Showing posts with label 42. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 42. Show all posts

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Body and Me

Nicoleandmaggie's recent post about learning to trust her body (and earlier post about radical self-love) has been on my mind recently, because, as I said in my comment there, my own trajectory has been almost the reverse of hers. I used to trust my body. I used to know what to expect from it, and could predict how it would respond.

But lately... I have felt a certain estrangement from my body. I have gained weight, and don't really know why. I have increased my exercise level, and still the weight stays stuck. I look in the mirror and what I see seems like it isn't really me. I always thought I would age gracefully, but it seems my body has other ideas.

I have been on the fence about whether what I need is a new diet and exercise plan, an attitude adjustment, or a stylist. Probably, I need all three.

The buzz around the essay that jackass wrote in praise of 42 year old women has certainly not helped this 42 year old woman be at peace with her body, but since I have refused to read the essay, perhaps I am being unfair to the author. I have no intention of finding out.

I had the idea that maybe it would help to write a list of the things I like about my body, to counteract the litany of flaws I usually hear in my head. So I started thinking things like: "I have nice ankles."

But then I realized that is the wrong approach. I will never make peace with my body by focusing on what it looks like. I need to focus on what it can do.

I am strong. Several times on our recent vacation, I walked the last 10 minutes or so of a hike holding Petunia, who weighs a little more than 40 lbs.

Exhibit A: hiking with a 4 year old
My body can do things. I can kayak and climb (small) mountains. I have a strong right cross, and can deliver a proficient Muay Thai style roundhouse kick. Actually, I can deliver five or ten strong punches and kicks in a row, as long as I'm aiming at a bag, and not a person. I've never had to find out how my punching and kicking holds up in a real fight, and I never want to.

My body can do other things, too. I grew two babies inside it, and fed them from it for two years each, give or take a month or so. It can still snuggle my kids and make them feel better when something has gone wrong.

My body is resilient. My feet started hurting recently, but some time in orthotics helped them bounce back. I need to wear the orthotics or shoes with good arch support more often than not, but I can still wear my favorite red mary janes, too. 

I started running again, and just this week I ran the furthest I have in years- despite my asthma and the extra pounds. It felt great.

So I guess I can learn to forgive my body the poochy tummy and the extra pounds it seems to want to retain. I can learn to overlook the spider veins on my thighs and the growing number of wrinkles on my face. I can learn to laugh at the fact that my blonde hair is turning dingy instead of grey, just like my maternal grandmother's did. In fact, I can cherish that link with the great-grandmother my kids never got the chance to meet, and use it as an excuse to tell them stories about her. Every time I look at my hair and think it is getting dingy, I hear her voice complaining about the same thing, and that is truly a gift. Her voice has otherwise receded from my memory.

I doubt I'll ever learn to truly embrace the changes age is bringing. I have spent 42 years living in a beauty and youth obsessed culture, after all. But I can try to retrain myself to focus on more important things in addition to how I look. I should probably learn how to dress to minimize the flaws I cannot exercise away, if only to make myself happier when I see pictures of myself. But I should also celebrate what I can do, flaws and all.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Looking for the Guideposts

This week's Tungsten Hippo blog post is a short one with a few ideas for sci-fi and fantasy ebooks to read for Valentine's Day if you, like me, prefer a low key celebration.

In other bookish news, I recently read Cutting for Stone,by Abraham Verghese, which I suppose proves that I do still read things that aren't short- there are many adjectives you can apply to this book, but short is not one of them.

I really liked the book. It is a vast story, in all of the best ways. I do not have the time or energy to write up a comprehensive review, but I definitely recommend it. One thing it does really well is convey the randomness of life and the idea that this means we should love and appreciate the good that comes our way to our fullest capacity. I highlighted one quote that seemed particularly apt:

"It seems we humans never learn. And so we relearn the lesson every generation and then want to write epistles. We proselytize to our friends and shake them by the shoulders and tell them, "Seize the day! What matters is this moment!" Most of us can't go back and make restitution. We can't do a thing about our should haves and our could haves."

This message came at a good time in my life. I am not liking my new commute. I outright hated the commute when it rained one day last week. I am struggling to overcome a combination of my own insecurities and other people's egos at work, and between that and the commute, I find myself dreading the start of each week. I am genuinely torn about what my next step should be.

But.

There are beautiful sunsets when I walk Pumpkin home from school.

Not shown: 6 year old skipping home from school
Petunia is loving life right now. She throws herself into her activities with such a huge smile on her face that you can't help but smile, too, when you see her.

Pumpkin is growing so much, physically, mentally, and even emotionally. I am a bit in awe of the things she can do now, and feel so privileged to get to watch this growth up close.

Every day I spend with my family is a gift. It is one of those sappy truisms that really is profoundly true. As Varghese observes, truly knowing and living this is something that we cannot be taught, we have to learn it for ourselves. Others can give us hints and point out the guideposts, but we have to find our way to them on our own.

Petunia insisted on steering without help. My job was to push the accelerator.
I feel like I am halfway to the path right now. Reading Cutting for Stone when I did pointed me in the right direction. I can see where I want to be. I just need to find the last few guideposts.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

On Productivity

I had a doctor's appointment this morning. My doctor's office and work are in opposite directions from my house, so I worked from home until it was time to go to the appointment. This gave me a little extra time in the morning,and I decided to walk Pumpkin the couple of blocks to school rather than drive her there. It was delightful. She told me all about the things they do on Tuesdays at school and I could focus on what she was saying rather than buckling her into a seat, finding a parking spot, unbuckling her, etc., etc. The route to school includes a short stretch with a beautiful view down to Mission Bay and out to the ocean, and we both remarked on how clear and crisp it was today, after the rain we had yesterday.

I don't know why I don't walk her to school everyday. I already walk to pick her up most days. That seems more acceptable, though, because I'm stealing minutes from our home routine, not from work. As I walked back to my house this morning, I thought about that distinction, and decided that it is BS. I might be five minutes later to work everyday if I walk Pumpkin to school. So what? Why is it OK to be five minutes later to making dinner but not five minutes later to work?

Don't get me wrong: I know I can get a lot done in five minutes. In fact, making good use of the little bits of time in your work day is one of the things I recommend in Taming the Work Week.

But I've grown disillusioned with how we talk about productivity these days. This might seem like a strange thing for me to say, since I write so much about productivity. However, I am not disillusioned with productivity, just with how we talk about it. We talk about being productive as if that is the ultimate goal in life.

That is not how I think of productivity at all. To me, being productive is the means by which I can achieve my ultimate goal, which is to live a happy life, in which I have the time and money to pursue the many various things that interest me.

I am not independently wealthy, so I need to work to earn the money part of that equation. I am lucky that the substance of my work involves some of the things that interest me, but there are many other things that interest me. Like my children. And travel. And writing. And short ebooks. And music. And baking. And... the list could go on and on.

I've written before about how I view my life as something to build out of the various blocks of my interests. Some of the blocks produce money. I care about productivity so that those blocks don't squeeze out all of the others.

So much of what I see written about productivity seems to focus on doing more, more, more, always more work, whereas I'm more interested in doing the same amount in less time.

I know that rising productivity is an indicator of a healthy economy, and I understand why. I wonder sometimes, though, if we are forgetting that our measures are just markers for what we should really care about- which to me is giving everyone the opportunity to lead the best and happiest life possible. I remember when Bhutan announced it was going to focus on increasing its Gross National Happiness more than its Gross National Product. A lot of what I read about it in the Western press was bemused at best, and condescending at worst, but I've always been intrigued by the idea. What if we're optimizing on the wrong indicator? Can we find a better indicator to use?

I am not an economist or a philosopher, and am still working to learn all the fundamental concepts I'd need to understand to really tackle those questions. I think they are important, though.  I look at what is happening in our economy right now, and I see workers pushed to be ever more productive, and the rewards of that increased productivity largely going elsewhere. Is that because we're optimizing our policies on the wrong thing?

We may be seeing the beginning of this discussion in the wake of the Congressional Budget Office's estimate on the impact of Obamacare on jobs (somewhere in this report but here is the NY Times article on it). While some pundits worried about "lost jobs," Adam Weinstein at Gawker and Matt Yglesias at Slate both discussed a different interpretation: that people might start choosing to arrange their lives differently when they no longer require a full time job for health benefits. I personally think it if the threat of losing health care is the only thing keeping someone in a "standard" 40 hour week job, then it is a good thing if they get the freedom to choose differently. Maybe our workplaces will even learn to adapt, and start offering workers better options.

I would really like to see that happen, both for myself and for others. Right now, if I want to work fewer hours in my current line of work my only real option is to become an independent contractor. I'd like to have more options, even if I might ultimately decide to stick to a 40 hour week. I would like to work towards a world where we all have more options. In the meantime, I think I'll walk my daughter to school more often. Work can wait a few extra minutes for me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Sort of Homecoming

I went to graduate school here in San Diego, but I have not lived here for my entire post-PhD life. After graduate school, I moved to New Jersey to take a job. I wasn't unhappy in New Jersey, but I always felt like I was just a visitor there. I had friends and favorite places, and there were many things I genuinely loved about living in New Jersey. But it never felt like home.

I eventually decided to move back to the West coast, and started a job search. I still had a fair number of friends in San Diego, so it isn't really surprising that my job search primarily resulted in interviews in San Diego.

I remember flying back to San Diego for my first interview, and being met at the airport by a car service. It was late afternoon, and I have a very distinct memory of a noticeable feeling of relaxation coming over me as we drove past the small set of boat slips near the stretch of Harbor Drive that leads from the airport to Interstate 5. I looked at the boats, with the downtown San Diego skyline in the background, and I smiled, realizing that I was home.

First home. (Not my photo- I don't have one! Photo found here
That memory of the almost palpable sense of homecoming has stayed with me through the years. San Diego is still "home."

So I was a bit surprise when I felt that same sense of homecoming right after arriving in a different city.

It happened on our recent New Zealand vacation. We flew from LA to Auckland. It is an overnight flight, and we arrived groggy and feeling a bit out of sync. We fumbled through passport control and customs, and out into the arrivals terminal. I took the kids to go get a snack while Mr. Snarky went to call the budget car rental place we use.

Eventually, we got our car and headed to One Tree Hill to give the kids a view of the city and a chance to stretch their legs at a park. We drove away from the airport, past the little strip mall where Mr. Snarky and I stopped on my second arrival in Auckland for a slice and to look at the Dick Smith's for a trackball. We drove on, and I noticed how the motorway had extended since my last visit (which was while pregnant with Pumpkin). And then I caught sight of the Sky Tower, and I felt the familiar loosening of tight shoulders and indescribable feeling of rightness. I felt like I was home.

Second Home.
I didn't know what to do with this at the time, and I am still not sure. San Diego is still home, and neither Mr. Snarky nor I want to move to Auckland. I think I would like to spend more time there, though. In my perfect world, I would spend a month there every year. Of course, in the real world, this would have to be one of the winter months for the next 15 or so years, while my kids are still in school. Also, I still want to travel and see new places, so I don't really want to spend all of my vacation days in one place every year. So for now, I'll just add this as another facet of the life I'd like build. And maybe bump Lisbon up the list of places I'd like to visit, because when I described my Auckland homecoming moment to one of my friends, he knew immediately what I meant and said Lisbon was like that for him.

Do you have a place that just feels like home? Have you ever had a sense of homecoming in a place that wasn't your home?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Happy Things Edition

It is a long holiday weekend here, and I'm not in the mood to think about any of the serious topics that have been all over my various feeds this week. So let's just have some happy things.

First up, Mr. Snarky found this sweet animated short just a little too late to include in last week's post.

I found this post from Parisienne Mas Presque charming. However, it brought a funny incident from my time in Sweden back to me. There was one older gentleman who was determined to have me prove his pet theory about how ignorant Americans are. I was torn- he was right that we Americans are often ignorant of things that happened in older countries, but I dislike being used as a patronizing object lesson. So when he was going on and on about how America doesn't have any buildings as old as some church in his home town I couldn't help but remark: "oh, but we do! There are buildings in my home state of Arizona that date from 1300 or before." He spluttered something incredibly offensive about those not being "real" but then left me alone.

This is a much nicer story than mine, of how Marilyn Monroe helped Ella Fitzgerald get her career established.

I found this short advice post oddly compelling. Perhaps because I love to fall down internet rabbit holes?

But this advice from Bill Watterson is better (and perfectly illustrated by Gavin Aung Than).

And on that note, I'll close this post. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Solving the Right Problems

I just finished reading Ready Player One,by Ernest Cline. (Yeah, I pretty much never update my "What I'm Reading" sidebar. I am only marginally better about updating GoodReads...) If you haven't read it, I recommend it highly. It was great fun, particularly for someone who grew up in the 80s, but it also raised some interesting things to ponder.

I don't think I am giving anything away by saying that one of the themes of the book is the risk of having people devote all of their time and problem-solving skills to imaginary worlds in the computer while the real world crumbles around them.

That theme intertwines with some things I have been thinking about recently, prompted in part by Cal Newport's recent post about how so many of Dartmouth's valedictorians became investment bankers. He argues that it is due to our shallow vocabulary around career aspirations, but I wonder if it might be something more, similar to the issue raised in Ready Player One, in which people have disengaged from trying to solve important problems to chase something else- in this case, money.

I think we have lost sight of the purpose of money. So many people seem to use money as a kind of score-keeping system, to track who is "winning" at life. I think that is wrong-headed, to say the least. To me, money is just a tool, a way to secure the lifestyle I want. Once I get that lifestyle, I hope I'll have the sense to realize I don't need more money. (I have a pretty nice lifestyle already- all that is missing right now is the flexibility to travel more. I'm working on that.)

It is not all about having a nice car
Which is not to say that I'd turn down more money if it came my way, just that I hope I'd stop chasing it. And I hope I'd then take the excess money and use it to work on some of the really big problems out there.

This is not intended to criticize everyone who has made a bucket of money and chosen to do differently. Who knows? Perhaps they haven't reached the lifestyle they want, or perhaps they just haven't made the time to use their riches for good yet. But I do wish we'd stop lionizing the super wealthy as the people whose lives we should most want to emulate. Getting rich should not be the sole goal in life.

While we're at it, I wish we'd stop holding up tech entrepreneurs who created a company on their own as embodying the one true way to start a company (and get rich, of course, it is always about getting rich). It is just one way to do it.

I am not criticizing the lone techie entrepreneur, either. I am in fact considering trying to start a company that way! But it is not the only way, and it creates serious limitations in the types of problems the company can tackle. Some undertakings inherently require a large team and a lot of capital: drug discovery and energy innovations are two fields that spring to mind. Companies tackling these sorts of problems need people with technical brilliance, but they need people who know how to organize the work and make sure the team works together to get it done, too. No single technical genius is going to bring a drug to market or fix our dependence on fossil fuels. This realization is one of the things keeping me from abandoning my current career. In some ways, I can work on more important problems as an employee in a company than I can as an entrepreneur out on my own.

Since not all companies can be started by a lone techie in his or her garage, the world definitely does need investment bankers. But maybe we don't need quite so many- and we definitely don't need the attitude that the most important thing you can do with your life is make more and more money. If that's the goal we're all chasing, I can almost guarantee that we're not solving the right problems.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Following the Money, Sort Of

Ginger at Ramble Ramble is starting a new writing prompt group. I don't know how often I'll play along- the limit on my blogging is more often time than ideas- but I thought I'd at least do a post for the inaugural topic. She put up two questions as prompts this week: Why did you start blogging? and What's the best decision you ever made?

I've written about why I blog before, so I figured I'd tackle the second question. It is a surprisingly hard question to answer. I've made some good decisions in my life (and yeah, some bad ones, too, but that isn't what the question was about). But which would be the best? They all sort of build off of each other, in the way that life does.

The first decision that I remember thinking of as really important was my decision to go to The University of Chicago for college. I can't really say why I chose to apply there, but I know why I went: they offered me a full tuition scholarship. I had a couple of other scholarship offers, so it wasn't as simple as choosing the only place I could go for free. But once the acceptance letter and scholarship offer from Chicago arrived, my choice was made. It was a perfect fit for me, although perhaps not for the reasons I thought when I accepted the offer. I accepted the offer with happy thoughts of the life of the mind and other phrases from the U of C's brochures. But it was actually a perfect fit because the academic rigor started to build my confidence in my abilities. I'd had a lot of good educational experiences before college, but was rarely really challenged. I also grew up in a place that was fairly conservative and went to a high school in which many of the students in one of the dominant social groups belonged to a religion that advocated for women to take a secondary role to their husbands. My family did not believe that, and my parents always supported me in my undertakings, and made me feel like I could do anything I wanted. But I think the combination of the fact that I was rarely challenged academically and the fact that a lot of my peers believed that a woman's place was in the home led me to sell myself a bit short.

That all ended in college. It wasn't an instantaneous thing- not by a long shot. Like many people I've met since, a lot of my college peers looked at my long blond hair and generally sunny disposition and judged me to be a lightweight. My performance in my classes seemed to reinforce their opinion, and I started to see myself as a lightweight, too. Part way through my first quarter there, I was sure I'd made a mistake, and I started thinking I should transfer some place else. Having never faced much of an academic challenge before, I didn't know how to study, and although I was not failing any of my classes, I felt like I was in over my head. Then the guy I was dating at the time, whose family lived in Chicago, didn't invite me to visit him for Thanksgiving. I spent the long weekend in the dorm, a bit bored and angry. And I studied. I studied so well that I aced my chemistry exam the following week. That surprised a lot of people, including me. From that point forward, my performance in my classes improved, and I started to believe more in my own capabilities. By the time I graduated from college, with an A- grade average, I felt like I could probably handle any challenge.

As I was finishing up at college, I decided to go to graduate school. Again, I can't really say why. It just seemed like the thing to do. Of course, the graduate students I knew tried to talk me out of it- that is sort of the duty of all graduate students, to warn people considering graduate school that it isn't all that much fun. Despite their best efforts, I was not deterred. And again, the specific choice of school was influenced by money. I won a National Science Foundation fellowship, which meant that I'd be bringing my own money into whatever graduate program I attended. A lot of graduate schools essentially said "That's great!" and offered no improvement over the standard graduate student compensation package. One or two said "That's great! You don't have to be a teaching assistant if you don't want to be one." The one I went to said "That's great! You can have an extra $3000 per year."

If you had asked me at the time, I would have said that the program seemed like a really good fit for me. It did- but so did several other programs. The honest reason why I went to the school I went to for my PhD is that extra $3000 per year.

It worked out well- the program was good. It was also very customizable, and because of that I graduated with training in both science and databases, which helped me land an offer for a job at a biotech company. I also had an offer for a postdoctoral fellowship, and I really agonized over which offer to take. For once, the deciding factor wasn't the money- or not entirely the money, anyway. The biotech job paid literally twice as much as the postdoctoral fellowship, but it also offered me more independence. Looking back, I can't actually believe I agonized so much over that decision, given the huge difference in salaries, but at the time, leaving academia felt like a giant step into uncertainty.

That particular job didn't work out all that well- but it set me on a career path that has served me well. And it was at that job that I met my husband. He would not appreciate me telling the entire world the story of how we ended up together, so suffice to say that money had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

I think I can get away with saying that when I met Mr. Snarky, I was at the tail end of another relationship, although I didn't really realize that at the time. In due course, the other relationship ended, and Mr. Snarky was there, offering me another option. I tried to warn him off- he was sure to be my rebound guy, right? But he said he didn't care, and I decided to give him a chance. And here we are, 12 years and two kids later, still happy.

I don't know which of these decisions was my best one, but I'm glad I made them all the way I did. However, I also tend to think that life has a way of working itself out, most times, so I suspect that if I'd made different decisions, I would probably have gotten to an equally happy place. I don't usually agonize over decisions. I've never really tried to state my decision-making philosophy, but perhaps it is this: do what seems best at the time, and trust yourself to make the best of where those choices lead you. And if everything else seems equal, picking the option that works out best financially is a pretty good way to go.

How do you make decisions? Can you look back and pick a decision you consider your best one?

Friday, May 03, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Modern Ethics Edition

I've got quite a mix of links for you this weekend, but the unifying theme is living ethically in these times.

First, an old article from Salon about traveling ethically. I love to travel, and I do think about how to travel ethically. This article doesn't really provide the answers for how to do it, but I think it does a decent job of raising some of the right questions, and it has links to some good resources.

Today Salon had another article about ethics- this time about buying clothes ethically. Bad Mom, Good Mom writes about this topic quite a bit, and this week she had posts about taking the wardrobe refashion pledge and the Me Made May challenge, and the impacts of those two things on her choices and behavior.

I know how to sew- I learned as a kid, and sewed into early high school. I do not currently have the time or the inclination to make my own clothes, though. It is not an activity I find relaxing. For one thing, I suck at cutting straight and that always stressed me out as a seamstress. I do, however, greatly prefer to buy fewer clothes of high quality versus a lot of low quality clothes. I'm not really into disposable fashion trends. I like high quality clothes in classic styles that flatter my body type. The trick is finding them. I've been pleased with the quality of what I get from Stitch Fix, but as much as I enjoy the serendipitous aspect of it, I do not want the number of clothes it would take to build a reasonable wardrobe solely by that approach. I suspect that I'll get at most a few fixes a year, and use them to push me out of my fashion ruts and add some variety to my otherwise pretty boring wardrobe.

I'm still planning to try out a personal shopper later this year, when my pants size has stabilized. But I'm also tempted by another online service I came across- custom shirts. Most of the online options are geared for men, but I found one called Joe Button that has a nice selection of women's button up shirts. I'm tempted because I like the way a well-fitting button up shirt looks- but I can almost never find one. I am a 38F. A structured shirt that fits my chest is usually tent-like and unflattering,  so I end up with nothing but t-shirts. Luckily, I work in a casual industry, but I'd like a few dressier options. Joe Button's website says that I can customize based on my measurements, which is a tempting idea. They use tailors based in Hong Kong.  Before I use a service like Joe Button, I'd like to do some research to see if their conditions are as good as they imply.  If I decide to give Joe Button a try, I'll let you all know how it turns out.

I have ordered clothing from far away before- I bought a pair of Sole Rebels from Ethiopa last year, and I love them (I think these are the ones I have). I don't have a problem with clothing made in other countries, as long as the working conditions and pay are acceptable (see the Salon article for more info about that). However, I'm also interested in finding some good local designers to support, assuming I can find someone here in San Diego who makes things appropriate for a 40 year old professional, and not just for 20-something beach goers. I guess I could always extend my search up to LA or even San Francisco, too. I thought that maybe I had a lead from my Stitch Fix boxes. Of the the 6 pieces of clothing I've kept, two were from a brand called 41 Hawthorn, and both of those were made in the USA. Google tells me that it is Stitch Fix's in house brand, though.

Anyway, enough about clothes. My next link is a blog post about work-life balance and being a good team leader from Jon Gallant, a dev manager at Microsoft. Anandi (who blogs at House of Peanut) sent it to me saying it was the best article on the topic she'd ever read, and I agree with her- it is a  great article. For me, caring about work-life fit is part of my ethics not just as a parent and a worker, but also as a manager. A lot of people I come across, look down their noses at management and business in general, but most people work for businesses, and the quality of the management has a huge impact on those people's quality of life. Therefore, I think that one of the most important things I need to do to be ethical at work is to be a good manager. I take the role seriously, particularly with regards to ensuring my team can have good work-life fit and that they get the career development opportunities they want. Reading posts like this one make me feel that I'm not alone in that.

My next link is an article from a guy who unplugged from the internet for a year, because he thought that maybe the internet was the source of some of his problems. It turned out that his problems came from inside himself, not the internet. It is a good read. I found it via Scalzi's post on it.

The internet does make it easier for people to be haters, though. I've written before about how I'd rather be a maker than a hater, and Wil Wheaton had a great post on that topic.

And finally, here are some everyday acts of kindness, captured courtesy of those Russian dashboard cameras that are famous for capturing accidents real and fake. It is nice to see the good things that they capture for once.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Refuge

Mr. Snarky has taken the kids to the park, with the idea that I use this alone time to do something I want to do. I finished the book I mentioned on Friday (Constellation Games, which I loved as much at the end as I did when I was halfway through on Friday night), and I don't feel like starting another book right away or reading about starting my own company (I'm roughly 3/4 of the way through Escape From Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur). So I thought I'd write a blog post.

I was initially going to write about our recent trip to Disneyland, but nothing I was about to write seemed interesting, even to me. I'll skip that post, and just give you a couple of cute pictures:

Pumpkin being a "whale watcher." The ears announce that it was her birthday, and garnered her much attention and joy.

Petunia loved the kitchen in Minnie Mouse's house. She considers meeting Mickey and Minnie highlights of the trip.

Instead, I'll tell you about something I realized during that trip. The low point of the trip was when Petunia got sick. We don't know if we let her overheat, or if her stomach was upset by her unorthodox decision to eat leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast, or what. But she was clearly not well Friday afternoon, so I took her back to the hotel to rest in some air-conditioning. I thought she was better and went back out that evening to meet up with Mr. Snarky and Pumpkin for dinner. I won't say that doing so was a mistake- I got a couple of great margaritas, Petunia got a stuffed baby Mickey Mouse that she adores and we did see the fireworks. But Petunia threw up between dinner and the fireworks- which is why I know that the adorable stuffed baby Mickey Mouse is 100% washable.

Anyway, when we got back to the hotel that afternoon, Petunia just wanted me to hold her. I was sad and grumpy. I felt like we'd let Petunia down by letting her get sick, and I was sad to be missing out on Pumpkin's afternoon- Pumpkin was LOVING Disneyland, and it was really fun to see that. Too bad, though, this situation was what I had, and no amount of feeling sorry for myself was going to fix that. I figured I should make the best of it, and give Petunia what she wanted. I was at that point reading Zero History, which I have in paper form, so I was not able to read until Petunia calmed down enough to let me put her down on the sofa.

Instead, I just looked at Petunia. I was struck by watching her as she snuggled into me. Her eyes half-closed and I could see all the stress and unhappiness just leave her body. She snuggled in, put one thumb in her mouth, ran the other hand under my shirt- as she likes to do- and smiled.

And I realized, I am her refuge. When she is stressed or hurt or worried, she wants me, because snuggling into me makes it better.

This is both a benefit and a responsibility of motherhood*, I think. I have written before about what was lost and what was gained when I became a mother. To me, this trumps them all. The feeling I get when I can comfort my child just by being there and holding her is literally indescribable. I won't try to describe it, but I will say it is amazing. It is, without a doubt, something I experience as a benefit of motherhood.

It is also a responsibility, though. My children's physical need for me will decrease as they get older- already, Pumpkin wants these comfort hugs less than she used to. But I don't think the effect goes away. I remember reading about a study that found that kids' stress levels go down when they talk to their mother on the phone. I know that talking to my mom on the phone always makes me feel better, and I'm 40 years old. This is an average effect, though- there are some people for whom their mother does nothing but add stress. I think we are hard-wired to want that initial caregiver bond, and to want that bond to be with someone who can be a refuge. What a horrible thing it must be when that person is instead another source of trouble.

I hope I will always be a refuge for my children, in whatever way they need. I will admit that I'm looking forward to the point at which Petunia no longer needs to stick her hand under my shirt for comfort, though!

-------------------------

*Or more precisely, of being the caregiver a child has bonded with as comfort person- it doesn't have to be the mother, and I think even when it is the mother, other caregivers can have a similar, if perhaps a little less powerful, effect. But I don't want to get into all of that in this post. Can we please just take it as a given that I am not trying to denigrate anyone else or their parenting experience, but am writing about a benefit and responsibility I feel from motherhood?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thought Experiments

Nicoleandmaggie had a post this week about how silly the advice to live every day like it was your last is. I agree- I don't find that particularly useful advice, even for provoking thought.

As I mentioned in their comments, though, there are some "thought experiment" type questions that I do find useful, albeit more as sources of information about my true preferences than as guides to how I should actually live my life.

One such question is the popular "would you keep doing your job if you didn't need the money?" There have been times in my career when I would have answered "yes" to that, but now is not one of those times. This is interesting information, but it doesn't mean that I should quit my job, or even that I should try to find a new job. Right now, the work that I think I'd be doing if I didn't need money is researching and writing non-fiction books that examine interesting questions using a variety of approaches- similar to what Michael Pollan does in The Botany of Desire, but probably quirkier and far less commercially viable.

So yeah, I'm not going to toss my current career overboard for that. But maybe I could think about why the idea of writing that sort of book appeals to me, and see what that tells me about how I should be spending my life.

I recently came across another useful thought experiment question in Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In (Yes, I will probably write a post about my reaction to this book and my reaction to some of the other reactions to it... but not until I finish the book. Spoiler alert: I'm really liking the book so far.)

A fear I won't be conquering
The question is from one of those hokey motivational-type posters, which are apparently plastered on the walls at Facebook- which, given the fact that people apparently like posting hokey motivational quotes on their Facebook walls is probably cosmically appropriate. It is: "what would you do if you weren't afraid?" One of the passages I've highlighted in the book is Sandberg's own answer to this:

"Writing this book is not just me encouraging others to lean in. This is me leaning in. Writing this book is what I would do if I weren't afraid."

While I was out for my lunchtime walk yesterday, I realized that I know the answer to that question I want to be a "maker" even if that means exposing myself to the nastiness of the "haters" in this world. My answer to that hokey Facebook question showed me that I still have some fears holding me back. Having that information is quite powerful. Now I just have to decide what to do with it.
for me right now, and that was very, very interesting. I am not ready to blog about it, because I haven't decided if I'll act on it. After all, sometimes our fears are quite rational and deserve to be respected. In some ways, I have already started to stare down some of my fears, in that I've decided

Do you have any favorite thought experiment questions? Share them in the comments.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Weeding as a Metaphor for Life

Awhile back, I saw a post or a tweet or something in which someone asked: what chore do you actually like doing? (Notice my stellar memory at work there- I can't remember any of the details!)

At the time, I thought: are you crazy? Chores are things I don't like doing! Isn't that the definition of a chore?

But this weekend, I was outside weeding in our front yard and I realized that actually, weeding is a chore I like doing. We have our front yard landscaped with native plants, which makes the yard low water use- or really, no water use. We don't water our front yard anymore. The yard is also relatively low maintenance, but in the winter and spring time, particularly after it rains, we get weeds.

The thing is, when I go out to pull weeds, it is on one of the nice days after the rain. So I get to sit in the sun (or occasionally, the pseudo-sun of one of our cloudy days) and enjoy the outdoors. If I'm lucky, Mr. Snarky keeps the kids occupied, or they want to color with chalk on the driveway, and I can let my mind wander while I systematically pull up weeds. There is obvious progress. I get fresh air. I might even get peace and quiet. What's not to like?

I've written before how I find weeding to be an apt metaphor for life. I continue to find lessons in weeding. Here are my latest:

Something can be really pretty. If it is growing where you don't want it, it is still a weed.

Pretty. But still a weed.
You don't have to completely conquer a problem. Sometimes, it is enough to just make it better.

It is best to wait until the rain stops and the ground dries a bit before you try to pull weeds, or you'll bring up a lot more of the soil that you really want.

The big things are sometimes easier to fix than the little ones.

Easy.
Hard.

Do you have any life lessons from chores?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Makers vs. Haters

I finished off a writing project over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a small project, but it was definitely a project- as in, longer than a blog post. I have been working on it all year. Literally. (And yes, I am using that word correctly in this case- I started this project in January.) It feels great to be done with it (at least until I need to make revisions). It also feels great to have proved to myself that I can indeed get a non-work project of reasonable size done right now, even if it takes the better part of a year to do it. It gives me hope for the slightly more ambitious project I have in mind to try next. That one involves coding, and so will present different issues than a writing project, but still... I feel inordinately proud of myself for having managed to complete something.

So anyway, I finished a project. Yay me! And then, for some inexplicable reason I went and read some of the Amazon reviews on some of the other books published by Xist Publishing, the company that will be publishing my children's book. Most of the reviews were positive, or at least constructive (a good, constructive negative review is a useful thing!), but there were a few that just seemed mean-spirited. Obviously, I knew that people wrote mean reviews. Still, reading these was a reminder that not everyone will happily welcome my little projects when they head out into the world. I started to question the wisdom of opening myself up to another source of things that could make me feel crappy. Boo.

Then I remembered the recent Oatmeal cartoon about creating things. His bit at the end about destructive criticism is quite apt. We focus so much on being able to take criticism well and use it to learn and grow, and that is indeed a good thing. But we shouldn't forget that not all criticism can be used in that way. Some of it will just make us want to stop creating things, which is too bad. I may never create something as good as the average Oatmeal comic and I certainly will never create something as wonderful as the Mona Lisa, but I still might create something that has some value, and it would be a shame if I refused to let my creativity out just because some people are mean.

Cranky Internet Guy
As I pondered this, the meanest of the comments I had read started to amuse me. The guy was upset because the author had "gotten her husband to take some pictures" and then "written some captions for them" or something like that (I'm not even going to waste my time going back to get the direct quotes). Well, who does he think creates the illustrations in the books put out by the big publishing companies? Someone's wife or husband, probably. Or maybe not. Whoever it is, it is just a person, not some specially anointed creater of children's book illustrations. And the words he dismisses as mere "captions" form a story that my kids rather like and ask me to read. So he didn't like the book. My kids do like the book. Who's to say who is right? Certainly in my world, my kids' opinions matter more than those of some random cranky guy on the internet.

I can handle the cranky guys on the internet. If they don't like what I create, so what? It is unlikely that they will ever have paid more than a few dollars for whatever it is I made. It is not like I plan to set out to defraud anyone of large sums of money- I will create something and people will pay some small sum for it and they will like it or not. And if it succeeds, great. If it turns out that it sucks and it fails, well that's fine, too. I can try again on something else. I can embrace the suck. Not creating anything at all is worse than creating something that sucks.

And you know what is worse than that? Sitting around hating on the things that other people create.

The Randians have it all wrong. The conflict isn't between the Makers and the Takers. It is between the Makers and the Haters. I know which side I'd rather be on.

(Also, I've resolved to start writing more reviews on Amazon, particularly 3 and 4 star ones. Those are the ones I trust. The 5 star ones always seem suspicious- I know I don't love most things that much. And the 1 star ones are often cranky internet guys. But those 3 and 4 star reviews? I reckon they'll point you to the good stuff.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Thanksgiving Story

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I, like many other Americans, will be spending the day with my family, feeling very grateful for all that I have. I could easily write a long post detailing all of the things I am thankful for, but I don't want to do that tonight. Just accept as a given that I am aware of my great fortune and will be trying to give proper thanks tomorrow, and indeed, all days.
Tonight, instead I want to just tell a story.

Today, I checked my Twitter feed at my lunch break, and saw this tweet:

 

I replied back that I had figured out what to do with my postcard collection. (Here's the link in that tweet, in case you want to read it.)

Back a couple of jobs ago, I had an office with an unusual feature in it: a post. One day, I had the bright idea that I should decorate my post with postcards (what else?) and so I started buying a postcard every trip I took. I was a contractor, and I traveled a bit for work, so I picked up some postcards that way. I also liked to travel for fun, so I picked up a few more that way. And then my husband and I decided to go on our big trip around the Pacific and Asia, and that yielded quite a few more. All told, I have 29 postcards, from destinations as close to home as Arizona and as far flung as Auckland, Easter Island, and Cambodia.

I've kept my collection of postcards through two different jobs, but have never displayed them again. I have considered throwing them out, but that felt sad. So they have sat in a file folder marked "office decorations." And now, I will mail them to Nathan.

I thought I'd share this here, as well as Twitter, in case any of my readers want to join in.

Either way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I Need to Make My Own Damn Cookies

Awhile back, Laura Vanderkam had a post about the "mother stays in the picture" post that was going around at the time. The comments section included an interesting discussion of "mothers as martyrs" that I read and basically agreed with it, but felt a little uneasy about. Something was bothering me about the topic. I couldn't put my finger on it until today, when I was looking something else up on my blog (yeah, I do that a lot- it is like an external hard drive for my memory) and happened across my old post about privilege. In that post, I tried to use a parenting analogy to explain how I don't think being relatively privileged means that you have an easy time in life. The post has nothing whatsoever to do with martyrdom, but it contains this line:

Mmmm. Cookies.
"I want someone to give me a cookie and tell me I'm doing a good job... and no one does, because my husband (the most likely source of cookies and praise) is also tired and finding things hard."

Something clicked for me. The thing that has been bothering me about the martyrdom discussion is that it doesn't really acknowledge the fact that most people like to feel like their work is appreciated. And yes, motherhood involves a lot of work, some of which is hard and dirty and not a lot of fun. Motherhood also involves sacrifice, which is another thing that people generally like to have appreciated.  Our culture can pretend all it wants that motherhood only adds to your life, but I disagree. I gained a lot from becoming a mother, but I lost a lot, too. Basically, a lot of parenting comes down to subjugating my own wants to my children's needs, in large ways and small. I call that sacrifice. You may not truly understand the sacrifices you're signing up for when you decide to have a child. I certainly didn't. But that's not the kid's fault, and most parents recognize that and try to do right by their child.

The thing is, sometimes that sacrifice comes easily and you don't really mind. But sometimes, it really stings. You suck it up and do whatever it is that needs doing anyway, because that is part of the job you signed up for, and you want to raise your child "right". Most of the benefit of that accrues to the child and to the parents, but a non-negligible part of the benefit accrues to the rest of society, too. Society has a stake in us parents doing a good job and raising our children to be good citizens.

I don't think that wanting to have that work and sacrifice acknowledged and appreciated is the same as being a martyr. But if we think about it, who is going to acknowledge it? I don't expect my kids to do so yet. In fact, I don't really want them to even know about some of the biggest sacrifices I make right now. Right now they are very young, and I want them to exist in their happy little world where parents always love their children and take good care of them, and where the happiness and love that they take for granted is every child's birthright. In short, I want them to live in the world I wish we had. There is time enough as they get older for me to explain how the world really is.

Don't get me wrong: my kids occasionally give me cookies- in fact, lately, Petunia has been literally giving me candy, as she empties out her Halloween bucket. She loves opening candies, but doesn't like eating any candy except gummy bears, so she gives the candy to me. Their awarding of cookies is mostly accidental, though. I get big hugs and genuine smiles. I get the second-hand pride in seeing them learn something new and I get the warm fuzzies when Pumpkin does something to help Petunia out or Petunia gives Pumpkin an unprompted hug- but that is not the same as appreciation. They don't have the context for that yet. To be honest, I don't think I really, truly appreciated all the things my parents did for me until I had my own kids. In fact, I may still have more to learn. I suspect the teenage years will be another revelation for me. (By the way, thanks, Mom and Dad!)

So maybe my husband should acknowledge my work and sacrifice? Sure. But I also need to acknowledge his, and neither of us has any energy to award the other cookies on a regular basis just for being parents.

What about the rest of the world? Well, fat chance. Honestly, I'm happy if I just get benign neglect from the rest of the world. More likely, I'll get told I'm doing this parenting thing all wrong- sort of the opposite of giving me a cookie. The rest of the world is Swiper, coming to swipe my cookies (Swiper! No Swiping!) I think that is wrong, and wish it would change, but in actual fact it isn't going to change, so I'd be smart to not let that get me down.

So do I just have to do without cookies? I thought about this some more while I was out walking today, and I realized that Gretchen Rubin has it right in her original Happiness Project book. If I want cookies, I need to make them for myself. (She frames it as gold stars, but while those are less fattening, cookies are yummier.) I can appreciate my own hard work and sacrifices. I can acknowledge to myself that this parenting thing is hard, and then give myself the cookies I want in payment.

I could go further. There are other things I do that involve work and/or sacrifice on my part, but which I do because I think they are the right thing to do or because I think that doing them will in some small way make the world a better place. No one else is likely to give me cookies for a lot of those things, either.  I may never even know if they do, in fact, make the world a better place. I can acknowledge the effort to myself, though, and that should be enough.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't appreciate other people's sacrifices and acknowledge that they are making the world better. In fact, this line of thought made me more conscious of the things that other people do for which I'm grateful but rarely acknowledge. Thank you, garbage men, for taking my stinky trash away. Sorry about the diaper smell. Thank you, roadworkers, for clearing the debris to the side of the road so that no one runs over it and has an accident. Thank you, office cleaners, for removing the dust that makes me sneeze. Thank you, police officers, for dealing with the ugliness in the world so that I can mostly ignore it. Thank you, admins at work, for handling all that crappy paperwork.

I'll be happier, though, if I can find a way to let go of my desire to have someone else appreciate the things I do, and just appreciate them myself. I need to make my own damn cookies.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pick One Thing And Make It Better

I've been a little scarce around here of late. Some of that has been the general craziness caused by the collision of budget/goals time (at my work), a major release (at Mr. Snarky's work), potty-training (have I mentioned how much I suck at potty-training?) and the tougher than anticipated transition to Kindergarten (which is going sooo much better now). But I've also been feeling a little blocked. I finally figured out that the problem is that my emotions are unusually raw and at the surface. I'm not sure why, but recent news stories have hit harder than I'm used to, even post-motherhood. I was getting overwhelmed by all the bad things that happen in this world, and not really processing things well.

I can usually write my way through things like this, but this time, I didn't want to write about it. Any time I tried, it just made me feel worse. So I wrote about other things, or I didn't write at all.

Then, a few weeks ago, Mr. Snarky and I got to take a couple nights away from the kids. My parents came and watched the kids, and Mr. Snarky and I headed to LA, to see a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. (As an aside- if you've never seen a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and get the chance to fix that, take it. It is a truly special venue.) I was sitting there- in a box, because I thought that if we were going to do the Bowl, we should really do it- looking at the stars, enjoying the music, and thinking life is good. And it is. Life is terrible and good, all rolled up into a big mess. And you never know which bit of the mess you're going to get at any one time. It could be an undeniably awesome bit. It could be an unbelievably horrible bit. Most likely, it will be something in between.

And, trite as it is- and believe me, the rest of this post is going to be on the trite side- the answer just came to me. I realized two things:

1. The only hedge against the bad times is to enjoy the good times while you have them.

Me moping around feeling crappy wasn't going to make anyone else's life easier or make them happier. It wasn't going to fix any of the world's problems. It also wasn't going to protect me from getting one of the unbelievably terrible bits of the mess of life next time I stuck my hands in. So I should just let go of the bad stuff, and really enjoy the wonderful life I have right now.

Yes, this is obvious. But apparently, I'd forgotten it.

2. I should pick one thing, and make it better.

No, moping about wouldn't fix anything. But neither would throwing up my hands and declaring the world to be irredeemably screwed up and to have problems too big to solve. There are some really big problems. A lot of them. But I don't have to fix all of them to do some good. I can pick one thing. And I don't even have to completely fix it. I can just try to make it better.

It took me awhile to figure out what to do with that second insight. I mulled over several ideas, but ultimately rejected them as unrealistic given the parameters of my current life. But then I figured it out. I've got ads on this blog, and I do the Amazon Affiliate program. I do that because I am interested in how people might make money off of the content they produce on the internet. I'm interested in that partially because I think we're living in a time of great change for people who make content (and software) and I just want to try to understand the new rules in general, and partially because I have some ideas that I wouldn't mind monetizing at some point, if I could understand enough about the new rules to figure out how.

Therefore, I want to keep my ads and my affiliate links. I may even try some new things out. But they don't make me anywhere near enough money to really matter in our household budget, so I haven't been taking them very seriously. However, they don't make completely trifling amounts of money, either. The money could do some small amount of good in the right hands.

A bottom that never needed a diaper we didn't have
So I'm going to donate that money to the right hands. Since the majority of the money is in my Amazon account, the easiest and most cost effective thing to do with it is to use it to buy something on Amazon and send it to a charity. I've decided to send things to Home Start, a local charity that works with families who are at risk for child abuse or just having a hard time making it.  They get one of our "regular" charity donations, too, and run an adopt a family program we participate in each Christmas. (If you're a San Diegan- they also take donations of gently used kids' clothes and toys, and unlike many places, will take strollers and the like.)

I'm going to use my ad money to buy them supplies to be given to their client families. It will probably be diapers and wipes, because I think my "one thing" will be the fact that a lot of families can't afford the diapers they need, or are forced to make terrible choices between diapers and food. At my current rate of cash accumulation, I think I'll be able to send them a box of diapers or wipes once every couple of months. It isn't huge, but it isn't nothing, and I've almost got everything set up to send my first donation. I don't have to solve the problem, but I can make it better.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Building a Life

Laura Vanderkam and Anandi at House of Peanut both had posts up last week about working and parenting, and the way this plays out in couples. The posts got me thinking about why I work, and I realized that I couldn't easily articulate my reasons. Sure, I work to help support my family, and the fact that I work means that my husband doesn't ever have to feel trapped by his job, just like they discuss. And I have been known to use the fact that I make more money than my husband to shutdown questions about why I don't stay home with the kids. If I'm completely honest, though, none of that really explains why I work. If I didn't want to work, we could arrange our lives to make that possible.

So I work because I want to. By why do I want to? I work because working is necessary to my vision of what I want my life to be. In fact, the money part is not actually necessary to that vision- I aspire to arrange my finances such that I do not feel that my choices about what work to do are quite so constrained by my need to bring in money to help support my family.

As I rocked Petunia toward sleep tonight, I thought more about my life and what I want it to be. Like most people, my life is a mishmash of different pieces, which I try to arrange in a meaningful way. I think my building blocks fall into three main categories:
Relationships. It is important to me that I do right by the other people in my life. Unsurprisingly, this is an area that has gathered a lot more blocks since I've had kids, but it was always an important area to me. I was never going to be someone who subordinated her personal relationships to some grand enterprise, even if that enterprise would do wonderful things for the rest of the world.

Joy. I really do think that being happy is one of the most important things I can aim for in my life. If I am not enjoying my life, I think about why and try to fix it. I've recently realized that for me, a big part of feeling happy is feeling free, and I'm still working through what I think that means to me and the life I've built.

If I'm honest, this aspect of my life has taken a bit of a hit since having kids, even though the kids themselves bring a lot of joy to me. I think the reason for that is that we have allowed the kids to constrain some of the other things, big and small, that bring me joy: travel, eating out, reading. I'm working to fix that, to the extent that we can, and I have made peace with the fact that I need to do that work. Having kids was a major change to my life and to my sense of identity. It shouldn't really be surprising that it has taken me a few years to find my equilibrium again.

Meaning. This is where work comes in. I want to leave the world a little better than I found it. I want to create things that touch other people. If I didn't try to do these things, I would feel a big hole in my life.

I've written about my struggles to find the "right" work for me and how I've been feeling restless in my career. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that this isn't because I am fundamentally unhappy with the work I am doing now. It is because I am having a hard time figuring out in which way I can best contribute. Here is a list of the things I care about, in no particular order:
  1. Improving the way other scientists organize their data, with the idea that doing so will help them get more value from that data and the information it provides. This is a major component of my current job, and I still care about it. It bothers me that we do so much better at organizing our shopping data than our scientific data.
  2. Contributing to drug discovery. There are so many unmet medical needs out there- too many cancer diagnoses are essentially death sentences, we have so little to offer people with mental illnesses, infectious diseases still kill people, etc., etc. I know that a lot of people disparage the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, and believe me, I do not think my industry is perfect. But we are still the ones trying to meet those unmet needs. I like being a part of that.
  3. Getting more women and minorities into science and technology. I think these are the fields that find solutions to a lot of problems, and I want as much diversity in these fields as possible, to increase the odds that we solve the most important problems. Also, there are some great and rewarding jobs in these fields (see point 2), and I want those jobs to be open to everyone.
  4. Convincing people that you can have a meaningful and successful career without subsuming your entire life to it- even in science and technology. I think this is closely related to the diversity problem. I also think that getting rid of the "real scientists and engineers will do whatever the work requires" stereotype would lead to more productivity and creativity, not less. Not to mention happier scientists and engineers.
  5. Providing equal education to all kids, regardless of income and location. In my view, education is the path to a happier life, because it is a path to a life with more choices (or freedom, if you will). It is the path out of poverty, and it is so, so unfair of us to propagate a narrative in which "anyone" can succeed while at the same time stacking the deck against the kids whose parents don't make enough money to buy their way to a good education. I know that the solution to poverty and the achievement gap is not as simple as just providing equal education... but I still think it would be a great start.
I'm probably not going to build something this grand
There are probably other things I'm forgetting now, but the fact that those came to mind first indicates that they may be what matter most to me. But I haven't figured out how to best allocate my energy. Should I focus on 1 and 2, hope that I make some small impact on 3 and 4 by example, and just throw my spare money at 5? This is my current configuration. Or should I try to change my focus to something else- maybe 3 or 4?- throw money at 2 as well as 5, and figure I've made as much contribution as I'm going to make towards 1? And if I did that, what would be the most effective way to make an impact?

I don't know the answers. I haven't even figured out how to try to find them. I've been reading various books (and I have some more on my list to read), and doing a lot of thinking, but I'm not making much progress. I feel like I have dumped out all my blocks and divided them up by color, but haven't figured out what I want to build. All I know for certain is that I can't build something that pleases me without using my full range of blocks. So I won't be giving up work anytime soon- if I ever do.
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