Monday, July 27, 2009

Beach bummed: How could this be?

Something happened to me this weekend that I never thought was possible: I got kinda freaked out when I found myself at the beach without a book or anything "to do."

This shocked me because (a), I LOVE the beach and often claim I could never live where the beach was not a short drive away; and (b), I'm one of those people who can pass loads of time just shuffling around my house, doing absolutely nothing, until I finally glance at the clock and see hours have flown by.

(Honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing during these black-hole stretches of time. Maybe I'm daydreaming about my someday trip to Italy. Maybe I'm wondering why my hydrangea is the only one in the neighborhood with no flowers, and brown leaves. Who knows.)

With such a track record of time-wasting, I thought I'd be fine showing up to the beach without something to keep me busy. But when we got to this beach we'd never before visited, and there were no nearby shops or anything but just beach and a snack bar, I freaked out. How was I gonna just sit there and do nothing while my husband had his iPhone to play with? My go-with-the-flow day of taking an open-ended Jeep ride was coming to a screeching halt. I wasn't flowing anymore. I was freaking.

All in the few minutes time between parking the car and unloading our chairs, I tried to reassure myself by thinking of how almost every time I go to the beach, I don't drag my book out of my bag for quite awhile -- if at all. Usually, I end up just sitting there in my chair, toes in the sand, basking in the sea air and sunshine.

But for some reason, this day was different. I realized that while I had no problem sitting quietly gazing out at the waves when I knew I had a fallback plan should I get antsy, knowing I didn't have a fallback plan was making me, well, antsy!

Anyway, my freakout didn't have the chance to last too long this lovely Saturday. It was as if the universe was playing a trick on me for daring to wonder how I'd pass the time on this gloriously beautiful July day, a day on which I was lucky enough to find myself at the beach.

What was this trick? Well, we weren't the only ones who came barreling out of the house that day to take advantage of this long overdue sunshine. The beach was so incredibly packed, we were lucky to find a patch of sand large enough to put down both our chairs. Even if I'd had a book, I doubt much reading would've been done.

Instead, after plunking down uncomfortably close to a few different groups of beach goers, my husband and I found ourselves laughing at the "view" in front of us -- people, people, people, with a glimpse of water and more than we ever wanted to see of what an extra hairy back looks like at high noon in July.

Looking back, I still can't believe how bummed I'd felt when I realized I was at the beach and hadn't packed a book. We'd been waiting with bated breath for a day like that day -- sunshine, no schedules, doors off the Jeep and just going wherever we ended up.

Part of me blames the exorbitant parking fee we paid that day, and the resulting feeling I had that we had to have "$22 worth of fun" to justify it. (Where we usually go we pay $5, $10 tops, and that's rare.) So, that was a lot of pressure (pressure invented by me, that is).

Needless to say, though, the hairy back and throngs of people sent us packing up our chairs in under two hours. But we had a lot of laughs feeling like we'd ended up in the John Candy beach classic "Summer Rental," trying to remember every summery 80's song we could.

Being spontaneous and going with the flow can make for moments of discomfort (even when you're at the beach, if you're a spazz like me), but it also can serve up some of the best new memories (our "Summer Rental" day) and important lessons (don't go back to that $22 beach!).

While I could chalk off spending time and money and gas going to a new beach only to see it's not that great as a waste -- especially since I am Miss Anti-Wasting anything, especially money -- I chose not to let that pall fall over my sunny Saturday. Instead, we learned one of the sweetest lessons of all: Hitting the road is always fun, but there's no place like home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A wrinkled party is better than no party

As new homeowners during the past year, we’ve had two kinds of get-togethers: Impromptu, and pre-planned.

As stress-inducing as it is for a perfectionist to think about an impromptu party landing in her hands -- “Wait … no over-analyzing of the perfect menu depending on who’s coming with the perfect amount of snacks, side dishes and accompanying beverages? How scary!” -- these have actually always turned out the best. Or the most fun, anyway.

Thinking back to just last year – our first summer of homeownership – I can still feel the topsy-turvy stomach feelings that would overcome me whenever we were getting ready to have a party, or even just one other couple over for dinner.

My thoughts went a little something like this: “Oh no. The floors are covered in dog-hair tumbleweeds. The kitchen’s got a ton of crap in it, the bathroom needs to be cleaned, the living room needs to be cleaned, the whole house, actually, needs to be straightened up! And we need groceries!”

Thinking back to what I must’ve looked like on a typical pre-party trip to the grocery store, holding every kind of grill meat possible with what I’m sure was a panic-stricken look on my face, I could’ve been standing there working out a calculus problem in my head for all anyone knew. Picking between burgers and steak tips really isn’t that complicated – unless you’re on a perfect party quest. Then it can be paralyzing!

Sometimes, my poor husband would be there, too, allowing these overly analytical thoughts on burgers to be released from the safe space of my mind for all the world to hear.

“How much should we get? Do you think that will be enough? I don’t want to get too much and throw it away. Do you think we need burgers and chicken? What about dessert?”

I would literally become paralyzed by indecision, all in the name of perfection. I just couldn’t handle the pressure!

Pushed to the edge of his own sanity on one such occasion, my husband actually made this shocking declaration in the midst of one of my frenzies: "That's it. No more parties. This is insane." (And he loves having parties. I quickly got a hold of myself ... sort of.)

Which brings me to today.

One year later, while I still teeter on the border of this insanity sometimes (I think based in part on the amount of sleep I had the night before), I’ve been thinking more about it, and wondering, “What the hell am I so worried about?”

The people coming over are always our friends, or family. Are they going to disown me if we don’t have three kinds of chips, and a whole veggie tray instead of just the baby carrots I have in the fridge? Um, I hope not. (And I know not … well, they won’t disown me, anyway.)

Will someone complain of a lack of selection? Maybe, though I doubt it. But even if someone did, perhaps someone else would complain about too much selection … or the use of paper plates when we could wash and reuse. Who knows what I’m not even aware of that I could be worrying about.

The point is, I realized all this craziness I’ve been putting myself through – and my poor, patient husband – was not so much about what I thought would be a nice (or even perfect) party, but what I tried to imagine each and every guest would think was a nice party. I was literally trying to be a mind reader, a mood reader, an appetite reader – trying to please everyone with only my imagination to guide me. Hello? Nut job!

While I’m not necessarily cured of this perfect-people-pleasing-party desire – don’t we all want to make our friends and family happy? – I am toning down the over-thinking, little by little. The more gatherings we host, the easier it gets. And, you know what they say -- Practice makes, err … perfect. Great.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My couch may be ruining my life

I think I may be hypocrite. And it's my couch's fault.

This bummer of a wake-up call happened last night while I was relaxing on my couch, enjoying some quiet time alone after a busy weekend.

The culprit couch is in one the two rooms in our new-to-us house that I consider in pretty good shape. The walls are painted and are (mostly) blemish-free. The furniture -- a mix of new, hand-me downs, and flea market and discount store finds -- actually kind of matches and looks good. And it's easy to keep clutter-free. I like it.

So, I was lying there last night, unwinding, and started to think about the weekend. We'd had some friends over Saturday to hang-out by the pool and cook out. But other than celebrating the appearance of the sun finally, there was another plan that had lead to this gathering: It was a "fight night."

A fight night is exactly what it sounds like. There was some special Pay-Per-View fight on that night that my husband had been anticipating for weeks, and he and his friends had been getting geared up for it for days.

So this big fight was coming up and of course, they were plotting to hold this brutality viewing extravaganza at somebody's house. Immediately upon hearing this, my stomach turned.

We have a pretty good house when it comes to hosting a party or two. We have a pool and yard, plus a couple of decent-sized TVs (and that's an understatement) and a variety of gaming systems. So, it's kinda the ideal place to gather.

Usually, though, the "fun" naturally flows to either the outside patio or the basement, where the games and highly durable furniture live. But this time, on this night of nights, only one room would do for the fight -- the "Renee's peaceful-and-pretty-and-free-of-eating-and-dark-colored-beverages" room.

There was that stomachache again.

Luckily, I had an important event the following morning, plus we were having work done on the house the next day, so I had many reasons to back up why this fight night really shouldn't happen at our house. (That, and my husband is well-versed in my reactions at anything happening in, on or around my precious new and light-colored living room set.)

But somehow, somehow, I still wound up hearing those dreaded words come out of my husband's mouth later that day, almost like a record played on super slow motion: "We're just gonna do it here."


That's right -- Renee's peaceful-and-pretty-and-free-of-eating-and-dark-colored-beverages room was the choice location.(Disclaimer: The group originally slated for six or seven guys had at that point been whittled down to just three including my husband. This change was his grounds for boldly making the move to stay at our place for the fight. Boldly. Very, very boldly ...)

Upon hearing the news, I'm sure my brow furrowed, and then I ran inside and hid the Doritos (orange ... fingers ... guys who've been drinking poolside all day -- the horror!). Then, still not feeling secure, I actually texted my husband from the other room (so as not to make a scene, of course) to PLEASE not drink anything other than beer in there (I figured it's clear, I can work with it).

Still, with all these lines of defense, I was in shock at what was unfolding before me. And powerless to do anything. Was I going to make a scene, in front of his friends? I don't think so. But inside, I was all torn up. Torn up!

(And here's where I'm a hypocrite: We bought both our moms nice handbags for their birthdays this year, and guess how many times I've seen either of them use them? My mom once (and I know she did it because I'd been asking), and his mom, zero. Why haven't they sported their nice new Coach bags? They don't want to -- guess what? -- ruin them. I've threatened to take back my own mom's if she doesn't start living a little and using it. Pot. Kettle. Black. You bet. That's what I'm saying. I need help.)

A day after fight night, everything -- naturally -- was fine. There were no stains (though I didn't flip the cushions, now that I think of it). There was no dire destruction of my custom sofa and chair (my biggest purchase since our Maui honeymoon, I'd like to add for the record).

But I'm still a little freaked out. More freaked out at myself, though, I think. Who is so worried about her furniture being ruined that she texts her husband ground rules in the middle of a party?

I tell myself -- and anyone else who's kind enough to act like they care -- that I'm extra sensitive about the stuff because it's the one nice thing I've bought for our house, the one thing that wasn't either handed down or settled on because it was found at a bargain price. I actually hand-picked the stuff and it was made to my exact specifications, my first big contribution to our first home. It was an "investment piece," or pieces. That's what Ethan Allen said, anyway.

But investment aside (And is that even possible? For furniture?), is it worth all this crap? Is it worth the worry anytime my husband or anyone else ventures in there with -- oh my God! -- a beverage? A food? Probably not.

But then I have that other voice in my head saying, "Renee, this is one of the only nice things you have in the house. Don't you want to take care of it? Don't you want it to stay that way?"

And I don't know what to do.

Is there some happy medium where you can still enjoy the things you've worked hard for, while keeping them nice as well? Will I say, "To hell with it!" one day, and then regret my carefree attitude when there's a major blemish (i.e., imperfection) the next?

Does it have to be one or the other? I'm not sure. I could actually use a little advice on that.

The one thing I do know is, it's not really worth getting upset with my husband -- or worse! -- freaking out a friend, just to keep it "nice," right?

I guess it's about letting go. If someone could just teach me how to let go without letting things go (i.e., letting things go to crap), I'm all ears.

Feel free to offer your words of wisdom or tips in the comments below. Maybe I just need a little nudge in the right direction, whatever direction that may be.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Stress lovers: You know you're out there

I've got a little idea about the natural-born perfectionist: We thrive on stress.

Thriving and stress seem to be at odds with each other, right? To thrive means to "grow vigorously," according to Merriam-Webster online. And stress is defined as a constraining force or influence.

But, for someone who wants, or needs, to achieve perfection, you're already kind of a self-hater -- because when you really stop and think about it, nothing can be perfect -- so to live on stress kind of makes sense. In a sick, perfection-seeking sort of way, that is.

I'm pretty sure most type A's/perfectionists/over-achievers think that despite how impossible it is to attain, we should still be striving for perfect, and that getting that much closer every time is worth the pain/aggravation/struggle.

But what does trying to achieve something impossible result in? Stress, obviously. But as obvious as that is, or should be, we do it over, and over again. (I think this behavior also fits into the category of insane. But, I digress.)

Since our natural propensity is to keep pushing ourselves to make things (our work, our knowledge of current events, our bodies, our relationships) as close to perfect as we can get, it's got to be, more likely than not, our natural state to feel stressed. If we're always aiming for the unattainable, can we ever not feel stressed?

I think it's a safe bet to say most of the perfectionists out there generally are usually feeling like crap. And largely from the things going on in our own heads, telling us how imperfect we are.

"Why didn't I work harder on that report?"

"Why can't I lose those last 5 pounds?"

"Why don't I spend more time with my significant other/best friend/family?"

With all of this negativity swirling around in our minds, stress is the natural order of things for us. We're used to feeling like garbage, like we better get up and get going or we'll never do anything worthwhile.

And this is how a person becomes a stress thriver. It's how the perfectionist, or over-achiever, is used to feeling. Take the stress away and we don't know what to do with ourselves.

I'm willing to bet that many people who realize they're perfectionists would also describe themselves as the type of people who can't sit still. Not all perfectionists, but a bunch. I certainly feel this way a lot. (I remember friends in high school thinking there was something seriously wrong with me, or them, because whatever we were doing at the time wasn't fun/exciting/productive enough. Sorry about that.)

As I think more about the sitting still issue, though, I'm realizing most of the time I can sit still just fine when I'm alone, but add anyone else to the house, and I'm a nut.

Hmmm, what could this mean? Is this perfectionism something that's just in our own heads, or is it tied up in worries about how others are perceiving us as well? (People pleasing will have to be another post entirely. But just really quickly -- it's a sham. Stop it now. No one else is even noticing. Trust me.)

So, are we driving ourselves crazy just to answer the harsh words in our heads, or for the fear of hearing those same harsh words from someone else?

I think it's a mix of both for some of us, maybe one or the other for the rest.

If you're trying to do things perfectly for someone else though, get ready to wait a long, long time for that someone else to even realize what you're going through to do it.

And if you're doing it just for you, stop and think about whether you've ever even been satisfied with an unnecessarily stress-filled accomplishment. And was it worth it? Or, in the end, did you think to yourself, "Why did I get so worked up about that? Especially since it didn't turn out perfect anyway ..." (Because it can't, of course.)

I have a feeling more than a few of my fellow perfectionists have looked back at their crazy stressed-out behavior at one time or another and realized the same thing could have been accomplished with far less pain (and fewer weary looks from those close to you, I'm guessing).

I also have a feeling that sure enough, the stress cycle started right back up again the next time a similar task needed to be done.

For the perfectionist, stress is like a little safety blanket. The more we can cling on to it, the more we feel like we're giving it our all.

"If I get myself worked up into a tizzy, at least I'll know I exerted every ounce of my effort on this."

That's not what we're thinking -- because this nutso behavior is totally reflexive, not something we actively decide to do -- that's just what's going on in our subconscious to support this self-defeating behavior.

But tizzy or not, we're not gonna be perfect. So let's cut ourselves some slack. Let's be that super cool cucumber for just one usually stressful project or event, and see how it goes. What's more important in the end? Doing something "perfectly," or feeling perfectly great when you've gotten something done, and still have the energy to enjoy it?