Wednesday, November 24, 2010

7. What to do

Two-parted Preface: 
1.I don't know why I started using the second person, nor why I start talking to that "second person" as if they were a patient on my couch. But I rolled with it. 
2. This post runs the risk of implying that I don't believe in goals or dreams, and also that I don't believe in the power of visualizing said goals/dreams in order to help make them a reality. Neither of these claims are true.

Addendum to part 1 of the two-parted preface:
In my current living situation, I don't actually have access to a couch. If I were to host a "patient" in my home, I suppose they could sit beside me on my bed. The chair, unfortunately, serves as permanent residence to a precariously pile of clothes.

I'm going to say something pretty radical here: I think that most of the time, we know what we want to do.

"But Laura," you say, "that can't possibly be true. Entire chunks of our lives are allotted to figuring out what we want to do. We figure out who we are in middle school, supposedly, and then we figure out what we want to do in high school and college*-- and for some people, it takes even longer than that. Hell, the entire self-help industry arguably depends on the fact that a whole lot of people still don't know what they want to do with their lives."

All of that may be true (except for the idea that we figure out "who we are" in three years, especially given that those years are fraught with pimples and hormones and, in most cases, feeling terrible about yourself), but I think a lot of it is also bullshit. Just because that's the way things are in our society doesn't mean that's the way things actually-with-a-capital-A-"Are".

I can't claim to speak for that capital-A-Are, (though, so long as we're on the subject: I think it's different for everybody, if it even exists), and that's not what I'm setting out to do with this blog post, so I'll try to move on as quickly as possible. Rather, what I am proposing is that knowing "what we want to do" is often a lot simpler than the high school guidance counselors and the college advisers and the self-help gurus might have us believe.

I do think that a lot of us (especially those in my age cohort) really and truly believe that we don't know what we want to be when we grow up/what we want to do with our lives/etc. And to each of us (including myself), I would say: Don't worry about it. 

I think that we're dedicating a lot of time and effort and (in some cases) money to-- gasp-- the wrong question. Because really, it doesn't so much matter what you want to be when you grow up. What matters is what you're doing right now. If you die tomorrow, or next week, people might mention that you'd always wanted to be a marine biologist or an astronaut, cry a little, and then head to IHOP for the reception. But more than that, we're going to be talking about what you did and what you were doing right up until your death. In terms of the impact that you have on the world, your present actions matter a whole lot more than whatever you're thinking about doing in the future.

This is not to say that dreams don't matter, nor is it meant to ignore the fact that what you do now will influence what you do later-- so arguably a little planning is necessary to create the life you want. What I'm trying to say is that rather than asking ourselves what we want to be once we've entered that nebulously defined world of "grown-upedness", we should be asking ourselves what we want to do right now-- and we should be doing it. My point is that we should be creating the life that we dream of right now-- not waiting around until we've achieved some career goal that we may have defined for ourselves when we were young or that maybe was defined for us by our parents' (or society's) limits of acceptability.

My point is that it doesn't do you much good to say "I want to be a marine biologist someday" unless you back it up with present-day actions-- because that "someday" is almost always riddled with conditional statements. You want to be a marine biologist "later", "when you grow up", but for now you don't live near an ocean or an aquarium or you're too young or you have to stay home for a while to take care of your parents or to save up money or you don't have the schooling or the wherewithal to be a marine biologist just yet.

What we have here, then, is a vision-- and nothing more. And even though these visions aren't... anything, really (think about it: can you see/touch/hear/feel it?), we begin to identify with them. We incorporate them into our identity, we get excited for "that day" when we will be doing just what we've always wanted (and often, I think, we assume that once we've reached "that day" we will also be the person whom we've wanted to be and we will-- if you'll pardon the expression-- shit roses and puppies and incense)... and in the meantime, we're... what?

If you identify solely as a "future marine biologist", then there's no space for identifying as whatever you are right now. The fallacy here, I think, is that we rob ourselves of a whole lot of present-day agency and power and self-discovery and joy, because we're holding off until we "get there" (which may or may not ever happen). In many cases, I think, we are robbing ourselves of a lived experience by waiting for life to happen to, or for, us.

Fine. Okay, fair enough (mostly). So if I take you up on your point, Laura, the next question becomes: If the new question is "what do I want to be doing right now," how the hell do I answer it? I know-- or at least, I sort of know-- what I want to be later, but I have no freaking clue what I should be doing right now."

FINALLY, we've arrived at what I planned for this post to address all along. Here are my suggestions for what to do when you don't know what you want to do:

1. First recognize that you're not alone. You are joined by millions, maybe billions of people the world over. Don't castigate yourself, don't think yourself some kind of freak or failure because you haven't yet been able to "figure this out". You're a human being, and you've been just as twisted around by our social constructs as the rest of us. So have some compassion for yourself. Beating yourself up is merely a waste of time that could otherwise be dedicated to productively pursuing the answers that you seek.

2. Stop telling yourself that you don't know what to do. Your beliefs will create your reality.Self-defeating thoughts are never in your best interests, so try not to listen to them. Remember, Ic is not your friend.

3. Try to replace those self-deprecating thoughts with something victorious.Start telling yourself, "I know what I want to do." It might not feel true for a while, but keep saying it-- because the more you repeat it, the more likely you are to believe it, and the more likely it is to become true

4. (This one can be tough): Get really, really quiet. Inside, I mean. Make space in your day for silence, for deep breathing, for meditation (if you're into it), for whatever activities help you feel calm and centered and like you are completely embodied within yourself. Cultivate a practice of paying attention more. Pay attention all the time to the things that you are drawn to, that interest you, that energize you and make you feel powerful and alive. 

5. When you notice a draw toward something, follow it.Let yourself be drawn. Start small. If you feel like eating oatmeal for dinner (or cake, or raw green beans), do it. If you feel like finger-painting, go buy some paints and smear your fingers all over the canvas (or the wall, or the old ugly table that could really use some color). If you feel like hugging a tree, go to the woods/the park/a sidewalk planter and do that. If you feel like punching your boss in the face-- well, maybe don't do that (but you could draw a picture of you punching your boss in the face, or you could start taking a kick-boxing class and imagine with each jab-hook combo that you are punching your boss square in the kisser). If you decide that you want to go to Korea to study Tae Kwon Do, start saving. (See? I'm not totally opposed to planning for future wants-- my point, really, is that you've got to do something now in order to get to the desired future). 

There are two tough parts to #5:

1. Fear. I'll talk about this in another post (actually; this was going to be the subject of this post-- but apparently I got sidetracked). "Fear" probably lies at the root of the other key "tough part," but I'm going to separate them out just the same:
2. You have to let go. I think that the key to figuring out what you want is to open yourself up to wanting anything. Maybe you don't "want" to take a walk in the woods, or to scribble with crayons (for Jeebus' sake, you're a grown-up!); maybe you don't "want" to discover that you really would rather be a lawyer than a marine biologist.
But if some part of you is sending a clear message, I think it's our responsibility to ourselves to listen to it. And in my experience, acting on those "callings" (for lack of a less loaded term) opens us up to all kinds of growth and delicious challenge and joy.

So it's tough. But-- really, truly, fingers-not-crossed swear-- I think it can be done. What it requires is practice, and patience, and compassionate listening. And bravery. Because it just may happen that we realize we want something other than what we are "supposed" to want, or what we told ourselves we wanted. But if the alternative is waiting around until the day that I magically become a marine biologist and everything in my life becomes perfect... well, I don't want to wait.

And besides, I never really wanted to be a marine biologist anyway.


*It should be noted that this is primarily a western-world construct

Monday, November 22, 2010

6. Sunday throwback

I wrote this sometime in August, I think, or maybe September. But I find that it's a great text to refer back to on a regular basis (In this way, you could say that it's just like the Bible (I kid))

Listen. I am saying this with my head propped up on an old stuffed dog and my belly full of raisins and chocolate.

It's okay.

You are allowed to lie on your back on your bed with the fan on above you, too late already for a full night's sleep and still unable to close your eyes.

You are allowed to be awkward around your boss and to spend all day feeling like a childish fool in clunky shoes.

You are allowed to feel unsure how you feel about this new face in the mirror. You are allowed to think you look awesome. Yes, even if you have fleshy hips and you wear pants in a larger size than two. You are also allowed to think that you look awesome if you have hardly any hips and your pants are a size two.

You are allowed to move any way that your body wants to. You are allowed to lie on the floor if that's where you're comfortable.

You are allowed to think that you are sexy and attractive and alluring and come-hither-oh-me-oh-my-oh-tastic. You are allowed to Be sexy, and attractive, and alluring, and come-hither-oh-me-oh-you-oh-God-yes.

You are allowed to walk the fifty minutes to work in the morning. You are also allowed to walk to the bus stop and then ride that bus the whole way to your office building's door.

You are allowed to feel lonely sometimes, and afraid.

You are allowed to ask "who says?," and you are allowed to say "fuck you" to the mandates that do not serve your own well-being. You are allowed to talk back to a system that tells you to hate yourself, to hate your body, to harm yourself in innumerable ways, to rot your brain. You are allowed to declare your independence from all of that.

You are allowed to wear flip-flops to work even though they may not be "proper business attire". 

You can also breathe really loudly during yoga class and let out great huge yodels while kickboxing. It's okay if other people think you are weird; even so you're allowed to be loud, bold, and brave.

You are allowed to spend hours lying in bed, reading or writing or talking on the phone. Yes, you are even allowed to watch TV.

You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to love somebody and still maybe not want to be with them. You are allowed to like more than one person at the same time.

You are allowed to be unsure. Though awareness is great, you do not have to know what you are thinking and feeling every moment of every day. You are allowed to let things come to you, to let things percolate for a while and take shape in their own due time. You are allowed to say "I don't know."

You are allowed to be honest with yourself and with others about who you are and what you think and feel. You are allowed to care about things even if people try to tell you that that's "uncool". You are allowed to be sensitive and in tune to the troubles and the wonders of being alive.

You're allowed to feel pain and you are allowed to feel immeasurable joy.

You are allowed to be smart. It's also okay to feel dumb sometimes. You can be the leader, if somebody needs to take the reins. You can hang toward the back of the pack if that's where you're most comfortable.

You can be exactly who and what you are and you can tell other people to go fuck themselves if they cannot respect that. You can say that and still be a good person.

You are allowed to forgive other people, to let go, to move on. You are allowed to forgive yourself.

You are allowed to be as free as you choose to be.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

5. Saturday link round-up*

A ((n) abbreviated) collection of stuff I've been perusing online:

1. The writings of Peace Pilgrim

"What we suffer from is immaturity. If we were mature people, war would be no problem - it would be impossible."

2. The Privilege Denying Dude

"A dude dressing like a girl or a girl dressing like a dude must be gay"

3. Totally Unique Thoughts

"All things and events are born from the thoughts of those who experience them, and our thoughts stem from our beliefs and expectations about life. When you meet someone, the important thing to remember is that YOU caused and permitted them to come into your life. You were not a bystander; you were the reason. And as for why you chose as you did... there are as many reasons as there are meetings."

 4. Why I Am a Monarchist (I've got some issues with this one, but value it for stimulating my intellect)

"We are not permitted to see our real rulers, and never permitted to name them. The democratic sham covers the oligarchic reality."

5. The Cultural Recyclists' blog (some of my dear friends are bicycling across the country to learn and to raise awareness for transitioning to local and sustainable lifestyles and communities)

 "I said to Charlie, “Tell everyone I love them. Its all good."'

6. Fat heffalump

"Don’t let anyone diminish how you feel.  Don’t let anyone tell you to just “get over it”.  How dare they?  Are they the ones harmed by the behaviour?  Even if they are, they choose how THEY react to it, and how they feel about it, not how anyone else does.  Your emotions are YOURS, and nobody has any right to minimise them."

7. Small Change (by Malcolm Gladwell)

"Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is."

"Grounds For Sculpture was established in 1992 to promote an understanding of and appreciation for contemporary sculpture."

There you have it: Just a small sampling of the stuff that I've introduced to my brain of late. If you've been reading anything interesting (online or otherwise), I'm wide open to suggestions!

*Okay, so now it's Sunday. Very, very early in the morning on Sunday. I should go to bed. But technically, I started (and saved) this post on Saturday. Hence, the title remains.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

5. On doing what fills you

I was planning a philosophical entry on the natures of time and space (really I was), but as I lay here in a warmed-up hoodie underneath my bed's covers, I find that I'm currently not up for the task. Besides, another subject is tugging at me, one that I've been mulling over all day.

As I write this, I am listening to "A Time Before," by John Fluker, on the album The Sound of Peace. The instrumentals are so beautiful that I can barely stand how full I am with feeling this beauty-- I am nearly crying. Just by listening to music, I am almost crying.

This, I think, is the origination of the concept of "so good it hurts." But I think that feeling of hurt is, perhaps more accurately, a feeling of fullness.

Which is not to say that it doesn't hurt, sometimes. Our bodies are such piddling containers for the volume of... lifeness that any human can feel; it's a tight squeeze, and I don't know about you but sometimes I feel like I could just burst wide open.

I think that we've been created (by whom/whatever entity or processes you believe in) with this in mind, and have been given/evolved some mechanisms-- tears, laughter, movement, art, our voice-- for releasing the pressures of this fullness. Without this release, I believe, we either break under the intensity of human experience or shrivel up inside so that we are no longer experiencing hardly anything at all (or at least not Experiencing with a capital "E").

For a while I chose the shriveled-up-dead-and-dying route (see: When Ic Ruled the Roost, or post #3), but I'm not okay with that any more. Gradually, in the past couple of years, I've been coming back to Life. This is a difficult process, however, because we are constantly sold Death in all kinds of tantalizing disguises (thank you, Capitalism and your consumerist imperative. Also thank you MTV).

So I've been thinking a lot about how to feast on as much Life as possible without being swayed or deceived by the seeming allure of Death. And I'm beginning to think that the way to stay close to Life is to seek out those thing/activities/experiences that make you feel so full you could cry. This is life, this is the heartland, this is juicy-oh-sweet-oh-succulent-even-when-it-hurts-it's-good-yes.

Therefore I am trying to pay attention to what makes me feel alive. The first goal here, as always, is simply to be aware. The proximal goal is to begin to shape my life so that it is full of fullness: Cut out all of the wasteful bullshit that makes you feel numb, or uninspired, or like a drone on autopilot, or like there's nothing meaningful or good in this world, any more. Because that's simply not the case. But knowing this to be true requires actively cultivating a life that allows for the experience of life. And so, without further ado, I present here in no particular order what is only the beginning of a list of things/activities/experiences that make me feel so alive that I could cry:

 -listening to really good music (a couple of artists that come immediately to mind: Band of Horses, the Avett Brothers, any number of classical instrumentalists, Amos Lee, The Tallest Man on Earth, Bright Eyes, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Decemberists, and then some)

-reading good poetry (Mary Oliver and Rumi are two of my favorites)

-reading anything that affirms what I know also to be True (I don't mean things that are in line with my political ideology. I would never claim that my political stance is the only "true" one. Here I am referring to the personal Truth that I believe is contained within each of us.* This is different for every human being, but I also believe in overlap. And when someone else's art-- their articulation of their own truth-- mirrors something inside of me, well... that can nearly make me cry)

-collaborating with a team of creative people on creative projects (music, art, writing)

-walking through the woods. also sitting in the woods. especially sitting by creeks in the woods.

-pretty much doing anything in nature



-meditation (on the rare occasion that I can actually stay present for it)

-Taize services


-seeing people learn and grow

-going exploring

-adventuring. getting lost and eventually finding my way again

-climbing things

-seeing people treat each other kind

I will continue adding to this list. And I hereby resolve that I will begin to shape my days around those things which really fill me up, those things which make me feel Alive. Because when I am Alive, not only I am filled-- not satiated, but satisfied-- but I am also so much better able to give of myself. By becoming a more life-filled human being, I infuse this world with life. The world could use it, to be sure. The awful irony here is that life is available to us in boundless supply-- but we have to pay attention to it, and we have to let it enter us if we've any hope of being fed.

* This is a touchy subject, and a difficult word to employ because it carries so much baggage in the form of loaded connotations. Your interpretation here is your own. Likewise I mean the word as I do.

4. Blue Crab B.S. on the Chesapeake Bay*

**Cross-posted with National Geographic's MyWonderfulWorld blog in honor of Geography Awareness Week** 
Laura_Newcomer_Pic1.pngEvery morning on my walk to work in downtown Washington, D.C., I pass an advertisement for Capital One Bank that says, "Easier to find than blue crabs in Chesapeake Bay". And each time I wonder, What does that mean? 

It seems obvious, perhaps, that we're to assume there are a lot of blue crabs in the Bay, and that the bank has even more branches than that. But unless we possess pre-established knowledge about the status of blue crabs in the Chesapeake, how can we assume this to be true?

The Blue Crab's Back-Story

Let's start with a quick introduction to the state of blue crabs in the Bay. Blue crabs are the most valuable commercial fish commodity in the Bay-- it's estimated that the Chesapeake supplies more than one-third of the nation's blue crab catch, to the tune of about $50 million per year -- but since the early 1990s the population has been increasingly taxed by harvest pressures, habitat loss, and water pollution.

Since 2002, crab abundance has remained consistently lower than past averages. In 2008, a winter survey estimated the Bay's blue crab population to be 283 million crabs-- only about 30% of 1990 population estimates.Laura_Newcomer_Pic2.png

But it isn't all doom and gloom for the cobalt crustaceans. In the wake of 2008's abysmal numbers, officials began a series of management practices, including limitations on catch size and making some areas of the Bay off-limits to commercial crabbing. As a result, the estuary's crab population has doubled in the last two years, reaching its highest level since 1997.

These improvements are laudable, to be sure, but their successes should not distract from the fact that the crab population is still nowhere near what it used to be--particularly when we consider that in 1997, the Bay's blue crab had already taken substantial hits.

The Production of False Geographic Knowledge

Thus, it's not as if blue crabs have been doing so consistently well over the years that we can take their proliferation as a given. But that's exactly the tact this advertisement seems to take. The ad suggests that the crabs are doing just fine-- great, even-- and, by implication, that there's no reason why we as consumer-citizens should give the crustaceans a second thought (I readily understand that this was likely not the ad's intended message. However, I argue that the ad's creators are responsible not only for the explicit but also the implicit information that they convey, because this implicit information is, in nearly all cases, constructed no less intentionally than the more overt messages).

Laura_Newcomer_Pic3.gifIn this way, the ad actively produces geographic knowledge-- only this knowledge is largely inaccurate. The ad relies on its viewers, as residents of the Bay watershed (the entire District of Columbia lies within the watershed), to feel an affinity for the Bay (and, by extension, the bank that associates with it)-- but it also capitalizes on the fact that most city residents are probably not experts on the blue crab and will therefore take the advertisement at face value. In this way, the advertisement exploits its viewers' lack of knowledge and creates a false set of geographic assumptions.

Therefore, I argue that this advertisement is, at its core, irresponsible. Because, the way we talk about things, determines the way we think about them, determines the way we treat them. If we talk about blue crabs as if they're effortlessly proliferating, we will think this true, and we will be less inclined to take steps toward conserving the crabs (and, by extension, their fellow Bay species, who are struggling under the same pressures).

In reality, the Chesapeake Bay needs our time, attention, and efforts at preservation-- now more than ever. To suggest otherwise is not only inaccurate, it invalidates a watershed that is fundamentally important for a huge variety of species, ecosystems, communities, and livelihoods. (For more information on why the Chesapeake Bay matters, start here).

The Take-Home Messages

So, what are the take-away lessons from this advertisement and this post? There are several:

1.    Conduct your own research. Most especially (and perhaps this goes without saying), do not trust the information contained in advertisements; it is designed to sell you something. It is therefore highly subject to manipulation and should not be taken at face value.
2.    Consider content and audience when discussing geographic topics (or, really, any topic). It is irresponsible to assume geographic knowledge in any context-- and, conversely, it is irresponsible to assume the lack of geographic knowledge and to exploit that ignorance in the hopes of winning public favor and/or economic gain.
3.    Care for the Chesapeake Bay. It's worth sustaining--As is, of course, the star of this blog post: the blue crab. In fact, the blue crab is one of several keystone species in the Bay. The Bay is struggling, but it is not beyond saving-- and even busy, remote individuals can have an impact. For a list of easy ways you can get involved in the preservation of the Bay watershed, go here.
4.    Live curious. Notice how even everyday encounters can lead to a lesson in geography and increased knowledge of regional issues. Feel free to share your own observations, either with National Geographic or at my own blog, LightInfinityExpress. Thanks for reading--

Laura_Newcomer_Pic4.jpg*Of course by "B.S." I mean "Bank Statements."

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Save the Bay (founded by the CBF)

National Geographic Article, "Why Can't We Save the Bay?"

Chesapeake Bay Program

Saturday, November 13, 2010

3. Introducing Ic

I've mentioned Ic before, though perhaps not by name. Ic is short for I.C., which is short for Inner Critic, which is that nasty voice that so often imposes its monologue on my interiority and, if left unchecked, is more than happy to make me one miserable daughter of a gun.

For many years of my life, Ic ran the show-- and let me tell you: he/she/it (depending on the day and the situation) knows how to run a tight ship. For a while, nothing but self-loathing rhetoric was permitted in my mind-- conscious or otherwise. So I walked around hating myself for about eight years or so, and that meant that I treated myself pretty badly-- and engaged with a lot of people who were more than happy to treat me badly, too-- for a long time. It was rough.

But at some point, I began to consider that maybe Ic wasn't the only one who had an opinion on how I could treat myself and run my life. I began to think that maybe I should have a say in things, too.

Then the battle really began. I had thought that Ic was an asshole before I started to establish myself as a separate entity; boy, was I in for a nasty surprise! Ic dug in, and the brawl that ensued lasted for several years.

I've fought hard, and as a result these days I'm usually the one directing my actions and my interior monologue-- which has become much more forgiving and self-positive. But this is not to say that Ic isn't always ready to butt in with an opinion, especially when I'm tired, overworked, or feeling down. I suspect that Ic will hang around for the rest of my life-- and I suspect that every human being on the planet lives with the equivalent of her or his own Ic, as well.

I also think that it's possible, if not to completely eradicate the Inner Critic, to come to a place where ze* is rendered silent much of the time.This is where the intention of this blog comes in: to "bring shadow observations to light" means, to me, to expose Ic to the penetrating light of truth-- with the goal of making him shrivel up and die. If I can articulate the negative stuff-- and this is where writing and art really come into play-- I gain power over it. As I develop my own sense of power-- and, in doing so, my own sense of self-- I am less easily influenced by negative voices that are not my own. I am more able to see through all of the bullshit to the clearness of my authentic voice.

This is no easy task, to be sure. And it's certainly not always cherubs heralding and angels harking around here. But, on a good day, I don't hear Ic any more-- I hear me. And that, my friends, is the goal. In the meantime, I will probably spend a lot of time on this blog routing out dear ol' Ic-- and doing my damndest to squash him under the weight of Me. 

*I use the gender-neutral pronoun "ze" because people of all genders are capable of speaking cruelly, so it would be unfair to assign this attribute to a strictly male persona.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

2. Upon the ending of Jersey Shore

I have a terrible, horrible, shameful secret: Sometimes, I watch Jersey Shore. I'm not sure what possesses me to watch it, really; perhaps that will be the subject of another post. The point here is that sometimes, for whatever reason, I watch the show. Tonight was one such occasion.

I got home feeling tired, and still sick, and, well, one thing led to another, and after making a quick dinner of soup and veggies I found myself lying on my back in bed, munching from a (50-cent! God bless post-Halloween candy sales) bag of candy corn and watching the final episode of Jersey Shore online.

About halfway through, I was sick of it. It was all shouting and emotional avoidance and in-authenticity. But I kept watching. I kept watching partly, I think, because I was avoiding writing this blog post; I was avoiding addressing the buildup of emails that await me in my inbox; I was avoiding having to be awake to my own experience (see post #1)*. So even though it was difficult to watch, I kept watching, because that nasty little voice inside (who will be the subject of yet another post) kept suggesting that even though I was having a miserable time watching the show, I would have an even more miserable time if I just sat there, in bed with myself. This continued watching led me to the final five minutes of the show, in which the friends (with the unfortunate exception of Sammi and J-WOW) all kiss and make up and exchange quick, tight hugs before loading their laden suitcases into separate cabs, and hailing away.

For reasons that at first seemed inexplicable, I found myself intensely irritated during these scenes; I felt possessed by anxiety, by a feeling that if I didn't get those images off of my screen I was going to go crazy/explode/lose it/freak out/what have you. I stopped being awake for a few moments, and became nothing but pure, unconscious anxiety.

I nearly x'ed out of the screen, but instead I snapped back to (at least partial) attention, and decided to sit with these feelings to the best of my ability. So I ate more candy corn than my stomach might have liked, but I watched the rest of the show. As the credits rolled, my work began-- because really, the feeling of anxiety that I experienced matters less than what I learn from it. If I want to be awake, if I want to grow and to "progress"**, then it's my job to figure out why I feel/think/act in the ways that I do.

I think, in this case, that the farewell scenes struck a nerve because they are full of scenes of caring and friendship (because at the end of the day, the cast of Jersey Shore is a family of friends, and even if I take issue with their conduct much of the time, I respect them for their loyalty and, ultimately, the way they do seem to care for one another). And the fact of the matter is that right now, I myself am feeling kind of lonely. And honestly, watching other people have the kind of relationships that I am missing so deeply right now (well, sort of...)... it hurt.

This is not to say that I don't have wonderful friends. I do, so many of them, and I consider myself wildly lucky in this regard. The only downside is, they're spread out all over this great wide country, and none of them are here. I miss them.

This is also not to say that I haven't made friends here. I have, so many of them, and they're wonderful people and I consider myself very lucky in this regard, as well. But nothing can replace the depth and fulfillment found in a friendship that has been slowly simmering on the pot for years-- maybe even decades!-- all those ingrediential experiences just rolling around together in the perfect combination of warmth, texture, and seasoning. I miss all my pots of stew.

And then there's this: Not since high school have I felt part of a group. Despite having a whole lot of friends, many of them are on an individual or (as previously discussed) long-distance basis. In many ways, in my day to day life I've been very solitary for the past six years or so. This has had the positive effect of giving me space to explore myself, and forcing me to be comfortable with being on my own (though this is, as always, still a process). But the truth is, I'm kind of getting sick of it. I'm tired of being the, for some (though not all) intents and purposes, the "only one" in my life. I crave physical and emotional contact; I crave being a contributor to something tangibly bigger than myself; I crave knowing that I am cared for and feeling "part of".

In many ways, I think this is simply part of the human experience***-- and in that regard I suspect that I will struggle with (or, to use more optimistic language, "encounter") these feelings throughout the course of my life. We are continually engaged in the simultaneous processes of joining and separating, and navigating a balance between the two will take oodles more of the wisdom gained only through years and years of experience. I guess the important thing is to not get too bogged down in these feelings. See that you're feeling this way, and honor it, but don't get stuck there. This, one of my favorite videos, sums it up nicely:
(my apologies-- for whatever reason, I can't get the video to embed)

Still, some days, even following the guidelines of this video doesn't make me feel as better as I'd like. Because the fact of the matter is that there is simply nothing in this world that compares to being hugged by someone who is wanting to share their love with you.

And then a voice (not the nasty one that whispers to me in its insidious little hisses, but the other one-- the one that is goodness, is fullness, is shining white light) announces itself, saying, "Hey, hey you. Laura. I love you. I'm wanting to hug you. Will you please let me in?"

And so I wrap my arms around myself, and outside in the world it is starting to rain. Droplets cling to the window screen, and the asphalt outside is scrubbed clean, all shining and new.


*Iin this way, I can claim to be no better than the members of Jersey Shore: because I, too, was neglecting my emotions by engaging in unhealthy avoidance mechanisms (shouting at your closest friends because you can't stand to talk about how much you're going to miss them = watching people shout at their close friends because you can't stand to square with yourself about your own feelings)

 **I think it's important to problematize this word, because the concept of "progression" inherently contains the notion that we are always moving toward a certain something, which is a very results-oriented way of approaching life. But as much greater thinkers than I have proposed, perhaps we should focus much less on the destination and more on the refueling stations, the vistas, and the roadside stands selling apple cider, rocking chairs, and squirrel pie for only $5.00 a pan. Life is both more gratifying-- and certainly more interesting-- when eaten with bare hands, hair blowing wild in the gusts of trucks passing by on the freeway.

***whatever that means

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1. My choices are contagious

I am taking a sick day today, the first in...nine months? (this is not to say that I haven't been sick in that time, but I have either a) not had a job or a class from which to take a sick day or b) have soldiered on regardless). I was going to take only a half day, but when I got out of bed at around 10, things took a turn for the worse, and I soon found myself reeling back to the relative comfort of covers, cough drops, crystallized ginger, and lots and lots of water.

What's wrong with me, I'm not entirely sure. I've got your run-of-the-mill symptoms: congestion, runny nose, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, sore eyes, fatigue, shakiness, a little nausea. But truth be told, I don't think that I would be sick right now if I had taken the time to check in with myself-- and take better care of myself-- physically, mentally, and spiritually over the course of the past two months.

I've been feeling under the weather two weeks or more, and it's as if my mind/body/spirit has been yelling out, louder and louder through these intensifying symptoms, "Hey! You there! Yeah, you! We need a break, woman. We need attention and validation and loving tender care. This is not a drill! Are you listening? We repeat: this is not a drill..."

And I, following long-ingrained patterns of habit, avoidance, and fear, chose not to listen. Instead of slowing down at the first sign of symptoms-- instead of going to bed early, saying no to social outings (or at least some of them), journaling, meditating, doing yoga, drinking tea, generally recentering myself--  I did... none of these things.

And that's why I say that my choices are-- or have the potential to be-- contagious. My choice (or really, series of choices) not to care for myself has resulted in my body/mind/spirit finally throwing up their hands and saying, "Fine. If you're not going to care for us when we ask for it, we're going make you slow down. We're going to make you so miserable and tired and ill that you have no choice but to take a break." And-- as evidenced by the fact that it is 4pm on a Tuesday and I have yet to leave my apartment (nor, even, to change out of my pajamas), it worked. In short, my choices made me sick.

I don't say this to judge myself, nor to castigate myself in the sense of "you got what you deserved, asshole". I also do not say this to imply that there is always a direct line of cause and effect between our choices and their results-- because truly, I think this is rarely the case. We're not operating in a vacuum, ever, and our own energies and experiences are influenced by the universe and other people and events in ways that we will never fully be able to know or process. It is quite possible that my choices are not the only factor in my illness. It's quite possible that it's simply flu season, and a lot of people get sick at this time of year. But I would be remiss, I think, if I did not look at the way my own intents and actions are implicated in my health status.

Thus, I say that "my choices made me sick" not with rancor, but merely as observation, so that I can see clearly-- to the extent that it is possible-- the way that I am living my life. Knowledge and understanding are prerequisites for making changes, and that is my primary goal these days: to cultivate knowledge (of my own experience, and, by extension, other people's experience) through witnessing, learning, so that I can-- eventually, and only if I deem it necessary or desirable-- make a change. At this point, I'm just taking stock, and the stock of it is this:

When I get busy-- and particularly when my "performance" is accountable to other people (be they professor, employer, partner, what have you)-- I stop making my own self and self-care a priority. I find all manner of excuses for not taking care of myself, among them:

-I'm too tired (this one is huge, and cyclical)
-I have so many other things to do
-I don't feel well
-I need to do this project for work before I can tend to my own projects (and then, inevitably, I'm "too tired" after completing the work project to pay attention to my own)
-I can't cancel on my friends. They'll be disappointed/they'll be angry/they'll be upset/they won't want to hang out with me again and I'll lose all my friends and will be rejected and unloved and alone
-I don't want to face my feelings (so I zone out instead of engaging with my own creativity, because doing so requires that I also engage with my own experience)
-I'm afraid that I won't do a good job at the things that I want to do, and then I'll look like a fool for believing that I could do them
-I hate to miss out on things and I'm afraid that if I say no to anything (but my own self-care) I will miss out on the experience of a lifetime
-I'm afraid that I will do a good job at the things that I want to do, and then I'll be obligated to do more of them, and then my whole life will be consumed by writing or painting or singing or what have you, and I will never leave my room and I will have no friends and I will be completely out of control and utterly at the mercy of my own (apparently malevolent) art

-I've already worked so much already today; haven't I earned the right to zone out in front of Gilmore Girls reruns? I don't really need to write, or draw, or play guitar, or go play in nature, or wander around with no destination, or do any of the things that I really and truly love to do, that help me to feel awake and inspired and alive

But that's the crux of the problem: By not tending to myself, I am limiting my own capacity to feel and to be Alive-with-a-capital-"A". This is unacceptable. And therefore I resolve the following:

Resolution 1: I will turn my light out by 11:30 at the latest, 3 out of 5 evenings each work week

Resolution 2: I will return to writing morning pages every day-- even if it means hitting the snooze only once, instead of three times

Resolution 3: I will respond to email as it comes in-- or I will set aside time when I can attend to it later that same day. (This counts as self care because it will do loads for reducing my stress, since I am always anxious about how behind I am on electronic communication)

Resolution 4: I will refrain from doing social activities at least one night each week

Resolution 5: I will attend Taize services every Sunday before choir practice

Just as choosing not to care for myself charges me with certain consequences, choosing to care for myself-- even in small steps-- will, I am certain, have a similar-and-opposite effect. Stay tuned for results.