Monday, February 23, 2009
I respond to everyone who writes to me. (Everyone who is not unhinged, that is, and fortunately most of my correspondents seem perfectly lovely.) This time, I urged everyone who wrote to check out Dr. Helgoe’s book, Introvert Power
Maybe other books on introversion are just as good, but this is the book that came my way and changed my life a little bit. Coming to understand introversion better is making a difference for me, and Dr. Helgoe offers not only insight, but also tactics for functioning.
For example, I went to a wonderful party yesterday. I’d been looking forward to it and was happy to go. But I also noticed that halfway through, I started getting that familiar “my brain might explode” feeling that says I’m on introvert overload. For me, this is almost a physical sensation, a sort of mind-ache—which is different from a headache. It’s more pressure than pain. The conversations coming at me start losing meaning and everything takes on a swirling, dizzying look—like the drug scenes in the Movie of the Week version of "Go Ask Alice."
This time, when this started happening, I knew it was simply time to excuse myself from the party crowd and find a place for a few minutes of quiet. (And here’s where smoke breaks come in handy. I started smoking again about a month ago, I am about to stop again. I will miss it.) No guilt, no shame, no self-recrimination—just step away and let my brain smooth out before plunging back into chitchat.
Not that stepping away is always easy or possible. People are very generous and if they spot someone they perceive as lonely, they will often step up and try to ease the loneliness with a little friendly conversation. Had I been able to easily leave the party for a walk around the block, that would have been the best plan, but that would have been difficult. So I grabbed a minute here and a minute there as I could. And just these few minutes helped to me enjoy—really enjoy--this party for hours before I hit the wall completely.
It’s not that I’ve never done such a thing before, but this is the first time I’ve done it consciously, with a plan and purpose. It was a surprisingly powerful moment for me.
And it brings to mind a thought on therapy that I've shared here before. People often mistakenly think that therapy will cure us, will change us profoundly so that our problems cease to exist. But in fact, what therapy does is provide us insights, tools and new maps for navigating our inner and outer worlds. I am not interested in “curing” my introversion, nor would that be possible. But learning to respect it and developing new tools to work with it, as I have other aspects of myself, will make my life three hundred percent easier.
ho ho holiday blues
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Common wisdom says the holiday blues are due to high expectations of the season and memories of joyous childhood holidays. Yeah, maybe. Except I had the holiday blues as a kid, too. Christmas to me was a few hours of cozy family togetherness that ended as soon as the last gift was unwrapped. I started mourning the end of holiday magic before it even started.
Mine was not a warm family. Interesting, yes. Intellectual, in our way. Creative, certainly. But not loving. Hugs were rare. Emotional support was mostly left to professionals. Depression was a family affair. We all rallied as best we could for Christmas Day, but nobody could keep up that kind of thing for long.
So really, my expectations for the holidays are pretty low all around.
I haven’t been “home” for Christmas for many years. My family and I were estranged for the better part of a decade, reconnecting only as my late mother’s health started declining. Now, our family of five is down to three surviving members—me, my older brother and our father—and I see no point in trying to reinvent anything with them around the holidays. If family Christmases made me blue in the past, can you imagine how they would feel now? As far as I know, they ignore the whole business anyway.
I am proactive about the holidays. I bake and decorate the house. We throw parties. I have festive lunches with nearby friends and make or buy gifts for far-flung friends.
Some years, the effort pays off with a warm holiday glow. Some years, it mostly feels like a pain in the ass. This year is one of the PIA years. Money is very tight. I was sick this week and fell behind on shopping and shipping. Our holiday party was a lot of work for a small turnout. I can think of nothing I want or need that we can afford at the moment, and Tom feels the same. But the idea of nothing under the $10 Target artificial tree is a little too sad to contemplate so we’re forcing ourselves to shop with a strict budget.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m feeling sorry for myself and it’s not attractive. And I try not to present problems without solutions, if I can. So, what now? I just did a cardio workout. That always helps. I put the kettle on for tea, that’s cheering too. I’m researching volunteer opportunities for Christmas Eve because I’ve heard volunteering can bring all kinds of meaning to the season. It’s time to test that theory. We’re going to one party tonight and three events tomorrow. Surely, surely it will all work to turn my gloomy mood around.
And if not, to hell with it. Maybe next year will be better.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I got really skinny in 2004-2005. I’m not anymore. My set point just isn’t skinny and that’s just too damn bad. Slender is too much work to maintain. I am upholstered. That’s all there is to it.
I’ve come to appreciate my upholstery but it’s such a slipperly slope to gelatinous, which I can’t embrace. The trick is exercise but goodgawdamighty I’m bored with exercise. I must draw on my every last ounce of willpower to keep any program going at all, and it’s not what it used to be. At least I walk Jack every day. Too bad he has no hustle in his (big, hairy) bustle. Our daily walk is not enough of a workout to keep me in fighting trim. Sometimes I sneak out without him for long fitness walks, but then I have to walk him anyway and that’s a lot of time spent walking.
I’ve been exercising so long, there is little chance that I’ll stop exercising altogether. But are long, frequent workouts how I want to spend my days at this point in my ever-shortening life? And if so, why? Loving my body or clutching at youth?
Well, maybe the desire will return. I’m not old yet.
And what about the grey in my hair? Am I ready to embrace it? Maintenance is getting annoying. I have this one spot…I’m thinking about a grey streak. Am I ready to embrace my badass midlife self?
contemplating social comparison
Thursday, November 6, 2008
We all do it. No, don’t argue, we do. Upward social comparison is when we compare ourselves to people who are somehow considered better than us, downward is the opposite, of course. We probably all do both. We do a little upward and that makes us feel bad, then we do a little downward to cheer ourselves up. But then we feel bad about thinking ourselves better than someone else so we do a little upward to put ourselves in our place. And then we feel bad and do a little downward….
I had opportunity to do a lot of social comparison at the writers’ conference I attended a couple of weeks ago. Nothing like being tossed into a group of other writers to get me thinking about my place in the food chain. I see-sawed up and down madly in my own head, from cocky to cowed, cowed to cocky. It was the hardest part of the conference.
Social comparison is not fun but it can be useful if you use the upward social comparison for motivation, to set goals and to fine-tune your ambitions.
At the conference I had to cycle through feelings of inadequacy before I could think rationally about the comparisons. Once I stopped feeling chopped livery, I started carefully considering the careers of the more successful writers and figuring out whose careers I would want and who spent their time doing work that is unappealing to me. This is helping me figure out in what direction to ratchet up my career.
One writer in particular is published all over the damn place and I have suffered terribly in social comparison with her. But when I started looking closely at what she does, I realized that while I envy her income, I would not particularly enjoy doing the kind of work she does. This was a nice epiphany because it allows me to now admire her success without envy. And it helped illuminate the path ahead for me.
Social comparison can be brutal because no matter how successful (or pretty or thin or rich or whatever) we are, there will always be others who are more so. That can be discouraging if we let it. I try to find motivation in social comparison. “I want to be like that!” It's not easy to take the positive route but I try.
Oddly, I have found myself making social comparisons with Barack and Michelle Obama. It sounds silly, but I am fascinated by them—by their intelligence, their ease with their social and professional stature and by what they have that I don’t (aside from Ivy League educations).
I guess social comparison is what draws some voters to people like Sarah Palin. The ego is soothed to see someone we can relate to in a position of power, whereas an elite intelligence makes us feel thick and slow. (Palin is clearly an elite politician, but that’s a different kind of smarts.) Some people resent any sort of conversation they consider highbrow and interpret it as some sort of personal insult. That is the destructive side of social comparison and it’s tiresome. I have no patience with pretension, but I don’t mind struggling to lift myself up. The payoff can be big.
why you should get happy
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
But as I enter my doddering missionary years, I find that I am, in fact, generally happier than I have ever been. Sure, I still wake in the middle of the night filled with free-floating anxiety and dread, still find myself racked with feelings of inadequacy, still fret far too much over the impression I make on others, but those are just hobbies. For the most part, when I step back and survey the life I’ve created, I have to say, “Not bad.”
In a way, though, this new found satisfaction is a liability because I'm increasingly impatient with gloomy people who have locked themselves into a misery schtick and don’t seem interested in finding their way out. This is a particular problem because in the past, these were kind of people I chose as friends. Misery does, in fact, like company. But now that I'm no longer miserable, I have a handful of friendships I don't know how to continue.
I’m not talking about people who, like me, enjoy recreational bitching and moaning. Again, I consider that a perfectly viable hobby, although I now prefer it be diluted with occasional happy talk. I’m talking about people who are chronically dissatisfied with their lives and refuse to take hold and make changes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. People suck. Life is disappointing. Money is tight. We haven’t lived up to our potential. Relationships are hard. George Bush is a butthead.
But the temperature here in Dallas probably won’t hit 100 again this year. The State Fair starts Friday. Sarah Palin provides ample fodder for recreational bitching and moaning. And there’s a new episode of Mad Men on Sunday night.
Life ain’t so bad in the day-to-day.
OK, I do feel bad about eating Popeye’s for dinner last night but this, too, will pass.
I’m sympathetic to misery. I’ve been headshrunk and medicated and self helped and group therapied and all that over the years. And it all works. So does exercise. So does identifying goals and working towards them. So does stepping back and taking inventory. (The expression “count your blessings” makes me want to hurl, so I won’t say that.)
I’m sure I’ll be unhappy again. I am genetically and temperamentally disposed to recurring unhappiness. But when I feel it coming on, I rally all the resources I’ve gathered over the years and fight back.
You can too and probably should because I promise you: If you’ve been unhappy for a long time, you’re friends are tired of hearing about it.
(Hm, I’m griping about gripey people. How confusing.)
OK, here’s some food for thought. My second-favorite podcast (after This American Life) is called All in the Mind. It’s an Australian radio show about all things related to the brain and mind. Natasha Mitchell is a wonderful interviewer, the topics are fascinating, the guests are top-of-the-line.
The show recently had a two-part series of brain plasticity, which is the ability of our brains to change even into adulthood. In Part 2 (here), Mitchell talks to psychiatrist Dr Norman Doidge about plasticity as it applies to psychotherapy. Think therapy is just a lot of self-indulgent blah-blah? Scientists are beginning to home in on actual neurological changes that take place in the brain as you do the work. (And yeah, it is work. Hard work.)
Get happy, people. Or risk getting on my nerves.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I was particularly interested in what they have to say about Twitter and my favorite part of Facebook, the status updates.
Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.
I don’t Twitter yet, but I do update my Facebook status frequently and enjoy reading the minutia of my friends’ lives.
Of course, many of my friends are writers so their updates are often carefully crafted, which makes them even more fun, but it’s even more than that. As the NYT describes it:
Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting.
A pointillist painting. What a wonderful description. And not only do the updates give me a sense of individuals’ lives, but they give me a sense of the whole world, buzzing along one little task and emotion at a time.
I haven’t given up face time for Facebook but frankly, I have more good friends across the country than across my city and if this is how I can stay connected to their lives, it will have to do. And it’s doing pretty well.
In a somewhat related story, this DMN story offers suggestions on how to focus in the multitasking hell in which we all live and work. One suggestion I particularly like is turning your back on your computer when someone is talking to you. I need to do that when I’m on the telephone.
In fact, I seem to have lost my headset and that might be a good thing, since I use it to keep my hands free while I’m on the phone, which means I can screw around on the computer. I’ll need to find it to do phone interviews, but it only allows me to be distracted when I’m not taking notes.
I did a speech last night to a very nice sorority alumni group and one woman told me about a trip to California she took recently. She noticed that there, people have become much more polite and restrained about using cell phones than they are here in Dallas. Evidently, Californians have learned better than to use their cell phones in restaurants. Nice.
more on marriage
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
So, my online goofing off has given me further fodder for contemplating marriage. Here’s an article about a new book called "The Marriage Benefit: The Surprising Rewards of Staying Together" by Mark O’Connell, a marriage therapist and clinical instructor at the Harvard Medical School.
O’Connell doesn’t argue that all marriages are worth saving, but his focus is on the benefits of long-term intimacy. I like this excerpt:
He explained that scientists have discovered that the first 18 months of any romance effectively are ruled by body chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin. "We think everything that follows is a compromise."
Lordy, ain’t that the truth.
What O'Connell and marriage therapists hear a lot is that one or both spouses in a marriage feel bored or that they know everything about the other.
"The underlying assumption is we know each other so well," said O'Connell. "That's baloney. We are endlessly complex and always changing. Once romance wears off, we tend to block the complicated places within ourselves, those places where we are most scared. In that way, boredom is sort of dynamic self-protection."
In other words, as I understand it, sometimes it's fear of knowing ourselves and facing our own shortcomings and bogeyman that cause us to turn on our spouses.
More interesting than the article is this radio interview with O’Connell. I find the show host annoying but it’s worth a listen.
One fascinating point O’Connell makes is that marriage (and by that he means long-term monogamous relationships—the callers kvetching about marriage as a legal arrangement are missing the point) make us less narcissistic. In a way, I think, even more so than children which may require people to step outside their own needs but which are an extension of ourselves. (And by “our’ I mean “your.”) Marriage requires us to voluntarily support the well-being of another person without the biological imperative of parenthood.
He also speaks about the terror we all fear when we really do love someone, when we reach the point where we would be devastated if we lost that person, which we inevitably will, one way or another. As I understand it, he believes fear of vulnerability may be behind some resistance to marriage. When we love that deeply, we may someday hurt more. And that's scary shit.
stinkin' thinkin' du jour
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Life is just fine. And by that I mean, I have a swell husband and a great house. I have plenty of work. Jack is behaving. My social is chugging along nicely. (Almost too nicely. I’m nearly out of pleasantries.) Tom’s business is a little slow at the moment and that’s worrisome but that will pass. It always does. It’s even been raining the past couple of days, which is a very good thing. And the temperature is in the 80s, which is a very very good thing, after weeks and weeks of 100-plus.
So why do I feel all kvetchy and dissatisfied? Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s a change in the barometric pressure. Maybe I’m not happy unless I’m unhappy.
Maybe it’s all the socializing. Socializing does provide me with the opportunity to compare myself with other people and I rarely allow myself to come out the “winner.”
I had a drink yesterday with a friend who is The Dallas Gal in Demand. She has people running after her waving juicy job offers whether she’s looking for a job or not. Envy, envy, envy.
I don’t want a job but I do want jobs to want me.
Hm. Actually, I think that about sums up my attitude towards everything. I don’t want the hassle of writing for the big fancy magazines, but I want them to want me. I don’t want to do a lot of socializing but I want everyone to crave my company. I don’t want a job but I want employers to pursue me. I don’t want to go to parties but I want to be invited.
Wow. How stupid is that? What kind of pep talk could possibly be effective to dispel that kind of stinkin’ thinkin’?
Is admitting the problem the first step in recovery?
Do I feel better just saying it?
(Pause to think.)
acting my age
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Driving to dinner at a shmancy restaurant last night, I realized I was feeling some anxiety over the prospect of valet parking.
It’s not just because I would be turning my 14-year-old jalopy over to a valet parker accustomed to Mercedes, Jags and Beemers. That is its own special humiliation.
But I actually found myself worrying about doing it “right.” Wondering if I would seem like an impostor when the valet opened my door and when, later, I slipped him a tip.
Not that I care what a valet parker thinks of me. It's not that. It's just that I shake the feeling that I'm a callow kid trying to act grown-up.
Of course, I 100% look like a middle-aged lady. I get ma’am-ed everywhere I go. But while everyone else looks at me and sees a seasoned old broad, in my head, I’m just a little knucklehead trying to keep up with grown-up life. It’s weird.
Maybe it’s the life I’ve chosen to lead—childless, working at home alone, still rocking out too late some nights. Perhaps if I had to engage with the corporate world more often, the inner and outer mes would be better aligned.
I guess this is a callback to the column I wrote a zillion years ago for Salon about going back to school. (Ah, such a heartbreak—my editor on this column commissioned a series about going back to school in middle age but then immediately changed jobs and the new editor wouldn’t give me the time of day. She must have known I was just a dumb-ass kid pretending to be a professional writer.)
I guess feeling young is better than feeling old, but at what point, I wonder, will I actually feel my age—in a good way? Sometimes I get tired of feeling like a dumb-ass kid. I’d like to feel like a dumb-ass adult for a change.
can i function without clutter?
Monday, August 4, 2008
I bought Jack a wading pool yesterday but haven’t got him in it yet. He mostly just drinks from it.
My latest endeavor in my quest to tame my monkey mind is clearing visual clutter from my office.
Some of you old timers may remember my blog posts about organizing for your learning style. (You can read them here and here.)
In one post, I wrote:
I also realized that I have my office set up all wrong. I have always had lots pictures and tsotskes around my desk. My idea was that lots of stuff around me would be creatively stimulating. Wrong. After this panel I realized that one reason I've been working on the living room couch so much is because the room is less cluttered. All the visual stimulation in my office feels oppressive. It turns out that just as Tom can't tune out bad music, I can't tune out visual stimulation. I am aware of it all the time and it jangles my nerves. So as soon as I get caught up on everything I need to catch up on, I am going to take down most of the photos on the wall by my desk. I removed a lot of the tstotskes last week and can breathe easier already. Who knew?
I wrote that on July 18, 2007 and I finally got around to a full-scale desk flotsam purge this weekend. It looks great but I feel a little anxious about it because I even took down the bulletin board that hung over my computer. I’ve never worked at a desk without a bulletin board.
It’s not that I used the bulletin board for reminders and important information. It was mostly a repository for photos, cartoons, postcards, ticket stubs and other junk. I rarely changed the display out, but would put stuff up there and watch it yellow and curl. I had the last Calvin and Hobbs cartoon posted since the day it ran in 1995. (Yikes. I didn’t realize it was that long until I just looked it up.)
When I told a friend who used to work at my desk while dog-sitting for us, she said she liked looking at my bulletin board, that it was full of interesting stuff. I do like the idea of other people looking at all my flotsam and thinking about what an interesting person I am. But maybe that’s an exhibitionist side of me I don’t need to indulge anymore. I yam who I yam. What have I got to prove?
Instead of flotsam, I have filled up one shelf of my desk hutch with books about writing. Surely those will be more inspiring than the little plastic figurine of a girl on a telephone. Or even the little wooden acorn.
We’ll see. I feel a little anxious about all this. I still have the bulletin board leaning up against my bookcase in case I crater and must return to my flotsam ways.
meditation, color and energy
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I had a great yoga class last night. It was more challenging than usual and I was pleased with how my body responded. Very satisfying.
But here’s the interesting part.
As I mentioned earlier, in meditating with color, I am drawn to orange. It’s long been my favorite color. It feels rich, nourishing and alive.
When we lay down for savasana last night (a k a corpse pose or, as I like to think of it, lying like a lox), I decided to use the color meditation as well, to maximize the quiet time. (Multitasking in yoga. Is that legal?)
To my surprise, when I closed my eyes, the color that struck me most powerfully was blue. A rich, pure, deep blue. A little bit indigo.
Hm. Is that the color of relaxation for me? If so, it must be the color I want to aim for when I am trying to settle myself down.
It makes sense, if you look at a color wheel and its opposites. Red is a little bit stimulating while orange revs me up pleasantly and yellow feels like a loud bell ringing in my ear. Green—which is my second favorite color—has an effect similar to orange but more muted. Blue/indigo appears to be my alert but quiet place. Purple is erotic to me, which makes sense since it combines the relaxation of blue with the energy of red—the formula for good sex.
I’m all over this energy stuff. I’ve long known what drains energy from me but never gave any thought to actually managing my energy. I’m not sure what, exactly, clicked for me last week but suddenly I understand that personal energy is a resource I must understand in order to be effective in the world.
taming my monkey mind
Monday, July 21, 2008
I can do that. And it will help me build my meditation muscle to work up to longer stretches.
Donna has done the whole strict Zen thing, but what she teaches is something looser and more adaptable to the less disciplined among us and that’s what made the meditation lesson so insightful for me.
Donna understood my anxiety over trying to tame my monkey mind and helped me accept that trying to force it into meditative silence is like trying to get a rambunctious toddler to sit quietly through a symphony. This is why whenever I try to meditate, I end up fleeing myself, feeling annoyed, discouraged and hopeless.
Quickly realizing how visual I am, Donna suggested visualizations to help me find a quiet center within myself even as my monkey mind swings from trees. For example, she suggested imagining myself sitting on a park bench watching children running wild in a playground. Or imagining myself in a TV engineer’s seat in front of a bank of televisions, sitting quietly while all those monkey mind thoughts flicker on the sets in front of me.
Yes, yes I can do that, too. And every time my mind starts spinning off into too much thinking, I just bring my focus back to myself on a park bench or I let those thoughts fade to flickering TV sets. The thoughts are still running around in the background, but my focus is on my quiet center.
It works for me. My bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzy mind needs something concrete to rein it in, and the visualizations help immeasurably. This is similar to the technique of using a mantra, giving the mind something to focus on. Real mantras are assigned by a guru but I am waiting until a personal mantra, something that resonates, occurs to me and then I will use that.
We also did some visualizations with color, imagining breathing in each color of the rainbow. This has already become my favorite meditation. Sometimes I inhale and exhale in one color at a time in rainbow order, sometimes I breathe in the whole rainbow. Different colors have different effects on me. Orange feels warm and rich, purple feels sensual and yellow is electric with nervous energy. I am not comfortable with yellow. Maybe that will change with time. I suspect it will.
Donna also suggested that someone who puts out as much energy as I do might need to discharge some before I start meditating, by jumping around or twitching or dancing or screaming—anything to get some of the fidgets out. And she stresses a moment of transition before closing your eyes to meditate—a moment of just sitting quietly, eyes open but switching gears.
Donna gave me a copy of her book The Vibrant Life: Simple Meditations to Use Your Energy Effectively and I have continued learning from that.
I think … I can’t swear to it, but I think…that what I learned last week at Sunrise Springs is enough to alter the way I approach the world and my place in it. How cool is that?
in which i don't know my own strength
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I’m in Santa Fe this week doing a soft adventure trip. Except it’s only soft if you let it be soft and cain’t say no.
Yesterday was soft. We took a trail ride at Bishop’s Lodge-- long pleasant plod--then I had a two hour and spa treatment at Absolute Nirvana (and it was that—truly exceptional) then dinner. Easy cheesy.
Today, started with mountain biking. I’m not a big fan of mountain biking but I do what I’m told. We were supposed to bike for about three hours but because of our own dilly-dallying, we ended up short on time. We managed to bike from the parking lot to the beginning of the main trail, do a couple of roller-coaster hills on the proper trail, then bike back.
The trail leading to the proper trail was all loose, rutted gravel and the ride was tough for me, especially with my sea-level lungs. Oy, was I tired. It’s sad, because once we hit the good, hard-packed hilly trail, it was lots of fun—-much more fun than I expected since I’m a nervous biker. But alas, alas, most of our biking was on the gravel. At least going back was easier than going out. We didn’t even realize that the ride out was a long, slow climb until we headed back and it was a long, pleasant coast.
But oy, was I tired.
Then, we went to Bandolier National Monument, spectacular ruins of ancient Pueblo dwellings. (See here.)
It was an hour drive there, we hiked of maybe 30-40 minutes to see some of the ruins and climb up into some of the cave dwellings, then an hour drive back. Worth the effort, must go back with more time. Make a note…
The day ended with a hike and outdoor cooking class (a nifty joint production of the Santa Fe School of Cooking and Santa Fe Mountain Adventures).
The hike, in the Santa Fe National Forest was lovely but long after a long day. And then, when much of the group decided they were tired and wanted to turn back, my machisma kicked in and I decided I would stick with the self-described Type A woman and her lovely teenage daughter (and a guide) who wanted to speed walk to the end of the trail and back.
Big, big mistake. When I say I don’t know my own strength, I mean I’m not as strong as I think. Especially at altitude. The hike down to the end of the trail was easy enough and ended at a pretty river.
The hike back…
Oy, am I tired.
I fell far behind, which irked the crap out of me. And every time I saw the other three take a switchback and continue climbing, I cursed my own ego. I had to stop frequently and gasp for air. My heart was pounding so hard I suspect my head was visibly throbbing. Every time the others stopped to wait for me, I felt ashamed. (Shame. It’s what’s for dinner.)
I was never so glad to see a trail’s end in my life.
Why didn’t I just turn around with the rest of them? Why was I compelled to keep going? What did I have to prove?
It’s like a canoeing trip I took in Canada a few years ago. We canoed about seven miles a day, for three days. I got all tough-bitch about and kept up, feeling like a big-ass studette. Then I got home and my shoulder locked into a painful spasm for weeks. I was on painkillers and muscle relaxants and it still woke me up in the middle of the night. Finally I went to a masseuse, the talented Laura Heubner, who found one small knot and pressed down on it until every hair on my body was standing on end and I was shrieking in pain. And then I was better.
You would think that would have taught me a lesson. Today, when I heard myself say, “I’ll keep going.” I should have slapped myself. But no.
Oh well. I did make it--gasping and sweating and hurting. The outdoor cooking class was a blast. I made a tortilla. Dinner was paella, grilled shrimp and peach cobbler cooked in a Dutch over. Outstanding.
And now, I’ve had a hot shower and I’m in bed, listening to rain on the roof. (We lucked out there—we were on the road just as the rain moved in.)
I’m so happy not to still be on that trail, watching those other three women climb while I fight for breath.
I’m probably going to hurt tomorrow.
don't you worry
Sunday, June 29, 2008
I’m certainly no stranger to depression, which is a lifelong thing—it comes and goes. Sometimes it’s a BFD, sometimes it’s a low-level psychic headache. My recent pissed-off-itude certainly is a mood swing. I’ll own that but I’m not concerned because I know what it feels like to be at the bottom of the pit and this ain’t it, I promise you. (Had you checked in with me last year, I’d have had a different story.)
What I didn’t tell you is that the same week an editor called what I wrote “flat,” another editor called something else “exquisite.” But being the Charlie Brown of bloggers, I chose to focus on the former rather than the latter. (See my post about cognitive distortions.) Besides, gloating about the latter would just sound boastful. (Rather than talk about it, I just read the email over and over.)
The former also gives me more to chew on. As Ira Glass said, “Every story strives to be mediocre.” Taking criticism seriously is the first step on the road from mediocrity. If it’s valid criticism, that is, and one of a writer's jobs is to sort out which criticism to take to heart and which to dismiss.
I promise you, I am not kicking the dog or putting my head in the oven. Life is actually going pretty well, for the most part. So thank you for your concern but I’m fine. Really.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The topic on Saturday was cognitive distortions, which seems appropriate in light of my foul mood this week. Read it here. I’m sure distortions are playing into my inability to wrestle my mind back to its happy place. (That and not enough yoga. I’ve been neglectful of my practice.)
Of those listed, All or Nothing, Mental Filter and Leaping to Conclusions are probably my pet distortions—and they all lead me straight to the cesspool of shame. Which somehow eventually drags me to anger. Or maybe the shame and anger are unconnected. I’m not sure yet and I’m too busy this week to thoroughly chew it over, but I’ll think about it.
The article goes on to discuss recognizing your distortions and distracting yourself from them. Sounds like worthy work. I'll try to get around to it...
Last night I hooked up the radio and listened to SuperNanny during our walk, so Jack had an easier time of it, although his lollygagging remains incredibly annoying.
the demon chatterbox in my head
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Obsessing on all things annoying doesn’t do me any good—any more than the tape loop of “You’re Still The One” going round and round and round and round and round and round in my head this morning does. (Thanks a lot, Tom.)
The two must be related, a sort of OCD, and both are troubling—although my inability to divert my mind from negatives is certainly more harmful.
Don’t suggest any happyface crap like counting my blessings. I find that as ineffective as trying to hum a different tune. I know what my blessings are and they’re great but they don’t make life’s irritations vanish. They are an “and” not a “but.” I have all this AND that pisses me off. If I try humming a different tune, it invariably turns into “Ebony and Ivory” and then I just have another problem.
The trouble with the good things is that they provide nothing, really, to chew on. With the negatives, I can have all kinds of heated conversations in my head. I’ve told people off a thousand times and ways in my head. Sometimes out loud, if I’m not careful, as I drive or walk the dog.
But with the good things, you think of them, give them a nod, and then what? OK, maybe if I tried to think of every single little tiny itty bitty good thing in my life it would keep my mind busy for the duration of a walk … would that be as entertaining as kicking a little imaginary ass?
I do sometimes chew on writing problems as I walk—I plant the question in my mind and try to stay focused on it. This requires a lot of discipline because when I’m feeling as I am this week, negative thinking is my default mode. The effort to avoid it is so great, letting my mind slip into an angry rut feels like falling into a featherbed. An uncomfortable featherbed.
I’m OK when I’m busy. I have lots to do today and that will keep the angry voices in my head distracted. But pity poor Jack when it’s walk o’clock and my chattering demons take over.
Labels: personal growth
can love be defined?
Friday, June 20, 2008
A friend and I have been discussing love—what is it? Can it be defined? Should it be?
I’m a fan of M. Scott Peck’s iconic self-help book The Road Less Traveled in which he defines love as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s or another’s spiritual growth.”
I always liked that, although my definition of “spiritual” may not be the same as yours. But I do believe love means helping the other person grow—in the direction he or she chooses. That’s pretty key. “Helping” your loved one grow in ways you choose is not love, it’s control. And I like that Peck’s definition of love requires some sort of action, some effort. To my mind, love without action is an empty word--even if sometimes that action means walking away. (If you love something, let it go and blah blah blah.)
My friend likes Robert Sternberg’s theory of three types of love: romantic, companionate and commitment. That also makes sense to me, and the two definitions aren’t mutually exclusive.
But she also questioned whether defining love at all is wise, since it invites judging other people’s relationships. Who are we to say whether another couple is loving or not when we don’t and can’t live in their hearts, minds or relationships? Good point—we can’t know what makes someone else’s relationship work (or not work, for that matter) and to condemn something we don’t understand is just bigotry. And stupidity.
But I would argue that there is benefit to guidelines on what love is and isn’t because a lot of people seem to get confused. Women in abusive relationships sometimes believe their menfolk are driven to abuse because of deep love. Some people confuse sexual desire for love. Some people think that love is static--that once it is declared it need not be tended. Some people think love=drama. (I thank pop culture for that, since companionate love is rarely depicted, except occasionally in country music.) That would probably be my love vice.
But I’m pretty careful with the word “love,” as I am with the word “friend.” I don’t slap it on any old attraction until I’ve thoroughly parsed it.
Tom and I love each other and, I’m sure he would agree, it’s not always easy-cheesy. It’s not just a matter of deciding it, declaring it and getting on with our lives. Sometimes love requires conflict. Sometimes it requires sacrifice. Sometimes it requires boundaries. Sometimes it requires restraint. Sometimes it requires courage. Sometimes it requires saying, “I’m sorry.” (Take that, Ali McGraw.) All of which require effort.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I am always grateful to receive critique from friends and editors that will help move my writing to a higher level.
Which is not to say it’s “fun,” exactly.
I have received two critiques on two different projects since last night. Both are smart, insightful and useful.
Not “ouch” they were poorly expressed or “ouch” I disagree or even “ouch” I don’t have the ego for this. Just “ouch” I hate confronting my deficiencies, even en route to making amends.
Before I can even fully process what needs to be done to fix the projects, I have to overcome shame for not being perfect first time out. I can accept faults and foibles in all aspects of myself but writing. In some demented, deluded way I expect nothing but brilliance when it comes to expressing ideas. Anything less is like getting caught with my pants down.
That’s not rational. It just is.
Actually, any feedback is painful for me. I received an e-mail the other day from a friend reading a novel in progress for me. She said, "I'm about a third of the way through what you sent me -- and really like it."
I heard, "I can barely drag my way through this and I'm kind of embarrassed for you."
Getting even positive feedback can be a sick game of telephone for the writer's ego, especially when it comes to a very personal project.
Once I process both the positive and negative critiques, I have to get past hating the amount of work involved in fixing the problems. I’m a lazy writer and although I know writing is rewriting, I’d much rather get it perfect the first time and move on. (Haha.) I have word games to play and emails to answer. I don’t have time for all this serious writing business.
Finally and most difficult of all, I have to figure out how to fix the problems. Fixing a broken character or wandering essay is so much more difficult than fixing a misspelled word or clumsy sentence. (Duh, Sophie. Ya think?)
What to do, what to do? Do I wait for inspiration? Do I actively seek inspiration? Do I just plunge in and start tinkering?
Maybe I should just play a few rounds of Word Challenge and worry about it later.
dillard's is silly but neimans is creepy
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Turn the page and…. (cue music from Psycho shower scene)
My god! This poor child! Feed her! Get her out of those Devil Shoes! For god’s sake, at least let her grow up a few years before you put her through this. Look at this sweet little girl face.
Yeah, yeah. Fashionistas are rolling their eyes at me—so gauche to complain about skinny underage models. But this photo gives me the willies.
Here, a young Dallas model discusses her bout with eating disorders. I wanted to cry and throw up reading that one casting director for Paris fashion week told her, "You're turning into a woman, and your body is changing. You need to learn to control that."
I know women are supposed to be inspired to shop by imagining they look younger, slimmer and sexier than they are, but this can go too far. Even when fashion photos aren’t quite as disturbing as this one, I’m not dumb enough to imagine I’ll ever look like a 14-year-old dressed as a grown up. I wouldn’t want to, anyway.
I had a similar thought while working out the other day to a Crunch DVD. All those pretty, perky and extremely buff women were supposed to inspire me but that was not the effect they had. I wished for someone I could relate to, someone who was a little bit older, a little bit curvier, a little bit imperfect but fit. I wasn’t discouraged by the sight of all those sexy sixpacks, but with them on the TV screen, my reflection in the mirror was kind of depressing. One reason Richard Simmons workouts are so much fun is because he has people of all sizes Sweatin' to the Oldies. To me, that’s much more inspiring than a chorus line of women who clearly dedicate their lives to their buns and abs. They only makes me feel that what I can do is not enough and never will be.
got what it takes?
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
What does it take to work for oneself?
First, it takes a certain amount of self-delusion. When I went freelance in the mid 1990s, I sincerely believed that the world was waiting for my words (alliteration and all). Had I known how difficult it would be to persuade people to buy them, I might not have waved bye-bye to my job so gleefully. Well, actually, that’s a lie. I would have. I was very unhappy in my last job and having spent most of my working life self-employed, I couldn’t wait to regain control of my time. But stepping out into the world of freelancing was a rude awakening. Huh—all those newspaper editors who loved my stories when they got them free on the Knight-Ridder wire were somewhat less anxious to run them when they had to pay for them. I couldn’t even get responses from some I knew personally. Huh. Go figger. (How sympathetic am I now to those editors, as they lose their jobs and start freelancing? Not terribly. Welcome to my world. Sink or swim.)
Self employment takes discipline. Mine ebbs and flows. Sometimes I can crank out queries and stories like a little Sophie machine, sometimes I play a lot of Scrabbulous while awash in guilt and shame. Sometimes I need an extreme self-ass kicking to get back on track.
Self employment requires tolerance for guilt and shame. When your workday is not proscribed by set hours and a reliable paycheck, you never feel like you’re doing enough. No matter how much I accomplish in a day, I could do more. No matter how much I earn, it should be more. No matter how many bylines I get, they’re in the wrong magazines. Guilt and shame are my co-workers. I embrace them.
Self employment requires tolerance for solitude. If your business, like mine, doesn’t have employees, you spend a lot of time alone. That’s why God made the Internet. The virtual world is my water cooler. I also try to plan at least one lunch date a week to make sure I don’t go all Red Rum.
Self employment requires creative money management skills. It’s one thing to manage your money with a paycheck, it’s something else altogether to manage it when you don’t know from month to month what will be coming in. In tight times, I go into spending lockdown and all nonessential spending stops. When money is coming in, I make sure to handle the important stuff, like going to the dentist.
Self employment requires a network of sympathetic souls. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen except other freelance writers. Ours is a particular circle of heaven and hell combined. When our work goes well, little is more satisfying. When it doesn’t, it feels like very personal failure. The weight of rejection gets unbearably heavy from time to time.
And it’s a vicious circle for us—the more we need work the more we have to pitch, the more we pitch the more we open ourselves up for rejection, the more rejection we get the harder it is to be motivated, the less motivated we are, the less work we have. And round and round and round.
I’m in a state of mega burn-out right now. I’m tired, discouraged, broke and feeling unloved. So after I get this post up, I’m calling up a friend in the same business as I who has kindly volunteered to be a sympathetic, empathetic ear. Dollars to donuts (mmm, donuts would help too) I’ll feel better after talking to her. Friends can take the "self" out of self-employment.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The article says
… the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.
“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners. “But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’ ” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”
Yeah, I’ve always been puzzled by the accusation of “waffling” as a bad thing. What some see as waffling, I see as thoughtfulness and an open mind. I’m a big “on the other hand” thinker. (And writer. I have to watch myself when it comes to that phrase—my first drafts are often terrifying multi-handed monsters.) What’s wrong with taking an idea and turning it around and around in our minds, reviewing pros and cons and even—horrors!—changing our minds in light of new information and perspective? That has to be better than locking into an idea and closing off all other possible views.
Still, although pushing ourselves into new patterns of thought is good, we are best if we respect our own ways of learning. I like learning quietly, on my own, with books and through trial and error. Some people prefer picking the brain of a mentor. Some people study best in groups, I study best alone in a quiet room. Different strokes … don’t make me do it your way and I won’t make you do it mine.
I’m also a visual learner. I took copious notes in my classes and sometimes during tests could actually conjure the image of a page to “see” the answer. Don’t even try to give me verbal driving directions. I need a map, or at the very least, turn-by-turn written directions. This is why I never stop to ask for directions. The minute someone starts explaining, my mind goes completely blank and the words sound like the grown-ups in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.
Another fascinating concept from the article:
Ms. Ryan and Ms. Markova have found what they call three zones of existence: comfort, stretch and stress. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It’s that stretch zone in the middle — activities that feel a bit awkward and unfamiliar — where true change occurs.
Learning new stuff is really scary. Starting college in my 40s may be the bravest thing I’ve ever done. (Here’s an essay I wrote on the topic.) But it was in the stretch zone. It was uncomfortable, but involved books and ideas and writing, so it wasn’t too far fetched. Writing is definitely the comfort zone. The stress zone? Hm…probably that hang gliding lesson. No friggin’ way, thank you very much.
Finally, let’s contemplate the idea of kaizen, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements.
The moment we let go of the idea that we must fix/know/accomplish everything right away, now, not later NOW NOW NOW, we can begin the journey to accomplishment with that one, tiny step. When I decided to go to college, I started with “developmental” algebra (algebra for dummies). Just one class, at a community college. Scary—I long ago decided I can’t do math—but necessary and, one equation at a time, do-able. When I got through that, I was ready for step two. And then I kept going. And all sorts of new pathways developed in my brain.
if it's friday it must be flotsam
Friday, May 2, 2008
First, shameless promotion: Black and Blue and the AllGood Café tomorrow night. Meet me there! The Dallas Observer advanced the show here.
A month or so ago, my brother sent me this link to Missing Money, a site that searches for unclaimed property (i.e. money). He’d searched my name and found money owed to me. I went to the site, filled out the brief form and forgot all about it. Well shiver me timbers and blow me over—a check for $371 turned up in my mailbox last week! Try it.
The email subject line said: Press release
The message said: Hope your readers find this press release of interest.
The press release was an attached Word document.
If ever a presentation begged to be ignored, it’s this one. A subject and message that tells me nothing, and an attachment from someone I don’t know. Maybe it’s a perfectly legitimate release with information that my readers would find of interest but I’m not going to investigate. Hit delete, get on with my life. The world is full of cluelessness.
Here’s a nifty little tip from the NYT tech blog. If you use Firefox, you can bring up the Quick Find box to search a page by just hitting the forward slash key (same key as the question mark). Seconds saved every week!
Texas Tech University psychology department has launched a series of short podcasts about this and that, psychology-ish, featuring interviews with experts here and there. Here’s the homepage. They’re a little homespun sounding but that’s OK.
I don’t know why this story is buried on page 3 of the business section, but it’s big exciting news to me. Gas prices are causing people to “stampede” to small car. Can I get a HELL YEAH?
Unfortunately, this is bad news for SUV and truck manufacturers (i.e. American companies). But it's good for the planet, the highways and my blood pressure, since the mere sight of a Hummer makes it soar. I'm very sensitive that way.
Another of my pet peeves is the luxurification of the world. Have I discussed that before? How we seem to be devaluing all qualities—quaint, cozy, charming, kitschy—in favor of luxurious? It’s one of my favorite rants, I’m happy to go into it if I’ve neglected to rant it here.
Anyway, the DMN has a story this morning that seems to back my point, about a direct sales company called Home Interiors that was extremely successful until new owners decided to aim for the high-end market instead of the cozy low-incomers for whom the brand was developed. It didn’t work and now the company is filing for bankruptcy.
I love having my prejudices affirmed.
The snarky chick-oriented website Jezebel puts an interesting and believable spin on reports that the depression rate in women is twice that of men.
The Jezebel writer suggests that this isn’t because twice as many women as men get depressed but because women are so much more likely to go for treatment when they do. She speculates that many more men are depressed than ever seek treatment. If some dude is walking around depressed but undiagnosed, does he count? she asks.
It’s a good post, take a look.
Jezebel has also alerted me to a Ms. magazine article that sounds interesting, about self-objectification or "viewing one's body as a sex object to be consumed by the male gaze."
The post continues: More and more women are viewing themselves as sex objects, says Caroline Heldman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of politics at Occidental College, and it's due in large part to the veritable onslaught of advertising images that we're subjected to.
I think this is right on right on but the only solution offered, evidently, is to avoid media images objectifying women, but that would pretty much mean locking oneself in a dark room.
Read the post yourself.
I certainly wish I could stop constantly comparing myself with other women--both media images and women I see every day. It’s a miserable pastime, a distracting little drone in my head: I’m fatter than her…I’m thinner than her...fatter…thinner…fatter…fatter…older…younger….fatter…
What a useless waste of brain energy.
Hey, the cool website WorldHum linked to my post this week about how rising travel costs might discourage dabblers from traveling. OK, so I alerted an editor to the post in a bit of Shameless Self Promotion, but he liked it enough to link so that was very gratifying.
Finally, in what may become a weekly voyeuristic feature as long as I feel like it, this week’s Google searches that brought people to this site are:
Thank God I books for sale Castagnini
inside the brain of a narcissist
negative reviews of elizabeth gilbert's eat, pray, love
gmail emails not reaching their destination
derivation of lithium name
cashmere bouquet plant
customer support gmail
outlook autofill subject line
odd looking dogs
give me obama email adress and guest firstname.lastname@example.org
jack kent cooke Conundrum
gmail to yahoo not getting sent
Thursday, May 1, 2008
I was thinking about this and herewith are
The Unofficial Rules of Our Marriage
1. Required: Politeness, i.e. please and thank you. Thank each other for cooking dinner and all other household chores. Treat each other as well as, or better than, we treat friends and strangers.
2. Required: Acknowledge when we’re taking work and other stuff out on each other. Pissiness is permissible from time to time, but if it’s inappropriately directed at the other, the target may object and the offender is expected to acknowledge and apologize. This rule does not apply to appropriately aimed pissiness—that then requires further discussion. (See Rule 8.)
3. Suggested: Cut each other slack and assume that unless something indicates otherwise, pissiness is the result of stress and should not be taken personally.
4. Suggested: Whoever is busiest and most stressed may expect the other to pick up some household slack for the duration.
5. Required: Each has the right to decline to participate in activities the other plans, however we also each have the right to specifically request the other’s presence when we feel it most important.
6. Suggested: Praise and strokes—you’re never too old. Be generous with both.
7. Required: Kisses at all hellos and good-byes and before bed.
8. Required: When problems arise, they are to be dealt with promptly and politely. Anger is permissible but fights must be fair and kind.
9. Required: Honest mistakes are forgiven without rancor.
10. Required: Sophie gets coffee in bed every morning. Hey, he started it…
I would love to hear the unofficial rules of others in long-term relationships.
skipping through a minefield
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Wow--baby worship now has to start before birth? Let me give moms-to-be a little tip: You probably shouldn’t invite friends who are childless by choice to this soiree. Their eyes will roll so far back in their heads, they may freeze that way and you’ll be responsible for blinding them. (Friends who have trouble conceiving might have different problems with the festivities.)
This same company also offers belly casting, because, “Although pregnancy seems never-ending while it is occurring, years later the memory will fade.” A belly cast—belly only or torso, hands and belly, will become "a priceless, personal piece of art that fits beautifully into any part of your home.”
So tell me, friends who have had babies—do you wish you had a belly cast hanging in your living room “as a lasting reminder of the precious time of your pregnancy”?
And if you have more than one child, would you have more than one belly cast, so nobody would feel left out? Or would this be just one more honor the first child would receive while subsequent kids are popped out with decreasing fanfare?
I’m kinda glad I’m past the age of having to attend baby showers. I've ooed and ahed over enough adorable itty-bitty garments.
Of course, I find grandparenting takes nearly as much of my friends’ time and attention as parenting did so that rebirth of old friendships I expected isn't exactly happening. As with parents, I have to work around the kids.
That’s why we selfish, cold-hearted childfree couples tend to hang together.
While we’re on the subject, here’s an essay I published a couple of years ago:
Don't forget the grown-ups
Look at all those shiny happy children’s faces beaming from my refrigerator door! I get photos in the mail all the time from friends and family -- school photos, holiday cards, graduation photos. The children all are beautiful and I love seeing how my friends’ offspring are growing up.
But few of the people I care about most turn up in my mailbox because only rarely do the photos include mom and dad.
What about the grown-ups?
In every case, the grown-ups in the families represented by these photographs are the point of connection for me. But where are they?
Why is it that once children enter the picture, grown-ups seem to fade out?
I like kids. Though I have none of my own, I enjoy visiting with other people’s children, especially when they are old enough to converse.
But I’m mostly a grown-ups’ grown-up. Given the choice between spending time with friends with or without their small children, I often choose adult-time.
When I’m invited to a baby shower, I usually bring a gift for the mom-to-be, whose body has been taken over and who will spend at least the next 18 years catering to the little need machine. As friends cross this important threshold, I want to honor the women they are as well as the moms they are about to become. Many of my friends seem to give up a lot when they become parents – things like careers, exercising, time for dreams beyond those they have for their children. I try to remind them of all they are along with being parents.
Sometimes it seems our culture treats us like new cars -- the moment you’re driven off the lot, you lose half your value. At holidays, charities are flooded with teddy bears and Barbie dolls but many fewer items for teens. Textbooks about developmental psychology peter out after young adulthood. Current research shows that despite the advice of financial experts, parents are putting money away for their children’s college education instead of their own retirement, even though scholarship money is far more readily available than retirement funds.
Children clearly are valued more highly than grown ups. But aren’t grown-ups just children a bunch of years down the road? Can’t we be as tender with adults as we are with children?
Growing up doesn’t automatically put an end to the need for affirmation and affection. It doesn’t automatically make you secure or confident. It doesn’t mean you don’t need a “there, there” now and then, or an “atta girl,” or a band-aid for a psychic wound. But grown-ups don’t get that stuff often, especially not mommies -- bottomless giving pits who learn to expect no thanks from their miniature masters. I try to be the atta-girl girl for my friends, parents and not.
Being friends with parents can be tough for those of us on the other side of the decision divide. I know my needs will always come second to my friends’ children’s, as it should be. I respect that and don’t count on my parent friends for much time, since they usually have birthday parties, soccer games, piano recitals and car pools running them in circles.
I have been unable to maintain friendships with a couple of people after they became parents. One woman informed me that “life is nothing without a child” – a red flag that our priorities were irredeemably at odds . But other friendships have withstood the addition of children because we both make a concerted effort to appreciate each other as valuable individuals separate from our choices in the children department.
I sincerely care about my friends’ kids. Children are swell. But their parents are even more important to me. I like grown-ups.
bullies and beeyotches
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
First, allow me to say the obvious: Would the news media be all a-dither if the girls hadn’t been white cheerleaders with names like April, Brittany and Brittini? (Yeah, really.) I say no, but maybe I’m just cynical.
My developmental psychologist friend Lara, who studies popularity and aggression, has blogged on this issue with interesting new insights such as—“the combination of being popular and knowing that you’re popular predicts the very highest levels of physical and relational aggression in a given high school grade.”
You would think popular people would feel so secure they could afford to be nice, but I guess not. Actually, researchers find that being popular and being liked are two different things altogether.
I guess this isn’t surprising, when you think about it.
While popularity wasn’t a huge issue in my high school full of oddballs and artsy-fartsy people, it was big in junior high and I never felt that the really popular girls even liked each other all that much. Rather, they seemed connected in some sort of uneasy bond.
I was not popular in junior high school. The Dedes, Alisons and Amys made fun of me and singled me out for destruction in dodgeball. I wasn’t particularly crushed by this (although evidently, I’ve never forgotten) because I had my own friends outside of school. And that makes all the difference. I suppose not going to a neighborhood school (I was in a horrid private school at the time) helped, since I wasn’t always surrounded by people who didn’t like me. The popular girls lived on the Upper East Side, I lived on the Upper West Side. (Back in the day, this coded as “rich” vs. “not-rich.”) I had friends of my own who were grubby as I.
Among the things researchers know about bullying is that its negative consequences on the bullied are greatly mitigated if that poor soul has one friend. Just one is all it takes. Just one person to confirm that you are not actually the scum of the universe, the butt of all jokes, the whipping post for all. Just one to affirm your humanity.
In junior high, another oddball and I found each other and it then mattered even less that the other girls didn’t like us. Though Eve and I didn’t hang out together outside of school, we both discovered drugs around the same time and bonded over that, transforming ourselves from geeks to freaks and gaining grudging respect that way. (Again, the 1970s. Things were different then.)
Research into childhood abuse at the hands of adults similarly finds that abused children with one adult in their lives who can be trusted implicitly and who advocates for them, are more emotionally resilient than those who don’t.
Which brings me to an interesting op-ed in today’s Dallas Morning News that points out that the only people who can really save kids from kids is kids. Yelling and screaming at schools to end bullying is not productive. Rather, parents need to encourage compassion among their own children. (Unlike, say, the freakshow parents who joined in the MySpace torture of the girl who ultimately killed herself—what a chilling story that was.)
I remember sitting silently and pained a couple of times when school and camp oddballs were tormented—once overtly and once covertly—by the more fortunate. I still feel guilty. Speaking up is horribly difficult under those circumstances, especially for those of us who are not among the chosen.
It was easy in elementary school, when I was both liked and popular, to befriend the girl who was too shy to raise her hand in class and wet the floor instead. I had no fear then and could see past her oddness to her intelligence.
But when you’re unpopular and the attention is directed elsewhere, you learn to bite your tongue and be thankful that for the moment, you are safe.
But perhaps parents of outsider children can teach them of the power and safety of numbers—even if the number is just two.
The last line of Lara’s blog about the YouTube beeyotches is particularly disturbing to me. She writes, “Something tells me this story is being told and retold among their high school peers with a level of awe and respect that would make us cringe.”
Do you think this is true? Are kids this mean these days? And is this the kind of popularity to which outcasts secretly aspire?
If so, what are we doing wrong?
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I am totally out of sorts these days, all at sixes and sevens and I don’t know why. I’m not working worth a damn. I’m behind on deadlines, cranky with everyone, and just don’t care.
I’m about to turn 50 and I’m still waiting for life to kick in. There’s nothing wrong with my life except I can’t seem to live up to my own potential. I’m pissing away time with piss-ant stories. I have a half-cooked book proposal that’s been growing moldy, a first draft of a novel that I should be revising instead of playing Scrabulous and I really need to be drumming up more paying work but can’t seem to get motivated.
Most of what I’ve accomplished in life has floated my way. The jobs I’ve had, the books I’ve written—I’ve pursued none of it, it’s all come to me. But now that nothing is coming my way and initiative is in order, I am instead sinking into inertia. Well, not inertia, exactly. I stay busy, but it’s a hamster wheel going nowhere. Well, actually, at least if I were on a hamster wheel I would be working out. I’m not doing enough of that, either.
I’ve started making lists and using a kitchen timer to discipline myself. I managed to scratch most items off my list yesterday but “make dentist appointment” has migrated to today’s list. It’s not that I don’t want to go to the dentist, it’s that I don’t want to pay for it, what with Jack’s expensive new fence we’re getting this month.
It would help if I could drum up some good work. But I’m tired and bored and waiting for the Next Big Thing to come my way. Except I should be creating my own Next Big Thing.
I don’t know what to do with myself. Send Twinkies.
putting the fast in breakfast
Thursday, April 3, 2008
He’s right, too. Not so much in terms of quantity—although I can pack it away given the opportunity—but speed.
“You just put your head down and when you looked up, the plate was clean,” another friend once said.
It’s true and I’m not proud of it. I particularly hate when waiters take my plate away as soon as I’m done, making my shame more obvious.
So I’ve been trying this whole mindful eating thing. I caught the TLC show I Can Make You Thin the other day. It's mostly a lot of repackaged razzmatazz about something that’s been around a while. My friend Jean Fain, who does psychotherapy and hypnosis, has been teaching it to her clients for a long time. She make videos and CDs, too. See, here’s someone eating a Twinkie mindfully.
Hm. If it had been me, that Twinkie would never have known what hit it.
I’m trying, really. When I remember, I put my fork down between bites. I’ve tried to chew my food 20 times like the I Can Make You Thin guy recommends but that’s really kind of disgusting. I become aware of the chewed food in my mouth. (Hm, might that be the point? Some sort of aversion therapy?) And a peanut butter and banana sandwich cannot withstand 20 chews.
But my biggest struggle with the whole deal is that you’re not supposed to do anything else while you’re eating. Conversation, maybe, but no TV or reading or working. I tried this and realized that while I like food, eating is boring. I usually eat lunch (such as it is) at my desk. The other day, I sat at the kitchen table and tried to eat mindfully. Just me, alone, in the quiet, chewing. Whee.
I need to find a compromise between cramming lunch down my gullet as quickly as possible and sitting silently chewing for 30 minutes. Don’t know what that is yet.
Next I’ll try Jean’s hypnosis video. Can’t hurt, might help. Wish I had a Twinkie.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I watched the movie Hair on AMC the other night. Some of you know that Hair holds a very special place in my heart. I was a stage door groupie for the Broadway show and even auditioned for it when I was, like, 12 years old. Yeah, really. No, I didn’t get a part.
Anyway, the movie wasn’t great and I haven’t seen it since it came out in 1979, but I was thrilled to see it listed the other night, when I was planning a solo late-night couch party. It was great fun.
Hair depicts the seismic societal changes of the late ‘60s but what the movie brought most strongly to my mind is the very distinct experience of growing up in the 1970s, when I went to see the show over and over, longing for the jubilance of the life of those who came just before me.
My cohort comprises the tail end of the baby boom (I was born in ’58, the boom is generally accepted as ’46-’64). Mine is one of those in-between generations, stuck in a muddy trench between the revolutionary idealism of the ‘60s and the brittle excess of the ‘80s. The 1970s were a dark time, when the drugs really kicked in and the pristine visions of the flower children started looking like snow in
A teenager through Watergate, I was acutely aware of it without entirely comprehending what was happening. I just breathed the sour air of corruption, mistrust and anger surrounding it. I didn’t know anyone who went to
Drugs and sex were seeping ever more deeply into popular culture but the sex was a lot less jubilant than it seems today. Nobody was used to sexual freedom yet and it all seemed a little bit tawdry--sex clubs and poppers and leather bars. I was too young to be a part of all that but I knew what was going on. (The famous sex club Plato’s Retreat was not very far from my home. Once, a man standing outside asked me if I would go in with him, no strings attached, because single men were not allowed in. I declined.)
Wedged between the nuclear family ‘50s and the loud reinvention of parenting that began in the ‘80s, many of my generation were untethered from their parents. I roamed
That was the '70s NYC-style but I recognize the same style of sad and surly independence in the suburban teen lives depicted in the movie and book The Ice Storm. Tom, who was born in 1960, sees his
In some ways, the 1970s gave me a dark world view and chopped, diced and spliced my values into a strange amalgam of idealism and cynicism.
I don’t mistrust the government as deeply as some (perhaps the fact that Watergate was uncovered and punished inoculated me against total cynicism) but I believe it bears close watching and that voting is among our most significant responsibilities. I also believe that if newspapers go under, the great loss to society will be unbiased investigative reporting.
I think the era affected how I view sex and drugs. I’ve seen lots of casualties of drugs and so have less of a moral objection to them than a pragmatic one because they do some bad shit. I avoided the harder drugs many of my peers did. I never tripped, but I did do cocaine for a while. I don’t anymore because it killed my brother and I hold a grudge.
Coming of age while culture was in flux perhaps made me more broad minded, more flexible in my rules of morality (for better or worse), than those who came before or after. In general, I am forgiving of our darkest nature, tolerant of transgressions and raw in my assessment of human nature. I don’t think humans are bad. I just think we’re all a little fucked up. And that’s OK.
And, by the way, I miss the ‘70s desperately. Those are my good old days.
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