June 16, 2011

...Chose my Own Adventure

I've been thinking a lot about change lately. And, also, Choose Your Own Adventure books.

With the change thing, I didn't make it a personal growth homework assignment or anything, it's just that there's been a fair bit of it going on. Good friends of mine who've I known for ten years are getting a divorce. I was best man at my ex-boyfriend's wedding. My grandma had a hip replacement. My best friend of twenty years has gone to live in Amsterdam. My boyfriend changed jobs and I did the same - leaving my workplace of six years behind in the process. The changes in themselves haven't worried me so much though, as I've never been afraid of change. Between 2005 to 2010 I ended up having to move house six times in five years. It really didn't disturb me as much as it should of. I kind of treated it like a mildly unpleasant chore - like going to get a bikini wax. So change, not a problem with it. You get the cards that you're dealt and you play them. Change and I are cool with each other - homeboys, bros, amigos. But choice? Now the act of choice, on the other hand, has always terrified me. Bring that free-radical of freewill into the equation and suddenly I'm the cowardly lion peeping out from behind Dorothy's farm-fresh gingham skirt.

The act of making a decision, choosing a road at the fork in the yellow wood, ruling out one option in favour of another, closing a door to climb through the window, getting the fish instead of the chicken... it's all terrifying. Because what if you're wrong? You choose the left path instead of the right and suddenly you're in the Bog of Eternal Stench instead of at the Goblin City, partying with David Bowie in his purple spandex tights. And who's to blame? You and you alone, because you made that choice. I don't have a problem with what the Furies dictate should be my lot, mere mortal at the feet of Zeus I am, but if you choose it yourself and it turns out you made the wrong decision? Well it's easier to curse the capricious Gods for your misery rather than feel the weight of failure from running the ship aground yourself. Because you had to choose, you know the moment it all went wrong and exactly when you had the power to make it different (but you didn't). I think if I had been Alice in Wonderland sitting at the bottom of that rabbit hole looking at "drink me" and "eat me", I'd still have been sitting there 150 pages later making children across the ages yawn while I tried to decide what order to do things in: if I should eat and not drink, if I should try to climb back out, if I should call for help until someone came, if I should have a small bit of each or a large bit of one, or whether I should eat or drink anything at all. I have simply never liked being asked to make the call.

And this is where Choose Your Own Adventure comes into it. When I was little, when I read Choose Your Own Adventure books I'd leave the tip of my finger behind at the pages of critical decision-making (a sly finger left behind was my preferred method, as noting the page number down would simply have been cheating). I did this so that I could quickly go back if it turned out I'd made a bad decision and just pretend it never happened. Seriously. The whole thing used to give me little seven-year-old anxiety attacks so the only way I could avoid that was the insurance-policy finger. For example, if I'd followed "To go up to the surface, turn to page 6" and gotten to page 6 only to find out "Pirates are waiting in your boat and shoot you dead and steal all your gold", I could then quickly turn back to where I'd left my finger and decide to "stay underwater to explore the shipwreck further instead". Pirates never happened. Call off the watery grave. No need for child prozac.

So keep this behavior in mind, in the context of me choosing "To leave your employer of six years for a new role at another cosmetics company, turn to page 58". I turned to page 58 and then found myself sitting at my desk of said new job two months after this decision, feeling like the Nazi in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who chose the wrong grail to drink from. i.e. he started choking on it, withered away into a gross old skeleton, then turned into a big pile of dust. If my adult life had been a Choose Your Own Adventure book, at that point I would have turned back to where I'd left my finger and made a different choice. But it wasn't so I couldn't. And I was just left sitting there with the creepy old Templar Knight's voice echoing in my head "She chose... poorly".

But what I came to realise was, the thing is that I hadn't chosen "poorly" just because it didn't turn out how I had expected. I had chosen my own adventure and now I was living it. You can't hedge your bets in life and you certainly can't stay for ever at the bottom of the rabbit hole trying to make up your mind. I had the option to let the furies decide my fate and stay exactly where the Wheel of Fortune had spun me or I could make another one of those terrifying things - a choice - to leave. So I quit my new job. I took my finger out of the page and turned to a new one.

Will let you know if there's pirates in the boat when I get there.

January 6, 2011

...Upheld New Year's Resolution No.11

Every year I think about making a New Year's Resolution or two, but then usually end up deciding against it. I think it's because I read somewhere once that the very act itself sets people up to fail. The whole element of "wild proclamation of drastic and immediate change" inherent in any decent NYR means that it can reasonably be viewed as a self-sabotaging act of setting the bar far too high, far too quickly. Like you wouldn't run 2km every day for a whole year, then on one wild and crazy night after two bottles of wine, seven shots of Jagermeister and/or half a slab of beer just suddenly decide you were going to wake up the very next day and run 25km. So why should you do the equivalent with life goals on NYE? Coloured in that light, the NYR seems NQR indeed.

This New Year's Eve just gone, however, I was holding up a glass that looked distinctly half full, so I decided to do something out of character and go for broke this year. Sure, by throwing this particular set of dice you could roll snake eyes... but you could also roll whatever number it is in craps that's really, really good. I think that might be twelve? Anyway, the actual number itself is not so important - you just need to know that when you blow on those bad boys on January 31st and yell "mama needs a new pair of shoes", sure you could end up with ol' beady eyes for your trouble, but you also have just as much chance of it actually turning out in your favour. As a result, I've thrown caution to the wind and made not one, but twenty, New Year's Resolutions for 2011. Some of them are big, some of them are small. No.8 is "Food detox for two weeks". No.1 is "Give blood". No.20 is to "Learn new things for 'fun' and not for work". No.19 is "Clean the car inside and out - particularly getting rid of all the crap in the boot". I'm not going to go on and tell you all of them because they belong to me and my 'musk lolly' pink Moleskine notebook. But all of them, like No.8, No.1, No.20 and No.19, are things swirling around in my head that I know if I put into action will make me feel much more like life is me coasting downhill, standing up on the pedals while my wheels whir around and the wind whooshes past, as opposed to how it felt in 2010 (a great year, but hard one, where my poor little drumsticks got tired from riding uphill the whole time).

So anyway, I'm happy to report that six days into the New Year I'm feeling confident that luck can be a lady and am even happier to report that what I did today was to uphold New Year's Resolution No.11: "Don't drive anywhere I can comfortably ride". Sure it meant jamming my helmet down on the best hair I've had in the last fortnight and riding my bike while wearing brown cowboy boots (with no grip on the soles) and a pink checkered cotton dress (that I'm sure more than a couple of motorists were trying to look up at the traffic lights). But hell, it felt great, so come in spinner!

December 9, 2010

... Got my Bake On, Christmas Style

This is a picture of the (gluten-free, fructose-friendly) fruit mince tarts I just made. I also made Cointreau-infused whipped butter to go with them. I didn't take a photo of the butter, though, because it just looks like a big pile of yellow. Not so high up on the photogenic scale.


Today I got my bake on, Christmas style. Christmas has always really meant something to me. Puddings made by Grandfather, impromptu Christmas concerts at home, the house smelling like fresh pine for the whole month, our dining table set with crisp linen and white china. I like multi-coloured fairy lights. I like tinsel. I like that my Mother and I would always cover every inch of living space with so much decoration that it looked like a Christmas elf had projectile vomited through the entire house. 'Scrooged' is one of my favorite movies. And I sing at the end, oh yes I do, when Bill Murray instructs us all to join in. I almost start to cry every time I watch Willie in "Bad Santa" grip that steering wheel, and speed away from the cops muttering to himself "it's Christmas and the kid's gettin' his fuckin' present". Shopping, wrapping, eating roasts with gravy (even when it's forty degrees outside), breaking open Christmas crackers, wearing stupid paper hats - I love it all. I have great affection, in particular, for the mixed spice, dried fruit and brandy combination favoured by many desserts at this time of year. In my humble opinion, those little enablers to waistline crime are seriously THE BOMB. So with this in mind, it seems strange to me in hindsight that when I was diagnosed as Allergy Girl around this time last year, that the interruption to regular programming for Christmas feasting didn't bother me at all. I guess I was so tired of feeling sick all the time, that I was simply relieved to know that by giving some things up I could put food in my mouth again without having to play a round of Mystery Stomach Wheel of Fortune ("is it going to land on Nauseous? Fine? Nooooo, it's The Runs for this little lady! Congratulations!")

But 12 months on, with a once again functioning digestive system and the knowledge that there is Life on Mars (gastronomically speaking) after a Fructose Malabsorption diagnosis, the Ghost of Christmas Treats Past has started whispering in my ear. Two weeks ago, the smell of fruit cake cut-up on a platter near the coffee machine tickled my nostrils. Last week, pictures of plum pudding with custard on magazine covers compelled my gaze to rest a fraction too long. Then finally, oh finally, the breaking point came on the weekend upon seeing fruit mince tarts in the supermarket. At that point the ghost was no longer whispering it was beating me over the head with it's chains and howling up a storm. It was the first time I found myself really lamenting that I couldn't eat regular girl food. I turned to the tarts in the gluten-free aisle in hope but I knew they contained apple before I even turned over to the ingredient list (and besides that, they would've probably tasted like little discs of powdery cork-board stuffed full of soggy bean bag filling). So torn up with the agony of my love for Christmas, but my hate for wheat and that wretched Judas of a fruit - the apple - I was left with only one option: to bake a super tasty, gluten-free, fructose-friendly fruit mince tart myself. And then eat it and eat it good.

Hence, today I did what I set out to do. I came, I saw, I kicked its arse. I made super tasty fruit mince tarts that contained neither wheat nor apple. And when those little round pockets of delicious mixed spice, dried fruit and brandy heaven had cooled just enough for me to pries them out of the tin - I picked one up and stood in the kitchen smearing large spoonfuls of Cointreau butter onto it with each bite until it was all gone. Maybe I even had another one after that.

God bless us, everyone.