Saturday, June 21, 2014

Recalibrating My GPS

From the Avett Brothers:

"Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
We are headed north"

If you were a regular reader of this blog during the Great Clothes Shopping Moratorium, you'll know that I ended the 6-month experiment musing about happiness, things versus experiences, divestment (of stuff), and other matters more serious than a closet clean-out typically merits. And in the three months since the moratorium ended, I have continued to ponder these bigger and more important issues. What will make me happy? What should make me happy? Like the slices of a specimen we once viewed on slides through our high school biology microscopes, I have spent quite a lot of time staring into an eyepiece aimed at my heart on a glass slide, turning the knob to focus, blur, and focus again, occasionally hearing that sickening sound that occurs when you crush the cover glass with the 40x objective lens.

It's all good, though. I have seen a lot during these sessions, and have learned a lot about the inner workings of my heart. So I'm writing what will be the final entry in this particular blog series to let people know that my examination has led me to do something I didn't think I was brave enough to do: quit my job, pack my belongings and move to Burlington, Vermont to start a new chapter in my life.

About the job I've quit: it's a good one, mostly. Wheaton is a great college community to be part of, and I value the colleagues I've worked closely with for five years. Most of my students have been wonderful, and those who haven't been--well, that's the work of a dean of students, so it's hard to complain too much. I think I was called to this work because I saw, as a student myself, the good that a fair and kind dean could do, and the harm that a self-important and capricious one could do. I tried to be the former (though I confess to days when I was probably more like the latter, but I'll blame that on long winters, some students' overuse of alcohol and the federal government's unreasonable expectations of us). The other day, while cleaning out boxes of long-saved cards and letters in preparation for my move, I came across a long-forgotten hand-written letter, dated April 19, 1984, from one Steve Larson, who was the Associate Dean of Students at Gordon College while I was there. This was the same Steve Larson who had sent me off on vision quests(a.k.a. "suspensions") a couple of times in my Gordon career. He worked in the Center for Student Development (CSD), a place that, not unlike my own offices over the past 20 years, was familiar to both the stars and the miscreants of the campus. I did time as both, sometimes in the same semester. In April of that year, I was an occasional columnist for the Tartan, Gordon's student newspaper, and I must have written something positive about CSD or Steve, to prompt this note:

"Dear Lee,
My wife and I read your article in the Tartan last night, and were very touched and impressed: touched by your generous comments directed to me, and impressed by your level of understanding regarding what the heck we are trying to do here in CSD. You have more insight than most of the faculty and staff who have offered their views lately. Usually, when I bring home reports of campus-wide response to something I've done discipline-wise, my wife is ready to storm the college and start popping people in the nose. But when she read this last night, she was overjoyed to know that at least one student understands the larger picture. I also have a feeling she's thrilled to know that I'm not the ogre of the century here. I'm not particularly worried about that; but these last few weeks have been troublesome for her, especially in that respect. At any rate, thank you, Lee, for your positive, affirming remarks. It made my year. Steve"

I have no recollection of the issue I was writing about, but assume Steve had done something that provoked at least part of the student body to rise up and protest, likely not in the most gracious of ways. If you asked me now where I would probably have been at such a moment, I would have assumed I'd have been at the front of the angry mob (yeah, I know: karma's a bitch). But Steve's letter says otherwise. I was the reasonable one? I saw the larger picture?? I was 'positive and affirming'? Huh. Somewhere between the end of the 1983 academic year, when I was still in full snark as the Tartan's editor, and the end of 1984 when I wrote about Steve, I must have taken the road to Damascus because clearly I'd had some sort of conversion experience. I could attribute it to a normal developmental pattern in people that age--Kegan would say I had moved to a new order of consciousness, Perry would stick a flag in me and declare me a relativist--or I could just say I had the first stirrings of whatever part of my heart would lead me, thirty years later, to be a dean of students at a small college, trying to find the grace and strength of spirit that I remember Steve Larson showing me, even on those days he was ushering me out the door to another disciplinary suspension.

I think I've done that on most occasions: shown some grace, some compassion, to the students in my charge. I've also, like Steve's wife, wanted to pop some in the nose, and not just once. Some have deserved multiple poppings. When I'm asked what is most challenging about my work, I usually respond that it's having to be downstream of things that students have done to others--the bullying, the physical or sexual assaults. Fortunately, those instances are rare. Much more common are the lightbulb moments students have when they figure out a big truth about life, or those instances when they more than rise to the occasion and do something kind, compassionate, creative.

I have witnessed a lot of those, and consider myself blessed to have done so. I have also been gifted with committed, passionate and patient colleagues here at Wheaton and elsewhere. But like that 5th-year senior in college I once was, I've found myself on a different road, both attitudinally and directionally. Some of that shift is of my own doing, some of it has been thrust upon me. When I came to Wheaton, I was married and ready to settle here in southeastern Massachusetts for the duration of my career, however long that might be (knowing, as my friend Tony said to me recently, "all work is interim"). I knew from personal experience the unpredictable nature of administrative work in higher education, and was prepared to just do my best and hope it worked out. What I didn't expect was a change in my marital status which pretty much unmoored me from what felt like a safe harbor and sent me adrift, sails sagging, into some very scary waters. I'll skip all that and get to the point at which I now find myself, which is why I'm writing this: so those of you who kind of follow my life will know what the heck I'm doing.

On the personal front I am, as I said, moving to Burlington. My motivation for coming to southeastern Massachusetts had a lot to do with the aforementioned marriage, but beyond that, not much ties me to this place. While I love Wheaton (more on that in a minute), this is a difficult place to live alone. Not much goes on, and not many people around here share my interests or inclinations. Burlington seems to hold promise on both counts. More significantly, I have learned in the past two and a half years that I don't like living alone. I am, as I've said to some friends recently, a pack animal, no doubt the result of growing up in a large family that has provided me with an essential part of my identity. I have now the opportunity to build a life in the company of someone who seems pretty darn committed to building that same life--Betsy. Her patience and kindness throughout these very difficult years have been the lighthouse I needed while I was tossed about in big, big waves, and, well, what do you know? She's a harbor herself, and I'm going to tie up here for the foreseeable future.

On the professional front, there's also been an evolution of sorts. First let me say what I have said to my colleagues with all sincerity: serving as the dean of students at Wheaton has been the great honor of my professional life. I will always love Wheaton, and am desperately sad to leave the colleagues I have worked with for these five years. But higher education is a tough business these days, getting tougher by the week, and maybe, just maybe, there's a way I can contribute to the field that I love in a more wide-ranging way. Let me explain.

Each year at Wheaton, I have seen more students coming to campus with significant emotional and learning needs. I know this isn't exclusive to Wheaton, because my dean counterparts at other small colleges and I often sit over beers and tell tales of the challenges we're facing. One particularly vexing group comes to college with diagnoses that place them on the Autism Spectrum (especially those known as Asperger's)--smart, interesting, but organizationally and socially in need of so much more support than we can offer. About a year ago, I became aware of a new program called Mansfield Hall, which had just opened in Burlington. Their mission is to provide residential and academic support to students with these and some other challenges who are enrolled at one of Burlington's several colleges. I was intrigued. What were they figuring out that I could perhaps import to Wheaton to help us help these students? What strategies had they landed upon that gave these students, many of whom have a tremendous amount to offer our society but too often can't get past the obstacles of college, a chance to graduate and take their place in a world that needs their output? So I went to see them. And a few weeks later, I tendered my resignation at Wheaton because the folks at Mansfield Hall basically said, "We don't have it all figured out yet, and we think you can help."

Sometimes the universe hands you an opportunity--a convergence of the personal, the professional, the psychic and spiritual--in a way that is too obvious to ignore. If it were a cartoon image, this would be that moment when every conceivable flashing sign and marker would be pointing me to load the car and write the note and head north while I stand there, bewildered, afraid, as averse to risk-taking as I've been my whole, entire life. A previous Lee would shrug and turn back. But you know what? I don't want to be the previous Lee anymore. I want to say, hopefully many years from now on my deathbed, "I did at least one brave thing in my life." So with a simultaneously heavy heart and light step, I have said goodbye to my colleagues and students at Wheaton, have sold or given away a ton of the stuff accumulated over 26 years of marriage, and on Saturday, June 28, will get behind the wheel of a U-Haul and take what's left to South Burlington to live, to Mansfield Hall to work, to the shores of Lake Champlain to learn to be whole and fully engaged in life and maybe happy once again.

And that, friends, is the closing argument in the trial in which I have been, oddly, both plaintiff and defendant, judge, jury and occasionally bailiff, and even, on the pages of this blog, an expert witness. Next time I write, it will be the opening post of a new blog about a new life and work that I have no doubt will be fascinating. I hope to see you there, or even better, in person in beautiful Burlington should you find yourself with a hankering to travel north yourself. I can offer great cheese, lovely vistas and whatever encouragement you yourself might need to untie from the mooring and set sail into deeper waters.
Boats, as they say, were not built for harbors. Raise the mainsail! Grab the wheel! The wind is strong and the horizon awaits.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Unwearable Lightness of Being: My Release from Retail Jail (But Still on Probation)

"When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heav'n with my bootless cries
And look upon myself, and curse my fate."
--Sonnet 29, W. Shakespeare

I'm rounding the final turn of this six-month self-imposed mall moratorium in which I vowed to purchase no clothes, shoes or accessories. On February 1, I can walk into the sunshine of post-holiday, pre-spring season sales. The question is, of course, am I a reformed woman? Or have I been troubling deaf heav'n with my bootless cries?

First, I guess I should report that I bought a hat during this stretch. It was bitterly cold, I was on Church Street in Burlington, hatless (a rare occurrence for me in the dead of winter because I have these ears that cause terrific pain when exposed to cold wind, and plus, I just feel good in a hat, something that goes back to my childhood when I had to protect myself from my older brothers).
I had to make a choice: whine incessantly for the remainder of the afternoon (the pain doesn't subside for hours even once inside), or break the vow. As Betsy can attest, I agonized over this choice, but she convinced me this was not an "accessory." It was a "necessity" (I suspect the whining she would have had to listen to made it so, at least for her). So I purchased a relatively modest hat that covered my ears. I'll let you be the judge as to whether or not I remained true to the spirit, at least, if not the letter of this plan.

Assuming that I will have no opportunities to shop between today and Friday, which seems likely given my schedule, I will pull into the station having gone six months without new clothes or shoes or, shockingly, boots. The question friends who have followed this adventure have asked, of course, is what will I do on February 1? "Are you planning a binge?" one asked. "What's the first thing you'll buy?" asked another.

No, no binge is in my future, I think. As I had hoped when I began this trek back in August, I have learned a lot about myself, and those revelations are likely to keep me from going crazy next weekend and running up my Visa bill. I have also begun to appreciate what I think of as the unwearable lightness of being, this odd sense of freedom that comes from walking through a mall or into a boutique, or through a craft show that features beautiful hand-made wearable items without any sense of obligation to do more than casually admire the wares.

This unwearable lightness extends to my closet and drawer space, too, which has increased as my belongings have decreased, and I kind of like the look. My divestment of a number of items has worked like this:

1. I am bored, bored, bored with my existing clothes and wish I had something new to wear.
2. I root around in my closet(s) for something I have not worn all season in the hope that it will cure my boredom.
3. I wear the found item, but realize throughout the day that I don't really like it, which is why I hadn't worn it all season.
4. Once home, I put it in the shopping bag, bound for the Goodwill box.

This is as simple a retail equation as I can imagine: to get rid of things I don't like/wear/use. And yet, it's not how I roll, at least not on a regular basis. Like many of us, I do engage in an annual wardrobe purge. But why do I hang on to things I don't like? Aside from those things that have specific utility (a blouse that goes with a suit I wear infrequently, for example), I think I am most inclined to hang onto those things because to give them up would feel like a waste of money.

Let me repeat that (because I have pondered this for six months): a waste of money. THAT I DIDN'T NEED TO SPEND IN THE FIRST PLACE!! And so there, friends, is the koan I've puzzled over: If something is destined to be a waste of money, why am I buying it in the first place? You may argue (as I have) that it's hard to know when you buy something whether it will become a much-loved, frequently-worn item that spends years adorning your body or feet, or will be a one- or two-time wear that you realize either doesn't go with anything else you own, doesn't fit as well as it did three months ago (when you were plus or minus a few pounds), or has a fashion shelf-life comparable to Vanilla Ice.

Exactly. You don't know. So you take the chance, because what does it matter? It's just one more thing to put in a drawer or closet, its fate to be determined by forces seemingly beyond one's control. Except they're not beyond one's control, and they begin with making a really thoughtful, intentional choice at the point of purchase. And that's one thing I know I have learned that I hope to take with me into future shopping expeditions (and I'm sure there will be some, for reasons I'll get to). I will "reconsider" (as Eustace Conway says, along with "refuse," in addition to "reduce, reuse, recycle," which you know if you've been reading along these six months). I will consider, and then reconsider, each purchase before I make it in ways that I am fairly certain will considerably reduce my purchases over time.

So what else have I have learned about shopping and myself? One important set of realizations involves the reasons I shop. Once shopping as an activity was off the table, I still had the reasons, but without shopping to distract me, I had to spend the time doing something else. Pondering the reasons was one of those things. I realized:

1. I shop because I'm bored. It's something to do that's not quite mindless and has a reward that's immediate and tangible. What else can I do that has those qualities?

2. I shop out of habit. A grey and rainy Sunday afternoon without a work or social obligation? That must mean shopping.

3. I shop because it's a social activity. It's sometimes done with others and serves as a framework and venue for casual conversation, learning something about someone, interacting in a way that's relatively low-risk while at the same time, useful, if you are one of those people who likes to get a second opinion on something, or offer one, or both. I've had some great conversations with complete strangers in dressing rooms where I find myself channeling Clinton and Stacy from "What Not to Wear," which, if you know my introvert tendencies may surprise you, but a dressing room offers permission to chat in ways few other spaces do (a hair salon is similar in this way).

4. I shop because I am, like many of us, genetically predisposed to appreciate good deals. I blame this on my mother, who could probably have talked a used-furniture shop owner out of his boxer shorts if she'd wanted (fortunately for my emotional well-being and future therapy needs, she generally stuck to items for sale in the shop).
I often witnessed her looking through racks in a discount store, accompanied her to yard sales and flea markets, saw her sense of pride when she could bring home, at a bargain, something that added beauty to her home or her wardrobe. She was a child of the Depression, grew up in a poor home with a mother who knew how to stretch a meal to feed her 11 children, and obviously inherited those skills. She also, though, developed an appreciation for nice, expensive stuff. She loved her china and silver, happily wore a mink coat, had great hats (hmmm) and criticized me for giving up red meat, taking it as an affront to my parents' ability to provide that for us, something she had not had.

All of which helped me recognize the challenge of being purchase-less through the Bermuda triangle of a) post-holiday clearance sales, b) boredom that arises from serious cabin fever in the dead of winter, and c) a companion, Betsy, who was not doing a shopping sobriety program. Betsy spent a month here over the holidays serving as nurse, cook, driver and Scrabble partner while I recovered from surgery. As I have throughout these six months, I dutifully accompanied her to malls, boutiques and a great pre-Christmas Burlington craft fair. I even took her to a shoe store in Johnston, RI, that I had visited previously and raved about.

Yorker Shoes is a great shoe store, but they did not have what Betsy sought (navy blue pumps, which are apparently non-existent these days). What they did have that day was a local cop and a speed trap just down the road. As an aside, let me just warn you that there is a stretch of Route 6, the four-lane road on which Yorker Shoes is located, that is inexplicably a 35 mph zone. So this is how Rhode Island's municipal coffers are filled? By unwary out-of-state shoppers? Apparently. I am officially listing this as a "shopping hazard," by the way.

All good learning. But I think the most important thing this exercise has taught me, the thing I have wrestled with the most, is this: what makes me happy? [Spoiler alert: I don't yet know.] At some point in the past six months, I was reminded of that post-modern adage: If you want to be happy, don't spend your money on things. Spend it on experiences. It's a nice sentiment, but of course it begs the question, what experiences will make me happy? There are things I like to do, of course, but "liking" something (not in the Facebook sense, but really enjoying it) is not enough to provide profound, marrow-deep happiness. Stopping shopping is one of many strategies I've used over the past year to peel away those things I like in order to better understand why I like them and what the relationship is between doing things I enjoy and being happy.

A while back, I gave each of the deans and directors who work for me a small notebook and told them about research that showed that the mere act of recording three small (or big) good things that happened during the day before retiring for the night actually raised one's happiness level. They dutifully took the notebooks, but I'm not sure how many of them took my request to heart (Most likely: John, who is the most compliant of the group, and still makes references like "that's one for the positivity journal" when something good happens. Least likely? Jack, whose notebook is buried under a pile of stuff in his office, but is generally a happy person, so I'm not concerned). Because I had given them this assignment, I felt I had to stick to it myself, and I did. For several weeks, I wrote things down, and after a while, it became a habit, like saying one's prayers, that didn't require a pen and paper. When I turned off the light, I would quickly identify three things that happened that day that were, in some small way, positive: a nice exchange with a student, a lovely sunset, a moving passage in a book or article. The research shows that if you do this regularly, you begin to notice small delights and appreciate them throughout the day, and that appreciation takes root and grows in you, transforming the way you see even the most seemingly banal moments. This has, it seems, happened to me. I am learning to see those things in my life that are good with more regularity, and give them the appreciation they deserve. A few from the past month:

*An excellent smoothie recipe, courtesy of my Wheaton friend Zoe's terrific food blog, Onebeet.
*The blooms on the paperwhites that came from the bulbs that were a holiday treat from my colleague Gail:
*A Facebook post I can't read (because it's in Spanish) from my friends Hutch and Shari who are in the Dominican Republic brushing up on their Spanish before entering the Peace Corps.
*Realizing that the only two people left in Park Hall at the end of the day are the Provost and me, and that she can almost always be tempted by a glass of wine and conversation instead of answering more email.
*Just this morning, a Sunday: up really early, outside to get the NYT in the driveway, cold, quiet, and the kind of light that only occurs at sunrise in the winter.
*The excitement my betta fish, Karma, shows every time I enter the room. She is beautiful, yes?
*For the record, any time you wake up in recovery after surgery and hear the nurse say, "You did great!" is hands-down a good moment.
*Back-to-back dinners out with good food and great conversations, courtesy of smart, funny and faithful friends Kim and Craig.
*A voicemail from my niece Kim that was so funny and sweet I played it three times.
*The perfect seabiscuit I found on a beach on Anguilla last year that prompted an ill-advised Ambien/Pinot Grigio-influenced Facebook post (removed the next morning, so don't bother looking for it) that, despite the embarrassment, still makes me smile when I see it every morning, as I did today:
*Having someone in my life--Betsy-- who would spend a month looking after me, capitulating to my recovery-related demands, uncomplainingly preparing meals, monitoring medication (see previous item for the one time she failed at that), editing the volumes of output I produce, graciously losing at Scrabble (except when she wins), and encouraging me to not shop for six months. She got me through some moments of great temptation and thus deserves the last two lines of Shakespeare's 29th Sonnet.

What has taken the place of shopping? My now-reflexive habit of seeing good moments, good people, good health and letting these things take root. It was absolutely worth six months of deprivation (I hate to even call it that, honestly, because it is nowhere near real deprivation; I'm just running out of synonyms). While a number of people throughout this stretch have shared that they couldn't imagine doing this, it's never been about provoking materialism-related guilt in myself or others. It's been more about challenging myself to do something different for a limited time, seeing what happens and, of course, because it's the 21st century after all, blogging about it as a way to explore my own head. In that way, it's no different than the many people who blog about committing to a diet or workout routine, traveling for a year to better understand food and food culture (like Zoe), having a "mid-lifeventure" (like Shari and Hutch) that shows what really is important in life (and it ain't things), or any of the many blogs we come across every day that challenge, inspire and/or entertain us. Honestly, just knowing I can do something for six months that feels unnatural gives me hope that I can tackle some of the other challenges in my life. Six months, I have learned, is not that long to do something that is at least moderately difficult. It is, though, long enough to carve some new grooves in the way I live my life, which was always the goal. And maybe a new groove leads to a new road, a new adventure. Who knows? All I know for sure is that I'll have less luggage to pack.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

SAD (Seasonal Acquisitive Disorder)

First off, here's a hello to the students who have discovered this blog and, from what I understand, have been doing some critical deconstruction of its contents. I'm flattered that among the many things you could be reading, you choose my work. I hope you enjoy it, and welcome your comments. Please just keep in mind that it's a permissible and, in fact, preferable thing, for a hard-working dean of students to do things other than go to work, and write about things other than work. I hope you all have equally enjoyable diversions and the occasional opportunity to reflect on your lives, whether in a blog, a conversation, a prayer or a research project.

Last week provided an interesting juxtaposition in the context of my shopping sobriety project. It was, of course, the official start of the Christmas/Christmas shopping season (I like to make the distinction), but it was also a week that NPR aired series of shows done by the Planet Money crew in which they attempted to "make" and bring to market common t-shirts. They spent time in the American south where t-shirt cotton is commonly grown, in Bangladesh where that cotton is turned into clothing, and other places as they tried to replicate a process that we take for granted in a big way (how many of you are wearing a t-shirt right now?) They even did a fascinating segment on shipping containers. Who knew?

One of the most provocative features of this week-long series was the photo stream they posted of t-shirts they found for sale in Nairobi--promotional shirts that probably look a lot like a stack in many American drawers: advertising turkey trots and other road races, fundraisers, high school sports teams, a bat mitzvah and an orthodontist. And of course, somewhere right now, someone is unloading the last of the "St. Louis Cardinals 2013 World Champions" t-shirts that never got out of their boxes in October.

I was so grateful to the Planet Money crew for the timing of their work--airing this series during my six-month experiment, that I have to give them a shout out and hope any readers not familiar with their work will get to know them. They appear on the pubic radio show This American Life (where they started) and elsewhere, but you can also subscribe to their twice-weekly podcasts .
I've learned a lot about the American and global economies from these passionate professionals and am constantly quoting them (just the other day, I casually dropped "credit default swaps" into a conversation, thanks to Planet Money). So if you have room in your life for more information, they are worth it.

Anyway, back to making room in our lives...Black Friday came and went much the way it does every year: news stories about its approach, ads from retailers about extended hours and low, low prices, more news stories about the backlash from people who resent having to work on Thanksgiving (and the bosses that support them, like Indiana Pizza Hut manager Tony Rohr) and then the economy-related pieces. Were sales robust or just plain bust? A cycle repeats a few days later with "Cyber-Monday." I didn't partake in either to any great degree. I did find myself in Best Buy the Wednesday before Thanksgiving purchasing a new printer and watched as the staff prepared for the coming deluge of bargain shoppers. And then I went home and gave my credit card the weekend off. I saw in the news that sales were disappointing nationally, but I don't think that's totally my fault. I hear from more people each year that shopping on Black Friday has become so fraught and unenjoyable that they skip it entirely.

There is, of course, a difference of opinion and preference. My friend Kate said her family members were discussing shopping plans over Thanksgiving dinner and several were planning on some late-night/early-morning shopping, reporting that the savings they would enjoy because of the various sales on those days would save them hundreds of dollars on their Christmas shopping. I imagine that's good motivation for a lot of people, which retailers count on. Retailers also count on the obsession we have with Christmas shopping in general, of course, and it seems from news reports of slow Black Friday sales that our economy depends on that obsession as well.

But does our happiness depend on that give/get scheme as well? I recently had a fun night out at a great little restaurant called The Whisky Room in Burlington, VT, in the company of four smart and savvy (and fashionable) women. The conversation turned to this blog/experiment, as it often does (Betsy has clearly missed her calling, which was to be someone's literary agent). Two of the four women at the table, Betsy and Paula, knew about Clothes Down, but the others, Deb and Joanne, were hearing about it for the first time and seemed intrigued and a little puzzled. Joanne observed that fashions change quickly enough that a six-month moratorium could cause you to miss out on the most recent and interesting items I couldn't argue with that. Every season brings us new items or variations on items. Pants are loose and baggy...then super tight...then loose. Remember when pants that hit your leg above your ankle were too short? When shirts that pulled at the buttons were too tight? All of us who have paid even the slightest attention to fashion recognize the cyclical nature of certain trends (Peasant dresses, anyone? Mini-skirts? Platform shoes?). And the expiration date of certain trends seems to arrive more quickly now. Again, retailers count on us buying, and buying into, this pattern of planned obsolescence.

This is not so much a criticism as an observation. I've watched "The Devil Wears Prada" enough times to have absorbed the great speech Stanley Tucci's character Nigel gives about Vogue being a "shining beacon of light for..oh, say, a boy from Rhode Island..." and to recognize that fashion is an expression of the human aesthetic sense just as much as art and music. But the phrase "a slave to fashion" is part of the English vernacular for a reason.

I'm not proposing that people stop paying attention to fashion and fashionable attire. I think what I've come to realize is the importance of paying attention to the paying attention, if that makes sense--to recognize and operate with some self-agency in the land of retail. There are items that we buy and know we will not wear beyond the season because they are so out there, so edgy. And there are things we buy that we will wear for years and love more as time passes. Retailers like Lands End and LL Bean count on our affection for the latter. But what if, when buying clothes or shoes, we made a more conscious determination that something is "for the moment," and something else is destined to become a worn item (in both senses of the word) in our closet for years? Would we make different choices? Hard to say. The balance of one versus the other might shift a bit, especially as we consider the volumes of clothing that end up in landfills. And unlike t-shirts, which are universal in their practicality, there probably isn't much of a Nairobi market for brightly-colored skinny jeans from last year's Hollister collection.

As I write this, I am testing out the new washing machine that was delivered to my house this morning. It's working well, thank you. It replaced a Whirlpool machine that was four years old. Four years old!! And trust me--I don't do a ton of laundry. The repairman who declared it not worth replacing told me, of course, "They don't make them like they used to." So now I have a new GE Hydrowave with Quiet Agitator Wash Cycle (no, don't envy me--but it actually is pretty quiet and can double as a soothing wave machine should I want to take a nap in the kitchen while it's running), and the Whirlpool is on its way to recycle heaven (one can hope, at least). I did what I had to do--bought into the system of planned obsolescence. My pathetic protest? Slam Whirlpool in this year's Consumer Reports survey that I faithfully complete every year because I want to hold businesses accountable for their products (and laud them when they make great products; I am an equal-opportunity reviewer).

Speaking of accountable, if any students have gotten this far, I hope you'll go back to studying for your exams. I don't want to be implicated in your procrastination. For those of you lucky enough to not have exams, please return to your holiday preparations. I'll do the same...once I figure out what they are. My almost-5-months of a shopping moratorium has rattled me to my retail core. It might be the year those I love get home-baked goods instead of the usual fare. Know that it comes with love nonetheless.

I'll be back with an update after the holidays as I round the turn and head for home, February 1--the end of this experiment but probably the beginning of something else.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Long-term Commitments and Other Relational Approaches

I am embarrassed at how hard it is for me to not buy things.

There. I said it. Two and a half months into retail jail and I am learning things about myself that are not making me feel too good. I thought this experiment was supposed to have the opposite effect--make me feel all empowered and frugal and in control of my life. Instead, I find myself wondering: who am I if I'm not a consumer? Who am I if I'm not wearing that which I have recently purchased? And while I'm on the honesty train, I'll say this: I've thought about cheating. Who would know? Just me, and as I've proven so many times in the past, starting with nursery school, I have a certain...moral flexibility that allows me to bend rules using some odd and contorted rationalization that makes perfect sense to me and anyone who will listen.

I have not cheated. I have, instead, twitched at multiple times. I twitched when I found myself in Macy's with Betsy, who, apparently more confident in my resolve than I am, meandered through the Jones New York racks, commenting on how cute some of the new fall line is. Yes, the fact that we were in Macy's was my fault (I needed some of my preferred moisturizer--see previous blog post about my hard-to-alter personal care item habits). But this seemed to border on cruelty. Interestingly, though, even though I suggested she could try some things on if she wanted, she demurred. And so perhaps by not shopping myself, I saved her from the lure of the dressing room.

Shopping is one of those rare endeavors that I enjoy equally both with others and on my own. Golf is like this as well, I've found. A round of golf played solo is time spent in my head, thinking through both the immediate (how am I supposed to make a shot from this god-awful lie?) and the long-term (maybe it's time to get serious about buying a small lake cabin). The answers, by the way, are: 1) move the ball, because you're out here alone and no one cares and you want to have a chance at just hitting it at all, and 2) no, it's not. When I'm shopping on my own, there are these more immediate questions (Brown? Black? Both?) and the long-term (no, it's still not time to buy real estate). But doing either of these things with other people changes the dynamic completely. Suddenly the immediate issues are shared concerns and instant feedback is available (use your wedge and hit down on the ball, brown is a better color for you, and it's probably better to just rent a lake cabin for a month and put the rest of your money in a CD).

All of this is to say that solo shopping with no intention of buying anything is a pretty lonely thing to do, leaving me with way too much time to ponder serious, long-term matters that are best figured out in the company of those who keep me in check. Realizing this, and thus skipping the solo shopping adventures of my recent past has freed up some time in my schedule. I'd like to report that I'm using it to exercise, or volunteer, or learn Arabic. But not yet. Like the money I assume I'm saving by not shopping, this benefit has not been accruing in the most positive ways. I still find plenty of excuses to avoid doing healthy and useful things. Some habits, I have found, are much harder to break.

My friend Sandra recently sent me a link to an article about a fascinating blog kept by a woman named Christina Dean, the founder of ReDress, an "eco-friendly, fashion-focused organization" (I did not know such things existed). Dean spent 365 days finding and wearing "100 percent dumped and donated" clothes. Her concern is less about personal frugality and more about bringing attention to the incredible waste in first-world countries--clothing that ends up in landfills when it is still perfectly good, but perhaps out of date and in need of a wash and iron. Here's the link to the article, which is worth a read:
Recycled clothes

I read this and found myself almost immediately thinking about "the bag," the clothes I decide I don't want and so put in the Goodwill box down the road. How many of those items end up being used again, and how many ultimately end up in a landfill taking up space on a finite planet? And how did the manufacturing of my clothes impact the places they were made? Did the dyes end up in rivers? What happened to the rest of the animal this leather came from?

Quite suddenly, my closet...okay, closets...have become a source of the kind of consumer guilt I probably should have developed decades ago. I find myself looking at each item and pondering its origins. Not that I am about to become an anti-sweatshop activist. Or maybe this is how it starts--with a growing realization that no matter how the clothes and shoes I own were created, if I just throw them out when I'm tired of them, or they don't fit well, then maybe I am causing problems for others on both ends--being a ready buyer of clothing made in poor conditions and a ready disposer of those clothes into an environment that doesn't have room for them.

That's what I was puzzling over a couple of weeks ago when the weather started to get cooler and I went into the closet and pulled out the bin o' boots. Autumn! Normally, I'm pretty happy to see my boots, and I look forward to adding to the collection. And so very many catalogs show up in my mailbox that tempt the heck out of me. One of my favorite catalogs, Acacia, had the coolest pair of red boots on the back cover, staring out at me for the ten minutes it took me to put the catalog in the recycling bin.

But also that day, another catalog arrived, one I haven't seen before: Hotter Shoes. It's a British company that looks poised to break into the American market, possibly because of women like me who prefer comfort (albeit stylish comfort) to Jimmy Choos that look more like a medieval blacksmith's tool than a shoe. I browsed the catalog. I pondered. I puzzled (black? brown? really cute red boots, even).

And then it followed the Acacia temptress into the recycling bin. I'm not sure what might ultimately tempt me into cheating, but apparently it's not red boots.

I did, though, make a purchase some might consider frivolous. I somehow lost my very cool and comfortable Kate Spade sunglasses on the drive between Norton and Burlington last month, leaving me wearing an old pair of Ray-Bans that have the annoying habit of constantly fogging up because of their fit (too close to my face, I think). I did dig up another old pair, but they didn't fit well and weren't polarized and yes this sentence ends with a rationalization: I bought some new sunglasses because I sort of needed them. There. "Sort of." I will not say I needed them, but I don't think they were completely a "want" thing. I wear them every sunny day. I will keep them for years (the Kate Spades were purchased right before a trip to Bonaire four years ago, so I certainly got my money's worth) because, in spite of what this paragraph might indicate, I don't lose sunglasses (in this way, I am completely unlike Betsy, who has made a habit of leaving her sunglasses on store counters and seats of taxis). I keep them for years, motivated in large part by just how difficult it is for me to select a pair. I will wear them with scratches, with arm hinges that are on their eighth screw. I wear them till I wear them out, which is what made the inexplicable disappearance of the aforementioned pair so distressing.

But it made me wonder: what is it about me that enables a long-term commitment to sunglasses and not to so many items of clothing? Maybe the answer is in what I just wrote: the time and mental energy it takes me to buy a relatively pricey pair of sunglasses. I found myself thinking about this as I dropped off two pairs of well-loved but worn shoes at Miguel's Shoe Repair in Mansfield. In the past, I probably would have relegated these to the bag, but knowing I couldn't replace them this season, I brought them to the man who has re-soled and re-heeled several pairs of boots I didn't want to give up. "Can you make these look...newer?" I asked him. He nodded solemnly, turning each of them over in his calloused hands. "One week." And seven days later, I had them back, looking close to new, good for at least another winter.

Every item that could possibly be jettisoned from my wardrobe is now the object of careful consideration. I find myself digging further into my closet to wear something I haven't worn in a while, maybe longer than a while. I rifle through my too-big collection of scarves to find some new combination of colors and textures. And then I put on a pair of three- or four-year old shoes that have been polished and buffed into a fresh shine by Miguel and head out to work. Sunglasses on, of course. The weather's been pretty nice. By my next entry, I suspect I will be far enough into cold weather to have had some come-to-Jesus conversations with myself about sweaters and, of course, boots. See you around December 1st.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

One Month of Shopping Sobriety*

It's September 1, which marks a month since I began my self-imposed clothes/shoes/accessories ban. Thus far, I have not fallen off the wagon, despite a couple of temptations I carelessly put in my path. I can report, though, that I have learned a few things about myself during this short stretch.

But first, the carelessness. One Saturday a couple of weeks ago, I was bored here in Norton (not an unusual state, if you've ever been to Norton). Students had not returned yet, it was a beautiful day, and I was by myself, not able to come up with a single interesting local thing to do. In the past, I might have headed off to do some "errands" (which can sometimes be a euphemism for casual shopping, in which I only need to do some practical purchasing like mousetraps or water filters--again, have you been to Norton?--in order to justify the impractical purchases). But I decided to go further afield. I wanted to walk, enjoy the beautiful weather, see people and things I don't usually see. So I decided to head to Boston to walk along the Esplanade. About 90 minutes later (whatever we tell students about the ease of access to Boston, it is not a quick trip if you use public transportation), I arrived at the T stop at the Museum of Science (drove to Quincy, hopped on the Red Line, switched to the Green, thinking, about 40 minutes into the trip that any travel involving the Green Line is a dumb idea).

It was a great walk, though--just what I wanted. Tons of people out there as well, sailing, kayaking, biking, sitting on benches and blankets. I walked from the Museum stop all the way down to the BU boathouse, then back a ways when I decided to cut across BU's campus and over to Newbury Street where I could find a nice restaurant and have an urban dinner before getting back on the T to Quincy.

Newbury Street. The heart of Boston boutique shopping. There's a Frye Boot store, for God's sake. I walked along the sidewalk, glancing into windows with below-average interest. I stopped on the corner across from the Frye store, and wondered what was new in bootwear for this season. And then I kept walking. Found a nice restaurant (Sonsie, for anyone interested) where I watched the Sox game on the TV (the game going on down the street at Fenway, actually, which made for a more-crowded-than-usual Newbury Street) and enjoyed some pasta, and then treated myself to a cone at Emack and Bolio's, passing up a Pinkberry yogurt because, geez, I had just walked a few miles along the river AND had walked past a Frye Boot store, and if I didn't do something extravagant for myself, I was afraid I was going to sizzle to a crisp from self-denial and blow away into the Boston night. Not that anything like that has ever happened, or come close, in my lifetime of justifying to myself any self-indulgent behavior that crossed my mind.

The other temptation I put in my path was spending some time with Betsy, my partner-in-shopping, as we searched for a small, inexpensive backpack for me (a temporary alternative to my heavier briefcase to stave off some back issues; see? I feel the need to justify any purchases I make these days! Which is not necessarily a bad thing) and some sneakers for her. This led us to EMS at Patriot Place, a store where I can always find an article of clothing I "need" and then--what was I thinking?--the Wrentham outlet mall. I'm happy--no, relieved--to report that I found a $20 backpack and Betsy got her new Nikes, and no other c/s/a purchases happened. There was one other purchase, which I'll explain (not justify) only because in thinking about it, I did learn something about myself, or at least reinforce something I've known, to some degree or another, for decades.

I'm kind of a creature of habit about certain items. If I like an item of clothing, something that's sort of a wardrobe "staple" like a good tank top that fits well and feels good, I'll buy it in another color (or two). If I like a pair of boots, practical and heavily-used ones like dressy-but-comfortable, I'll get them in black and in brown. I don't like change all that much because if I make a change and I'm unhappy with it, I will spend way too much time regretting making that change, or worse, comparing what I now have to the near-perfect thing I had in the past. This has led me to stick with the same shampoo(s), the same undergarments, the same breakfast, for years. I think it's also made me risk-averse and boring, but that's probably another blog.

And one thing that hasn't changed in decades? Literally, since I bought my first bottle in 1985 (I remember this because I was rooming with my college friend Heidi Shott, and though I can't remember the specifics, I think she's implicated in what was then an extravagant purchase). Alfred Sung perfume. I liked it, though I was not particularly sophisticated about scents, and still am not. A bottle lasts a couple of years if all you do is one squirt in the morning. Over the years, I have occasionally used other perfumes, but usually only if I had a sample, or got a gift. The change was never permanent. I went back to Alfred Sung. It was indeed extravagant back when I was a poorly-paid social worker and then bottom-of-the-food chain student affairs professional--$40-$50 a bottle. But again--it lasted a couple of years. After a decade or so, it became hard to find. The department stores where it had been available stopped carrying it, but I was always able to find it at an outlet mall fragrance store. I suspect there are a lot of women like me who simply cannot abide a change in such a fundamentally personal product, and we keep those outlet stores in business because we are uninterested in new fragrances being touted and sprayed by the overly-made-up women at the Macy's fragrance and make-up counters.

So that was the purchase--two bottles, actually. A small one for travel and a large one for everyday use. I mention all this not because it's all that fascinating (a perfume purchase). I mention it because of what preceded the purchase. A few years ago, when I was in Ireland, I purchased a bottle of a very nice fragrance, but have never really used it because, well, see above. So when the last of my Alfred Sung was gone, I decided that rather than buy something I didn't need, I would try the Irish fragrance. I lasted about three weeks. In the past, I would have lasted a day and then been out to search for Alfred. But this whole shopping thing has made me realize this: I am a totally reflexive shopper. I shop without thinking about it. I know I shop without needing things, but I never realized how I shop in such a mindless and unconsidered way. Every day I got dressed during those three weeks sans-Alfred, I had a quick exchange with myself about the wisdom and practicality of using what I had, not leaving it on the dresser and buying something else. In the end, my decision to purchase a $45 bottle of fragrance was actually not as easy as it has been since 1985. (It was made easier by Betsy's quick offer to take the Irish fragrance off my hands, as it's her "winter fragrance," she said, and it will not go to waste).

I have had a lot of moments like that in this past month--realizing how often I purchase things I don't really need, and then not purchasing something because of that. It's happened in the grocery store, where I have made a commitment not to buy things unless I'm sure I'm going to eat them (too many fresh vegetables that don't stay fresh long enough). Even the backpack, which to some degree felt like a health-related necessity, took weeks of consideration, of trying other solutions, before I felt like I had worked through the options.

I'm doing this with clothes, too, which gets harder as the school year begins and I reflexively consider new items of clothing that appear in favorite catalogs. But this 6-month deal with myself has given me a framework and some necessary incentive to just walk away, to toss the catalog in the recycling bin, to walk past the Frye Boot store. I have only my own commitment and this blog to motivate me, but so far that seems to be enough. The blog is, I have to admit, pretty darn effective as a motivator in part because some of its readers are people I interact with and who now seem to have a vested interest in keeping tabs on my wardrobe. I actually get asked, on campus, if something I'm wearing is new. I have to explain that it isn't, that I've had it for years but haven't worn it, or purchased it before my shopping moratorium began.

It's all good, I think. I am buying less, not just clothes/shoes/accessories, but food, household items and other non-necessary stuff. And I've actually begun to redefine, for myself, what "necessary" means. Some benefits are obvious (my checking account, for instance, doesn't get emptied as quickly), but others are unexpected, like looking at people and enjoying the warm night air on Newbury Street instead of being focused on boots. Feeling completely justified in treating myself to a tasty and leisurely dinner because I was denying myself something else, which turned out to be a pleasant experience I wouldn't have otherwise had, if my time and money had gone instead to the many boutiques on Newbury Street.

So that's what I've figured out, one month in. I'll let you know, of course, if this gets easier or harder as boots-and-sweater season approaches. I'll also let you know if my friend Linda is successful at convincing me that I deserve a new car, which I totally don't need...or deserve, really...but I might want. And distinguishing between those three things--need, deserve, want--is one of the most valuable byproducts of this experiment, one that will benefit my life, I think, even more than freeing up closet and drawer space.

*Again, I am not making light of other, more insidious addictions. I just like alliteration in titles.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

These Boots Were Made for...Me

About the boot thing: it's been a lifelong problem. I think it started in 1964 when my father was working in Tuscon, AZ, while his family remained in New Jersey (he was an up-and-coming electrical contractor and somehow managed to win a bid to help built the Titan Missile bases, so off he went, leaving mom with four children still at home (and I was the equivalent of three myself). So for the summer, he suggested we all come out and spend June, July and August traipsing around the southwest.

Let me repeat that: June, July and August. The southwest. And my mother agreed to this? Clearly, she was sick of managing her two teen-age sons, whiny pre-adolescent daughter and 3-year old future Catholic school terror, me. We boarded a plane and landed in Phoenix where we lived in a long-term motel kind of place that had a pool, which was, understandably, where we spent most of our time other than when Dad took us on road trips. I remember several things from that summer, aside from the cell-sucking heat: large Gila monsters on the side of the road were cool-looking up close. Roadrunners looked NOTHING like the cartoon version, nor did they go "beep-beep!" as they ran across the highway.

And boots. I remember boots. Cowboy boots for men and women, boys and girls. I got my first pair, along with my first cowboy hat, at a boot shop somewhere along a dusty highway, and it was a revelation. I have never since felt as cool as I did when I first pulled a pair of boots on and walked with a new-found authority around the boot shop. I can imagine the salesman probably called me "little cowgirl" or something equally cliche, but I was three and was not yet offended by sexist remarks (though cliches were starting to bother me at that point). I just knew I had found my defining fashion feature.

Upon returning to NJ (my father followed not long after and launched his business, called Titan Electric in honor of his first big contract), it appeared my mother was not going to feed my new-found hunger for tooled leather, heels, pointed toes and cowboy swagger. I began nursery school (that didn't work out too well, but that will have to wait for another blog) wearing stupid freaking maryjanes that said nothing--NOTHING--about the southwest heart beating in my chest. No wonder I was out of place at the Little Red House Nursery School in Caldwell, NJ (yes, it was called that). I was meant to live a life on a horse, tumbleweeds blowing by me as I galloped across the mesa. There were no mesas in New Jersey, unless you count the long, flat stretches of the Garden State Parkway, and I never once saw a cool girl on a horse trotting down the median. My dreams were drying up and blowing away.

And then, in 1966, Nancy Sinatra entered my consciousness with the song that became the closest thing to an anthem I've ever had (Jimmy Buffet's "I'm Growing Older But Not Up" and, of course, "Day-O" are up there too). It's my karaoke go-to, my party-pleasin' guitar solo choice. It's that rare song that delivers an anti-authority, mid-60s feminist message, has a good beat, and you can dance to it (American Bandstand: another '60s icon). Somehow, that song got me over the hump--the bootless, horseless hump of life in a Jersey suburb.

One fall, right around that time, the Sears catalog arrived. Remember those? The Christmas version? Huge books full of everything from table saws to lingerie, toys to tires. And a large section of children's clothing. Like many children, I pored over that catalog, making crisp lists in pencil on yellow paper: all the things I wanted. Needed. And that one year, I wanted an outfit worn by a girl in the catalog, a girl I envied for her incredible good fashion fortune: red cowboy hat and boots, red skirt with fringe (I would have preferred jeans, but those were not available for girls). Red vest (with fringe). It was the boots I coveted most.

Santa was good to me that year, starting me down a long, dusty trail of boot-wearing. I know I have too many, but you know how it is. One pair of black (or brown) boots is not like every other pair. Different heel heights, different lines, different comfort levels. Some are ankle-high, some are calf-high, some are knee-high. But all make me feel cooler and more confident when I wear them. When I pull on a pair of boots in the morning, I got me some shwaggah. Pumps do not do that for me. Who DO they do that for?

About two years ago, I found myself at the NCAA convention in San Antonio, Texas, and came upon a boot shop. I went back three days in a row, debating the merits of purchasing a genuine pair of Texas cowboy boots (as opposed to the East Coast girl collection in my closet). With the support of my patient colleague Rebecca, I tried on about ten different pairs before settling on a pair of black and tan beauties made of leather and...python. Seriously. Snakeskin boots. If I had been able to wear these while attending the Little Red House Nursery School, my entire life might have been different.

I write all this to explain just how challenging it will be for me when boot season comes 'round (and it is just around the corner). I will get twitchy in that way I did poring over the Sears Wish Book. I will be filled with envy of some cute girl in a red fringe vest, cool hat and...then I will remember that in my closet, yes, I have my very own trip down memory lane. And that lane is a trail, a dusty trail. And that trail? Maybe it ends in Phoenix, where I will pull these on, give a steely-eyed look and order myself a glass of Chardonnay. Straight up, pardner.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

And So It Begins...

It's August 1, the first day of my self-imposed regalia retreat...garment getaway...retail jail. [Okay--I think "retail jail" is a bit much, having watched the first season of "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix, which I highly recommend. I don't want to make light of even a minimum security prison experience. Ironically, though, at "Litchfield Prison," an other-corner-of-Connecticut stand-in for Danbury, known for being Martha Stewart's temporary abode, solitary confinement is known as "the shoe," which is actually "SHU," which stands for "Secure Housing Unit," and given that my retail jail experience involves divesting myself of shoes and avoiding shoe purchases, well, it's hard not to make that particular idiomatic connection. Anyway...]

What did I do during the last few days leading up to August 1? I didn't make it easy on myself. I spent time in two cities, Burlington and Montreal, that have some nice boutiques and shoe stores. I managed to avoid them all. My last purchase prior to the boutique banishment? I made a trip to the Jockey store in the outlet mall in Essex, VT. I won't go into details. Let's just say that I do own certain items of clothing that eventually wear out and need to be replaced, and like a lot of us, I stick with what I know.

I have to be honest, though. There is something oddly liberating about having made this deal with myself (and publicized it to the world; that is, the portion of the world that might read this blog). I have now given myself a built-in excuse for walking past those boutiques, for recycling those catalogs, for ignoring those really cute boots in the window at Dear Lucy, a most excellent Church St., Burlington, shoe store. "I can't buy anything." That's what I find myself saying. As though some external force has been imposed on me. Huh. Imagine you have a real passion for a particular food--say, chocolate. But one day, you develop an allergy to it. And so when you see that nice chunk of Cadbury, or even Hershey's, it's not even an option. You simply can't eat it. Do you miss it? Sure. But you don't have a choice. I have taken choice away from myself. Again: huh. I mean, I made the choice to do so, right?

I am now caught in a complete existential pretzel knot.

I was talking with one of Betsy's friends about this (after Betsy brought it up over dinner. I'm not planning to make a habit of sharing this adventure with everyone I meet). I was telling her about an anti-hero hero of mine, Eustace Conway. Eustace was the subject of a wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert ("Eat, Pray, Love") book that came out in 2002, "The Last American Man." He is the owner of a beautiful 100 or so acres in North Carolina's High Country, where I used to live. His land, which is called Turtle Island, is carefully preserved, a pristine stretch in the midst of ridiculous gated communities that dot the Blue Ridge Mountains and separate holler from holler. Eustace is a staunch conservationist of sorts who uses his land as a classroom to teach sustainable living. Eustace says that the politically correct mantra of "Reduce, reuse, recyle" doesn't go far enough, that we need to add two more R's: "refuse and reconsider." If we don't have the object to begin with, we don't have to reduce, reuse or recycle it. Of course, this doesn't work for all objects, but geez-it sure does for clothes. And various household items like Tupperware and bookcases. And the pretty things I see in a craft gallery that might look nice in my living room...except I like supporting artists. Hutch! Shari! Can you, my downsizing heroes, help me out here?

Back in the pretzel knot. Damn.

I do just want to say that there is no truth to the rumor that Zappos stock has plummeted since my first post on this blog. There are still plenty of good folks out there who are shopping for perfectly good reasons. I, however, will not be one of them until February 2. And who knows? Maybe my boot jones will have disappeared. Till then, I'll keep on this particular adventure. Adventure? As a character in "Orange is the New Black" says, "'Adventure' is just hardship with an inflated sense of self-importance." And this isn't really 'hardship,' is it? It's just, to paraphrase Julia Roberts in "Notting Hill", "A girl, standing in front of her closet, asking it to forgive her."