The Myth of Expectations

Blergh, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Rants, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

I recently read a post from one of those “mindful” dating sites.  The author was writing about the “myth” of dating difficulties for people over 40.  She abruptly found herself dating at 45 and, despite all her friends’ dire predictions, was having an absolute BLAST! And you know what she claims is wrong with her friends?  They just have the wrong expectations!  If they would clean up their emotional bullshit and change their expectations, all the chum they’d been attracting would disappear and they’d suddenly have their pick of ridiculously awesome people.

I’m here to call bullshit on that entire perspective, and the implication that I’m just not doing my personal work well enough, that I continue to attract bad things to myself because I’m not working fast enough to unload my baggage.  This effectively makes every sh*tty thing that happens MY FAULT.  Because I’m not doing a good enough job being better.

Seriously?  I’m not doing good enough AT BEING BETTER?

Despite years of messaging about “creating my reality,” I have come to understand that most things that happen that are out of my control.  I get to control my responses and reaction and choices, but I’m not responsible for the fact that so many people in their 30s and 40s are hot messes.  Or that I get coffee with them.  Or that I lose my job, fight with a friend, or face ageism, or racism, or misogyny, or all that other crap that REALLY TRULY EXISTS.  Simply putting on my ruby slippers, clicking my heels, and breathlessly exclaiming “everything is wonderful, everything is wonderful, everything is wonderful” DOESN’T MAKE EVERYTHING WONDERFUL.

One of the hardest things to learn is that there are many, many things I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER, regardless of how much work I do on myself.  I still have to deal with bad dates, difficult co-workers, aggravating family, and a world that seems like it’s going to somewhere bad, really fast.  It’s not helpful to keep blaming me because bad things happen to me, in my life, and in the world.  In fact, it’s that message – that I can somehow magically control everything in my life that has led to bouts with anxiety, depression, and shame and guilt, all things that add to the already heavy burden of being human.

It’s true – I do need to do my work, address my issues, and be the best person I can be.  It’s true that I do need to check in on my expectations, ask for feedback from friends  and professionals, and realize that sometimes I do make bad choices.  But sometimes, a bad coffee date or fight with a friend is just that, and blaming me for somehow creating the situation because I’m not an evolved enough person is truly, truly unhelpful.

unhelpful

Today is not a good day

Blergh, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Rants, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

It just isn’t.  It’s been four and a half months of unemployment.  Four and a half months of ambiguity, uncertainty, and frustration.  Four and a half months of finding ways to “explore” my creative self, taking on volunteer projects, planning and preparing for future endeavors, reconnecting with friends, starting to network around the city again, and all the other ways I can milk this time off.

Believe me, I am grateful.

Even though the ending was hard, I am grateful to be out of my last job.  I am grateful to receive unemployment, grateful that I have no dependents, and that I have a gracious, affordable living space.  I am grateful that I had the means to seek help when I needed it, that I have a loving and supportive group of friends and extended family, that my life is calm and quiet, that I am financially able to care for myself and meet my material needs.  I am grateful I have built enough confidence to know that I will find meaningful work, and that I have a rich professional network to draw from when I do.

I am grateful for all of these things and still, today is not a Good Day.

The waiting is making me anxious, and I feel sedentary and stuck.  Positive self talk and forced cheerfulness are not welcome here today.  I’m finding things to nag myself about, and eagerly discovering fault in even the things I’m managing to well and consistently.   My toilet needs to be cleaned, I need a shower, have stopped cooking for myself more than one or two days a week, and can’t seem to make myself write every day.

I have no excuse for these things.  I have no dependents to care for, plenty of time, and few obligations, and yet my toilet goes unscrubbed and toenails go unpainted.  I’m not overly depressed or panicked, I’m doing the things I need to do, even if I don’t always feel like doing them.  But limitless, unbounded time isn’t the nirvana it’s made out to be, especially when there is are obvious ends.  If there were an end in sight, I believe there would be some sense of relief, of comfort in knowing that life will return to normal in 3…2….1….

I’m not looking for cheering up or placation or comforting remarks.  They wouldn’t work anyway because today simply isn’t a Good Day.

It's not your day.

It’s not your day.

Doubting the Reality

Blergh, Corrections, Novelicious, Obstacles/Challenges, Random Observations, Uncategorized, Writing

Recently, I’ve spoken with a couple of former colleagues about our experiences at CCCF and have found those conversations a mixed blessing.  As time goes by, it is harder to remember how crazy I felt, how unwell and frenzied.  It also becomes easier to doubt my experience, to think that maybe I was being hypersensitive and over-reactive, that it wasn’t that bad.  But typing the sentence “maybe prisons aren’t that bad after all” feels like a joke.

Prisons are terrible places.

But maybe they were less bad than I made them out to be?  It all seems so fuzzy now, so distant and small.  I’m starting to question why I ever thought it was bad enough that I needed to write about it – why I ever thought this story would capture people’s attention.  Maybe if it were more horrific, if I had witnessed all kinds of horrible violence and aggression, maybe if I’d been more scarred and torn up – maybe then it would be worth telling.  But it’s not about any of those things – it’s about watching my students struggle against their internal odds, battle their demons and self-doubt, and win – time and time again, they won.  They succeeded in ways they’d never imagined – big and small – and experienced themselves as confident, competent, and valued people.

Trying to write the section about DOC has shaken my confidence tremendously.  Writing only about my experience is proving much more difficult than I realized it would be.  When I went back over the material I’d already written, it sounded like the rantings and complaints of a disgruntled person, an unhappy and bitter person.  But how to write about a system that’s so awful when the immediacy of the emotion is gone?  I’m not subject to that toxic environment every day now, and it’s hard to summon the motivation to be thoughtful in my observations.  I wonder if the rest will be this hard.  I wonder if the rest is worth writing at all.

sylviaplath-doubt

Walls

Blergh, Novelicious, Obstacles/Challenges, Uncategorized, Writing

I’ve been absent from my blog for the last several weeks, but not from writing.  I started writing Morning Pages (essentially a journaling exercise), documenting and observing in my beautiful Moleskine notebook, creating unexpected art, and (of utmost importance) have been writing The Book.  It’s NaNoWriMo and I’ve been riding that energy, but yesterday was awful.  Although I have completed 1 section (there are 5 total) I was arrogant (read: stupid) enough to think I could get the whole book drafted this month.  I thought this until I’d sent the first section to some friends for review and sat down to start the second section.

The chirping of crickets filled my ears, my head, my soul, accompanied by the BWAHAHAHAHAHAH of the inner critic, and the absolute truth that what I was writing was total shit.

This is the first time I’ve ever hit this particular wall, and I am now fully aware of why it’s so cold and heartbreaking.  That self-doubt (I can’t say this well, my writing is crap, this story is stupid, I’m an idiot, other people will be hurt/mad/whatever) carried over into every aspect of my life.  My interactions with people were yuck, I bailed on an event I’d paid for, and tried to fall asleep at 7:30 in the evening to avoid having to think.

It was horrendous.

Today, I’m facing the reality that I will not complete all five sections by the end of November – I have no idea when I’ll complete them.  The sense of urgency to finish – to get the work into the world – has only increased, but I feel like my capacity is diminished.  I’m also taking the opportunity to thrash myself a bit for wasting all this precious time.  “You’ll never have another opportunity like this!” say the voices.  “How many people get the luxury of time between jobs to create?” say the voices. “This topic is so relevant, so timely, HOW ARE YOU NOT DONE YET?!” scream the voices. “What makes you think that what you’re saying is real?  What if you’re a delusional psycho?” whisper the voices.

I’ve had similar experiences in other areas of my life, and I have to believe the same axiom holds:

pass1

That last bit isn’t traditional, but it’s honest.

That nameless feeling

Blergh, Change/Transformation, It's Personal, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

You know that feeling you get when there’s a lot of shit moving around, change is coming, transitions are pending, and you know it’s going to work out but it still feels crappy?  It feels like you can’t tolerate one more disruption, no matter how minor, or you’ll never crawl to your feet again – that feeling?  Oh, and as soon as you’re careless enough to say “oh cheezus – I can’t handle one more goddam thing or I’ll die!” the spiteful goddesses/gods/FlyingSpaghettiMonster sends just one more thing – just to see if you really WILL die this time?

That feeling.  That awful, indescribable, shrinking, contracting, solidifying, small, helpless, useless, no-one-cares-about-me-and-i-hate-my-own-goddam-self feeling?

Why is the only remedy for that hateful feeling to ride it out?  To fucking sit with all that discomfort and agony of waiting and ever-increasing feelings of worthlessness and shame and unwantedness?

WHYWHYWHYWHYWHY??????

In all of our human inventiveness and creativeness and blahblahblahblah, how have we NEVER come up with a better solution than “ride it out”?  I’m not counting all those things that will eventually kill you – drugs, alcohol, overeating, overfucking, punching and kicking shit, beating people up, stealing things, and all that other crap.  I mean a genuine, bona-fide, non-lethal way to spare ourselves all that unpleasantness.

Oh, and I’m also not talking about all that bullshit meditation, “it’s all just energy,” don’t resist, let it flow through you, the-sooner-you-learn-to-accept-the-easier-it-will-be, do some yoga, hike in nature, get a friend, get a lover, cook something delicious and share it, and all that other HIDEOUS well-meaning but enraging advice!  Keep your goody-goody, namby-pamby do-right-by-the-world smarminess to yourself buddy.

There is REAL SUFFERING happening here.

Well, when I say “real” I mean “real to me.”  I don’t mean “real” as in I’m a refugee, lost a child, am destitute or homeless, have to sell myself for money, or other people are selling me for money, being tortured, kidnapped, or killed, having to find food for me and my kids at every meal, living in a war zone, have to choose between food and medicine, suffering a crippling, wasting, painful disease, having to care for others constantly with no respite, have no friends, family, or loved ones, am living in my car, or on a landfill, am watching people suffer or die daily, am elderly and have almost no income and no family, live in a medical facility with no outside contact, am disabled and have limited access to care and support, am a vet living with PTSD and don’t know how to get help, and…

I think I should stop writing now.

Trump, the ultimate male fantasy figure

Blergh, Hard Stuff, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Uncategorized

As many of us have (more than I would have guessed, according to polls) I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump, and this startling wave of publicity he’s riding.  He’s always been one of “those” people – in the news for various things, none of them very positive, most seeming pretty slimy.  His wealth certainly represents one aspect of success, and I’m sure many people see him as a powerful man, but those things don’t explain, for me, why he’s suddenly the front-runner in the GOP’s pack of nominee hopefuls.

So why?  How can a man who is almost a caricature of himself suddenly capture the minds and attention of millions of people?  I think one answer is that he is the ultimate white man’s fantasy persona.  He does and says whatever he wants to – regardless of its impact on other people – and reaps no significant consequences.  He appears to need no significant relationships, have no important emotional attachments that are impacted by his behavior and words, and we know he has all the means he would ever need to support himself.

In short, he’s the ultimate loner and mythic hero figure, at least in the minds of some; a “man’s man” who doesn’t have to be “politically correct” or cater to the needs and whims of all these namby-pamby weepy types who populate the world.  He’s free and able to say exactly what he thinks, do whatever he wants, have whatever women he wants, and buy anything his heart desires.  But where a hero is usually deeply connected to a quest, often a quest to make life better for people who are suffering somehow, Trump only wants to make life (even) better for others like him – über wealthy, privileged, entitled men whose power means they (seem to) answer to no one.

I believe that the men who support him are men who, like him, are terrified of the changes they know are coming.  They see the power structure that has benefited them starting to shift, and they’re having trouble coping (as anyone would). When they hear Trump saying all the vile, hateful, angry things they’re thinking – they’re relieved.  Someone else feels the same way, and someone is actually saying all the things they think but won’t say. I use the word “won’t” deliberately because I think not saying those things is a case of will, not a case of ability.

On some level, I believe many of the men who are so enamored of him right now know that the statements he makes are wrong.  That they are mean, vindictive, hateful, and largely inaccurate.  It’s the difference between being pissed and having a crazed rant inside your head, then getting your shit together and dealing with the problem in a mature fashion, or just standing around calling the other person names, or threatening to punch them in the face.  It’s much easier to just rant and rave and ignore any significant work that needs to be done.

Thinking with nuance, from a variety of perspectives, and acknowledging multiple opinions and needs takes a lot of work and effort.  Screaming angrily about what you don’t understand or care about, the unfairness of it all, and that you don’t want things to change is much, much easier, and Trump is the master of that rhetoric.  He’s the poster boy of the entitled, privileged white male who simply doesn’t acknowledge that all those other water-filled meat sacks are actually human beings.

He seems to just not care.  And that’s why he won’t last.  Because most of those white guys who fantasize about doing what he does know, on some level, that it’s wrong.  Many of them have women they care about, they have friends or colleagues of different ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations, sexual orientations, and so on.  Most of those men care about hurting someone’s feelings, even if they aren’t aware of that care.  That’s why they don’t actually *say* those things, but live out their fantasy through Trump and men like him.

Even though people are often greedy, petty, and oblivious, I just can’t bring myself to believe that Trump represents anything other than a fleeting moment of vicarious excitement.  I have to believe that the majority of people do care about the feelings of others, even if that care is deeply buried.  I have to believe that mean and spiteful men like Trump don’t truly represent the men (or women) of this country.

GOODFELLAS, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, Joe Pesci, 1990

GOODFELLAS, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, Joe Pesci, 1990

No accountability, no consequences.

Unwarrented foulness

Blergh, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Uncategorized

Well, I’m in a foul fucking mood today.  I woke up feeling chipper, then chipper grew wings, flew away, and a foul black cloud took its place.  Is there something I’ve obsessed about doing wrong, or felt guilty about, or felt like a failure for?  Yes, there are multitudes of each of these and guess what?  They’re all running rampant down the pathways of my  mind right now.

WTF, chipper feeling?!?!?  Why didst thou flitterest away?? ARGH!

So. Because I am nothing if not determined to call myself a writer, I ungraciously packed my stuff and headed to one of my less-frequented coffee shops.  BIG MISTAKE.  Here’s a tip:  If you’re in the throes of unwarrented black moodiness, GO TO A PLACE WHERE THEY KNOW YOU. If you do that, you won’t get the wrong crappy latte while knowing they have no interest in fixing in for you.

Seriously.  What reasonable coffee shop puts ONE SHOT in a 12 oz latte?!!  ARGHHHH!!  It’s not even about the caffeine.  A one shot 12 oz latte tastes like sweetened milk, not a latte.  GROSS. Plus – they don’t have 12 oz cups, so they put 16 oz worth of milk in there, and DIDN’T REMOVE THE FOAM. So I’m basically drinking a very expensive milk steamer.  ARGH!!!

I swear to whatever deities give a sh*t, I haven’t used this many capital letters in the last eight years.  THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

trexstruggle

How bad a teacher?

Blergh, Classroom/Curricula, Laughter, Uncategorized

I’ll tell you how bad.  Bad.  As in stinky.  As in poor at my craft. As in confusing, unfocused, and cotton-headed.  It’s true that I was sick yesterday and not completely well when I went in, that all contributed.  But I also let time pressure get to me and hurried when I shouldn’t have, and all the other stuff teachers aren’t supposed to do.  Hell, when one of your best students is getting lost, it’s a sure sign *you’ve* lost something!

I did tell them it wasn’t a great day so they were pretty forgiving and patient.  Also, it wasn’t entirely me – we had several interruptions and there was a lot of disruptive energy moving around in general.  I’m writing about this because I realized today that although I don’t want my students to ever have to take care of me, there are days when I absolutely need their understanding and patience.  A small part of me does want them to reassure me that even in my spazziness, I didn’t do any harm.

It’s awkward and uncomfortable to admit that, after I’ve spent so much time saying “nope, no support from them, only support *to* them.” I never said that out of pride, I just don’t want to take advantage of them.  I don’t want to become one of those people who they feel they have to add to their “take care of” lists.  Somehow, I don’t think they cared all that much.  No one was mean, no one yelled, and we got through our lesson.

Thanks to whatever higher powers (or not) who’d like to take credit.  I’m not sacrificing anything to you, but if you want to say you helped us get through the day, I’ll back you up.