GSD and Finding the Balance

Quit slackin

For the classiest among us, GSD might be a delightful trigger acronym that reminds us to be productive or check things off the list.

For the less classy – and I don’t think I have to say which camp I’m in – it’s a bit more direct. G.S.D. Get. Shit. Done.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to be as productive as I need to be, in the ways that I want to be. Trying to balance my real job with my writing job (which is no less real, except that it doesn’t yet pay the bills!) and also keep our house clean, laundry done, and find time to cook and blog, thereby taking care of my creative passions and also feeding le fiancé and myself, can be a tricky balance at best. At worst I sometimes feel like a gymnast on the olympic high beam, but drunk and with an anxiety problem.

See? Bad real bad, Michael Jackson. And did I mention I’m also planning a wedding?

In an effort to be more productive, I’ve been implementing a few new tools since the start of the new year and I’m excited to say they work! Why since last week I have written five blog posts, cooked five dishes, worked out every day, made serious headway on novel planning and crossed a big work project off the list.

Below, some resources that worked well for me. If you are also looking for balance in the new year, I hope this works for you, too!

1. Get dressed or work out immediately when you get up. None of this schlumping around in pajamas until 2pm. Nobody feels empowered to start the laundry or make  business calls without a bra on. Nobody. Brush your teeth and put some damn pants on! Preferably these sexy numbers.

2. Waffle up that work. In other words, compartmentalize. If I have a chunk of writing to do and a work project to do, I now separate them into different days. And then I draw hard deadlines for myself. Yesterday was a work day, so all writing was shoved to the side. Today is a writing day, and I’m not checking that work email so help me! Thinking I had to do a bit of each every day was not only stress-inducing but impossible in the end anyway.

3. Pomodoro Technique! If I’m having trouble focusing and staying away from the Internet, I set my little kitchen timer and hard focus for 25 minutes. Then, I get to take a five minute break. The ultimate goal is to increase your hard-focus time, but I’m finding that 25 minutes quickly turns into an hour or more once you get past the first few 25-minute sets.

4. Music, maestro! And instead of relying on playlists that I know and love, I’ve been listening to instrumental, classical, film scores – anything to keep my mind engaged but not distracted. I’ve made a Spotify playlist of my favorites. If you’re interested, you can find it here, via my tumblr.

Image attributed to Keano Ross, via Pinterest.

Feminists with Spatulas

Julia Child

A few months ago, we were mid-casual dinner party, and I was going off on one of my feminist rants educational monologues. A feminist monologue sounds nicer than rant, no? And just because a woman has an opinion about something and feels free to express it does not mean that she’s ranting and raving. If men do that, it’s just called talking. Annnnnyway.

This scholarly monologue was to inform a male friend of mine that though he disagreed, he is, in fact, a feminist.

Because here’s the thing, peeps – if you believe that women and men are of equal worth, deserve equal pay for the work that they do, and deserve to be treated as equals in the workplace, then you are a feminist. And why women and men and the Taylor Swifts of the world continue to deny this is confusing to me. I’m going to send that sweet little country gal a dictionary for her birthday.

It was at this juncture that said male friend laughed and said, “It’s ironic that you’re telling me this right now, seeing as you’re wrapped up in a floral apron and wielding a spatula.” And indeed, I was.

I can see how this juxtaposition might be a little funny. Getting a talking-to about feminism by a woman who looks more at home in 1954 than 2014 is, at the very least, ironic. But can you blame a girl? Crostini were just about to come out of the oven. I was multi-tasking.

But then I had to ask myself – is it? Is it so strange to be merging the past and the present? The feminine and the just plain fair? I don’t think so. And I think there are a lot more of us spatula-weilding, decor loving, cupcake baking feminists than anyone realizes. And, furthermore, than even we ourselves know or allow ourselves to be.

Culture makes strong lines – if you wear aprons and bake, you’re a retro fabulous housewife type who takes her husband’s last name and becomes a stay at home mom. Bonus points if you have a cute blog. If you’re a world traveler who prioritizes her career, you must be disengaged or less invested in your relationship because of it. And if you’re a self-identified feminist, you obviously hate all men, and if you’re a conservative woman you can’t be a feminist because feminist is the most dangerous F-word of all, and it’s not cute or conservative or church-approved to use the F-word, ever.

But what it means to be human is to be a beautiful bundle of contradictions. And what it also means to be human to be more understanding of the reality of others, instead of just a branded, sanitized version of a person. Everyone is trying to create their own brand. It seems to be part of our packaged, tidy, Instagram-ready lives these days. And when people – others, ourselves – don’t fit into the reality of that box or brand, oh we got troubles right down in River City. We like to tidy things up, and tidying often means denying parts of ourselves that are legitimate because it’s not neat. If I like to wear my apron and host my parties, then it’s probably easier if I just shut my mouth and take his name and stop expressing my progressive opinions. Because being a liberal feminist man-adoring housewife who loves her career and has a cute blog just doesn’t make sense to anyone. We like things that make sense, so we pick an archetype and get in line.

And when other people don’t pick their little stereotypes, we pick one for them. The number of Christmas cards addressed to The Future Mrs. Nathan’s Last Name can surely attest to that. Anyone who knows me at all knows I have strong feelings about the name change debate. And even still, the Mrs. cards kept on a’comin’. As though everything up to now was just a front, but now that I’m actually getting married I would go ahead and start playing by the rules.

If anyone saw the play Maple & Vine in SF or on Broadway, this notion of playing by the rules is at the crux of the story. It’s all about a stressed-out modern couple who forsake their high paying jobs and life in New York for a rural “planned obsolescence community” where everyone pretends that it’s 1954, all day every day. Which sounds kinda fun, if I’m going to be honest. The fit and flare silhouette is a good one and who needs Google anyway?

But the real central question is actually this: can we be happy and love our lives, even if they’re complicated and messy and don’t fit into a box? And if not, must we revert back to all the old ways of living in order to keep things tidy and easy to understand? In other words, were we happier when things were simpler? When women and men lived by certain rules and we didn’t question anything. Scholars and reviewers had a lot to say about this, but my take was that the playwright essentially presented us with two scenarios: You can either have your modern life – and it’s accompanying modern stressors – or you can paste on a smile, shut up, and let the men take care of everything while you make mire poire in your apron.

You can go back to playing by the rules and see if you can be happy. Or don’t. But either way, shit gets real, so it’s all about how you deal with it.

So what if we did just that? What if we dealt with each other and our inherent contradictions in a real and meaningful way, instead of the surface way we do? What if we all played by our own rules and stopped tying to put each other in the stereotype? What if, instead of making assumptions about the women around us and trying to put them in a box of our own making, we stepped back and let them show us the full, unboxed versions of themselves? Whatever that looks like to them. What if we stopped deciding which stereotype we had to be, and we just lived out whichever parts of ourselves we loved the most?

To women who think you have to play by the rules – what’s up! You don’t. Just because it’s “easier” to keep quiet and keep your opinions to yourself, doesn’t mean you have to. If you want to keep your last name, you should. Because “it means a lot to him” that you change your last name, but what does it mean to you? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything. Either way – you’re allowed to question that.

And for those of you who, inexplicably, refuse to call yourselves feminists. That’s fine. It’s confusing (dictionaries for everyone!) but fine. Because if you love women and believe in their worth, you are one anyway, whether you claim the label or not.

Because while I love and appreciate my friend deeply,  it’s my party and I can be a feminist with a spatula if I am one. ‘Cause I am. And as soon as I handed him the spatula, so was he. Whether he wanted to be or not.

You know, times are changing. Ladies can do stuff now, and you’re going to learn how to deal with it.

PS – don’t you think Julia Child was the original feminist with a spatch? Or a whisk? She was out the door every morning by 6am while Paul was still in bed! Photo via the fantastic non-profit Women Who Changed America

Frankie says RELAX


Often, it feels like the only things worth doing are big things. Going out on the town! Getting on a plane! Exploring! Adventuring! We do this pretty well. Which is great, but it does sometimes leave me feeling that, not only do I not understand what it means to be zen, I don’t even know how to spell zen.

Articles like this have only confirmed that I may be correct in my concern.

Instead, N and I are working on a new skill. A lil’ thing called “relaxing.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? We’re not great at it. Having nothing on the calendar seems weird. Just spending the afternoon reading a book is almost an exercise in anxiety these days. The 8-year old me would have (and did) relish days like that. I spent entire summers doing nothing but that, then marching back into school, with a list of the 300 books I had read, wondering what the heck other people did all summer where there were so many books to read and so many trees to sit underneath.

Oh, how times have changed.

We are working on being more spontaneous. Planning not weeks out, but days, even hours. Minutes. Want to come over for coffee? I’m free.

And personally, I am working on cultivating the spirit of zen.

No plans? No problem. ZEN.

This thing did not go according to plan? ZEN.

You have an issue? I do not. Because ZEN.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


Peonies and Compromise

Diptic pink

Thinking pink today. Is any phrase as cliche and overused as “think pink” in the history of…well, anything? I think not. But whenever I think pink, I think of Funny Face and of Kay Thompson as magazine editor Maggie Prescott, swanning around the Quality magazine offices, demanding that everyone should think pink. These days, she’d probably have to politely suggest (lest she be considered in the least bit aggressive or mean) that we all consider a non-offensive yellow. Yawn.

Now that I am cohabiting with a man, I have to tone down my deep love for all things girly and anything and everything pink. Also trying to resist the desire to decorate my entire apartment in shades of white and more white, with a subtle hint of white, and then adding in more pink. Men, as it turns out, like for things to be functional, stain resistant, and, when possible, covered in or at least adjacent to dark leather. If only there were a manual.

This being the case, lately I’ve simply adorned myself all in pink: once for a black tie event, and then the following day, as I was recovering from said event. A hot pink t-shirt goes right nicely with a hangover. I’ve also covered the domicile in hot pink peonies, much to the dismay of the jury.

Man verdict: These smell weird.

Lady verdict: But they look so pretty!

Outcome: Tied, as per usual. And that’s what we call compromise!

Last week was a terrible one. I don’t mind saying it, because, hey – I CAN. It involved a confrontation (something at which I do not excel), a con artist, and making a police report in formalwear and what was essentially a make-up job just shy of drag queen status. I’m not knocking drag queens. We could all learn a lot from drag queens. Especially when it comes to eyeliner. But it probably didn’t help my case in the moment.

The whole thing will become, I’m very sure, a funny story someday. But I’m still too mad to find the funny. And so, instead, I have found fresh flowers, strong coffee in a big white mug, and lots of quiet time to write and contemplate. I’m taking these tiny talismans as a slight offering from the universe. If not quite an apology, then at the very least, an almost-decent compromise.

Shop Talk

Do you ever feel weird if you’ve been alone for too long? I always thought I was one of those people who loved my alone time, really relished my solitude, but now that I live alone and have a new job that lets me work from home…where I live, alone… I’ve started to realize that a morning spent alone is bliss, but an entire day spent alone is just strange.

We’re talking midday napping on my yoga mat, talking to myself incessantly, listening to opera and feeling oddly sad about it, bowls of cereal at 2 p.m. And that was just Monday.

So, I’ve taken to doing a lot of my working in coffee shops and outside in the beautiful Presidio. And I have to say, I feel so much better. Simply having other people around makes me feel like I’m part of the larger community and in a way, it holds me accountable to getting things done. The mom at the table behind me would probably roll her eyes if she looked over to see a young, capable person wasting away in front of Facebook, but when I’m writing and creating, I feel like I’m getting the neighborly seal of approval.

Do you work in coffee shops? Are you productive there? I’d love to know if other people are wired this way, too!

Photo via the beautiful Modern Hepburn.

On Disappointment

I’m in the middle of a huge project right now – that secret one I can’t really talk about yet – and I’m feeling a little…meh. Not about the project as a whole. That, I’m excited about, and I think it’s something that needs to be out there in the world. But in the current iteration, I’m feeling overwhelmed about the volume, a little sad about the content, and a little disappointed that I don’t feel I have the time and resources to make it as awesome as I know it can be.

This quote and resulting post made me feel infinitely better about all that. As Ira Glass, one of my creative idols and one of the more realistic and honest people in the business of creating, says:

“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.”

Isn’t it nice to say that out loud? I’m a creative person, I tried hard, and I made this thing, and then, this thing I made? This thing upon which I tried very hard? It sucks. At least, right now it sucks.

You guys, this thing I’m making right now? This thing that is slowly siphoning the life out of my other life, the life where I do laundry and take pictures and feed myself on a regular basis? Yeah. It sucks. It will get better, and that I can be sure of, but right now, it’s just not that good. And Ira says that’s okay. So for today, that is enough.

A Fresh Coat of Paint

Young People! Hi. How are you? It’s been so long.

There is something to be said for a fresh coat of paint, whether it’s on the walls or on your nails. It’s like wiping the slate clean for a new season, prep for something new. Or, in my case, as prep for glitter, because glitter makes everything infinitely more awesome.

{Bonjour, glitter manicure!}

My sweet boyfriend will be moving to San Francisco in just a few weeks (finally + hooray!) which will be a big transition, and there are a few other changes on the horizon that are causing tiny butterfly wings of hope and anticipation. Come on 2012!

There are also some little things to be excited for: an iPhone case to guard against my perennial droppage, selling my snowboard (did you know skiing is so much more awesome? Why didn’t anyone tell me?!), cleaning out my closet, and taking a few fun weekend trips.

So, while I’m not much one for resolutions – blanket proclamations seem the stuff of either the newly elected or the delusional – there is something to be said for a new year, new ideas, new projects, goals and dreams.

{Siri loves her new outfit. Obvi.}

Happy Christmas!

{Christmas at Chez Presidio}

Blogging from Colorado today, and I’ll be home for the next two weeks – finally! It feels so wonderful to be home. Even though I love my life in San Francisco, the work stress, noise, drizzly weather, and a general lack of yoga and running and sunshine in my life have definitely taken their toll this fall and winter. I’m so excited for two weeks full of sleeping, wine, cards, neighbors, friends, skiing, cabin time, and getting back to what really matters.

Happy Christmas to you, dear friend. I hope your holiday is full of wonderful things. Thank you for being here! I’m so excited for a new year of new ideas, adventures, and creativity when we all come back. See you in two weeks!

XO – Hil