Heart aflutter: #BegrudginglyPomodoro

I’ve been avoiding the Pomodoro Technique ever since I heard about it. A colleague of mine, John, told me that he used it and I simultaneously felt jealous of his productivity and utter hatred for the technique.

The method, for those of you who are either unaware of the method or in deep denial of it, goes something like this:

1. Decide on the task to be done. 2. Set the pomodoro timer (typically 25 minutes). 3. Work on the task. 4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper. 5. If you have fewer than 4 checkmarks, go back to step 2 and continue. 6. After 4 pomodoros, take a longer break (15-30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

Pomodoro Technique, Wikipeda. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

OK. Let’s just unpack this for a minute.

I’m not really comfortable with you, wikipedia editor and purponents of the Pomodoro Technique, suddenly calling a 25-minute interval a “Pomodoro” in your instructions like it is a thing. It’s not a thing. You just made it up, I’m reading the instructions of the thing for which you made the name! It’s also named after a kitchen timer brand of the same name. This is akin to me suddenly deciding to call a habit a “Xerox’ed behavior” and I just won’t have it.

I also just want to point out that even if I were to try the Pomodoro Technique, I don’t believe I have a ‘checkmark count.’ If I have it, I don’t want to know about it and certainly not ‘reset it.’

Upon further review, a checkmark count is just the aforementioned piece of paper with a string of checkmarks on it. It’s important you don’t use a digital tool for this, because apparently these physical tools themselves will rush to give you little productivity-pats on the back:

The creator and his proponents encourage a low-tech approach, using a mechanical timer, paper, and pencil. The physical act of winding the timer confirms the user’s determination to start the task; ticking externalises desire to complete the task; ringing announces a break.

Pomodoro Technique, Wikipeda. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

I can only assume now that the editor of this article has never been in the last period of high school staring at a clicking clock and willing for it to be over. The ticking isn’t a cheerleader, it’s an audio cage of your own oppression.

I’m getting myself upset here, and I think it’s important we all circle back and remember that I am the kind of person who likes yoga and the KonMari method. I am perfectly comfortable thinking that my socks are happier folded instead of bunched together (Marie Kondo gasped in horror when she saw socks bunched together like tubers!) or knowing that “pranayama” means “something about breathing” when a yoga I follow on YouTube teacher uses it with no explanation or context of the original Sanskrit. But for some reason the image of a little kitchen timer proudly “announcing” that I, an adult, can rest now, makes me want to pull my hair out.

And the really frustrating thing is, people love it. And so the Pomodoro Technique has invaded my psyche like a purple fog, mocking me. It has always loomed in the background of my consciousness, mocking me. “Maybe,” the Pomodoro Method hisses in my ear whenever I fall into a depression about my motivation or lack thereof, “you just need to reset your checkmark counter!”

“No,” I respond back to the Pomodoro Method, desperately. “Don’t you understand, I am creative and thoughtful. Frequently I get so invested in work that I practically forget to blink for hours at a time! So what if I have other periods of time where I feel irritated and easily distracted? Don’t you see, damn Pomodoro Method, that it all evens out in the end?”

And then the Pomodoro Method laughs in my face, disappearing from my mind in a hailstorm of shattered dreams of and word counts, and emails sent, and an amazing yoga practice, and a perfect tidy home, and, and, and, and.

There’s this trope that people who seemingly hate each other really are just madly in love with one another and just aren’t able to admit to themselves. I’m pretty familiar with this trope; I’ve read fanfiction.

Knowing this, I stare at myself and wonder uncomfortably: am I in love with the Pomodoro Technique? Is it the thing that is missing from my life? Will it help me work from home during this once-in-a-generation (Baruch HaShem) global pandemic?

My heart is a-flutter.

Fine, I sigh. I will try the Pomodoro Technique tomorrow. I will hashtag it on social media as #BegrudginglyPomodoro.

Certainty: The Monsters Will Come

During this period of “social distancing” I have been playing a lot of the video game Don’t Starve.

Some of the monsters in Don’t Starve.

It’s a resource management game, as I explained to the Thai restaurant delivery man who was delighted by the image on my television as he handed over a heavy bag full of curry, drunken noodles, and tofu triangles.

“Is it like one where you build a castle and have to defend it? I like those.”

“Kind of,” I said, awkwardly fumbling for the pen to sign the receipt. “Basically you don’t want to… you, know, Starve.”

“Don’t Starve, huh? I’ll have to check it out!”

The premise of Don’t Starve is this: you have been transported into a strange inhospitable environment, and you need to survive for as long as possible. While there is a setting where you can be “brought back to life” once you die, the original form of the game was simply over when your character died. Death was inevitable: the game would eventually end, you would eventually make a mistake.

There are many ways to die in Don’t Starve: hunger, of course, is a main one. There are many beasts and monsters in the world that will attack you, causing your health meter to eventually go down to zero.

There is also a meter for sanity. When your sanity decreases enough all food eventually becomes inedible, because you become convinced that all of your food has been transformed into piles of greasy and disgusting hair. Sanity is a precious resource: you are, after all, alone. In the wilderness.

The three meters in Don’t Starve: Hunger, Heath, and Sanity.

Here are things that cause one to lose sanity in Don’t Starve:

  • Being awake during the evening.
  • Being awake during the night.
  • Getting rained on without an umbrella or other protective gear.
  • Eating raw meat.
  • Eating raw mushrooms.
  • Standing near monsters.
  • Hanging out in a cave.

And here are things that cause one to regain sanity in Don’t Starve:

  • Eating cooked food.
  • For a character who likes hunting, hunting and killing things (including those pesky monsters!)
  • For a character who likes the fire, standing near a fire and gazing at it.
  • Wearing nice clothing.
  • Picking flowers.
  • Being awake during the day.

These are the lessons for being alone in Don’t Starve. Go outside during the day, especially when it is sunny. Enjoy the beautiful, pick flowers, and beautify your home. Participate in activities you enjoy. Eat nutritious and well-cooked food. Wear nice clothes, even if (especially if) no one will see you. These simple tasks stave against the horrors that will come in the evening and the night.

The monsters of the night will come out, make no mistake. You will feel irritable, depressed, alone. You will believe that everyone else is managing this period of self-isolation better than you, despite all the evidence to the contrary. You will believe everything you write, everything you do, everything you say to a colleague, is a hot pile of shit. You will debate going to the grocery store to buy a nonessential item even though you know that is not being a good citizen. You wonder if being a good citizen is all that it is cracked up to be. You retreat into the corner of your mind. You want to claw on your arms and your legs just to feel something besides the discomfort of being alone with yourself.

But, remember. The monsters will creep away in the morning, and you will get to exist another day.

We will do this, together. We won’t starve.

Contentment: Old Lady Shoes

I was nineteen when I first stumbled upon Easy Street shoes. They are unquestionably made for people of an older persuasion. Their logo is just a font. Not even a particularly good font. At the time, the shoe box was aqua and had a beachy, underwater feel — despite the fact that the shoes they make wouldn’t make any sense at a beach. They were navy pumps with an extremely small heel. They were also extremely comfortable. I wore them, and felt like a businesswoman.

the easy street pumps I wore when I was nineteen to get inducted into the religious honors society at depaul university. fancy times.

I found an image of the shoes I am talking about – the exact same make and model of shoes that I had over 10 years ago – on sale at JCPenney. Easy Street isn’t known for innovation.

Clothing and shoes are often a place where people begin decluttering in earnest. Beginning with clothing is also what the KonMari method recommends. This makes sense: people often have a lot of clothes, and they are usually more-or-less in the same area of the house.

I declutter and purge my closet regularly.

This actually worries me a bit – I have started to wonder if I am using this journey towards minimalism and owning less as a trumped-up excuse to shop. Get rid of everything you don’t totally love, and then you have a great excuse to buy new things! Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Part of the problem is that I often buy clothes I am not 100% sold on. I thrift a lot, and with thrifting there is no guarantee that you will see an item the next time you are back in the store — and sometimes the item is a dollar. A dollar. But this is precisely the wrong attitude to go into with minimalism in mind: eh, buy it anyway, it’s cheap. Buy it anyway, or you might not get another chance! (As if, of course, losing out on a shirt or a sweater would be a disaster.)

I have given myself rules for thrift shopping: some have worked more than others. Would I buy this if it was full price, is a good one. (The most effective rule is telling myself I have gotten some nice new things recently, and have no reason even to step into the thrift store for several months.)

It was my husband who suggested the rule of never buying shoes at thrift stores. This was as I was lamenting that some boots I had just bought at the thrift store had started to come apart, a month after realizing that the new loafers I had a bought came with a horrific stench of which nothing would rid. (What can I say? I must have had a stuffy nose when I bought them. A really stuffy nose.)

“But I sometimes find really good shoes at thrift stores,” I told him.

He looked at me skeptically. “Why would someone donate perfectly good shoes? It’s not like you grow out of them.”

And then, mysteriously, I found really good shoes at the thrift store immediately after my little black ankle booties (that I actually purchased new) fell apart.

They were Easy Street. They were even navy! And they were oxfords. I was immediately smitten. So smitten I didn’t even ask anyone if they looked too old-ladyish on me, because I knew they might just say yes. And I didn’t give a damn.

the shoes in the sunlight

I wear them with pants to work. Well, I did, before we were all quarantined in this strange period of global history.

I hope to keep these for a long time. They’ve quickly become a staple in my wardrobe.

what fool would donate these bad boys

This is something that this journey of reassessing my possessions and decluttering has given me: confidence in what the hell I like. I’m not completely a KonMari person: I hang all my pants and struggle with the folding and usually still (gasp) declutter by room, not category. But I do try to hold items and decide whether or not they spark joy.

And, for some reason, I am the kind of person for whom old lady shoes spark joy. I was at 19, and I am now. That’s not changing.

They’re damn comfortable too.

Where does this leave me in regards to buying shoes at thrift stores? Well, I’ve learned the following rules when inspecting potential new shoes at secondhand and thrift stores: I smell them (ew), check for animal hair (ew, ew), and check to see if the sole is still firmly adhered to the upper. I also try to avoid buying anything that doesn’t look brand-new. I also have started walking around the whole store in them – for much longer than is comfortable or feels socially appropriate. These habits help tremendously.

I’ll be really irritated at myself if I end up tossing these in a few months and buying a sparkly new pair of old-lady shoes.

Dread: Will I change?

As I start this blog anew, ostensibly changing the focus of my writing from academics to minimalism and living with less objects, I am experiencing dread.

Dread that this will be a phase in my life, that this blog will be forgotten in six months, that my foray into minimalism and rather extreme decluttering will be something I fondly remember I did once.

I tend to be a magpie in my hobbies and lifestyles: picking up something new and shiny when it looks like it might solve my problems, discarding it when my problems inevitably remain. Hobbies and lifestyles I have been almost obsessively interested in for time periods ranging from 4 hours to several months include: vintage clothing and makeup, acupressure and Traditional Chinese Medicine, astral meditation, yoga, fruitarianism (half a day! – I got hungry), cross stitching, veganism, knitting, Weight Watchers, essential oils, various animes and mangas, varous podcasts, intuitive eating, the Real Housewives of Any City, anarchism, fat acceptance, and Jamberry nail wraps. All of these, I thought, would surgically excise all of my problems and insecurities: make me happier, thinner, curvier, healthier, smarter, more productive, a better writer.

But they didn’t.

And I find myself in the unenviable position of a 30-something still learning how to be the best version of myself — and realizing that this is a normal part of life. I’m not behind because I don’t have everything together, no one has everything together.

I know that sustained change and behavioral goals are possible for me, because I have stuck with quite a few hobbies and/or lifestyle changes in the past. (While these have had impressive staying power in my life, they have not made my life perfect.)

Judaism: I converted to Judaism when I was 21 years old — and not because I was engaged to a Jew. (This stuns some people.)

Yoga: All though yoga’s presence in my life ebbs and flows over time, I have always returned to yoga for an exercise practice.

Sobriety: I have been sober for almost 7 years, and I work on my sober journey daily.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series: These books, particularly the City Watch series have been my constant companions through life for over 10 years now.

Vegetarianism: I do eat a lot of dairy, but have been fish and meat free for 6 years.

A Desire to Write About My Life: Sometimes through journaling, sometimes through horrendous drafts of “memoirs” of my life, sometimes through blogs that have eventually become dormant.

Which path will minimalism and the quest for tidiness take in my life? Will it have staying power, like sobriety or Terry Pratchett, or will it fade into obscurity in my life just as Sailor Moon and veganism have done? Right now, I watch YouTubers about minimalism, read blogs about minimalism, and am constantly wondering what things or habits I can remove from my life in order to concentrate on things that feel more important to me.

I hope this minimalist turn sticks around in my life. My journey of decluttering my house and life of things that no longer serve me has come with quite a few excellent side effects.I’ve recommitted to an almost-daily yoga practice. Getting rid of other exercise items (aerobic step, running shoes, weights, etc.) reconfirmed to me that I want to focus on yoga with the goal of someday being able to do a sustained side plank. (Which is not, it needs to be said, a difficult goal.)

I’ve been journaling more, using the Notion app.

I’ve been reading more, using my kindle.

It’s easier for me to keep areas of my apartment clean. (I won’t lie, some areas are still a struggle.)

It’s easier for me to get dressed in the morning, and I no longer feel a vague sense of guilt for not wearing certain items (skirts, dresses) even though they may be more visually slimming on me than pants. (I love pants. I only want to wear pants from now on.) I feel like I have a sense of style now, even thought it is extremely basic.

I’ve completely eliminated using certain things in my life: I no longer paint my nails, use facial toners or masks, or hair styling products. The lack of nail polish is obvious, but the rest has made absolutely no impact on my life. The trick, now, is sticking with it: not allowing marketing to convince me that a new toner is the best thing, or (as my hair grows out) that I need a gel or a hairspray. Hopefully this blog will keep me committed to these promises to myself to not bring things into my life that add nothing and cost money.

I’ve made peace with the reality that some of my hobbies are watching television and video games. That feels like an awkward thing to say: these days, I feel as though our hobbies ought to be of the self-improving kind like the list of failed hobbies above. But, I came to the startling realization the other day that hobbies are supposed to be fun. And watching television and video games are really fun.

So, I hope you (and I) stick around for this foray into my life of attempted-minimalism, reflection, and the goal of sticking with it. And, maybe, eliminating dread.