Life Outside the Pillow Fort

It’s been a dense several weeks. Every month, half of my giving budget goes to recurring donations and half I give out depending on what’s going on in the world – it’s getting harder and harder to choose which cause or disaster relief effort most needs my money. Two years ago, before I started paying attention to the world outside of my bubble, I would’ve known about Las Vegas and Houston; I might’ve been peripherally aware of Puerto Rico and Mexico City, but I definitely wouldn’t have known about the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar (one of the causes I donated to last month) or so many other things happening, both in this country and around the world.

It’s insane to think that we’re almost a year out from the election. The scope of my life has changed so much in that year – it had already started changing; I’d already started paying more attention, learning more, venturing out from my virtual pillow fort of entertainment – but the election was the big turning point. The election was when I knew that paying attention and informing myself about what was going on wasn’t going to be enough – that being woke meant nothing to me if I didn’t actually do anything to try to help and make a difference. I believe I would’ve gotten there anyway; I was on that path, but the election sped me down the road in overdrive.

It’s not as if I don’t still spend time on entertainment – I do, but significantly less. I think, for me, just getting to that point where I was ready to truly face and own up to the fact that “hey, I really don’t need to spend this much time on my couch in front of the computer – I don’t need this much unwind time, my life isn’t that stressful, I’m exceptionally privileged, and disengaging this much isn’t doing me any favors either – so time to get off my ass and be more awesome” was the big hurdle. Because yes, I do love curling up on the couch with video games, and that’s an addiction that it’s way too easy for me to give too much of myself over to. I also have a tendency to be a homebody and to want to hole up in my nest with my husband and my cats and get into complete pillow fort mode. I’d been living my life that way, in one form or another, for a long, long time. I made a shift a while back and started spending regular time on physical fitness, which was an extremely positive change that I’ve kept up with for eightish years now, but I still wasn’t doing anything to make a difference to anyone outside of my bubble, or to continue learning in any meaningful way.

(A side note, to also make the point that there is still much I love about the entertainment world, Matthew and I went to see The My Little Pony Movie yesterday and Time To Be Awesome might be my new theme song.)

So here we are, October of 2017, and I’m committed to being more awesome. I also regularly feel like it can’t ever be enough, and have to balance it with the thought that we might all be careening towards blowing ourselves up anyway. Turns out that coming out of the pillow fort also makes it a lot harder to “LA LA LA LA LA” the concerns of the world away – and that’s a good thing. We all should be concerned, and angry, and any other number of emotions that shows we’re paying attention. I’m not letting those feelings consume or cripple me; I’m not letting them ruin my enjoyment of life – if anything I’m finding even more joy in life lately. I’ve met so many incredible people at Centro, I’ve had so many great experiences and fun times with them – and I’ve completely rediscovered an almost childlike level of intellectual curiosity. I am addicted to learning about the world and trying to understand everything that’s happening. (As a result I may have a little bit of a podcast problem … ) Learning Spanish is amazing, too – it’s hard AF, sometimes I can almost feel my brain cells pushing to expand, but I’m starting to see real progress and it’s a great feeling. Last week I went to my third Spanish Roundtable meetup at Centro – gatherings where people of all levels, from beginners to fluent speakers, get together to casually converse in Spanish – and I actually did some speaking as well as following more of the conversation than I ever had before.

I feel like I’m living life more fully than I had been for a long time. I’m not saying I wasn’t enjoying life before, but there were parts of myself that I let go dormant that are coming back now.

I’ve also been determined not to get derailed from my ongoing fitness goals – and I haven’t. I still get up at 5am before work to run. My Fitbit daily step goal is still 15k and I still meet that goal every. damned. day. (Seriously – there’s been one day in 2017 that I didn’t meet it, because the I-meet-my-goal-come-hell-or-high-water approach has been, for me, the silver bullet to consistency.) The shift in my life I made towards fitness years ago isn’t one I’m going to let go of – I’m not going to make progress in one part of my life and simultaneously abandon progress I’ve made in another.

However – with all of this also comes the realization that you can’t do everything, and there are sometimes tradeoffs. My concession has been a re-embracing of my love of wine. Now, I’d never given wine up – god forbid – but for a while I’d cut down to mostly only having wine on Friday nights (date night!) and special occasions. And you know what? Right now? Fuck that. On days when I volunteer after work I get home and I’m wired and full of stories and Matthew and I talk about our days and whatever is going on around the world and for a while I was having trouble getting to sleep on those nights, no matter how exhausted I was; it was just hard to wind down. You know what really helps? Aaaaw yeah. A glass of Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel.

So I’ve put on a few pounds, because wine will do that to you. And I’m good with that, because although I don’t pretend to have somehow magically freed myself from the messed up body issues of our culture, for me fitness has never been tied to my jeans size. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing – I ran 7 miles this morning, the number of pushups I do hasn’t decreased – and if thoroughly enjoying my evening wine helps me to unwind from a day outside the pillow fort and get a good night’s sleep to prepare for the next one, and if being a bit rounder is the result of that, I’m down. You know, I’ve always had a lot of admiration for the type of athletic woman who isn’t skinny and wouldn’t want to be because she loves her burgers and loves going out for drinks but she could totally kick your ass on the field of her preferred sport. Maybe I’mma be one of those. Plus, in case I hadn’t mentioned this part, I really, really love wine. So if wine is going to help me be awesome, well, I think I’ll bear up under the strain.

Keep Moving. Do Things That Matter. And Don’t Miss Any PokeStops Along the Way.

Before I start nattering about my crazy balance of geekery and fitness and learning, let me just get this out of the way – people, freaking call your senators. Even if you don’t live in one of those ten states, still call them. They need to hear from you. Emails are great, Resistbot is great, but if you can call, call. It’s important.

Okay, on to the rambling.

Last summer when the Pokemon Go craze hit, I was on board big time – it was the perfect game for a fitgeek. Still is really – but after playing regularly for several months I had to stop when they came out with the update that blocked rooted phones.

I had an S5 that I had rooted right out of the box, and after that update PGo wouldn’t run on it anymore. I wasn’t yet ready to upgrade my phone and I certainly didn’t want to go to the trouble of trying to unroot it (no guarantee that that would’ve worked anyway) so I gave up the game. I’ve always thought that blocking rooted phones was a pretty ridiculous move on their part, really – they probably lost 50 legitimate players for every potential cheater they deterred. Anyway.

Last week, after running an S5 for about 3 years, I decided it was time to upgrade my phone. I was reluctant when the carriers stopped giving big ol’ subsidies for renewing a contract – now you’re expected to pay the full cost of your phone, which can get pretty damned high if you’re a techie geek that ogles shiny phones. As evidenced by the length of time that I had my S5 I’m not a person that feels the need to upgrade every year – if I get a good phone I’m happy with it for a while – but when I do upgrade I like to get something super shiny.

Then I found out that my carrier had significantly lowered the cost of its service plans in order to offset the monthly payments you now have to make in order to have a schmancy phone (unless you lay the bucks out up front of course) – which for me meant that I could have a plan even better than the one I had and make payments on an S8+ and still pay about $25 less a month for my plan than I’d been paying.

That made it hard to resist. So now I’ve got an S8+ and dayum is she ever shiny (her name is Starbuck). Also? The Android OS has gotten slick enough that combined with other customization tools like Nova Launcher and Tasker (I was so pleased that most of the Tasker automation I’d set up on my S5 carried over easily to my S8+) I’m getting along just fine without root. Given the price of the phone I think I’d like to keep my warranty intact for a while – maybe in another two years when it’s not brand new anymore I’ll decide I want to start hacking around with it, but right now I’m good.

SO. This means I can play Pokemon Go again – pick up right where I left off – and they’ve added a ton of new Pokemon, so it’s fresh and new again. I set a Pikachu to be my first buddy and got the last few candy I needed to finally get a damned Raichu.

I should mention that since getting kicked off PGo I’ve discovered a new favorite fitness-based game – Walkr, an adorable space exploration game where you get credit for steps (double credit for running, so I clean up). Fortunately they’re two very different kinds of games that don’t conflict with each other at all, so I don’t have to take time away from one to play the other. Walkr just hangs out in the background and whenever you check in you get credit for the steps you’ve taken (you have to keep your phone with you of course, but I do that anyway) and do your exploring, rather than having the game actively open while you’re walking like you do with PGo.

Playing PGo again makes me think about how I’ve moved towards favoring more and more hobbies/education/info sources etc. that I can play/listen to while I’m moving. Because everyone needs to sit and rest sometimes (I’m sitting at K Brew with my Chromebook right now – yep, really getting into this blogging-at-the-coffeeshop thing) and there are some things I can’t do while moving around (my Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons, for example) but I really like to keep moving a good bit of the time. (Sidenote: I’ve been using a DeskCycle all day at work for about a year now, and just recently the boss got us some new active chairs to try out and I am super obsessed with cycling on my DeskCycle while sitting on a Ballo – I love how it keeps me moving and balancing all day; it’s great core exercise, it helps me stay alert and keeps me from feeling like I’ve just been a lump all day.)

Having hobbies and ways to “read” and learn that don’t require me to sit really helps with keeping me moving mentally while keeping me moving physically – I’ve been listening to audiobooks during my runs for years now, and discovering the amazing bounty of podcasts made a big difference too. When it comes to news and politics not only do podcasts offer more variety & less commercial options than you’d get on television but they don’t require me to, you know, sit in front of the television. I adore the Crooked Media podcasts but if they announced “Hey guess what, no more podcasts, we’ve got our own TV station now,” I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them the way I do. Podcasts have really allowed me to follow news and politics in a way that would’ve been difficult to reconcile with my lifestyle otherwise.

At the beginning of this year Fitbit prompted me to raise my daily step goal. I had left it at their default 10k since starting with my Fitbit in July 2015. At the start of a new year Fitbit encourages you to reevaluate your goals, and since my daily step average is way over 10k, they suggested I raise mine. It was something I’d thought about, but I really needed to give it a lot of consideration, because a goal isn’t a small thing for me. See, the thing is, yes, on most days I still got over 15k. So I knew that raising my goal to 15k wouldn’t require me to think about it on most days. But when my step goal was 10k, if I had a day when for some reason I missed my lunch break walk or something threw off my routine and I only got 11k steps, I’d let it go at that – no big deal, a lower step day once in a while is hardly going to wreck my fitness, and hey, I’d made my goal. Because unless I’m sick or there are serious circumstances (there’s been one day this year that I gave myself permission to not worry about steps; I knew that the day’s crazy travel schedule would make it extremely stressful to try to get 15k in – but circumstances like that are highly unusual in my life) I make my goal every day.

So changing it to 15k meant that there would be days I’d need to think about it just a little more, or put in just a little extra. I usually take a 3 mile walk on my lunch break, but if we have one of our occasional group lunches at work, I miss a chunk of steps – with a 10k goal I would’ve just let it go. With my 15k goal, I go for a walk after work to make up the steps. It’s a psychological thing, I know – turning in a 12k day here and there is hardly going to make a big difference to my fitness, but the mindset of not letting myself off the hook for goals I set is a thing with me, and it’s worked really well with my particular brand of OCD – and it keeps me on track handily.

And I love that my goal of learning more, trying harder to keep in touch and understand what’s going on in the world, has been meshing so well with keeping moving. Because maybe keeping moving is a good way of distilling what I’ve been all about lately, what I’ve moved closer and closer to over the last years, and have been really thinking a lot about since November. Keep moving, do things that matter.

And sometimes play Pokemon Go, because hey, it’s the summer and it’s not like I need extra motivation to spend more time walking around downtown while I listen to my current book (almost done with Parable of the Sower, which is amazing, I’ll definitely post about it when I finish) and deepen my Chaco tan, but hitting up all the PokeStops along the way just sweetens the deal.

Sugar

I’ve been noticing lately that my goals for my physical diet and my mental diet have had a lot of parallels.

I’ve been eating healthfully for years now – I ate terribly throughout my twenties, but in my early thirties I made significant changes in my life and I’ve been taking far better care of myself ever since. What I eat shifts and changes over time, as it probably does with most people, and I go through periods where I’m more or less strict with myself, but I’ve consistently done a pretty good job of maintaining a basic “real food, no garbage” diet for a good long time.

One of my coworkers gave up added sugars for Lent this year and it inspired me to revisit being more vigilant about added sugars in my own diet. I do like snacking on cereal and granola bars, and even the Kashi stuff, which is lower sugar than most of the big brands, still has a decent amount of it. So I’ve been changing my snacking habits. I’ve gotten obsessed with Cheerios, which only have 1g sugar per serving. I’ve been eating more nuts, seedy Dr. Kracker flatbreads, Ezekiel English muffins with natural almond butter … there are so many good snack options out there with little to no added sugar. And I’m a big fan of fruit, so if I really need something sweet I go for something fruit-based – Larabar Minis are another new favorite.

There are exceptions, of course. On Friday nights when Matthew and I have Date Night we typically go out for dinner and drinks and then somewhere to get dessert, frequently a nice gooey sundae. I’m a firm believer that the Friday Night Sundae (or whatever your version may be) is an important part of a typically healthy diet, at least one that’s sustainable long-term.

Anyway, my eating habits were pretty healthy already, but I feel good about paying renewed attention to my sugar intake. This evening I baked flourless peanut butter banana oatmeal cookies – I added a chopped-up Lindt 90% chocolate bar but nothing else to sweeten them besides the bananas. They’re delicious – I’ll definitely be making them again.

I do find that the less sugar I eat, the less sugar I want. I always thoroughly enjoy our Friday night sundae but I wouldn’t want to have it more than once a week. On Saturday night I’m not thinking “man, I wish I could have a sundae again tonight.”

Over the years I’ve really shifted to wanting food that I know is actually nourishing my body. I want my food to be delicious, but I also want to know that what I’m putting into me is doing me good. Everyone needs to indulge from time to time, and special occasions are special occasions (hell yes I ate beignets in New Orleans) but the idea of regularly putting non-nourishing crap into my body is just not at all appealing. That’s as much of a mental shift as it is a physical one, and one that happened gradually, over an extended period of time.

I now seem to be in the middle of a similar shift of my mental diet. It’s been about a year and a half since I decided to start paying attention to the news and began my ongoing obsession with the BBC Global News Podcast (I have such a crush on Jackie Leonard) – before that I was pretty embarrassingly unaware of most things going on in the world. I’ve been a geek all of my life and for most of my life I’ve let my geek world of fandoms and video games consume my headspace in my free time. Almost all of the books I read were genre fiction or “guilty pleasure” romance novels. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with any of this – I’ve got the newest Black Dagger Brotherhood audiobook on my phone to listen to when I’m in need of a mental break and I really wish the newest Dresden Files book wasn’t taking so damned long and it’s inevitable that at some point a new RPG will rope me in – these are things that I enjoy.

What’s changed is that I’m not okay with letting fluffy entertainment consume all of my free time anymore. I’m not okay with letting my head spend so much time residing in imaginary worlds.

Starting to follow the news set off a domino effect that was already progressing gradually before the election but that has escalated majorly since. At some point last year I started adding more challenging books to my reading list; for a while I would read a lighter book and then a harder book and back and forth. This year I’m determined to complete the 2017 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and so every book I’ve read so far in 2017 has been challenging. As a result I’ve learned a lot and found several new favorites that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise (and one classic that I dislike much more strongly than I expected, but I’ll post about that when I actually finish it). There are a few challenges in the list that will be super easy for me – for example the one to read an LGBTQ+ romance novel and the one to read a fantasy novel, since those are two of my favorite brain candy genres. I’ve been saving those challenges for when I needed a bit of a break – I might indulge in one of them after I finish the book I’m working on now.

I’m not sure yet whether I’ll want to try the 2018 challenge – because I spend so much time listening to podcasts (at some point I’ll do a post to run down the list of podcasts I follow) I don’t tear through audiobooks as fast as I did before I became a pod junkie, so finishing all 24 items in the challenge is going to end up taking me the better part of the year. Of course, I also decided that I wanted to read 24 individual books and not double-count – if I decided to do the challenge next year but wanted a little more flexibility in my reading schedule I could always give myself permission to count books for more than one challenge. That’s an option. Point being, I’m enjoying doing it the hardcore way this year, and if nothing else I’ll continue to use the list as a way to challenge myself even if I don’t go so whole-hog with it every year.

I also haven’t been spending much time playing video games lately. Since I committed to learning Spanish I find I’d much rather spend some time doing Rosetta Stone lessons than zoning out on a video game. My Spanish is still very much at a beginner level but I’ve made it through four units of Rosetta Stone and I think my progress is pretty good for having started only a little over three months ago. I’m really enjoying the way the language is starting to gel in my mind – being able to go to BBC Mundo and understand at least the gist of most of the headlines is really gratifying – and I know that the better I get at Spanish the better I’ll do with teaching ESL, and the more versatile I’ll be as a volunteer. Right now that’s way more compelling to me than video games.

I was talking to Matthew about this not long ago and I told him how I’m sure at some point the pendulum will settle back in the middle – when I make a change I tend to be a pendulum-swing person. I go extreme for a while, then settle into a steady rhythm. Right now I’m spending very little time on entertainment/brain candy – I just feel like I spent way, way too much time on it for so long and now that I’ve started feeding my brain more nutrition, that’s what I’m craving. The less sugar I eat, the less sugar I want.

At some point there will be a video game I’m dying to play, or there will be a year when all of my favorite fiction authors come out with new books – and that’ll be totally cool. Because now that I’ve turned this corner I’m pretty positive that I won’t ever go back to where I was. I don’t want to be back in that bubble again. I don’t want to feel like none of my free time pursuits are doing anything to either improve myself or help people (I also didn’t used to do any volunteering – that origin story is a topic for another post too). I’ll get into a video game and read some frivolous books but that won’t be all I’ll do. I won’t stop learning Spanish, I won’t stop volunteering (it’s my intention for the volunteering gig I’ve got to be permanent) and I won’t stop challenging myself to learn. Just like even when I’ve gone through periods of being less strict about my diet, in the 8ish years since I started taking good care of myself I’ve never even approached getting back to where I was in my 20s – no more sodas, no more fast food, no more hoovering candy, not ever; that’s not a place I want to be ever again.

And I’m pretty positive that I’ll never watch as much TV as I used to – at this point just thinking about marathon TV watching makes me twitchy. Right now my TV consumption is typically an hour a week and I’m totally okay with that. There will be times when it’s more, but I can’t imagine I’ll ever want to watch TV every day again, let alone multiple hours a day. It’s like the Friday sundae – I used to eat sweets every day without even thinking about what it was doing to my health; now not only do I not do that but I can’t imagine wanting to do that.

Less sugar. It was a real transformation for my body when I decided to start taking care of my health, and lately it really does feel like my brain is going through that same kind of transformation. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get there, just like when I made changes to my health I wished I hadn’t disregarded it for so long, but I’m here now, and I’ll keep moving forward. My goals for myself shift and change but my overall goal is to consistently work to keep doing a little better. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of that, and in the midst of the insanity in the world right now, knowing that I’m making progress – making an effort to help people and also to improve myself both for my own sake and for the way those improvements can help me do better for others – is really helping me take things in stride. There are so many things that I can’t do anything about – but there are things that I can do, that I am doing. And that’s way more satisfying than sugar.