Monday, May 27, 2013

The Tao of Gardening and Climate Change

I've been really sick. I love this island. I love this ocean. I love the people and the cross-connections of cultures and worldviews and foods and thoughts and languages. I love the climate. I love the weather. I love the plants and birds that I had never seen or maybe even heard of before. I love it here. I really do. I should be so lucky to live here.

But with all good things comes a cost. The price of admission. A woman from Kauai I once met, a conservationist and activist. Her house floods in the rainy season. Things become ruined and time is always spent to maintain her home as well as her environment. That is the price of living in paradise.

My family is far away. Time zones separate us, and expense, and plane rides. That is a price to be here. Five years ago it was a temporary cost, but now that I am more and more rooted... who knows?

Hawaii has made me sick. More specifically, Kilauea, the volcano on the Big Island that has been actively erupting since the mid-eighties, has made me sick. Over the past six years, I have developed sinus and respiratory problems from the vog. Since December, this illness has kept me home thrice, hacking and wheezing and burning in my sinuses and lungs. The first time I wound up in the emergency room. This is no small price. This past week has been really bad. One day the pain alone brought me to tears twice. When I get this sick, I feel depressed and worthless. I somehow convince myself that I'm lazy. Like that the reason I'm not working is because I just don't feel like it. In truth, I'm not working because I physically can't. That's a difference. I know this in my brain. I'm getting off topic. The point is, this is a high price. And even after this really bad week, I find that I am still willing to pay it.

I love the Pacific. I love my work in Tuvalu. I love my work with Pacific RISA. This is what I want to do when I grow up, and what do you know? I get to do it. I should be so lucky.

Being sick, I become introspective. What else is there to do? Being sick is boring. So I think. Yesterday, I talked to my younger sister on the phone and we talked about climate change and how bad it might be and what does it mean for our future generations and what can we do now?

The short answer is that individually, we must act. Make changes in our own lives, in our mindsets, in our expectations. That is necessary. But it is not enough. As a society, as a planet, we must also act. We must change everything. It won't be easy and it won't be quick. This is a long haul sort of need. It won't be finished in my lifetime. But it must start.

We have mealybugs in our garden. And inch worms. Caterpillars. They eat our kale. Little bastards. Well, really I can't blame them. I eat our kale too. We're competing species, you know. The fight for the kale. Who wins? That changes almost daily. Yesterday morning, armed with a mug of isopropyl alcohol and a handful of q-tips, I went on a quest to assert my claim to the kale. The mealybugs were worse that I had realized when I made this plan. Dozens of leaves in our small garden-- maybe even a hundred. Some of them, their undersides were completely coated with the white little buggers.

I felt overwhelmed. God, where do I even start?

And then I answered myself-- somewhere.

And so I started. Spent who knows? An hour? Leaning over the leaves, squatting under the leaves, painting them in tiny little q-tip lines of alcohol. And even after all of that, they're still there. Not all of them. Not even most of them. But this morning, I looked again, and they're still there. Leaves I missed. Leaves I got. They persist. Because that's how it goes.

This morning, thinking again about climate change and what to do in my own life. I feel I'm one up because it is actually my job to deal with climate change. So already I spend a lot of my time at it. But there's so much more to be done. So much more that I could be doing. The energy I use on this laptop. Driving to work. Eating food that has been shipped from God knows where. The things I have, that were made. The house I live in. The society I operate in. There is so much to address. So much to do. So much to change and fix and solve and think on and worry about and figure out. God, where do I even start?

But the mealybugs already answered that question. Start somewhere.

I've known so many activists, so many causes. There are so many bad things out there. There are so many good things that are being done, that are yet to be done. I see sometimes people (myself included) getting frustrated with others for not taking up their cause. But we all have our causes. We all have the things we do. These are good things. These are all necessary. There is too much for any one person to do it all. A person literally does not have the time and the energy to do all that is necessary. But if we get overwhelmed with the scope of this reality, we can get lost and stagnant. We can fail to even begin.

So this is my answer. At least for today.

Start somewhere. It will never be everything. It will never be enough. But to begin is sufficient. To act is the point.

And together, just maybe, we'll get closer. Together, just maybe, we'll get there.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

LASIK: How it went (early results)

The short answer is great.

Why I couldn't get full prescription in my left eye: In a previous post, and for weeks, I've been talking about how boss it's gonna be to see clearly from my left eye. Well, during the pre-op/consultation, the doc told me that's basically never going to happen. Part of why the vision is so bad in my left eye is the shape of the eyeball itself-- it's longer than my right. He could fix the lenses, but given that full Rx contacts or glasses gives me double vision, he would suspect fixing the lens to full Rx would do the same. Lasik can basically give you what contacts can give you (or slightly better), but that's about it. The double vision I get with full Rx contacts comes from the left eye being longer, so I'm basically seeing from two different distances. My brain can compensate better for blurry than for clear. So he could get me to slightly better than contacts, but not perfect in the left eye.

It was disappointing to hear this, but this wasn't the only reason I wanted LASIK, so it did not deter me in the end.

Plus, I really appreciated the doc doing a massively thorough exam. I was there for two extra hours for the pre-op while they mapped out everything, determined about my left eye shape and why I get double vision, and then determined that that is not symptomatic of other bad things it could have been symptomatic of. All of this was included in the cost, so I'm glad he went all out. I got my money's worth on that end, definitely.

The procedure: They warned me it would be uncomfortable but not painful, and it was. The procedure itself is very... off-putting. Describing it later, Charlene said it sounded like an alien abduction. That's exactly what it was like-- trust me, I know from experience. I've seen the X-Files.

They gave me some valium and I got all calm. Even fell asleep a bit while waiting. The doc came in and described everything that would happen in detail. It went exactly as he described. I lay on the table with my head in the headrest. He moves the table around until my right eye is lined up with the laser. They tape back my eyelashes. Then they put the Clockwork Orange thing on my eyelid (Note: he did not call it that, but come on. That's what we're all thinking.). I stare into the little red light. Then they put the suction cup on my eye and cut the dreaded flap. He pulls that open. I stare into the giant red blob. Then the laser goes. Someone else counts down the time-- 20 seconds for my right eye, then 30 seconds for my left. It smells like burning hair. Put everything back together, tape it closed, move on to the left. After the left eye was done, there was no taping. They said to lay there for a minute until I felt like I could get up. I had my eyes closed when I stood, seriously, maybe a minute later. The doc said, "You can open your eyes." I did. No bandages. I didn't even need my eyelids. The healing starts that quickly.

Of all of that, the laser is the least bad part, by far. The Clockwork Orange/alien abduction parts with the lights and the eyelash tape... not much fun. But it's not painful at all. And it's really quick. I was in and out of there in under 15 minutes. Immediately after, I was glad I never have to do that again. But even by the drive home, that immediate aversion to the experience had faded.

Afterward: Charlene and Michael came in and we had the alien abduction conversation. Everything was fogged, but not blurry in the bad-eyesight sense. It was like looking through really fogged glass. After a few minutes, I suddenly read Michael's t-shirt and started to cry.

My appointment was at 1:00. We were out of there maybe 2:30 or 3:00. We stopped to get burgers on the way home to feed my constant craving, but wound up getting them to go. I was home by 4:00. By this point, the itchy/dry/irritation I was promised felt about like when you're cutting a really strong onion. I took some painkillers, put on an audio book (The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum) (highly recommended) and dozed. By 5:00 the onion chopping feeling had mostly faded. It felt like when you sleep in your contacts, and you first wake up and they're all dry and gummy and kind of foggy to see through. That's what it felt like, and that's how the world looked. I listened to more of the book, now on the couch with Valu, until I fell asleep.

This morning I can see. Both eyes. True, when I close my right eye, my left eye is blurry. But less so than it was with contacts. My right eye is perfect. With both eyes, it's perfect.  Clarification: perfect means focus. I do still have some light fogging, especially around the lights. It's like everything is in soft focus. I see the world in Glamour Shots, or in a Liz Taylor perfume commercial. My eyes feel kind of dry with a periodic instance that's like grit in your contact. It passes quickly. And I can see.

What comes next: Facebook friends have warned me it won't settle into full normal non-foggy as-perfect-as-Kati-can get vision for a couple of months. And I guess that makes sense. I'm going to be on a whole load of eyedrops for that long. Right now it's four-- prednisone, antibiotics, fake tears, and one that will cause me to make more of my own real tears. After a week it'll just be the latter two, to keep my eyes nice and wet while they heal for the next couple months.

They said I can resume normal activities pretty much now (no swimming for a month). I'm gonna take it easy this weekend, but I do intend to go look at beautiful things. Maybe I'll go watch the sunset tonight. Maybe I'll go see the sunrise tomorrow. I feel really joyous and thankful right now.

And now Valu wants to eat.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To See...

Like many adolescents, my vision began a slow decline in my pre-teens or early teens. I'm not sure when exactly. Youth.

When I was 19 and 20, I worked at a Lenscrafters as a lab tech. I knew all about vision and glasses and curvature of lenses and things like that. Because it happened while I worked there, I know exactly when my left eye took a sudden and extreme turn for the worse. Between one year and the next, the prescription in my left eye more than doubled. My right eye continued its slow decline.

That year, when I put on my new Lenscrafters glasses with the full prescription for both eyes, I couldn't see at all. If I closed one eye, I could see independently out of either one perfectly. Open both eyes -- double vision.

My left eye had become so much worse than my right eye that my brain could not compensate for the different curvature of the prescription lenses. It happens sometimes. The doc gave me a lower prescription in my left eye. Right eye, perfect vision. Left eye, blurry vision. Both eyes, and I could see just fine. My brain was able to compensate for blurriness better than for lens curvature differences.

I haven't managed a full prescription in my left eye since.

Which means I haven't seen clearly out of my left eye in 14 years. My entire adult life.

About ten years ago my sister got Lasik. She has told me periodically since then that it is the best money she's ever spent. I've been waiting to have money to get Lasik since then. Between living in intentional poverty (see Tangled Hair in the Windy City) and then grad school, that's never happened before. But now here we are-- fully employed people. School debts paid off.

Today is Tuesday. I'm going in for the consultation and pre-op on Thursday. I'm going in for Lasik on Friday. I cannot justly express the excitement and anticipation that is coursing through my veins and heart and stomach and brains and lungs and every other molecule of my body that might have some physiological reaction one could reasonably label as excitement. All of it. I feel all of it. Pretty much constantly. I'm going to see clearly for the first time since the 1990's. For the first time in this millennium.

Am I nervous about Lasik? Not at all. Even if they tell me I have to do one of those other procedures that hurts more and takes longer to heal... don't care. There is no limit to what I am willing to do for this. I want TO SEE.

What I am nervous about is that during the consultation/pre-op, what if they tell me I am not a candidate for some reason? I think I will lose it entirely. If that happens, don't expect to see me too soon. I'll be on a drunken bender. Or possibly in jail for having torn apart the eye-surgeon's office after he gave me the bad news. Keep your eye on the news Thursday afternoon-- that's when the fireworks would happen. If you don't see any headlines, "Climate Change Researcher Flips Out" or "Blind Rage--I See What You Did There," then we're cool. I'll be drumming my fingers in barely concealed excited anticipation.

Fourteen years. My entire adult life. This millennium. When I think about seeing clearly -- out of both eyes -- in just a few days, I get all weepy. I just want to cry from joy. I think after it's confirmed, or maybe after it happens, I really will cry. Just let the waterworks come. You know me, I gotta see it to believe it. But oh man, when I see it, it's gonna be some celebration times.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Buy Nothing Lent

Today is Mardi Gras and Lent begins tomorrow. I like Lent. It is all about self-sacrifice and/or making yourself and the world a better place. The "and/or" comes in because I know people (women, okay? They're all women) who practice self-sacrifice to such an extreme in the course of their regular lives that they never quite get around to caring for themselves. So Lent becomes a time when they can resolve to be nice to themselves, cut themselves some slack rather than the other way around.

Anyway, I've been thinking about doing a carbon fast for Lent. I heard of this when I gave a talk on Sunday about the morality of climate change. So I went to the site and signed up to receive daily emails about ways I can reduce my carbon emissions in the course of my daily life. It seemed like a good idea, but I thought it also seemed like it had the potential to be a big waste of time. That is to say, anything designed to be relevant to the largest number of people is probably only going to be partially-at-best relevant to me. I didn't want to receive tips that didn't apply six out of seven days and let my Lent go to waste. So I signed up, but then I thought about what I would do if I were tailoring this just for me.

Carbon Fast Rules:
* Read the daily email I get and decide whether or not it applies to me. If so, do it.
* Do other things (see below).

So where do I spend my energy (emissions)? Well, for starters, this glowing screen I'm staring at right now. I am not exaggerating when I say I easily spend 10 to 16  hours a day looking at one computer or another. Granted, 8 of those are at work. But then I come home and I watch TV online or I mess around on reddit and other learn-about-the-weird-and-interesting-and-beautiful-things-going-on-around-the-world websites. Seriously, this technology holds my life in its digitally rendered hands. So that I can cut. It will be real change in my life. It will require mindfulness and a sense of sacrifice. It will also press me to do other things I enjoy, like reading and taking my doggie on longer walks and working on creative projects.

Computer Fast Rules:
* Limit myself to one non-work hour a day on my computer (arbitrarily chosen because I do do responsible people things online as well as messing around, so I still need time for that).
* Exempt: non-work work, like writing articles.
* Exempt: watching TV online with Michael on his computer (because hey, it's a thing old married people do together).

But what else? That may reduce my computer emissions by about a third, but I emit in other ways too. But already we really only drive when necessary. Appliances that stay on need to (fridge, etc.). I guess I can be better about turning off lights and unplugging non-essentials. But those things didn't seem to be too big. They couldn't possibly be my biggest emissions as a ... shoots, as a consumer American. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. Didn't I just say this in that talk I gave two days ago? And wasn't giving that talk the whole driver behind me thinking about the carbon fast to begin with?

So, here's the talk:

tl;dr I say toward the end that especially for us Americans, the largest consumer nation in the world, a huge action we can take on climate change is to stop buying everything. And hell, for me? I buy most things on Amazon, shipped to Hawaii from god knows where just for me. I've lived pretty simply most of my life, but now that I'm not so desperately poor anymore, I'll admit I've been slowly edging from the purchasing of things I Need to the purchasing of things I Want to the purchasing of, you know, things. I've struggled with Buy Nothing Day or Buy Nothing Week before. So how is a Buy Nothing Lent going to go?

Buy Nothing Lent Rules:
* Don't buy things.
* Exemption: gifts. I have gift things coming up. I may not have time to make heart-felt wonderfulness, and I'm not gonna say, "Sorry, Dad. But won't your 71st birthday be just as special next year? I'll get you a gift then." Etc.
* Exemption: food. I have a feeling that the very nature of what I'll be doing this Lent is going to lead to lots of thought, consideration, and conversations about emissions and food. I bet you that I'm gonna be thinking about the virtues of local foods and vegetarian diets and non-processed food made out of food and the like... but one thing at a time. I don't want to overwhelm myself and set myself up for failure. I want this experience to create lasting changes, and lasting changes often start small and grow as they become habituated. So for now, I'm just gonna say food is exempt. I reserve the right to be better than that, but I don't guarantee it. And yes, by exempting food I do mean to say that I will be having kangaroo steaks helicoptered in thrice daily from Australia. A girl's gotta eat.
* Addendum: If I really want to buy something and Lent isn't over yet, I need to have a long talk with myself about Want versus Need. And then another talk with myself about Bought versus Borrowed. And then another talk with myself about Local versus Non-local. And then another talk with myself about New versus Used. Etc.

So that's it! My own personal carbon fast for Lent. This might be a bigger challenge than that time I gave up cheese.

Which I don't have to do this time because food is exempt, thank God.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

For posterity: What it's like to have a migraine

It's Day Two of my current migraine.  Earlier I had this brilliant idea to try and describe migraines while I was having one, but just now I sat down at wrote "It's Day Two of my current migraine" and then I put my head on my desk for a long time and just kind of drew a blank. There might have been moaning involved.

So that's the first part of my description. Migraines interrupt my synapses and make it much more difficult to have complete thoughts. Make it more difficult to hold multiple thoughts in my head long enough to translate them from my brain and into action, or speech, or writing. That's the first part of what it's like to have a migraine.

As a point of interest, I know how to type while not looking at the keys or screen. I mention this because a few minutes ago when I put my head down to think of a second sentence for this post, it occurred to me that I don't necessarily have to stop doing that in order to write this post. Pieces of this post will be written while my forehead is resting on my desk, such as this current sentence.

Migraines suck, obviously. They hurt a lot, and for me, I get all the other sensoral wonkiness. I see lightning. And aura. Everything is too bright and too loud and smells and tastes more. And feels more. All of my senses are sharp like needles and bright like camera flashes at night. I feel hungry but I don't want to eat, or I want to eat but I don't feel hungry. Parts of it are like having a hangover. I crave salty fried things and cake. But I also don't want them because the idea of anything turns my stomach. And I want beer because it numbs my brain, but I also don't want it because I already feel so weird, and tipsy is just more weird to add to this physical stupid soup of integrated mushy synesthesia tangled lightning feelings.

Earlier I had this brilliant idea of describing migraines while I have one, because it occurred to me that everyone knows they suck and they hurt and sometimes you see lightning or aura, and all those other physical things. But my brain actually works differently while I have one. My thoughts don't work right. They don't carry through to their logical conclusion. It's connected, it has to be connected, to the fact that my senses are all crossed and that all of my nerve input is being interpreted wrong. My body feels weird because my brain isn't working right. But my thoughts are also wrong because my brain isn't working right. Logic gets derailed. Thoughts come out strange. Random ideas get connected to each other, and connected ideas become random. Also, a lot of times, my thoughts don't come out whole. Parts of my thoughts revert to this base, simplistic understanding of concept.

I look out my window at the clouds. They are pretty. In my normal real life, I might think "that is pretty" or I might imagine stories I've read or written with angelic beings in the clouds or I might gauge whether I think it's going to rain and I need an umbrella. Whole, complete thoughts, whatever they might be, they happen. Fully. Now I look out of the window and I see the clouds. They are pretty. But I don't think that until I'm trying to figure out how to describe what actually happens. There is stillness in my mind while I experience enjoyment of their beauty. The thought 'this is pretty' is truncated and never comes to fruition. I experience it. It is. It takes effort to make it more than that. I have to work to put this experience into words. I have to try in order to think wholly "this is pretty."

Earlier it occurred to me that my brain is like this when I have a migraine, but I can't ever really describe it when I don't have one. The pain is obvious. I remember it and everyone knows about it. But as my blood vessels constrict and pain signals are alerted, everything gets wonky. I can feel my brain through this pain. I can feel my thoughts traveling through my head, trying to get from one beginning to another ending, trying to reach their logical conclusion, and failing. I know I'm not actually feeling my synapses firing. I'm feeling pain from restricted blood vessels, or some other scientific explanation. But what I'm perceiving is my brain trying to be my mind, but not quite getting it. The logic and communication and decision pathways are jumbled, and so my thoughts struggle to move around. I have trouble working because it's so much harder to think. Pain trumps logic. But in my experience of it, pain has placed roadblocks and diversions in my neural pathways. My thoughts must go the long way around. They pick up random bits of information and they miss bits that should be obviously connected to the problem at hand. My thoughts are just as crossed as my physical synesthesia soup. The tapping sound is too bright, the light is too sharp, and it's more difficult to think that the clouds are pretty.

I lay on my bed and hold my head and moan and it feels better. But doing that is so godawful boring. I want to go to work. Or pack my house. Or read a book. Or write a book. But I just can't bring myself to do these things. I'm so bored. But it's lucky for me that today, everything can wait. It's lucky that this time I can just wait it out, bored and moaning.

Moaning really does help. I don't know why. Vibrations in my skull? Satisfaction of being petulant? These are important questions.

Here's a thing I remember. I have gone to work, and I've done important things, successfully, many times while I had a migraine. I take a bunch of naproxin (Aleve, my over-the-counter migraine drug of choice) and it dulls the pain but not the sensoral soup and it's harder to think but I can still do it and I get things done. I've done this so many times. Because sometimes you have to.

On a couple of occasions, I have even taken Imitrex or Treximet (my prescription migraine drugs) and I've done important actual work because sometimes you have to. The pain is gone and the sensoral soup is more like regular non-migraine properly functioning non-crossed senses. But these drugs make me high. Not a happy let's go party high. It's a skin-crawling, neural pathways are REALLY FRIGGIN CROSSED sort of high. It's even harder to think when I'm on these drugs, but the pain is gone and the sickness is gone. So it's better. Less worse, at least. I would never drive, for example, while on these drugs, but I have done work. Written papers. Attended meetings. Given presentations. Taught classes, even. Proper, dependable, successful work.

It's harder to play the part of real world me, but it can still be done. The pathways are detoured, but I can force my thoughts to reach their logical conclusions through one random route or another. But I must also keep track of which things normal me would perceive to be random, unrelated bits of fluff, because those are the things I shouldn't say aloud during my presentation, lest people think I'm incompetent or crazy.

It's a lot to keep track of. It's a lot of extra work when my brain is not working at optimum capacity. It's hard to act like I'm functioning normally when my brain refuses to function normally.

That's what it's like to have a migraine.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wasting Food

My mom was never one to tell us to finish our vegetables because there were starving children in China. No, she had other strategies. The one I can remember best involves me sitting for hours and hours and hours-- days and weeks and months and years-- refusing to eat my Brussels sprouts while my siblings got to go watch TV. Okay, so our stubborn-off probably only lasted through half of one sitcom, but the point holds. Finish your vegetables.

I think in elementary school we'd hear about the starving children in China and how their existence meant we should make a 'happy plate.' I certainly remember how we'd all go show off our clean lunch trays to the nuns and get glowing praise about how we had not wasted any food.

Though, of course, my strongest memory of those starving children in China came from the movie "A Christmas Story." Because sometimes strongest memories come from movies. That's a thing now.

Anyhoo, in Tuvalu this past Christmas, one of the things that impressed and delighted me was that in this third world, impoverished, developing nation, I heard so many times people lamenting when food would be wasted, and how they wished they could send it to starving people in Africa.

Tuvalu has plenty food, I was always told. No one ever starves in Tuvalu. You have no money? You go work the pulaka pits. Fish. Gather coconuts and breadfruit. Plenty food. But, they'd say, you see on TV and in movies about those poor children in Africa. Tuvaluans have such heart and such empathy that the idea of it was untenable to them. In a world where some people had so much, couldn't it be possible in some way for Tuvaluans to share their plenty with others who have so little?

In 2010 while I was in Tuvalu, some had spoken of water. "Tuvalu is blessed. We have plenty rain." She compared Tuvalu to desert and drought-stricken places in Africa where people really struggled with water. Not so in Tuvalu. Plenty water. Only problem, no way to store it. She, of course, saw futures with drought in which the previous months of heavy rain were still not a sufficient preparation because Tuvalu doesn't have a reservoir, doesn't have enough catchment tanks. When the drought came in 2011, this was proven true. But I digress.

Refrigerators are new things in Tuvalu, and even still many people do not have them or use them. Electricity is expensive, so some people own them but don't often plug them in. Several people we talked to, while lamenting that they couldn't feed starving people in Africa, would further lament all this wasted food.

Except it wasn't wasted. When Tuvaluans have plenty food, it gets shared with everyone. Everyone. Plates and trays distributed around to family and friends and grieving widowers who no longer have a wife to cook for them. The food isn't stored to be eaten at the one home over the next week. In most cases, that's just not possible. No refrigerator. Nothing to keep the food from going bad. So it is distributed.

And what isn't eaten is put into the pig slop. Michael posited something rather brilliant to me. "Pigs are refrigerators," he said. He had to explain this one to me.

Food that is prepared but cannot be eaten is extra calories. If these calories are thrown away, they are wasted. Lost. But if they are fed to livestock, these calories are preserved in the livestock until a later date. Pigs preserve food, as calories, in their meat. In a place with unreliable access to electronic refrigeration, pigs are reliable storage units.

Seriously, how brilliant is that?


I have this thing about wasting food. I always get a takeaway containers when we eat out (sometimes I even remember to bring my own tupperware from home). Leftover dinner is tomorrow's lunch. Leftover lunch is tonight's snack. I won't say that food never gets wasted-- there are plenty of times where I don't quite get around to eating all the leftovers. But I'm good with leftovers. I can't stand to have extra food on my plate and not save it until later.


I can't stand to have just a tiny little bit of food that's not enough to bother saving left on my plate. If it'll make a meal or a snack later, it goes into the fridge. If it won't even make a satisfying snack, it goes into my body now. And then I moan later because my stomach hurts from over-eating.

Yesterday morning while I was drinking a giant cup of coffee, I started getting too buzzed and I thought, "I shouldn't finish this; it will make me feel ill." The thought was immediately overridden by another, stronger thought: "Don't waste it!"

Of course, I don't save coffee. It won't taste good later. I had this brief, internal battle about whether or not it was okay to just pour this last bit out. I thought, "Don't be silly. It's just coffee. Pour it out." But then I felt guilty and took another sip because I didn't want to waste it.

That's the point at which it occurred to me that I was still wasting it. I was just wasting it inside my body. I thought about food I didn't want to finish but pushed myself to eat. Same same. I was throwing it away down my stomach. And true, my body stores the extra calories as fat, so they don't really go away. But also true, in my modern American life, my body does not require a store of fat to preserve me through times of famine. It is not the same as feeding the pig. Well, maybe in one metaphor it is, but in the other metaphor it isn't.

But now I'm reconsidering what it is to waste food. The many ways in which we waste food in our country. Something I'll need to consider for awhile before I draw my full conclusions.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Exit Strategy

Grad school is always a busy time, but anyone who's ever been there can tell you some times get absolutely crazy. I just finished a big several-weeks-long push that culminated in a couple days where I was so exhausted I thought my body might give out. Mind you, I was sleeping. I always sleep. I don't do all-nighters unless absolutely necessary, and this push didn't ever come to that shove. But all of my waking hours were taken up by this sustained focus, as late into the evening as my brain would still work.

It's just this thing that happens sometimes in grad school. I've done it before, and I'm sure it'll happen again before I graduate in May. It's just this thing.

This week I dressed up. I thought, if I'm gonna feel bad, at least I'm gonna look good. And so I'd get that little smirk of guilty pleasure as men would stand aside to let me pass, hold doors, and smile at me like they had a chance. It's cheap, I know, but I was exhausted and I'm not above cheap pleasures from time to time.

Yesterday I kept dozing off during lunch at work.

At home, Michael and Gina have been taking care of me-- cooking and things. I was talking to Kiriko the other day (she's in a big push also with a grant she's working on) and we were lamenting how when you get so busy, you'll just grab any crap food that's available to shove into your face. You just don't have time to take care of the regular things, and it doesn't help at all because then you feel worse. She said, 'you can't monitor everything.' So when you get so crazy busy, things fall by the wayside. Like eating well.

After yet another meal prepared for me by the people I live with, Gina said that this was like Comps, and if she had realized it would be like that she would have made sure there was always food just laying out for me so I could wander out of my hole, bleary-computer-eyed, eat a food, and wander back in. She suggested we have a code phrase for these crazy weeks. We can say, "Guys, this is Comps," so that we all know to pick up the slack and take extra care of each other.

This morning I'm finished. Sometimes at the end of a big push, my stress melts away and leaves me with a migraine. It's not so bad this time, as migraines go. But also, sometimes at the end of a big push, I feel at loose ends, like I have to keep doing even though I'm done doing and I deserve a break anyway. But I wander around thinking, "I should do this. No, I should take a break. I should do this! No, I should take a break. Or I could do this!! No! Take a damn break!"

That's what this morning is like.

Gina's code phrase came back to me. 'This is Comps.' At the end of Comps, I knew I'd need an exit strategy, because I no longer remembered what it was like to not be doing Comps. And here, at the end of this big push, it feels strange to not be embroiled in a 14 hour work day. I don't remember how to not be doing that. I need an exit strategy, to transition me back down to my regular productivity levels.

I made a list of 12 things I need to accomplish in the next week. These are my normal weekly deadline things-- updating class slides, grading, researching for papers, etc., etc., etc.

Then I determined not to do any of those things today. Or at least not while I have a migraine. Or at least not this morning. (baby steps)

I covered the list up with a new list. Stuff that I kinda always wanna get done. Stuff I've been putting off for days or weeks or years because it doesn't really matter that much if or when it does get done. Things I wouldn't mind doing. Things I also wouldn't mind not doing.

This is my exit strategy: my anti-productivity productivity list. Today I am only allowed to do these things. Or I can do other things, but not things on my for-realz productivity list. I can only start on my for-realz productivity list when I can be sure I won't work on it for 14 hours straight. With the anti-productivity productivity list, I can ease myself out of the big push by checking things off a list while simultaneously not doing anything too consequential. It's like taking a break without taking a break. It's like not taking a break without not taking a break.

Yeah. Sometimes I feel like a ridiculous person.