Guilty Pleasures? No Guilt Here

Recently a guy friend of mine asked me about my guilty pleasures. I’m not sure if he wasguilty-pleasures fishing for grubby details, but after giving it a few minutes the only thought I came up with was.. well nothing. If its pleasurable, I tend to not feel guilty about doing it.

Mostly I feel guilty about things I don’t do. Oh boy is THAT list long. Not going to the gym, not giving that document one last edit, not eating any vegetables that day, not calling my dearest friend (sorry FF! you know how I get), not putting more into my retirement account. I spend hours, days, years even feeling guilty about shit I didn’t do. Its basically 90% of what’s in my brain at any one time.. even as I drift off to sleep. My brain is so full of guilty, I don’t think I have room left to start feeling guilty about the stuff I enjoy doing, and then actually do. So in response to my friend, here’s a few of my ‘I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about’ pleasures.

  • Loving Megan Trainor. I may be 45 but I still like to dance in the kitchen to unabashed girl anthems. I blame a 50 yr old dad for my obsession… apparently, they’re into chick anthems too. And hey, at least I’m not a Bieber-Believer.
  • Liberally using the word ‘fuck’. I know it’s a sign of low wit, but it’s a flourish I developed aged 12 and I just love the feel and sound of it coming out of my mouth.
  • Researching the latest high fashion trends for hours before buying the same tee shirt, jeans, boots wardrobe I’ve been wearing since 21. Its awesome knowing velvet shoes, baggy pants and high collared shirts are the thing… even better to know I’ll not be wearing them.
  • Going to bed at 8.30pm. I’m sure, in fact I know, I’m missing out but in return I gain 10 solid hours of sleep and the face of a 35 yr old.. well until gravity kicks back in.
  • Not having kids. I hear they’re delicious but like roasting lamb or snorting coke, just not really something I ever wanted to do.
  • Buying $80 bras online the moment I get paid. With boobs this size, it’s not underwear, its fucking architecture and who cares about a rich retirement if my boobs have to drag on the floor to get there?
  • Never reading ‘motivational’ slogans or articles about self-improvement. I have obsessive compulsion disorder so motivation and drive is something I have to medicate just to be able to relax. I click for ‘do nothing’ ‘change nothing’ and ‘think less’.
  • Screwing the laundry, the cleaning and errands to go for a long hike or ride instead. Dust doesn’t age but I am.. so I’m doing fun stuff as long as I can. I’ll clean when I’m 80.

What are your ‘not guilty about’ pleasures? If you don’t have any, I sincerely advise you get some post haste.

Lady Rage

rageI recently attended a workshop where the discussion of anger management came up. Since the last time I can recall feeling really miffed was when my ex moved out taking one of my books.. it wasn’t a subject I had much opinion or need for.

Oh how wrong I was.

When  asked to think about the physical effects of anger, all of the seeming rational, calm men in the group immediately threw out a practically uniform list of attributes; seeing red, getting flushed, becoming blinkered to everything else, shortness of breath, clenched fists, sweating and taking a wide stance. Presumably this one is to allow for the massive expansion of balls.. or do men get erections when they get angry?  I guess it didn’t come up. Overall.. the responses that you’d expect when facing a large predator or Donald Trump.

Meanwhile all of the women in the group just looked confused. The responses I heard included; “I don’t really feel angry” or  ” I swear inside my car”, “I just swallow it” or (most familiar to me) “I start crying”.

Yep.. really helpful in those ‘fight or flight’ situations.

As much as I hate to tread that whole ‘biology’ trope, it was clear.. men are really used to and conditioned to deal with anger. Women.. we don’t seem to even admit that it exists or when we encounter it, we’re unable to deal with the feeling – the unbridled, uncontrollable, power of anger..and we’re too afraid (or conditioned) to express it. It’s too uncomfortable. And as ‘laydees’ we’re all brought up to stuff those uncomfortable feelings down as quickly and permanently as possible.

I thought back to the times I’ve actually been really angry – seeing red, losing control, balling up my fists fury- and I couldn’t come up with anything. Certainly not in adulthood.

26 years. 1 divorce, several heart breaks, numerous indignities, insults and betrayals. No anger that I can recall. I did call my ex out for ‘smelling bad’ and I’ve called people ‘mean’. But rage..fury… anger… ? Nada.

The women at the workshop… the best we could come up with was passing irritation towards inconsiderate drivers, annoying partners or friends, or frustration. But the symptoms felt by men, or expressed by men.. We just didn’t have the experience.

We didn’t need an anger management discussion. We needed a ‘how to feel anger’ course. A ‘stop swallowing this shit’ retreat. A certificate in ‘expressing anger externally’.

So there and then I committed to exploring my ‘lady rage’.

I know I have stuff I must be angry about. Things which make me teary-eyed to remember or stuff I don’t even want to remember because it makes me uncomfortable. I’ve had my fair share of let downs, humiliations and mistreatment. And god knows, I have a whole state of rudeness and bad driving to get started with.

Next time I feel uncomfortable, when I’m so frustrated that I’m fighting back tears or trying to hold it all in.. I’m going to clench my fists, widen my stance and let my lady balls grow. I am going to experience my anger, my fury, my rage.

Lady rage.. coming to a woman near you.

Sidebar: I Googled ‘angry woman’ for an image, but was faced by women with their arms crossed, fingers pointed or steam coming out of their ears. Clearly even Google can’t find a woman who actually looks angry. Unless she is black. There were lots of black angry women. Grrr. That’s a WHOLE other post.

Hang onto your uterus

Low Hurdle RaceWhile most of the Olympics passed me by (I can’t get excited about people who are swathed from head to toe in bad outfits), one fact did catch my eye and stuck in my brain.

This, 2014, was the first year that women were allowed to compete in the ski jump.

Okaaaaay? And….?

The reason they were precluded from participating from 1924 through 2010;

“Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view,” Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation (2005).

So, basically they thought our uterus’s were going to fall out.

“All women’s parts, tissues, and fibres were finer and more delicate than men’s, because their grace, beauty, and gentleness had to be preserved and because overly fatiguing activities tended to produce rheumatism, muscle inflammation, nervous exhaustion, and premature ageing, and worst of all, endangered their ‘peculiar function of multiplying the species,’ it was noted by Donald Walker in 1836,’women should not be encouraged to exercise’.

Now I don’t know about you but I’ve never considered the idea that women having babies ‘peculiar’ but hey, Mr Walker clearly was of the ‘ladies are but a delicate flower’ school of thought. And landing a jump from 2 meters in the air? Clearly our uterus would just fly up out of our bodies and impede our ‘peculiar functions’. Also of note, Mr Walker cautioned against ladies horse riding as it ‘deforms the lower extremities’.

I think he was confusing ‘deformity’ with ‘firm thighs’.

Which got me thinking about other sports that women weren’t supposed to do, and were actively prohibited from doing in case their lady parts were affected.

Running

According to strength coach Michael Boyle, who penned the infamous ‘Why women shouldn’t run’ article (2010), ‘the only good runner is a women who looks like a man. Because men were made for running and women weren’t’.

Yes… let that sink it a bit.

So if you have say, breasts or hips, Mr Boyle suggests, you’re more likely to wind up in the doctors office with the result ‘likely to be hurt and saggy instead of the cute and little’.

Never mind everything that’s wrong with that statement,there’s actually a long and storied history of women being excluded from running races alongside men. And its not through lack of desire, or a fear of  becoming ‘hurt and saggy’.

In the first Olympics (1000 BC) women are excluded, yet the urge to compete was such that women established their own ‘Games of Hera’, to honor the Greek goddess who ruled over women and the earth and yes, included a short foot race. Oh, and one lady decided to run the marathon (illegally) anyway and was forced to run the final lap outside the stadium as she was banned from entering. She finished in 4.5 hours.. in case you were wondering (not as fast as Oprah, but hey, the chick didn’t have shoes or a sports bra).  No record was made as to whether her uterus fell out during this run, but I’m going to take a leap and say it probably didn’t.

The Olympic committee finally allowed women to run – at all- in 1928 (after the British team boycotted the 1924 event), but after witnessing ‘the exhausted state’ seen in some of the females finishing the 800m event, officials deemed distance running too stressful for women, and women were restricted to Olympic races shorter than 200 meters (half way around a regular track) until 1960 (where 800m was added back to the program). (Apparently uteri only fell out after a lap)

But it still took until 1984 before women were allowed to run the Olympic marathon. At which point, the Olympic committee finally had a women on its board who no doubt argued that no uteri would litter the track and we’d keep our ‘exhaustion’ to ourselves.

Soccer

In 1921, England’s Football Association banned women from playing soccer on Football League grounds because the game was deemed “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” This ban came hot on the heels of the December 26th match  between two ladies teams at Goodison Park in Liverpool in front of a crowd of  53,000 people. 10,000 people had to be locked out of the park due to overcrowding.

Clearly people were lining up to see those uterus’s flying.

Unbelievably this ban stood for 50 years and it was only in 1995 that a national women’s league was established, with a professional league following in 2001…no doubt aided by this photo (taken in 2000). Suddenly men were a whole lot less concerned about our uterus’s if sports bras were on view.

AP QUICK HITS THE 99ERS S SOC FILE USA CANOTE: Brandi now has kids, so we can assume her uterus remained in place and functional despite all that running around.

Cycling

With the introduction of the bicycle in 1817, you’d assume we’d have had more time to make some major strides in this area, but nope.. concern about our lady parts and our modesty prevailed right from the get go.

Since the corsets and skirts of the day made cycling safely near impossible, the adoption of the ‘bloomer’ became the centerpiece of the women’s suffrage movement with the launch of the ‘Rational Dress’ movement in 1851.

“The Rational Dress society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movement of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly fitted corsets, of high-heeled or narrow toed boots and shoes; of heavily weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible.”

Women, previously limited in their movements, found a new freedom and sense of self control when riding a bike, most famously recorded in 1895 by Francis E. Willard in ‘How I learned to ride the bicycle’. (its a fascinating read if you have 20 minutes). Francis concluded that ‘all failure was from wobbling will, rather than a wobbling wheel’. She also assured fellow lady riders to the ‘healthfulness of the wheel’ noting ‘it will be delight to girls to learn that the fact of their sex, is itself, not a bar to riding a wheel’ and that ‘she is in no more danger from riding a wheel than a man’. Francis.. I salute you.

Unfortunately society’s response was less liberal and the bicycle it was argued, would ‘disrupt the delicate sphere of the family unit by allowing the woman to travel beyond her previous limits without the surveillance of a knowing husband nearby’. Younger women  were ‘vulnerable to a bicycle induced lapse in morals, for it allowed her to stray farther a field with members of the opposite sex during courtship’.

Maybe this is why women weren’t allowed to ride in the Tour De France until this year (2014). In fact, the UCI, World cycling’s governing body restricts women’s stage races to eight days in length, with each stage no more than 130 kilometers.

Clearly the urge to keep women within 80 miles of their menfolk still holds some sway today. And while studies are still urging women to protect their lady parts… these days it more about ensuring you don’t damage your ability to orgasm rather than keeping that damn uterus in place.

So if the thought ever strikes you that women don’t need to keep banging on about equality and that the days of sexism are long gone…spare a thought for those lady riders who’ll get to ride a whole single stage of the TdF this July. Distance has yet to be announced.

Complaint Free! … well for about 4 hours

Complaint DepartmentMonday afternoon I spent a good 90 minutes with my therapist trying to figure out why my two abhorrent friends (Debbie Downer and Negative Nelly) have come for an extended stay.

Yes. I have a therapist.

No.. I’m not ‘one of thoooooose people’

But I am all in favor of therapists. Especially when you live alone without a significant other, your family is 3200 miles away and you don’t want every social occasion to turn into a Dr Phil moment. Yes, friends can be great to unload on, to discuss ‘what should I do’ decisions or ‘why did I do that’ moments.. but they’re only human and its not fair to ask them to gaze at your navel for hours every week.

My chesticals maybe… navel… not so much.

So I like to spread my musing around a bit, and if I have to pay one of them.. its worth every penny. Plus she has mints.

Anyhow, after both of us navel gazed for an age about my startling negativity of late, she suggested that I go ‘complaint free’ for 21 days.

Somewhat like any recovery program (but drinking allowed), the goal to go without complaining, ‘negging’ , moaning, being rude or sharp, critical, whining or gossiping for 21 consecutive days. At the end of which you’ve apparently broken the habit.. aaaaaaand hopefully not been sectioned to the local pysch ward or recruited by the Mormons.

21 days without a single negative word? Now that’s a challenge for a Brit. We’re brought up on moaning. Its second nature to be sarcastic and don’t get me starting on complaining. Its wrapped around every strand of our DNA. Brits are polite to a fault, but behind closed doors or under our breath, its a whole other story. We need it. All that rain, dealing with the class system, lack of ice and foreskins… you need to moan a bit.

This challenge was designed for me. If challenge means ‘literally impossible’, ‘requires no training’ and ‘doesn’t involve heights’. This is my Annapurna. I may check out North Face and see if they have anything suitable to assist me in this herculean task. A gag perhaps?

What do I have to lose? It might help me kick my inner Eeyore to the curb before I get fired and if I fail? I’ve been a bit nicer for a bit.

To help with recording complaints, (since complaining doesn’t give you a hangover or cost anything), you wear an elastic band on your wrist. Every time you complain, whine, moan or bitch, you switch the band to the other wrist. Goal = band stays on the same wrist for 3 weeks. If you switch the band just once … you go back to Day 1. You don’t get to progress to Day 2 until you’ve made it a whole 24 hours without complaint. And even if you’re on day 20, one moan and you’re back to Day 1.

Now this doesn’t mean that you’re sallying around chattering about butterflies and unicorns; you’re not expected to become Tony Robbins either. This isn’t thought police either – you can think whatever you want.. but the words. The words can’t be negative or gossipy or mean or rude. And if the facts invite a negative discussion, you have to stick.to.the.exact.facts. Without adding a tone, a sneer, a sarcastic remark or chiming in on someone else’s negative moment. If you have nothing positive or neutral to say, you say nothing.

For those who know me… stop laughing. I’m not that bad.

Except I am. *sigh*

I invite you to try it for just a single conversation with someone you know well. Its so very  ridiculously strange. And alarming to realize how much you say without actually saying very much at all. Suddenly I realize how often my default is sarcasm or rudeness. How sharp I can be in simply stating facts and under pressure?

Not surprisingly I’m three days in and still on Day 1.

Day 1 (my first Day 1), started out easy. I live alone and I didn’t have any calls for a few hours. By 4pm I’d made it through 2 conference calls and not a harsh word, sarcastic comment or criticism made. I was verging on smug, after I’d been warned ‘you’ll be on Day 1 for quite a while’, here I was only a few hours from bedtime and, well, call me Miss Positivity.

Until I stepped outside to walk the dog and ran into a neighbor.

We chatted for about – ooooo – 10 minutes. By which time I’d switched the band about 5 times. My mind was scrambling to try to direct our conversation away from complaints to something positive, something neutral… but I couldn’t help it. I dived right it and complained along with her. I literally couldn’t stop my mouth from moving even as my brain was screaming ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOO’.

Later on the phone with a friend I resolved to make it through one of our usual hour long chats without a complaint or a negative comment, even though I’d already fucked my Day 1 chances of moving to Day 2. After a while I noticed that having to pay 100% attention to her words (and mine), not only energized the shit out of me, but I felt good. Really good. For no reason. Now obviously chatting with a friend should make you feel good. You’re connecting, your laughing, you’re nattering on about nothing… its fun. That’s why you’re friends. But this was something else. As I hung up the phone, I felt … well… joy.

In really engaging with her, focusing on the great things happening in her life, I found myself talking about the awesomeness that is going on with me. She responded to my positivity in kind and in an hour, my mood was positively giddy with joy. Something that I’d not been able to locate for myself with a therapist or a bottle of wine. Apparently focusing on the positive…. makes you positive?

Day 2 (though its still Day 1 according to my wrist). A full day of conference calls and face to face meetings, and by mid day I’ve noticed that I need to give my full attention to each meeting in order to stay positive and factual. I’m more careful when I speak, and I’m actually having to think about my words before I use them (first time in 42 years kids!). I still failed to make it through the day without a neg sentence, but my awareness of doing it – switching my elastic band each time – helped me try harder with each call. And most strange of all, I felt more positive overall. I was excited about work. I noticed more of the good, less of the stuff which generally drives me nuts. Its so unbelievably weird.

If your life is really determined by your thoughts, and your words reflect those thoughts. Then words really do matter. But can you really change your thoughts, by changing your words? I don’t know, but I’m interested to find out where this goes.

I’ll be over here, snapping my elastic band and frantically trying to steer the conversation away from the weather.

Charity or Moral Judgement. You choose

CharityCharity, and socially pressured charitable giving is something I’ve found unique to the US. Back in the UK, charity is limited to fun runs, random treks across weird places and the bi annual ‘bring and bake sale’ for the local church roof.

See in the UK, there is a welfare state so most citizens don’t need a food bank. In fact, I’m not sure if they even exist over there. I never heard of them and we weren’t exactly shopping at Whole Foods/ Waitrose back in the day. While people are definitely in need in the UK, charity is more invisible, maybe less urgent(?) because the state takes care of so many basic needs. You know, the things Uncle Hairdo (aka Mitt Romney) thought weren’t ‘rights’ for the basic American; food, housing, water, healthcare. In the UK (and most if not all of the EU), the state takes care of the poor, the sick and those who can’t provide for themselves. So charity.. when it happens, tends to be oriented towards those causes which – lets be honest – while important, don’t mean the difference between kids going hungry and not.

Having grown up in a country where charity and charitable donations were optional, often linked to a medical cure, support or local community needs, charity wasn’t something I thought a lot about. I gave when someone rattled a tin at me, I contributed my $25 to anyone who ran a marathon (god bless their insanity) and willingly brought and bought cakes to fund local village needs. But I’d never, ever, been pressured into giving until I moved to the US.

Now charity is defined as ‘ benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity’ and ‘generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering‘.

Charity is not defined as ‘being made to give to a worthy cause or be judged as a terrible human being’. But apparently some people have forgotten this.

My first interaction with charity was via my (then) companies annual ‘United Way’ campaign. I noticed the posters around the office and thought ‘oh, how lovely, they raise awareness for those in need as a company’. How benevolent.

3 days later I received an email from my office lead noting that ‘you haven’t yet contributed to the United Way campaign’ and noting that ‘While charity is a choice, as a company we aim for 100% of our employees to participate in this event’.

Wow. It didn’t seem like much of a choice, and the tone of the note certainly wasn’t benevolent. More ‘The Krays’ than ‘Kris Kringle’. But, being me, tell me I have to do something and suddenly my heels develop crampons and I’ll obstinately dig roots in my refusal to participate.

The next note raised the level of threat to ‘orange’ by reminding me that ‘Here at <Jackass.org>, we pay our employees extremely generously’ and that the requested contribution of $25 a month was ‘a trivial amount’ that would make a ‘huge difference’ to the campaign (and, I’m assuming their participation %) while having a ‘negligible impact’ on my net pay.

Now this was back in the 90’s and $300 was a huge number to someone who’s monthly rent was $750, but I’m guessing the partners at the ‘generous’ company didn’t factor in that not everyone was taking home 6 or 7 figures every year.  I dug in my heels even further and decided to proactively boycott United Way (and the corporate ninnies who were driving it), by donating my money directly to people I could see were in need.

Aka. Bums.

Denver is filled with homeless people. Drug addicts, drunks, mentally unwell folks and kids who’ve escaped who knows what. Sleeping under bridges, in doorways and sadly, under bushes in my local park. All of them could use something and I decided that my $25 a month was going directly into the dirty, shaking hands of someone who wasn’t strong arming me into giving. Screw United Way. Screw corporate ‘giving’ campaigns. And if I chose to hand out ‘after tax’ profits without a thought for the tax implications (gosh.. I could have saved a whole…ooo. $30 on that $300) then I consider it giving just a little bit more.

Its not the giving that I object to. Its the strong arming. The moral judgement being made. All so that Jackass.org can say ‘we donated $X to United Way in 1996’ in their recruiting brochures and sales pitches. But how much of that came from the actual company itself? 1%, 2%… 3% if you’re lucky. So my ‘generosity’ is being used to pimp the company’s image? Grrrrrr.

Which brings me to this weekend when I was asked to donate at the checkout counter not once, but three times. At the same store. My the same Whole Foods checkout clerk.

‘Are you able to make a charitable contribution to the local food bank today Miss?’

Gah!

The phrasing ‘are you able?’ prompts me to announce to my fellow shoppers that I am not only able to pay for my overpriced local, organic vegetables, but hey.. I’m loaded dont’cha know? Saying ‘no’ would be the equivalent of admitting ‘actually I’m not sure if my debit card is even going to pay for these suckers’ and who’s doing that in a line full of well dressed, Lexus driving neighbors.

Never mind that I spent my summer gardening, growing local organic vegetables specifically for a local food bank (we donated 2,500lbs of fresh produce over a 10 week period).. if I say no, my fellow shoppers look disdainfully at me and my cashier doesn’t even try to hide her embarrassment at my lack of warm heartedness.

So instead I say ‘sure’ and donate my $5. Hating her. Hating the line of people all sagely nodding ‘ah.. a good person’ even though I might be going home to whip my children with these local carrots and chastise my dog with a parsnip.

Whole Foods prides itself on ‘giving back’ to the communities that it serves, but when every shopping trip turns into a moral adjudication of my charitable spirit, I’d actually rather that they didn’t involve me in that. They’re not giving back. I AM.

And I’ve chosen my choice. I chose to donate directly through actual food. Which I did. All summer. So while I still hand out my $5s and $10s to people on the street and feed those rattling cans at Christmas, if anyone else asks me if I am able to donate while I’m buying some Dawn and toothpaste, I think the only legitimate response is ‘Bah humbug’.

 

 

 

Must.Buy.All.The.Things!!!

shoppingI don’t watch a lot of network TV, and my online reading is limited to a few news sources so I was surprised to find myself gripped by an urge to go nutso along with the rest of ‘Merica this Black Friday and ‘Buy. All. The. Things’.

In fact, such was the urge to suddenly buy things which I’d not previously registered as ‘necessary’ or even ‘essential’ (‘I need a 40 inch flat-screen TV for $99. I do. I do. I really really need that’) that I found myself putting on my shoes before I’d actually registered what I was doing. I decided to take off my shoes and have another cup of tea (it was after all only 7am and I’d not even brushed my teeth), in order to take a grip of my sanity and figure out what the hell was going on with my psyche.

After all, waking up and suddenly wanting a 40 inch tv isn’t the behavior of sane and normal person. Shoes – yes- but a TV? (I’ve had the same 32 inch one since 2007 and it works just fine. Its never crossed my mind to replace it with something 8 inches bigger for no reason). But the urge.. where did it come from? I mean I need a new mattress. I want new motorcycle boots. I need to fix my car bumper.. but a TV? WTF? Left field doesn’t begin to describe it.

I did wonder if I had been watching more TV than usual and perhaps had been catching one too many Best Buy ads, but upon examination, it’s been pretty much a menu of Nurse Jackie and AMC movies for the last few weeks. None of which feature advertisements. (though Nurse Jackie has got me rethinking my haircut)

Was it the magazines I read? I checked, but the closest The New Yorker gets to ads is a placement for a ‘Genuine Men’s French Beret’ that’s been running for about 50 years, and retirement communities in Kiwah Island. No TVs shouting at me from those pages.

I scanned my weekly New York Magazine, but their ads consist mainly of Broadway shows (safe-I hate musicals) and apartment porn that is neither a) within my financial reach or b) daily commutable to Colorado. Sure, the apartments all had TVs, but the photos mainly focus on designer kitchen’s, 14 foot ceilings and windows. Non of which do I wake up yearning for.

I wondering how I’d got this ‘must have new TV or may expire’ desire from. Has my Kindle been subliminally sending me messages when I’m nodding off to sleep? Has my Phone started dialing Best Buy…

hang on…

..my phone.

From which I check Facebook and Google…

A lot.

I opened Facebook and there is was. The right hand ad column.

I opened my latest Google search.. again, the right hand column.

TVs, TVs and oh, more TVs.

Apparently while I’ve not ever searched for TVs, considered a new TV or even shopped at some of the stores who were advertising,  Facebook and Google decided I needed one. TODAY.

Which got me thinking at the frighteningly awesome control that subliminal, cursory advertising can have on your sub conscious mind, even though I know for sure, I’ve never actually looked at these ads before. I thought I was looking at everyone’s Thanksgiving pics and sending messages to family, but nope.. I was actually being bombarded with messages about my TV inadequacy. I can only assume that in the days leading up to Black Friday, these ads have been silently going about their work, planting the seeds of desire until today when the first leaves poked through, and I had an overwhelming desire to head down to Walmart (I know. The Shame) and snag myself one of those super cheap TVs that I don’t need or want.

Now I understand that Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail and the rest have to make money, but I’d really like to request that they at least sent subliminal messages based on my shopping habits and previously expressed desires. Those, I’m willing to be tugged along by. Yes, I really really want those shearling lined Frye boots and I’m ok with you reminding me for the next month and a half, but I resent being bombarded with ads for shit I don’t need or want, from companies I loathe and actively boycott.

What I found strange however was the ads that I don’t see on my Facebook page or my Hotmail inbox. Those new shocks for my motorcycle I was Googling? Never seen those again. Yoga pants and haircuts? Nada. Merino wool sweaters and lingerie from UK stores? What about vitamins and dog toys? Clearly some companies don’t have the bucks to sponsor ongoing taunting. But Walmart… never shopped there.. never will… has the money. And is determined to make me a consumer.

So what’s the solution? I clearly should stop using Facebook but my day needs some distractions and there are only so much actual news I want to read. I like knowing that my sister is running again and that I missed a really tough WOD (though those people playing Candy Crush really should get a life. Yes I’m talking to you Mum).  I like feeling connected to my friends back in the UK and all over the world.. so I guess that’s out.

I could stop using the internet to research products and services that I need or want to buy, but then I loathe shopping and Denver isn’t an ‘epic’ retail center unless you’re in the market for yoga pants, hiking boots or really hip fashions from 1992. Unfortunately online shopping is a part of life (especially since I decided to ditch REI as my main source for clothing) so I guess I need to figure something else out.

Which takes me to the source. The origin of all this data and information about me that seems to be shared with advertisers so quickly and efficiently.

Google.

I need to stop using Google.

After all, they are the most efficient and profitable search engine based on their ability to collect and sell my data to advertisers. If I don’t use Google, I won’t stop the sharing of my searches, but I sure can slow them down or limit them. (After all, there is a reason Bing is #2 and Yahoo pretty much obsolete. Their big data manipulation sucks).

Why should you care? This site explains it in cartoon stylin’ and a lovely example (herpes anyone?). Now I know some of my searches I don’t ever want popping up when someone’s looking over my shoulder (my CEO caught me bra shopping a few months back and my company has since explicitly banned all lingerie sites via our firewall), plus Google is just a bit too smug for my taste these days. ‘Don’t be Evil’ might be their mantra, but having me wake up yearning for a TV because Walmart paid them a butt load of money to push the idea onto every site I access, isn’t my idea of a ‘ethical’.

Unfortunately I had to use Google to find alternatives as I pretty much ran out of options once I’d typed Bing (irony), but there’s a surprising number of engines out there who don’t track, store or sell your data.

  • DuckduckGo.com is not only cute, fun to say and clean to use (plus its figure head Ducky makes me smile), they don’t track or sell your data.
  • ixquick.com results look freakishly like Google (they even had the same order of links), but again, the don’t track or store your searches.

And if you’re not that bothered about your data, how about doing some good with your searching and using one of the charitable search engines (shop AND donate by searching)?

  • Goodsearch.com tells you how much money has been raised by people who are using the search engine, plus you can choose the charity that you want your pennies to be sent to
  • EveryClick.com same deal but targets UK charitable organizations specifically

You might decide that stepping away from Google, (and the lure of 40 inches of plasma awesomeness) isn’t the effort or the time, but don’t say you haven’t been warned. If you wake up with a yen for a new Xbox One or an Surface Pro 2 in two weeks, you have only yourself to blame.

Whoop whoop! Time to celebrate

connected worldIts October 29th, that day we’ve all be waiting for. Time to down keyboards, straighten your back and thank Al Gore for that beaut we call ‘the innernet’.

Yep, Today is International Internet Day.

I know… break out the Verve Cliquot.

See kids, before the age of the iPhone, the Xbox or even Hotmail, the only thing you plugged into a cable was the phone (or a wire tap if you worked for the CIA). No Facebook, no search engines and basically every time you wanted to know something you either a) made it up,  b) trudged to the library, c) watched ‘Tomorrows World’ (BBC1 Thursday nights) or d) asked your parents. And since only nerds went to the library and you sure as hell weren’t asking your parents what kind of career involved a blow job, well kids.. we all basically knew shit nothing about nothing.

I remember (because I’m old), the first time I ‘went online’. It was week 4 of my first job in management consulting and my boss came in with a laptop (itself a modern marvel – its a computer but you can CARRY it!!). He plugged it into the phone and suddenly we were transfixed by the peeps and sqwerks it started making. About 3 minutes later (I know.. right?), a screen popped up and he announced “we are ONLINE”. My colleague and I had no idea what that meant, so we just smiled and nodded. One more thing about computers we didn’t understand (I was still struggling to turn off those weird f things on my Word v3.1).

Of course the first thing he did was type in ‘sex’ (he was a prudish South African guy, but he was, after all, a guy), and suddenly (well, pixel by pixel) there were boobs and butts for days.

I thought, “Ah… so ‘online’ is basically porn on your computer screen?  I really don’t think its going to catch on.” and I turned away from the screen.  My (male) colleague meanwhile pulled up a chair and together the guys clicked around for hours, screaming and pointing, squealing ‘Oh my god’ and generally having a whale of a time.

There you have it kids. The internet in 1994, 1995, 1996.. up to 2013. Bringing porn to guys who probably should be doing something else.

Of course the internet is a societal gift. A world changing technology. And a great source of all manner of media and great cocktail recipes. Its allowed me to learn how to lay a patio, rock a power clean Olympic lift, find songs I hadn’t heard since the 70s, meet and date a man in Montana (and then get dumped electronically), watch my nieces sing me happy birthday from the UK and of course, meet a variety of charming specimens to date and run screaming from. On that front, I’m not that sure its a winner. But the rest… ah-mazballs.

I’ve found my Canadian ancestry (apparently I’m a lot more Canuck than Brit), applied for jobs (and been hired), driven to Seattle without a map, watched the Tour De France and connected to friends from elementary school. The internet enables me to do my job in pjs, and most critically for me, push my words out into the world (a daily newsletter would be beyond annoying.. and think of the stamps).

Yep, the innerwebs is pretty amazing. Of course its enabled cyberbullying, online stalking, porn and gambling addiction, pedophilia, and human trafficking but hey.. there’s always a downside. It might suck up 14 hours of our day (and 11 hours of our kids days), limiting human connection and interaction but its fun. Like crack type fun. That gets me sitting down in front of it every day at 6am until 7pm type fun. Its driven an on-demand, high speed, information overloaded noise cloud around most people’s heads, but hey, what else would we have been doing? Reading? Talking to each other? Taking a walk? Having in-person relationships? Sleeping? Pshaw!

So thank you Vint Cerf.  (sorry Al, it wasn’t you). Thanks a lot.

There is actually an internet ‘ethos’ that Vint wrote in 2002. In ‘The Internet is for Everyone’, itself a weirdly historical document that predicts pretty much everything that has happened related to the internet since 2002. In it, Vint (Mr Innernet) stresses the following;

– Internet is for everyone – but it won’t be if parents and teachers cannot voluntarily create protected spaces for our young people for whom the full range of Internet content still may be inappropriate.

– Internet is for everyone – but it won’t be if its users cannot protect their privacy and the confidentiality of transactions conducted on the network.

– Internet is for everyone – but it won’t be if Governments restrict access to it, so we must dedicate ourselves to keeping the network unrestricted, unfettered and unregulated.

*blush*. Sorry Vint. We prefer to hand over our iPhones and iPads to our 4 year olds and let them go for it while we talk on the phone, text while driving or write that quick email. Our government has mandated that communication companies hand over emails and transactions for ‘security monitoring’ and while the innerwebs is plenty unregulated in the US, I don’t think anyone in China or Burma or North Korea or a host of other countries would consider it so. There still seems to be some work to do on the internet (but there’s so much porn we’ve got to look at first).

And if you really care about this stuff, did you know there’s an Internet Society group you can join? The group works to define the future use of the internet and anyone can join!!! Wild huh? Of course membership isn’t what you’d expect.. given the availability of all that porn and stuff… but hey, if your hand gets tired….you might want to check it out.

So, today, as you’re downloading a song, watching some dude get serviced by 2 chicks or chatting with your Mom and showing her your new haircut, give a thought to Vint and his internet. And I’ll leave you with his final warning;

‘Be thoughtful in what you commit to email, news groups and other Internet communication channels – it may well turn up in a web search some day’

Ah crap.

Now he tells me?

Self comforting

 After a work week where I wasn’t sure who I wanted to kill most – my boss, myself or my co-workers, the ability to shake off that bad ‘ju ju’ is critical to my long term sanity (any my coworkers health).

To stay sane, I do a lot of yoga, walk miles with my dog and the occasional glass of wine or vodka tonic doesn’t go amiss. But the one thing I don’t really ever talk about is my ‘comforting’ routine. (See, even writing that makes my skin pucker and my face contort). Comforting seems such a babyish word, indulgent, soft.. all the things I’m not. And, according to my therapist, everyone does it – whether you’re 4 or 41. However like masturbation, few are sitting around a bar talking about it. Because its weird and uncomfortable. Its an indication of vulnerability – I need – and even if you’re partnered up, everyone still does this for themselves. Its the things you do that you know, always, always, makes you feel better. Everyone self comforts – it just looks different for everyone. 

Now I’m not talking about going out and getting wasted, (not really comforting,  more obliterating yourself), or making out (seeking comfort through others), but if you’re not sure how you self comfort, the place to start for many is taking off  or putting on a specific article of clothing. 

Clothes: As babies we were swaddled to be comforted, but over the age of about 4 and under the age of 80, being tightly wrapped in a blanket probably isn’t most people’s idea of ‘comforting’. Instead we tend to take off things or put on things to make ourselves feel more ‘me’. No man will ever understand the joy of removing your bra at the end of the day, ok, maybe guys feel  joy, but its a totally different type of joy. Taking off your tights and putting on some big ass Smartwools. Peeling off that thong and going commando for the evening or just taking off pants that fit just a little to snugly.
Dudes don’t seem to constrained by their clothes,  so maybe its putting on that old ratty t shirt, those 1980s grey sweatpants or just untucking that shirt. My ex used to walk around the house in his boxers and no socks, even when it was snowing outside. Whatever ever makes you feel more comfortable and signals that now is a time just for you. And if you chose to swaddle yourself, just make sure you can reach the remote.

Food: Like a child, appetite plays a large role in satiation. That slightly empty hole in your chest/ stomach that aches at the end of the day?.. well it needs filling even its is not actual hunger. Now there is a very very limited section of the population sucking on a teet at the end of the day (please don’t email me, I do not need to know), so we tend to turn to food or drink that comforts us. Makes us feel good. Better.
Growing up, my source of comfort was toast slathered in butter (these days its Nutella). One of my friends goes out and buys herself a cream puff, another sips Bourbon out of a mug.. but everyone has a ‘I deserve this’ food or drink that we use to feel comforted when things get too much. Again, its the thing you do that feels like a treat – eating dinner isn’t self comforting.. that’s just nutrition. The food or drink you consume to self comfort isn’t about hunger at all. But like a good meal, it makes you feel relaxed, indulged. After all, no one started a war after eating a cream puff.

Activity: You’re physically comfortable and somewhat sated, and now you need to disengage your brain from whatever horror befell you. Like a kid, the need to comfort usually stems from a ‘something’. Back then a raised voice or pain somewhere needed soothing, today it might be an argument, a tough day at work or even that driver who blocked your exit on the way home. Whatever the source, you’re feeling agitated, maybe anger, definitely ire. And unless you want to spend the evening dwelling, you need to redirect your thoughts. TV is most people’s first call, though the internet is a close second. My dirty secret is The Daily mail online, a trite and laughable British newspaper that focuses on celebrity gossip and high drama stories from the US (‘6 yr boy kept in a George Foreman press for 17 years!’). The writing is terrible, the stories ridiculous but its a beautiful source of comfort. My next port of call is usually an old Doris Day or Cary Grant movie. Its pure indulgence and feels slightly naughty to wasting my time on such sugarcoated fantasy. But wow, is it comforting. The guy always gets the girl, the girls are always spunky and the clothes are beyond fabulous. And for an hour or so, curled up in my PJs, with my dog, my Nutella and my tea, I can forget wanting to put a fork in my eyeball for a few more days.

Whats your self comforting ritual?

Nothing matters.. (or nothing you thought matters, actually matters)

We’ve all heard or read about those people who have had brushes with death or disaster then claim ‘nothing really matters except … a) the people you love b) family c) living in the present d) the money I’m getting from this interview.  But then those people go onto live the rest of their lives with no real substantial changes, except maybe increasing the frequency of ‘I love yours’ or not flying with anyone called Sully.
Since I turned 40 I’ve not been in any disasters or had any close shaves (excepting my dating life), but last year I reached a similar conclusion. Nothing really matters. Actually no-thing.  People matter. Experiences matter. But no things actually matter. And this realization caused me to suddenly feel suffocated by my carefully constructed,tastefully arranged, credit card financed Room and Board landscape.

So I got rid of it all.

10 years of furniture, rugs, frames, chairs, tables, bikes, crap I didn’t need, stuff I didn’t like but thought I needed.

Why?

It – the stuff – was mattering more than anything else. The search for the perfect chair, bed linens for the spare room, an ottoman for the library chair. I was working to pay off the things that I thought that I needed. And in the midst of my debt, looking for new things to replace the things that were slowly ceasing to please me. The things were my everything. In lieu of people, I was finding comfort in things, pleasure in things. Until I was defining myself by my things.

How did I get this far from who I am? I’ve always been a person defined by my actions. What I did (who I did?), or what I have done. And through fear, apathy, introversion, lack of funds (all those things are expensive), I stopped doing and started buying. At the age of 40 I found myself in debt, lying awake at night trying to find the money for the next thing and wondering when I last had fun.

So now I am without things.  Not, I’m not living in a padded cell or on the street, eating out of a can or eschewing clothing but I these days I don’t have much except somewhere to sleep, somewhere to sit, somewhere to work and some things to play with (no, not crayons.. grown up toys). I have enough seating in my apartment for a cozy night with friends or a game of Jenga on the floor. I can watch movies and cook a decent meal. Listen to jazz, take a long bath or sit on the balcony. But you’ll be eating off your knees and my house probably eliminates any agoraphobics from my circle.

It sounds very Tyler Durden but without the stuff, it feels free-er. Lighter. I have less to worry about, less to clean and less to get in the way of a good game of ball throwing with the dog.  I have time and funds to get on my motorcycle, on a plane to visit friends, to plan an adventure.  Sure, its not for everyone and I’m sure my friends/ family are horrified, but I like it. No, I love it. Maybe with less things in the way, I can get back to the no-things that do matter.

However if I start making soap, someone call the medics.

I will be taking a lover

Given the decline in available attractive men over 40, I have made an executive decision. I shall soon be taking a lover. No, not a f-k buddy. I’m not 22. A lover. Someone to ..ahem… love me…you know… periodically.
Easy right? No strings, just occasional loving from a tried, trusted and reliable partner. It should be easy right? Lets just say you ask a man to turn up, be welcomed with a lot of enthusiasm, get loved up and then leave. No arguments about how you didn’t put the laundry away, who’s picking up the kids or questions about ‘where is this going?’ You’d think there would be a line out of the door. Sadly, no.

I don’t work in an environment rife with single men (I work at home), and my pursuits tend towards the gay and female friendly (yoga, gardening, dining out and movies). Even when I’m hitting the gun range, a very manly pastime, armed weapons at close range tend to be a prohibiter in meeting guys (unless you live in Texas in which case its hotter than crotchless panties to some guys). I’ve tried smiling at guys while on my bikes, but sweaty lycra isn’t that attractive, and on my motorcycle, no-one can see your rictus grin at 70mph.

So here’s my first hurdle. How does one identify, track down and solicit potential lovers? (do not say Craigslist). Its not exactly something you can put in an ad without sounding like you’re advertising for a hooker and I’m not. I actually don’t want to have to pay.. and even if I did, are there even guy hookers in real life??? Tawdry and I’ll put that one on the back of the stove for if I get desperate. Really desperate.
No, I think that since I don’t need to wear a bag on my head in public and I still fit into my college jeans, I should be able to do this without an ATM withdrawal. But how? My guy friends have suggested that I could find someone ‘by snapping my fingers’ but I spent the weekend doing that and the only reaction I got was a very alert dog. Maybe I should have left my apartment.

Ok, so if its so easy … how? Again, my extremely informed male friends ‘go to a bar, flirt and go home with someone’. Yes, if I were 25 that would work. But again, if I’m in ‘meat market’ bar, I tend to look like I’m someone’s mother coming to call them out on missed curfew. The bars I actually go to tend to cater to the older crowd and sadly, most of them are married or partnered up and nothing ends an evening like the threat of a knifing in the bathroom. Lately the only single guys I’ve met are behind the bar and waiting until his shift ends at 3am, well he’d had to wake me up first. Nope, bars are out.

Which pretty much leaves exes and, gulp, websites. Since my exes seem to boomerang around on an annual basis and if there is no requirement to eat my cooking or meet my mother, I guess I might be able to identify someone if I throw in a bottle of Oban. If not, I’m back on the dreaded online community which, if my dating is anything to go by, means I’m shit out of luck.

Ok, lets say that I actually leave my apartment and am able track down a willing participant. Here’s the next hurdle. How does one propose such an agreement? I am, after all, a pragmatic organized person with  very heavy Downton Abbey viewing schedule. Do you leave it to chance with a ‘call me for a good time?’ or do you actually schedule the thing ‘so…..ahem… Sunday afternoon say 3-6pm?’  That seems way too weird either way. I did try the direct approach once and the guy practically shrank 3 inches before I’d finished the sentence and I haven’t seen him since. How do people do this?

Maybe there’s a reason that most of the women I know don’t do this. Its too damn hard. Men don’t seem to respond to women who know what they want at the best of times. And I guess some chick coming at you with a proposition and a potential schedule might be considered terrifying at best.
So I’m throwing it out to the universe. I will be taking a lover…

(meanwhile I’ll be one snapping her fingers and waiting in apartment 1010).

The morale programs my boss won’t let me implement

Its February and while you might have paid off your holiday credit card binge, the 6lbs you gained over December is still resolutely stuck to your butt, your bonus isn’t due for another 2 months and god damn it, its f-ing cold outside. Never mind that we’re over the hump of winter, that stupid Groundhog never delivers good news and wouldn’t you know it, you’re out of wine.

Working in HR I hear on a daily basis how pissed off everyone is all year round and how we need to come up with morale boosting initiatives which don’t involve less work or more money (or a nude Jason Statham turning up on my doorstep).  But boosting morale is a complex business – everyone is motivated by different things and to be honest, unless I’m given permission to issue corporate Valium, I don’t think anything I can do will make a bean of difference. Since  I make up for in creativity what I lack in effectiveness (or spelling ability), this morning I figured out some morale boosting strategies which I think everyone could get behind.

The Money Fairy
We all know that money is what counts, but how our companies dole it out somewhat minimizes the potential impact. Sure its lovely to get a $1000 bonus.. but its a one time good feeling. I say lets leave it to the money fairy. The money fairy visits your office when you’re at lunch and leaves a $50 or $100 bill in your desk drawer or your coat pocket. Voila.. who doesn’t love finding free money?? No-one ever sees the money fairy and no teeth are required as collateral.

Disco Tuesday
Hey it worked in school.. why not now? Wouldn’t everyone benefit from a quick boogie around the office at 3pm on a Tuesday? Cue up that Cool and the Gang, kick off your shoes and shimmy. Tell me that wouldn’t raise a smile.

The Extended Deadline
We’ve all been there. Your boss is being magnanimous and tells you to go home early or take a few hours off. While is great to have a few extra hours in the middle of the week, we all know we’ll be working double strength the next day to catch up. Especially since your boss is going to use that extra time to catch up the last 5 months of emails so you’ll be returning to a long list of ‘to dos’. The extended deadline works in concert with the ‘free afternoon’.. sure you can take off to the movies, but that report you were working on… yep, lets push that out a few weeks. Cancel it altogether. Take 1 thing off my plate and I think I can even skip the free afternoon.

Boss-man day away
Even cheaper and more effective than giving your crew the afternoon off, if you’re the boss man, give yourself the day off. Stay off email and the phone, disappear with ‘flu’ for the day. While you sit back and relax, you can know your team is having a slightly less stressful day, having a little more fun and finally catching up on all those emails you’ve been sending them at 11pm. Send an anonymous case of Krispy Kremes and you just made their day. 

The Missed Connection
Now I wouldn’t be so trite as to recommend developing a romantic interest at work (even though it can make that drive to the office faster), but you can fake it. Posting an anonymous Missed Connection on craigslist for one of coworkers is free, easy and infantile.. but who wouldn’t want to think that they’d turned a strangers head? Instant feel good.

The Spousal Apology
Since most of us work to hard, can be known to be a little snappy mid week and probably have skipped 1 or 12  ‘significant other’ activities due to work, the spousal apology does the hard work for you. 3 -4 times a year we send flowers/ beer/ chocolates/ Valium to your spouse or significant other, apologizing for working too hard and reminding them of how special they are. Unscheduled recognition gains you instant access to good feelings and who knows, you might even get lucky. Who says hard work never got you laid?

There you have it several options for boosting morale with your coworkers. Or they could just pay us better.

The Bermuda Triangle of the 40s’: The F buddy

I’ve heard about this phenomenon. According to most of my guy friends and any friend under 35, everyone has had one, has one or just got rid of one. The F buddy. The person you call when you’re lonely, when you have that itch or just want to warm up on a cold winter night. He (or she) isn’t not long term relationship material (since life isn’t a romantic comedy), and its purely a friends with benefits situation where you show up, ‘buddy up’ and then leave. At the age of 40, shouldn’t these things been normal? After all, we’re past having kids, we’re not insane enough to hold out for Mr or Mrs Right (unless we’re ‘protecting our junk’ weirdos), and its a human requirement to want to be with someone now and again.
But here’s my quandary. How does one find such a person?I’ve looked, I’ve asked and apparently I have a big sign over my head saying ‘danger’ because I can’t find one for love OR money. (not that I’m at the point of paying yet, but never say never).
I’ve been told that I’m ridiculous and that I could and should have one by now if I just put it out there.. but I have to say, no matter where I look, I don’t see how you find one. I’ve asked, I’ve been totally up front and all I’ve ever gotten is blank looks and men with very small bladders exiting very fast. Maybe I’m too honest, or maybe I’m throwing my not-so-subtle hints in the wrong direction  but at 40 I’ve yet to land this white whale.
So you might think ‘ but you don’t ask!!!’ in which case, how do you land one? And if the guy is too scared that I’m actually relationships hunting… why don’t they even dip their toe in the water to see whats what? I’m beginning to think that I’ve either got a sign on my head saying ‘relationship only’ or I truly did get hit by the ugly stick at some point. Maybe I became physically repulsive or scary cat lady and no one told me, but trying to find a ‘buddy’ is tougher than finding a damn boyfriend in this town. With no takers and no desire for a relationship I’m stuck facing a winter of Project Runway re runs and a lot of downward dogs. That might be good for my karma but it sure isn’t  finding me any buddies.