Thoughts on 37

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According to the calendar and math, I just turned 37 years old. This meets most definitions of adulthood. I’m a parent, and a wife. I have a professional portfolio with 15 years worth of stuff in it. I’m employable and pretty much have my shit together. Of course, none of this means a thing. I’m the same dumbass I was in college.

As I’m constantly reminding my daughter (who is 2 and concerned with such things) we get a little bigger every day until we grow up. For her, that’s enough. For me, growing up is an ongoing campaign.

After childhood, an extensive support network surrounding the products we buy encourages us to spend our energy trying to look and act like the people we briefly were in our early 20s. The desire to grow up is subsumed by a need to stop growing or changing.

I started dying my hair to cover up grey when I was 24. My fair skin and fear of the sun got me a brief reprieve from wrinkles. General immaturity and bad impulse control made me seem younger than my age. Postponing motherhood helped as well. I put myself on pause.

When I became pregnant, I stopped dying my hair. Weight gain and bloat changed my face, and I was too damned tired to indulge in any silly nonsense. Everything hurt and I aged ten years in a few months. I was still the same dumbass, but without the honors and privileges awarded to youth. There was some mitigating churn around “oh look a pregnant lady how sweet” but it didn’t kick in for six months and was offset by vomiting and crippling depression.

Some time has passed, and I’m suddenly 37. Parenthood has reshaped my priorities. I have become Erica’s Earning Potential, Erica’s Ability to Absorb Interruption, Erica’s Immune System, and Erica’s Ability to Feed Her Family.

Endless undignified tasks arise when you’ve chosen to subsume personal ambition to create an environment where a potentially decent interesting child can grow and exist. There are no awards, there is no press coverage, and everyone involved forgets the details.

This isn’t the narcissism of Midwestern modesty (“Oh it’s nothing, here let me get that. Well maybe someday when I’m rich.”) or a perversion of patriarchal beauty standards. My sudden need for mid-afternoon naps and my enduring relationship with Ibuprofen and the heating pad argue against anything so energetic. Being punk rock is a lot of work. This is different. This is mom jeans and uncombed hair.

This is some organic freerange not-giving-a-shit.

I don’t try to look younger unless it assists the new priorities which are focused around people other than myself. I clean up ok, and I’ll do the thing where I get into lady drag when I go to job interviews or meetings with people who aren’t my work bros. I brush my teeth so my husband will kiss me, and I continue to fool him into thinking I’m pinup-hot.

But seriously? That food stain on my shirt is going to stay there. And I’m going to look right at you and talk anyway. I’m going to have opinions and expect a response even though I’m not wearing a particularly coordinated outfit because that’s what I’ve gained by becoming my own age. I’m not on pause anymore, and I didn’t lose anything of value.

I’m still the same dumbass I was in college, so why shouldn’t I claim the column of space around my body and fill it with something useful? I’m not here to be decorative. I don’t have to be, and neither do you.

So here’s to 37 and the freedom it brings. Here’s to being alive for no particular reason and not mattering much. Here’s to reeling around doing your best. And here’s to writing about it, because questioning that urge doesn’t help much either.

Good to be here, everyone. Hope you are well.

An Introvert’s Guide to Writing

Introvert,  extrovert, or false dichotomy?

I’ve been baring my soul and cockeyed schemes on the internet since 1997. I tell total strangers here on this site about my life, my thoughts on work, and the things that bring me joy. I’ve had two jobs where I acted professionally. I love making strangers smile. On Sundays, I invite everyone I’ve ever met to my home for BYOBrunch, and bask in the glow of a full room of happy people. I have sung badly in public, danced at any opportunity, and told jokes in front of large crowds. Very little embarrasses me.

Extrovert.

But I spend most of my life absorbing data. I work behind the scenes on applications that are the digital equivalent of sand mandalas. At my best, my effort becomes invisible, unnoticed. I love silence. My favorite vacation activity is walking through strange cities alone, or snorkling, both ways of existing in the divine silence of another world. I curl up like a cat under a blanket to recharge. When I had my daughter, I didn’t leave the house for four months. I order takeout by internet rather than phone. I rarely use my phone as a phone. I avoid answering emails, even from good friends.

Introvert.

I think the introvert/extrovert dichotomy attempts to explain seemingly incongruous tendencies that can arise in social animals. Our social dynamic and learned responses reflect a variety of alpha- or herd instincts. I would be  surprised if most people completely embody one or the other.

In related news, I’m sitting in the Noe Valley Library courtyard, and a group of middle-school kids are in front of me, giggling and making prank calls. Extroversion? Anonymous herd aggression as bonding mechanism?

Time to get up and go to the coffeeshop? Yes.

Things that now qualify as “me time”

Breastpumping
My commute to work
Taking a shower
The three block walk to return my library books
Sleeping
Leaning on my similarly exhausted husband and staring vacantly at something on a screen

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**UPDATE** I just finished Tina Fey’s new book Bossypants and was put to shame by her fantastic list of “Me Time” activities. I totally forgot to mention “Say you’re going to look for the diaper crème, then go into your child’s room and just stand there until your spouse comes in and curtly says, ‘What are you doing?’”

Go buy her book.

Top Five Things I Have Learned About Babies

My daughter, Elizabeth West Firment, was born in early November. The last…ever since…has been a nonstop, nonsleep blur of boobs, love, fuss, and delirium. In the process, I have learned these five things:

  • Ceiling fans are TV for babies.
  • At week six, nursing goes from being a special woodchipper for your nipples to something fairly ok. Eventually, it will become rather pleasant, and you will be able to play World of Warcraft while feeding your child, like my friend Kelly’s wife does. I’m pretty sure she levels up faster by simultaneously breastfeeding and p0wning n00bz.
  • The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold cold wet day.
  • There is a 4am. It comes before 5am, which is that time  you read about once that precedes 6am. You do not have the right to a full night’s sleep. You have given that right to your baby, who may use it as she sees fit.
  • Your baby’s smile generates a burst of hormones that if necessary will enable you to lift a car or cut out your own spleen.

Photos are up on flickr. Thanks for all the casseroles!

Daily Hilarity

Things today that made me laugh until I snorted:

  • Translating a boring work conversation into hula
  • Faygo Rock n’ Rye soda exploding in a Last Stand sort of way inside Chuck’s motorcycle case
  • Blurting out “stranger danger!” when surprise-hugged by my friend Rayne in the subway
  • Getting my butt handed to me by the office Galaga machine
  • My father-in-law’s introduction to the tapioca lumps in bubble tea
  • My new Frog Hat
  • Wearing my new Frog Hat on a video conference and demanding to be taken seriously

How to stop using paper towels

Chuck works on motorcycles, and I’m a kitchen clean freak. We used to go through a shameful amount of paper towels. Like, buy in bulk, hate-the-earth, bulldoze-Costa-Rica amounts.

librarian canvas bagThen my friend Skud gave me a great idea. I cut up a cheap jersey sheet I had kicking around (those things pill up in about 5 washes, FYI) and I sliced up a couple conference t-shirts. We now have a canvas bag full of washcloth-sized fabric squares hanging in the kitchen.

This provides an endless amount of cleaning rags for just about any job.
They are washable, bleachable, and nearly indestructible. You can run them through the wash and re-use them, or if they are gross, just toss them into the compost.

It’s a great way to re-use otherwise disposable fabrics, and they are cheaper and more sturdy than paper towels.

Take that, Brawny!

Happy Fathers Day

This is my dad, the best joker in the world.

Who else would dance to “Re: Your Brains” (Jonathan Coulton’s Zombie song) at his daughter’s wedding?

My dad, the legally blind man who taught me to drive a stick shift.

This is the guy who plopped me in front of a VIC-20 when I was 5 years old and taught me LOGO.

He kept Adobe font catalogs and WIRED magazine around the house, inspiring a lifelong love of design and geekery.

I owe him most of my bad jokes, and all of my pedanticism.

It’s a good life. Thanks Dad!

Stupid girls, stupid pepper spray, stupid racist cab driver

A listing of grievances:

  • Two stupid girls have a hair-tearing fight on the bus
  • Liquid and curly fries fly everywhere
  • The guy in front of me puts up his arm, so I do too
  • The fighting high school girls roll out the door as it stops
  • I continue listening to my podcast, because, meh, stupid girls
  • People start coughing and opening windows
  • PEPPER SPRAY! Hooray!

Interlude

  • The guy in front of me has pepper spray in his eye
  • I have some on my face
  • The fighting girls are long long gone
  • We all have to get off the bus
  • We are coughing
  • We are annoyed
  • The 24 bus comes roughly every three years
  • Why can’t they fight on a busier route?

Interlude

  • My cheek hurts and I want to go home
  • I get a cab
  • I tell the driver what happened
  • He immediately asks “What race were they?”
  • I ask him what that has to do with anything
  • He tells me he is interested in “Sociology”
  • I say anyone who knows a damn thing about sociology knows better than to draw from a single data point
  • I tell him that we aren’t going to talk any more
  • He tells me he isn’t racist because he campaigned for Obama

Interlude

  • I stiff him on the tip and go inside to take a shower
  • Stupid girls
  • Stupid pepper spray
  • Stupid racist cab driver

Bookbinding Tattoo, concept art

Someone asked me where I found the art for my nonexistent biopsy scar-covering tattoo, and I thought you guys might be interested…
This came from a series of 18th Century bookbindings. It’s too elaborate for reality, perhaps, but I liked the idea.

This was intended to cover a scar that I have grown rather fond of. The tattoo plan was scrapped, but the concept was good.

I sampled my skin color from a photo, isolated two different florets from book covers I found in a digital library collection, overlapped them, messed with transparency, did a color mask to match a brown ink, and then chickened out at the last minute.

For more on why I didn’t get a tattoo, please see this very special episode of Red vs. Blue.

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