Vacation hangover

Coming back from vacation and facing reality is a hard pill to swallow.  It may be one of the most depressing events that we willingly and repeatedly do to ourselves.  We work really hard, sometimes at jobs that crush our delicate souls and are mind-numbingly dull.  We save our money and hoard our vacation time.  Then we’re off, like a bat out of hell, where there is no looking back, yet there is only blue skies and sunshine ahead. There aren’t any nagging bosses, or stressful unanswered emails or annoying coworkers.  It’s a freeing feeling where you feel weightless because there are no responsibilities.  Unfortunately, we’re like a boomerang, and we are forced to come back to the same reality we were initially escaping.  It’s sad, torturous and sadly, it’s a necessary evil. 

It goes without saying that I just got back from vacation, where I spent eight glorious days in Colorado.  The first half of my trip was a skating competition and the back half was just pure fun.  For those magnificent days, my only worries (aside from skating) were eating, taking in the fresh mountain air and just doing a whole lot of nothing.  I should also point out that I think I belong in Colorado – NOT because of the whole pot legalization thing (that’s never been my thing), but because of it’s laid back atmosphere.  At least in Denver and Breckenridge, everyone was happy, stress-free and enjoyed the outdoors.  Nobody seemed to take his or her life for granted.  Ultimately, that’s all I want:  carefree happiness in a beautiful setting.

I’m not saying that my life is difficult or particularly hard – it’s not, not even close.  I know that I’m very lucky for the things that I do have, and I’m eternally grateful for that.  However, I am a Type-A perfectionist, who knows that things could always be better.  Needless to say, I’m always looking for a way to improve upon my already stellar life.  To me, perfection is like a hard-to-attain target – it’s not impossible, but it’s exceedingly difficult.  Because I like a challenge, I’m always striving to hit that unspoiled, obsessive, demanding goal of sheer faultlessness. 

Anyway, while on vacation, I felt like I was the best version of myself.  I was happy and relaxed.  I still had my quick sarcastic comments, but nothing overly snarky.  I woke up every day smiling and was ready to take on the day.  There was nothing that I felt that I couldn’t handle.  It was empowering.  In contrast, back at home in super-uptight Washington, DC, I constantly feel defeated, tired and stressed.  I regularly suffer from debilitating migraines, and I battle feeling truly healthy and energetic.  Perhaps, it’s the environment, as I’m also surrounded by a bunch of intelligent, Type-A perfectionists, so by default, we up ante when it comes to stress.  Maybe, it’s my job.  Maybe, it’s the location.  Who knows?  

Personally, I think my body is just allergic to all things that are not-vacation.  Clearly, I need to live in a world that is a perpetual vacation that is sporadically interrupted by monotony and stress.  Not the other way around.  

I’m sure my utopia would get boring.  I’m sure, in some way that I would miss the professional rat race.  It’s possible that my high achieving self would get angry that I’m wasting my brain and my expensive science degrees on doing a whole lot of (happy) nothing.  I would probably begin to feel unfulfilled, but in a different way.  On top of that, all of my happiness would suck my sarcasm right out of my body.  I thrive on sarcasm, and it’s a trait of mine that has only gotten stronger as I’ve grown older (and more jaded).  It’d be weird to not see life through my acerbic lens.  So, until I can figure out how to have the perfect life of a perpetual vacation that is both professionally and personally rewarding, I will continue to daydream and do my best to pay attention at work until this vacation hangover passes.

Beautiful, glorious Breckenridge Colorado

Beautiful, glorious Breckenridge Colorado

The climate change panty twister: let’s think about it differently, shall we?

A realistic depiction of myself when I'm irritated: adorably vicious. Photo courtesy of www.cartoonspot.net

A realistic depiction of myself when I’m irritated: adorably vicious.
Photo courtesy of http://www.cartoonspot.net

The ‘debate’ about climate change (or global warming) really gets my panties in a twist.  I don’t even call it a true debate because I feel like the science is based on knowledge – years of research, testing hypotheses, replicating studies and a rigorous peer review process.  There’s a reason why not everyone is a scientist.  In order to pursue the answers to life’s greatest questions, it takes intelligence, patience and an unrivaled sense of dorkiness.

I’m a nerd and when scientists say with 97% confidence that climate change is happening and its anthropogenic, I don’t argue.  Scientists know their stuff.  I have faith in them and the scientific method.  That’s not to say that scientists are infallible.   They’re human, just like the rest of us, so they are capable of mistakes.  Certainly, as technology improves and time progresses, some scientific theories may also change.  It’s just a part of the process.

It’s obvious where I stand on this grand ‘debate.’  To the best of my ability, I try to understand the other side – the climate naysayers, as everyone is entitled to their opinion.  Interestingly enough, these climate deniers  also seem to have their panties in a twist over the ‘debate’ and they are very steadfast in their viewpoint.  Regardless, I feel like “global warming” has been in the news a lot lately, especially with  the fact that much of the country is buried under snow or experiencing below freezing temperatures.  Naturally, these climate deniers are having a total field day with global warming jokes.  “How can the planet be ‘warming’ when we have the ‘polar votex?'”   Essentially, both sides seem to be laughing…at each other.  And I find that to be mildly, irritatingly funny.  Aside from my minor aggravation,  I recognize that the real struggle is the complete divergence of opinions – there is no middle ground or bargaining chip.  Neither side is budging.  At the end of the day, we’re losing sight of what really matters – environmental sustainability and the future.   We’re not the only ones that live on the planet, and much to our chagrin, we aren’t going to live forever (although, I’m going to try).  We must leave our positive mark and we have to think about the future – as painful as that may be.  But, that’s just my humble opinion.

Given this stalemate in climate opinions, my very wise Uncle George has inspired this thought that takes the climate debate out of the equation:

Let’s just say for argument sake that the scientists are wrong – climate change isn’t real; it’s a cyclical event and human activity has absolutely nothing to do with it.  Then, if that were the case, what would be so wrong in reducing our overall environmental footprint and just generally cleaning up our act?  It’s been well cited that there are a litany of environmental challenges, such as contaminants in our food and water, endangered species, air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels –just to name a few.   By themselves, those are big issues that need to be addressed because they affect our health and general well-being, and they have a direct effect on the future.  If we truly care about future generations, don’t we owe it to them to be a little cleaner, be a bit more innovative and set a good example? You don’t have to be a climate change believer to be a better environmental steward and all-around better human.  So, I ask, what’s so wrong with that?

Is it getting hot in here?

Is it getting hot in here?

Surely, it would be great if we all drove more fuel-efficient cars, or took public transportation everywhere, or planted a forest, or ate nothing but locally-sourced produce, but that’s not for everyone, nor is it always practical, so let’s start somewhere small.  Collective small changes can make a big environmental impact.   For instance, what if you pledge to drive less?  This is a win-win because you’re not only reducing your own dependence on fossil fuels (thus reducing your environmental footprint and saving money), but you’re also burning calories.  Who doesn’t want to be a few pounds lighter or a tad more fit and a couple dollars richer?  No brainer!  Secondly, what about if you’re a gym rat?  What if you stop buying plastic bottles for water and started using a reusable bottle?  For one, you’re cutting down on waste, in addition to reducing the energy needed to produce new materials.  Secondly, you’re also cutting down on your fossil fuel usage, as most of these are derived from petroleum.  Additionally, for both examples, since most of our petroleum originates from foreign sources, shouldn’t we be weaning ourselves off our dependency on imports anyway?  Well, cut down on driving and disposable plastics, and BAM – you’re doing your part!  It’s so simple, it hurts.

What about switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs (like compact fluorescent bulbs)?  Despite the fact that they are a tad pricier than the alternative, they do last longer, thereby giving you more bang for your buck. Easy!  Lastly, let’s not forget the mantra – “reduce, reuse, recycle.”   Recycling is becoming increasingly more common and it’s one of the easiest things you could do.  It prevents waste, reduces the production of new materials, decreases energy use and lessens pollution (both water and air).  It’s a flawless plan!

I could go off on my pro-environment rant, but that’s not the point.  The point is that regardless of whether you believe that the climate is changing or not, what’s the absolute worst thing that could happen if you were more environmentally minded?  The answer is – absolutely nothing.  There is absolutely nothing to lose, yet there are innumerable things that could be gained – a cleaner environment, which positively impacts our health, wealth and well-being.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Why skating needs some (more) pizazz

I grew up in the era of the Battle of the Brians and  Katerina Witt was queen of the ice.  There was drama, rivalry and sparkles – what was not to love?   I was totally hooked and ended up taking lessons that following summer (and never stopped).  I was twelve when the “whack heard around the world” occurred.  It was reality TV before it even existed.   It was too good to be scripted.  Seriously, an unsophisticated skater gets her ex-husband and bodyguard to try to break her rival’s leg.  It’s pure evil genius.  Naturally, everyone tuned in for the Olympics that year.

and proof that I kinda know what I'm talking about...

me, age 16 (back in the ’90s)

Through the ‘90’s figure skating was immensely popular.  I even would argue that the Kerrigan-Harding saga helped, as did Baiul’s love of alcohol.   Skating was always on TV.  I know, as I had about a million VHS tapes from various televised events.  The general public seemed to grasp the 6.0 judging system, perhaps they even admitted it was a tad biased and arbitrary, but it didn’t matter.  The costumes were (mostly) elegant.  The skating seemed effortless.  And even with an uneducated eye, you could kind of understand the judges’ decision.    Maybe you even argued with the German judge – why the hell did he give her a 5.7?!   It was totally a 5.9, in my book!   Perhaps, you couldn’t pick out a triple lutz from a  triple toe loop, but who cared; it was a joy to watch.  It was also during this time when Michelle Kwan rose to fame.  She was poised, elegant and rock steady.  She was always a gracious competitor and always a class act.  I still believed she deserved to win the gold over Tara Lipinski. That’s just my opinion.  I’ll be team Michelle until I die.  I digress….

Then, in 2002, an unfortunate thing happened – an Olympic judging scandal.  In that moment, the flaws of the judging system and the biased nature of the sport were exposed.   In this particular instance, there was a behind-the-scenes vote exchange.  The French judge was to give the Russian pair team first; in exchange, the Russian judge would give the French dance team first.  As a lifelong skater, I could have told you how biased the sport was, but whatever, unfair judging and skating go together like head trauma and football, and doping and baseball.   Sad, but oh so true.  Anytime you have a sport that is determined by a panel of judges, there will be prejudices and preferences.  It’s the unfortunate reality of the human condition.

A change needed to happen, and it did.  Enter the IJS – or the International Judging System – an attempt to make the scoring system more objective, which in my opinion de-pizazzed the world of skating.   How can you de-pizazz something with so much drama and bedazzlement?  Easy – make the scoring so complex and the skating so mechanical and formulaic that the joy has been totally eradicated; there is no amount of sparkle, nude mesh or lycra that has been able to rescue it.  Now, we are in a world where everything had a point value.  In order to win, you had to rack up a helluvalota points, thus upping the technical ante.    On top of that, the complex nature of the scoring made it hard for the general public to follow.  Why would skater X with a flawless program lose to skater Y who fell?  It all comes down to Code of Points and Grade of Execution.  What the hell is that?!?  Exactly…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a complete supporter of skaters pushing the technical envelope and they should be awarded points for doing things that are hard and impossible (Pamchenko, anyone);  however, I believe that skating is at its best when it is the perfect melding of art and sport – that the best skaters are technically competent athletes with grace and musicality.  I guess I am traditional about something after all.

Aside from skating, what other sport is athletic, yet graceful and beautifully over-the-top? Isn’t that why people watch?  Surely football fans don’t watch because the players are known for their willowy ability to tackle each other.  Same with hockey – you don’t watch because they elegantly get into fights.  You watch because it’s pure grit and aggression.  It’s totally physical, and that’s what makes it awesome.  On the other hand, people watch skating because it is delicate yet deceptively tough– all wrapped up in a one lissome, athletic, bejeweled ball of perfection.  It shouldn’t all be technical ability, and it also shouldn’t be all art and grace.  It’s supposed to look easy, the technical elements should be wow-worthy,  and it should be aesthetically pleasing.  You don’t need a trained eye for that – you know what you like, and you know what looks hard (the judges, however, they DO need a trained eye).  So, how do you judge that in the most unbiased way – awarding both the artistry and pure physicality of it all, AND do so in a way that the general public can understand?!  That’s tricky.

With the Olympics around the corner, and the fact that there is a bit of a controversy over the selection of the US team, I’m hoping that skating will return once again to the popularity it once had, as I selfishly want to have a reason to watch skating all the time.  Technically, I watch skating all the time anyway, but it’s all on the Internet, and it makes me feel like more of a skating loser than I already am.

In order for skating to get its mojo back, it needs something.  Maybe it is in the form of a new star – someone that people love, someone with a great backstory.  This may even happen in the Olympics (hopefully!).  Or, maybe now that the IJS is ten years old people sort of understand it, and thus will be more inclined to watch. Personally, I have noticed that the overall skating quality seems to be higher than in previous years.  That may be due in part to working out the kinks in the new judging system, or it happens to be just an awesome batch of talent, or the fact it’s an Olympic year.  So, who knows what will happen and how.   I just think that skating is a tad bland and it’s missing a key ingredient.  It needs something other than various shades of chiffon to bring back the pizazz.   Regardless, I’ll keep watching.

Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy are the epitome of pizazz Blades of Glory photo: www.ew.com

Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy are the epitome of pizazz
Blades of Glory
photo: http://www.ew.com

Things that annoy me, Part 1

I’m easily annoyed.  I know this.  Obviously, I think things should be done my way, on my time scale.  The world would be a much better place if it were.  At least that’s my humble opinion.

Today’s grievance:  asshats, or people that are so selfish that their head is shoved so far up their own tushy that they do not exist in reality.MrAsshat

To a certain extent, we are all selfish.  It’s human nature – a survival skill, really.  We HAVE to look out for ourselves because no one else really is.  However, there is a fine line between taking care of your needs and being a total, giant, selfish asshat.

Characteristics of asshat-ery:

First and foremost, asshats come in all shapes and sizes, which can be incredibly deceptive.    In my experience, I’ve come across three groups of asshats, though I’m sure more exist.  Generally speaking, I try to avoid these people at all costs, but sometimes they are cleverly disguised.  One must look out for the characteristics before deciding to turn and run.

First, there are the obvious asshats.  Those individuals believe that the world, in fact DOES revolve around them, that their problems are the most noteworthy, that their achievements are incomparable.   They are difficult to miss.  I’m pretty sure the entire Kardashian clan fits in this group.

A less obvious group is the sneak-attack asshat.  These people talk about their big hearts and all the wonderful things they do for humanity.  They practice yoga and feed the homeless.  They don’t raise their voices.  They “listen,” or at least they make you think that they listen.  They aren’t.  They’ve practiced the art of thoughtful deception.   They are anxiously awaiting the proper moment to turn the conversation back to them.   It’s ninja-like asshat trickery at its finest.

Another group is the repeat offenders of asshat-edness.  Yes, sure, it’s known that these people have had selfish behavior in the past, but you decided to look past it because, you are a sucker (like me).  You think the friendship is mutual, but in fact, it is very much one-sided, and regrettably, it is not in your favor.

Upon looking closely at these repeat offenders in my life, there seems to be a trend – they happen to be actual friends that exist in my inner circle.  How is that possible?  They tend to seek out help, advice, and praise more than most.  In the same vein, they seem to be incredibly thankful for the time and energy that I’ve wasted on their miniscule problems, but I do it because I have a big heart (=sucker).  Because they are overtly appreciative, I don’t actually realize that it’s a trap – that they will not return the same energy to me should I need it.  In my own opinion, it’s almost the worst kind of selfishness because it’s entirely deceptive.

My problem is that 99% of the time I’m a perfectly composed, yet irritable individual (that in itself is not the problem).  I don’t need extra praise or advice.  I can figure it out on my own (or I call my mother, as mothers know everything).  It’s not often that I have a moment where I need friendly advice.  When that moment does happen, for some reason I tend to go to the same asshat repeat offenders.  I know better, yet I apparently love the torture of it.