Archive for the ‘self discovery’ Tag

Looking Back

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. And this past May 19 was the 20th anniversary of her death. I wrote in a recent post, about the unexpectedly emotional response that I had to finding her jacket at the back of my closet, that my grief had evolved beyond needing that physical reminder of her to recall her fondly and reminisce. That’s true. I don’t need an object to remind me of her presence. But pictures, objects she owned, fragrances she wore, even food she liked to cook and eat, are all powerful touchstones for memory. Yet I’m comforted by the fact that I can call up her memory, image, even her words and the sound of her voice, just by thinking about her.

Memory is a fickle thing. For a while there, I wasn’t able to recall her on demand. It scared me a bit and was the source of significant angst for me. My brain would lock up and then start castigating me for my failure. “What kind of daughter are you that you can’t remember your dead mother’s voice!?” My anxiety’s voice is loud and brutal sometimes. But eventually, after intentional effort to both fix her clearly in my mind and to quiet the grief and fear that causes that memory block, I have restored my recall ability.

I think about my mom a lot. Probably more often than I ever expected. Most of the time it’s casual recollections incidental to mundane daily experiences. A particularly juicy bite of tomato in my salad might make me think of the way she so, so enthusiastically enjoyed tomatoes, often eating them like you would an apple (shudder). Or hearing a fragment of an old country song, especially a Marty Robbins or Patsy Cline tune, will make me smile as I remember her singing them as she moved around the house or drove her car. The simple, un-forced recollections of how she was on a day-to-day basis bring me a lot of joy.

Sure, the big, stand-out memories are there. Like the time she appeared in my 7th grade chemistry classroom like an avenging angel to contest an unfair and incorrect grade on a major assignment that my teacher refused to discuss with me. I remember, even today, that while there was fire in her eyes and vigilance in her body language, she retained an impeccable level of calm, civil, professionalism in her voice. That struck me particularly, as my mother was not above raising her voice to get a point across, at least to her children. So that particular example of civil confrontation and negotiation has stayed with me and has had at least as much influence on my own professional demeanor as the negotiation training I received in law school.

Or there’s the numerous memories of her bedside manner when I was sick or injured as a kid. (I was and am a klutz, so these memories are legion.) My mom was a no-nonsense, almost cold medic. When I was in 4th grade and a neighborhood bully yanked me off my bike with a jump rope and the skin on my neck was severely abraded, my mom’s calm, clinical attention in the face of my hysterical, tearful reaction was instrumental in the fast, infection-free healing that followed. But it wasn’t until I was grown and out on my own that I realized that what I thought of with some hurt as her coldness and callous disregard for my suffering was actually her attempt to control her rage and revulsion so that I would freak out less and calm more quickly. Again, she taught me a lot about crisis management that I never would have learned and fully internalized in my book-based management training.

And, of course, there are the more fraught, some might call them traumatic, memories of her in moments of anger and disappointment. My mother could be hard, loud, strict, demanding. When disciplining me, especially with physical correction, I admit that I experienced moments of fear. That was part of the point, I’m sure. But I also remember being sure of myself because of her consistency, knowing what consequences (good and bad) would follow from what types of actions. I never feared that I didn’t know what she’d do or how she’d react. I could count on a firm consistency, even if it was harsh. But I could also count on fairness. I remember getting punished for telling my older brothers where she had stored cookies she’d baked for a church function, when I had done no such thing. And when my mom discovered the truth she apologized and made sure I, in my nascent and burgeoning sense of justice, understood that she had made a mistake because of false information and that she would be sure to do better verifying the facts in future. In that incident I learned that my mom, whom I held in awe, was fallible, but she was honest, fair and accountable to correct her mistakes. It’s easy to describe in this way with my adult brain, experience and vocabulary. As a five year old, all I knew was that my mom admitted a mistake, said sorry, and was careful to not make the same mistake again. That was huge for me then and remains a cherished lesson today.

Her consistency and follow-through really stand out for me and have contributed in material ways to my professional development. For example, she taught me about contract negotiation in high school. When I first learned to drive a car, she strictly enforced a rule prohibiting any other minors in the car while I was driving alone. So when I wanted the right to go out with my friends, we negotiated a written agreement on the subject, setting up milestones that would earn me the right to have friends in my car. She was a stickler, too, checking progress and providing guidance along the way. But when I achieved all prerequisites, she was just as particular in praising my achievements and giving me the privilege I had earned. That trust and accountability played a huge part in my growth and understanding of responsibility and personal integrity and are part of my management style to this day.

I miss my mom. I’d have loved for her to see the kickass house I now own and enjoy her pride in my professional accomplishments. I’d like for her to see that my maturation into, and acceptance of, my gender identity has been an enormous blessing, a freeing of my spirit that I worried as a teen and young adult would never happen. I’d like to know what she would think about so many things in my life and this world today.

But even though I can never be sure of the exact words she would use in those conversations, I am unshakably confident in three messages she’d make sure I received: “I love you”; “I’m proud of you”; and “You can do anything you put your mind to”. Those were the three most common sentences that she said to me in my youth. I took them for granted a lot as I grew up. But I never doubted their truth, then or now. (“Shut the door”; “In or out, but don’t stand in the doorway”; and “Not so loud” all vie for next most common sentences of my youth, for those who wonder. 😉)

Looking back, there are a lot of things about my upbringing that my inner child might wish to improve – our family’s financial position, the frequency and severity of punishment, my dad’s work schedule, among others. But my current adult self knows that, although it was far from perfect, my upbringing was full of blessings for my current life. My parents’ love for and commitment to the welfare of me and my siblings produced a family life that nurtured and educated and comforted and encouraged us to do and be good, to strive for excellence, to help others and give of ourselves.

If I am so fortunate that my family and friends who survive me look back at their time shared with me and see half the good and positive memories that I experience looking back on my time with my mother, I’d count that as a mark of a successful life.

Deliberation

It’s been some time since I posted. Lots of reasons for that, but not the least of them is that I’ve been working on being mindful and deliberate and intentional about what I put out into the universe. It seems to me that the old maxim that you get what you manifest has merit. At least, I don’t know of any use case where harm arose from being mindful and deliberate, nor from visualizing and working toward the desired outcome.

While positivity, gratitude, and kindness have long been a part of my self-discovery and self-improvement journey, I have frequently gotten mired in the negative experiences I’ve encountered and sought comfort, support, validation, and ideas for addressing those experiences, both in conversation and in posts on this blog. And I’ll own that several of my blog posts have amounted to not much more than primal screams into the void for the sole purpose of venting the steam.

Those things are bound to happen from time to time, and my taking note of them in myself is not a commentary, challenge, or criticism of myself or anyone else’s human response to negative stimuli. I just note for myself that, as I think more carefully about what to say in this space, weighing the benefits, if any, of those rants and primal screams is perhaps a better use of my energy than indulging them.

Something I’ve noticed in my private, handwritten journaling practice since the beginning of the pandemic is that my need for ‘out loud’ airing of grievances and external validation of my experience has shifted to a lower order of importance. There might be a lot of factors contributing to that, but the first one that comes to mind is that my brain has promoted dealing with the allostatic load of stress and anxiety bearing on my body and soul to a higher priority than dealing with the emotional need for validation and vindication. That’s a completely unscientific and personally-biased supposition. But it certainly makes sense to me.

Although I actively try to avoid comparing myself to the experience of others, I cannot avoid the knowledge of my privilege in having many aspects of life better than what I observe is true for many of the people I know virtually and in real life. That makes me wary of discussing the very real load of stress I experience from the prolonged isolation and the impact of global unrest and the unrelenting hate, stupidity and callous disregard of human dignity that the current federal administration (and many state administrations) permit and inflict daily. But these things make the pages of my private journal frequently. Thumbing back through the pages of my current notebook, I notice that the recordings of down days, and memorials of sadness at the world’s ugliness, and jottings of my irritation and anger at injustices large and small, local and global, are much more frequent than my notations of positive happenings or of the small, personal things that would have taken much more of my focus in other times.

Correlatedly, looking back through my drafts of potential blog posts, all of my attempts to address those everyday personal subjects seem to die on the vine. I get a few paragraphs in and my brain shouts “Really!? THIS is what you want people to read? This is worth talking about right now?” And then I quit. Because it seems wrong to discuss the mundane and disingenuous to point out the shiny bits in life, when so much is broken and tarnished.

All of that to say that because my private musings have siphoned my inner darkness during these outward dark days, I have been trying to be more choosy in what I say here. Not only do I want to avoid adding to the darkness for others, I want to cultivate a space for my heart and mind to explore positivity and to be open to other possibilities that aren’t focused on the sludge in the world and in my brain.

Unfortunately, my efforts so far have succeeded more in stifling and censoring my voice here, rather than encouraging more varied expression. But perhaps that’s the first step; maybe being quiet instead of saying what doesn’t need to be said, or doesn’t need to be said by me, is the first step to having something meaningful to contribute? I don’t know.

But, I do want you all to know that my silence here is not a signal of apathy or indifference to you or the situation in the world. I just want to make this space a place where personal growth, positivity and kindness are centered. So I’m going to keep practicing my granny’s admonition: don’t say anything until you have something to say. I’m applying that rule with this tweak: don’t post unless what you have to say is worth reading.

Stay well, my friends!

Tidbits and Rage

I can’t think long and critically enough to research and write something substantive. I’m struggling, like so many of you, with the toll this pandemic and the social distancing and isolation has taken on my cognitive acuity. The isolation is necessary, I know. But still…My concentration is shot, my patience is thin, and I’m not sleeping well. So deep thinking about things other than my job is a big deal.

Yet, I have a desire to keep this blog going and have something to say. While the “something to say” may be of dubious value, I am going to do it anyway. In list form. Sort of stream of consciousness-style. Here are ten random things from my head that I want you to know.

⁃ I wore at least one thing rainbow every single day of June.

⁃ The facts on Snapple lids are an incentive for me to stay hydrated.

⁃ Achievement unlocked: I ordered something off eBay and it took so long to arrive (9 weeks!) that I forgot I ordered it, ordered it again several weeks later from another supplier and received it 3 weeks before the first one. 🙄

⁃ I managed to set myself an achievable chore list for every room in my house and completed all but one task in the time I set for myself. I’m feeling proud about that, especially since the one task undone was a last-minute add that was not essential.

⁃ I have discovered, in the process of cleaning out my old house and getting it ready to sell, two Christmas gifts that I received two and three years ago, respectively, that I completely forgot I owned. It was like Christmas all over again!

⁃ I am hopelessly in love with my motorized tie rack. I purchased it for my new dressing room a couple months ago and installed it a couple weeks ago. It’s so freakin’ cool! And it holds every bow tie I wear regularly. There are five bow ties that didn’t make it onto the rack because I never wear them and they’re going in the next batch of donations.

⁃ I got some schmancy new shoelaces from a horribly niche online seller. I’ve installed one pair and am loving them! Can’t wait to try the other pairs in some other boots. This could be my next sartorial addiction!

⁃ It is ridiculous how guilty I feel when I don’t wear a tie for work, even though I’m working from home. I normally do – I’ve been dressing for the office every day as if nothing has changed. But this week has been so blistering hot that even in my comfortably air conditioned home, my dress shirts have felt stifling. And since all my short sleeved shirts are patterned, I’m hesitant to try pairing bow ties with them. Feels like a Butch Fashion Fail.

⁃ I was asked to advise the Crisis Management Team at my work in regards to various issues attending the re-opening of some of our global offices. In the course of the call I had to physically stop myself…seriously, I put a hand over my own mouth…from verbally slapping our head of physical security as he spouted nonsense that he believed was substantive contribution to the discussion. I exercised restraint, I remained courteous, I corrected numerous misstatements of fact and disabused many urban legends masquerading as science. All without jeopardizing my job. I feel like a bona fide adult professional.

⁃ Lastly, I need you all to know, internalize, and live the following pieces of irrefutable truth: science, not pandering to politics or economics, is what will bring this pandemic under control; wearing masks, practicing good hygiene, and maintaining social distancing and isolation save lives and the inconvenience of masks and remote work and distancing is an abysmally poor excuse for sacrificing those lives; racism and racial violence thrive in an environment of ignorance; police brutality is real and killing people daily – yes, even though you know and love someone who is a cop; black, indigenous, and trans lives matter and are being systematically jeopardized, both intentionally by racist, misogynist, patriarchal systems of power, and by the ignorant, would-be eloquent, language of harm, hate and pseudoscience spewed by privileged people with a public platform who choose to persecute difference, rather than embrace and celebrate it; love is love, love wins; and no one is free until we all are free.

Peace, my friends.

Sorrowful, but not idle

Once again, we find ourselves in a fresh wave of violence and upheaval.  I’ve written before how these grotesque surges of hate and vitriol are nearly debilitating – the rage and sorrow and defeat, by turns and often all at once, and accompanied by so many more acutely intense emotions are crushing.  But I know my weariness, stress, anxiety are vastly different from and, in many ways immensely lighter, than that permeating the Black, Indigenous and Trans communities.  There is simply too much going on and too much that needs to change.  It is overwhelming and demoralizing.

But, as the late, black American novelist, James Baldwin, is quoted as saying: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

So, without pretending that I alone can change anything or that what I say is in anyway original or significant, I am compelled to write some things that are on my heart. I write because even though my ways of contributing are small and not as visible as the brave and necessary justice activism taking place in the streets, I can’t risk my black, trans, indigenous, disabled, queer and other marginalized friends thinking that I am silent and idle while they suffer and die.

Here are some things I know:

  • Black lives matter. BLACK LIVES MATTER.  Indigenous lives matter.  Trans lives matter. And don’t, DO NOT, even attempt to come at me with any “all lives matter” bullshit. That over-simplification erases the irrefutable truth that black, indigenous, trans, queer and other lives of marginalized populations are being oppressed and extinguished AS IF THEY DO NOT MATTER by a racist, exclusionary system that disregards their most basic human right: the right to live. And at the pinnacle of this genocide are black lives.  BLACK LIVES MATTER.
  • When working within the system of oppression fails to relieve that oppression, action in the form of protest and uprising is the remaining tool of justice. For those shouting “protest peacefully”, have the integrity to acknowledge that that has been tried and been met not only with dismissal, derision, harassment and scorn, but also with violence by the majority whose position of privilege and power is threatened by being called out for reform. Have the honesty to acknowledge that every BIPOC celebrity and activist who has used their platform to voice the plea to end racism, police brutality and the murder of these black, indigenous and trans humans *WAS* the peaceful protest and call to action that you ignored or didn’t support.
  • DO NOT TELL BLACK PEOPLE, INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, TRANS PEOPLE, OPPRESSED PEOPLE HOW TO MOURN OR PROTEST. Hear their lived experience. Honor their struggle. Support their work.
  • Not everyone, including me, is able to be an activist in the streets. But there are ways to support the fight for justice.  A very quick Google search turned up this article that has links to some programs doing exactly that. https://www.thecut.com/2020/05/george-floyd-protests-how-to-help-where-to-donate.html Another few minutes’ work will turn up other groups or individuals in your particular area or with causes more specifically in line with your values. The point is that you can spread the word, donate if you’re able, make calls, write letters, lend a supportive shoulder and ear. There are ways you can help, even if you don’t have it in you to hit the streets.
  • Privilege in our system of oppression is the root of the evil we’re facing. Very many dimensions of privilege are gained passively, without intention on the part of the person enjoying that privilege. Recognizing it, acknowledging it and working actively on yourself to minimize your adverse impact on others out of your privilege – indeed  to use your privilege to raise others up with you – is also a necessary facet of “facing” the thing that must be changed.  I recently saw the following circulated on one of my social media feeds and it resonated with me on this point, so I updated the first sentence to apply to my identity and shared it. Look at this tragic litany. Examine how you can help those with less privilege.

“I have privilege as a white-passing Latinx person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice about it…

I can go birding (#ChristianCooper).

I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).

I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).

I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).

I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).

I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).

I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).

I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).

I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)

I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).

I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).

I can go to church (#Charleston9).

I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).

I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).

I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).

I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).

I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).

I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).

I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .

I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).

I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).

I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).

I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).

I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).

I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).

I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).

I can run (#WalterScott).

I can breathe (#EricGarner).

I can live (#FreddieGray).

I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED. (#GeorgeFloyd)

White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.

#BlackLivesMatter

**These are NOT human rights if only white people have them.

*I copied and pasted this…please do the same.”

Friends, as painful, exhausting, worrying as it is to engage, to face the situation we find ourselves in, we must, we must, we must do something so that this condition of hate and violence and oppression ends. Please, find a way to add to the solution, not the oppression.  Silence in the face of oppression puts you on the side of the oppressors. My donations, my boosting the signal, my imperfect, timid and yet no-less fervid discussions with those who would shout down the message, these are some of my ways of standing in solidarity with all black, trans, indigenous, queer, disabled, and otherwise marginalized people who are living under and fighting oppression. To all of them I say: I see you, I honor you, I mourn with you, I stand with you.

Letting Go

I’ve been slowly working on my old house. I moved into my new one in December and have been doing a slow-rolling move. I’m extremely privileged to have gotten a very favorable financing package that makes this possible. And the slow, deliberate and intentional process of moving only what we want into our new home has been very satisfying. But there are moments when choosing between keep or donate or toss is very difficult.

I took a couple of extra days off bracketing this holiday weekend to do more of the culling and sorting over there. I’m feeling very accomplished at having completed that chore for all my personal places and belongings there. But today, especially, as I emptied the last corner of my old closet, the nostalgia hit very hard and made the chore even more difficult than the dust and tedium.

Filling up the donation bags with the very last of my “girl” clothes was surprisingly wrenching. Though I haven’t worn any of them in a decade, haven’t even purchased an article of clothing designed for “women” in at least that long, it still felt surprisingly odd…risky, even…to let go of that last vestige of my heteronormative presentation. A tiny voice of doubt sounded in my mind as I stuffed that last blouse into the bag: “What if you need to look like a girl for once, how will you do that with no clothes?” It’s just fear talking, I know. But it was there and powerful for a moment. But as soon as I tied off that last bag, I felt the fear release and knew I’d be fine.

Letting go of things is remarkably difficult sometimes, for me at least. The emotional attachment to physical things that makes getting rid of them is so frustrating and absurd. Sometimes it’s comical, like the twinge of guilt when donating a thing that was a gift from a relative and the tiny spark of fear that they’ll ask me where it is the next time they come to my house. Never mind that they’re almost certainly never going to visit or think to ask about some trinket from years ago last Christmas. 🙄

Sometimes it’s a little bit sad, maybe a little bit…lonely isn’t the right word, but close. Today, one of the hardest things to put in the donation bag was a jacket my mom used to wear all the time. I had kept it the first year after she passed as a means of keeping her close. Eventually, the lingering scent of her perfume and my need to touch its soft sleeve to reconnect with her memory faded. Then I kept it out of loyalty and habit, but I no longer needed it’s security to keep her memory near and it got pushed back into the corner of my closet to emerge for the first time today. As I held it, I knew it no longer served a meaningful purpose as a reminder of her. Her memory is in me now and I don’t need her jacket for that. Letting go of that physical thing was hard, but not nearly as hard as I expected. Twenty years after her passing, I’m finally able to hang onto her in my heart without need of her things to ground me. Hopefully someone else will put it to use.

Now that I’ve gone through all my possessions, donating a huge portion of what I’d accumulated over the 17 years living in that house, I have an appreciation for the relief and peace that comes from letting go of what no longer serves me. There’s an obvious parallel lesson for the emotional, psychological self improvement work I’ve been doing for so long. But without getting too far into the woo and feels, it’s enough to feel good about applying that lesson to just the physical possessions.

Letting go of surplus things is a huge relief. I like to believe that I’ve been selective about it, donating only things that are clean, in good repair and having residual value and utility. That feels good and right. So does trashing the things that are broken or soiled and have no value. Again, some obvious applications to the spirit and emotional being, but it’s enough to focus on the benefits of letting go of the tangible rubbish.

Letting go of what I don’t need is good for my brain, heart, and spirit. I highly recommend it to anyone. I hope you find your own way to that conclusion.

Even Introverts Need Connection

I spoke with my boss today. That’s not unusual; since the work from home started in early March, we check in with each other once or twice a week, usually. He’s been busy the last few weeks and our contact has been very minimal. That, plus my innate anxiety and a mounting sense of isolation all combined into a very rough and anxious last three weeks.

Something I’ve discovered about myself in the last decade, as my rank and responsibilities increased and my day-to-day tasks have changed to more strategic and less tactical, is that I am smartest, happiest and most productive when I have plenty of intellectual and professional challenges. I don’t do well with boredom or lulls in the workflow.

That’s not a humblebrag or self-congratulatory boast. It’s plain fact.

When I don’t have enough substantive, challenging, engaging work to do, my brain starts playing Stupid Brain Tricks (Copyright 2020 Dr. Hanne Blank), including filling in the silence with all kinds of harsh, unkind, angst-driven words and images about how they don’t really need me, I’m not really suited for this job, I’m useless, they’d save money and aggravation if they got rid of me, etc. Keeping busy with substantive contribution is much better for me, mentally, physically, and professionally.

So when I spoke to my boss, I took my courage in my hands and told him that I was anxious at the lack of communication, the lull of projects and the prolonged distance from my team. He was very supportive and reassuring. He explained the communication dip and asked me to do a few things for him, confirming what I already knew intellectually: stupid brain tricks are stupid.

It’s a good result and I feel better for airing my concerns. But it’s also symptomatic of a more pervasive and surprising situation: despite being a confirmed introvert and established curmudgeon, I seem to be suffering from a lack of social interaction. Yep, that thing I’ve dreaded and avoided with energy for nearly all my adult life, turns out to be something I need regardless of my aversion. Deprived all but a couple of hours a day, morning and evening when my brother and his wife are home, of in-person human contact, I’m astonished to find myself craving interpersonal connection.

A work friend and fellow introvert had a theory: The sparse, safe, surface-level interactions that we get incidentally during formerly-normal workday contacts around the office are enough to fill up the average introvert’s contact meter and drain the socializing batteries, so that going home each evening is the respite we usually need to recharge those socialization batteries. But this work from home would-be nirvana isn’t the introvert’s paradise we expected to be because even introverts need human interaction to slake the primal pack-animal within’s need for human contact.

That’s a lot of mixed metaphors to say that even introverts will suffer withdrawals from prolonged isolation.

I think that’s where I’m at.

No, I don’t advocate ending the lockdown just to soothe socialization withdrawals. There’s too much good science showing that continued distancing is our surest way to halting community spread and for protecting the vulnerable and at-risk populations. But I can’t ignore the effect it’s having on my spirit.

Virtual meetings and text conversations are not filling that socialization void for me. Spending time with my brother and his wife helps some, but they have a small business that they work very hard to maintain through all of this, so their time for socializing is sparse.

There likely isn’t a solution right now. It’s just another facet of life as we know it that has to adapt to changed circumstances. I just find it fascinating that a situation that seems tailor-made for introverts is turning out to be proof of the old adage: sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

On Experiments and Shameful Haircuts

It’s been my months since I last posted here. I stopped for a bunch of reasons, but a big motivator was an experiment I described here in an earlier post, designed to re-spark my creative writing and get me past a block: I committed to writing by hand every day, with no other requirements, such as subject or word count. Just write. On paper and by hand. Use the new sensations and neural pathways to find a new way to my writing voice.

Luckily for me, a dear friend gifted me a beautiful, leather-bound journal at just about the time I began my hand-writing adventure. I’ve been very diligent about daily writing, catching up on the rare occasion when I missed. The experiment was to last 30 consecutive days.

Then the whole world imploded on many fronts, and it’s been way more than a month since I started writing and well over 40 days since quarantine started. So I’ve had ample time to write and judge the success of the experiment.

In absolute terms – did writing by hand break my writer’s block – the experiment was not successful. I have not written more creatively. My daily writing has resulted in a fairly transparent view into my inner mind, a recording of thoughts, feelings, hopes and disappointments. It’s basically only a journal, a dumping ground for emotional angst and frustration. No story ideas or character sketches or puzzling through plots. Just a journal.

But in less absolute terms – did writing by hand improve any part of my writing practice – I think I am saying yes. That’s very tentative and unhelpful, I know. But it’s genuine.

While I continue to work from home, struggling to maintain my professional habits of dressing for work daily, keeping my work in my home office and separate from the life lived in the other rooms in my house, eating normally, making my brain focus on things other than the ongoing darkness in the outside world, and maintaining a work ethic that meets my personal standards of integrity, I have also been focusing on this little self-improvement project. That, in and of itself, is a success. But more than that, the slow, methodical, incremental building-up of a writing habit is progress.

So, tentative and unsure though I am, I’m saying the experiment has produced positive results. Not the precise result I was hoping for, but positive nonetheless.

All that is good and hopeful and enough for a first post back after a long hiatus. But, surprisingly, it’s not what I came here to say today. It’s just the not-really-connected-to-anything preamble my brain required me to post before getting to what’s really on my mind. (You see, it would be rude to just jump in after so long a time away and not give an update on the intervening time. Ahem.)

There is so, so much that needs to get out of me. So many thoughts and fears. A lot of what I’ve been writing in my journal siphons off most of what builds up each day, relieving the pressure, lowering the stress load down to the manageable constant that I’ve learned to tolerate. But that static load, which sits somewhere around mid-chest, is a highly concentrated mix of dueling emotions: determination and despair; professional/personal integrity and inertia; confidence, and worry; doubt and hope; contentment and anxiety; weariness and energy; peace and rage. Having built up over the whole of my life (probably very little added from a blessedly peaceful childhood, but it’s momentum and density spiking through adolescence and steamrollering through my twenties, then settling into a steadily increasing annual build through my early forties and then hitting an irregular pattern of powerful peaks and valleys for the last eight-ish years, this emotional stew has become viscous, dense and salty, and in dire need of dilution.

Yet I have a huge dread of trying to drain that sludge away. Part of that reluctance is fear that doing so will have seismic consequences I cannot predict or remedy. That’s a normal, even healthy, fear of the unknown and I’m not overly concerned about it. I overcome that all the time to do what needs doing and usually it works out fine. But the bigger part of that hesitation to deal with my internal dusty corners is plain ol’ shame.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Don’t really know what triggered the line of thought, but it’s occupied a lot of my thinking the last several weeks. Knowing that I had something internal to deal with, feeling the nudge from my…conscience? internal saboteur? inner child? guardian angel?…I’ve been letting the thoughts percolate, run their course, not trying to direct or control, just seeing where they take me. Time and again, these periods of contemplation lead to the same topic: shame.

It appears in many and varied forms. It’s definitely an automatic response to being in any way inferior to a perceived standard, disappointing to others, or less than what my brain and spirit expect me to be in any given circumstance. That’s my brain indicting me from within.

But shame is also, often, an imposed judgment from the world without, a conditioned response to the expectations from other individuals and society as a whole. Recognizing that distinction, knowing and feeling and tasting that separation of the origin of the shame when it descends, is both bewildering and comforting. I struggle to understand how my brain and body can react so strongly to that externally imposed judgment, while at the same time taking comfort in knowing that my shame isn’t a result of failing one of my own internal standards. It’s an odd mixture and can be very disorienting.

And the nature of shame, that the human spirit can and does flag and wither and recede at the emotional umbrage of another being even though no physical blow falls, is so startling and bizarre.

Of course, I have no answers, no solutions to the puzzle that is bound so tightly to the human condition. I don’t know that there is a single explanation for what shame is and how it functions in every person and each manifestation of society. That’s a unicorn that defies every corral and attempted capture.

But one tiny thought has occurred to me repeatedly in all these weeks of contemplating shame: hiding, concealing it feeds its eldritch power, but exposure crushes it.

Just like any other bully, shame withers in the face of bravery. Bravery, to face the consequences, to challenge the indictment and to own the truth of whatever triggered the shame in the first place, that’s what cools the blushing cheeks and straightens the drooping shoulders.

That’s all lovely and poetic. Warm-fuzzy and esoteric. But what is the practical lesson? For me, I determined after all this thinking that action is needed. If feelings of shame are showing up for no good reason, then I need to do something to cut off that train of thought, because it’s not healthful, helpful, or productive.

Because, not to brag or anything, I’m a pretty good person who’s actions and words are pretty consistently good. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I’m wrong on occasion. But nothing in my life, actions, ideology or beliefs is inherently worthy of shame. So if shame is happening, it’s that imposed variety that is designed to control, force me into a box or pattern that I don’t fit. It’s a foreign antibody that needs to be wrapped up, contained and rejected.

So I committed to myself, upon reaching this conclusion, that the only way to accomplish this eradication is to face the temporary embarrassment and disappointment of the people or organizations (or imagined boogeymen) that are the source of this shame and own-up to it. Don’t hide. Own the decision or action or belief that’s attached to this germ of shame. The sting is thus made temporary and less severe. It’s no longer a lasting ache. Because nothing intense can be sustained interminably. And for me, shame is always intense. So, my logic goes: by ripping off the bandage, the discomfort spikes then fades, rather than growing into a lasting pain. The next time, I promised myself, I felt that foreign-imposed shame and was tempted to bury it, I’d instead own it, be transparent and let the judgment happen.

That’s why I’m here to admit that I got a haircut yesterday. It’s a really great haircut too. I’m not ashamed of what it looks like. No, the shame that settled over me from the moment I determined to do it is about getting the cut at all, not about what I look like with it.

You see, in this mid-pandemic era where our government is headed by a psychotic, sociopathic, pathologically lying imbecile who actively and intentionally causes death and suffering for his own benefit, there is pervasive and virulent public sentiment that doing anything outside of the home is dangerous, selfish, and evil. Even with precautions and care taken to protect everyone involved in the transaction, there’s this overwhelming opinion that doing something for yourself is tantamount to murder.

Now, I’m not here to start a political or philosophical debate on the wisdom of “reopening” or its timing. My comments here are not advocacy of any school of thought on that subject. And I’m not entertaining any advice or commentary on the choices I made or make for my own wellbeing. But I am here to admit that I took advantage of my state’s choice to begin reopening and, masked and sanitized and extraordinarily cautiously in a one-on-one setting, had my hair cut for the first time in nearly two months.

Where’s the shame in that and why are you making such a big deal about it, you ask? Here’s how it breaks down in my head:

Hair growth is an annoyance, not an emergency. Emergency is the only acceptable reason for breaking containment. Your personal discomfort is not a valid reason to risk contagion.

Ostensibly, this is a tidy, compelling basis for the judgment I have felt pressing in on me since before I even stepped outside my door yesterday afternoon. It centers others’ health and safety and risk mitigation over selfishness and frivolity. That’s a reasonable balancing of interests. Or it would be, if those characterizations were valid.

But that’s the trick. What’s valid? How is it measured? Who’s the arbiter of validity?

There are standards for parts of it, sure. But it’s not as clear, easy, binary as it’s made out to be. We’ve been using a standard of physical precautions (masks, gloves, sanitizer, distance, and restricted numbers in a gathering) for activity outside the home through this ordeal. We’ve collectively agreed on that standard. And my state’s government has lifted the restrictions that made certain activities impossible for a time, which is also a type of standard.

But there isn’t a uniform standard on what is essential versus frivolous. There are competing interests in making that determination. Every person has a different experience of need versus want. What is “not worth the risk” for me, might be irrefutably necessary for you. Where a person is, personally, on any given point of contention matters a lot in determining the level of necessity.

But if each of us applies the same standards to the bits that aren’t variables (i.e. the physical safety precautions), there is a degree of stability and safety in each of us making the choice that’s best for us in the circumstances. It’s not perfect or foolproof. Nothing in life is.

So, that’s what I did. I decided that the precautions that my stylist and I took matched the level of safety we’ve all agreed is appropriate for other activities outside of my house. I also decided that my mental state (the identity-impacting dissonance of the length and curliness of my hair) is as valid a reason to leave my house as a physical need (to purchase food or get medicine). Those decisions were mine, for and about me, and are in no way a commentary on anyone else or the decisions they make for themselves.

I felt the pressure of presumed judgment and the resulting shame from the moment I decided to do it. I know that certain people in my life regard my choice as foolish, even dangerous. Some people will think my action selfish and be disappointed that I didn’t suck it up, suffer in silence for the good of anonymous others.

I own that. Serving my personal interest was, definitionally, self-serving. But it wasn’t selfish in the sense that I intentionally hurt someone else for the sake of personal gain. So I’m going to reject the shame in this case.

Wow, that was a lot of words to say: hey, I got a haircut during the pandemic and I’m not sorry.

But sometimes processing feelings is messy and long-winded. It’s necessary, though. And for me, in this instance, it needed to be ‘out loud’ and in the open. Because shame is secretive and in the shadows, any cure has to be in the light. That’s what I’m doing.

I sincerely hope you all are safe and well and taking precautions to maintain that for yourselves and those around you. And I hope you’re choosing for yourselves which battles to fight. For me, that’s un-earned shame. For you it might be something else. But whatever it is, I hope you have a good fight and succeed in every skirmish.

Meandering Thoughts

Here are some vaguely-related things that have been on my mind lately:

  1. Silence is inestimably valuable and wonderfully versatile. Silence creates space. Space in which to think and breathe and be still. Space for new emotion, new words, no words, and new silence to provide relief and meaning. Silence can soothe and help heal the hurts of a rough day. But silence can also be sharp or unsettling, and can just as easily agitate as placate. But the loaded, heavy, weaponized silence – whether used in battle between two people or just between a person and her own brain – is something to be avoided.
  2. It’s sometimes very hard to resist the temptation of feeling that you are owed someone’s time and energy. But remembering, consciously reminding yourself, that that person (regardless of what your relationship with them might be) doesn’t owe you their time, attention, energy or regard, makes receiving those things from them all the sweeter.
  3. Remaining intentionally and actively, mindfully positive is a challenge at the best of times. It’s rewards are many and varied. But when there are long, gloomy, cold days and lassitude seems to outweigh initiative and imagination, active, intentional positivity can seem an impossible task.
  4. The pace by which thoughts, emotions, connections build and reform is sometimes staggering. I’ve written before about how my brain tends to connect (sometimes conflates) certain ideas or events or emotions or experiences and then stubbornly refuses to revise or release those connections. That doesn’t seem to be the way a lot of other people think or the way the world at large works. So the dizzying pace of change all around me can seem overwhelming. I often feel like an anachronism, that I’m falling behind, or that I’m too slow and clunky for the world around me. That’s part of why I work so hard at positivity. I want to at least be a bright spot in the world if I can’t be the most modern or interesting.
  5. There is beauty in the chaotic, fractal, irregularity of bare tree branches in relief against a snowy field or overcast sky. I find myself looking out my office window at the nearly monochrome winter landscape, white snow melding into white clouds at the horizon, interrupted only by black tree branches weaving lacy patterns in undulating patches here and there. Sometimes I think if I watch long enough the wisdom they’ve encoded in their branches might reveal itself to me.

#nocontextforyou

New year, new approach to posting to this blog. I hinted in posts a few weeks ago that perhaps the purpose this blog serves in my life is evolving and that I might not need or want to be so regimented in what, how and when I add posts here. Since then, I have all but convinced myself that assessment is accurate and a change is in order.

What that change entails, its scope, and how it manifests may evolve over time. But the immediate change, likely only I will notice, is that I’m letting go of the revered weekly posting goal. I think it served its purpose and I’m happy that I was able to maintain that streak for basically the whole of last year. But the psychic pressure that has put on me is beginning to outweigh the benefits that I saw from maintaining that discipline. So, if it happens weekly, all to the good. But I’m shifting my focus to being more deliberate about posting things that have meaning for me, even if that meaning isn’t obvious to anyone else.

Apropos of that, I’m making my first 2020 post a no-context list of thoughts that are loosely related to each other and very closely tied to what’s been most on my mind the last few weeks.

In no particular order of which I’m aware:

⁃ “But in that stubborn, nearly irrational way that liars often refuse to lie to themselves, my brain, so full of lying anxiety readily dispensed in cruelty, refuses to tell me comforting lies about how safety can be achieved. Instead, still out of cruelty, it bludgeons me with the harsh truth that safety is unreachable, has dropped beyond the horizon and the only remaining path is forward through the perils.”

⁃ Sometimes perilous things are exceedingly pleasant and enjoyable.

⁃ A broad, richly detailed and imaginative vocabulary is an exceedingly beautiful thing.

⁃ Those things…or that person…that randomly pops into your mind, that instantly refocuses your attention whenever encountered, that so fully possesses your imagination and consumes your consciousness that you lose track of time? That’s your passion. Pursue it, even if you might fail. Even if failure is certain. It’s the pursuit that matters.

⁃ Rancid brain-weasels don’t deserve your attention. “Stomp them” mercilessly, as I have recently been wisely advised. Preferably while wearing some devastatingly stylish “stompy boots”! Codicil: stomping brain weasels for a friend is a kindness and a mercy.

⁃ There are few things in this life more satisfying than letters from a smart, witty, incisive, and honest correspondent.

⁃ Making room for mystery and magic in your life is never wasted effort.

⁃ Sharing your view of a colorful sky and sitting quiet and still together is among the best kinds of comfort you can find in another’s companionship, even from afar.

Portents

Sometimes there really are coincidences and inexplicable juxtapositioning of separate things in life. Not every seeming pattern is actually a pattern or a sign from the universe, spirits, ancestors, angels or demons that may have the ability to communicate such things.

And sometimes they are.

Lately, over the last several months at least, I have seen an uptick in the frequency with which I have encountered certain phenomena, most especially in the frequency of the feeling of anticipation, of something impending, coming my way.

With most feelings and phenomena, the over- or under-tones they bear can fall anywhere on a spectrum from wildly hopeful and positive to abysmally bleak and dreadful. This feeling of pendency, of possibility and opportunity is mostly hopeful and positive. Occasionally, it acquires an ominous flavor of apprehension, presentiment, augury and foreboding. Other times it’s somewhere in the middle resonance, tasting of expectancy, chance, suspension, and promise. And at still other times the prickly, eerie aura of divination, foreshadowing, premonition and prophesy are most prominent.

But at all times in this recent surge of this anxious foretelling is a strong sense that every instance of it is a genuine portent of things to come.

I struggle mightily with this, as my logical, linear-thinking brain has no framework of scientific analysis in which place this phenomena to satisfactorily explain this possibility. While I am not so arrogant as to believe that I know all that is knowable about analysis and examination, I have ample evidence that my application of these fundamental cognitive tools is usually effective and accurate. So, when faced with the inexplicable, my inquisitive mind fritzes over its thwarted desire to explain the why and how of a thing.

Indeed, in the last 48+ hours I have confronted two very big and significant portents that have had my guts and grey cells tied in knots trying to rationalize the utterly irrational, as well as internalize the surprisingly rational. In particular, my instinct to uncover the logistics of how these things might come to pass has occupied many hours and much of my energy that I would otherwise have spent sleeping or in more productive pursuits.

Working through some of these puzzles with friends, I’m challenged by the repeated advice to let go of the “how”, the “why”, the urge to control logistical outcomes, and simply trust that the universe will bring about what is meant to be. I have been reminded by multiple sources that it is faith, and not logic, that is the ideal tool for dealing with this impending advent. Scraps of scripture learned in my youth concerning the nature of faith…substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen…are on infinite loop playback in my head. And the war between logic and faith, will and willingness, rages in my chest.

I wonder if that isn’t the ultimate, meta portent? What if the pattern of prescient contemplation is not only a tool to prepare for whatever is coming, but is also the substance of the impending revelation. If the universe wants me to see that the logic and reason I treasure and rely on is not a pathway but an obstacle, what better way to show me than by filling my life with phenomena immune to logic and only discoverable by faith?

That’s some epic, angsty, emo, existential crisis-driven fever dream right there.

Maybe I should just stop looking for patterns and methods and answers and explanations. Maybe being “blown about by every wind of change” is the best policy – going with the flow, as it were. But I don’t know how to do that, either.

So what’s left? If logic is unavailing and extracting the how and why of something impedes the advent of the portent, yet passively floating from swell to swell on the ocean of chance is not possible, what’s next? Is it simply doing nothing?

Can anything that results from such a process have lasting value? Will whatever emerges from such inactivity be salubrious, nourishing? Doesn’t the lack of effort to bring about the outcome necessarily diminish it? Does accepting such a windfall call into question my personal standard of ethics and integrity?

All these questions arise from the values with which I was reared, and they are evidence of the challenge to these values that this policy of inaction incites. I don’t have answers. I suspect they cannot be answered this side of the outcome being realized.

Which begs the question: Can I perform this experiment, sticking it out until the end, or will I retreat to the safety of my illusion of control and forego the chance to know the outcome?

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