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Archive for the ‘#reverb10’ Category

Fucking Absurdity

Prompt: New name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

Unless I’m reflecting on being a complete jacktard and manifesting a future in the witness protection program, I am absolutely unclear about the point of this question.  Beyond that, I actually find the suggestion that I write an answer to it offensive.  Look, I’ve been giving reverb10 the college try.  I’ve been planning a whole post wrapping it up where I talk about my resistance but also the positive value of doing it, and I really have found taking it on primarily positive.  But this prompt makes me want to slap not only the idiot who wrote this prompt but also Gwen Bell for thinking that this prompt was worthy of more than three thousand people’s time.  I mean, even if every single person refuses to write on it, we all had to consider it for 30 seconds.  And that’s 30 seconds I’ll never get back.  (By the way, I’m sorry for making you spend 30 seconds on it, too.  I’m kind of an asshole.)

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Travel

Prompt: Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

I’m choosing to take this prompt literally since I’m kinda hung over and I don’t have the energy to get all metaphorical and shit about the travel.  Anyway, I didn’t do a whole lot of traveling in 2010.  I did a whole lot of nesting.  Really, the only place I went that even sorta counts was NY, which was awesome, sure, but it was to visit family and wasn’t going to a new place or anything like that.

In 2011, I anticipate more traveling than that, kicking off with MLA in LA, and then maybe going to Napa Valley in the spring, and then maybe Boston in May, and then who knows where else I might end up?

But right now I need to travel to the kitchen to get my butternut squash out of the oven to cool, and then I need to rest a bit, and then I need to make butternut squash soup.  And maybe have a snack.  And then rest some more.

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ETA: *Thanks to Chris in NY for catching my original error in the title to this post.  I decided to leave it, because perhaps my Future Self has a Council of Elders, or something, who advise her?  ‘Tis hard to know, as Future Self isn’t talking 🙂

Prompt: Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Maybe I’m superstitious.  I mean, I kind of am.  The idea of imagining myself five years into the future and then telling Me Now what Future Me thinks I should know seems to involve a lot of potentially dangerous conjecture.  I mean, let’s say that I decide Future Me is married with kids.  That would probably make Future Me give a whole range of advice for Me Now that would follow a certain set of protocols, if you will.  In contrast, what if Future Me is single, and ends up getting a different job and moving to a different city?  Clearly that Future Me would tell Me Now some very different things.  Or, look: those are two super-awesome potential Future Me scenarios.  But what if Future Me gets cancer or loses her job or house or ends up a weirdo recluse with 6 cats?  Because that Future Me would probably have still other things she’d like to say to Me Now.

I guess my point is, I don’t know.  I can tell you goals that I have for the next five years, or I can tell you my dreams, or the things that I hope to accomplish.  But I don’t actually have total control over all of that.  I can do my best to make those things happen – unless of course I realize that I don’t want them anymore – but I am not God.  And yes, I’m superstitious.  What if I choose one of those Future Me types and give myself advice based on that?  And then what if that tempts fate and fate decides to give me the great cosmic smack-down, just to show who’s boss?  I believe in shit like that, people.  So, no.  I am not going to assume that I know who or where I’ll be in five years.  And I’m certainly not going to pretend to advise Me Now based on the way that I fantasize my life will be in five years.  The thought of doing so totally sketches me out.

Now, I can do the “bonus” part of the prompt, though.  Me Now would tell 26-year-old-Me the following:

  1. You will get a tenure-track job and your professional life will work out ok, so seriously: chill.  You’re great.
  2. Break up with him.  Yes, I know that you think you’re going to live happily ever after with him if you just get through this particular rough patch, and breaking up is a whole lot harder when you made the stupid decision to move in with a person, and don’t you believe in commitment and doesn’t that mean sticking it out, but dude.  You are about to waste the next two years being miserable, and you’re going to break up with him anyway. And you’re going to be gunshy for a really long time after that relationship if you let it go on.  Break up with him.  Like, yesterday. Um, I just realized that this is advice I’d have to give 9-years-ago-Me.  Because apparently I can’t do math, even when it relates to something simple, like my age.  So really this advice would be “don’t begin a relationship that is going to have you moving in with a loser who doesn’t work for two of the three years you’re together and who decides he wants space at the precise moment that you get your tenure-track job, even if you do think that having a serious boyfriend would offer more stability for writing your dissertation than fucking around, which, incidentally, is not the reason to have a serious relationship and probably is a pretty big sign that you’re not ready for one of those.”

Other than that, I think 26-year-old-Me was sort of great.  I mean, aside from being a stressed out freak in a crappy relationship, I managed to keep it together enough to stop myself from being a stressed out freak in a crappy relationship ultimately.

But this is important: No matter how well-meaning Me Now is, the truth is that 26-year-old-Me never would have listened to Me Now.  Because the thing about me in the present tense – whether it’s Me Now, Me Ten Years Ago, or the Me I’ll become five years into the future – is that I tend to trust myself in the moment and I tend to think that I know what’s best for myself.  I tend to think that even if I make mistakes, that they are my mistakes and they make me who I am.  I tend to trust that the mistakes that I make are going to teach me something.

Like this thing that I learned from my mistakes that I didn’t really know 10 years ago.  I think now that it’s impossible to predict every possible future thing, and so it’s a whole lot better to focus on immediate things that are within our control than to live so much for the future that we miss out on our present.  I’m not interested in advice from Future Self because I believe in Me Now.  And Future Self doesn’t want to offer advice because she knows Me Now wouldn’t listen anyway.

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Beyond Avoidance

Prompt: Beyond avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

So this prompt actually fits perfectly with what I wrote yesterday, and then with the good Comrade’s question, “What’s wrong with dating?” Now, you may ask yourself, why didn’t you date in 2010, Crazy?  And, in truth, I don’t think that it was about being scared, or worried, or unsure…. but it was about being “too busy” or “too distracted by other things” or just too… too freaking exhausted to take it on.  Even just thinking about dating as a 30-something woman in the 21st century is totally exhausting to me.  And you know, I’m not alone.  I know lots of women who are around my age who are not at all interested in “dating” as a pastime.  Because the thing about “dating” as a pastime is it’s generally sort of depressing.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve never been much of a dater.  I’ve been a hooker-upper, I’ve been a somehow-I-ended-up-with-a-boyfriend-er, I’ve been a hanger-outer.  And when I was in my 20s, those approaches worked just fine.  I mean, sure, I didn’t always end up in relationships that were long-term or mutually supportive or whatever, but I had a lot of fun.  And, ultimately, I didn’t need to devote much energy to my “dating life” by taking that approach.  Of course, perhaps if I’d devoted a bit more energy to it then I wouldn’t be facing the prospect of having to date now…. Ah, best not to dwell on that.

But so anyway, it turns out that unless you want to date 26-year-olds, my previous approach to romantic attachments doesn’t actually work.  (Seriously, I spent ages 24 through like 32 dating 26-year-olds.  Apparently 26-year-olds are a weakness of mine.  And apparently 26-year-olds are strangely attracted to me as well, because they do seem to show up periodically whether I want them or not.  Oh, and as an aside, I worry that me with the 26-year-olds is not unlike Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused who keeps dating high school girls long after he’s graduated.)  And then, well, there was the involvement with FB which sort of threw a wrench into any sort of normal dating prospects I might have had.  But see, that FB thing wasn’t just a wrench – it was also a way of avoiding something that I didn’t feel like doing, which was the whole dating thing.  Which, when you’re a professional lady in her 30s, who is friends with mostly married people who themselves are mostly friends with other married people, means that you have to do some sort of online dating thing, which, well, I’ve done a few stretches of that and…. yeah.  It’s not something that I think anybody is terribly excited about doing.  I mean, sure, we all know somebody who met their soul-mate that way blah blah blah blah but the reality is that most of the people whom one meets that way are not one’s soul-mate.

And so, when people ask what is so bad about dating, I answer the following:

  1. Most of the time, dating does not feel like fun.  I mean, sure, it’s supposed to feel like fun, but really what it feels more like is a job interview, a job interview in which you are both the interviewer as well as the interviewee.
  2. In order to force oneself to date, one has to try to convince oneself to like or to be excited about people that one just doesn’t like very much or isn’t very excited about.  (This is how I ended up going on like 4 or 5 dates with a guy I ended up calling “piranha mouth.”)
  3. More often than not, dating is disappointing.

So, yeah, the prospect of dating is not something that I’m looking forward to doing.  That said, I really like the idea of being in a relationship.  I like the idea of having a person with whom to share things, and I like the idea of having a person who is my primary hanging-out partner.  I like the idea of making a life with somebody who is not feline.

And so.  That means I need to stop the avoiding of the dating, because unlike when you’re in college or even grad school and you can just fall into a relationship without any effort because you met somebody at a party or because you just happened to hang out a lot with a person and suddenly ended up being boyfriend-girlfriend, that’s not how it works when you get old.  People with whom you’d want a relationship don’t just fall into your lap.  (Well, and to be fair, I’m not sure that the ones who fell into my lap over the past 15 years are ones I’d pick for relationships, if I were picking, and in fact they surely aren’t or one of them would have stuck around.  So perhaps what I’m saying is not that when one gets old one can’t have people fall into one’s lap but rather that I don’t want the kind who typically do that sort of thing anymore.  Maybe I’m actually maturing and I don’t want to just end up in a relationship with some weirdo.  Huh.)

So I guess in 2011 I have to go on dates. And probably a lot of them.  Seriously, though, if I could just skip over all of that and get married in like two weeks, I’d do that in a heartbeat.

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Healing

Prompt: Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

Getting out of credit card debt + buying my house + sabbatical = Healing.

For 2011, I think the one thing that would add to all of the awesomeness that is my life right now would be a relationship.  Of course, one can’t just snap one’s fingers and have a relationship materialize, so that means that I’ll need to commit myself to dating, which, ew.  But whatever.  I think that’s the missing thing, and I think that it would be “healing” or whatever.

(I know this isn’t my most expansive response, but I’m not in an expansive mood today.)

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Trying

Prompt: Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

When I was a kid, my mom made a big deal out of trying.  She put a lot of emphasis on “trying my best” at anything that I did.  (This maybe wasn’t the best approach she might have taken, given my innate drive toward perfection.  Apparently there’s this story where my kindergarten teacher Mrs. McNamara told my mom she had to stop with the “good, better, best” philosophy as it made me throw a tantrum when I couldn’t make some art project come out the way that I imagined it should be in my mind’s eye.  Anyway.)  She had a rule that I couldn’t say that I didn’t like a food unless I tried it first.  She encouraged me to try new activities.  The point, I suppose, is that I was raised to value trying, to value giving things a chance, to value persistence.  If you try and don’t succeed, try, try again, and all that.

It’s funny, though, because I think as we age we try less and less.  We try fewer new things, we don’t do things that require us to try hard at them.  I know, at least, that I’m guilty of that.  But I think that this year I really have tried to try.  I tried buying a house (success!).  I tried putting together a writing group (success!).  I tried starting a new book project (neutral, as I have started it successfully but now apparently I need to keep working on it). I tried having short hair again (hooray!).

But I think that the most important thing that I’ve tried in 2010 is to lose weight.  From the time that I started on the tenure track in 2003 (when I probably could have stood to lose 20 lbs.), I gained about 50 lbs.  Now, about 20-25 of those 50 lbs. I put on in only about a year’s time, a gain that was initiated by the illness and death of my father and then supported by my heavy (see what I did there?) involvement in revamping our general education program.  The other 25-ish pounds were just, well, the tenure track.  And the 20 lbs. before that were my dissertation.  But, in a way, all of those pounds were about not paying attention.  Being so wrapped up in work and feeling crappy that I didn’t take care of myself.  I stopped caring.  And when I don’t care, I don’t bother to try.

This year, I decided to care.  I really decided that in January, but I wasn’t ready to try until August.  Since I really started trying, some weeks have been better than others, and I’ve given myself permission not to be perfect but just, instead, to try, every day, to care about myself and to care for myself.  If things keep going as they are going, by the end of this month I will have lost ~25 lbs. in about 4 1/2 months, so just over a pound a week.  And so, it has been pretty slow, and no, I’m not done.  But I do think that I’ve been successful.  And I do feel proud at what I’ve accomplished so far.

And so the thing that I want to do in 2011 is to keep trying.  I want to persist in trying to become more fit, more healthy, and I want to continue to congratulate myself for trying and succeeding.  I want to try to stick with what I’ve started.  I want to try to put this first – before the job, before the needs of other people.  I want to try to remember that I am worth that attention.

So, no.  I don’t want to try sky-diving, or try to run a marathon, or try to bake a wedding cake, or try to ride a motorcycle, or try to have a baby, or try eating Swedish food, or try to make pottery, or try painting.  I don’t want to try something new (though I’m not against trying new things if they happen to cross my path).  What I want is to try to continue doing something that I know is good.  I want, consciously, to try to try.

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Learning my Lesson

Prompt: Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

Let’s start first with a song:

So here’s the thing.  I thought of this song because this prompt has sort of stumped me, and as much as this is a song about coming to a “better version of me,” it’s also a song that never really answers the question “what did I learn?” but rather just continues to ask it.

This year, I think I’ve learned lessons about life.  I’ve learned lessons about other people.  But what have I learned about myself?  And having learned whatever those things are, what of them is best, a lesson that I would carry forward and that would shape my future?  I do think that I’ve come to a “better version of me,” but those are some heavy questions, and I don’t know if I have a clue as to where to begin answering them.

Except.  I actually do think that I’m a person who knows myself pretty well.  Maybe that’s why I’m having difficulty with this, though?  My faith in the fact that I know myself is actually obscuring my ability to know what I’ve learned about myself?  Like, I can’t admit that I had something to learn, or even see what it is?

A funny thing about me: I don’t actually like learning.  I know, right?  But seriously: I don’t.  I like having learned things, and I like thinking about things that I’ve learned, after the fact.  But learning itself?  Yeah, I don’t like that.  It’s painful, and often boring, and frustrating, and difficult.  The whole “lifelong love of learning” thing?  Yeah, not so much for me.  Lifelong love of thinking?  Certainly.  Lifelong love of sharing ideas and such?  Indeed.  But the actual act and process of learning is something that I try to avoid unless it’s absolutely necessary.  (Note: this is a reason why I actually don’t have that hard of a time understanding why students plagiarize, or fail to do their assignments, or skip class.  In my heart of hearts, I really do respect their desire to avoid the pain of learning.)  But I’m avoiding the question.  What have I learned?  What is the best thing that I’ve learned?  About myself?

Ok.  I think that the best thing that I’ve learned about myself this year is that I have the capacity to create happiness.

What I mean by that, I think, is this.  It’s easy to believe, and I think I have historically believed, that happiness is passive, that it happens to you through no volition of your own.  That “being happy” was, to a large extent, about the luck of the draw, that it would just so happen that  circumstances would occur that would facilitate happiness.  (Similarly, I believed that “being unhappy” was circumstantial, too.)  Now, if you believe that happiness (or misery) is a state of being, as opposed to an action or (and I’m grossing myself out by putting it this way) something you practice, then creating it is an impossibility.  Which, on the one hand, is comforting, as it means that one doesn’t have responsibility for her own happiness or unhappiness, but rather such things are just bestowed by the gods.  On the other hand, conceiving of happiness as a state of being means that one doesn’t really have power over one’s life, except through reacting.

So, for example, let’s say that I don’t feel happy and I believe that is a “state of being” produced by the circumstances in which I find myself (a bad relationship, a location with which I’m not happy, a 4/4 teaching load, whatever – all things I thought made me unhappy in the past).  If you see “happiness” as something that happens to you, as opposed to something that you create, then what follows from that feeling of unhappiness is a series of reactions, reactions legitimated by a lack of faith in one’s own creative power.  Those reactions might include switching into a new relationship (if I fall in love I’ll be happy), going on the market (if I can just get another job a) I can move and b) I’ll get a lighter teaching load), or even just bemoaning the impossible state of one’s life to anybody who will listen, spreading around your misery.  But at the end of the day, you’re expecting your happiness to come from other people or from circumstances outside of yourself.  You’re always waiting for the stars to align.  You’re always waiting for your ship to come in.

This year, I think that I stopped waiting.  I think that I stopped reacting.  I’m not sure what clicked for me, but something clicked, and I realized that I had power over my own happiness and that I could create happiness for myself and I could create surroundings and situations for myself that facilitated happiness.  As I look over 2010, I see that all of the major changes that have happened – buying my house, making the commitment to healthy eating/fitness, making progress on my research, among others – grow out of this belief that my life is in my hands and that it’s not some invisible external force that either creates or destroys my happiness.  Or, too, it’s not some other real-life person or people who are responsible for my happiness.  And I think coming to that knowledge has made it possible for me to recognize and to step back from toxic crap a lot more quickly and easily, and I think that living as if happiness is something that I can make has actually made me a hell of a lot happier (which I know is circular, but hopefully you get what I’m saying here).

I think the challenge in the coming year is to keep happiness – the happiness of others, but mostly my happiness – front and center not as a goal or as a desire but as a prerequisite for the choices that I make.  I’m not saying that I’ll only do stuff I like, or that I’m going to be completely self-absorbed in the choices that I make, but there is something fundamentally wrong, I think, with making choices about one’s life without regard to happiness.  Happiness isn’t just something that one falls into, I don’t think.  So why should we expect for it to come into being without paying any attention to it?  And why is it ok to pay attention to complaints, and negativity, and cynicism, and anger but not to pay attention to praise, and positivity, and hope, and joy?  Why is the former seen as “realistic” while the latter is seen as “naive”?  Why do we have so little respect for something that is so central to our well-being?

So.  As I move forward into 2011, I want to respect my capacity to create happiness and I want to fulfill my potential to create happiness.  I suspect that most of the ways in which I do that will be small.  Whatever.  Better to create happiness in small ways than to be passively miserable in huge ways.

 

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