For more about Allison and her books visit her website at For now, please relax and brace yourself for the occasionally coherent ramblings of Allison's mind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Life, Control, and Lemon Zest

Sometimes life comes at you hard.

The boat doesn’t have to snap in half to go down; a few small holes will do the trick. It doesn’t even take a massive a tragedy to watch your days spiral into weeks of overwhelmed exhaustion. 

Maybe it’s a function of our culture which expects us to manage every aspect of our complicated world virtually on our own. Gone are the networks of community to solve individual crises and provide collective support. Gone are the days of satisfaction at mere survival to see another day.

No, in today’s world you have to grow, achieve, manage, cultivate, nurture, resolve, fight, and model, all while keeping a spotless house. It’s no wonder most of us feel our lives launch into chaos at the smallest unexpected obstacle. How can we absorb new challenges when “normal” is a packed schedule of maxed out expectations?

It’s our culture of control. Our destinies are in our hands.

The problem is, we’ve transformed our freedom to make choices into an illusion of control. We’ve taken on responsibility for the entire vast organism of circumstances surrounding us. And it’s an impossible burden. It’s why so many of us reach the brink of collapse.

When life gives us lemons, we’re supposed to make lemonade. Right. Sure.

No, when life gives you lemons, you shave off a little lemon zest, stare at the mangled remains, and wonder what to do with the rest. Maybe you squeeze some juice into your glass of ice water. Maybe you cut off a slice to garnish a piece of flounder. Maybe you just shove it back in the refrigerator for a later time when you feel ready to file away at it a bit more. But you don’t make lemonade.

So what do we do with life then? Is that it? We’re doomed to a complicated existence that owes us no favors and offers no quota on the amount of obstacles we have to face? Yes.

Does that mean we should just push against an insurmountable boulder until we’re too bloodied and weak to go on? Of course not. We can function pretty darn well against anything if we do it right.

It helps to start by approaching the lemons a little differently than most of us are accustomed to. We need to get over this illusion of control that puts debilitating pressure on us to manufacture an impossible world where everything goes as planned.

The way you survive this life is to step back and focus on the humbling reality that there’s only one thing you can control unconditionally.


Your actions. Your choices. Your thoughts. Your emotions.

It may seem like you can control the rest, but that’s only because in a spat of coincidence the massive organism is cooperating with your impotent will for a brief moment. It’s a dangerous mistake not to recognize that the cooperation will shatter at any second, leaving you in that chaotic place where lemons are mass produced.

So don’t go there. Your actions. Your choices. Your thoughts. Your emotions.

Control those and do your best with the lemon zest.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Confession Time

I have a confession to make. It may seem at times that I like to pretend I’m deep and profound and cerebral. And maybe I am. I don’t know. You can judge that for yourself based on my entries. But there’s something you should know. This weekend cemented the reality and I’d be a hypocrite not to come clean:

I love dance movies.

I don’t know why. I really don’t. The acting is mediocre (to be kind), the plots are cheesy, the scripts are terrible, but I watch those things like they’re Casablanca, Good Will Hunting, and Amores Perros all tied up into one frenetic masterpiece. I’ve seen Center Stage I don’t know how many times. I not only watch Step Up 2 every time I see it on, but I’m EXCITED that it’s on. This weekend I watched Dirty Dancing: Havana nights AND Step Up 3 in a span of two days.

They’re terrible, I know, but I’m a nocturnal insect idiotically buzzing into their flashy costumes and frantic choreography. Yes, I know you can script the entire plot in the first five minutes once you know the main players. And yes, often that plot makes no sense, but every so often they’ll throw in a curveball. For example, here’s a wild twist: the protagonist of Step Up 3 is MALE! That’s right, a dance movie centering on a guy. How did that movie not win an Academy Award? It probably would have if Luke was played by a gorgeous actor who made himself ugly for the role.

It makes no sense that Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is on my DVR sandwiched between Dancer in the Dark and Triage, but it is. And it’s now officially watched while the others wait their turn. I couldn’t even bring myself to delete it yet – just in the off chance I’d have a moment of weakness one night and felt the need to watch more awkward kisses and disapproving rich parents. (By the way, I’ve seen Diego Luna in several films. He’s adorable. Absolutely adorable. Not sure he pulls off the dance movie heart-throb lead though. Still working on that in my head. I know him better as the sidekick of Gael Garcia Bernal. Of course, I can’t see Gael doing a dance movie so I guess Diego was on his own.)

In the end, it probably just comes down to the dancing. My favorite scenes are always the grand finale routines that blow away the arch rival crews (Step Up’s) or impress the parents (Dirty Dancing, Center Stage) and just generally make everyone else realize they were jerks, the dancers are awesome after all, and then our heroes get some cool prize which is usually a combination of a tangible reward and a romantic relationship.

I don’t dance. I took one year of ballet when I was 5, but that ended quickly. I don’t know if it was by my choice or my instructor’s suggestion I may have other talents worth pursuing. I did have much more success in sports and music from that point on. So it’s not this personal passion for dance that intrigues me.

Still, there’s something comforting about the formulaic cheesiness of dance movies. I like watching people demonstrate their excellence in what they love, and dance movies tend to showcase specific talent more than films about other talents. You know what, I even like the stiff, awkward acting by dancers who can kind of act and are mannequin-like in their chiseled perfection. Plus, there’s always a bonus shirtless guy practicing scene.

So there. It’s not just independent films, foreign films, and psychodramas. I’ll watch Andie and Chase show the world their awesomeness and how they can express their growing affection for each other through dance over almost anything else. It makes no sense. But there you have it. One of my favorite movies that I will never admit to anyone else: Step Up 2: The Streets.

I’ll just pretend that makes me complex.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Common Practices That Really Make No Logical Sense

As I came into the house exhausted, sweaty, and sore, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why exactly do we spend countless hours and expense maintaining lawns anyway?” Then I thought, “Wait, why do we do a lot of the things we do?” Which leads to today’s controversial list bound to offend someone. I preemptively apologize, but here are,

Common Practices That Really Make No Logical Sense

1: Maintaining a green lawn.

City dwellers, feel free to tune out for this one. Suburbanites, this one’s for you. The next time you spend two hours of a beautiful day pushing an obnoxious, gas-guzzling, dangerous machine around your yard in an obsessive pattern, think about what you’re actually doing. Here’s what a lawn is:

  1. We purposely cover our property with millions of plain green plants. Some people spend a significant amount of time and money fertilizing and watering these plants to help them grow thicker and faster.
  2. Every week we pour time and money into fuel and machines to shred these plants.
  3. We wait for them to grow again so we can shred them again.
  4. Repeat for the duration of the growing season.
  5. In the fall we spend days and significant labor removing leaves from these plants so they look nice again the following spring…when we will shred them again.

2: Bottled Water.

We pay how much and create how much permanent waste to drink some chemically flavored liquid we could get out of the tap for almost nothing?

3: Our fear of sugar.

I’ll admit that this is just a personal issue and many will disagree with me on this one. I understand we’re all worried about our weight. And who knows, maybe completely removing sugar from our diets is the answer (although based on all available evidence, it doesn’t seem to be making a dent in our obesity issues.) Having said that, this nationwide fear of sugar is making it difficult for those of us who can’t consume the chemicals and artificial sweeteners which have taken over.

Before you think I’m nitpicking, here’s some background. I get migraines. Bad ones. Anyone who gets migraines will tell you they’re not just headaches. Your brain actually undergoes measurable changes in the midst of a migraine.

Mine come with obvious stroke systems including blind spots, slurred speech, loss of feeling throughout my body, vomiting, and disorientation. My first one sent me to the hospital in an ambulance because witnesses around me thought I was having a stroke and I couldn’t remember my name.

Let’s just say I try to avoid my migraines at all costs.

Each migraine sufferer is unique in what “triggers” set off their events. Eight years later after my surprise trip to the hospital and CT Scan, I’m still trying to sort out my triggers. Once you can identify your triggers, you can at least try to mitigate the debilitating reactions by avoiding those things that set them off. So far I’ve only been able to identify one trigger with any certainty: artificial sweeteners.

After doing some research I learned I’m not alone. Artificial sweeteners are actually common triggers for migraines and even cause headaches in non-migraine sufferers. If something can cause my body to react as described above, I think I’d rather have the few extra calories from sugar which humans have been consuming safely for centuries.

I now have to scour labels for the opposite reason of the calorie conscious masses: to make sure there are no artificial sweeteners. You’d be surprised how many products are increasingly afraid to use sugar these days and have made the switch to substances that will completely shut me down for hours.

And please, obviously I understand there are many people who can’t have sugar. I’m not talking about diabetics or others who have legitimate reasons to make substitutions. I’m talking about the general cultural shift that turned sugar into a poison. That fear is now collectively trying to replace it with something that is actually a poison for many people. I’m also not saying we shouldn’t limit our sugar intake. Too much of anything isn’t a good thing, but let’s stop mistaking quantity issues for food enemies. It’s all about moderation for most of us.

Ok, enough of #3 before I get myself in more trouble with all the diet soda drinkers out there who are now seething.

4. The Ubiquitous Growth of Storage Units.

We pay money, every month, for the privilege of not using or seeing our stuff.

5. Outlet Malls

We all know, or at least suspect, that the prices really aren’t any better than you could get online or at the regular store. Either that, or the merchandise is manufactured specifically for the outlet version of the store and not of the same quality. We know that, we’re not dumb. Yet, we still drive farther than we should and spend a lot more than we planned on stuff we don’t necessarily love, but seemed like a good deal because it came from an “outlet.” We’ve all done it.

Now we’re paying even more money to put that stuff in storage units.

And that, my friends, is what’s going through my head while mowing my lawn. That, and, “Please don't let me run over a toad again. Please don't let me run over a toad again.”