My Ideal Day

I’ve finally returned to thinking about the future again, after my month (or so) of chaos and stress. I’m not at the point of making any plans yet, since I’m still letting myself finish recovering from all that stress, but I have begun to imagine how different scenarios might play out. It’s the same sort of exercise that you do whenever you talk about a dream house, an ideal occupation, or a fantastical life. There is little focus on the specifics or the likelihood of that dream coming to fruition as you instead just spend the time imagining what would be the most fun or pleasant way for things to be. Dream houses have secret tunnels, hidden doors, hedge mazes, and oddities like towers or lighthouses or live-in garden hermits. Dream occupations hopefully focus on things you find fulfilling rather than the odd power fantasies I always hear from people who’ve bought in to capitalism. Fantastical lives are either incredibly vague things when they’re “realistic,” especially these days when an ideal life is stuff like “not sad all the time” or “I don’t have to worry about money while living modestly” and so on, or they’re hyper specific as you imagine yourself living in the fantasy or sci-fi or alternate world of your choosing. Instead of focusing on any of those, though, I’ve been imaging what my ideal day would be.

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All It Took To Combat Worsening Burnout Was A Lot Of Effort

As I’ve mentioned an untold number of times on this blog, I’m struggling with burnout. The problem with burnout is that it isn’t solved by a simple vacation. Or even several simple vacations. It is a process of years to recover from the constant exhaustion, the anxiety, and the need to continue the grind. A process that frequently doesn’t ever play out for people in my society, much less for those who are less privileged than I. After all, I’m not going to be able to escape the burnout until I don’t need to work extra hours to make ends meet in a way that doesn’t involve bargain shopping, penny-pinching, or denying myself anything I don’t strictly need with a few exceptions here or there. Even then, I’d have to find either a new job or a way to fundamentally alter the relationship I have with my job and the way I feel obligated to continue laboring as I have in the past. So, while it is definitely possible (and even probable, given enough time) that I’ll eventually escape this cycle of constant burnout, I find myself focusing on ways that I can continue to live with it, at least for now.

Like any attempt to cope with stress or trauma, the main question isn’t whether or not I’ll cope but whether or not I’ll learn to cope in a healthy manner. Complicating matters is that I have to do all that while I’m still dealing with the on-going problem and anything that requires significant effort on my part is only going to make it worse. For example, one of my favorite coping mechanism for high anxiety is buying myself a new building or life simulator game. There’s nothing like having complete control over my environment to sooth my frantic mind. When it comes to burnout, though, this stragety will frequently backfire on me because all I’m doing is spending money I could have put toward my student loans and assigning myself another new bit of work to do every day. Even if I’m having fun initially, feeling obligated to play a game every day to keep up with it is a sure-fire way to make my burnout worse in a measureable way from one day to another (which is why my pre-bed video game is Stardew Valley rather than Animal Crossing).

Luckily, I’ve been coping since I was a child, am a fairly clever person when it comes to tracking patterns and habits, have spent my entire life engaged in introspection, and have developed the organizational skills to put all of this together. It has unfortunately taken a decent amount of work to organize and turn into a set of reliable habits, but I’m finally hitting the point where that work is paying off. All I need now is a period of time where nothing terrible or extra stressful happens. Originally, that was going to be the latter half of August, but that went out the window the instant my other eye started acting up. Now, though, with only one more week of appointments left before this period of my life is hopefully behind me for good, I’m starting to feel hopeful that I’ll finally get my chance to see if my efforts were successful.

To remove the ambiguity, what I’m talking about is a method of managing the work, enjoyment, and fulfillment in my life so I can keep them in balance to prevent my burnout from getting any worse while I continue the years-long work of digging myself out of this pit of exhaustion. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to assemble and is hardly fool-proof, but it provides me with the tools to know when I can take a break, to manage my spoons every day without costing spoons, and to lessen the impact of any sudden stressors that might appear. I want to stress that this isn’t a fix for burnout or something that I think will definitely work for other people since I built it with my unique situation and proclivities in mind, but I’m pretty impressed with the results I’ve seen so far.

The core of this system and what has let this turn into a success I’ve been able to maintain and refine for almost nine months now, is a series of lists. Daily to-do lists, short-term project lists, long-term project lists, work project lists, household project lists, and even an ambiguous “adulting” project list. I’d use Self-Care here, as this is the proper context for it, but I use self-care in a more broad sense elsewhere in my system and don’t want to double-dip on terms. I have a time every day for updating new lists, a system for noting what things NEED to get done today versus what I WANT to get done on top of that, a bunch of shorthand for denoting if something should be completely done today or just worked on today, and a slew of specific markings that represent things like an amount of progress made or even as granular as something I wanted to do today but couldn’t do versus something I wanted to do today but chose not to do. All of which adds up to a HUGE decrease in how much mental effort it takes to get through my day. This system is so thorough and ingrained in my mind now that I’ve managed to successfully stick to it even during a week where I slept an average of three hours a night and could barely form coherent sentences the day before I finally got a full night’s rest.

Other than that, it’s mostly just the results of learning to manage my mental and physical health over the past decade. Walks, types of stretches, comfortable clothes, the right kind of environmental control, and so on. It is a thousand tiny things that I’ve managed to collect and apply to my day-to-day in a way that truly reduces the mental load of simply living life. No matter how burned out I feel at any given time, I know exactly where to go if I need something to do (fun, productive, or fulfilling) but don’t have the spoons to figure out what I want.

If you’re reading through all this and it doesn’t sound like all that much for me to be ranting and raving about, then I would like to say that you have arrived at exactly the point. It took years of work to figure out how to make this feel effortless not just in talking about it to other people but to me as well. I can make writing daily blog posts look effortless most of the time, but I’ve never felt like it was effortless. I’ve spent too many hours staying at a blank page without ever having a single idea worth exploring to ever call this process simple and easy, but I’ve fooled even myself into feeling like my self-management system is simple and easy. I just had to spend months working through the times when it felt like it wasn’t and reminding myself that it would all be worth it in the end when I could go on a fun, relaxing vacation and actually not have all of that rest and recovery disappear within three days of returning home.

There will still be burrs to remove as time passes. I will mess up, the system will fail, I’ll have days when even this minor maintenance feels like too much, but it will be a fleeting moment. I’ve even built the whole thing to explicitly eliminate any way I could make myself feel bad about not doing “enough” on a prior day, so I can start at neutral with my system every morning.

My Latest Lunchtime Video Occupation

Recently, during my lunch breaks at work or when I need to put on something in the background while I’m working at my computer, I’ve been watching a lot of Drawfee on YouTube. For those unfamiliar, it’s a funny show of varying length, usually about half an hour, where two or more artist participate in a drawing challenge, sometimes as they record themselves talking through it with the other present hosts (they have a stable of four regular hosts these days, with occasional guests or missing hosts) or as they talk over a sped-up video of them drawing something in the past. The format of the video tends to vary based on the specifics of the challenge, and there are enough different styles of video that I don’t think I’ve watched them all even after about a month or two of lunches spent watching these videos mostly selected at random. Despite the lack of dependable form, it is a pretty safe bet that you’re going to enjoy just about every video that might pop up from their channel.

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Splatoon 3 Is A Bunch Of Wholesome Joy

In the days since Splatoon 3 came out (keep in mind I write these a week before they post), I’ve played the game more and less than I expected to. The relatively smooth and straight-forward nature of the game lends itself to pick-up-and-play gaming, with me fitting in a couple matches by myself or some time working through the challenges in story mode into whatever spare fifteen minutes I have. At the same time, the often-times frustrating nature of repetitive losses or getting stuck on a challenge that requires a level of skill you just don’t have can make the game incredibly easy to put down. Over all, though, I’d say the fun, light-hearted nature of the game and relatively swift matches tips the scales so that I find myself enjoying my time with the game far more fequently than I find myself putting the game aside in frustration. In my experience with online, mostly player versus player games, that’s about as good a result as you could ever hope for.

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Grief and Personal Revisionist History

The Queen died today (the day I wrote this, I mean). As a US citizen and a person with a great deal of disdain for the parasitic ruling class of wealth, nobility, and power, I’ll admit I’ve never had much concern for the UK’s royal family. I’m pretty sure I’m breaking some kind of rule about ways to refer to monarchs who have passed away in the transitional state between one ruler and the next, but I’d be lying if I said I cared enough to actually look it up. All I know is I started to recognize patterns in the ways that people were writing about the event on Twitter before I got tired of how EVERYONE was talking about it and found a new comic to read instead of doing my usual Twitter scrolling (Vattu, by Evan Dahm). Which I found because someone shared an image from said comic of a character saying “it’s a tragedy for an emperor even to exist.” If that doesn’t just about capture my feelings on the matter, then I don’t know if anything ever will.

Originally, I planned to never even mention this event on my blog. I don’t really care about the royal family outside of the abstract annoyance I feel about any news item that takes over the entirety of the internet for longer than an hour (there’s already YouTube videos about it, of course), so why would I waste my time on it? I almost deleted the whole post so I could write about my identity or how much I’m dreading the end of Spiritfarer because it’s everything I’ve thought it would be, but while I was looking up the exact text of the quote above, I found another tweet, this one from an account I follow because of her frank discussions about the difficulty of growing up and trying to heal from an abusive family and the grief involved therein: “You don’t have to pretend someone was kind or good because they died. Everybody dies.”

Since my grandfather passed away, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grief, loss, and the way those things can warp our view of the past. Or perhaps the way we deliberately misrepresent the past in order to justify the grief and loss we feel. I’m still not sure which it is and I strongly suspect that the true answer is that it’s a bit of both for pretty much everyone. When he passed, my mother’s family spent a lot of time waxing poetic about my grandfather, sharing funny stories, and looking at old photos (which is when I had the uncomfortable realization that my older brother is the spitting image of my grandfather when he was younger). It was a difficult event, in part because of the emotion involved and my (to put it INCREDIBLY FLIPPANTLY) difficult relationship with that side of my family, but also because I could see my mother, aunts, and uncles leaving out parts of stories that cast my grandfather in a less than positive light.

Now, the way my mother and her siblings tell it, my grandfather was a jokester and a mischief maker who was well-liked by the people who knew him. He could supposedly talk his way into or out of just about anything. However, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about generational trauma and who has learned to recognize the signs of trauma in other people via the details they leave out of the stories they tell about themselves, the past, and the people who hurt them, I think the truth was more complicated. As it almost always is. I think that my grandfather was not always the kind, accepting, friendly person I knew. I think there’s a reason he used to threaten to slap people upside the head or that my mother and her siblings never tell any stories that involved them getting into actual trouble. He changed, I suspect, as he grew older, but that doesn’t absolve him of what he did in the past. I think that if he had acted to address the generational abuse he perpetuated, my mother might have been able to do so as well, rather than resist the notion that she has anything to apologize for.

As I reflect on how little I know about the life my grandfather lived and the way that people are reacting to the death of the queen–waxing poetic, noting the harm she, her family, and the UK have done to the world, or just avoiding the topic entirely–I find myself wondering if we’re ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with grief. Will we (collectively, I mean) ever be able to mourn a person’s passing and the grief that engenders without trying to paint over all the harm they might have caused? I think there are probably a lot of people who have had a genuine emotional reaction to the passing of the queen, and I don’t mean the people obsessed with celebrities who personally feel the loss of a public figure. I mean people whose lives were touched in a positive way by a public figure through a small interaction or even act of kindness. Not even to mention her family, some of whom may have had a troubled relationship with her but who probably still care about her. I think we could make space for those people to grieve without needing to ignore all the harm the royal family has caused to so many people around the world.

I’ll admit that the idea works a lot better when you’re talking about someone whose impacted was primarily felt within a family or family-adjacent social unit rather than all over the world. I think a lot of people are justified in their anger and resentment at the way that the queen is getting all of this attention despite the literal and direct harm done to the world, their country, or even their lives directly by the queen in her time as the (figure)head of the UK. But then again, this post was never really about her. She was just a convenient focal point for my reflections about loss and grief and this was really me trying to grapple with the flawed person my grandfather was, the flawed people my parents are, and how I’m striving to end the cycle that hurt all of us, so much as I can by myself, anyway.

I mourned my grandfather’s passing even as I recognized that he wasn’t always the person I knew. I will mourn my parents when they pass, if I’m around to see it, even if they are still the people I know they are right now. I will speak honestly of them, just as I do my best to speak honestly of my grandfather and as I hope people will speak of me when I’m gone. The passing of a person is a chance to grapple with the full weight of their life and it would be a foolish disservice to everyone who was impacted by them to do anything less. I just hope the world eventually gets on board with this idea. It would be a lot more healthy for everyone if they did.

Domestic Labor And Taking Care of Yourself

The first time I was tasked with preparing a meal for the rest of my family, I was nine. My parents had made the choice that they were going to homeschool all (at the time) four of their children and we started when I was preparing to make the transition from kindergarten to first grade. When I turned nine right around the start of our school year, my (at the time) youngest sibling was finally of an age that she needed to begin initial education, the sibling between us was just starting first grade, I was in third grade, my elder brother was in fifth grade, and my mother was just beginning to realize that she wasn’t capable of doing all of the housekeeping, schooling, and childrearing while my father was at work. Given that she had a number of children, she did what anyone else would do and continued the process she’d started years prior of offloading responsibility for some of that work to her children. Unlike most families of a similar size, the work wasn’t given to the eldest child or evenly distributed between children according to their abilities, but almost all of it was given to the most responsible child. Me.

Which isn’t to say none of my siblings did anything around the house. We all had a scattering of weekly and daily chores we did, meted out by our mother via a chore chart she put on the fridge every week, ostensibly in exchange for our allowance. Things like setting the table, wiping the table after dinner, loading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, picking up a specific room, and so on. Simple chores, easy enough for any child tall enough to reach the sink or use a broom, that were shared between us via the chore chart for my entire time living with my parents. Still, it was not difficult to notice that I was the only child tasked with preparing lunch for the entire family.

Since my mother had realized I woke up at five every morning (even then I never slept much more than eight hours at a time) when she found me breaking our family’s video game time rules so I could enjoy Donkey Kong 64 without interference from my brother or younger siblings, she’d started waking up at that time as well and giving me my daily school lessons. I’d be done by the time my other siblings woke up for breakfast and then finished with my assignments by eleven, so she also assigned me the task of preparing lunch for everyone. This way, she could get an extra thirty minutes of lesson time in before the day was interrupted by lunch. And to keep me busy, of course. Idle hands are the devil’s plaything, after all, as I’d proven by trying to enjoy some time to myself in the mornings.

After a couple months of successful lunch preparation, including branching out into various warmed and easily cooked foods instead of the usual coldcuts and leftovers we’d enjoyed prior to my assignment as school cook (which is an editorialization on my part, since my parents never framed this or anything else I’m about to mention as anything other than normal “helping around the house” type work), I began a short period of cooking lessons. Which were, of course, framed as helping my mother prepare dinner. And eventually clean up from dinner. When it was clear that I could handle a few basic meals, easy baking tasks, and knew what it meant to properly wash the dishes, suddenly I found the chore chart expanded to include a few new entries. I had the daily chore of making lunch and, one or two times a week, making dinner. There were also a new series of chores sorted by age categories that meant my brother and I were now sharing more after-dinner kitchen clean up tasks with our parents.

What I noticed as a result of this process was that my brother never aged into chores. I did and then he was added in at the same time, despite enjoying two years of not needing to do that chore before we began to share it. The only exception was mowing the lawn, but that’s a bit of a special case because it was a weird masculinity thing in my house since my father, who is the biological source of my grass allergy, always mowed the lawn even though my mother was perfectly capable of doing so herself and not allergic like my father and I. So we both started doing lawn care the week we turned thirteen, which was notable because it was the only time my brother did a chore before I started doing it. At that point in time, it was more surprising to see him tasked with something before I was than to find myself being taught how to do a “good job” according to my parents sensibilities so that I could make up for the poor job my older brother would be doing when it was his turn to do the chore in question.

This was one of the many aspects of my childhood that I took note of but never really felt any which way about. Part of that was just me attempting to survive my childhood, but part of it was me lacking any other context. For instance, despite the firm gender roles and assignments handed down by my parents, we never had any concept of “women’s work” because my mother frequently tasked me with cooking, cleaning, sewing (admittedly mostly limited to my own clothing and stuffed animal repair needs), and cargiving chores. It wasn’t until I was in college (and had stopped thinking of my parents’ house as my “home”) that I realized that the idea of “women’s work” wasn’t just a cartoonish pasitche of regressive villainy. Finally coming into contact with lives that were undeniably different from my own was what it took to cease the unquestioning acceptance of my lived experience as fairly normal for my ethnicity and socio-economic station.

Eventually though, after this awakening and the many examples of other ways of living I found once I knew to look for them (some of which were helped along by the supportive, patient, and wonderful professors in my many cross-listed English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies classes), I tried to figure out how I felt about this. It wasn’t until my senior year when I wrote about Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room that I took my first really step forward in figuring out how I felt about that sort of domestic labor distribution beyond the basic “this is clearly not fair” feelings I’d harbored all along. The first of two major papers I wrote for that class took a close look at the way that the value placed on domestic labor and how it was shared between people living together could be read as a metaphor for the equality and inclusivity of everyone involved. Reading back over that paper now, it is clear to see the feelings I couldn’t quite pin down or even properly put to words in my therapy sessions burbling beneath the surface. About my place in my parents’ household, about the roles assigned to me, and about my own (at the time) supressed identity and sense of self.

As I wrote the above paragraphs, I was standing next to the remnants of my dinner. A container showing the red stains of tomato-based pasta sauce as the only evidence it had been packed to the brim with leftover ravioli and tortellini smothered in a sauce I’ve known how to prepare for more than two-thirds of my thirty-one years. The first of five such containers that still graced my refrigerator this morning because it wasn’t until after I’d prepared and mixed up everything that I realized I could have cooked for just myself. I could have prepared only part of the tortellini and ravioli. Or prepared just a part of one of the two types of pasta rather than part of both. Instead, I cooked for a group of people I haven’t had to take care of in thirteen of the twenty-two years since I first learned to prepare this particular recipe.

Only recently, as I reflect on my childhood while preparing any of the various dishes I’ve grown to love in portions meant to feed a family of seven, do I see these memorized recipes and ingrained cooking habits as signs of the unequal, abusive, and neglectful relationships that formed the core of my childhood home. Only now, as I reflect on my relationship with my parents, my own identity, and my sense of self, do I explicitly think of how the way that I was tasked with domestic and emotional labor shaped me in ways that I’m just beginning to understand.

I feel like I should feel the need to console myself as I wrap up this blog post. Like I should need to prove to myself and whoever is reading this that I am capable of taking care of myself in a way that isn’t accidentally or incidentally included in taking care of other people. After all, it’s not every day that I realize just how bad I am at taking care of myself in a way that radically alters my thinking. The thing is, I’m not uncomfortable with that idea. Like I’ve said, I think I always knew even if I never explicity realized what it meant. I think that finally being able to put all of this into words, to be able to realize what all of this represents as I stare each morning at leftovers I’m going to have to force myself to eat every day if i want to prevent them from going to waste, is a sign of progress. Maybe not a watershed moment, but definitely a step in the right direction. I think the first thing I’m going to do to prove this to myself is make a much smaller batch of sauce. Once I’m not sick of eating it every day, anyway.