Week Three: Alcott in 3D

This week, it’s time to talk about Things Not to Do, and How Not to Do Them. There’s a lot of that in the Little Women world. As with most moral tales, there’s not a lot of guidance on how to do good things, but quite a bit on what you shouldn’t do. There’s no drinking (except for illness!), no eating too much, no sleeping too much, no gossiping, no bad temper, no spending too much money, no selfishness, no complaining, no conceit, no makeup. Thankfully each of these is accompanied by a story illustrating why it’s a bad idea. I don’t like to drink and I’m not in danger of wearing too much makeup, but the rest are all things I have issues with. So:

1. Eating too much. I really feel for Stuffy, man. “I wish I loved my lessons as much as I do my dinner”? Soul mates. I love food. I spend most of my money on it, to be quite honest, so this could go hand in hand with that foible. But as Professor Bhaer says, “We will plant self-denial, and hoe and water it, and make it grow so well that next Christmas no one will get ill by eating too much dinner. If you exercise your mind, George, it will get hungry just as your body does…” This is kind of true, but I’m a grad student. My mind is never going to be as hungry as my body. Still, if we turn to the section of Little Men that talks about Bess, the perfect paragon of beauty and grace, we see that Stuffy wants to give Bess a bonbon to win her over because she doesn’t like him (apparently he eats untidily, which grosses me out too). Mrs. Jo tells him that Bess is not allowed to eat sweeties, and says that “she won’t touch [the bonbon], if I tell her it is to look at, not to eat. She will keep it for weeks, and never think of tasting it. Can you do as much?” There has probably never been a “sweetie” in my house long enough for me to even pretend I have self-denial. The only way I can practice this is by sticking to my meal plan and not buying any extra treats. This makes me very sad because my morning Starbucks and sour cream donut is kind of like manna, but I’ve gained like 20 pounds since I moved here and about 15 of it has “white chocolate mocha and sour cream donut three times a week” written on it.

2. Sleeping too much (or too little). I’ve already covered this at length. By the end of this year, I am determined to beat the crap out of insomnia. Unlike many people who have trouble sleeping, I actually like being up in the early morning. Even if I sit around in my pajamas the rest of the day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something just by waking up with the sun. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this, because I’m yet to find a satisfactory way to turn off my brain. But banning my iPhone from my bedroom is a good start, so.

3. Gossiping. I’m a terrible gossip. The intention is not to be mean, I’m just very nosy and hate to be left out of the loop. But it’s a bad habit and makes me feel awful afterward. It always starts out fine, but descends into negativity fast, and then you can’t get yourself out of that negative frame of mind and you start complaining about everyone, and everyone you know gets the “I like them, but…” treatment. There are very few people I really don’t like, and they’re not people I want to dwell on. For the rest, I’d rather focus on their good parts.

4. Bad temper. The main witness to my temper is my dog. She’s been driving me crazy all day because she won’t settle down and she doesn’t need food and she doesn’t need to go for a walk. She just wants my attention, and I have a lot of work to do. After the fiftieth interruption, I told her I might actually kill her, a little bit. Small homicide of annoying dog: totally justifiable. Sometimes I yell at her to GO LAY DOWN OR ELSE when she’s being really obnoxious, like today, and I feel terrible and immediately go cuddle her. She’s always patient with me and always loves me even when I’m not the best dog-mom. Humans are not so forgiving. I’m not an irritable person in general, but once in a while I’m really bitchy, especially if I have to repeat myself a lot or explain things that seem obvious to me, so I hope I can always think of little dogs who don’t mean to be annoying and just want love.

5. Spending too much money. I don’t even want to talk about this one. I doubt the March sisters would approve of a person who is so far in debt that she will die before her loans are paid off, but they didn’t have to live and attend college in 2013, so in this case they can suck it. As a concession to the fact that I am very, very poor, however, I will only allow myself to go out for happy hour/dinner once a month, and to see one movie per month. And, as mentioned in #1, no buying extra treats during the week. I will save so much money…which will all go to dental work. This grill is diamond-plated, yo.

6. Complaining. I think the only way I’m going to stop bitching about everything under the sun is if I stop talking altogether…which is not a terrible idea. Practice: stop talking.

I’ll address conceit and selfishness next week in Things to Do, because there are actually some pointers in the books about how to avoid them. In the meantime, I have done quite a bit this past week, but I have not finished my Spanish project. What would the March sisters do? They would scold me until I hit them with my umbrella because I hate being told what to do. Still, it’s a thing that has to be done, and this is the time to do it. On the docket this evening is grooming the dog, finishing the week’s lesson plans and homework, painting my toenails, doing laundry, and cleaning the apartment. That sounds like a lot, but my apartment is quite small and I’m usually done cleaning it before the laundry is out of the dryer. The real time-suck is the lesson planning. Each week I ask myself if I can just sit around and talk about movies, and each week I have to tell myself, no, M, you cannot spend an hour illustrating the cinematic history behind Pacific Rim.
Goodbye until Thursday. Prayer circle for my sleep patterns.

Midweek progress: Schrödinger’s Trapper-Keeper

The week during which a new school year begins is a magical week. I always get excited and want to buy school supplies, because part of me is still 10 years old and doesn’t feel complete without an entire new set of matching folders, notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighters, stapler, and LL Bean backpack with my initials on it. After twenty years of school, I know I’m pretty much set with one new notebook and a new whiteboard marker, but a big part of me still longs for a Lisa Frank trapper-keeper. The organization! The information pages to fill out! The kittens and unicorns and stars and rainbows! I loved the freshness of it all, the promise of a new, on-top-of-everything me. Within a month the trapper-keeper would be scratched, covered in ink, full of forms I’d forgotten to give to my parents, and half the notebook paper would be ripped, but in that first two weeks: Schrödinger’s trapper-keeper. Throw M in a box with a bunch of organizational tools and when you open it up again she could be the same slob she always was, or an entirely new, efficient human being who would definitely not leave her lunch in a locker until it required an exterminator.

During this first week, I’ve been trying to stick to a schedule, trying not to get bogged down in meetings and welcome parties and orientations, but of course it always happens. The main enemy to combat is exhaustion. How do you get energy without ingesting too much caffeine and/or stealing life-force from children? Theoretically, exercise gives you more energy, but it usually makes me want to have a nap. This is going to be my biggest problem with this project, I think. I have the energy-level of a sloth on Valium…after Thanksgiving dinner.

Today in one of my classes we talked about the concept of industry and America. It’s not only Americans who are all about work, of course, but it is something we like to think we’re pretty good at. How can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t work, after all? The entire mythology of upward mobility in America is centered around working hard and being independent. It’s one way we differentiated ourselves from the mother country. It made me think of the chapter of Little Women in which Laurie’s English friends come to visit and there’s some discussion between Kate Vaughn, John Brooke, and Meg about the propriety of being a governess in America vs England. Mr. Brooke says, “Young ladies in America love independence as much as their ancestors did, and are admired and respected for supporting themselves.” There’s something to be said about that rhetoric when it comes to women’s suffrage, I think, but then I wonder how that love of work and energy and independence turned into production at all costs, and seventy-hour work weeks with no benefits or vacation. If the March sisters could look into the future, would they be pleased by 2013 America and our work ethic? I doubt it. But I think they would still believe in the value of work and industry: work and independence give you peace of mind, whether it reinforces ideological apparatuses or not.

Goals for the rest of the week: sleep, work, ingest no more than 1 cup of coffee per day. Also, maybe buy one of these bad boys. There is not nearly enough rainbow unicorn love in this world. What kind of love, we don’t know. Given the coy look in their eyes, I’m going to say these unicorns are close in a special way, but I think they’re supposed to be related. They are clearly the Folger’s commercial of the rainbow unicorn kingdom.

trapper

The House of Lannister sends its regards

Week Two: Return to Alcott Mountain

So it’s been a week now. Let’s talk about the positives first, because like Beth March, we are saintly optimists who only live to be cheerful and take care of babies with scarlet fever (cheerfully!).

The good:

I can cross off several things on my to do list:

Call scary people (dentist, financial aid, IRS)
Write syllabus
Finish Spanish project
Write 500 words each day
Daily walk
Follow schedule

I only half crossed out “Finish Spanish Project” and “Write 500 words each day” because I only kind of got halfway there with both of them. I did not walk every day and I did not follow my schedule very well. I did, however, get some things done that I didn’t put on the list, because they weren’t very important and I only did them to avoid doing other things. This is something they don’t talk about in motivational books. When I have to do something I don’t want to do – which is pretty much anything I’m obliged to do, even if I originally wanted to do it – I will engage in behavior I call “Anything Else” syndrome. This week, I put up all my pictures. I have lived here for over a year without caring whether my walls were bare, but on Saturday I knew it was time (because I was supposed to be translating). I made a budget for money I won’t have until September. I researched Macs because my computer might die someday, maybe. I beat 40 levels in Candy Crush. I went outside with the dog a lot and let her look scary at cats. I also finally found out what toner is, and now I might use it.

My point is that I have to figure out how to get around Anything Else syndrome. That’s the bad for this week – that and I am really, really tired. Official ruling on the adjustment week: semi-successful.

This coming week is about to bring the business because school is starting, and tomorrow I am having serious dental work done (because I called the dentist! Which seems like such a terrible reward). So the adjustment week is over, which basically means I have to stop bringing my phone to bed with me to read just one more chapter (or, let’s be real, to play just one more game).

Last week I talked about faults. This week, I’m covering Things to Be Done. Not just for the immediate future, but you know, the kind of thing you write down when people ask you where you see yourself in one year, five years, and ten years. I’ve always been deeply suspicious of those things, because in ten years we could have colonized another planet and I don’t want to be bound by some silly crap I wrote in two minutes on the first day of class. But I do have goals.

1. To get my shit together (date tbd).

2. To graduate (May 2015).

3. To finish the novel I’m currently working on and begin sending it out (fall 2013).

4. To start (and finish) the other book that is sitting on the back-burner right now (spring/summer 2014).

5. To get a job I enjoy (when is entirely dependent on several other items on this list).

6. To one day be financially solvent enough that I can do something very nice for other people with my largesse (this one is dependent on me and also on the other people, which is always tricky).

As you can see my ambitions are modest and easy to accomplish. #2 is in progress. I don’t even want to think about my dissertation right now so we’ll touch on that when we have to. #3 is also in progress. At the rate I’m going, I should be finished in 3-4 months. Really everything rests on #1, which is why I’m here writing about Little Women in the first place. As I mentioned mid-week, I was rereading the chapter on Lazy Lawrence, and the one line that kept coming back to me was when Amy told Laurie that Jo hates lazy people. Jo is not my favorite character (don’t tell anyone; I think all bookish women are supposed to like Jo best), so I’m not sure why that line motivates me, but it does. I think because it’s so final. Like, really – she hates lazy people? Does she hate them more than mean people, or liars? And all Laurie’s even doing is moping around being melodramatic and taking a nap. If Jo ever met me she’d set my laptop on fire. I can’t will myself to be a more energetic person, but I can be unlazy. We can do this yo. Annnnd break!

Midweek Progress

Having a proper schedule is the only way I can ever keep track of everything I have to do. Plus, it’s fun to organize my time into little manageable chunks and pretend I’m actually going to write two pages of a paper every day for a week instead of 15 pages in one frantic afternoon. But that is just what we’re trying to accomplish here, so let’s take a look at M’s schedule:

Thursday
6:00 Wake up, take dog outside, go for walk, shower, eat breakfast.
8:00 Work on Spanish project
10:00 Write
11:00 Lunch, take dog outside
12:00 Make syllabus
1:30 Write
2:30 Write midweek progress update thingy
4:00 Type and revise
5:00 Write
6:00 Type and revise
7:00 Walk dog
7:30 Dinner
9:00 Dishes, dog
10:00 Bed

Here is how it really has gone

6:00 Alarm went off, hit snooze
9:00 Dog got annoyed by alarm going off every fifteen minutes, came to investigate
9:15 Got out of bed, took dog outside, cooked hardboiled eggs after realizing had not done so the night before
10:00 Ate breakfast, played Candy Crush on laptop, phone, and ipad
12:00 Finished half of syllabus
1:30 Wrote while intermittently snuggling dog, who sensed attention was not on her and stood with her chin on my arm, drooling everywhere
2:30 Candy Crush break
3:00 Right on schedule! With some exceptions! Like most of the day!

As expected, I have struggled most with going to sleep and getting up at regular hours, and going for a daily walk. I got there the first day, but can’t fall asleep before midnight, so getting up at 6 is making me crazy. There’s a scene at the beginning of Little Women where the girls are talking about how they’ll wake up and read a bit of their bibles every day, and I’ve been intending to include something like that in my schedule. I’m not religious, but I’ve read religious texts before, and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to work my way through some of them again. But this is predicated on the concept of me getting up at 6, so we’ll see if that ever happens.

Other than the sleep issue, I’ve gotten quite a few things done this week. I called people and did not hyperventilate. I wrote words. I went to meetings. I totally did not buy an egg, cheese, and sausage breakfast sandwich at Starbucks (…I did though). Truthfully, I’ve found myself a little glum so far, especially yesterday. I think it’s the exhaustion. Also, school starts again next week, and change always throws me into this weird headspace where I’m convinced nothing will ever be as nice as it was before. I’ve had a very pleasant summer, so the increasingly panicked work emails are starting to make me anxious. But in three weeks when the semester’s going and I get to really put this project into action, I think I’ll be back to normal.

By way of bucking myself up, I reread the chapter where Amy tells Laurie he’s turned into a lazy douchebag after Jo rejects him. It did actually make me feel a little better:

“You have grown abominably lazy, you like gossip, and waste time on frivolous things, you are contented to be petted and admired by silly people, instead of being loved and respected by wise ones.”

Amy March, ladies and gentlemen. Life of the party.

Until Sunday, au revoir!

Week One: the Alcottening.

The first thing is to sort out what needs to be done. I’ve put everything into categories.

1. Faults That Need Fixing

2. Things to Do

3. Things Not to Do

4. Things That Need to be Done

5. Things I Want to Do

This week, let’s discuss #1: Faults That Need Fixing.

One overarching issue is a lack of willpower. I’m not sure how that happened, because when I was little I was very determined and would work hard to succeed at things. Granted, the things I wanted to succeed at involved getting all the way across the monkey bars without falling, racing faster than my brother, and getting 100% on every spelling test, but still, at one point in my life I didn’t mind working really hard. By the time I hit adolescence that was all gone, but I think things really changed when I started living by myself and realized I was the boss of me. No accountability = no worky.

Another issue is distraction. Again, when I was younger I had laser focus. I know what happened to that, though.

Is that an iguana?

I’m pretty sure some of these are made up. The one with the e is definitely not a real browser.

Other faults include: selfishness, complaining, narcissism, spending too much money, self-indulgence, a tendency toward unkindness, complaining, and cynicism, impatience, and still watching Criminal Minds. Also probably a hundred other ones I don’t know about because I’m selfish and narcissistic.

So how do we solve all of that? Let’s turn to the March sisters.

Willpower: “…you will find that all play and no work is as bad as all work and no play.” (Little Women)

Distraction: “Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone. It keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion.” (Little Women)

Selfishness: “We can’t do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly.” (Little Women)

Narcissism: “You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, and even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.” (Little Women)

Spending too much money: “These bills were so many and so large that he was startled and dismayed; for, as Mr. Bhaer had wisely predicted, he knew little about the value of money…Borrow he would not, nor beg. What could he do? For these appalling bills must be paid, and the lessons go on; or his journey was an ignominious failure. (Jo’s Boys)

Self-indulgence: Basically, Stuffy. He was never cured of his love of food, people! He died suddenly of apoplexy after a public dinner! Stuffy is a horror story. (Little Men and Jo’s Boys)

Unkindness, complaining, and cynicism: “He never loses patience – never doubts or complains – but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him.” (Little Women)

Impatience: The entire chapter where Jo is a total asshole to her aunt and her aunt’s friend and so they decide to take Amy to Europe instead.

Bad television: I suspect the March sisters wouldn’t own a television, to be honest.

So all I have to do is work, not talk about how awesome I am, stop spending money, stop eating so much, be cheerful and uncomplaining, and never be mean to any aunts who might want to take me to Europe. Easy peasy. Week one, BAM.

Things to do this week

Call scary people (dentist, financial aid, IRS)
Write syllabus
Finish Spanish project
Write 500 words each day
Daily walk
Follow schedule

Until next week, when we discuss Things to Do (in general)