Monday Musings

With Jay in San Francisco for two months and me on my own, trying to get as much work done as possible between now and my fourth year committee meeting, I’ve been thinking about:

  • time management, 
  • relationships, and
  • priorities.

Mostly about how the first two fit into the last.

A few specific things on my mind –

The “fast-and-hard” mentality vs. the “slow-and-steady” – Here’s an example of what I mean: Today, at the gym, there was a really strong girl who absolutely crushes heavy weightlifting workouts, but she has trouble with gymnastics. She was working on handstands because the workout called for a handstand push up, but she was uncomfortable kicking up into a handstand, afraid of hitting her head.

Another girl and I were trying to help. I suggested a number of progressions I learned in yoga class, first getting comfortable hopping higher and higher on one foot, thinking about getting your hips over your shoulders, doing wall climbs. The other girl, who is a contender for fittest girl at our gym, was all, “You can do this right now! Kick up! I’ll grab your legs! Boom – you’re up!” Literally, that is what happened. Our friend got into her first handstand, and I quietly slunk away. My cautious approach was neither wanted nor needed. I’d call this the CrossFit attitude vs. my inner yogi, and the CrossFit attitude won.

This was just the most recent of a growing list of instances where I felt like my way of doing things, and by extension my entire self, don’t really belong at the CrossFit box. The most glaring example was the CrossFit Open – the whole experience has made me feel like I’m not hardcore enough for this sport, or any other sport probably. Where everyone else got fired up to compete and achieve greater feats of strength and agility, I felt pressured … uncomfortable … out of my depth.

But I love the workouts, and I love what I’ve gained from the sport. Yesterday, I did one of CrossFit’s most (in)famous workouts, Murph, by myself, purely for personal satisfaction. Murph consists of a mile run, then 100 pull ups, 200 chest-to-deck push ups, and 300 squats (broken up however you want), finished with another mile run. I loved it. It made me brutally tired, but it also made me stronger. No one knew how long it took me, but I was proud of my time (especially on the runs), proud that I could even do that volume of work without failing. (Full disclosure – Murph in its purest form should be done in 20lbs of body armor. Some day, maybe.)

I don’t want this cognitive dissonance, appreciation for the sport/discomfort with aggressive competition, to hold me back from my personal goals. So I’m thinking about how these things can co-exist, the fast-and-hard and the slow-and-steady, in my life.

Slow food – In at least one area of my life, I’m shifting priorities to favor slow over fast. I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which follows her family on a year-long experiment to only eat locally sourced ingredients, most of which they grew themselves on their farm. The book reminded me that “What’s for dinner?” is an incredibly nuanced question.

For example, I’ve adopted a lazy vegetarianism to deal with my philosophical qualms about food production. At first blush, vegetarianism is more sustainable than meat-eating and allows me to neatly sidestep all the unpleasantness of factory farming. That’s the fast choice – convenience vegetarian food. But a plant-based diet is not necessarily the most rational choice given my values. I suspect it is more sustainable to buy locally sourced free-range lamb sausage from the butcher down the street, a small business owned by a skilled tradesman, than to buy name-brand vegetarian “sausage” made from genetically modified soy plants grown on massive farms from Monsanto-patented seeds, shipped first to a plant for processing and packaging then shipped again to the supermarket.

As much as I love the food in Chicago – the burgers and donuts are amazing! – this book helped me realized that the food culture here is outward-facing, incorporating the flavors of generations of immigrants, using ingredients from around the world. (Makes sense for a city where winter can linger for 6 months of the year, and local options are limited.) For me, this is again the fast choice – an interesting restaurant meal, picked from a list of great options, all the thought and work done by someone else, each calorie shipped from a different corner of the globe. But Kingsolver’s writing, particularly the recipes built around seasonal ingredients from her Appalachian farm, made me crave slow food, an inward-looking food culture, opportunities to create as well as consume.

So I’m thinking about how to make better choices at the grocery store or (preferably) the winter farmer’s market that align with my goal of maximizing positive social utility while minimizing negative impact on the environment. And I’m resolving to spend more time in the kitchen, getting to know my food. First up: homemade mozzarella, served with basil from my little potted herb garden, on freshly baked bread.

Maintaining relationships – As much as I want to turn inwards, towards slow food projects at home and all my personal hang-ups, I know that I have a responsibility to look out and look after my loved ones in far-flung places. So I’m asking myself, How much effort does a good friendship take, especially when all my closest relationships are now taking place long-distance?

Within a 750-mile radius of Chicago, I’ve only got colleagues, acquaintances, and complete strangers. My parents, my brother, my childhood friends, my scattering of confidantes from college and grad school, and my partner are all elsewhere, living their lives in vastly different fashions. Can strong bonds be left alone for a bit, while we each sort out our own business? Or, are friendships living entities that require constant sustenance and care? Maybe its a mix – one is a cactus, happily left to its own devices for months before it must be watered, but another is cat, in need of daily attention. Is one type better than the other, more “true” in its qualities? If a relationship demands attention, does that mean it is weaker than one that does not? Or is that a sign of something deeper and more valuable, something that can’t just be put aside for convenience?

I think – I hope – that it takes all types of relationships to build a life. Some people we talk to every damn day, others once a week, still others every few months, when something out of the blue reminds us of them: Hey, haven’t heard from you recently, remember that time when… And still we care for all these people. We hold them in our hearts and wish them all the best, at a distance.

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