I don’t know much about the ancient stoics. I’m a little loathe to read them too deeply, because I feel like a lot of white conservative-leaning grifter self-help dudes refer to ancient stoics and their writings as their guideposts for life, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. Still, there was one time I came across a concept from the stoic Epictetus that stuck with me: the reality that we wouldn’t happily let people abuse our physical well-being, and yet we often let mental or emotional issues run rampant over our minds and emotional states, and willingly.
“If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?”
Something about that simple concept struck me, and honestly, it was less in regards to setting emotional boundaries with toxic people, but more about things I willingly indulged in that didn’t make me feel good. Too much alcohol. Cigarettes, sometimes. Not working out. Panicking. All of these things make me feel like garbage, and I know that, yet I kept doing them as if I had no agency in my relationship with them.
So as a strategy, I started personifying things. Let’s take alcohol, for an example. Would I want to hang out with a friend who literally injected poison into me that made me feel like garbage the next day and in fact would cause me to waste endless hours of a productive weekend? A friend who left me feeling like I’d been beat around the head and stole lots of my money? No. No, I would not want to have a friend like that in my life. That made it much easier to cut back on the amount I was drinking, particular in the wake of the 2016 election. (I sometimes give my personified things names. Alcohol’s name is Ron. I don’t know why. It just is. Anyways, I don’t like too much Ron in my life. Sorry, Ron.)
After I had started anthropomorphizing other things in my life (lack of sleep, cigarettes, my fucking phone who is trying to fucking ruin my life), my boundaries with those things became clearer and I was able to manage them much more effectively.
Everybody wants to be perfect on the internet, and that includes me.
Let’s take a look at the woman I may present to you. She works out diligently. She’s got a closet full of nice clothes and a beautiful apartment that she owns. Her friends are great and she’s always cooking and hanging out with them. Her family? Close, and kind, and adorable. Same with her coworkers and -- even worse -- she’s actually one of those people who enjoys going to her job.
Pretty solid internet persona there, Catherine. And frankly, all of that above? It’s true. It’s also, as with anybody, not the full story. But it’s what I show, here on the internet, and by extension, also on my dating profiles. And recently I realized that maybe that perfectly positive and crafted persona was actually not the way I wanted to approach dating any longer.
A couple years ago I heard a podcast interview with a guy about a new dating website he was launching. His concept? Listing your flaws, putting up your unflattering photos, and baring the dark corners of your soul to your potential mates on your profile. His thinking was that, and I quote, “Hey, wake up. You're not perfect. Your partner's not going to be perfect or your date's not going to be perfect. Your wife's not going to be perfect. But again, you can be perfect for each other. The imperfections are what make us real. They're what make us us.”
He decided to name the site Settle for Love. The interview stuck with me in the corners of my brain. I think there’s something to his concept. (The name and branding could use a different approach, though, in my opinion.)
I don’t date much these days, though I do idly flip through apps once in a while, and yeah, looking at my profile on them right now, I’m definitely trying to present the best possible version of myself in all aspects. I mean, who isn’t? Flattering photos, I’m smiling in every one. I talk up my running and reading and crack jokes and come off as charming and list my accomplishments and attributes. That’s the gist of the whole endeavor, right?
But looking back at the the best and most successful relationships I’ve ever been, I realized they were the ones where I was completely comfortable to be my full self, where I chose to or was forced to reveal deep insecurities and was still met with love and understanding and compassion.
So why do I never talk about that side up front in online dating? Why does nobody? Instead we’re supposed to meet our soul mates based on the fact that they also like Game of Thrones and Mad Men and drinking IPAs? HOW ILLUMINATING. (I could go on a whole separate rant of how we think we can connect with people over favorite TV shows or music or food, when a true connection I think has genuinely nothing to do with your pop culture favorites or tastes. Anyways.)
It made me wonder if there is something to the concept of intentionally presenting a more vulnerable version of ourselves on our online dating profiles. Could what I perceive as my flaws or insecurities actually draw somebody to me? Could being up front about any number of my struggles be a release in a way, so that I’m not always wondering and anticipating when those issues will present themselves down the line, and potentially cause me to be rejected? Should I post that one photo of myself where I’m in a Snuggie and look like I have no eyebrows???
No to the last one. But the other concepts, I found intriguing.
So as a general thought experiment, I present My Flawed Dating Profile. If I had the guts to update my OKCupid profile one of these days with everything that I definitely don’t want to share immediately or even ever with potentially romantic possibilities, this is how it might go.
First things first: This advice is a little rich for somebody who struggled to write regularly for, oh, 10 years, and who has made approximately two dozen half-hearted, apologetic blog posts that start “Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve written here… not sure I have anything to say hahahah * sob*”. HOWEVER! Things have changed drastically for me in the last few months and I think I have landed on some magical tips and tricks and a solid routine that really works for my writing. The proof? I write daily for at least 30 minutes no matter what is going on; I’ve written 11 pretty solid pieces in the last two months; I put together a lengthy newsletter every Sunday; and most importantly, I rarely face writers’ block anymore and every single day I look forward to my writing as one of my most fulfilling times.
So what’s the secret?
Well, as anybody who writes nows by know, and even those of you who don’t, there is literally no secret except: write every day. Write when you have no ideas. Write when you feel sad. Write when you feel happy. Write when you don’t feel like it. Write even when you really feel like the words you are actively typing out at that very moment are the worst words anybody in all of history has ever strung together. Write. Write. Write.
I have such distinct memories of my childhood summers -- distinct, but also running together like fuzzy scenes out of a nostalgic home movie as I replay them in my head. Running through sprinklers in my front yard wearing a bathing suit that, for some reason, had the Coca-cola logo all over it. Playing kick the can with neighbors in our cul-de-sac, and whipping around on our bikes in the evening dusk as our parents chattered together on a driveway. Riding horses on family trips to Wyoming to visit our grandparents, or long afternoons on a rocky Atlantic beach in Massachusetts. Endless hours of reading on the screen porch, ceiling fan whirring and cicadas humming in the background. As I got older, afternoons with friends in my car and aimless driving, windows down, 90s rock blasting, or weekends spent wandering the air-conditioned tiled walkways of the local mall, sipping on Frappuccinos and eating packs of Twizzlers, absorbing the latest summer blockbuster (or in reality, seeing Titanic for like the 7th time)
Man, summers used to be great.
Flash forward a few decades. Summers are like… every other season. That’s sort of the sad reality as an adult. There’s a lot more sweating involved, but not the fun exertion of running around your yard and then jumping in a pool afterwards -- it’s more like sweating on your way to work and your suit jacket is sticking to you for the rest of the day. Sure, there may be more vacations, but they’re short, and eventually you’re going back to your routine. The season inevitably loses some of its magical qualities -- if not all of them. There’s a grind to summer for adults. It’s a fact.
Well, I want this summer to be different.
I was thinking the other day -- as it poured chilly rain, yet again, in what has seemed like a never-ending last gasp of DC’s winter -- that I’ve had such success with the concept of Sunday Adventures, that could I apply it to… an entire season?
Between that, and listening to the concept of Gretchen Rubin’s 18 for 2018 -- basically a list of 18 things you want to accomplish this year -- I had the spark of an idea.
I’m calling it the Summer 16.
The idea is pretty simple. Pick 16 things you want to do in the summer that will enhance the season for you… and do them. Why 16? Why not? I’m a fan of alliteration. Six seemed too little, and 60 too many. Plus, there are about 16 weekends in a standard summer, so you can space out your delights each week.
Anyways, your Summer 16 could involve something as simple as going to your local farmers’ market one weekend and buying the best tomato you see, or reading one book in an afternoon. (They could also be complex, but I find it’s easier to knock off easy tasks, and you may be surprised to find that these “simple” tasks can bring you as much joy as the larger, more complicated ones.)
So what should your Summer 16 be? Well, you’ve got some time to brainstorm because summer in the northern hemisphere starts June 21. But this is how I suggest approaching the list: Walk around for a few days and scribble ideas in a notepad. Write down whatever comes to mind, as silly or mundane or aspirational as it seems. It’s just a list right now, not a commitment, so let your mind play.
It might also help to pick a “theme.” I’m a big fan of applying words, or themes, to years or seasons. This is a trick I learned from a women in technology listserv I’m on. Each January, women send out their “themes” for the year -- they’ve ranged from themes of “Less,” to “the Year of Self Care,” to “Be More Curious” to “Savor.” The idea is that picking a theme instead of specific goals will give you a broader approach to the year ahead and the ability to infuse all you do and choose to do with that idea in mind.
I picked a theme for my Summer of 16: Wonder. When I think back to those memories of my childhood summers, I felt so much joy and delight and astonishment. I want to bring back a little of that sense of wonder into my adult summers, too. So when I was thinking what items to put on my Summer 16, I told myself they could be anything, but they just had to spark a sense of wonder in me when I thought about them.
Ready to see my Summer 16? Here you go:
That’s it! They’re all pretty simple, but they feel quintessentially summer to me. I imagine these may be subject to change, but these things -- everything from a simple ice cream cone to a new neighborhood bar to reading literally all afternoon -- feel so wonderful and inspiring to me right now.
So I’ve got my plan. What about yours? Will you create a Summer 16 list? I’d love to hear what’s on it. I’ll be detailing my Summer 16 adventures in my newsletter each week when summer kicks in officially later in June, so stay tuned to hear how they go.
Look, I love to read. But I’m not very good at keeping up with the hot new books. Some of this stems from realizing I was dropping like $100 a month on new books and then making a move to read only what the library had available on Kindle. (Can somebody explain to me why there are limited copies of Kindle books… can’t you just digitally make like 1 billion copies of a book… I don’t understand technology.) Some of this stems from just being lazy. Some of this stems from the fact I love crap books. (Crap meaning “not particularly literary and sort of embarrassing to admit you’ve read.”)
So it is with all of that authority that I give you Catherine’s Summer Reading List. None of these books are new or even new-ish (with the exception of one or two), or particularly “literary,” but, by my standards, they’re great for the pool, the beach, or the bus stop as you sweat endlessly into the day as you wait to go to your draining 9 to 5. Cheers!
(Cup of Jo had a good and current books round up here, by the way.)
When I was younger, one of the greatest pleasures I got out of anything was running the defragging program on my family’s massive desktop computer.
(Yes, I was a big nerd. No, I didn’t have a lot of friends.)
All programs and games (what up Carmen Sandiego) would be running glacially, cripplingly slow, stuttering electronically, and after executing a magical whirring program in the background, it was like the computer had been given a new lease on life. I could play Carmen Sandiego again without the map of North Africa freezing all to hell!
You remember what defragging means, right? If not, here’s the official definition:
verb (used with object)
1. to reorganize files on (a disk) so that the parts of each file are stored in contiguous sectors on the disk, thereby improving computer performance and maximizing disk space.
Cool, it maximizes the way the computer runs to make things more efficient and free up space. Sounds great!
Well, I think we might be able to defrag our brains in the same sort of manner to run more optionally, too.