation of the novels of M.C. Beaton, who looks like a very interesting author who started by writing historical romance but ended up highly successful only when she switched to mystery. I’ve also watched a New Zealand based murder series called The Brokenwood Mysteries, which was light and good. The TV show is super fun, Agatha a very quirky character who tries to make light of being a single, middle aged woman trying to make a new home and create new relationships in a closed, somewhat unfriendly community.

Today it’s supposed to be warm and the snow is melting. I am afraid to check the weather prognosis going further. I don’t remember having missed the sun so much any other time. And I bet I forget yearly.

Minimalism on my mind

I must have been sucked in, at one time or another, every single trend that’s haunted the Internet since 2009 (random date, but I have a vague feeling that was when I started my first blog on Blogger—my daughter was then two years old). I’ve done the natural living, the resurgence of handmade (sewing, knitting, etc.), the gluten-free and Paleo diets, and now minimalism. I don’t even know who I am anymore. Is that what Internet does to us: makes us lose any authentic individuality we might have had? Or we do that any way, even without help from social media? Maybe a discussion we can have another time.

All these lifestyle trends have a laudable core philosophy which often appeals to the part of me that is stressed, isolated, insecure, and always overexposed to social media. But when the main message is about resisting blind consumerism and unhealthy lifestyles and finding what’s of real value, I cannot but appreciate. Until it all becomes too rigid, too exclusivist, and I see myself in the people who take it all too seriously. At that point all is left of the good intentions I had started with is nothing but guilt-dictated behaviors. That’s when I usually disengage.

My latest thing is minimalism. I thoroughly enjoyed this article in The Financial Diet, “Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy,” by Chelsea Fagan)—it’s a fun read.

But I do disagree. I mean, not entirely, because no doubt minimalism can be all that (elitist, obnoxious, etc). But it is also something else, to me: a mental exercise that helps reduce anxiety. It suits me, because my brain functions best when free of noise, clutter, and excessive stimulation. It’s not something that I particularly appreciate about myself, since I feel a creative temperament should thrive on an accumulation of diverse stimuli from the environment, people, etc. But maybe that’s just a stereotype too.

My minimalism right now is a large wardrobe filled with monochrome clothes with interesting silhouettes but minimal froufrou. I like minimalist design in everyday objects too, although sometimes that makes them less utilitarian, and that is just stupid (I want buttons on my TV, please, and spelled out menus on my software interfaces! Ugh!).

It’s not like I don’t see the beauty in detail and decoration, but that has been done in the past, and it has been done very well. Maybe minimalism is just an expression of a desire for change. Because, of course, minimalism is not new. It has reached mainstream now, which means that it might actually be toward the end of its life. In art, minimalism as a trend was born at the beginning of the twentieth century. I’ll always think of Constantin Brancusi’s art, today turned into mainstream jewelry by designers like Sophie Buhai, often without as much as a mention of the influence (ex. SB Totem Sculpture, which copies the iconic shape of Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column; not to speak of the SB egg pendant vs. Constantin Brancusi’s The Beginning of the World, only one of his many egg-shaped sculptures). Sorry for the little rant, but it has been bugging me for a while.

Minimalism might be attractive to me because it is more cerebral than ornate or realistic art. Literary minimalism is something I aspire to in my work too. (I found this old New York Times article a good introduction to literary minimalism.) I like short sentences, fragmented narratives, scarcity of description. I think unadorned, simple prose can be the most effective and beautiful. But at the same time, not easy to do. Which is fine, since I like projects anyway better than shiny, ready-finished products, and minimalism, with clothes or with words, is nothing if not a really promising project.

On depression, and from there to Karl Marx

It snowed last week, yesterday it snowed again and it will snow once more later this week.As much as we try to hygge our forced stay-in days, it’s not easy.

This winter, until now, hasn’t been too bad, where weather is concerned, but nonetheless it has been a hard one for me. I usually get a good influx of energy and positivity in January, when I start planning for new projects and in general feel like a new blank slate has been afforded to me and like a reset button has been hit and there is a renewed chance for something good to finally happen in the new year. But this time it has been different. January felt heavier than ever.

I turned forty in 2016, and that unexpectedly made a big difference. I still struggle with it. It’s like from 2007 I suddenly took a leap into 2017 it’s like I have now to account for the past ten years, not just the last one. And I don’t have much to show for it.

I could point to many places where I went wrong, where I could have done better, and I do it often, when I am alone and cannot sleep at night, which has been happening more frequently than ever before in my life. I could have written more. Submitted more. Could have had some good publishing credits to my name by now. I could have focused more, worked more, be less self-indulgent. And I end up even more discouraged and unfocused and unable to work or sleep (or alternatively just wanting to sleep all-day-long).

What I know I need to do is figure out what I can do better now. How I can help myself be able to do better.

I generally avoid calling what I feel depression, because I don’t want to equate my run of the mill low spirits with serious clinical depression that really incapacitates people and can (and should) only be managed with medication.

But I found this New York Magazine article, Psychologists Think They Found the Purpose of Depression, interesting, because it talks about the sort of manageable depressive episodes like I’m experiencing and offers something positive to take away from it. Depression is viewed as a time of disengaging with the world in order to focus on the inner self for finding solutions to the very problems that caused the depressive episode. It’s not a bad way of looking at it (neither is it a novel perspective).

I also found interesting the critical comments to the article and in particular the mention of Marx’s theory of alienation. Maybe I should read some Karl Marx one of these days, but I am afraid that in spite of agreeing with many of his views, I really won’t be able to get over his way of expressing them, which may be just antiquated but it sounds very sexist and upsetting, even when he expresses support for equal treatment of women. Here are two such pretty horrifying examples:

A direct consequence of the alienation of man from the product of his labour, from his life activity and from his species-life, is that man is alienated from other men. … man is alienated from his species-life means that each man is alienated from others, and that each of the others is likewise alienated from human life. (Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts)

Joking aside, great progress was evident in the last Congress of the American “Labour Union” in that among other things, it treated working women with complete equality. While in this respect the English, and still more the gallant French, are burdened with a spirit of narrow-mindedness. Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex (the ugly ones included). (Marx and Engels Correspondence, 1968)

Eye roll warranted—this is one of those about hygge

1applesSometimes I feel like this is one of the most important lessons I am supposed to be learning: being content with the small things I already have. I am guessing this is true for most of us.

I have been born privileged: healthy, of serviceable intelligence, and of middle class means. From the start there were no limits to the dreams I could dream, which I took for granted.

Life didn’t turn out bad for me; on the contrary. But it didn’t lead where I was thinking it would either. I find myself at this age questioning decisions, abilities, everything, unable to find peace with my life. They call that something, don’t they?

I think there is something in these concepts that are being thrown at us a lot nowadays, of hygge (a Danish feeling of comfort and well-being)  and lagom (Swedish for “adequate” or “just right”).

This New Yorker article titled The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy gave me a lot of pause for though, because, yes, these nations are reportedly happier than other peoples, in spite of living in environments that are cold and seem adverse to any kind of joyful living. So do they have the answer? Is this it? Should we try to find our happiness in the small things that are plentiful in our days instead of always dreaming big, and often being let down over and over again?

I mean, obviously, not a very American concept, is it? The American culture has been so aggressively individualistic and proud of it that I doubt such ideas will take root here any time soon. Because for this philosophy to work, you must be somewhat community minded. Being content with little means that more of us can partake of the good life. Some of us have to tone down our aspirations in order for all of us to get a chance at dreaming at all. And I am more than fine with that. I think it’s the only ethical way to live.

When we value our lives in financial wealth, we limit ourselves to this world we already have: unhappy, skewed, stressful, violent, intolerant. We choose the path of fear and trembling because of the promise of greater rewards, which logically can only be bestowed upon few, we know too well, but we convince ourselves that we are indeed among those few, because we, each of us, are the special, chosen ones.

We end up despising the small good things that are already within our reach and invalidate their power to make us happy, because we need to stay hungry on the path of fear and trembling. The choices we’ve made as humanity are just mind-boggling, if you look at them with the right attitude.

Of course it is easier to go on and philosophize about how to solve the problems of all humanity instead of dealing with my own state of despondency. I do what I can. Now I’ll try to relax and seep some imaginary herbal tea. Because the actual instant coffee in my cup just doesn’t sound hygge enough—in the hipster and instagrammable understanding of the word. Not that I have a better understanding of it at all, which you must have gleaned by now, and which I’d never let stop me from the enjoyment of writing about it.

My luck with eyeglasses (and how I’ll maybe change it)

1brokenglassesThe worst luck with glasses. I’ve been having it. At least lately. Since I’ve caved and started buying plastic frames. That is only in the past year, when I’ve had two frames break on me already. Ugh!

I used to buy only metal frames, and titanium at that. Never ever before in my life have I had glasses break. I had loose screws, disintegrating nose pads, and chipping paint, most issues easy to deal with (well, not the paint chipping part, that is quite irreparable, but it doesn’t make the glasses unusable).

But of course a victim of trends that I am, I’ve had to have plastic frames, because they seem more stylish. I still cannot stand plastic, why do I want to wear it on my face every day? I really can’t tell you, except that I’m vain and I haven’t been able to track a pair of wearable, affordable, vintage natural-horn frames (but dream big!).

And . . . it works! I just took a small break from the writing of this post to search ebay again for horn frames and what do you think? No, I didn’t find anything there, but Google did direct me to this great-looking company, Penn Avenue Eyewear, which makes buffalo horn frames that are not exorbitant in price! And they all look so good!

3005chester3_front7
(Note: I edited this post to update the picture of the horn frame so it shows the exact frame that I ended up choosing for myself.)

Hello, baby!

But of course, this realization had to come just after I have already placed an order of new glasses, which I am sorely regretting already. Here they are.

Ray-Ban 4383_f

Not too bad looking, right?

Unfortunately, though, they are of course plastic again (with some metal, for good measure this time). And that is not even their biggest problem. These frames are Ray-Bans, and, as I also just discovered today, Ray-Ban is an American brand owned by an Italian company (!), Luxottica, which, has very unpleasant business practices. As unveiled by this very edifying CBS News exposé linked below, Luxottica dictates eyewear prices in US because it holds something that is very close to a monopoly on the American market. They own stores like Sunglass Hut, the largest sunglasses chain in the world, and LensCrafters, the largest eyewear retailer in North America, and they run Target Optical and Sears Optical; they also own best-selling brands like Ray-Ban and Oakley, and they own the second-largest vision care plan, EyeMed (they kind of dropped the ball there with only the second largest).


I promise that if you watch this video, you will not want to give any of your money to this company anymore.

So obviously, my New Year resolution is that I must buy my glasses from companies like Penn Avenue Eyewear, who not only offer what to me is amazing value (real horn, the dream of dreams!), but they do business in a way that I can appreciate: they donate 10% of every order to charity (the buyer can select from several charity options). I am in no way connected with this company, but I am super excited to have done this research and have found them. I know there are other online eyewear companies that escape the control of Luxottica: Warby Parker is one of them, for example, and Made Eyewear and David Kind seem to follow a similar model. But real horn has my heart. Soon, my lovelies, soon!

P.S. I just wanted to edit this post because I realized I didn’t mention that buying glasses online is not new for me and I am fully comfortable with it. I have bought glasses online from GlassesUSA.com several times in the past years and I’ve been very happy with their service, so at this point I am completely convinced that buying online is the way to go. But, if you want to avoid Luxottica and still buy from store, apparently Walmart and Cosco are not in their network.

Cognitive closure

1cognitive-closureI have recently read an article that was trying to explain the terrifying results of our election with the need, which becomes acute in times of crisis, for cognitive closure: people simply felt they couldn’t process too many details, too much information—they wanted a simple message that they could subscribe to. And didn’t they get it?

But ever since reading that I have been observing how the concept of cognitive closure applies to everything in my daily life. My life has not been in crisis, far from it, but I am an anxious, overly-sensitive type, and a lot of small things feel extreme to me.

For example, I fault my decision to wear only black and white to my need for cognitive closure: I just don’t want to think about matching colors, patterns, etc.

1cognitiveclosure

Writing is of course the main area where I can notice the phenomenon. I cannot work on multiple projects at once. I have a friend (the multi-talented Rachel Fenton) who has a system of working on her novels, poetry, graphics on the same day, depending on her state of mind, time of the day, level of disturbance from children, etc. I envy her so much. My tiny brain cannot hold multiple ideas at the same time and in order to keep myself from burning out I need to focus on only one thing for weeks even.

I think I am trying to find ways in which it is okay, excusable, understandable. Because it is. We can’t be open to everything all the time. Sometimes it’s okay to shut down for self-preservation. But even if it’s okay, the ideal, the ultimate goal is still to open ourselves up, rather than close down. Most progress is achieved that way.