The problem with “Everything You Need for a Girls’ Camping Trip”

Don’t you hate it when you’re just about to drift off to sweet slumberland, about to say “night night!” to social media, but then at the very last moment, you notice an infuriatingly gender-stereotyped post from an organization whose image is built on (some version of) feminism? Yeah, me too.

Yesterday’s good night’s sleep was ruined by this article from Bustle. If you don’t know Bustle, it’s a blog/website/”lifestyle brand” (because that’s a thing now) that describes itself as being “for & by women who are moving forward as fast as you are.” In the case of women rocking the outdoors, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be very fast.

When I first saw the headline – Everything You Need for a Girls’ Camping Trip – I did a little snort-laugh. I came across the link on Facebook; it was a sponsored ad from Bustle and Barefoot Refresh Spritzers, whatever the hell that combination of words is supposed to mean. Regardless, the guffaw was because since it was from Bustle, assumed that I’d click on it and arrive at a righteous, satirical blurb saying something along the lines of “whatever any human of any sex or gender needs for any camping trip.” You know, because feminism and all.

I should have known better.

While I like to think that the article was written with the best intentions, I was sorely disappointed to find it a staunch reinforcement of the rugged outdoorsman stereotype, and of its counterpart — the YOLO-pleading, eyeliner-slinging, but-I-might-break-a-nail whining, “I’ll just stay here at camp and play board games and make you guys some sandwiches for when you get back from your hike”… girl.

First of all, why do “girls” need to have our own, separate (and most assuredly not equal) guides to enjoying the outdoors? I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are some things we need to do a little differently. For example, as an ACA-certified canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard instructor, I sought a lifejacket that was practical and rugged, but would snugly and safely fit my womanly curves. Let me tell you about the many color options. (And don’t even get me started on pockets.)

But living with a pink, floral lifejacket isn’t even the start of the deep and dangerous gender divide of outdoor recreation. This post is getting long enough as it is, and plenty of more articulate (and less frustrated) people have written plenty of worthy words about it. So read up:

I’ll stick to what I came here for: that bothersome headline from Bustle. In the comments section on Facebook, one reader defended the seemingly sexist clickbait, pointing out that the article really does contain some useful information for beginner campers who might be nervous about spending their first weekend away from civilization. And that’s absolutely true.

But here’s the question: why didn’t they call the article “Everything You Need For Your First Camping Trip” or “Everything A Beginner Needs for a Beginners’ Camping Trip”? Why do we have to jump to women — sorry, not even women, but girls?

By doing this, Bustle has directly marketed to women in the outdoors, and made two very dangerous assumptions about those women before even reaching the first word of the article: that women are (A) inexperienced and unable to use the internet machine to teach themselves how to tie a knot and (B) more interested in spritzers and Instagram than forging a genuine connection with nature and making meaningful memories.

So I’ll step down off my soapbox with one final thought. Should those of us who have a bit of outdoorsy experience under our Patagonia strap-style belts be writing smart, accessible, fun articles to help acquaint people with the outdoorsy lifestyle, and to help them have a comfortable, fun, stress-free first experience in the outdoors so that they don’t run away crying and never come back? Of course.

Should we be confusing that with “LOL camping 4 girlz”? Probably definitely not.

If you’ve read the articles linked above (and beyond!) and are ready to get outdoors yourself, here are some great resources for any beginner in the outdoors — girl, boy, woman, man, none of the above, all of the above, in between or around the above, whomever:

And if you’re as self-righteously pissed as I am about using “girls” interchangeably with “helpless n00bs”, here are some organizations that are doing great things to close that outdoors gender gap, and you should totes support them:

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A birder photobombs a portrait of a lake

Hey, it’s me! Your favorite lady who likes to pretend she has any sort of authority on subjects including love, birding, and fashion advice.

Birding Magee Marsh at the Biggest Week in American Birding, May 2014. Image by Lynn Whitney.

You mean nobody’s ever told you that ladies dig fanny packs, zip-off shorts, oversized t-shirts, and rubber shoes? Good thing I’m here.

I’ve been gone awhile, but I’m happy to be back. One of the reasons I returned to this blog is because I’ve got a couple of new projects in the works, and I’m excited to share them here in the not-so-distant future. You can read a few more elusive hints on my The Birder and The Blog pages. But for now, we’ll just get right back to business.

I wanted to share this photo with you. Not because I’m just bursting to unveil my high fashion to the world, or because I’m particularly proud of my scrawny chicken legs. It’s because it’s a wonderful photo, taken by a wonderful photographer named Lynn Whitney.

It was May 15th, 2015. I was out and about at the annual Biggest Week in American Birding festival, and I was just returning from a walk along the Estuary Trail at Magee Marsh. I remember that it was overcast, a bit breezy. The beach was being enjoyed by birders and non-birders (or birders disguised as non-birders) alike. I was deep in thought, but my eye was caught by a woman taking photographs with some sort of cartoonishly oversized old-timey camera out of the 1920’s.

As I approached, eyeballing ye olde camera with mild curiosity, I didn’t realize that the photographer was eyeballing me in return. In particular, I later learned, she was drawn by my two bird tattoos – a Northern cardinal just above my left knee, and a cedar waxwing on my left ankle. The woman asked whether she could photograph me and my ornithological adornments, and I obliged.

Unlike an iPhone, a vintage 8×10 camera requires a certain amount of attention to get from “I would like to photograph this thing” to “now I have a photograph of this thing,” and so the photographer introduced herself as Lynn Whitney and we got to talking.

It turns out that I wasn’t the first beach-walker she had captured in her lens. In fact, she was working on an entire photo series to share the images and stories of Lake Erie and the people who love her. (That’s me, anthropomorphizing a lake as a female, by the way, not Lynn. What can I say? I’m a sea captain at heart.) I was moved by the way she was moved by the incredible variety of people who could be found engaging with Lake Erie in any number of different ways. After the agonizing amount of time I was instructed to look thataway and hold still while the camera did its thing, as we prepared to part ways, she said to me:

“I just love what happens to people here. Makes me feel like the world is okay for a minute.”

Lynn’s currently working on a website to showcase this project; I’ll link to it here when it’s up and running. Until then, you can read more about her and her photography here or here. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you back here soon.

 

“I’ve been doing this for years”

Last week, I went on a lovely little birding jaunt with the Toledo Naturalists’ Association. We walked around Swan Creek Metropark just before sunset; sadly, I had to depart before I was able to observe the remarkable feats of the woodcocks that mate there. The woods was alive with all of my favorite springtime singers, and it wasn’t too awfully cold.

In the group was a fellow named Nate who seemed to be an experienced and enthusiastic birder. He spotted lots of birds for us, identified many by ear, and was excited about the upcoming North Coast Open, a local birding competition. I listened intently as he related a story of a very cooperative woodcock following his family along their walk, 6 or 7 years ago.

The remarkable thing about this was that Nate was only about 13 years old.

I have an immense respect for not only Nate, but any young person with a passion and a drive to follow that passion wherever it leads them. Think about it: if Nate is 13 and remembers identifying a bird 6 or 7 years ago, it means he’s been birding for half his life. I know several older formidable birders who can’t make that claim! This passion will follow him throughout his formative years and adulthood, molding a passionate naturalist and advocate for nature. With the alarming prevalence of “NDD” and kids who have never seen a chipmunk, it’s these young nature-lovers who bear the weight of hope for the future of our planet.

So my hat’s off to all the young whippersnappers out there who nurture an intense love of anything – especially nature. It’s something I never experienced as a child, and I have really struggled to come into my own and find hobbies and passions as a young adult. Any youngster with the passion and motivation to pursue a hobby, a sport, or anything else long enough to say “I’ve been doing this for years” has my admiration.

They’re always there.

Good morning, people reading!

I hesitate to use the word “readers” because I realize that I haven’t exactly been doing my duty in producing enough readables to keep readers reading. But hopefully there are still a couple of you out there, bearing with me, or at least being pre-programmed to do so thanks to the magic of subscriptions.

Life ebbs and flows, falls and rises, sometimes seeming to follow the pull of the tides themselves. We spend periods of time creating, and then sometimes spend periods of time digesting things that others have created. I’ve been in such a “digestive” period of late: reading, watching, observing.

Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I could also blame my absence on Kimmy Schmidt. But I’ll stick with the more noble explanation.

As the tides changed, I remembered that I started this blog for a reason, and that it simply won’t do to just abandon it. I paid for the domain name, after all, and I gotta get my money’s worth! So here I am again. Not much has changed… say, wait, did you rearrange the couches? Huh.

Despite what yesterday’s snow may have you thinking and have me cursing silently under my breath… spring is upon us! Every day, a new voice joins the chorus: the titmice, the cedar waxwings, the blackbirds. The chorale is slowly but surely reassembling, its sopranos and its tenors making their ways back whence they were scattered to the four winds. What a joyous noise they make!

Last weekend I had a great experience at Toledo Rowing Club’s “Rowing Fitness plus Yoga” program – led by none other than my partner Kristina, who kicked my butt from here to Biggest Week in the best way possible. (Revelation: I am not by any means fit.) The workout was good, and the proceeding yoga was an excellent follow-up. Our wonderful yogi Sandy was playing some typical dreamy, soothing yogalicious music as we moved through some great stretches and flows.

Toward the end of the practice, at a quiet moment, it seemed that all of us at once heard that beautiful, beautiful birdsong drifting in from outside the building. It was a gray, drizzly, chilly morning, but the birds were there, just like they always are. They had a job to do, and they weren’t about to quit for any freezing rain, no sir.

I drank in that tinkling, twinkling song, and so did my fellow yogers. Sandy turned down the volume on her music so that we could hear the birds even more clearly. There’s nothing like the sound of nature, the sound of beautiful, delicate beings returning after a winter apart, to help clear the mind and ground the body. It was the perfect accompaniment to our yoga flow.

Despite my efforts of meditation, the thought drifted quietly across my consciousness: I should write a blog post. I’ve been away for awhile, but what does it matter? I can always come back, just like those sweet songsters. No matter how long they’ve been away, they’re there again – they’re always there.

Carry this thought with you today, readers, as you travel your path. No matter how long you’ve been away from something – be it blogging, birding, banjo-ing, or anything else – you can always return. You can always choose to be there.

Carpe Birdem: Now is the time to start birding!

Apart from the occasional whistle of wind, the world was rather quiet last weekend. Winter Storm Linus draped the Midwest in what seemed to be a soundproof blanket of snow. The few times I poked my head out into the whiteout, I heard no cars, no squirrel chatter, no gossipy dog-walkers, and no birds. No cardinal chips, no woodpecker drumbeats, no chickadee dee dee dees. The oppressive snow had muted them all.

Had I been listening two years ago, I surely would not have noticed this absence. At that time I scarcely gave birds much thought at all. When I began working as an interpreter with Metroparks in 2013, I learned some cool facts about local species, and grew comfortable sharing them at programs. Even then, it took me quite some time before I felt comfortable calling myself a “birder.”

Bridging the gap between “birds are kinda neat” and “my name is Lauren and I am a birder” wasn’t easy. I worried that a simple interest in birds, in observing them and trying to identify them, just wasn’t enough. I met a lot of amazing, serious birders through Metroparks. How could I, a total neophyte, count myself among these ornithological heroes?

I’m here to tell you that bridging that gap isn’t so scary. All you need to start using that particular “B-word” is an earnest interest in birds, a little time, and a humble willingness to learn. In fact, if you’ve always wanted to get into birding but weren’t sure how, there’s no better day to start than today! It may seem counter-intuitive, but winter is an excellent time to start your journey toward birderdom.

Study up

Take Linus, for example. What did you do when he rudely barricaded you inside your home? If you’re at all like me, you did a little housework, watched an embarrassing amount of Netflix, and caught up on some reading.  Snow days are perfect for delving into the expansive world of birdy entertainment! There’s nothing like snuggling up with a good book, and there are plenty that will whet your birding appetite.

If you’ve been intimidated by the huge variety of field guides out there, the library is a great place to shop around before investing! Read the introductory sections to learn some bird ID basics. Just flipping through the pages will familiarize you with taxonomic groupings, different mechanisms for bird ID, and how to best use field guides.

If you’re in a less “technical” mood, there are lots of great birdy memoirs and essay collections out there. If you can’t make it to the library, no problem! There are plenty of excellent articles, websites, and videos to explore online. See my Recommended Reading list at the end of this post!

The power of observation

One of the first lessons I learned on my Quest for Birderdom was that field guides are really helpful… and really #*^&ing heavy. I used to take my field guide everywhere, until I found myself in the middle of the Maumee River with binoculars in one hand and book in the other. One of them was bound to end up swimming, and the guide didn’t have a neck strap.

It’s far better to bring a notebook and pencil, take detailed notes, and later consult your ID tools at home. Not only will this spare your expensive field guide a watery grave, but it will force you to really, really look at birds. You’ll become more intimately familiar with field marks, size and shape, and behaviors. What better time than winter to start working on those note-taking skills?

Invest in a birdfeeder and you’ll observe a diverse crowd of thankful birds – without getting out of your PJs! Of course, birds are perfectly capable of enduring the winter on their own, but they always seem thankful for the extra help. Hang an inexpensive suet feeder from a branch or shepherd’s crook, strategically move your couch to a window with a view, grab a notebook and pencil, and start practicing your note-taking.

If your front door isn’t frozen shut, many parks have great viewing areas to explore. Cozy observation rooms look out onto collections of birdfeeders and water features and attract a diverse crowd of birds. As a bonus, many local birding groups utilize these spaces for regular birding “sits.” If you want to start making connections with other birders, these are the places to do so!

Get to know your “regulars”

Winter is a great time to get to know your locals. Everybody loves to glimpse a rarity, but studying the most common birds in your area is the best way to build a solid foundation of birding skills. After you’ve logged a couple pages of observations, you’ll notice that certain species can always be counted on to appear. Focus your observations on these species, until you feel like every tufted titmouse (or your equivalent) you see is an old friend.

Getting to know the birds that call your backyard “home” is excellent preparation for a very exciting event: the Great Backyard Bird Count! This annual birdwatching event gathers Citizen Science data from around the world. This year’s event runs from February 13th to 16th, and the birds need YOU to participate! All you have to do is observe your backyard birds for 15 minutes, submit your observations online, and… that’s it! Visit birdcount.org to get all the details.

Even when the weather outside is frightful, opportunities abound to start practicing your birding. Books, online resources, backyard birdfeeders, and indoor viewing areas are all great ways to get your feet wet – without getting them cold. If you take time now to learn some fundamental birding skills and strategies, you’ll be ready to hit the boardwalk running when spring migration arrives… and maybe to start using that “b-word” too!

A bird field guide, pencils, binoculars - winter birding materials.

Camped out at an indoor viewing window with all the birding necessities: field guide, pencils and eraser, notebook, and binoculars.

Recommended reading and watching:

One bird, two bird, three b– wait, is that Bird One again?

I’ve always taken notes while birding. These started as personal asides (my blog’s title should betray my tendency to inject romanticism into all), only recording species if they were surprising. I reported peculiarities to eBird, because I thought that’s what eBird was looking for. As a bonus, curiosities are usually easy to count: One. Boom.

But this isn’t the most valuable data. Birds face a grave opponent in climate change, and researchers need to know where species as wholes are found. Vagrant individuals travel heroic distances; while awesome to behold, they generally don’t indicate trends applicable to their entire species. They’re usually outliers, in the most basic statistical sense of the term. It’s the “Usual Suspects,” in all their abundant glory, who betray larger geographical and temporal shifts.

After this concept “clicked” in my bird brain, I began taking more detailed, quantitative notes, trying to record every species. I report lists to eBird as often as I can, and I’d love to do so more. There’s just one thing standing in my way. When I’m dealing with a common species, seen by the dozens, maybe even hundreds, over one birding session…

How the heck am I supposed to actually count these things?

Last week I had a great sit at an indoor viewing area, where I was treated to a huge turnout. I jotted a list of species I saw, and began frantically making hash marks. Initially, I had a system. I’d start with the first species on my list, tally the individuals I could see at that moment, then move to the next species and tally; when I got to the end of the list, I’d return to the first species and start again, adding to the previous tally. Repeat ad nauseam. (Literally. This sometimes makes me nauseous.)

As you may have guessed, this system rapidly collapsed. I was counting cardinals when — Oh! Is that a red-winged blackbird? He’s not on my list yet! Let me write him down… okay… where was I? Cardinals? Or was it titmice? Now who did I count already? Sit still! Were you there the last time I counted, or are you new? Did I skip goldfinches this round? Let me go back to — Oh, wow, a white-throated sparrow! Great, got him. Okay, hang on, did I see you already?

I was left with a list of species and some idea of their relative abundances. I have no idea just how accurate my crazed tallies are. How am I to know if each individual is a new arrival, or has already been tallied? What of those who land, depart, then return some time later? More importantly, does it matter? Does eBird have a resident Dark Wizard of Statistics who recites a mathematical incantation and makes all these inaccuracies smooth themselves over?

A historical depiction of either witchcraft or eBird birding statistics

I’ve never actually taken a statistics class, but this is how I imagine them.

We all know that birds don’t comply with our silly requests, and they seem to hate being counted for some reason. I really want to contribute meaningful data to eBird. So riddle me this: how can I get the most accurate abundance data I can, being only one human with one pencil and two eyeballs?

That wasn’t a rhetorical question, reader. I would like YOUR best tips and tricks, schemes and strategies, and methods to manage the madness of overwhelmingly numerous flocks. How do YOU do it? Please share your advice in the comments. In a way, given the immeasurable value of Citizen Science data… the future of our birds depends on it!

UPDATE! The good folks at eBird have published a couple of helpful articles on the art of counting birds – check them out! They mostly detail strategies to count large flocks on the move. The techniques described are great, but they weren’t extremely helpful regarding the feeder situation I described above. I’ve emailed eBird suggesting that they expand the series to include feeder strategies.

Love doesn’t keep a Life List

Ah, the elusive “day off.” One of those days that is free of meetings, but best spent addressing loiterers on the ‘ol To-Do List. A day for sweeping floors (all of them), reorganizing bookshelves (I made the Dewey Decimal System look like child’s play), and copious vacuuming (look for my cat hair sweater on etsy). Despite these dull endeavors, my “day off” was far from uneventful. Oh no. Today was full of love and birding.

It was a challenging day for both these items.

I won’t rehash all the details, but I’ll give you the overview; it may sound familiar. A situation agitated me, and instead of confronting my mate, I brooded silently. This allowed an acute annoyance to spiral into overblown doubts about our priorities and values. I ultimately arrived at the unfounded conclusion that our relationship was, in short, doomed.

Amplified emotions drove me to look beyond the situation in question. I found myself combing through the archives of our relationship, subpoenaing any little injustice I could recall from weeks or months gone by. I dragged these out from their quiet resting places into the harsh light of a grumpy day, where they could serve as further evidence to support my wild mind’s ridiculous conclusion.

Well, as usually happens given a little time, I am no longer so emotional. I’m writing this in bed, beside Kristina. We took Stella for a long walk at Maumee Bay State Park; I hoped to glimpse their resident saw-whet owl, but alas, it was too cold for even him. Kristina made a delicious dinner, and despite it being before 9 pm, I feel ready for bed. (I’m picturing a toddler who collapses into deep sleep minutes after a tantrum.)

Before I rest, I wanted to share this experience, and the revelation that bridged the gap between the preceding paragraphs. Somewhere between “she never cleaned out the garbage can three weeks ago” and “what a great lady, let’s watch some Friends and hit the hay,” I recalled an observation made in an old book. With my thoughts lingering on the saw-whet, my brain produced this statement:

Love does not keep a Life List of wrongs.

Listing is for birds, not for every little thing that you have ever found remotely bothersome about your partner. Unless your Life List of Injustices involves serious offenses with grave implications, it is far better kept unlisted. Why? Because just like in birding, every day is a clean slate, and a chance to make a new list – preferably one of happy things, like birds observed, or times your partner made you smile.

Despite having had a mildly standoffish morning, and a rocky start to our Maumee Bay adventure, Kristina was still there to give me her gloves when my hands were cold. She was there to tell me a corny joke when I grew weary. And perhaps most importantly of all, she broke the stony silence between us by asking, “so what color is this bird we’re looking for?”

That “we’re” is what helped me get over myself and my melodrama. She isn’t a birder; she wasn’t there to bird. Despite this, she inquired about the bird that we were looking for. Because even on the hard days, the long days, the emotionally exhausting days… We are a team. And we do much better as a team when we bury our little hatchets and focus on the adventure at hand.

When we dwell on past annoyances, we close our minds to the bright spots that appear all around us, in a  far more important time frame: the present. After all, I would argue that we can only really truly focus, with all of our energy and our emotions and our logic, on one thing at a time. So if we’re stewing over yesterday’s dirty coffee mug, how can we possibly hope to appreciate today’s corny joke?  If you’ve been keeping a mental Life List of Injustices, I encourage you to crumple and toss it, and start keeping a Life List of Happy Moments in its place. I promise you that growing that list is far more rewarding.

Kristina and Stella on a very frigid Maumee Bay State Park walk.

Kristina and Stella on a very frigid Maumee Bay State Park walk.

A brief technological aside.

Hello there, readers! I recently observed a discussion on methods of sharing locations. In this case, GPS coordinates were provided, while somebody requested a street address. I’m sure we can all agree that GPS coordinates are valuable in many contexts and street addresses are valuable in many others, and many people have no problem going beep boop boop BEEP! and converting between the two.

However, some people may not know how to utilize this information. Working at an IT help desk taught me a lot about this. Technology produces wonderful tools, but they can come with steep learning curves! A computer task that seems simplistic to many people may be nigh unsolvable to someone who isn’t so familiar with electronics.

As such, I thought it might be helpful to make a quick tutorial on how to tackle the challenge at hand: taking GPS coordinates, shoving them into the Magic Internet Machine, and making it spit out an address that we can easily navigate to. I took a couple screenshots and tried to make the captions as detailed as possible. If you still have questions, feel free to email me at laurenmccafferty@gmail.com. Check out the photos below!

*Edit: I changed the tutorial to use more public coordinates.

And on the seventh day, I did stuff.

Well, I’m here at last. I’ve messed around with my settings. I’ve changed my theme about two dozen times. I’ve spent an hour cropping photos just so. I’ve opened a word document and brainstormed topics for posts. I’ve done just about everything I can with this blog except… well… blog.

I guess this is as good a topic as any for an inaugural blog post. It might not be about birds, or about love, but that’s okay – not every post will be. Disappointed? Tough acorns! Over to the right, there, you will discover a list of subspecies; I shall dutifully sort my posts into these categories. You can choose to view only those which interest you.

For now, though, I’ll offer a few thoughts on something that may sound simple, but really couldn’t be more complex: doing stuff. Yeah! Stuff! You do it! Well, sometimes you do. Other times, you set out to become a freelance writer, and you establish a nice blog to help that dream along, and you spend six days fiddling with the theme and the photos and the title, and before long you’ve got yourself a very handsome waste of internet space.

I’m not sure why I have found it so daunting. I enjoy writing; I do it all the time. I don’t have writer’s block; like I said, I have plenty of ideas for posts. It’s not as if I haven’t written anything in the six agonizing days that have slipped through my fingers since I established this blog. I’ve written quite a bit, actually.

Just not for other people to see.

Perhaps this is just the process that any Creator of Things goes through, upon embarking on a journey to Create Things. Maybe the intimidation of writing my first blog post is akin to the fright of the musician when he first takes to the stage, or the dread felt by an artist before her first gallery opening. Hey, wait, forget what I said earlier – I’ve thought of something relevant about birding! Perhaps it’s the same feeling a rookie birder gets when she wants to ask a question or make an observation, among a group of more experienced birders or on a birding forum or website, but refrains out of fear for being “wrong.”

Perhaps it is something that lurks inside all of us, to varying degrees: the fear of “putting ourselves out there,” of coming up with something brand new, presenting it to people we love (or people we don’t even know), and seeing it rejected, or mocked, or scoffed at.

This is the key, I think, to rousing ourselves to action. We have to remember that everybody feels this way; whether you are a writer, a musician, an artist, a teacher, a student, or even a birder. Being a rookie at anything is just hard, period. But as intimidating as it may be to think about taking action, inaction almost always carries an enormous weight – one that is unpleasant and even downright painful to bear. So what do we do? We take a deep breath, put on our Big Girl Pants, and just do stuff.

So here I am. I’m doing this blog thing. I hope to become a better writer, to humbly share my oft-scattered thoughts on birding and love and an array of other topics, and to elicit a smile or a chuckle from you, dear reader. It’s a brand new day, and a brand new year! Even if you, like me, have opted not to chisel into a stone tablet some highly specific Resolutions, there is simply no better time to start doing stuff. So pick your stuff and do it!