Tuesday, September 28, 2010

day 45: i threw away the scale

It sounds insane to admit, but since March I've let a mass-produced electronic gadget from Wal-Mart, a cursed bathroom scale with the deceptive name "Health-o-meter," largely influence my happiness and self-worth.

First thing each morning I'd step on and hold my breath, as though this might somehow cause a smaller number to appear on the counter between my big toes. And each morning was a test: anything below a certain number was acceptable; anything above and I had failed, and my day was off to a shit start.

sunset over Milford Lake

Right now it's probably important to mention that, in a coldly rational sense, I know I'm nowhere near overweight; in fact, I'm in the "healthy" body mass index range for my height and size. My appearance has always been important to me, so I've always watched my weight and have never had much of a problem with it.

But earlier this year I was rejected from every MFA program to which I applied (eight total), and I saw my already tenuous acceptance of myself as a "writer" slip further away from reality. I was appalled by how little control I had over the situation - my admittance was based largely on vague, subjective criteria, i.e., did they "like" my writing, or was I a "good fit" with their program (turns out they didn't, and I wasn't).

More or less, with my life seemingly stagnating while my friends bought houses, got married and produced offspring, I needed to have absolute control over something, and the most obvious option was my weight. I bought the fucking Health-o-meter and allowed it, from its nook by the bathroom sink, to mock me when I ate a bag of salt and vinegar chips for lunch or allowed myself guacamole at Chipotle. I worked out five days a week and weighed myself upwards of five times a day, cursing myself for gains and praising losses, and within a few months I'd dropped nearly ten pounds.

In a phrase, FUCK YEAH.

But this new measure of control carried its own self-imposed misery. Nobody set my weight loss standard; I set it for myself, which made it all the more private and unrelatable. In fact, sharing it with anyone invariably got the same response: "You're already skinny; you have nothing to worry about." But it was about more than just being skinny. It was about getting a grip.

Then last weekend I went camping at Milford State Park in the Flint Hills. Along with waiting out a torrential downpour in a little tent by the lake and biking along rows of trees and prairie grass, I also didn't worry about my weight for the first time in months. I scooped mounds of french onion dip onto potato chips; I scarfed s'mores; I chugged Miller High Life. And on the last day, when I was taking a shower along with about 15 spiders and a small toad (seriously), I caught sight of myself in the mirror - not scrutinizing as usual, just looking - and I realized, hey, I look good.

When I got home, I stared down the dreaded Health-o-meter and stepped on. Moments later I was greeted by the largest number I've seen in some time. But instead of beating myself up, I picked up the cursed gadget and tossed it unceremoniously in the garbage. This morning the trash man picked it up at the curb, and for the first time this year, a week before my 28th birthday, I left my apartment lighter.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

day 44: i ran with the dogs

Lately I've been searching for a cause, something I can wholeheartedly and selflessly support. Okay, so maybe it's not entirely selfless - I am, after all, an admitted narcissist, so in a way I need volunteer work as much as volunteer work needs me. But I do need to support my cause unequivocally; as a Libra, my innate need to weigh every option dictates this.

Because I am fascinated by the critters of this world (and because going to veterinary school would cost literally more than my life is worth, which according to my own calculations is approximately the same as a bottle of mid-quality Shiraz), volunteering at an animal shelter seemed a natural choice.

And as though fated, last week my friend L. sent me an e-mail from a group of volunteers who run with dogs at The Pet Connection, a no-kill shelter in Mission, Kansas. And because a calm dog is more likely to be adopted than a rowdy, holy-shit-it's-people, I'm-gonna-lick-your-face-now dog, the volunteers perform a valuable service by wearing the dogs out.

The only catch: the runs start at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings, a time I normally like to call "comatose." But, I have to remind myself, this isn't about you. Unlike a hungover state, which I have determined is the most self-centered state of existence possible (I need food; I need Advil; I need water; I need an intravenous saline drip), this is all about the dogs.

So I arrived at Mission Pet Connection at 9 a.m. sharp, chugging a nonfat pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks before stepping out to meet Devon, the sweet fella I'd be taking for a walk.

A mild-mannered pup who looked to be somewhere between German shepherd and corgi, Devon was eager to hit the pavement. The volunteer coordinator explained the route, and then we were off. 

Admittedly I hadn't known what to expect - I showed up with my hair down wearing jean shorts and my worn-the-fuck-out eight-year-old Chucks - but I quickly got the rhythm down and discovered that running with a dog is borderline freaking joyous. At stoplights, Devon would jump up, put his paws on my chest and lick my arm while I called him a good buddy and scratched his ears.

After spending 14 years of my life with Eddie, Jack Russell Terrier extraordinaire, I would love to have a little terrier of my own, but my small, yardless Midtown apartment and strange hours would be unfair to such a wonderful creature. Perhaps someday I will be able to afford a little house with a little yard for a little dog. 

But in the meantime, running with the dogs on Saturday mornings is a happy middle ground.

Side note: My other mega-cause is marriage equality, so hopefully I'll find a meaningful way to support that goal as well. Because goddammit, I find its detractors just infuriatingly wrong and stupid, and thusly my Libran nature is satisfied.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

day 43: i joined in the great typo hunt

Depending on your position, arming hard-core grammar nerds (or "hawks" as some might call them) with sharpies, white-out and chalk and setting them loose to go typo hunting is either a blessing or a curse.

They will cross out that unnecessary apostrophe designating a restaurant's back room for "employee's only," add punctuation to the sidewalk sign reading "please come in seat yourself," and suffer an aneurysm upon encountering the phrase "your welcome." These are the people who proofread billboards, grit their teeth at misplaced modifiers, and mock you behind your back for using lazy abbreviations like "thx," "gr8" and "b4."

While visiting the Kansas City Public Library, professional typo hunters Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson talked about their cross-country road trip correcting typos everywhere from mall kiosks to the Grand Canyon to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, at which they found both "Frances" (sic) and "Assissi" (sic) spelled incorrectly. 

this fucking sign is in the kitchen at my office.

The book that resulted from the exploits of these two mild-mannered nerds is aptly titled The Great Typo Hunt, and it's something of a call-to-arms for every armchair grammarian. 

One question I used to ask myself, and with which Deck similarly struggled while writing the book: What's the fucking point? Do sticklers really just have sticks up their asses, causing them to resist the natural forces of change?

And yes, maybe those people who get whiny about misspellings of "donut" or insist "ain't ain't a word because ain't ain't in the dictionary" (not gonna say I'm completely exempt from either category) do need to lighten up. Part of the beauty of language, after all, is that it's a living, ever-evolving beast that can accommodate advancements and changes in technology and culture. A staggering number of words exist today that were meaningless only a decade ago.

But there are certain rules that must remain static; I mean, no one argues that just because a bunch of people get it wrong, eight times eight is now going to equal 65, or that because it's tedious to learn the rules, the value of X in an equation is open to interpretation. No matter how you slice it, a complete sentence needs a subject and a verb, words have correct spellings, and the vast majority (like 99 percent) of plurals do not require apostrophes. 

These rules are important for clarity and consistency of communication, yes, but also because they're unambiguously correct. And there's something noble about fighting for what's right, even if it's as silly as preserving the integrity of the semicolon in bathroom wall graffiti (FYI, my resume could include: "Buzzard Beach bathroom graffiti editor, Oct. 2003 to July 2007").

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

day 42: i rediscovered frozen yogurt

Down the street from my childhood home was a fried-chicken-and-mashed-potatoes homestyle restaurant called Joe's Barn. And the name was literal - in the not-yet-suburbanized community of Stanley, Kansas, this full-service eatery had indeed been converted from a big, red barn, with the original rafters and windows still visible up top.

As a kid I was inexplicably horrified by meat - it had not yet become a moral issue, I just thought it was fucking gross - so my favorite part of the Joe's Barn experience was the self-serve frozen yogurt machine.

The pink strawberry ice cream coiled into my glass bowl like intestines (for some reason this image did not gross me out); the vanilla provided a perfect palette for rainbow sprinkles; and the twist was simply magical, because how on earth did chocolate AND vanilla come out of THE SAME spout?

I would take my ice cream back to the table and lick each bite slowly from the spoon, often going back for seconds or even thirds.

As I got older and experienced more exicitng specialty ice cream flavors and discovered the mouth orgasm of gelato, soft-serve fro-yo kind of fell off my radar until yesterday when I discovered Yogurtini.

The moment I walked into the sleek, modern, blue-and-white-tiled shop my mind was blown: bowls the size of small popcorn buckets were stacked on a table next to 15 self-serve ice cream spigots. Because I am both impulsive and lack self-restraint, I grabbed a bowl and went at it, filling it with whatever sounded good. This ended up being a mixture of red velvet, dulce de leche, and something else I added randomly because I could still see the bottom of the bowl, and that was just not gonna fly.

When I got to the toppings, my dam of self-restraint broke entirely, flooding my brain with commands beginning in "I want" and ending in "Twix, cookie dough, brownie chunks, gummy bears, sprinkles, blackberries, kiwi, chocolate sauce, marshmallow goo." I ended up with a globular, multi-colored mountain that could have been on the cover of a "what not to eat" pamphlet for diabetics.

Of course my chilly creation melted to a disgustingly sweet grayish sludge, but my friends had better luck: the tart yogurt is good with fruit and coconut, apparently, so next time I'll know to go with a plan.