Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

On the lighter side

I’ve been venting a lot lately. It has been necessary and life-preserving. But I don’t want to always be negative; positivity and self improvement remain my goals.

So, in the spirit of reframing the negative and finding silver linings, here’s a short list of the glimmerings out of the muck from this week.

  1. Starting with the least-shiny of the linings…maybe pewter instead of silver: The workplace politics has found an uneasy level for a while, and I and my team aren’t in the crosshairs for now. Hopefully the worst is over. There will be more upheaval in a couple weeks, but at least it will likely be short-lived and mostly in someone else’s organization. That’s not the brightest or happiest outlook, but it’s not entirely dark and depressing, either. Taking what little good I can from all of the bad.
  2. In that same spirit – of finding something good in the barrel of muck – I was glad to get to contribute to a project today that has the potential to bring about good change. My boss asked me to collaborate with him on a strategy and innovation project. It was one of those think-tank type of logic problems. The board and CEO chose a current-fad business method/pop-sci kind of book and gave the executive leadership the assignment to devise an actionable, yet big-bet/blue-sky idea to spark growth or market transformation. Using the concepts in the book that combine freeing the mind from current paradigm restrictions with the facets of current-form success (i.e. the things we do best today), we were supposed to strategize a way for our established company to provide new solutions to solve customer pain points. Essentially, we needed to suggest ways to reinvent or transform our current strengths to adapt to novel problems or to provide new approaches to existing problems. It was all logic, thinking, head-work with cooperative discussion and brainstorming with my boss. It felt really good to use my brain in a non-emotional, non-political, non-reactionary problem-solving effort. And I came up with some really good observations, insights and ideas. I’m proud of myself and of my work today.
  3. Finally, I is (apparently) International Selfie Day and several of the groups and lists I belong to on Facebook were full of fun, interesting, cute and clever pictures of an amazing variety of queer people celebrating their uniqueness and individual beauty. I was so uplifted to see so many folks overcome their shyness and insecurities to post pictures of themselves in clothing and settings and situations that made them feel good and confident and accepted. Not everyone is a glamorous beauty queen or a handsome star or a gorgeous specimen of humanity. But each picture I saw showed courage and confidence and a love of self that makes me glad to be a part of this community.

Happy Summer Solstice and a good Friday night to all. I hope your weekend is full of sunshine and ease and time enough to enjoy the little things that make life worthwhile.

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Confusion

A couple of thoughts have been rattling around in my head for weeks. Both are points of puzzlement, confusion for me. They are somewhat related and arise from different aspects of a single character trait (flaw?) that runs strong within me: impostor syndrome or unworthiness.

First, I’m puzzled about what value, if any, people find in remote gestures or words of support or encouragement. All the “sending hugs” and “you deserve [love/happiness/reward/whatever]” messages from strangers seem so trite and meaningless. Memes, in particular, that seem to be increasingly frequent in my social media feeds, strike me as worse than useless. They seem insincere and hollow, providing weak yet easy and comfortable imitation of genuine care and emotional investment. Their inherent brevity leaves so much scope for misunderstanding, too much room for doubt and skepticism to creep in and cause the meaning to get twisted and underlying intentions to be questioned.

For example, I saw this one earlier today: “Stay positive! The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude. ~ Dennis S. Brown”. Now, I don’t know who that author is or anything about their circumstances or thought processes that lead to this opinion, but there are some fairly obvious flaws in this so-called advice that, for me, not only make the advice functionality inert but also make it actively harmful on a psychological and emotional level.

First, blaming someone for feeling whatever it is they’re feeling, telling them they’re the cause of it, is almost never constructive, healing, or encouraging. Instead, it engenders shame and feelings of inadequacy.

Second, there are myriad reasons why a day can be objectively “bad” that have nothing to do with the attitude of the person experiencing the suck. My great attitude, bubbly good cheer and big smile, or lack thereof, on any given occasion cannot possibly be rationally identified as the cause or catalyst, say, of slipping on the ice, falling and breaking my wrist. I assure you, that would make it a very bad day, no matter how positive I can stay through the throbbing pain.

My point is that these trite but pithy oversimplifications can be eye catching emotional candy, but they can never substitute for the deeply nourishing fare found in deeper contemplation and discourse on the root causes of whatever is being grappled with.

I just struggle to reconcile the shiny, simple messages with lived experiences. Too much sweetness in words from a stranger behind a screen not only makes me suspicious of the motive, but also makes me shrink back from the endearments and placations because “it cannot possibly be meant for me, they don’t even know me!” In my head, the remoteness of the sender and the intensity of the emotion conveyed place that message in a category of kindness or feeling reserved for others. My brain says I don’t deserve that, for whatever reason. So the value of those memes and messages is lost on me.

The second confusing thing, closely related, is why it’s so hard to take a compliment at face value when it’s rendered online, even when it’s about you specifically, not a meme, and given by someone you know IRL. There’s something too easy about it, too slick and pat, when it’s a text or email or online post. I mean, I find IRL compliments hard to take too, but for entirely different reasons. When someone is facing you in the same room, having to see you and be seen by you, the things said tend to be (or at least feel) more real and are easier to evaluate for trustworthiness. Even if you decide you don’t believe it, having the face to face experience of it makes it feel less fake.

Both of these thoughts have been chasing each other around my brain, leaving me confused and wondering. Ultimately, I wonder why we, as a society, are rushing so fast and steadily into a future where we’re isolated from one another, living vicariously through our screens, when that remote interaction makes us feel less secure, less happy, less genuine?

Maybe I’m the only one who feels that way.

Miscellany

I’ve started to write this post four times, scrapping all of them for various reasons, including that they were all too boring and too negative. I’m not gonna let negativity win. So here are some miscellaneous bits of stuff that I feel like I want you to know and which are all mildly positive.

  1. Spring seems to have arrived, finally. All the snow has melted, it has been above freezing for over a week, and today I didn’t even wear a jacket. The grass on my lawn is beginning to green and three tulip shoots broke ground in the flower bed around the pear tree in my front yard. 😎🌷☀️
  2. Captain Marvel rocks!
  3. I have written over 2,000 words on a new story in the week.
  4. I had my first ramen bar experience and loved it. Admittedly, I kept my topping selections on the tame side. But I liked the whole thing and successfully finished my meal using only chopsticks without any embarrassing slurps or splashes and without wearing any of the broth.
  5. Bonus: I navigated a networking opportunity, meeting professional colleagues and maintaining engaging conversation without panicking or boring anyone to the point of fleeing from me. I regard this as a milestone achievement.

Stream of Consciousness

I’ve been wracking my brain for a blog post for days. I have a draft 3/4 done on some deep-thoughts kind of stuff, but it’s not ready to post and I’m not ready to share those thoughts yet. But I’m feeling the pressure of my goals to post something. So here are some random things, none earth-shattering in their brilliance or insight, but all floating in my head and fighting to get out. So, enjoy this peek into the sausage-grinder:

  • The intensity with which I can empathize and connect with fictional characters can be frightening. Especially when juxtaposed with the struggle I sometimes have with connecting with people in real life.
  • The world outside my office window is shockingly monochrome today, after five fresh inches of snow. But instead of looking like a wonderland, the white and gray just looks dreary.
  • I’m beginning to dread silence. It leaves too much opportunity to hear things…thoughts and voices…that speak uncomfortably loud truths the mind wishes to ignore.
  • Good shoes – sturdy, comfortable, supportive, stylish, reflecting the wearer’s personality – are worth investing in.
  • Social media is a new dimension of human experience that might have been better never invented. Addictive and yet inherently false, deceptive, I count it among the most caustic maladies afflicting humanity.
  • Editing, cutting out the words you labored to compose into a precise expression of the story you want to tell, is freaking hard, man!
  • Have you ever paid attention, consciously monitoring how often you sigh during a given day? I bet you’d be shocked at the number if you counted.

Finite Incantatum

Well…not quite as magical as Harry & Hermione & Ron and all that. But pretty dang magical to me. And I’m happy to call it done.

I finished the first draft of my first novel!!

Again, I may never publish it, but I set a goal and achieved it. I completed writing a novel before my 50th birthday. I successfully moved an idea from glimmer of thought to fully realized story all by myself. It went from nothing to something through my intellectual and emotional labor.

To me, that’s an achievement, and I’m proud of it and of me.

It’s not hugely long, but still qualifies as novel-length. It needs editing and revision, but it’s a complete story with all the elements of the fiction genre to which it belongs and all the sections of the story arc are there.

So I’m slotting this into the ‘win’ column. And a win is a very good thing.

3 Things

Just random thoughts to keep the streak alive.

  1. It is amazing what perspective relative comparison provides. Yesterday there was sunshine and temps rose to 25F. Last week we had three straight days of below zero and the rest in single digits. Compared with last week we’re having a heatwave! That’s something to be thankful for, I guess.
  2. Today I spent 5 hours in a room full of software engineers and architects, product managers and IT systems engineers. The goal of the workshop was to design changes to a governance process dealing with legal risks and regulatory compliance associated with use of third party content in the development of my company’s software products. I’m constantly fascinated by the complexity that engineers seem to feel morally compelled to introduce into straightforward problems, only to turn and point their fingers at the lawyers to explain why they do it. Never mind that this particular lawyer consistently urges simplicity and transparency, and never mind that they’d save themselves boatloads of time and heartache if they listened to their lawyer. Nope. Gotta build six layers of contingency management in for CYA and to cover mysteriously undefined risk of “audit repercussions”. <eye roll> Yet it’s lawyers who make everything harder than it has to be. Again, <eye roll>. Whatever.
  3. I’m closing in on completing the first draft of my first book-length writing project. 60K words, 128 pages written so far. I’m struggling with the ending – it’s just not quite right yet. But I think it’s close. I’m considering starting to edit/re-write as a means to solidify the story so the end organically materializes. Since I probably won’t ever seek to publish, it’s not essential that it be extra-shiny. But I want to be able to say I completed it. Ultimately, I want to feel like I have a complete, fully actualized story by the end of next month. Goal set.

Seeing the good

Well, my last post was less positive than I had hoped for so early in the year. I had a wild aspiration of doing only positive, up-beat posts this year while keeping up the weekly posting goal. I knew, deep down in the unacknowledged corners of my psyche, that was unrealistic. Let’s face it, everything isn’t always butterflies and unicorns. Too, I am not very successful at posting fake positivity when I’m feeling down or frustrated. So only happy posts was a pipe dream from jump.

But that’s not to say I am giving up on looking for the positives, even on the bad days. Seeing the good, even if it’s only one small thing, when everywhere there is darkness and chaos, is the most important facet to my campaign toward self-improvement. Because, in my most secret, private self, I know that if there is ever a time when the tally board of positives hits absolute zero, that’s when my spirit will truly despair. I have to know, like Samwise Gamgee, that “there’s good in this world” so that I have “something worth fighting for”.

I’m blessed in that I have not yet lived a day – and there have been at least 6 days out of my 49, nearly 50, years in which the darkness was all-encompassing and nearly absolute – which was completely devoid of anything positive. On the days on which I lost each of my parents, for example, I took refuge in the positive, glowing comfort of the love of my brothers and their wives. On the darkest day of all, which I will not describe or force myself to relive, I at least had resources enough to get help to dispel the evil and eventually emerge back into the light. As my anxiety coach has said several times: I “have a 100% success rate so far” of overcoming the demons, the stress, the fear, the evil that threatens my peace. So, if nothing else, I have that.

Luckily, I’m not living through rock-bottom like that right now, and there is much to be thankful for. Although there is stress and drama and sleeplessness still to overcome, I have seen a lot that is good and hopeful.

Here are three good things from the past three days (all of which I posted on FB, too) that make me thankful for the good stuff:

  1. 52,901 words, 120 pages written on my fiction project. And today I worked myself out of the corner into which I’d written myself a week ago. I think I’ll end up with about 145 pages in this first draft. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come on this. I think I’m on target to checking off a major bucket list item before my 50th birthday in a little over a month: completed book (short though it may be). It may never be published or ever read by anyone else, but I will have conquered the self-doubt that has forever told me that I couldn’t do it, couldn’t be a writer, had no skill to say anything worthwhile. Hah! Take that, insecurities!
  2. I had an awesome dinner out with Supper Club friends Saturday night, despite the frigid temps. Gnocchi and grilled chicken with onion soup Normandy was a perfect, warming meal. Nice conversation and a good atmosphere made for a great evening.
  3. The litigation stuff that I’ve been dealing with sucks, but it’s not all bad. On Friday, I had the hugely gratifying experience of receiving and handing over to my CFO a high 6-figure check from a settlement of a matter that I managed to completion. Nice when your work pays off – literally.

Good night, my friends! May the week ahead be full of positives for which you can feel grateful.

Something old and something new

Well, I made it through the gauntlet of the end of quarter/year and the latest court filing deadline. Barely. It was a grueling last few months and a particularly grueling last two weeks. With the lone exception of New Year’s Day, I have worked at least 12 hours a day, every day since Boxing Day. The atmosphere has been saturated with stress and pressure and the pace has been brutal. Between sales people’s unreasonable demands and my boss’ periodic fits and tirades, I was a nervous, anxious mess by the time I collapsed into my bed late Friday night after getting the two briefs filed on time with the court after no less than 12 re-writes over the last week.

But I guess there’s one good thing to come of that horrid mix of anxiety and stress: I finally slept for over 9 hours – the first long sleep I’ve had since at least August. I can’t say it was entirely restful, as it was punctuated with several stress dreams, but at least my body was horizontal and my brain mostly unconscious for that many hours in a row. That’s something.

I followed that with a day spent in my PJs, doing nothing more strenuous than reading ebooks on my Kindle app and watching football playoff games on TV.

But today my body rebelled at being in bed after about 6 hours and my mind was in agreement. So I rose, showered and dressed like a normal person. I count all three feats as accomplishments. I could have forced the issue, argued with both mind and body, and spent another day as a slug in my PJs. Instead, I’m conscious, dressed in can-be-seen-outside-the-house clothes, in public, being productive. That’s a lot for the first free weekend I’ve had in a month!

Speaking of clothes, I made a silly impulse buy on Amazon the other day and it arrived yesterday. I’m wearing it in public today as a silent (though not subtle) statement of my rebellious independence. (Never mind that I’m about to turn 50. I didn’t get a rebellious phase in my youth, so I’m making up for lost time. Sue me.) Here’s a pic of the utterly ridiculous, shiny statement piece:

Rainbow Unicorn is my spirit animal.

So I’m out in public, wearing my essential self emblazoned as a mascot on my chest, writing fiction (not this blog, a story I’m working on)in a coffee shop like a real writer.

I choose to view this as me embracing the old and new, seizing the opportunity of the new year to advance my goals. I’m being creative, both in my expression and in my writing. I’m choosing activity over sluggishness. I’m choosing socializing (albeit lone and passive) to hemitude. And I’m posting about it all. The personal growth goal trifecta.

That’s good enough. I win.

Starting Again

Happy New Year, all! At this start of a new month and year, my hope for all of us is for more kindness (to ourselves and others), less stress and anxiety, and more living in every moment.

For myself, I’m not going to over-burden this transition period with resolutions and lofty goals that will inevitably bring pressure and guilt. Rather, I’m just going to acknowledge that this is another beginning, just like every day is, really. And with every beginning comes an opportunity to start anew, with whatever activity or goals I choose to engage.

Like I said a couple of days ago in my Q4 report card post, I’m not sure if using the report card posts as an accountability device is still motivating for me. But I’ve thought quite a bit about what goals to carry into this new year. Last year I worked on (1) weekly blog posts (and making them substantive); (2) nurturing my spirit (especially through being creative); and (3) work-life balance (with a focus on in-person socializing). These three primary goals and ‘stretch goals’ cover the areas of my life where I think there’s most room for improvement.

And personal improvement, being the best me I can be, is the point. Of everything. (For me, at least. You decide for you what the purpose of life is all about.)

So, should I keep at the same goals? Yes. Any adjustments? Yes. Just small refinements, really. And those adjustments are a new start.

First, I want to keep the weekly posting goal, but I want to add an element of creativity. As I discovered over the last year, I thrive best when there is a creative challenge in my life. And although I didn’t have a lot of success with learning silver sand casting, I did do well with writing last year. In addition to blogging here, I worked on creative writing outside of my blog. I have kept these efforts to myself for a number of reasons, but mostly out of fear. And since fear is something to eject from my life, I’m going to try to get beyond that block.

I think it could be cool to combine these elements for a twist to my primary blogging goal. So, in addition to keeping up my weekly posting streak, I want to post at least one creative piece per quarter. I’m going to be as lenient on myself as possible on what counts as creative and I won’t be prescriptive about length or subject matter of these pieces. Creative writing doesn’t have to mean narrative stories nor even fiction; creative essays on non-fiction topics count. The only metric is whether I have the courage to push the “publish” button on at least one original work of creative authorship per quarter.

Second, I’m keeping the spirit-nurturing/creativity goal as-is, but I will count the creative writing posts on the first goal against this goal as well. Double counting seems fair in this instance, given the extra hurdle of having to overcome fear into the bargain.

Finally, I’ll keep the work-life balance/socializing goal. These are some of my biggest struggles. And I did pretty well last year in being intentional about tackling this aspect of myself. I don’t want to stagnate, so adding a twist seems like the right thing to do. But I also don’t want to put so much pressure on myself that I stall or regress.

But, again, fear should not be the decision-maker. So I’m going to add a twist, but I’m giving myself the entire year to accomplish it: go on one real date, in person, with someone whom I find attractive.

Oh, geez. Just writing that makes me cringe and want to delete it and pretend I never wrote it or even thought it. But I won’t. Publishing this post, putting that out in the universe, is as much an accountability device as the report card posts. Now that it’s out there, my personal integrity will require me to follow through.

But since accomplishing that goal requires the consent and participation of another person, I am only concerned with having the courage and taking the initiative to ask someone out on a date. I won’t count it a failure if I get turned down, or if it doesn’t go well if the date does happen. The point is simply to beard the dragon of being vulnerable enough to issue the invitation. Once that challenge is met, the rest (whatever that turns out to be) will follow. The real challenge for me is getting past the fear and inertia to begin at all.

So there you have it: my goals for this year are largely the same as last year – blog weekly, be creative, and socialize in real life. The added challenges of publishing some of my creative writing on this blog and going on at least one real date seem like tall orders. But since I’m turning 50 this year, I’m gifting myself this internal kick-in-the-butt as a gift of tough-love. Ultimately, I know myself enough to know that I won’t do either of those things without a motivator. And fear of public failure is definitely a motivator.

Again, happy new year, my friends! I hope you have an easy, comfortable, relaxed start to this year and that every day greets you with hope and possibilities. Let’s start again today and give ourselves permission to treat every day as a chance to start again as often as needed.

Anti-Positives (not Negatives) For Those Days When Sunny Positivity Just Can’t Cut It

As you know, I’m on a mission to center positivity, gratitude and kindness in my life. I want to be the best version of me that I can be, every day. But because I am human and imperfect, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes finding the silver lining, the “one good thing” in a day utterly full of crappy, negative experiences and energy is simply too much. Some days I just can’t fake it ‘til I make it.

On those days, honoring the darkness, letting the emotional, political, mental sludge breathe and have its moment in the middle is all I can do. And, if I’m both lucky and careful, that momentary dominance will satisfy the perverseness of the universe and let me pin that day to the past, moving forward into positivity once again. It’s brutal and not at all pretty to live through, but once on the other side, relief at having given the darkness that moment makes the light a little more bright and a little more bearable.

So that’s the silver lining, the good out of the bad.

But what gets you to that place is acknowledging the pain points, the dreck that’s built up and is clamoring to get out. Catharsis, I guess. But not necessarily just a good ol’ fashioned, wracking, sobbing cry. Sometimes it calls for naming the enemies, a litany of the poisons steeping in the blood, to extinguish their power and potency. Only after being called to the fore can some of these venoms be neutralized – the power of light to bleach the stain of the dark.

To that end, I’m braving my fears of vulnerability and derision to call out some of the poisons currently plaguing my peace:

Imposter Syndrome

Being a Pathetic Loser

Loneliness and the Fear it is Forever

Inadequacy in Every Dimension

Fixating on the Unobtainable

Reliving Humiliating Moments of the Past

Beating Myself Up for Giving in to Anger

Fear of Change

Wow. That’s a lot of mental and emotional poison.

I wrote all of that over a month ago, after nearly a month of lost sleep and continual stress. I set it aside to breathe, thinking that it was too raw and left me too exposed to actually publish. I thought I just needed to get it out of my head and it would be enough. But it hasn’t stopped.

So last night, Wednesday October 24th, while I was, again, not sleeping and after my eyes called it quits on reading anymore as an escape from the poisonous thoughts, I lay still and let the poison wash over me. I decided all the fighting I’d been doing to avoid it had been futile, so maybe giving it its freedom would bring some relief. Again, maybe if I honor the darkness it’ll let me go?

So I spent the entire night reliving the most cringeworthy, painful, humiliating moments of my life, watching each scene and acknowledging it’s continued sting. It felt like walking through a thrift store, cruising the aisles full of dusty, dented, useless junk that somehow still holds a degree of fascination, picking up items and replacing them on the shelves. It was a miserable experience, yet I managed to get to the end of the aisle without shedding a tear. Despite feeling the oppressive weight of humiliation and shame that each memory carried, I looked at each one and then set it aside without further judgment or sorrow.

No profound conclusions resulted and no existential clarity emerged. I did notice a pattern in the moments that rose to the surface and it’s still percolating through my brain trying to resolve into a clear shape that I can put a name to. But there’s been no epiphany.

Still, I think it helped, in some perverse way, to let my brain purge the dreck. I’m not certain that I won’t have to confront those moments again another time, but I feel that surviving that ordeal is a triumph. Even though it cost me a day of vacation time (I was in no shape to go to work today) and a day-long headache that’s still pounding, in addition to the night-long anguish, I’m calling it a win. It’s not a bright, shiny, joyous win, but a win nevertheless.

And because any positive out of all this oily, oozing darkness should be celebrated, I’m taking my courage in both hands and am publishing this very personal realness, despite feeling naked in the spotlight by doing so.

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