Yoga challenge, somewhere in the middle

Today is day 37 of my 60 day yoga challenge. I already logged 30 classes in 30 days, so I can collect the first level of reward for the challenge–a free facial or massage at the spa next door. If I make it to 60, I get both, plus a free month of unlimited yoga.

Although I intermittently still feel awesome and am seeing a lot of progress in my practice and changes in my body, I would also say this middle part of the challenge is officially a slog. The kind of slog where you’re wearing good rubber boots and at first you’re doing ok, but then you sink in a little too deep and the muddy water goes over your boot, and you have to struggle to pull foot and boot out and continue slogging through the mud while your boots are slowly filling with mud until you finally just take the boots off and continue slogging barefoot. It’s like that.

It’s not easy getting all of those yoga classes in. It’s a drag arranging my day around it, day after day after day. I’m grateful that my schedule is very flexible right now, and that my studio offers many classes, including four 8 PM classes per week. Thank goodness for those 8 PM classes. I would have never made it this far. Usually the monkeys that sabotage my plans all day long are drunk and passed out by 8 PM and I can sneak a late class in.

Physically, I feel like I go through cycles of about 7 to 10 days. To start with, I feel “normal,” and am having a “normal” class and am doing my “normal” poses and doing my best, giving 100% in each one, with some variation for “fuck you” moments and bathroom emergencies. That lasts 2-3 days.

The next phase is totally wiped out. At this point, I’m trying to do my “normal” poses, but am randomly run over by trucks and have pianos dropped on my head. I spend a lot of time sitting or lying on my mat. Sometimes I get up and feebly attempt to rejoin the group. Sometimes I just lie there. On better “wiped out” days, I might still get at least one set of each pose in. On worse days, it’s 45 minutes or more of savasana. This is another 2-3 days.

After “wiped out,” something changes and I become superhuman. I unexpectedly have a great class and start doing new things in my postures. I am more flexible, stronger, and feeling like a rock star. These are the days I see change and progress, and it’s pretty cool. After a couple days, this new level becomes my new “normal,” and the cycle begins again.

Independently, I may feel exhausted or energized after yoga or throughout the next day. No correlation with how I feel in yoga. Likewise, I might go to yoga feeling like crap, with an actual stomach ache or headache, and have an amazing class. OR, I might go in feeling like a superhero and have one of those “run over by a truck” classes. It’s all quite fascinating.

I no longer notice the heat and almost never feel “too hot” in a class. I sweat profusely, and sometimes get dizzy, but nothing like that ever translates to “I’m too hot” in my head. It just doesn’t.

Emotionally, I’ve been cranky about the yoga, even as I’ve continued to show up or classes. Although it is a bit tiresome to go every day, it’s not really as if I’ve been missing out on life or not getting things done. Rather, I think it’s just a bit of old emotion working its way out through the process. I feel like I’m coming out of it, but for a while, people would tell me how great it was that I was doing all this yoga and how inspiring, and I would have to bite back a “fuck you!” kind of response and try to be all gracious. What’s up with that? I don’t know.

Fortunately, this is where a sunk cost fallacy can be helpful, because as cranky as I have felt about going to class, I’m even crankier about giving up more than halfway through. Fuck that! Grumble grumble grumble.

2016 Confusion report

Confusion is my home science fiction convention. It’s held every year in January in the Detroit area. I went to my first Confusion in 1998. I have not been every year since then. There were a lot of years I missed. I would say I’ve been a very regular attendee since the early 00’s. Something amazing and bewildering that has occurred is that Confusion has become a major literary convention, drawing dozens of authors from all over the country. Editors and agents have begun showing up, too. It’s awesome because it’s great for the convention, and it’s great to have another option for a networking event in the industry.

On the other hand, I’m feeling wistful about the cozy community we used to have. For many years there was a core group of writers attending Confusion, with a rotating writer guest of honor joining the group. There was usually one writer table in the bar, and I always knew where to go when I wanted to decompress from a panel or just get a hug from friends.

Confusion is not like that anymore. There’s no “home base” clump of writers in the bar, and the familiar Michigan faces are spread out among many other writers. That means it’s not that easy to walk into the bar and find “my people,” which is a little sad. On the other hand, that old “writer table” thing was probably overly on the cliquish side, so it’s not all bad that new people have shown up to disrupt the old default rhythms. I also spend a lot more time with fans these days, both because fans are what it’s all about and because so many of them have become friends in my everyday life.

At any rate, I had a great convention and enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and making new. All of the panels I was on seemed to go really well, with great topics and great audience participation. I felt a bit spread thin because there were so many people I wanted to see and so little time to squeeze it all in, but that’s a good problem to have. I am beginning to question my introvert identity. It seems like the reason I used to be so fatigued by social stuff and new people has been due to anxiety–overthinking interactions, worrying too much if I was offending or pleasing or even making an impression. Now that I’ve cleared some internal stuff, I find I don’t spend any energy at all on that old overthinking, and socializing and meeting new people doesn’t drain me like it used to. In fact, I wouldn’t say I find it draining at all. I still enjoy my alone time, and quite times with one or two friends, too, so I am probably more of an ambivert these days and enjoying having the option to meet new people without the need to “recover” after.

Staying up too late and having an inadvisable number of drinks? That still requires recovery time.

tl;dr: Confusion was great, but I now need a new cozy writer relaxacon.

I feel great

I feel fantastic lately, and as far as I can tell, there are three factors at work. 1) My previously unknown asthma is under control. 2) I’m a week into a 60-day bikram yoga challenge. 3) I finally finished a memory in EMDR. All three are connected, I think. Finishing the memory got a lot of negative, self defeating baggage out of the way. The positive cognition we installed was “I am fine as I am.” Simple as that. Doing yoga every day for the past week has helped, but I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to commit to and attend that many classes if I hadn’t finished the memory. I’ve been doing bikram yoga for 5 or 6 years and never got my act together to get this far into a challenge. Lastly, I think the asthma treatment has helped me finally achieve real results and progress with the yoga. In the past, I’ve had trouble staying in poses long enough to push my “edge.” Yoga is all about breathing, so now I’m working with fully functional lungs. There’s also a bit of fear of sensation, pain, or “getting tired” that I no longer deal with, possibly either because of the asthma or the now-processed traumatic memory. (Processing has made me a lot more comfortable with emotions and bodily sensations.) It’s a lot easier to just go to class and do my best in each posture without overthinking or stopping early…well, it’s hard to describe. But it’s great!

The initial impetus for doing the yoga challenge was to give my ankles some much-needed rehab after spraining both Thanksgiving weekend. (I fell down some steps–nothing terribly interesting.) The ankles are indeed improving, and the side effects are unbelievable.

I’m getting a lot done, working more, enjoying my work more, enjoying people more, feeling more social, rapidly losing weight without trying, and, yeah, just feeling pretty good. It’s actually kind of hard to make a blog post about just feeling good. There’s so much less to say about it than when I’m struggling or in a down mood. I guess because low moods lead to rumination which is perfect for really long blog posting.

I’m full of ambition, though. I’ve decided now is the time to reorganize my office. I’ve started a new novel, and I’m approaching it in a much different way than ever before. I would say I’m strongly trending away from the more commercially oriented style I’ve favored in the past. I find myself wanting to explore character much more deeply, and riff on the conventions and tropes of genre fiction. Like in a nearly satirical way. Freelance work is rolling in, after a long dry spell. I’ve heard it said many times that if you sort out your inside stuff, the outside stuff takes care of itself. Is this how it happens? I hope so.

I certainly hope the inside stays sorted, or becomes more sorted. I have another memory package to clear in therapy. The positive cognition I’m going for is “It’s not my fault.” I would say I believe it about 50% right at this moment. What changes will happen in my life when I fully believe this? (And before you ask “What’s not your fault?” …it’s everything. I feel like everything is my fault. All the time. Well, only about half time now.)

Why I r not writing rite nao

I got confronted by a friend recently. “I’m going to be a dick to you,” he said.

“Ok, I’m ready. Go for it.”

“I want more fiction from you! You’re stupid talented and you need to write more.”

“Thank you.”

That was a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t written anything since then, and it’s not because I don’t respect my friend’s opinion and advice. He is completely correct. Me not writing fiction is a sad thing and a poor life choice. And what I could do in response to this prompt is flog myself into sitting down for a writing session or two, telling myself to “stop being lazy” and “stop procrastinating” and “get over it already,” and I would squeeze out a few paragraphs and stop again.

I realized instead, I need to figure out why I’m writing. And thoughts like “I’m lazy” and “I’m procrastinating” are part of the problem, not the solution.

My first step was to start reading Motivate Your Writing! by Stephen P. Kelner. It’s a book I bought at GenCon in 2014 after being on a panel with the author and being impressed with his ideas on the psychology of writing motivation.

It didn’t take much reading to have the first new insight about myself and my writing. I’m an affiliation-motivated writer. Most “writing motivation” advice and discussion among writers focuses on achievement motivated writers. Achievement motivated writers do well with spreadsheets and other tools to show how many words they’ve written and how much they’ve accomplished. Those tricks had never worked for me very much. Affiliation motivated writers are motivated by community and connection. And I remember when that was a functional motivation for me, and I suddenly understood why it wasn’t any longer.

In the past, I had a strong desire to find and join my tribe, which I identified as the science fiction writing community. And for a while, I did. I did workshops, I networked, I made lots of writer friends. I never much cared about the audience, except as a sort of abstract part of the process. I mean, of course there’s an audience, but they’re not super real to me, compared with my writing comrades.

A few things have changed, though. Mainly, I’ve been massively disillusioned with that writing community. I let my SFWA membership lapse over a year ago. Nasty in-fighting such as the Sad/Rabid Puppies debacle have made me realize that science fiction writers are not a healthy, supportive community for me. That doesn’t mean some writers aren’t great. And I still very much value the friendships I have in the community and I have met some of the very best people I’ve ever known that way. But gathered together in a group, the community is dysfunctional and dominated by disordered personalities. I don’t see that ever changing. And it’s not that I want to change it. It’s just that wearing that SFWA badge at conventions is no longer a motivation for me to keep writing. And I’m not saying I won’t ever renew my membership or that I hate SFWA or even that I think it’s not worthwhile. It’s just not MOTIVATING.

I’ve also become disillusioned with the affiliation potential of the career path itself. For years, I had an editor who was interested in buying a novel from me. Somehow there were endless delays in getting feedback, or meetings with other decision-makers that never happened. For years. In the time that I was waiting for something to happen as a result of my relationship with this editor, I watched a good friend go from unknown to a successful author of 5 or 6 fantasy novels. The mentorship finally ended with inappropriate touching and sexual advances. Again, this doesn’t mean I think the whole industry is trying to use me, and it doesn’t mean I don’t take responsibility for my part in that story. For one thing, I didn’t have to wait passively for something to happen with this particular editor. I could have continued writing and marketing my books elsewhere. But, once again, the idea of having a relationship with a publishing industry mentor who would work with me to make my books the greatest they could be and would be my advocate and partner in my career–that no longer qualifies as motivation.

Another factor in my loss of motivation is a set of unfortunate non-fiction writing experiences. In one situation, I encountered an editorial staff whose goal seemed to be to destroy the self esteem of any writer working under them. After a brief honeymoon phase, I experienced increasingly harsh and mean-spirited feedback to the point that I didn’t ever want to write anything again. The feedback itself was contradictory. One day, I might have needed to spell out a certain word. The next I would be berated for not using the correct abbreviation. Different editors tag-teamed my work, giving contradictory feedback, and then blaming me for any “mistakes” that resulted. If I had a factual conflict with what an editor requested in a story, I would explain the conflict to the editor, receive acknowledgement, and then the next day I would be told to re-interview the source to get him to confirm the factual information I already told her was false. I did four rounds of this with a single source, once, and began feeling like I was insane. I even got blamed for a computer glitch that prevented me from filing my stories. After several months of trying to explain that I was following all of the technical procedures, I was finally vindicated by the IT department, which identified the problem and corrected it. Predictably, there were no apologies nor any change in attitude. During the end of my work there, I spent most of my “work hours” in a state of near-panic trying to force myself to crank out words that I knew would result in more abuse as soon as an editor got a hold of them. This, also, has not been good for my motivation.

It would be easy to blame these external bad experiences, and others, for my loss of motivation. I’m an innocent affiliation-motivated writer and those bad people took away my motivators. Waaaaah! But that’s the road to victimville, and nothing happens there except lots of moaning about how life is unfair and continuation of the same experiences.

I’ve been learning a lot about psychological wounding. Like, what IS a psychological wound, anyway? I’ve been working on my wounds assiduously for two years, and even though I’ve made a lot of progress and experienced amazing changes in my life, it’s been hard to put my finger on what a “wound” really is. I finally had a breakthrough in that mystery when I realized that a psychological wound is a belief about yourself that drives your behavior and which you confirm through life experiences. Healing involves changing the belief. Changing the belief means more than just identifying it as wrong and then invalidating any feelings that emerge around that belief.

Typically, changing a deep-seated negative belief about yourself means naming and validating and then experiencing the emotions around those beliefs. We hold on to the belief because we are afraid of experiencing all of the emotions underneath it. Believing some version of “I’m not good enough” ironically grants a sense of control. If I can find something to blame (and change) in myself, then that means I can control my destiny, or even the behavior of other people. Conversely, believing that bad things happen to good people and that other people choose their own behavior means that I’m helpless to prevent those “bad things” from happening to me again in the future.

Deep wounds often take years of focused work to heal. But sometimes, all it takes is recognizing the negative belief and truly releasing it. I experienced something like this a couple of months ago, where I found myself feeling a lot of anxiety around a certain event, and realized I had some negative beliefs and judgment about myself. I was able to completely release that wound in just a couple of days. And that release has been permanently life-changing. Other wounds have been more persistent–deeper, older.

What comes up for me around writing these days is “I can’t” and “I’m not good enough.” Those beliefs have been holding me back for years, even when I was optimally motivated. I created experiences for myself that confirmed those beliefs. I hitched my hopes to an editor with a bad reputation and red flag behavior because I didn’t think I deserved better. I handed my self esteem to “writer friends” whose behavior was spiteful and petty and set myself up for abuse and betrayal. I sacrificed my self respect trying to please the unpleasable.

My challenge now is to believe I’m good enough and to buy into my own talent. Those beliefs, held wholeheartedly, will attract confirming experiences, just like the old, negative beliefs did. When I believe I am good enough, the positive affiliations I need will materialize to motivate myself will be there for me. I need to release the negative beliefs, and grieve the losses packaged inside them. I don’t have specific career goals for my fiction anymore. All I have is a belief that being my authentic self means expressing myself creatively, whether anyone is paying attention or not.

I made a start last week. It seems like a small thing, but I took a freelance assignment that resembled one from that extremely toxic situation. I set a timer for 20 minutes to work on the assignment, and then I took a five minute break to cry and quiver and feel helpless and scared and vulnerable. Then I set the timer for another 20 minutes. I feel amazingly stronger after finishing the piece and turning it in. I feel “I can’t” losing its grip, and “I can” is coming back.

On attraction to drama

I used to be addicted to drama. Sure, I’d say what we all say when we’re hooked into other people’s behavior, “I hate drama!” And then I would pour a lot of energy into analyzing it. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but like any addiction, it was hard to stop. There seemed to be something compelling, something important to my actual survival about understanding people’s behavior, and maybe “helping” or “healing” them so they could “get better.” Or just being a really patient listening ear forever and ever while hoping they finally see the light so I can get a return on investment.

This is called codependency, and it’s hard to change, but not impossible. It’s a heck of a lot better than just about any other addiction. Give me drama over heroin or porn any day.

When you quit an addiction, whether it’s a substance or a process, you are not suddenly healed and whole. You keep jonesing for it. The work of healing what lies under it takes time. But quitting is the first step. That means:

-Thinking before reacting. Is this about me? Do I really need to get involved? What am I feeling and is something from the past getting triggered (this is invariably yes, btw)? Taking time to think, just think, can prevent a lot of drama-driven behavior before it happens. Your first reaction doesn’t need to be your final response.

-Not giving advice unless I’m asked. This one is so hard, but I’ve noticed the less advice I give, the less I WANT to give. When I find myself having the urge to give advice, a lot of time when I look at what’s going on inside, that is EXACTLY the time when my inner emotions are in turmoil. An urge to give advice is a sign something is not right with me. If I had a sponsor for my drama addiction, this is when I would call her. There are still times that people ask my advice and it is appropriate to give. Those times are now sacred to me. I search myself very very deeply and take the responsibility of giving advice very seriously.

-Listening for other inner voices, a minority report. My initial reaction to an instance of drama is usually to identify what is wrong with it, and try to find ways to fix it and/or blame and judge the individuals involved. If I take time to listen, there are other messages within me. I can usually tune in to a wiser self within me, and that wiser self has very clear and on point responses to those situations. “This is not important.” “This is not about you.” “This is none of your business.” “You need a boundary.” “This is boring.”

-Tolerating all of my emotions. Any substance or process addiction is driven by emotional avoidance. If you’re addicted to alcohol, your urge to drink is going to be triggered by emotions you don’t want to experience. If you’re a sex addict, the same set of emotions will trigger a porn binge. If you’re codependent, you’re going to numb out your own emotions by solving other people’s problems. The more I can handle the experience of my own emotions, the less urge I have to numb them.

It’s not always easy pulling myself out of a nosedive into drama. Sometimes, the wise inner voice is strong, and when I get those messages that something is happening that is not about me and none of my business and boring, I do literally lose interest and wander away. Other times, it’s tougher. Those are times when I’ve personalized something that’s going on, and not only do I think it’s about me, I want to make it about me. Then I have to listen carefully for “This is not about you” and “This is boring.” More often, I’ll go back and forth. “This is not about me, I’m getting out of this situation,” then 24 hours later, “Maybe I should talk to so-and-so and explain…”

Being addicted to drama means getting drawn into toxic situations over and over again, driven by a need to save and rescue, and not taking care of yourself. It means ignoring red flags, making excuses for others and having the low self esteem to believe you deserve to be treated poorly. No one can give you more love and respect than you give yourself. It means overempathizing and taking all sides at once rather than being your own strong advocate.

I’m glad to say that compared to one or two years ago, I am significantly more turned off by drama. And by drama I mean immature, selfish, unkind, emotionally driven behavior and high conflict situations. It’s good to feel that change in me. And although I find I am tempted to jump in with flaming sword and admonish and advise everybody about what they’re doing wrong, my actual real life response is to set some boundaries to protect myself and offer reasonable support and sympathy. “What do you need?” “I’m really sorry this is happening to you.” “Have you tried talking directly to him/her about it?”

I wish it weren’t still “sticky” for me. I wish I didn’t still think so much about the dysfunctional behavior around me. But I’m glad and proud that I’m no longer contributing to the chaos (or at least not much). I try to remember that taking care of myself and showing compassion to myself is usually the best way to help others and that I have value just because I exist, not because I prove myself to others by saving them or loving them when no one else will. (Ugh ptooey)

Losing my edge–oh, there it is

My exercise life has taken a sudden upward turn since I started getting appropriate meds for asthma. I’m so excited about it I’m probably boring all of my friends. I think I have probably had some asthma my whole life, without knowing it. My mother had very severe asthma since childhood. That was back in the 50’s, before it was so common. She also smoked through her pregnancy with me, which in addition to genetics increased my risk for asthma. This was in the time before the dangers of smoking had been exposed. I think she believed it was beneficial in keeping her pregnancy weight gain down. Thanks, tobacco industry!

Mom’s asthma caused periodic loud wheezing and sometimes she would have to go to the hospital because she was having so much trouble breathing. I also remember an ad from years ago that compared asthma to trying to breathe through a straw. That all sounds terrible, and I was glad I never had an experience like that. However, I do remember crawling out of the pool after swimming 200 free and lying on the cold tile struggling for breath for a long time before I could stand up. But it was a personal best time and no one seemed to think it was unusual that I couldn’t breathe after my race. I was always absolute crap at sprints. Like shockingly bad even for my normal state of performance in other races. For example, I could swim a 1 minute 100, but never could do better than 30 seconds in a 50. That doesn’t actually make sense. It’s consistent with asthma, though. The longer the race, the more recovery time the lungs have, and you can make up time later after the constriction passes. My best events were the 200 and 500.

And I had a lot of disappointments in swimming with not reaching my personal goals in spite of training just as hard or harder than the other girls. I remember complaining about it one time to a coach. “Why does she swim so much faster than me, when I work harder than her?”

The coach, Mr. Edwards, leaned over and said, “You see what’s coming out of her ears?”

“What?” I said.

“Talent,” he answered.

And that is what I believed. I just wasn’t talented. And, paradoxically, that I wasn’t working hard enough.

It wasn’t until my sister talked me into running a 5k with her in September of this year that I took the idea seriously that I might have asthma. I wasn’t in shape to run a 5k, but I knew I could run part of it and walk the rest. I was surprised when I started running that after I got through my normal starting-to-run coughing fits (clue: this is a symptom of asthma), I realized I was struggling to breathe. I made it through the 5k, but it was very clear for the first time that I was having a really hard time breathing.

My sister, who is in medical school, told me I probably had exercise induced asthma. I called my doctor and got an albuterol inhaler to use before working out. As soon as I used it the first time, I noticed I felt a lot better. Instantly. Another doctor visit revealed that I have straight up regular asthma.

I now have two inhalers, one for instant relief, and one for long term control. And a strange thing has happened when I exercise. I am getting better, stronger, and faster each time, I am enjoying myself, and I am not ded of fatigue for a long period after.

As my asthma worsened over the past year (or two), I had unconsciously begun avoiding exercise. When I did work out, I blamed myself for my poor performance. I remember looking around a yoga class back in September, around the time of my 5k, and wondering why I was basically the worst student in the room. I was coming out of all the poses early, and taking tons of breaks. I had been practicing for six years? Why did I suck so much? I always assumed it was because I didn’t go frequently enough to improve, but that is true of a majority of other other students, also.

Now I go to yoga class and I’m a rock star. Each class I’m better than the last. I feel like I’m improving class over class–instantly. This is how it’s supposed to work. Running is the same. I actually have to discipline myself not to add distance too soon, because that increases the risk of injury. Each run is much better than the last. Again, this is how it’s supposed to work.

Concurrently, I had a cool thing happen with my back. I’ve had “tight hamstrings” for years, and consequently have never been able to get very far in any pose that involves forward bending while holding your foot. I figured out a couple years ago that the problem was really in my lower back. The tightness in my lower back and hips put strain on the hamstrings. Basically, it meant that all of the responsibility for “stretching” in the forward bend was on the hamstrings–they are overstretched, while my back stays tight. It increases risk of injuring a hamstring, and the pose looks awkwardly rounded. Instead of “folding in half,” you’re balling up like a roly poly bug.

At a yoga workshop, I got an awesome hands-on correction for one of my forward bends (standing separate leg stretching). As I worked on my improved pose in class, I heard the words “relax your lower back,” and FWUMP, the muscles in my lower back relaxed FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER and suddenly I was forward bending like a rock star.

I’m not sure if it was the correction or if it was finally just time, but it’s such a great breakthrough and so timely with the asthma diagnosis. I feel like my yoga practice is new again, and I really enjoy going running now.

I think, essentially, my restricted breathing was stopping me before I could reach my “edge.” And when you can’t get to the edge, you can’t improve. I’m so glad I found my edge again. It feels great. It’s a strange thing when a worsening health condition leads to quality of life improvement.

I’m still not 100 percent. I still feel a bit of burning and breathlessness in cool air. I am still having some nighttime coughing on days I work out. I have a followup visit scheduled with my doctor, and I’ll be talking to her about either more or different meds to get this completely under control. I’m feeling so empowered!

I have known a lot of people who say they “hate exercise” and feel miserable when they do it. I’ve never hated it, but I know now that feeling limited in your breathing is an intensely uncomfortable feeling and a strong disincentive to do anything that triggers that feeling. And I know you can be unaware of it. I think many people who hate exercise may actually have asthma and not know it.

Attack of the body image gremlins

I take some pride in keeping my standard issue American female body dysmorphia under control. I stopped dieting years ago, I believe in body acceptance, I intentionally avoid body-shaming conversations like, “I really shouldn’t be eating this dessert,” and so forth. And in general I think I do ok. My size and shape are not things I think about very much, and though it’s hard to avoid images and messages in our culture that create judgment and shame, I try to protect myself from it as much as I can and focus on acceptance and gratitude. After all, I’m very healthy, spectacularly so if you handicap for age. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and nothing to be ashamed of, either.

It turns out, though, that it only takes 10 pounds to take away my equilibrium. I’ve been thinking about why that is, lately. The ten pounds is a result of normal stuff happening in my life. A course of steroids, obligations getting in the way of exercise, worsening asthma. All temporary challenges, and the weight gain is nothing anyone other than me would probably notice.

I’m not sure where the feelings are coming from yet. I realize I have more work to do. That I’m not really doing that great a job of body acceptance if I can only do it within a narrow size/weight gain. Size 6! So acceptable. Size 10? Despair!

I do know what’s triggering it, though. My clothes. I hate to have anything in my closet that doesn’t fit and feel and look great. I’m very particular about that. When it comes to clothes I’m like one of those really sensitive kids that throws a tantrum if their sock seam is poking a toe, or if there’s a tag that’s scratchy touching their skin anywhere. My clothes have to pretty much at all times feel like pajamas. They have to cover certain parts and leave other parts free to move. They have to be flattering and fit perfectly. They have to look like “me” when I look in the mirror.

I regularly declutter and throw away anything that doesn’t meet those high standards. I did a big purge about six months ago, when I weighed ten pounds less. And though it’s only a small gain, on my petite frame, it’s several sizes.

Well, now a lot of my things don’t fit, and those that still fit…don’t look right. I’ve been crashing every time I want to dress up for something nice, or every time I don’t find that one pair of jeans, or, often when I just want a comfy T-shirt to wear around the house. Because too-small T-shirts bug me a lot.

I’ve recently been diagnosed with asthma. I probably had it my whole life, but didn’t know until it got somewhat worse over the course of 2015. I think I’ve been unconsciously avoiding exercise and not working very hard when I do it because the feeling of being out of breath is quite uncomfortable. I have a family member whose been on the same journey, and, interestingly, whose weight has paralleled mine precisely this year. When she got her asthma under control, her extra ten pounds started coming off right away. I know I feel a tremendous difference and after just a few weeks am already making progress where for a long time I just wasn’t. Like, running farther and feeling better than the last time I ran. Or being stronger, more stable, and more flexible in yoga poses through successive classes. Wow, is that a thing? You can just get better? I guess I can now.

So I have a conundrum. Work on acceptance, or keep playing wardrobe roulette every day until I’m back in the size 6’s?

Today I went and bought some new clothes, and the too small clothes are going in the donation box or possibly into long term storage, depending on how special/expensive it is. I just don’t have time to battle the brain weasels every day. What I need is to be able to get up and get dressed and be comfortable and feel like me. I can always get more clothes. That’s what thrift shops are for. I don’t need to keep items in my closet that actively upset me. Life is just too short. And keeping a pair of “goal pants” around to shame myself into starving the weight off is a path I am never going down again.

The futility of blame

I found an article on the internet some time ago about blame, and how pointless it is to blame anybody for anything. I’ve never found it again, and it’s a shame because the idea–so radical, so strange–has stuck with me for a long time.

In our culture, we are bathed in blame. From earliest infancy, we learn to blame ourselves and others for anything that might go wrong. Blame is such a powerful instinct, we don’t even blink when we see people instantly blame somebody, possibly themselves, for a situation that is clearly not under anyone’s control.

It’s easy to see how pointless it is to blame yourself or another person for something like the weather, or the choices of another person, or other calamity that is clearly no one’s fault.

It’s much harder to look at situations where someone is clearly at fault, and see how blame is pointless, counterproductive, even unfair.

If someone has committed a crime, should he not be blamed for that crime? If it is his fault, then he deserves the blame. He knew better and should not have done wrong. Right?

Not necessarily. There’s a fine, but important line between blame and accountability. When we wield the scimitar of blame on someone who has done wrong, we un-person him or her. We ask them to absorb a ball of shame the action created and somehow neutralize it. But that’s not how shame works.

When someone does wrong, and knows they do wrong, we assume they have the ability to make a different choice. We all have grooves in our brain, a lifetime of our own experiences stacked upon a lifetime of our parents’ and grandparents’ and great grandparents’ experiences. Let’s say someone is guilty of shoplifting. We assume that because we are able to make a choice not to steal, and are able to provide for ourselves, that the individual who was caught shoplifting also has that ability.

But why do you and I have the ability not to steal? Is it because we are virtuous people who have wrestled with all of the shoplifting demons and defeated them? Or, let’s be honest…do you really just not want to?

I’ve never even wanted to steal an item from a store. Not once. I’ve never doubted my ability to earn money and somehow obtain the things I need. Why? Because I have grooves in my brain establishing positive behavior around those values and habits. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to struggle. I just don’t shoplift.

So what do I know about someone who shoplifts? I know he has different brain grooves. I know that even if he knows it’s wrong, even if he knows that someone is getting hurt by his actions, even if he wants to stop shoplifting, the grooves in his brain are going to push him very hard to do so. Those grooves were created during a very different life experience than mine, one in which shoplifting was necessary for survival, or was a coping mechanism that he can’t simply let go because he wants to.

We all have those kinds of grooves in our brain. Some of us are lucky, and our grooves only result in endearing and forgivable peccadilloes, like an addiction to soda or leaving passive aggressive notes for your coworkers.

How many people do you know with a minor peccadillo that are actually able to decide to stop and then succeed? It is equally difficult to overcome a larger problem, something destructive, antisocial, or offensive. The truth is that most people are doing the best they can at any particular time, given the hand they were dealt the tools they have for coping and change (which may be zero). Some of the very “worst” people are those who have lost their capacity to learn and grow. And those are also the ones we blame for the bad things they do and that happen around them. If they could do better, they would. Eventually, some of them will. Just the same as that office note-leaver.

Blame is a pointless exercise in shame reassignment. But that doesn’t mean everyone is off the hook. Accountability looks different than blame. Accountability means that even if you were doing the best you could, you have to accept the consequences of your actions, including people being very angry and hurt. Accountability means accepting help and working toward growth and change in whatever way your current neural wiring allows.

Holding someone accountable is not the same as blame and punishment. In many cases, it means helping and setting limits so no further harm can happen. Accountability for a perpetrator looks like making a good faith effort to change and make amends (if possible), or do some other good to outweigh the harm. Accountability for the victim means owning the hurt and letting forgiveness happen in due time if it’s right for the situation.

When we indulge in blame, we never give ourselves a chance to experience our pain and transform it. Seeing oneself as a victim is meant to be a phase of healing, a temporary one, a time for releasing self-blame, not a permanent life condition. Blaming is a way we give our power away. Choosing not to blame is choosing not to be tangled up in someone else’s brain grooves, to wish them well in finding their healing path, to take back your own power. Whoever you’re blaming today, try to imagine that in some way that is very real to them, they had no choice, even if it seems they did, even if it’s a choice YOU are able to make. Think of that annoying thing you do that you know you should stop, and have some compassion. We are all doing the best we can.

Embracing the crazy

I was driving my dog to the vet this morning when I realized I didn’t know where I was. My vet is outside of town, but the farms I was passing looked totally unfamiliar, and it seemed like it was taking a really long time to get there. I drove several more miles, hoping I was just momentarily disoriented, until I found a road sign that finally let me orient myself. I had missed a turn, and gone driving–for a long time–in the wrong direction.

I got back on track, but arrived at the vet with my dog fifteen minutes late. As soon as I walked in, the receptionist told me there wasn’t enough time for the vet to see him and do the x-rays that he needed for followup on his pneumonia. They had scheduled me for a regular half hour appointment, and all of that needed more time.

“We’ll need to reschedule,” she said. “You could see a different doctor this afternoon…”

I started crying. “Never mind,” I said. “I’ll call you later. I’m very upset and it took me a long time to get here and I’m just really frustrated.” I turned and left without making a new appointment. As of now, I’m not really sure what to do about those x-rays. I made the appointment specifically with the owner of the clinic, because we’ve been with her for about twenty years and we trust her, and I wanted to do everything perfectly for Courage because I still feel very raw from losing Chewie and feel like maybe I let him down.

It wasn’t one of my best moments. I felt angry because they’d made a mistake and messed up my day and my plans. I don’t like that. I don’t have so much free time that making two trips to the vet in one day sounds like a good way to spend it. But at the time I responded, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing or why.

I know what the “correct” and “adult” thing to do would have been. I would have stuffed my feelings down and whipped out my smartphone (which I would have remembered to charge and bring with me, unlike today), and made a new appointment. But doing the correct thing always is Old Catherine.

New Catherine is in touch with her feelings and when they come up, she shares them and takes time to think about what she’s feeling and why, and then decides on an appropriate response.

Old Catherine had to be perfect and adult at all times. Old Catherine more or less kept it all together, because she had to. Being perfect, being a “good girl,” was how she kept in control, and if she stayed in control, nothing bad would happen and everyone would love her. Except it did and they didn’t.

New Catherine is ok with not being in control. She doesn’t need to be perfect and doesn’t need to be a good girl. She doesn’t mind being perceived as emotional, unstable, immature, unreasonable, or even…crazy. Oh, crazy. That word that above all others keeps women in their place and under control at all times.

And because New Catherine is ok with being emotional, out of control, and crazy, she’s also okay with bursting into tears and leaving a situation because having to reschedule a vet appointment is just a bit too much now, m’kay?

I’ve been practicing this new, more radical brand of emotional honesty for a while, now, and there are two shocking things about it.

First, pretty much everyone reacts positively to it. Second, it almost always leads me to a better, more adultier solution than the adult solution I bypassed in order to let my crazy out.

Example. Earlier this year we refinanced the house. One of the steps in the process was a appraisal. In order to get the best rate, we needed to be lower than 70% loan/value. Our appraiser lowballed us, and because we didn’t make 70% or less, we were going to have to pay a $1600 fee.

The appraisal did not inspire confidence. It came out way low on a per square foot basis, in spite of the fact that we have a pretty damn nice house in a very desirable neighborhood. Plus, there were errors in the appraisal. I protested the appraisal with the bank, and they got the same appraiser to send a new appraisal. The new appraisal was randomly $40,000 higher, and still full of errors, but it still didn’t meet the 70% mark to save us that $1600. I was extremely angry when this came through. When the bank manager emailed the new result, I was ready to go to war. I was angry with the bank and felt like I was being cheated. I composed, but didn’t send, a scathing email.

Old Catherine would have done the adult thing. She would have suppressed that emotional response. She would have sucked it up and paid the $1600, even though the whole thing seemed very shifty.

But New Catherine had a better option. New Catherine had the option of just being honest and open about the whole thing, and giving the other party the benefit of the doubt. We had already spent $400 on the appraisal, so I called the man at the bank who was putting together our loan and told him, without blame or recrimination, that we had been spooked by the whole deal, and were going to walk away from our $400 fee because we just weren’t comfortable with the dodgy practices of the appraiser. And it was the simple truth. Just accept the loss, be honest about how you feel, and don’t try to control the outcome.

And a surprising thing happened. Within half an hour, the bank called. They agreed that the whole appraisal situation was dodgy, and they didn’t like it either. How could he have been off by $40,000, to just add it on later? The appraiser had been hired by the underwriters, and they were out. But the bank liked our loan well enough to underwrite it themselves. All of this happened after 5 PM on a Friday.

I’m not saying every conflict or problem turns out for the best when you give space for your “crazy” or “immature” feelings. In fact, I have experienced some significant pain and personal loss as I have transitioned to being more honest about my feelings. But I did it anyway because I knew I had to be true to myself. And I sort of braced myself for more conflict and ugliness going forward.

So the fact that people actually tend to respond positively, and offer better solutions than I could have come up with myself–well, it blows me away.

As I write this, I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about the x-rays. I’m just sitting with my crazy, immature self, trying to figure out what that self is trying to tell me. I think I wanted more than an expert opinion on my dog’s recovery. I think I wanted a bit of catharsis. I wanted to connect with “our” vet after the nightmare of the emergency vet experience and intensive care and the loss and everything else. I think I wanted to hear her say she was sorry. I wanted to know why the other vet at her practice sent Chewie home, when he was literally five hours from death. I left having no idea he was in any danger. And I think I’m still struggling with the crushing cost of the whole thing–$4500. The followup appointment and x-rays will probably cost over $300, and I guess I need a minute to make peace with that expense, too, before I whip out the Visa card again. Knowing I have these needs helps me decide what option works best for me. Old Catherine would probably have seen any old vet just to get it over with. New Catherine will probably make an effort to connect with the clinic owner, so she can cry with me a little bit like she has for our other pets for the past twenty years. I need that, and Old Catherine wasn’t very good at honoring those needs.

This isn’t really a conflict in the way the refinance was. I’m not looking for a solution from them, really. I just need some time to hold my crazy parts, listen to them, and let that lead me to a wiser choice. It’s a new way of being for me. I’ll never go back.

 

Puppies: time to disengage?

This year there has been a lot of controversy around the Hugo awards. Hugos are awards in the science fiction genre voted by members of the World Science Fiction convention. Historically, they’ve been quite prestigious, and Hugos are highly coveted. This year’s award nominations were tainted by an unusually organized voting campaign. Two groups of authors, calling themselves the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, objected to what they viewed as a domination of the awards by women and minority writers (and I acknowledge I’m paraphrasing their argument here and may be getting it wrong because it never made sense to me). Leaders of the Sad and Rabid puppies created award nomination slates, and encouraged their readers to nominate a specific slate. Although they claim to have only been defending themselves from what they view as an organized disenfranchisment by “social justice warriors,” this was the first time anyone actively campaigned for full slates of nominees, as opposed to, say, recommending a couple of their favorites. Their efforts were extremely successful. Because nominating ballot numbers are low, they managed to fill nearly the entire ballot with their picks.

The Hugo results, announced last weekend, were a near-complete shutout of the Puppy nominees. Some award categories went to No Award, and No Award was ranked above the Puppy slate nominees in nearly every category.

Tobias Buckell put together an alternate Hugo ballot, showing what kind of works would have been on the ballot without the Puppy campaigns. Although it’s hard to say that none of the Puppy slate works would have been nominated on their own merits, it’s a good list of works that got a lot of votes and are therefore probably deserving of attention.

Here’s where I want to disclose my biases. I am an unapologetic social justice warrior (SJW). I am in total sympathy with the liberal, social activist side of this conflict, and was utterly appalled that a small group of authors took advantage of the mechanics of the nominating process for their own gain–at the expense of others. I did not vote in the Hugos, but I did consider buying a supporting membership so I could, and if I had, I would have voted No Award across the board, because I felt that no matter who received a Hugo, the whole process would be tainted.

So when I say it’s time to disengage from this conflict, as I’m about to do, it’s not because I have any sympathy with the Puppies or think they deserve to be excused for their behavior. In fact, my opinion of all of those involved range from “misguided insecure person” to “raging malignant narcissist who has publicly stated that women want to be raped.” And I in no way want to “forgive” or reconcile or have anything to do with these people. They have burned their bridges with me forever, and to the extent that I’m able to remember and recognize their names (which I am not making any kind of effort at), they would probably not find me very favorable as a person to network with in the future.

However, there is a point in every conflict where it’s time to walk away and stop engaging. I think that point has come with this year’s battle over the Hugos. I see many on the SJW side seeming dissatisfied, like the moral victory is somehow not enough. I see people visiting Puppy blogs, looking for newly offensive things the Puppies have said and done. Let me save you some time. They are not now and probably never going to be done with this. Giving energy and attention to it at this point isn’t going to accomplish anything.

In any effort to raise consciousness or create change for the social good, it can be very seductive to slide into the mindset that there is a way to “win” or “lose,” and that you can’t “win” until you’ve converted or neutralized the “other side.” But no one’s consciousness has ever been raised by humiliation or punishment. If the “other side” is going to get over its issues and become aware, they have to do it themselves. And, quite honestly, they are human beings and still deserve some basic respect, even if it’s only in averting the gaze while they continue to embarrass and humiliate themselves.

The Puppies have no more power than we give them. They don’t have any hypnotized army of minions. There isn’t a secret Gamergate factory that decants mindless Puppy Warriors who will do the bidding of their leader. What they’ve accomplished in 2015 is the best they could do, because they found a loophole in the Hugo nominating system and exploited it. And it’s over.

I don’t want to see links to the latest crazy thing one of them said. I want to see links to how the Hugos are getting fixed so that 2015 can’t happen again, no matter what the agenda. I don’t want someone to prove to me that the Rabid Puppy leader is a raging malignant narcissist. This is already well-established. I would love to see links to essays, books, and other works by writers and artists with unique, powerful, and positive voices. The fifteen minutes I spend reading and being angry about the latest frothy rantings of an outraged white male is fifteen minutes I could spend discovering an unknown writer whose books could become my new best friend.

I want to be inspired, not brought down. Disengagement doesn’t mean conceding, or letting the other side win. It just means choosing to direct your energy elsewhere. And when dealing with people who thrive on attention, even if it’s negative attention, denying them THAT is bigger moral victory even than a No Award for short story. How about we give responsibility for sexist, homophobic, racist rantings back to the sexists, homophobes, and racists and keep celebrating the amazing unstoppable social change we are experiencing in our times? We don’t need the old white guys to cosign our values. Stop giving them the clicks and linklove. Save your sanity. Disengage.