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Monthly Archives: January 2019

Old School or New School?

record player2

Did you know that record stereos and Polaroid cameras are making a comeback? I’m assuming they are meant to appeal to my generation, although my niece’s 10 year old friend got a Polaroid camera for Christmas. It definitely makes me nostalgic for my teenage years, when I would hang out in my room listening to my record albums for hours. I have considered buying one, since I still have all my old albums, many of which are so obscure you can’t even find them on iTunes. But I’m sure the sound isn’t as good, and it takes up a lot more room than my phone does, which has thousands of songs on it.

The same is true with pictures. I don’t have photo albums anymore because it’s a pain to get pictures developed. And you have to pay for them. Much easier just to have photos on your devices and scroll through them. I have my phone with me at all times, so it’s much easier to show someone a picture that way, rather than inviting them to my house and having them look through my albums.

My sister-in-law bought me the Michelle Obama book for Christmas, but I had just bought it on Kindle the week before. She asked me whether I preferred books or Kindle. I love holding books in my hand, flipping through the pages, seeing them on my shelf. I liked going to Barnes and Noble and seeing tables stacked and organized by type of book. And I liked the free cookie from Starbucks that I got after my purchase. Well, it was buy one get one free so it was more like half off.

However, my eyesight is not what it used to be, so I have to wear reading glasses. And if I accidentally take my contacts out too early, I have to do this goofy thing where I put my reading glasses on top of my regular glasses, which isn’t very stable. On Kindle, I can just increase the font. I can also look up words, highlight passages, and type comments. In a book, I just dog-ear one corner of the page, so it’s pretty hard to go back and find a quote. But I buy both, so I am middle school on books.

I really love the idea of writing by hand. In theory. Putting a pen to paper makes whatever you’re writing more meaningful. Last year when I read my old journals, seeing my handwriting gave me a better sense of what I was like at that point in time. It’s as though some of my personality got communicated through my script.

But all I ever write these days is my signature, and I usually just make a bunch of squiggly lines, because the merchants don’t check to see if you signature matches the one on the back of the card anymore. And I have a long name. I’ve tried to write journal entries by hand, but I can’t go more than a paragraph before my handwriting deteriorates. After a while, I can’t write in straight line. My script gets bigger, loopier, and finally completely illegible. It was impressive to see how small and straight I could write in my journal for pages and pages of entries without a single hand cramp. I’m definitely new school with writing. It’s much easier just to type everything.

I went shopping with my niece after Christmas. It was a great day, and it made me happy that Sadie said it was the best day of her life–so far–because we ate brunch and dinner at her favorite places, she found almost everything she was looking for, we got a pedicure, went to the bookstore, ate a buy one get one free cookie.

But I hated the crowds. People sometimes shout profanities at me in the parking lot because I’m not looking where I’m going when I’m driving. I hated standing in the checkout line. I refused to give my phone number to the salespeople, and sometimes they were downright pissed off about it. Apparently it threw off their script of talking me into getting a rewards card, where I could get cash back someday after I bought a lot more merchandise. Much easier to just buy it online. Especially if they have free shipping and returns. So I’m new school on shopping.

Actually, after writing all this, it looks like I’m new school in general.

How about you? Are you old school or new school?

Good and Evil, Part 3

devil and angel2

One of the things I love about my niece Sadie is that she believes that people are basically good. During our annual Christmas Eve dinner, we had an interesting conversation about Santa’s naughty list. Sadie believes that everyone deserves a gift because even if they are being bad at the moment, they have good in them, and that goodness can manifest itself at some point in the future. Although that’s not exactly how she said it.

I agreed with her that we are all capable of good, but reminded her that we are also capable of evil, and on a moment to moment basis, people have to choose between the two all the time. And once you cross that line and choose evil, it becomes easier to do so the next time around.

I was once more optimistic about the inherent goodness of people, but I have become less so, particularly in the last few years. Opinions about current events have become so polarized that it’s hard to distinguish good from evil. It seems so clear from each side’s perspective. How can they not tell the difference? How can their moral compass be so off? Maybe if I post a bunch of stuff on social media showing them how wrong they are they’ll eventually come to their senses.

I have wrestled with this question all my life, because I really want to be good. I don’t want to delude myself into thinking I’m doing good when I’m doing harm. I don’t want to make excuses to justify my behavior. But does being earnest make you see things more clearly? I try hard to see the other side’s perspective, try to understand how their idea of right can seem so wrong to me, but I can’t reconcile the discrepancy at times. Perhaps no one can be certain of their rightness.

Even messages that are supposed to be about kindness, gratitude, and acceptance–things that are meant to be said gently, lovingly–are sometimes shouted out like commands. Be kind, damn you! Be grateful, you selfish #&%@! Be more accepting like me, you terrible person!

Well, that’s how I hear them, at least. And I believe in the importance of kindness, gratitude, and acceptance. But it’s all in how you say something, isn’t it? It matters whether something comes from a place of love or judgment. It’s hard to take good advice that is not dispensed with compassion.

I do believe that it’s possible to bring out the basic goodness in people, but not by telling them what to do. If you want someone to be compassionate, show compassion. If you want them to be grateful, tell them how grateful you are for them. And if you want them to be accepting, let them know that you accept who they are, even if they feel differently. Goodness will not come about by telling people what to do. It has to be demonstrated by our own choices.

And ultimately, I do believe what Sadie said about Santa Claus, but for a slightly different reason. Every child gets a gift, not because they earned it by being good, but because someone loves them, regardless of whether they have been naughty or nice. And ultimately, it is love that transforms us.

Falling Apart

I learned something about myself in 2018. I learned that I am not a superhero. I can’t do it all.

I mean, I knew that. I knew that I had reached my limit and I was going to fall apart, but I had kept it all together for so long, you know? I figured it was like knitting some complicated dress pattern. Or winning a tennis match after driving 10 hours and being injured. Just another crazy challenge that I could push myself through. But this time I met my match.

The past two and a half years have been tough for my brother and me. This was not intended to be a long-term living arrangement. I decided to get a new place at my therapist’s suggestion. It would at least give us more personal space–literally a wall between us–which was one small thing I could control.

And it is nice, the new place. But it caused 6 months of additional stress before I could benefit from it. Selling my old place. Moving out and running out of storage space. (How could I get so much stuff into 1000 sq feet?) Staying in a really expensive apartment for several weeks. Not knowing when I was going to have my new place. Changing my address multiple times. Trying to fit all my stuff in my new place. Which should have been easier with double the square footage, but for some reason it wasn’t.

The other thing I took on this year is that online therapy job, in anticipation of the added expense of buying a new place. Even though I can barely see all the clients in my primary job. Plus, it’s really hard to make a connection with someone who you don’t get to interact with face to face. So much of what heals in therapy is what happens when you literally sit with someone, being fully present to their pain, rather than the words themselves. In online therapy, all you have is words.

Plus, you know when someone doesn’t like you, because you get multiple emails telling you the person is transferring. They can even write a terrible review about you. Or file a complaint. And then you have to have a video conference with an expert who specializes in helping you be a less sucky online therapist. Fortunately, the last 2 things didn’t happen. But I did have people transfer. And thank goodness, because what was I thinking, taking all those new people?

Last semester had been particularly stressful at my primary job because one of my colleagues had to be out for the beginning of the term, so things filled up a few weeks earlier than usual. I usually fall apart some time around Thanksgiving, no matter how hard I try to practice self-care, but usually I can bounce back after a mental health day. So when I first fell apart, not surprising. After the second day, I started panicking a little. After the 3rd day, I knew I was in trouble.

I ended up taking an extended leave, and it’s the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. I probably should have done it 10 years ago but didn’t because it felt like admitting defeat. An extreme version of retiring from a match. So I just sucked it up, even though I knew I wasn’t doing a great job.

This time I had no choice, because unlike in previous depressive episodes, I couldn’t think. I felt like I had a concussion. I couldn’t remember words, and had a hard time even having a conversation. If I had to make a decision, I would get overwhelmed. Even reading made me anxious, because it activated my brain. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to handle my job, so I accepted defeat.

Having this time to focus solely on self-care (and moving) made me realize how long I had been operating under duress. Some of it was beyond my control, but some of it I put on myself. I push myself relentlessly. I’ve gotten a lot better since practicing self-compassion, but my Drill Sergeant is still active, bossing me around every chance it gets. I was only able to stand up to it because it felt like life or death.

Today is my first day back, and I’m glad I’m the only person here so that I can just catch up on the things I have put on the back burner for the past 6 weeks. I’m feeling pretty good but I still don’t know how much stress I can tolerate, so I’m hoping I can slowly ease my way into the crazy schedule that awaits me.

But I have to do things differently. So this year, my New Year’s Resolution is to let go of as much as possible. Moving has taught me that. A lot of what I had been holding onto went into the trash or to Goodwill. I even gave up plants that I’ve had for over 20 years, because the idea of carrying them up 3 flights of stairs to the one bedroom apartment that my brother and I were going to share didn’t seem worth the effort. When you have to carry all of your belongings around with you, you to learn to let go of material possessions pretty quickly.

I’m going to let go in other ways, too. No more captaining multiple teams because they desperately need another captain. I’m cutting back on the number of people I try to save that are not a part of my job. I’m going to stop beating myself up about working out, sleeping abnormally, and being unlike other people in general. Any thought that causes me distress I will put aside. I will only do what I have to do, because that will still be plenty.

This year, rather than choosing some challenge that pushes me to the limit, I’m going to choose me.