Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What I Wrote Monday Night

I find myself all wound up tonight, and beating myself up for getting wound up in the first place. This has become my new favorite game to play with myself . . . not! (It’s official—not is back! Not!)

I feel combative, defensive, antagonistic, and angry. I find myself saying to an imagined audience—filled with real people who have real grounds to be angry at me—that the anger they feel towards me is only a sliver of the anger I feel towards myself. “But that is probably no consolation to you,” I continue, “because you probably can’t hear me over the clamor of your own self-hatred and negative self-talk.”

I might be playing this game all by myself, or many many others might be playing it with me—it’s a game called See Which Competitive, Insecure Person Can Hate Him/Herself the Most. “I’m winning!” “No, I’m winning!” “No, I hate you more than you hate me so I am worse so I win!”

This is a place my mind can go. I think this is natural. I think these feelings can come in waves. I’m noticing a pause between waves, and for that I am thankful. So while things feel hard when I’m all wound up, I also have been able to wind down and still believe I am being authentic and honest. Or, at least, I am starting to question the logic that says the more I beat myself up the more authentic and honest I am acting. I’ve always tended to equate difficulty with honesty and ease with stupidity/unknowing. And I’ve always tended to value honesty.

Anyway. I found some consolation tonight by imagining that at one point I predicted everything that was going to happen in my life and then chose to forget those details. It seems really similar to believing in God. I say: why not?!

Sassafras and Snark came across a great quote on atheism; this person (author unknown to me) was talking to a Christian and said, “When you can name why you don’t believe in any other God, then you will see why I believe in one less god than you.” I think this is wise and it sounds like a smart thing to say to that type of Christian who seems convinced that his/her god is the only one.

Well, can’t we believe in all of the gods? Why are we so hesitant to make ourselves comfortable? Why do we pretend we’re comfortable and then try to force our beliefs on others—it’s clear we aren’t comfortable! Anyway, I am uncomfortable. My beliefs are shifting and I am finding myself closing off to liberal political agendas. Not at the sake of conservative view points—mind you! I’m also closing off to beliefs in higher education. I am very cynical, is what I am saying!

I have tended to view cynicism with knowledge, but only if it was my cynicism! Other cynics seemed close-minded to me. So then I thought cynicism was the problem. But no, that’s too simple. Besides, I am a needy, cynical person—I need a lot of information, attention, and processing. I need to learn things on my own and reject truths multiple times only to discover them again and begin the hazy process of piecing together my own forgotten truths. I demand so much from myself and from others—I constantly want my own way. I can’t expect these things to change, but I certainly can’t expect these things to stay the same. So, I continue with this same old type of blog entry—this time with new and improved love! happiness! trust!—only to remember that I wrote this before. I do, however, crave my former sense of drama and penchant for histrionics. And now I die. [Oh, see—I can still be dramatic, funny, wise, and self-loving all at the same time! OK, I’m not that funny. Not!] [Oh, yes! I am keeping that last not. See how uncomfortable it is?! I am not above clinging to my binary construction of uncomfort and humor—that’s one binary we can all put our money in!]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Crankiness as a byproduct of mindlessness

I've been reading through How to Be a Help Instead of a Nuisance, and I really like the book (if not for its title alone). The author, Karen Kissel Wegela, describes a state of mindlessness as a way to understand what mindfulness isn't. She says that feeling interrupted, especially if you are annoyed or cranky by being interrupted, is one characteristic of a state of mindlessness.

She also says that we should be very curious about what we do when we are in a mindlessness state. Her example was if we are hair twisters, then pay attention to how tightly you wind your hair and how you know which clump to grab, and so forth.

I certainly haven't been mindful of my mindfulness, but I did notice times today when I was getting cranky. One thing that helped was asking myself who I thought I was that I should be cranky by something. Who is this I that I hold so closely and cultivate so carefully and carelessly?!

I keep thinking (oh, how I've been in my anxious head these days) that there are root issues to be addressed. But what could be more central than learning how to enjoy the present moment? In learning how to treat oneself with love? In learning why and when and how we tune out?

Arguing for ourselves never sounds very compelling for many people; many people are bored by themselves or afraid of themselves. Many people are exceedingly more sensitive and smart than I am, so it's easier for them to stay bottled up. But what if that sensitivity and wisdom could unwind a bit? What if the world became accommodating and comfortable instead of abrasive and crass? What if everyone could let themselves off whatever hook they created to put themselves on?

With my tentative turtle (or snail!) legs, I can say that being in touch with our emotions helps us have compassion for others. Thanks to me spending time with my anger over the past few weeks, I noticed when Scott was acting angry the other day. Instead of spinning off like I usually do, and giving him a bulleted list of how his logic breaks down, I understood that he just must be really angry.

I wasn't sure how to communicate with him at the time, but he did have the sense and brains to notice that I was caught off-guard. So we worked together. And we realized that the other person could look at the same data and come to a different conclusion. That's never felt ok to me--I've always thought I was right (because if I wasn't right, then I must have missed something and I don't miss anything because if I did miss something then I must be dumb and/or careless with someone else's emotions and if I'm dumb or careless than I must be conceited or snobby and just plain unworthy).

(I just got lost in my brain dialogue. I get tense just thinking about the tension I've carried around for so long!)

Anyway, the idea that anger can reveal mindlessness has been helpful for me today. I realize I get wrapped up in fantasies of myself, and anything that disrupts this perfect picture of myself can really hurt me. But I'm getting more comfortable with the idea that I am not perfect--that, in fact, I am human (of all things)--and I expecting myself to be anything other than what I am is a deep form of violence.

This also means that I cannot do everything--this is painful to recognize, I tell you!

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Ignorance is bliss"

Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed. My body has been wound up (tension in my shoulder/neck/back and a late period), my brain hasn't been very successful at calming down, and I've been very angry and sad regarding current events. It's been difficult to just experience these things without turning to a source to try to tune everything out! It's been difficult to not lash out; it's been difficult to consider and discern positive ways to help myself. I've been in plodding mode these past few days. Plodding through projects and ideas and trying to reinforce the idea that I am doing the best I can, and so is everyone around me. I have been keeping my little turtle head poked out of my shell, though, and for that I'm proud. Actually a turtle metaphor might be apt; the whole of its world is on its back, and that can both a burden and comforting--both known and unknown. The insides are familiar, yet the whole exterior cannot be seen. For that, the turtle must get creative. Reflections and projections and equations. Senses and sensing and communicating and echoing. Staying alert sometimes for survival--a defensive maneuver--and sometimes out of curiosity--a religious maneuver. Defense and religion: guarded, in the dark, taking up arms, singing out psalms, hoping for the best, going to my own church, my own shell--learning to do this without feeling alone, powerless, or humorless.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Something Else I’ve Been Thinking About

A metaphor that has been helping me lately is thinking about my emotional life as a garden. Destructive emotions can be cast aside and used as compost to help fertilize the positive emotions, I am taught. I think this is lovely, yet also difficult because I am not a gardener and because I am indecisive and uncertain whether some plants are weeds, or if they are the actual thing that should be growing. I just haven’t done my gardening research and I don’t have experience to draw from right now! It’s hard to stay open to something when you want to do it right, immediately.

Scott had this experience when I taught him to knit the other night. (Oh yeah, you can read that sentence again; I taught a boy to knit! And he and his scarf are sooooo cuuuuute!) And then, soon after, I had this experience when I said something unknowledgeable about my computer and its audio capabilities. We both wanted to know everything right away, and yet the other person knew s/he couldn’t explain everything because her/his partner didn’t know enough of the basics to understand the bit more complicated point.

With knitting, I have made lots of mistakes and I tend to know what each mistake looks like and how I can fix or adjust the piece. I don’t go into a project expecting to make lots of mistakes, but when I do screw up, it’s something I can correct pretty easily and then just move on. The ability to let myself see what mistakes look like has helped immensely, of course. There aren’t too many other areas of my life where I just let myself make mistakes and observe them without a lot of self-reproach. But in teaching Scott how to knit, I knew that he wanted to do things absolutely right, but I also knew he was going to make mistakes. I sensed that I couldn’t just affirm everything he did (as a way to not judge any screw-ups as bad or wrong) because then he wouldn’t trust that I was teaching him the right way to do things.

What a situation: as a teacher we have to feel confident that we are teaching the right way to do things, while also understanding that each student is going to figure out for him or herself how to do things. I think everyone does want to do things right, and that we have very limited patience with ourselves in trying to learn.

I see this with me and my metaphorical garden. I’m afraid that if I let something grow because I’m not sure what it is, then I will have fostered something horrible. I get afraid of my uncertainty, instead of seeing that uncertainty as patience.

My life has kind of been marked by uncertainty and a desire for adventure and exploration. I think I have made myself sick when I try to act certain about things I don’t know. I try to force certain feelings, and imagine very specific career tracks. All of which unsettle me. And then I feel worse for not knowing what I want.

Lately, though, I have been trying to sit loose with what I know and what I feel. I want to act on some things that I want to do; and I am following through with some of those things! It’s like when Sara says, “You are taking your flexibility seriously.” Yes—it’s amazing what can happen (or how it can feel) when we put into practice what we believe our strengths are.

This is very difficult because it seems that our culture is one that craves certainty and there are very vocal people (famous and not) who seem to have always known what they’ve wanted out of life or they’ve felt conviction about something for most of their lives. And they have such a compelling story and it seems so complete. It is envious, really! It is like reading someone’s Master thesis and seeing that her research is new and her writing style seems easy and carefree; this person seems gifted. In reading this thesis, sure there are ways I would rephrase and restructure, but all of that seems to take second place to the overriding thought that this work is so conventional as to be horrible. I get jealous of people that I don't even want to emulate!

In my experience in grad school right now, it’s almost as if I see that I’m growing a weed, but that I am so excited to be growing anything at all, that I keep nurturing it. I suppose, though, that thistles are weeds, yet what other plant could produce a flower with such pointed and purple leaves? I suppose cultivating a thistle is taking up room right now from the fragile okra that I really want to plant, but perhaps I would get too easily frustrated with the slow okra, okra that wouldn’t bloom its first year. Perhaps I just need to grow in order to know what to do later. And maybe that big-ass thistle will enrich my okra. And maybe I don’t care if I’m being petty when I say my soil is a little richer than someone else’s always-okra.

Ok, I care about being petty! Those are like dandelions in my garden; rampant and colorful and I’ve embraced them without knowing all of their properties. These dandelions that I love, that just might be my pettiness. Maybe I could harvest you for wine or salad and then plant something new in your stead?

"Play it as it lays"

Lately this phrase, the title of a Joan Didion novel, has been stuck in my head. I have found it comforting over the past few weeks. As part of my Christmas present, Scott gave me a sewing machine—it is exactly what I wanted! I’ve had the pleasure over the past couple weeks of sewing my first item on it. I was working with some sheer fabric, and I was having a difficult time pinning the pattern pieces on the folded length of fabric. If the top layer was straight, then invariably the bottom layer was bunched up somewhere.

This tested the limits of my patience and I knew that it did not have to be perfect. Yet, perfection makes such a beautiful siren call! I wrestled with one pattern piece for over half an hour, and found I needed to take breaks so that I wouldn’t be acting out of anger.

Eventually I found myself calling my mom at work to seek her reassurance, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, right?”

“No,” she replied, as if I were asking her whether I had a balloon for a dad. “No, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but there are some things you can do to make it easier to work with.” Mom gave me some helpful pointers, such as to lay the fabric on the table and once the layers are straight, don’t fuss with the fabric. Pin the pattern pieces with as minimal disturbance as possible.

Play it as it lays, in other words.

For Christmas Scott also gave me a new stereo that plays every form of media imaginable. So I’ve been listening to the FM and have been developing my appreciation of classical music. Last night, I heard a song (I don’t know what it was called or who wrote it or if “song” really is the right word to describe what was played) that was inspired by the composer’s close proximity to the same three tones. Apparently, these three tones repeated throughout his day (maybe they were church bells) and they annoyed him. I can just imagine a musician’s sensitivity to sounds they don’t like.

Well, instead of remaining annoyed, the composer used the three tones and created a larger musical piece out of them. It was fascinating to listen to because you could hear the three notes repeated throughout the song—mostly played by bass or cello, I think—while other strands of the song deviated significantly from these tones. I admired this person’s ability to play it as it lays—to take something annoying and transform it into his own work of art.

Another case of playing it as it lays was when Scott and I were playing poker last week. I realized that I could go for the royal flush every time, but that sometimes it would make more sense if I kept a few of my cards and went for a pair or two. It worked, and I kicked ass at poker. (That is merely one way of looking at it, though. Another way might be to say that Scott kicked my ass. Semantics. Facts. Boring.)

Yet another case: during the first class of this semester, I had my students write haikus and then write about writing the haikus. When introducing themselves, they could share a haiku or share their process. Some shy students didn’t want to share their poems, and most of these students said that their process was to try to find words that fit their ideas. This was hard, they said; it’s not easy to have an idea first and then try to express it in words.

And don’t I know it! For those of us that live so much in our heads, we are told that ideas are not enough or they are too much. “Get out of your head,” others, often lovingly, chastise. Well, we can’t! Or, rather, that advice is just not helpful and it tends to reinforce our belief that we need to be in our heads. We are trying to figure some things out, you know, and if it wasn’t important to us, then we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

I think we haven’t known that it’s ok to take a look around and see how things are laying. To look at it first (before thinking, before conceptualizing, before playing) and then to use what is actually there. Life is less forceful and feels richer this way.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another Post on Anger

Man, I have been feeling so angry lately! I'm trying to listen to my anger and not try to fix it. It's difficult to just listen, though! It takes such things as patience and courage--and not mention that it is extremely, utterly, entirely boring and does not make for a good story.

I've been thinking about the role of anger in my family when I was growing up, as well as when anger has manifest in my friends and companions. Generally, I respond to anger with confusion and then with a sense of humor. I don't frequently just feel angry without believing that I need to do something about that anger. And when I act, I make it a pretty big deal!

I noticed today that I have usually associated anger with stupidity; it seemed dumb to me to get angry because if you just saw the situation from a different perspective, then you would see that you didn't need to get angry. This thinking helps, but it is also thinking--not feeling. So I get confused with anger because I don't want it around and because I think it is anti-intellectual.

No wonder I get caught in a bind! I get angry about many things and I get worried about other things, and it starts to feel so vicious! I'm worried that I'm angry and angry because or instead of being worried . . . it's just kind of a mess! I feel like a mess right now! I feel out of control and messy and unknowing and neverknowing and and and and and how am I ever going to explain this to myself?! Ugh--feeling out of control is not something that feels good to me . . . but I guess I'll see what it's all about . . .

Monday, January 11, 2010

Further down the path . . .

A good night's sleep and a turning off; I dreamt Andy kept Queenie, draining gunk out of her left eye, even though he didn't even know her. I brought her into my life! She came into my life! I had to stand up and say, I think she's happier with me. I think my own cat is happier with me. I woke up and got to pet her. I went back to sleep.

My own cat of myself is happier with me. I ask the universe and I try to be precise and I say I only want certainty! Then my own voice says then drop your attachments. But my whole definition of myself depends on those attachments, I laugh back. We laugh, the universe and I otherwise . . . Otherwise I'm always on and I can't sleep and I think I want to be known as a good listener. Meanwhile I can't even journal without expecting myself or the universe to solve my problems. I have to say I'm just venting here please don't take action. Please just listen. So now I listen to myself.

And these earlier paragraphs take on a different hue now, now. Now that someone close is---now that others close are---now. I told them I was full of shit and I had to smile because to a class there is no way to communicate to a to a to a friend there is no way to communicate. Twin language is language two people think they understand but it is more hand gestures and eye contact. I will be here with fluid hands and open eyes. This world is what it is what it is and January and after holidays are what they are--sometimes hard for a lot of people. Sometimes really hard for some people. Sometimes things are really hard. Which is why it takes our whole body.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Knowledge and Responsibility

I met with Sister Ellie this past week and spilled my guts to her. In the process, I've come away with a lot of insight. One thing we discussed was a belief most people have regarding knowledge and responsibility; when people know something, they tend to feel responsible for that thing. And when people feel responsible, they often act on that knowledge, otherwise they may feel helpless.

It's really difficult to sit with feeling knowledgeable and powerless. It is difficult to draw a boundary around responsibilities; it is difficult to pay attention to what you want and need when you feel responsible for anything (or everything) else.

As a antidote, Sister Ellie (among other teachers, of course!) recommend meditation and practicing tonglen. Knowing something can help us cultivate compassion and empathy.

This advice comes to me now, when I feel responsible for a few people's feelings and as I come to the beginning of teaching a new class. It is difficult to care about people while trying to not take on (whether they are offering it to you or not) the responsibility of their perceived problems.

I feel awkward trying to take care of myself while also wanting to affirm others. Sometimes I feel like I am withholding support, love, concern from someone if I don't beat myself up over the way I act or acted or didn't act.

There's a lot here to discuss (political activism!, romantic relationships!, friendships!, family relationships!) and think about. I felt really affirmed a few times today when I was able to talk to my youngest sister and she just listened to me. She offered her feedback, but she mostly just listened.

This helped me sense when I was grasping at straws, and it helped me sense the boundaries and qualities of my emotions. It helped me trust my own insights. I think the issue of trust is at stake in the stew of knowledge-power-responsibility. Trust and faith and patience, that is.

Discussion and messy relationships and guilt and life and bodies, that is. A bull in a china shop and taking the bull by the horns, that is. One girl feeling contrite, apologetic, but hands-on-the-hips playful, that is. A girl who peed herself in front of her mom during the potty training days just to see what that mom would do, that is. Habitual patterns of soiling myself just to see where another's boundaries are, that is. Those days, this girl, is now trying to use appropriate tools at the appropriate time in effort to help herself, that is.

So one the eve of the new semester, here's to peeing in the toilet and taking account of where we put our bodies and brains and emotions. Here's to using the proper receptacle and taking care to be clean, for our own sake first.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Two new books that are not on my comp reading list . . . unless those comp reading lists are the LISTS TO LIFE*.

-Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert

and, by way of Sister Ellie,
-How to Be a Help Instead of a Nuisance: Practical Approaches to Giving Support, Service & Encouragement to Others, Karen Kissel Wegela

*Which are the same, but just better than American literature lists.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Being Right

Today I was reading the latest issue of O, The Oprah Magazine (who knows how many times I kept subscribing to it last year; I thought it would stop arriving by now) and was struck by what Oprah "knows for sure." She knows that she's grateful this year to have a chance to get things "right," especially since she views this past year as a failure.

What crept into my head was Sister Ellie's advice, "Getting it right is not an option!"

Then, I was driving to campus and some church's sign said, "We must have the right view of eternity." And I thought, "why?" Or else what?!

When I got to campus I had taken about two steps out of my car when all the usual complaints about school show up. Then I saw a bumper sticker that said, "Allow for the possibility."

This reminded me of delusion and how difficult it can be to work with delusion if you are believing that there is a linear connection between any two events. It is often incorrect to believe that A directly leads to B. We don't really have the option to figure out how, exactly/rightly A and B relate to each other--it's not an option.

Sometimes it'd be easier to stay in a state of delusion (this is what I have wanted lately) because we believe we know how things piece together: My unhappiness is related to X, and if I completely overhaul X, and do it right, then I will finally be happy.

Instead, no.

I've been reading The Compassionate Eye and he's been discussing how we often get angry at our partners when we realize that they cannot complete us. To work with this, he suggests that we need to embrace both love and hate as the "two sides of the same coin." To love someone is also to hate them, he claims.

I told this to Scott last night, and he says, "Yes, but I don't know why you would ever hate me." Of course, and I don't either, except when I realize that his whole life purpose is not to take care of me. And I don't know why I would ever hate school, except when I realize that it is asking me to be clearer and to push myself. And I don't know why I would ever hate my friends, except when I realize that I cannot solve all their problems. And I don't know why I would ever hate Queenie or LZ, except when they hog the bed all night. And I don't know why I would ever hate my body, except when I see all this belly fat lumping around. And I don't know why I would ever hate . . . !

See (, Courtney, dear self)! All of these people and institutions spark such a passionate response from me; when they fit into or promote a positive sense of myself, then I'm in love. When they fit into or promote a negative side of myself, then I have a lot of anger and hatred. So I start to think either somebody else needs to change, or I need to change--A then B.

Well, probably nothing needs to change. Instead, I am letting Thich Naht Hanh's advice of watering the seeds of happiness and positivity and not watering the seeds of negativity seep into my body. We do not do this, Hanh reminds us, by remaining delusional about our anger. Instead, we take care of our anger.

It all is and we don't have the chance to make it perfect or alright. Instead, we can "allow for possibility" and create some openness in the midst of our difficult emotions.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The New Year!

I would like to echo Scott's drunken, 2 am sentiment, "I have a good feeling about this decade!" Me too!

Earlier today I needed to journal and then I thought, "What did I write a year ago?" In both entries I mentioned what a control freak I am.

The things we learn over a year! It might be the same thing over and over, yet I'm so glad I made it this far with this set of stuff; I'm so glad I get to keep going, too.

I've been in the process of writing a memoir (for over a year now), and only lately I've been thinking about how I would construct the character that is me. I'm not exactly sure of my take on myself now, but I do know that I am feeling so relieved and becoming more relaxed and drama-free. Things have actually been a little boring of late, and it's been really nice (and by "nice" I mean frustrating as all hell) to try to find comfort in repetition.

I've noticed this week that when I'm feeling off, it just takes a little bit to help me feel better. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to do those little things (like meditate for even five minutes, or go to the apartment's exercise room, or read a bit from a meditation book).

But I do believe that when things aren't working for me, that somehow, no matter what, if I put my ultimate happiness at the forefront of my attention, then something will work out. This means I have travelled some dark places, but I have also never been happier than I have this year. (Which says a lot because I have always been lucky to be surrounded by good people and good places.)

At the start of this year I find myself wanting to be very particular and clear about what I want because I believe that what I want is attainable. In a broad sense this means more joy, more health, more love, more beauty. In a broad sense this means more production and outcome. In a broad sense it means more prosperity and more resourcefulness.

Looking back on my journal made me realize and appreciate that things do change. Slowly and almost imperceptibly at times, but things do change. This is a reason for celebration!

I am wishing you peace and joy for this new year. I would like to know if there's something I can do to support you in your journey this new year!