Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chewing the Holiday Fat


So I finally jumped on the bandwagon and got myself a tablet. It's fucking awesome and totally convenient for those times when I want to read online or look through my social media but don't necessarily feel like being on my phone. It was my Christmas present to myself for really making some great progress professionally this year. I've been working smarter, not harder, and it's been paying off really well. My business feels like it turned a corner this year and I'm excited to see where my writing takes me next. I'm incredibly proud of myself, not only for working as hard as I have, but for actually rewarding myself with something I really wanted.

I'm even happier about the fact that it wasn't even hard for me to make the decision to buy the tablet, because at one point in my life, it totally would have been. I had the money and I was able to score a great deal on a Nexus 10, the kind I wanted the most, so I just bought it. Since surrounding myself with better people and better situations as far as my daily life goes, decisions like that have been a lot easier to make. I'm officially through with letting other people tell me that I'm not allowed to enjoy my life or spend any of the money I work so hard to earn on myself. I'm better when I actually enjoy my life.

All that said, I can't believe that yet another year is about to draw to a close. I don't do New Year's resolutions and I don't believe in all that "new year, new me" bullshit. First of all, I don't want to be a "new me". I like myself just fine as I am. Also, I make changes and try new things only when my soul tells me it's the right time. I don't believe in rushing myself or in forcing myself to be more like the rest of society. I just follow my instincts and make the most of what life throws at me. I've been realizing lately how annoying I find it when people do otherwise, but that's probably another topic for another day.

The holidays have been fantastic so far... but then I actually allowed myself to take plenty of time off from work so that I could enjoy them to the utmost just like everybody else. Last year, I think I had to fight tooth and nail to even get Thanksgiving Day off. Then I had some time off around Christmas, but only because I'd recently told my main client at the time to go fuck himself and had yet to line up any replacements. This year was much different from that. I have better, more understanding clients right now. I've got a couple of space cadets here and there, but thankfully no bullies, opportunists, or constant complainers. The great majority of my projects pay me very well these days, so I don't have to spend as much actual time working in order to earn my money. I feel useful and appreciated for the most part. I'm even gotten to work on a number of projects that allowed me to be creative or write about topics I actually enjoy.

I'm a lot more relaxed as a result. I've been enjoying meals and evenings with Seth instead of working like a dog right up until it's time for my head to hit the pillow. I've been spending some downtime playing games I love, like The Sims and SimCity. I've even had more time and energy to reintroduce myself to reading and blogging -- activities I truly love, but haven't been able to make room for in a while. I'm realizing that it's not possible for me to be like that if I'm stressed out and overworked all the time. At this point in my life, I've just accepted that I'm never going to be a workaholic and I'm fine with that. I don't like workaholics anyway. Have you ever met any? They're horrible, sour people.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What the Before Sunrise Trilogy Taught Me About Relationships


Jesse and Celine in Their 40's -- Before Midnight
Anyone who knows me well already knows how I am these days in regards to the way romantic relationships are depicted in movies. I'm going to be 38 years old on my next birthday. At this point in my life, I've been in several relationships, some of them OK and some of them not so OK. I've already been married and divorced. Eventually, I'll wind up married again, this time to my dear partner of going on nine years. Suffice it to say that the idealistic little girl that could actually watch a Disney movie or a romantic comedy and totally believe that she was looking at a realistic depiction of actual love is long dead and buried thanks to cold, hard reality.

I suppose that's why I've always felt unusually invested in Jesse and Celine, the two characters from the Before Sunrise trilogy. They felt and still do feel real in a way other movie couples just don't. I finally got a chance to see the latest installment (Before Midnight) last night thanks to the magic that is Netflix. As a result, I find myself realizing that these two have probably taught me more about the reality of not only relationships, but also goal-chasing, personal development, and the process of growing older than anyone I know in my actual life. (We creative types can be pretty solitary, yo. We need to take our learnin' where we can get it.)

I wasn't stupid in my 20's. I was just young.

Like a lot of people that are fans of the series, I've actually been growing older right along with Jesse and Celine. When they met on the train in Before Sunrise, I was just a little younger than they were at the time. I still saw the world the way they did. I was idealistic and optimistic. I pretty much took it for granted that my life would eventually fall into place more or less perfectly and that any professional life I might ever have would find me doing something fantastic and unforgettable. I definitely still assumed I'd wind up part of some perfect couple that looked nothing like the middle aged German couple Jesse and Celine see arguing on the train. In other words, I had a lot to learn. 

Jesse and Celine in Their 20's - Before Sunrise
Looking back on how I thought back then, I usually tend to feel embarrassed. I will even admit that stupid is definitely a word I've used to describe my younger self in recent years. However, when I rewatch Before Sunrise as someone older and (I hope) wiser, I'm not sure that's still how I feel. It's actually a little bit of a pleasure to remember how it felt to be someone who believes in true love and who thinks that everything is guaranteed to work out OK in the end if you stay authentic and hopeful. I can still recall having those kinds of deep, fulfilling, rambling conversations with people I connected with and it reminds me of how beautiful being young and being able to imagine the best for myself really was. 

Sunrise also simply does a great job of portraying what it was really like to be about that age in the 90's. That's how my friends and I really dressed, and acted, and talked, and approached life. It's certainly how we hoped and thought when the subject of the future came up. We were young and it was really quite beautiful.

It's never too late to start over.

The follow-up to the original movie actually came out at a weird time in my life. I was approaching 30 at the time and struggling with a lot of the same things Jesse and Celine do struggle with in Before Sunset. Like Jesse, I was -- by then -- married to someone I really didn't even like and had kind of given up on the idea of ever having anything in my life that resembled a real love connection. Like Celine, I was still having trouble figuring out how and where to put down my roots and make commitments, especially career wise. Like both of them, I think I felt like I'd made a lot of mistakes and I definitely was still playing the woulda-coulda-shoulda game with myself.

It was pretty interesting to actually see this same couple I knew and liked so much from Sunrise dealing with a lot of the same things I was dealing with at the time. Before seeing this, I have to say that I felt like I was the only 30-year-old that didn't have all of my shit together yet despite being gainfully employed, married, and all that jazz. I also definitely think I believed 30-something was too old to start over if things weren't working for me. After all, all of my same-age friends said so, so it must have been true! A lot of them weren't happy with their lives either, but they had all just decided to suck it up and stick it out. I heard a lot of "life/marriage/work isn't supposed to be fun" talk around then... but I couldn't help but feel that if it wasn't supposed to be fun (or at least enjoyable), then what was it supposed to be... and what would be the point of living?

Jesse and Celine in Their 30's - Before Sunset
Actually seeing Jesse and Celine make a different decision for themselves gave me a lot of hope at the time and it definitely helped me realize it was OK to want something different -- a life my heart told me was right for me. I didn't do it because of them or anything, but I did eventually decide to end my unhappy marriage to my ex. I'd met someone else by then and unlike my ex, this was someone I actually "saw myself" with. I didn't think the new relationship would be perfect or anything, but suffice it to say that it actually seemed worth working on and that was good enough for me.  

Even people that love each other hit rough patches and argue.

Getting to see Before Midnight after nine more years have passed was a really interesting experience. At this point in my life, I am preparing to turn 40 within the next couple of years. I am still with the man I started a relationship with after I left my husband nine years ago. We really love each other and we're supportive of each other when it comes to the things we want to accomplish in life. We have the same kind of easy connection that Jesse and Celine have in the Sunrise series... but we're not perfect by any means.

A lot of the kinks have been ironed out of our relationship by now and we actually get along really well. But we fight every so often and have fought over the years. We've even had some really nasty arguments like the ones in Midnight -- the kind that make you literally cringe because of the kinds of nasty things that are said. I don't know that we've seriously considered breaking up or anything, but that's certainly something that's been thrown around when we're seriously angry and wanting to hurt each other the way couples sometimes get. Truth be told, that was the source of a lot of shame for me, because I tend to feel like fights and arguments are a sign that you're failing at something -- particularly being a good partner to the person you've chosen to spend your life with.

However, as always seems to be the case with me, I also felt like I must be the only one who ever gets frustrated with my life and makes the mistake of taking it out on my partner. We don't have kids together like Jesse and Celine did in the movie, but we certainly have our challenges in life still and they've -- of course -- shaped our relationship and tested it over the years. Seth has kids from another relationship and an ex that strongly dislikes both of us. Also, people have had their judgments about me and about us because we got together while I was still married to somebody else. Running off into the sunset together because you feel like you're meant to be sounds romantic, but it also creates a lot of loose ends that may always be issues in one way or another just as they were for Jesse and Celine.

We have career challenges and family dynamics that have affected things as well. We're different in certain ways. I'm sure we annoy each other sometimes. Getting older has been challenging for both of us and sometimes it shows. But none of that means that we don't love each other and it's because we love each other that we're what our friends see (and claim to envy) when they look at us... not because we don't fight or because we've never been through any rough patches.

We really don't change. We just evolve.

There was a scene in either Sunrise or Sunset where Celine talks about how she went back through her old childhood diaries as an adult once and was surprised to see that her way of thinking and the core of who she was had remained constant over the years. I can very much relate to that, as I've kept diaries and journals since I was a child and have thought something similar when I went back and read any of the older ones. At this point in my life, I consider myself to be pretty authentic as far as living in a way that is true to myself and it's strange how much the "evolved" adult me has in common with the person I was in early childhood, right down to the details. In a way, becoming who I was supposed to be has turned out to be more about returning to who I originally was than anything else.

When you backtrack and watch all three movies together, you can also totally see from the beginning exactly what issues Celine and Jesse will have as a couple one day. You see that Celine will probably always be rather stubborn and that her extreme idealism about how the world and people should be may always be something that gets in the way of cultivating a reality she can be content with. Jesse is always going to have that dismissive, cynical side to himself that found him making fun of Celine for enjoying her experience with the fortune teller. Neither changes in this way either... and it's doubtful that they ever will change. 

In a way they're not really each other's biggest problem in Before Midnight the way they obviously think they are. They're their own problems and always have been. You can see that in Before Sunset when they meet again for the first time in a decade and start talking about how "life" has been going for them. If you've seen Midnight, you realize that their own shortcomings had as much to do with their previous relationship failures as did the fact that they probably actually were with people that weren't right for them. 

You even get this confirmed for you in a way. Toward the beginning, you actually see Jesse interacting with his son, Jesse's main concern throughout the entire movie. Hank seems very well adjusted and at ease with the whole situation with his parents... but you see Jesse keep insisting throughout the rest of the film that he's not. It's really clear that Jesse is the one that actually isn't coping well and that he needs his son a lot more than his son needs him. The same thing can be seen going on with Celine's concerns about her career. The government job she is considering taking on and that you know she doesn't really want and won't be happy with because she said so in Sunset suddenly becomes her "dream job" once she and Jesse start arguing about where they're going to live. 

I can see that reflected in my own life as well. Seth and I are a much better fit than I was with any of my ex-whatevers. However, I can also be honest with myself enough to say that getting into a good relationship with someone I love and am actually happy with has shown me that a lot of problems I thought were about being with the wrong person were actually about me. Like Celine, I have a whole lot of feels about a lot of things and sometimes I can't really contain them. I get stuck sometimes on how I feel things "should be" instead of simply making the most of them as they are. I'm working on having better control over my feelings (as opposed to blaming them on other people because it's easier), but I'm also learning to accept that I'll always be this way to some extent and to become OK with that.

In a way, the fortune teller from Sunrise really kind of said it all when she told Celine all about the kind of woman she was growing into. However, if you'll recall, she also told her that she would need to find peace within herself before she could find true connection with others. You can see that this is and will continue to be Celine's personal challenge probably for the rest of her life... but I like to think that Jesse has been and will continue to be a part of that growth process for her and vice versa. Remember what the fortune teller had to say to Celine in regards to Jesse when she took a gander at his palm? "You will be all right. He is learning!"

Life isn't perfect for anyone and no one has it all figured out.

Like most people who really enjoyed these movies, I appreciated the way everything about Jesse and Celine seems authentic. The series doesn't pull any punches when it comes to showing you how relationships really develop over time, even down to the wear and tear a lot of people really don't want to know about. It does show you that two people having a great connection is just that, not a guarantee that they won't have any more problems or challenges, either as a couple or as individuals. A connection is a tool that you can use to build something wonderful, but that's it. There's no happily ever after. There's just "what comes next" and what's next is always another challenge, just like in real life.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Independence Day 2013

Wolfie With Our American Flag
As my American friends and readers already know, yesterday was Independence Day here in America. It's been so terribly hot here in Monterey over the past couple of weeks, but it finally started to cool down late in the day yesterday. Somehow we hadn't really gotten into the spirit of barbecuing yet this year, but 4th of July is always a great time to start, so that's exactly what we did. 

We also finally got around to taking some new pictures of ourselves and each other. I don't know how it is that we got so bad about this -- especially me. Granted I've never been someone who likes having their picture taken or who feels comfortable in front of a camera, but I definitely used to actually be in the habit of taking pictures on a regular basis anyway -- certainly at least a few new ones a month or something. This was especially the case since I've been so active online for so many years and plenty of uploaded photos are really the only way other people can see you and feel like they know you.

Me by the Barbecue Area
One of the reasons I've become less communicative over the years is probably that I don't have as much actual need to be otherwise anymore. Since I have Seth to talk to, ask for advice, or hang out with, I don't actively seek out direct social interaction online out of sheer loneliness anymore. Also, since my writing business took off to the point where I have a lot of regular clients, it's not really necessary for me to get out there and network quite as often either. I'm plenty busy as it is without doing a whole lot of self promotion these days. In other words, the original motives I had for building the online presence I currently have don't really exist anymore, so I've been sort of trying to figure out what my new motivations are and should be.   

I forget who said it originally, but I know there's a saying that goes: "Never allow yourself to forget the little things, because someday you will realize they were the big things." Or something like that anyway. When I look back on my own memories, I would have to say that I find that to be true. I would also say that I've learned the hard way to actually record those memories -- by writing about them in a journal, taking pictures, or both. If I don't, I eventually forget what a certain day was like, what I was feeling, what I was thinking about, or why I felt it was such a nice day in the first place.

Sweet and Sour Turkey Burger With Onion on Sourdough
That said, we had a really wonderful 4th of July yesterday. Thankfully, I'd already finished my assignments for the week, so I had no excuse not to take some time off and just have fun for the holiday.

We enjoyed the fresh air and sunset while listening to Mumford and Sons's Sigh No More. Last summer, they played the Monterey Fairgrounds and although we weren't able to get tickets to go, we could hear the music perfectly from our barbecue area and decided to grill burgers while we listened. Now every time I hear that album, it reminds me of grilling delicious food and just taking some time away from work and the computer to enjoy life for a moment. Naturally, Mumford and Sons is now a barbecue staple thanks to its new ability to invoke pleasant memories and good feelings.

Seth grilled us some delicious Monterey Jack sausages, as well as sweet and sour turkey burgers with onions on grilled sourdough English muffins. We also had a great time watching the sunset, listening to music, drinking red wine, and watching what we could see of people's fireworks from outside the house. Tomorrow, the Scottish games will be in town again, so we'll probably take a walk up that way and spend some time there as well. It finally feels like it's really summer in spirit and not just because of the heat for a change.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On Summer, Working at Home, and Laziness

It really is true what they say. Everything kind of has a downside... even getting to be someone who works for themselves from home. On the one hand, I have all this freedom since I started doing what I do. However, I'm not always sure that I put that freedom to the best possible uses.

When I imagine the concept of "freedom" in my head, I always picture myself being the same model citizen and full participant in regards to the outside world that I would be otherwise, only without the need to actually show up at an office day in and day out. In reality though? I get pretty lazy and that laziness only becomes more pronounced as time rolls on.

I'm a homebody at heart, so if work obligations and personal responsibilities don't require me to get out that often, I kind of just... don't. I don't like to dress up for no good reason, so not actually being required to go out most days eventually leads to barely bothering when it comes to fixing myself up at all. I certainly don't bother putting together outfits or putting on make-up most days. Before I know it, I don't even know where my nicer clothes are in the event I do want to go somewhere. Don't even get me started on how out of shape I become if something isn't forcing me to get outside and exercise on a regular basis.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that summer crept up on me again just like it always does and I don't feel ready for it. I don't have a car, so getting out and exploring requires a lot of walking, biking, or bus riding that I just rarely do anymore. Plus, I really don't feel like I have anything to wear or like I look good in what I do have. I used to feel like I looked pretty darned smart when I went out, but these days I tend to feel more like something that crawled out from under a rock and is just visiting the outside world for a while.

I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I certainly don't care to go back to being completely overdressed and caked in unnecessary make-up at all times like I was when I still worked an outside job, but I definitely don't like feeling like it takes a big production and a lot of grooming in order to get me ready to attend a simple community event either. I wish I still had a "look" of some sort and at least a few semi-decent outfits to put on if I want to go somewhere or take pictures. I don't care to be some bombshell that turns heads on the street anymore, but I would like to feel like my outsides really match my insides.

I still love my new bright red hair though. I literally smile every time I see it... but it doesn't really look like it belongs with the rest of me. Thankfully it's nothing a couple of inexpensive new dresses, a little make-up, and some purposeful dieting can't fix though. I just need to be less lazy when it comes to that sort of thing is all. However, summer has always been a pretty decent motivator for me when it comes to that particular arena.

........

I also finally saw my way clear to upgrading my laptop to a newer model with a huge hard drive, a faster processor, and a ton of RAM. I've been due to start thinking seriously about an upgrade probably for the last year or so, but I've been putting it off even though I've been able to afford it. I grew up in an environment that taught me that it's really not OK to spend any of my own hard-earned money on things for myself, but -- as with the whole homebody slug thing -- I'm pretty tired of that. I spend the bulk of my time and energy working, so I deserve to reap the benefits of that once in a while.

I eventually reasoned myself into placing the order by reminding myself that I rely on my computer for work. I also rely on it for a lot of my entertainment -- keeping up with movies, watching television, or playing video games (like The Sims). My old computer just doesn't keep up as well as it once did and it barely runs some of the more complicated games I enjoy. Since I'm not going to be going on vacation or doing anything major this summer, I figure I can at least play around on Second Life or upgrade my Sims game and engage in some virtual adventures, right?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Red Hair and the Passage of Time

I haven't been up to all that much, but that's honestly OK with me these days. When I'm straight with myself, I sincerely prefer it when there isn't too much going on and life is ambling on at a relatively slow pace. That was honestly the whole point behind so many of the really big life choices I've made -- leaving my marriage years ago, building a new relationship with the kind of man I've always wanted to be with (a creative, contemplative sort like myself), going freelance, moving back to California -- so I'm not sure why I still sometimes find it so difficult to just relax and let myself enjoy that about life when I have the opportunity.

I'm happy to say that I've been doing at least some of the things I've been saying I wanted to do though instead of simply continuing to talk about them. For instance, I finally got around to dying my hair super-bright red as I mentioned wanting to do. You can sort of see it in this fail-picture from off my phone the other day. (I'm still getting the hang of taking pictures of myself with my touch-screen phone and I really didn't want to just post a shitty webcam pic someplace I already post way too seldom.) At the very least, I'm sure you can see it's much brighter and more vibrant than the dark auburn color I was sporting the last time I posted images of myself here.

I fucking love having hair this color, yo. Crazy-bright hair like this is something I always wanted to try, but never felt I could previously in life. If I didn't have to worry about what my stuffy ex-husband or my parents would have thought of it, I would have had to worry about whether or not my boss approved. These days, I honestly don't have to worry about anyone else's opinion, as my life is mostly populated with people who actually make me feel comfortable being myself. I'm even in a relationship with someone who likes most of the choices I make. It's really nice, actually. Anyway, I'm definitely keeping this for a good long while. It's terrific not to feel so sick of my looks because they've been exactly the same for so long that they no longer feel like "me".

........

I also turned thirty-fucking-seven almost... two weeks ago now, I guess it's been. I know a lot of people say this, but I never thought I'd be viewing the world through the eyes of a 37-year-old and liking what I saw when I look in the mirror and think about the person I'm becoming. I really do though for the most part, despite the fact that all my joints are starting to hurt and I don't have that cute 18-year-old figure anymore. I wouldn't exactly say I'm completely satisfied with my overall level of accomplishment or anything, but for someone who got a really late start in life when it came to finding herself and living the way she wanted to, I think I'm doing OK so far. I definitely think the additional wisdom and experience I've acquired makes up for anything I've lost. Any haters I still have left can seriously just fall back.

The passage of time is is funny though. On one hand, I don't feel any different... but on another, it's like eons have gone by. I'm not old yet by any means, but I've reached the point where some of the people I knew in high school are starting to turn up dead suddenly and that's definitely something that makes me think about how much time has passed. It's a surreal experience to think back on people you used to at least see every day of your life and realize they're not around anymore.

A guy I knew peripherally in high school (and who was actually pretty good friends with some of my friends) died really recently. He was involved in choir, drama, and some other things. I'm not even sure what happened to him, but I guess it doesn't really matter. It's still someone whom I remember from my own past who's gone now. The funeral service is set for mid-April and I'm going with one of my old friends who was close to the deceased. That's... new for me. Not only do I normally avoid funerals like the plague, but I skipped my high school reunion and have only bothered to stay in touch with any of the old crowd through online avenues due to a complete lack of interest in looking back on the past. I'm not exactly sure what made me feel like I might be ready to see everyone again in person, but leave it to me to choose a funeral.