Anti-aggravation Week #4: Don’t sweat it

Today's a good day to get some perspective. A lot of things that aggravate us only do so because we have the luxury of not wrestling with bigger issues.

Today be thankful for everything you have: being alive, friends and family, health, a roof over your head, something to eat, clean water to drink, indoor plumbing, heating, air conditioning, clothes, shoes, a job, freedoms.

Many many people have it worse. That bad driver in front of you or annoying co-workers or technical difficulties really aren't that important. Yeah, okay, irritating, but important? No, not really.

Slow yourself down enough to look around and see the good things to be thankful for.

And just let the rest of that dumb stuff go; aggravation is a bad investment of your time and energy anyhow. Go make a pie instead – it's more fun and it sure does leave a better taste in your mouth!

Catch yourself at your own games

"Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants to be admired: even I who
    write this, and you who read this."
     – Blaise Pascal

Everyone seeks affirmation of their worth. Keep an eye on how you go about it and see if you avoid being conniving.

I don't think anyone can really be completely self-sufficient – even the most confident people I know get unsure and feel restored by praise or imitation or attraction – so accept your need for some admiration. Then go about getting it as honestly as you can.

I probably hardly need say that this is particularly important when it comes to relationships, eh? Don't make you partner do a little dance for your love; give freely and accept graciously that which is genuine and caring.

You Don’t Have To Be Pretty

You don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your
boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to
random men on the street. You don't owe it to your mother, you don't
owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general.
Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked "female".

Read more of Erin McKean of A Dress A Day's fabulous essay on the place fashion should take in your priorities.

Guys, please write the male counterpart to this in the comments. Is it just "you don't have to act macho" or can we get to a more specific aspect like "rugged", "tough", "strong"? What is that constraint that brings down the social pressure when you're too gentle and soft?

[Thanks to my good friend Anil for the link and for being the kind of guy who likes to read a post like that and wants to share it]

Don’t be so worried about forgetting things

Yes, as we get older there do seem to be more moments when we can't remember something, but that's hardly surprising when you think about it.

The older you get the more information and experiences you've taken in and it doesn't seem odd to me that it would grow more difficult to pull a particular fact out of a increasing pile of other facts.

Today, take some time to think about that which you do remember now and want to keep remembering later. We humans have an amazing memory tool that you can use to great effect in this area – it's called writing. Plus there's that speech trick too, which is also handy.

– Label your old photos with who is in them.

– Take pictures of things with a story and write the story down to keep with it. Flickr and Vox are particularly handy for this.

– Talk into a tape recorder or an audioblog service like Hipcast or Odeo and tell the stories you remember for which you don't have physical souvenirs.

– Tell your stories in person to family and friends.

Most of all, though, don't give yourself a hard time over not remembering every single thing you've ever done, heard, read or otherwise encountered. It'd be a pretty poor & dull life that was always completely retrievable in every detail by a human brain. So just put the things that really matter to you in some form of "offboard" backup and relax.

Don’t Freak Out is always the best option

I had a couple intense days at work, very busy, much to do and not yet done, and so tonight was part restoration, part collapse.

During dinner I was watching more of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the Wallace & Gromit movie I'd somehow missed out on. Then the DVD jammed. Then the computer wouldn't eject the DVD. Then the computer didn't believe it had a DVD drive, even after restarting.

Then, when I started working myself up into a "oh god I can't afford this problem" state of worry, I stopped, shut down – because that helps sometimes with computers – and turned the laptop upside down – because the disk floats on a spindle – and went & took a nice bath. I read a relaxing book (one of the Don't Sweat the Small Stuff series!) and when I was sufficiently soaked, came out for a brief but unworried test.

Turned the computer over, started it up, held down the eject button, and out comes the disk, sweet as you please.

It doesn't always work out that way, but you know, even if it hadn't have come out, I had already reminded myself that I know lots of folks who could help me figure out how to fix it and maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to be barred from watching Buffy & Sports Night all weekend and make some progress on projects instead.

It’s time: #2 – discard a bias

Just get over it, okay? Especially if it's inconveniencing you. Many times it's more work to maintain the bias than to find the workaround for it.

Here's my example:

The fluff & fold laundry nearest my home is staffed by a couple ladies who are really a bit odd. They violate the (previously) unwritten law: We'll both pretend that the launderer does not see my dirty clothes.

They once asked my boyfriend if he had a girlfriend because "There are ladies clothes in this bag with yours". Um, it's the Castro folks, maybe they're his.

Worse than that nosiness, though, they'll even ask about stains. Now that's really beyond the pale. Er, so to speak.

So, even though the nearest laundromat is about 4 long blocks further away, I stopped taking my stuff to the fluff & fold at the bottom of my hill. Even when the last thing I feel like doing is laundry. Even when I'm crazy busy and it would be so worth it to pay someone else to take care of this stuff.


The solution is simple: just don't give them anything I'd be embarrassed to be asked about.

I hope they like my "Colbert Has Stones" t-shirt.

Discard terror

I really liked Ze Frank's comments in his show on Thursday. Here's some good clear thinking:

[T]he Brits caught some douchebags who were going to blow up some planes.

Now, the way I see it, you can't have terrorism without terror.
The strategy of terrorism is to use isolated acts of violence to
instill fear and confusion into the population at large. A small number
of people can incapacitate a society by leveraging our inability to
understand risk.

Airline industry stocks plummetted today, while the industry
braced for a rash of cancellations. This, despite the fact that even
with the risk of airplane bombings it's still more dangerous to drive
your car. Or smoke cigarettes.

As long as a small group of people can inflict mass panic
across a large population, the tactic itself will remain viable. One
way to deal a blow to the effectiveness of terrorism is to deal with
the terror itself.

London's police deputy commissioner Paul Stevenson said that
the plot was "intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale." No,
it is imaginable: between three and ten flights out of thousands would
have resulted in the terrible loss of human life.

Bush today said this country is safer today than it was prior
to 9/11. Personally, I don't think he knows. Whether we like it or not,
terrorist attacks on Americans are now part of the global reality. They
will continue to happen. Many places around the globe have had to deal
with a similar reality for years. India, Ireland, England, Spain,
Russia, to name a few. In many cases, these societies have pulled
together and not allowed isolated acts of violence to tear at their
fiber. Like disease and the forces of nature, it's a risk that we have
to rationally come to terms with. The government's responsibility is to
make sure that fear and terror are not disproportionate to the reality
of the situation.

Today the President said, "This nation is at war with Islamic
fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom
to hurt our nation." Generalized statements like this which instill
nebulous fear without specific information are exactly in line with the
goals of terrorism.

Damn straight. Unreasoned panic is unproductive, but worse, it's exactly the intent of terrorism.

Yes, absolutely we need to do the actions which are actually effective to protect people (e.g. the solid investigation and signal interception techniques in Britain and Pakistan that prevented disaster this past week), but throwing away our rationality and the basic precepts of freedom (e.g. intolerance of the use of torture) is not necessary.

Keep a cool head.

[Thanks to the fabulosos who maintain the transcripts in the The Show wiki!]

Playing more, playing better, and what to do about chores

Only so many hours in the day so what is one to do to make the best of those hours when not in the grip of work or sleep? Like most Discardian change, it doesn't have to happen all at once. There are two habits to build up when faced with a choice or opportunity:

1. Continually opt for that which will most avoid hassles and unpleasantness in the long-term.
2. Continually enhance that which must be done with the extras or surroundings that make things more comfortable and/or enjoyable.

A simple example would be when you walk into the kitchen and are faced with a sink full of dirty dishes from the last few days, recognize that putting off washing them yet further will make your house smell nasty and they'll certainly be more unpleasant to deal with. Take care of them now, but first, perhaps you should open a window to get a nice breeze in the room, maybe put on some music you like, or pour a nice beverage to sip as the dish water heats up. Now, glance at the clock and then do the dishes without looking at it again. As you do the dishes figure out what you do like about this task; maybe the splashing in the water, or the warmth, or the transformation of foul to fine & clean. The best sinks have a window so you can see what the outside world has to report as you go about your work. When you're done, look again at the clock.

It doesn't take that long to do most chores, many of them less than 20 minutes. You can blow 20 minutes without even thinking about it watching tv, playing video games, reading, surfing the web (*cough*)…

So, there's the first part of this tip: a lot of things which you've got to do don't really take that much out of your day and needn't be put off.

The next important part is to notice that there may be optional things which do take a lot of your time and yet provide minimal reward or enjoyment (it is at this point when I turn and look pointedly at the television and the computer). Don't channel surf or link hop just because you want something but you haven't figured out what it is. Your time is finite. It matters how you spend it. Certainly you can consciously decide that what you really want to do is flip around getting mental stimulation and enjoy it whole-heartedly. I'm betting, though, that everyone has chunks of time spent on autopilot – and not autopilot in the useful "my mind is happily wandering while I vacuum" sense, but in the sense of failing to select that which will reward us somehow.

Don't live the life of having to make the time pass. Find the things that please you and do them instead of things that provide you nothing. Fans of C.S. Lewis' work The Screwtape Letters are here encouraged to go re-read letter 13 which includes this bit of admonition from a senior devil to a junior tempter:

But you were trying to damn your patient by the World, that is by palming off vanity, bustle, irony, and expensive tedium as pleasures. How can you have failed to see that a real pleasure was the last thing you ought to have let him meet? Didn't you foresee that it would just kill by contrast all the trumpery which you have been so laboriously teaching him to value? And that the sort of pleasure which the book and the walk gave him was the most dangerous of all? That it would peel off from his sensibility the kind of crust you have been forming on it, and make him feel that he was coming home, recovering himself?

Do what you love whenever you can. Even if the busy-ness of life only gives you a few minutes – my sympathies to you new parents out there – make good use of it and read a chapter of a book, futz around with that guitar, plant a few bulbs in the garden (or just look through the bulb catalog & think about what you'd get!), whatever feeds your soul.

When you have to do something you wouldn't otherwise choose to do for pleasure or growth – the dishes for example – find the parts of the experience which can give you some kind of payoff and supplement it if you can with something you would choose, like music you really enjoy.

That's the second part of the tip: be where you are, doing what you're doing and enjoying it as much as you can.

Seeing Through Clutter

As you practice Discardia you'll probably start to get a sense for how long it will take to get a room to feel comfortable and unchaotic. This is a great talent because it will help you be less stressed over minor clutter and stay focused on implementing deeper changes.

Parents of toddlers* will find this useful in telling the difference between an hour's tidying after the kids are tucked in and bigger changes yet to be made.

Try to work your Discardian habits to the point that you can be comfortable with and trust in a tidal pattern where you know that your routines of decluttering will wash away debris and return you to a calm, peaceful, smoothness.

*Hello to Rinn who posted on a blog called Verbatim about the potential despair induced by little household Tasmanian devils and inspired today's tip. It's fun when people I don't know are learning about Discardia from other people I don't know. Hooray for memes!