london calling (the third)

I’m taking my son to London this summer!

Of course I have been to London twice before: once in 2006 when I went and explored it on my own and once in 2010 when Paul and I went on our “honeymoon” (and spent a day at the Tower):

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This is me at the White Tower in 2010.  Paul and I had not yet learned to take selfies.

This is the first time Ben will go to London though.  He’s been to Paris and Verona and Venice, to Basel and Zurich, but the closest he’s been to the British Isles is either visiting Victoria or the British pavilion at Disneyworld (both are equally fake-English – I actually felt quite at home in a fake Tudor cottage sweet shop in EPCOT)

I had been holding off on the UK because it’s easy to visit.  I like my world traveling to be more exploring and challenging.  Visiting Britain (or any of the British Isles) doesn’t require any language or cultural effort.  It’s actually comforting for me to visit Britain because it’s so much like home: growing up with an English parent, in a former colony, in a borough that boasted two separate tea rooms and an invisible “Tweed Curtain” separating it from the rest of Victoria, means that I totally get shows like Very British Problems.  I may have gone all-in on my mother’s family heritage of Brooklyn Jewish, but I also have British citizenship by descent, and I grew up in a country that was still governed by the British constitution until I was four.

But now, we’re going to Eurocamp!  A handful of us will be representing Brooklyn – and the USA based B-PSA groups – at the camp in Newbury.  And on the way back, we’re going to stop in London, see the city, stay at Pax Lodge,  and see two of Ben’s three namesakes: Big Ben and the Tate Museum (Unfortunately, while there is a PAUL chain of patisseries, there is no major “Boothe” attraction to check off Ben’s full name).

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PAUL cubed.

We’ll go swimming at the ponds on Hampstead Heath.  We’ll ride the Eye.  We will go to the Museum of the City of London, and to the Tower and the Bridge; we’ll go to the War Rooms.  I will drag my son with me to shop at Camden Market  (Actually, I may leave him in the hostel room for that.) We will see what we can in the two and a half days we have, from Saturday afternoon to Tuesday morning.  It isn’t a lot of time, but I’m still excited to have it.

So we’re going to London.  And it’s a Mama-Ben adventure, like our trip to Switzerland, because Paul doesn’t have the days off to go with us.  I still look forward to it, even if I have to miss my husband (and Ben has to miss his father).  It will be a great adventure.  And while Ben is not as excited about it as I am, at least, after listening to Neverwhere, and getting over his suspicion of China Mieville to read Un Lun Dun, he’s somewhat interested in visiting the city that has inspired many, many fantasy versions of itself.  Or he could just be interested in riding the London Eye.  Who knows what goes on in the brain of an almost ten year old?

 

 

two much needed days of brain health

Sometimes, I have to take a couple days of not accomplishing goals, not doing work, not…catching up on the omnipresent treadmill that is my existence, just taking care of my poor beleaguered brain.  So that’s what I did for the last couple days.

And, yes, in there, I did work towards some goals in that I went through all my old journals from the last couple quarters and looked for either information that I needed to hand off, or that I will need moving forward, as I transition accounts at work to take on new clients.  But I also took some much needed brain rest time to:

  • go on a four mile walk around the park while it was nice yesterday
  • continue working my way through Parks and Rec on Netflix
  • go out to Music for the Masses, the darkwave 80s party in Greenpoint last night

And last night’s M4tM playlist, which brought me much brain-healing joy to dance to, is here:

I have learned this year that once in a while, I have to just…stop pushing quite as hard. I will have to take days when I do “lite” versions of what I’m used to, where I don’t rush from one thing to another but rather, stop, contemplate where I am, and adjust accordingly. I will have to rest my brain. I will have to take care of myself, especially when I know I have a tough month coming up. (As I do this April, with new clients and a Seattle trip and camps and everything else.)

So that’s what I did this weekend, instead of spending Easter with my extended in-law family. I took the time, at home, to prepare myself for the spring season to come. And as much as I missed being with the family, it was time I needed to ensure that I don’t break myself again in the next few weeks.

running season

 

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I am not a runner by nature .  At least, no more than any other human is a runner: we are, after all, evolved to run long distances.  Still, growing up as the “fat girl”, my mentality has always been that sports and running are “not for me”, that physical activity was outside of my capabilities.

I’m not sure what prompted me to even start trying to run a few years ago.  I’ve always been a fair cyclist, which has been my preferred mode of movement.  I suppose I thought running would help me lose weight.  I don’t believe it actually does, since as with most forms of cardio, it just makes one hungrier and causes increased caloric intake.  Instead, I discovered that running actually makes me happy, and that’s why I’ve kept it up.

There’s been a few factors driving this:

  1. Pride in accomplishment: I like seeing my time per mile go down over the course of a season.  I start running around a 12 minute mile, which is slow – but usually get it down to 11 within a month or two.  (The screenshot to the left was walking the last mile, hence the higher overall minutes per mile time)
  2. Being outside: I love being outside in the park.  I love Prospect Park.  it’s one of the best things about living in this part of Brooklyn.  Being able to go through the trees, past the lake, and eventually up past the Long Meadow, through the familiar forest and fields of Brooklyn’s backyard, makes me extremely happy.
  3. Gamification.  I use Zombies, Run!, an app that mashes up running with storytelling and gaming.  Each day, I set off on a “mission” as Runner 5, a runner for Abel Township, a collective of survivors in a zombie apocalypse.  I hear the story come through as commentary from other runners and from the dispatcher, both as the town moves forward in the war against the zombies, and as background on how the apocalypse came about.  The narrative aspect is enough to motivate me to hear what happens next, and the game itself also offers a series of rewards through items collected on the path that can be used to build up the town, Sim City style, in the app.  The app also tracks my distance and, if set to “Chase Mode”, sends the occasionally shambling pack after me, requiring a running sprint to evade them.

So now, I run, 2 – 3x a week.  And then last year, it was suggested to me that I actually train running, as part of a possible triathlon effort.  And I thought, why not?  I like all the modes of movement involved, I just need to get faster at running and swimming.  Now, I run for joy in the short term, and for the end goal of eventually running a triathlon in the long term.  I may not get there – prioritizing training is hard when so much else is involved in my life – but at least I know I’m working on it.  And in the interim, I’ll just keep outrunning the zombies and fortifying Abel.

 

eeyore syndrome

And good morning everyone!

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I’m up and moving this morning, after a LOT of sleep.  It’s been a challenging few days, sleep wise.  It started on Sunday when I had a wonderful time at a friend’s dinner potluck, but a wonderful time that went on too late.  Then on Monday, I had a client dinner, resulting another late evening.  Both nights involved alcohol, both nights were spent someplace that was Not the Gym.  Both nights were absolutely the right decisions to make, but due to alcohol, sugar and lack of exercise, each night’s activity resulted in less sleep, and cost me quite a bit of quality sleep.  By last night, Tuesday, I was dozing sitting up at 7pm, and then, after a dose of Doc Parsley’s Sleep Remedy, slept for almost ten hours from 9pm to 7am.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t been on plan enough the last few days to keep me from being under a little black raincloud this morning.  I have to manage my brain like a finely tuned machine or else I’m prone to what I call “cartoon Eeyore syndrome”:

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That cloud makes it difficult to respond appropriately to external input.  Missing email replies go directly to IRRATIONAL RAGE.  Changes in plans go directly to NOT GOING EITHER.  Inability to get to the gym results in WHY BOTHER ANYWAYS.

The inhabitants of A. A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood are, after all, meant to be tropes: they are representatives of aspects of everyone’s personality, avatars for us to map our own traits and emotions onto.  Piglet is Fear, Kanga is Maternal, Rabbit is Anxiety-through-Activity, Owl is Arrogance in Knowledge.  They seem to represent an ideal of the blank mind culminating in Winnie the Pooh.  This concept is built out in The Tao of Pooh, a book that I own and highly recommend.  Looking at that aspect of the children’s stories, I have a toolkit to identify unbalanced behavior and reactions to external causes and realize I’m skewing too far to the Eeyore instead of my normal frenetic Tigger. (BOUNCE)

So there’s a couple of ways to deal with this:

  1. Re-schedule my day so I am prioritizing the things that help my brain.  These include regular exercise, avoiding sugar/alcohol, meditation and engaging in creative activities like writing and music.  Maybe I will go for a walk!
  2. Drink more coffee…oh wait, I can’t just do that anymore because I went and cut back on coffee last year.  I can’t fix gloominess with caffeine induced cheer, and can’t caffeinate my way back into being Tigger.
  3. Once my brain has come out from under the little black rain cloud, address the things that are actually bothering me calmly and with mindfulness and intent.  Lack of email response?  Move to text or phone.  People can’t make it to an event as planned?  Breathe a few times, accept that it isn’t personal, and plan to go anyways.  Not getting to the gym?  Schedule it in and make it non-negotiable, a promise to myself.

That last one has been the biggest challenge and source of stress lately: I’m participating in a Nerd Fitness training program with a virtual trainer that I’m investing a lot of money and time into.  If I don’t follow the plan, then I’m not reaping the benefits of it, yet when it comes time to actually do an activity or make an effort, I am all like, “why bother?” and settle in to ignore it.

And even if I am being Eeyore, I still should focus on the originally concepted version of Eeyore, not the Disney movie version.  As it’s written in this blog post, Eeyore in the books is actually quite patient, self-actualized and has a great sense of humor and perspective despite the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood flaking on him:

Image is from Anna Ruth Campbell’s blog, where she breaks down and puts back together a deeper and more accurate perception of Eeyore

Like Eeyore, I will be grumpy but ultimately forgiving of everyone who ignores and forgets me by NOT REPLYING to my emails, and I will remain in my Gloomy Place as needed until I can restore balance enough to my brain to come out.  And I’ll go drink some decaf coffee anyways as a placebo, just to bring out my inner Tigger.

 

almost to April

OK, this time I hope I’m not jinxing us all. We had the traditional First Day of Spring / Revenge of the Groundhog storm last week: over a foot of heavy snow in Brooklyn, which turned to ice and snow as it melted over the next two days. I do not mind snow, I do mind ice, especially black ice, the patches which masquerade as puddles. Finally though, the snow is down to patches, the sun is out again, and the air is losing its chill. I’m wearing only a pleather jacket over my sweater and blouse today, not the double-layer coat I wore yesterday when the winds were cold. Not only do I feel less frumpy but I feel hopeful.

After all, it’s almost Q2 again. Soon, I’ll be back at Merkle NYC in Midtown, not schlepping 2 – 3 times a week to New Jersey for on site client work. The constant commute – subway to town, bus to NJ – is not nearly as bad as the car-bus-ferry-hike I once did years ago to my first job out of UBC, located for some reason on Bowen Island off North Van. But it also doesn’t have the beauty of that other long -ago multi -step commute, and while a long commute can be made more bearable by the beauty of coastal BC, a long commute is decidedly not improved by the ride through suburban NJ. While some parts of Jersey are pretty and well cared for, the views I see are only those of run down sprawl and acres of polluted wetlands.

The view is much better on an alternate route, with a long drive up the Hudson River via the West Side highway, and a crossing at the George Washington bridge, but that shuttle design combined with the poor repair of the highway, is a tooth shaking and nausea inducing ride, and I often jump off at my destination trying not to vomit while holding my shaken head. I usually take it home anyways, as it’s far faster than the plush NJT bus, and listen to Matt Good Band as I go past the glassy towers of the West Side, seeing the Hudson and the residential towers as if they were English Bay, usually exhausted from the stress of being on site working with a challenging situation.

Or, to put it in soundtrack terms, the ride from Port Authority Bus Terminal to NJ is Oingo Boingo “Just Another Day”, a deceptively cheerful song about the end of the world. The ride home, on the corporate shuttle, between the water & the glass towers, is Advertising On Police Cars, a slow anthem of dystopia and disillusionment. I will be so thankful to return to my alternating days of biking to work to upbeat EDM in the Tiesto podcast & bouncing in to work.

Last week of March. It’s spring. I’m thankful it’s time to renew and reboot, to change the soundtrack.  I’m thankful the travel to this particular assignment is almost over.  I’m thankful to be able to ride to work again soon and to be working somewhere near the gyms I meet my friends at after our days are over.  I’m thankful my long commute days will be going the way of those last few patches of snow.

hey, look, a domain!

Instead of the made up word “sekhmetrix”, I have moved to an actual domain of jilliantate.blog.  I created “sekhmetrix” years ago, as a modernized extension of Sekhmet, the Egyptian deity with the body of a woman and the head of a lion. I identified with this particular entity because I’m a Leo, which is a lion symbol, and also because I liked the idea of a goddess who just went around kicking ass.

Sekhmet’s name comes from the Ancient Egyptian word “sekhem” which means “power or might”. Sekhmet’s name suits her function and means “the (one who is) powerful”. She also was given titles such as the “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”. (source: wikipedia)

However, it’s also an outdated moniker.  I’m a big believer in brand building, and my real name is just fine for that purpose.  It’s reasonably unique, and I’m fond of it: I think my mother did a fine job picking out my name.  I am Jillian-with-a-J.  It’s sometimes hard to spell and I get a lot of interesting variations but I like the aesthetics just fine.  I also like my surname of Tate, which I kept after marriage because, to me, my last name has always been part of my identity and I was happy to be able to keep it.

So now I own this domain!  I upgraded my WordPress to get rid of the ads too.  (YOU’RE WELCOME).  I suppose now that I’m updating here regularly I should clean it up a bit.

 

passiviTV

I have been watching more TV lately.  This started when I realized how much content I could download to my phone or Kindle to watch while in transit on the subway.  This was initially great!  I could immerse myself in television programming any day of the week, not just the one or two days when a favorite show came online.  I started picking entire series to watch, starting with Parks and Rec and adding Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  I watched a huge chunk of the first season of Outlander while traveling to and from Toronto.  And I could keep watching all the weekly shows that come up in “real time” like Divorce, so long as I watched them on the above ground bus to work in NJ.

Then the TV watching time began to creep up.  I started watching episodes of TV at home, on an actual TV.  I would watch two or three episodes at a time.  Suddenly, entire hours were disappearing.  I would look up and realize I was looking at a screen still at 11pm or midnight, throwing off my sleep schedule and my body’s ability to stay asleep due to the light suppressing the melatonin production I need for a good night’s rest.  I’d make up for that with a melatonin pill, and then I’d wake up groggy and start compensating for that with caffeine.  Which, as I learned last fall, I can only consume in moderation as well.  TV is both a bad influence and a bad habit.

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It isn’t as if I’m watching crappy TV even!  I’m watching a lot of consistently smart, female led, well reviewed content.  CexG , for example, is an extremely smart show, digging into its characters motivations and human frailty and mental health and changing sense of identity with a great sense of compassion and insight, sometimes expressed through musical numbers.  Parks and Rec is one of the best comedies ever, mostly based on the strength of its ensemble.  Neither show relies on gender tropes to build their characters.  Neither is based on laughing at its characters, as some sitcoms consistently do.  They are both well written, compassionate programs.  But they’re also passive content, and as long as I’m sitting there consuming the content, I’m not engaging in anything else.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: the only show to compare our mammary glands to the density of white dwarf stars.

It’s addicting to consume passive content.  It’s addicting to have an entire entertainment feed directly into my brain.  I have always read so much that I’m used to what Jasper Fforde called the “imaginotransference” process in the Thursday Next books.  To have multiple senses provided for me, without having to use any imagination myself, is fantastic.  It is so much richer an experience to see each nuance of a character’s facial expression, to see their setting, to hear their voice. This is why we all universally love television and movies, after all: they are a full display of storytelling that shows us a full, exacting vision, without relying on our brains to place the information in context or create our own visuals.

So as much as I try to justify my consumption of television, I also know I’m being lazy when I watch.  And I also know that as long as I”m watching, I’m not creating anything of my own.  I’m not blogging or writing.  I’m not practicing piano.  I’m consuming someone else’s creation, and as smart as that creation may be, the only good it does me is to be entertained by it.  I’m not thinking my own thoughts when I’m consuming passive content.  Sometimes, that’s OK, because I need a break and it’s nice to be entertained and heartwarmed by someone else’s vision of, say, Pawnee, IN: a place full of hope and positivity.  Other times, it’s just consumption, and it’s just taking up my time…and, to an extent, my energy.

Am I judging passive content?  No.  I’m judging how easy it is to be passive when consuming media.  With the infinite access to entertainment that is Netflix and its counterparts, one can access the cream of the art form of TV, the best comedies that are out there.  Even those of us with very specific comedic preferences (“Female Driven Sitcoms With Women Who Swear A Lot“) can find hundreds of hours of our preferred content on these platforms and watch those hours all at once.  Yes, I’m sure passive TV watching happened before this, but it didn’t happen to me.

I have to figure out more balance in this area.  Still, I enjoy watching these shows.  I’ve rarely watched much TV.  Doing so now opens up my ability to participate in more conversations around what makes a good vs. bad piece of video content.   And it’s also given me a whole new respect for the writers who make their visions happen in the long run.

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