Archive for April 2015

A nice thing to do in April

April 14, 2015

Last week I bought a bottle of salad dressing. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but it was the second bottle of salad dressing I’ve ever bought in my life. Normally I don’t buy it, because it seems silly to buy a bottle of ready-made dressing when you can “simply” make your own from olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, herbs and spices, mustard, honey… But last week I suddenly got tired of walking past the bottles of ready-made dressing and wondering what it’s like to be the kind of person who buys them. So I bought one. (For extra “not me” points, I chose the low-fat version.)

That’s a nice thing you might want to do in April: pick a shortcut that “other people” take and try it. That shortcut is probably less ethical and less wholesome than your usual route. Maybe it involves more packaging, more saturated fat, fewer “parent/employee/partner of the year” brownie points, more environmental pollution…whatever. If “other people” are doing it every day of their damn lives, you can try it once.

You need examples? Basically, take a tip you’ve read recently in a magazine or a lifestyle blog or piece of government-sponsored advertising and flip it on its head. Take the lift instead of the stairs. Heat up a ready meal instead of cooking something simple yet nutritious from fresh ingredients. Buy a takeaway coffee instead of making your own and un-save up to £3 a day!

I know some of this blog’s readers personally, and I know that some of you share my rage-reaction to lifestyle advice. Skip my daily latte and save enough money for a house deposit? Sounds good, but I guess first you have to start drinking lattes. Get off the bus a quarter of a mile away from the office and walk the rest of the way? OK, but doing the whole commute on foot was actually quite fun. Say no to plastic bags at the supermarket? Right…so now I have to start shopping at supermarkets?

That rage is because many of us are overachievers who set very high standards for ourselves. So we KNOW that the implied promise is a lie: if doing that tiny thing resulted in big life improvements, where is my reward for always doing that thing? Is everybody else cheating, playing the game of life on a lower difficulty setting? Why are other able-bodied people being told to feel smug about parking their damn cars a bit further away from the supermarket entrance? Why can’t I feel that smug about doing all my grocery shopping on a bike? If I’m doing all the right things, why am I not more productive, richer, thinner, calmer, healthier? Where is my reward?

But as well as being overachievers, my blog readers are very intelligent. (You people are the best!) So we understand that the link between lifestyle choices and outcomes is not a simple cause and effect thing. “Insert weekly yoga class. Simmer for five minutes. Your lasting sense of inner peace is ready to consume.” We understand that structural factors both shape our choices and shape the outcomes of those choices. And I would argue that there’s a grey area where lifestyle advice shades into victim-blaming and becomes actively unhelpful.

But I’m getting off the point here. The point is? You’re in Overachiever Club. And the first rule of Overachiever Club is that you’ve decided shortcuts are for “other people”.

You know when supermarkets do that thing of planning a meal for you? “Here are the prawn crackers, here is the rice, here is the Tsingtao beer; have a Chinese evening!” “Here is some meat that’s already been cut up, here is a Mexican sauce in a jar, here is a tortilla…do Mexican!” These meal suggestions have been firmly in the “other people” category for me. I can’t let a supermarket shape my meal planning in this blatant way! I can’t just use the idea they’re giving me and buy the things they’re trying to sell me! If I start down the slippery slope of assembling pre-chosen components while believing I’m doing something creative, next thing you know I’ll be shopping at Hobbycraft! And from Hobbycraft there is no escape but the tomb.

Well, that mindset was fine until I found myself actually crying on my way back from the shops because I wanted so badly to be the person who goes with the pre-chosen meal idea and doesn’t feel bad about it. Don’t we all sometimes want a little holiday from being Overthinky Man or Overthinky Lady or Overthinky Person Who Hasn’t Finished Overthinking Their Gender Yet? And my partner was all “well, we can just get the stupid pre-prepared Mexican thing if you want” and I was all “that’s not the POINT” before realising literally years later that it kind of is the point.

You can just buy the stupid pre-prepared Mexican meal thing. You can go to Hobbycraft and then do a cross-stitch project that has been designed by someone else. You can sit your kid down in front of Frozen again. You can take the lift. This is your nice thing to do in April: pick a shortcut that’s for “other people” and take it.