Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Get on the Bus, Old-timer.

There's this dude I know. Let's call him "Wayne." Wayne may not have been the one who coined a term I use all the time, but he's the first one I ever heard say it, so in the World of Liz it's "Wayne's" term.

Wayne gets "tired head" when things are mentally taxing, emotionally draining, or overwrought with drama. And lately I have been getting tired head quite a lot. When my children have more than one activity on our family plate...tired head. When the bills aren't getting paid and it's not even because I don't have the money....tired head. When I have to catch up on the shit-storm that is social media....tired head. 

Some people call it the "Overwhelm," (people like Brigid Schulte, who just published a phenomenal book I'm reading) some people just cry "too busy!" The feeling manifests itself in my world like this: my brain matter feels like it's actually turned into sludge. Like there's no integrity left to it at all and I'm simply an amoebic life form existing on whatever autonomic functions can be carried out in whatever is left of my brain stem.... because everything else has liquefied.

Have you ever had "tired head?"

It's stopping me from doing things that I really want to do! I'm opting out of my beloved Bikram Yoga thanks to this ridiculous feeling. I'm unable to make decisions with any confidence. And whatever part of me that I fancy creative or in any way unique has turned into dull grey ooze. No sparks. No vigor in my mental combustion. It's just....tired. (Thanks, "Wayne!")

So I've been researching what it means to "opt-out" of social media, because that's got to be my number one time suck, emotional drain and point of fury/envy/false expectation creator. People of my age (older than CDs, older than iPhones- my God...that's old) say they're going to opt-out all the time. It's called, "Quitting Facebook" because that's pretty much the only major media we consume in great number. And it's a total lie and adult version of a temper tantrum. You kind of can't do it. At least not forever. 

Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger wrote a piece published by The Atlantic, in February 2013. Ancient history, but let's see if we can pull out anything germane to this discussion. In their article, "Quitters Never Win: The Costs of Leaving Social Media" they say that by opting out, we "miss opportunities for self-expression, personal growth, learning, support, and civic exchange." And that's true enough, but half of our collective dismay at social media is self-expression run amok.

In another piece, written by Alice Marwick, on Social Media Collective - a research blog, the notion of opting out is entirely ridiculous from the start. The problem with opting out is that she'd "miss out on 75% of the invitations in my friends group. And I don’t think it’s for anyone else to say that I should expect my friends to cater to my socially abnormal preference, or that I should prioritize my own personal irritation at Facebook over the very human impulses to connect and socialize." 

And to that point, I agree. Because my Dad is so disconnected that it drives me to actual anger that he can't just read my status updates, tweets and see my Instagrams to keep up with my life. MUST he insist on a phone call?!? A phone call....he won't even text! I'm overwhelmed dammit ...and my head ...suddenly ...tired .....because talking to my father shouldn't be a factor in the overwhelm. It just shouldn't. Except that maybe I'm getting all caught up in a whirlwind of sludge, because, as detailed by PJ Rey, in The Society Pages article, "Part of our collective insistence that social media is something we opt-in to—or, at least, may opt-out of—stems from an underlying moral conviction that the old ways of communicating are more genuine than the new ways of communicating—the “appeal to tradition” fallacy, if you like."

And I do like, because my Dad's refusal to use social media is like any other old-timer who refused to drive a car in the past. Once that's how Americans started getting around, I bet it was super inconvenient for all of his friends. Joe won't drive. Edith won't ride an elevator so she's walking up 45 flights of stairs...see ya 'round Edith. We'll be shitfaced at the bar by the time you haul your old bones up those stairs. 

So we can't really opt out. This is our social landscape. And it's making me very, very tired.

Photo Credit: khalid Albaih via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nathan Congleton via Compfight cc

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Battle for Silence

There are two things I love. Well, I mean, honestly there are about a ka-jillion things I love but for this right here I want to talk about two things. A book and line of dialogue from a different book.

The book: Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton.

The dialogue: "Silence, you talk too much." From the thirteenth century French romance, Silence.

In the journal by Ms. Sarton, you can read about what happens when a woman with an abundance of thoughts seeks quiet and solitude. In her solitude she attempts to find her real life.

And in the medieval romance called "Silence," a girl who is raised as a boy is tasked with capturing Merlin and is eventually unmasked. The play on the word silence and the name Silence is part of the examination of the lives of women in 13th century France. And, since the day in Professor Charbonneau's lit class in late 1995 when I first read that line, I have laughed at the recitation of it in my head every time the din overwhelms me.

It's the buzz of my every day world that leads me to want to lead May Sarton's life of solitude. Sometimes I positively salivate at the thought of a quiet life in a small cottage of my own. Where my writing could take center stage, where every whim and deep seated conviction alike could have a moment of careful examination. Because sometimes what we *call* silence is so loud I can barely stand it!

There are phones beeping, chirping, knocking, and vibrating. There are cars driving three blocks to the coffee store, and TVs on at theater level volumes with no one watching. Appliances in my house make noise, my dogs make noise. Everyone is talking all the time and it's perfectly acceptable to "think out loud" every single minute of the day. It is rarely quiet:  actually, truly, definitively quiet.

In the United States, in the unending winter of 2014, snow blankets and blankets and blankets our cities and towns. My own quaint village is currently being covered fresh, fluffy snow. And what I love most is the stillness and quiet of a snowy night. No cars, no dogs barking, no music coming from houses or passing motorists...not even the sound of birds. It is just so silent and peaceful outside. It's almost as if the snow is burying noise.

And I love it.

I want to be on a wooden porch, with heavy woolen blankets keeping me warm. I want a hot cup of black tea in my hands - maybe a touch of bourbon and honey, after all - and I want to take in the quiet. All of it. Because in a normal day we're quite frightened of silence. We fill conversations with chatter to avoid lulls. We say more than we want to say in job interviews if the astute employer knows to let even a 3-second gap occur between question and answer. Inevitably, most people will rush to begin speaking again. Silence is awkward.

Is it awkward because we don't like our own thoughts? Is it awkward because we read negative things into silence? We claim one mark of a good relationship when we boast "comfortable silences" with our partners, but I think the words we constantly spew are far more dangerous. For sure, if we stop talking altogether then we stop growing as a team and we stunt our connections as partners in LIVING, but there is great benefit in the quietude. There are abundant lessons in hearing the sound of only our breath. We can be taught multitudes in hearing only the sounds our footfalls make as we walk along a solitary path.

In the maelstrom of every day life, we can keep "demons" at bay, keep insecurities stuffed and fears smothered by the noise and the chatter. In the quiet we are left with nothing but our monkey minds and frantic anxieties. If we let it wash over us, if we walk right into the solitude, we can find that the Silence really does talk too much....but maybe it's the Silence to whom we should be listening.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Misguided Notion of Compassion

Today on my way to work, I listened to an interview on NPR. That's the liberalist, hippy dippy, practically communist (or socialist, whichever you prefer, since in America the two entirely different things are synonymous) and "sheeple" creating radio station. I like it because I'm one of the sheeple. A liberal idiot. It's just who I am. Sorry about that, but I make no apologies.


Ishmael Beah was being interviewed and he's a dude from Sierra Leone, who was once a child soldier. And he wrote a memoir. Politics aside, one thing he said was this:

During Sierra Leone's war, there was a lot of amputation going on where people were mutilated in different parts of their body. ... As you see in this character, this old man, he refused to look at his friend, and when he finally found the courage to lift his head, he was checking to make sure if she was intact. And if she wasn't intact, if he was ready to take this burden of what she may look like — what she may be missing — into his memory.

And so I started thinking, which is not something sheeple usually do, but I did it anyway. I attempt compassion towards others all the time; every day. I'm not always successful because I'm a fundamentally flawed human being, like many other people are. I also try to be compassionate toward myself. That's even more difficult than showing compassion to others!

But then this idea floats past - what does it mean when compassion towards oneself  means being "less than" fully compassionate towards another. Because the idea that seeing someone who is not intact and taking the burden of that knowledge into one's memory as being somehow too difficult to do, seems to fly in the face of what it means to be compassionate towards others. How can my own self-protection still be housed under the umbrella of "compassionate living" if my actions seem hostile to another?

For a while now I've been on this little path of change. I've written about it in other posts and the details for this particular conundrum are hardly important. But along this psychological hike of mine, I've had to let go of some people and habits which had come to feel like burdens versus positives. Every time something was released, it felt so awful. Each time felt like I was committing a terribly heinous act of extreme selfishness. Sometimes I've questioned whether I'm being narcissistic in my quest for a "best self." After all, who in the holy hell am I to demand the room to be my best self? How VERY American of me....

However, each release, each scuttled burden from my emotional or physical life, has left me freer to concentrate my best self energy on the things and people around me who enrich my life; who give to my life as much as I seek to give to them. All the fine inspirations and quotes on Pinterest and Facebook, which extol the virtues of being the friend who stays no matter what, fail to recognize that a truly enriching relationship is the result of give and give. Taking is secondary - for everyone involved.

I have decided, thanks to Mr. Beah and his one little sound byte, that part of being true to myself means letting go of the absolute responsibility to never sever any tie; that allowing myself the freedom from toxicity, in any form, is totally and in all ways protected by the umbrella of compassionate living.

Because as the flight attendant reminds us before every single flight, you really DO have to secure your own survival before seeking to help the person beside you.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE New Year

From the start you should know that I take the New Year quite seriously. It is LITERALLY a changing of the calendar. That I hang on my wall. And it's a whole new number I have to type out in the 4 places left where the date doesn't auto-populate. So yeah. It's a *pretty*big*deal.*

I have thought for a long time (20 minutes to be exact) about what I shall resolve to do in the year 2014. And here is my list, in order of importance:

1 - I will shave my legs at least weekly.

2 - There is a giant box of Pez dispensers somewhere in my attic. I'm going to find that box and bring it downstairs and then put it in the closet. Every time I open the closet I'm going to think, "I need to find some way to display those...because they're kind of cool." That's all I'm going to do.

3 - I will play Candy Crush more often.

4 - The desire for "work-life" balance will be all I talk about on every third Wednesday and on the 14th of every month. If by some strange Julian coincidence the third Wednesday falls on the 14th of a given month, I will attempt to discuss the merits of an electively gluten-free diet. I will have to explain that gluten does NOT give everyone explosive diarrhea, but that there are benefits to just choosing not to eat gluten. It's going to be hard. Because bread is AWESOME.
Hint: You DON'T store gluten-free bread. 
You throw it away.

5 - I will vacuum twice as often as I shave.

6 - Recognizing that the path to spiritual and self-enlightenment is never ending, I will make every attempt to stop judging other people's failures. I will focus more on *remembering* other people's failures to point them out during their successes. You remind them of how far they've come. In this way, my own self and spiritual enlightenment will be increased. I think.

So that's it. I'm going to do those six things.

Usually I like to have odd numbers, but in 2014 I'm going to go for an even, since it's an even ending year and that has to mean something cosmic, or conspiratorial or must have something to do with the Lincoln/Kennedy connection. I leave that sort of thinking to the scholars, though.

They're practically the same person.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Laurie Colwin

*Or, "Why I love Laurie Colwin so much I wish I could marry her, but she died and that makes me extraordinarily sad."

That's from More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, published posthumously, in 1993. Twenty years ago, Laurie had a clear understanding of how things were without ever knowing how much MORE they'd get just two decades later. I imagine that if Laurie Colwin were alive today she'd be at the fore of the slow food movement and would be the gentlest, but most insistent, advocate of simple life.

"On the other hand, I know that the people who are going into the supermarket and buying those things in plastic are not happy."

We're heading into winter, in my part of the world, and I think I should re-commit to living simply but with intention. Because a simple soup, made by hand, is always better received than a can of the same made in a factory. Industrial food does not make me happy. It doesn't make my family happy or connect us in any meaningful way. 

No one ever remembers the meals that were taken from the freezer and removed from the bag and reheated in haste. But even as my own mother worked two jobs, and struggled most nights to just get pizza delivered, I remember with great affection the nights she fixed Welsh Rarebit. Such a simple dish; quicker than pizza. And it's a heartwarming memory for me over 30 years later. 

I challenge all of you to find one simple thing you can do for yourselves and your familes. Find one ritual. Claim one moment and treat it with reverence. Even if it's only a piece of toast with cheese sauce.