Like you, only better

The other weekend my husband suggested a trip to the main branch library. You’d have thought the kids misheard it as Haribo factory. The library also has a friends of the library shop and we returned home laden with books and comic books to keep and books to return.

Amidst all of this recreational reading some of us have summer reading for work. We are pacing myself to get it read the better to reapply ourselves to Zola (in English, people, in English) on holiday.

I have finished reading Switch, about motivating people to embrace change. I heard one of the book’s authors speak this winter. He was an excellent speaker with funny and apt visuals but this vibrance (it’s a Photoshop word) is diluted over 300 pages. The key concept is that people are elephants with riders (id and ego) and to truly change behavior you have to speak to both.

Change and habit seem to be at the crux of American society. We like what we like: ice in our drinks, cheese-flavored food, television. We have the fourth meal at Taco Bell, 320z cups, man caves, and unlimited movies streamed to the TV for $8 a month. Seriously, don’t get up. But we also are under this pressure that we need to become a better person (Nutrisystem, home gyms, pedometers, botox, magazines). It’s all about having a plan. It’s about the wanting.

In a brilliant stroke of integrated-neuroses marketing, Ziploc now touts their small bags as being the perfect size for 100-calorie snacks, which is a category of chocolate-flavored cereal bars and fake puddings and tiramisu yogurt that hits that weird soft spot between restraint and indulgence.

Summer and travel are two abstracts which make you believe in transformation. Travel makes you want to behave differently and, if my book is to be believed, it is easier to break or start habits when you are away from your regular life where much behavior is automatic. My summer holiday is all about cheese, sitting around and drinks. And books. I want to read more. And, really, I’m good with that.

Even though, if I thought I would remotely enjoy reading Zola for more than two pages in French, I would.

Reading material, whether or not to pack sneakers, or nice clothes for evening meals are all important decisions. Contemplating the books to take when you are going to a non-English-speaking country is all the harder. If you run out, you will end up reading a waterlogged copy of The Thornbirds, which you were lucky to find for 40 euros. This didn’t actually happen. It was Isabel Allende in lira, but you get the idea.

I did not think about my capacity for change when we went to New Orleans to visit our cousins. We throw our things in the car. We walk, eat and hang out. I take printouts of articles I need to read. It is a short trip. I don’t think I am there to improve myself.

But I forget my toothbrush. Luckily, they live walking distance to Whole Foods. I nip out, envying their having a walking distance shop of any description, to admire the merchandise and buy the most right-on toothbrush ever. It is curvy and green, in both senses of the word, made from recycled yogurt pots. When I’m finished with it, if I can remember that the original packaging is in my weekend bag, I can reseal the used toothbrush in its sleeve (no Costco bra packaging here, see previous post) (Thank you, Costco, for being so nice about the return) and drop it in a mailbox; it is addressed and postage paid. Except there’s some part of me that balks at the idea of sending someone my used toothbrush. That’s the intractable elephant in me. Even though the rider will tell me to do it for the environment.

On the way home from New Orleans, we see a sign for the Greene County Greyhound Park. It sounds so stately home, so National Trust. One could imagine the greyhounds in long robes, sprawled out on a terrace with stucco urns of rambling roses, other dogs strolling around the grounds. This is actually the dog track which made the news over some bingo/slot machine controversy. The new name does not suggest, as it should, country men in their overalls and sun-creased faces, the jittery, carnival screech of the metal rabbit, the cement floors and the fog of cigarette smoke, for this is how my husband and I would spent a truly odd evening together back in the day, in the Kennel Club, drinking whiskey and rye.

I have figured out the holiday reading, but not the holiday clothes. I have been having these same conversations with myself since I was young. The rider knows I should take a simple, neutral dress (that I don’t own), flats and sneakers, one cardi, and a bathing suit. The elephant wants to pack a trunk, ha ha, feels sorry for the skirt I haven’t worn all summer, the patterned top I forgot I had, thinks maybe also take the grey batwing sweater, the white trousers, the lighter weight capris that I don’t like the material of, but that are practical and so get worn grudgingly from time to time, my souvenir T-shirt from the Pepper Jelly Festival.

The magazines are filled with articles on how to pack, what to take. The magazines know this is the kind of crazy stuff their readers are thinking about: how to pack for their better selves. Like, what I need to do is go shop for that dress, but the rider said no shopping for clothes, shoes or accessories this month.

The urge to overpack comes from this unrealistic sense of dressing for the person you might become while away. A person who, for example, wears high-heeled shoes. A person who is chic like a French woman. And then you are also trying to know yourself very well. You will never wear that shirt without a longer layer underneath, you hate shorts, these shoes hurt my feet. And you get so sick of yourself that you really need to get away from this person and lose them in a book.

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