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Being a completionist pt. 2

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about wanting to break my habit of being a completionist. I‘ve gotten worse am still working on that.
‘Tis the season of Christmas cookies and extra-delicious food, a.k.a. the perfect backdrop for writing about one completionist habit I don’t mind (though it does annoy people around me): food. Whenever I prepare a meal that’s not entirely inedible, I will eat it. I happily finish my plate, refrigerate or freeze intended leftovers, and always use up all the ingredients I buy – unless they’ve gone bad prematurely. The only time I’m not happy with this habit is when I eat out and haven’t brought an empty container for leftovers. Last summer, in a rare instance of outside dining, I ordered a vegetable pasta dish that was served in a medium-sized frying pan! The portion was at least 2-3 large leftover lunches large. I determinedly switched to main quest mode and began shoveling. When I had reached satisfactory fullness, you could hardly tell I had transferred any skillet pasta onto my plate. I was on a mission. So, I kept eating. I hadn’t felt that full in months years! takeaway boxBut my aversion to wasting food trumped the growing fear of my stomach bursting. I kept on eating… until a knight in shining armor and an apron appeared at my side. Our excellent server had noticed my pained face and offered me a takeaway box for my leftovers. Yes! There’s no way I could have finished this pan-sized portion. My no-food-goes-to-waste-willpower has its limits.
I felt regret: Why hadn’t I thought about inquiring about a container myself (I would have happily paid for one) before the pain had set in? But I was also happy that I had one more day of good food before reverting to my own miserable cooking attempts. Thankfully, the duck wasn’t there to witness my embarrassment… or cheer me on all the way to my painful demise.

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Small talk

I’m bad at small talk. When I meet new people, I’m decent at exchanging names (just to forget them immediately and then avoid any topic that might call for them) and other information relevant to the situation. I might throw in an “I like your T-shirt” or “what’s your dog’s name?” if that’s my genuine opinion/interest. That’s as far as my skills go. Don’t get me wrong. I like chatting about unimportant topics if I have anything to add to the conversation, be it an additional piece of information, a firm opinion, or a bad joke I can’t keep in. But is that even considered small talk, then?
When I meet someone I know, I usually utter the customary “how are you?”, maybe even an additional “how is your work/school/family/pet alligator/chocolate you’ve been keeping under your mattress?”. Then I wait for the actual conversation to begin or the encounter to end. Any further small talk becomes a challenge to produce polysyllabic answers while brainstorming questions without looking too uncomfortable. Even when I talk to people I’ve known for a while, I don’t always ask basic questions. Sometimes, I forget because I’m rude. Sometimes, I’m too embarrassed to ask them. Have you ever felt like it’s too late to ask about something you should know by now? I certainly have. So, because of my terrible past and present small talk skills, I avoid questions that might put me on the spot. If I ask: “how’s Al?” but don’t know for sure who Al is because I’ve only ever heard the name but never asked for details, things could get embarrassing. Let’s say I presume Al is an alligator because that’s the mental image I have every time I hear about this mysterious family member. Well, what if Al is a raccoon who has been part of the family for decades? In fact, at this very moment, Al’s grandchildren could be baking a fruit and nut cake in the family kitchen to celebrate Al’s 30th birthday because not only is Al not an Alligator, but Al is also the oldest raccoon alive. How embarrassing that would be! So, I add “pet alligator or raccoon?” to the list of conversation topics to avoid right below “my friend’s name” (clearly, I should be more embarrassed by my lousy jokes).
I’m pretty sure most people don’t care if you ask them about such things a few years too late, and often I still do. Nonetheless, I should probably try to get better at small talk if I want to shorten my list of topics to avoid… though I really don’t like exchanging irrelevant thoughts about the weather.raccoon birthday Because what’s an acceptable response to “it’s been rainy recently, hasn’t it?” if you don’t have an anecdote/bad joke about the death of your umbrella to share?
I’m open to suggestions!

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Learning my lefts and rights

I’ve always had difficulty telling left from right and, as an extension, east from west (on a map – physically, I have trouble with all directions). Like most directionally challenged individuals, I did learn the basics eventually. Unlike most directionally challenged individuals, I was well into my double digits when I got there. By “basics,” I mean that if I thought about it hard enough and visualized a page or a compass rose as an aid, I would probably get it right most times. I still need to do that sometimes. However, thanks to yoga videos, I’ve gotten much quicker in distinguishing the left side of my own body from the right. I even have a higher success rate at getting it right intuitively. As soon as I have to translate to another person’s body or think quickly, however, my success rate drops significantly… I’m still in awe when people just know which side is which in relation to anything. On the flip side, I get to have small successes like this: After one of my slow jogs, I was approached by two strollers asking for directions. Despite my terrible sense of direction, I was actually familiar with the place they were looking for as I had just jogged past it a few minutes earlier. I didn’t want to lie and knew I couldn’t run away – my jogging is way too slow for that because I’m polite. So, I took a deep breath and, using my hands as an aid (thanks, yoga!), I described the way slowly, but without messing up. compass
That was months ago, and I’m still super proud of myself!
I am genuinely happy with how far I’ve come in the past few years, as an adult on paper who has more trouble telling right from left than the average elementary schooler.
(I could probably improve my directional instincts if I consciously practiced. But presently, my motivation to improve is weaker than my laziness. What do I have a directionally talented duck friend for, anyway?)

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Precarious pigeonholes (and abundant annoying alliterations)

Spring is officially over, as is (personally speaking) the predominant period of painstaking plots performed by particularly pernicious pollen. Strangely, I completely forgot to rant about the latter. To make up for that, I will tell you about an abiding abstract allergy of mine: stereotyped thinking.
I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by people who make others feel like they’re three-dimensional human and feathery beings most of my life. I suppose that is why few things infuriate me more than harmful stereotypes that result in their victims’ lives becoming profoundly more difficult. I consider that reasonable resentment (though the extent of my exasperation, particularly pertaining to physical presumptions, could be called excessive). However, sometimes, a subtle hint that I might have been pigeonholed is all I need to feel personally attacked. I instantly imagine myself as a non-player character in a video game, clad in standard villager attire, invariably repeating a general warning about the dragon in the cave. The protagonist doesn’t care to find out that my bonnet hides a bald patch from the night the dragon scorched my shed in a destructive drunken drive. Or that the friendly neighborhood pigeon now lets me sleep on the sofa in its “bachelor’s den” (an embellished pigeonhole). All this is to say that, occasionally, my aversion to being pigeonholed (sans supportively supplied sofas), even with a well-intentioned implication innocently based on average assumptions, leads to the vehement wish to rebel. That’s why, a few years ago, when chatting about exercise (a topic I was extremely knowledgeable about, regularly regarding resolute runners), it irked me when my housemate recommended I do yoga because “that’s a kind of exercise women like to do, isn’t it?”. pigeonholeI had been critical of what I (foolishly) considered “slow exercise” before that. But now, I was adamant about avoiding yoga. The duck thinks it’s hilarious how much it bugs me when someone suggests something I suppose is based on a stereotype. The duck might be right. Fortunately, my friends tend to have an immaculate taste, so I’ve hardly ever received a friend recommendation I didn’t absolutely adore. Some have even offered up their sofa/[ch(air)] bed/camping mat/bathtub whenever I (spontaneously) needed a place to stay!


P.S.: The duck asked me to include the following statement: “Pigeonholes are great! These so-called ‘bird hostels’ offer affordable accommodation for anyone (small enough) traveling on a budget”.

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Bye-bye, computer hands!

A coworker once told me that I have “computer hands,” a phrase that I have reused many times to describe my hands since then.
At work, I was regularly touching hot surfaces, washing my hands, and using the aggressive sanitizer provided. As a result of that, my hands had become uncomfortably dry. Whenever the opportunity arose, I would bury them in a thick layer of lotion to combat that dryness. After witnessing one of those moisture-replenishment sessions, my coworker asked me what was wrong. I told her that I had acquired the power to pick up dry cleaning cloths with my stretched-out hands (because my palms were so rough that they had a decent grip). She grabbed my hands, examined them, and told me nonchalantly that, “yeah, you have computer hands.” Unfortunately, our work didn’t involve any computer-related tasks.
After I had moved to Japan with the duck, my hands slowly regained their computer state. For a while, they were happy, regularly typing away on computer keyboards, with no consistent aggressive sanitizing and hot-surface-touching to speak of.hand lotion
When the pandemic started, I preferred to use my own mild sanitizer instead of the harsher ones provided at the entrances of public places (I love how I no longer have to hide my sanitizer bottle inside a pocket. Now I can walk around with it attached to my backpack without anyone judging me for being “too extreme”). My hands were happy, I was happy, and the duck was happy (because I wasn’t complaining about my dry hands).
Then I got Covid. I ended up using a lot of hand sanitizer, and not always the mild and moisturizing kind, throughout the day. Paired with washing them much more often than usual, I infuriated my spoiled computer hands (because, let’s face it, “computer hands” is just a term for hands that haven’t had to do a lot of strenuous work. In short: the hands of a lazy person, like myself). They were getting ready to revive the dry cleaning cloth magic trick. It’s been weeks since then, but my hands are still not back to their lazy, “let them eat cake”-state. Fortunately, I always have a few extra tubes of hand lotion stashed away!

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Earphone drama

Though I do use my earphones to listen to drama, this story is about the dramatic demise of far too many earphones in far too little time:
I listen to podcasts a lot these days. Accompanied by stories, chores become substantially more enjoyable, but only with clear audio. When I got a new phone five years ago, I declared it my podcast machine and happily used the earphones that had come with it and with volume control to catch up on all my favorite podcasts. After two and a half years of dependable service, my earphones finally broke, and I was left to look for a worthy replacement. At first, I thought it would be best to order a cheap (probably knockoff) replica with all the same functions. Despite the visual likeness, the replacement shared no resemblance in longevity, for six months later, the new earphones shared the fate of their predecessor. Thinking I might have received a faulty set, I went for an identical replacement. And, six months after that, another one. After my third set of earphones had also broken after half a year, I did some math: If three-to-four-euro earphones broke after six months, 10 euro earphones would function for about a year and a half, right? earphonesWell, after eight months of ignoring the duck’s chuckles whenever I confidently and naively plugged my cool new earphones into my portable podcast machine, I had to learn that that was not one of the real-life uses my math teachers had referred to in response to the regularly occurring question ‘why?’: My comparatively expensive earphones broke down after less than half their predicted lifetime.
At that point, I was frustrated. For a while, I made do without a functioning set of earphones, but I soon came to realize that the happiness I would feel from not getting guaranteed headaches after wearing my over-ear headphones (that I tend to only use with my laptop or on a plane) for too long would outweigh the anger from having to replace my earphones more often than some people – not me! – replace their toothbrush.
Well, these days, I sport over-ten-euro-earphones and I’m optimistic that these, at last, will feed my podcast addiction for a minimum of two years!

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Being a completionist

Do you remember when, two years ago, I wrote about forming habits? Well, there is one habit I want to un-form this year: being a completionist. The term “completionist” generally describes someone who tries to fully complete a video game. I have positively spent too many hours trying to do just that – weirdly, as I don’t actually care about video game achievements. This, in combination with my being too lazy to pick up a controller most evenings, is why I managed to complete a mere three video games last year (one of them being Life is Strange with its beautifully confined world and playtime). But that’s not where being a completionist stops for me: I also tend to finish watching every movie I start, even if I find it dreadful. It’s even worse with books: Reading the first two pages of a book equals taking a blood oath to finish it, no matter how long it takes me. This is why I am so happy to have numerous books from my to-read list in my bookcase these days. Being a completionist is fantastic whenever I find a story that I love. But if I don’t, the fear of being haunted by all the stories I didn’t finish almost forces me to still search every corner of a virtual world. Or to spend hours (of unhappiness) finishing a book or movie I don’t enjoy. I wonder if you could call my habit of turning entertainment into a chore “FOMO for lazy people”: a fear of missing out on (more or less) fictional adventures rather than all the cool and active things your friends might be doing while you’re lazing around in your bedroom, arguing with your feathery friend about whose turn it is to get the next round of teahauntedbook
Tackling this unwanted habit will be another step toward perfect laziness. Because what fun is lazing around if you compulsively try to finish stories you’re not enjoying (anymore)? The duck must be extremely happy that I’m finally listening to all that whispered night-time advice.

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Open window nights

This is a topic I never expected to write about. As some of you might know, my aversion to spiders is real. So, why would I even consider sleeping with a (part-)open window if that gives them an eight-hour window for sneaking into my bedroom, protected by the darkness of the night and my closed eyes? Those were my thoughts exactly when, out of the blue, I suddenly had the urge to sleep with a partly open window a few months ago. Sure, I had slept with an open window before, when the fear of waking up as a perfectly baked cookie was greater than that of waking up to a party of spiders surveying the sight of “sleeping human and duck” in awe. The night in question, however, was not particularly hot. Well, it was a pleasantly cool night in summer that did promise a nice breeze if I were to sleep with the window open. But it was also so pleasantly cool that I knew I would probably wake up in the middle of the night because I was cold. That didn’t stop me, though. It seems that having spent more time outside this year and a newfound (blind) trust in my insect screen (that did feel like it protected me from uninvited guests a bit better this year than it had last year) were the winning combination in making me more fearless and fresh-air-craving than I had been before. I’ve even come to accept the not-so-peaceful sounds of the night, like passing cars and groups of drunken teenagers, I used to think disturbed the more natural sounds of waking birds or chirping insects. I wonder if this novel appreciation for the occasional open window night will roll over into the next few years. spider outing
Only time and spider sightings will tell! (Or the duck in one of those frantically-whispering-in-my-ear-at-night-sessions.)

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Elder in my pocket

I love the image of a wise older person sticking out of my pocket to share pieces of wisdom with me! This little post, however, is about how I like to always have a few pieces of elderflower hard candy on me whenever I go out. At first, the only reason for having candy in my backpack was the usual: You never know when you’ll have a sudden sore throat or a simple candy craving. When the pandemic started, there was an added reason: I realized just how often I abruptly have to cough from a dry throat – something you definitely want to avoid at a time when everyone is afraid of catching an infectious virus, of which coughing is a common symptom. Whenever I can’t easily take out my water bottle (or had to leave it at home because of strict security), a piece of candy usually does the trick. It’s not always elderflower candy, though; in Japan, I always had a few pieces of vitamin candy in my bag. These days, I supplement elderflower candy with lemon candy for more variety. I wonder what it’ll be in the next place…
To get back to the image of an elder in my pocket: pocket elderI’m actually such a proponent of carrying hard candy for all kinds of situations that whenever I hear a friend cough or complain about an aching throat or a looming cold, I leap to their side and offer them a piece of candy (just like I imagine a wise elder would), and if they accept, I’ll give them an extra two or three, just in case. I usually carry so much candy that I’ve been a short-term personal plague prevention provider for more than one friend or colleague who felt sick but didn’t benefit from elder in their own pocket. I guess this behavior contributes to my, at times, being considered “the granny” of my friend group. Why can’t I be “the cool one” like the duck?

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Ramblings on 200

If my counting is correct, this is the 200th entry on this blog that started as somewhat of a travel/discovery diary in which the duck and I made sense of the fun, tasty, mysterious, exciting, weird, educational, and sometimes simply confusing things we came across in Tokyo. I’m not quite sure how I would describe the duck and my blog now, since it’s less discoveries and more just things that pop into my head (or are whispered in my ear in the middle of the night), like how it’s absolutely necessary to build a cat shrine, try my hand at using cheap watercolors to recreate a mental image of cookies dancing in space on a rainbow-colored cloud, spend weeks trying to animate that one story my friend A helped me come up with to try to improve my Japanese or inform the public of my favorite mail person‘s awesomeness. It’s nice to come up with things to ramble on about and to share some of my favorite friend recommendations and snack experiences. But I also miss being able to discover more of my surroundings the way the duck and I did back in Japanduckcake. Writing about things we saw and thought seemed much easier and more fun then.
For now, this blog is a great way to remind me to be observant and at least somewhat creative, even though I feel our posts lack some of the wonder and excitement we felt when our world was a bit more “open.” Let’s hope that by the same time next year the duck and I will have more opportunities to discover and be peculiar (and maybe even a bit less lazy) together. Maybe, we’ll have more to look back on in our 300th blog entry, maybe there will never be one. Who knows? The duck and I sure don’t.
It seems like this has become somewhat of a personal diary entry rather than something that could be even vaguely interesting for anyone who is neither the duck nor me. But we needed that. Same as I did creating this doodle of our very own celebratory duck cupcake, nay, duckcake!