Thoughts As I Start the Last Year of my Thirties

Friday was my thirty-ninth birthday, and it’s been an excellent birthday weekend. I took Friday off so that Matthew and I could spend the day together – we went to the zoo, to a wine bar and out for a fancy dinner. Then on Saturday we had a nice lazy day and in the evening went to a summer bash at an awesome local winery. Today I’ve been keeping it low key; some running, some walking, some studying Spanish, some chores, some cooking, some lying around – mostly recharging my batteries after an especially active week.

Unsurprisingly, my birthday has had me thinking about how my life has changed in the last year and how I see it continuing to change as I approach forty. Forty is a big round number, one I’m actually looking forward to reaching, and I’m already in a time of change.

I’m so different from the person that I was when I was thirty. I take much better care of my health and am in general far kinder to my body – that’s a sea change that came about in my early thirties.

I’m more cynical – which is, I think, inevitable to some extent with aging. I’ve tried not to let it get out of control; I try to retain a baseline of hopefulness, even if it is in a hope-for-the-best-expect-the-worst context. I also try to maintain that even if the world is fucked, that doesn’t mean we get to stop working to help people and make things better. I do, however, have a misanthropic streak that’s probably always been there, but the fact that, although my career has grown and improved vastly over the years, I’ve never managed to get away from working with customers or clients in some form has only continued to increase the extent to which people make me want to bang my head against something. (The state of the world has a pretty generous hand in this, too, but direct dealings with people on a regular basis tends to make it less theoretical.)

Side by side with that, I have more of a tendency to be judgey, which is something I wrestle with and work on keeping in check. It’s an odd contrast to growing desire to help people and be kind to people, which I think I often succeed at, but there are definitely times when people frustrate the shit out of me and I have to work on that. There are times when my judgey cynicism is warranted and there are times when it creeps into places that would be far better served with kindness and understanding. Being snarky is part of who I am, it’s not something I’m going to be able to (or would even really want to) quash entirely, but I’m working on a better balance.

I think I was a lot less judgey when I was in my twenties because at that time I really had no ambitions to improve myself at all. It took me until my early thirties to decide that maybe I needed to take better physical care of myself, a little longer than that to decide that maybe I needed to take better mental health care of myself, even longer to decide that maybe I needed to take better intellectual care of myself and longer than that to decide that maybe I needed to start helping people other than just myself. I’m equal parts proud of the path I’ve taken and frustrated with myself that it’s taken me so long to get there, and when I judge myself (which, Lordy, do I ever do) it’s sometimes hard for that not to bleed into the lens when I look at other people too.

I think part of the lesson here is that I also need to be gentler to myself, and that that will help me be gentler in general. It’s always been hard for me to find a balance between pushing myself to do better but also not being too hard on myself. I think that’s a hard balance for everyone; I know I wrestle with it. I want to be kind to myself but I don’t want to let myself off the hook all the damned time, because I do very well with accomplishing things when I keep myself on the hook. That’s a worthy goal – to keep the drive and ambition and momentum of my thirties while trying to regain some of the take-it-as-it-comes Dudeness of my twenties. To find a better balance. I’m saying that word a lot, aren’t I?

It’s a crazy time out there in so many ways, and I really have become aware and involved in ways I’ve never been before. My mind is more active than it’s been in years – maybe even since I was in college. Feeding my intellectual curiosity has only caused it to grow, which is a good thing – but sometimes between being more active both in what I’m doing and in what I’m learning, I have more trouble quieting it down. I don’t fall asleep as quickly as I used to – I’ve always been lucky with sleep, I’ve never had much trouble getting plenty of it, and I’m still very fortunate, it’s just not quite as simple as it was before.

It was a lot easier for me to fall right to sleep at the end of a day where my audio content was a romance novel and my evening’s activity was a video game – if it’s a day when I teach ESL after work and I come home and chatter with Matthew about what’s going on in the world (because lately it’s ALWAYS SOMETHING GOOD LORD) it takes me longer to wind down. A glass of wine helps, which is one of those areas where I can be kinder to myself – a while back I decided to cut down on drinking, which was a healthy move, but for a long time I was only drinking wine on Fridays, on our date night. Now I’m working on finding another balance – I can have a glass of wine in the evening to help me settle without going overboard.

I think aging is a factor too – I’ve heard plenty of people talk about how it gets harder to sleep as you get older, and that wouldn’t be the only physical sign of aging I’ve noticed. I’m definitely experiencing a few symptoms of perimenopause lately; nothing extreme, and it’s intermittent – sometimes I go a few weeks without a symptom – but it’s happening. Thirty-nine is a bit young for it but hardly unheard of, and given that I started menstruating at ten it would make sense that I’d start going through this part of the process on the young side, too.

It somehow seems fitting that I would see the very first early warning signs of “the change” at a time when I’m going through so much change. Also it was excellent timing that I read Parable of the Sower last month, because “God is change. Shape god.” just keeps resonating with me.

I don’t have any specific goals set to reach by my fortieth birthday, other than to keep moving forward. I want to still be doing everything I’m doing now, to be continuing to progress with my Spanish, to be continuing to learn where this path of change is taking me.

To be doing my best to shape god.


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.

Lovett, You’re A Fine Pod(caster)

We just got home from a four-day trip to New Orleans – my first time there and Matthew’s first time since he was too young to have more than vague memories. I’ll post about the trip when I’ve got some time to gather thoughts; right now it’s all a big jumble of awesome, so for the moment I’mma just take a minute to talk about my marriage.

The opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has oddly-believably-cgi’d-to-look-young Kurt Russell and Laura Haddock cruising in a convertible down a quiet country road on a gorgeous day while she sings along to Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) on the radio. Without getting into any detail of what’s going on in the relationship or where it goes (no spoilers/also it’s not the point for what I’m getting at), that scene succeeded very well in portraying a moment of carefree bliss and two people in love just thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.

Matthew and I have gone on a couple long road trips recently – to New Orleans this weekend and to Lancaster at the end of March – both are in the ten hour range. Road trips always make me think about how grateful I am to have a life partner that I am so thoroughly travel compatible with. At the end of ten hours in the car I’m still thoroughly enjoying his company; we were happily chatting about the last podcast we listened to as we unpacked the car at the end of the trip home today.

And as the new episode of Lovett or Leave It came on the Epic Podcast Playlist this morning and we both sang along with the wonderfully obnoxious theme song, sipping our coffees, the day’s drive ahead of us, I thought, this is our Brandy moment. And it’s every bit as blissful.

It Was Time For New Ink

I’ve known that I eventually wanted to get a Hamilton quote as a tattoo since well before the election, but the results of the election made it swiftly clear to me which one of the several quotes I was considering was the appropriate choice. I thought about getting it right around inauguration but that didn’t quite end up happening, and now I think getting it immediately after the first 100 days seems more fitting anyway.

I’d already been on a path of change before the election – in the year or so leading up to the election I started following news, both global and American, and started actually paying attention to politics beyond just the bare minimum needed in order to know who to vote for. I’d decided that I’d been barely aware of the world around me for too long and was going about changing that.

Then the election happened and pushed me off a cliff – in the same direction I’d already been headed, but with a sudden speed and impact, and at this point I don’t think there’s any going back. For a long time I was a person who spent almost all of my free time on escapist hobbies – video games, geeky tv shows, etc. – and while I will always love those kinds of hobbies, I’ve come to a point where I’m no longer okay with spending so much of my time holing up and indulging in brain candy. I need to learn and I need to do. I need to read and study and engage and I need to direct the benefits of that in ways that help people.

I’ve changed a lot in a relatively short period of my life – in ways that I’m very happy with, but I’m still wrapping my brain around it, around the effects of the changes and around the different voice I have when I’m engaging with the world now. I needed a space to speak with that voice that was separate from my old spaces. So here we go. We’ll see what happens.