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As of this morning, I have completed all paperwork, meetings, studio walkthroughs, and desk shifts required...and as of Monday, I'll be teaching my first yoga class! (My first two yoga classes, actually, since I picked up a sub that evening.) Earlier in the week, I was anxious bordering on terrified; after some breathing and journaling and other anxiety-acceptance measures, I'm feeling at least a little more sanguine about it. The manager at the studio has been super chill and supportive, including responding promptly and positively to my numerous emails about questions and small administrative details. And no matter how badly I screw up, I know I'm not going to be as bad as The Worst C1. (I don't think I ever wrote about it here; suffice it to say, the girl barely moved from the back of the classroom the whole time, she didn't touch anyone, she spoke in a soft near-monotone that sounded for all the world like she was reciting a memorized script, and her whole playlist was atonal noise rock, including savasana (?!). At the very least, I know I have a better playlist.) But there's still a lot of anxiety for me in getting up and being open (and thus, to a degree, vulnerable) with a whole group of people, for a whole class. Which, I suppose, is a sign it'll be a good learning experience, too.

Anyway, onto the book stuff!

What I've just finished reading

*hangs head* I have not finished anything this week, either. I strongly suspect I'm letting my anxiety occupy too many emotional cycles; I've noticed that I tend toward obsessive behaviors when it gets going - refreshing social media, occupying myself with ticky administrative details, looking over my calendar repeatedly, etc. (Why, yes, I do have a family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder, how did you guess?) It's surprising, how much time and energy it takes to be anxious. Anyway, I'm working on it.

What I'm reading now

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. Dialect or no, I've been finding myself wishing that I was reading a physical copy of this book; Peter Riegert is turning in a perfectly decent performance, but there are so many wonderful descriptions and delightful turns of phrase that I really want to savor but that just go by too quickly. I finally have taken to using a combination of Audible's "bookmark" feature and (for ones I think Brian will enjoy) transcribing and texting them to preserve their ephemerality: "the sudden awareness, like an inverse satori, that he has made a grave, if not fatal error...his jaws snap together, making each tooth ring out with its own pure tone as the impact of his ass against the ground conducts its Newtonian business with the rest of his skeleton." "The winter sky in southeastern Alaska is a Talmud of grey, an inexhaustible commentary on a Torah of rain clouds and dying light." "They all looked shocked; even Gould, who could have happily read a comic book by the light of a burning man."

For all the lighthearted metaphor, there's a very real atmosphere of melancholy and uncertainty in this story; not grief, precisely, but the recognition of opportunities missed, the sense of having taken a wrong turn somewhere without knowing precisely what it was. Perhaps this is appropriate to a tale of Jewish culture, even alternate-universe Jewish culture; I know it probably resonates with me more now, at this point in American history, than it likely would have even a year or two ago.

I'm a bit torn on the worldbuilding; there are hints of a broader global alt-history stemming from the decision to relocate Jews to Southeast Alaska instead of Israel, but whether due to my personal ignorance of world/Jewish history or simply to the fact that it all goes by a bit too quickly in audio format, I'm having trouble piecing together exactly what's different from our more recent history. That said, the tensions and troubles and cliques and feuds and foibles of this particular group in this time that never existed are beautifully rendered. The plot is mostly pretty standard religious-political-conspiracy stuff, and it moves a bit slowly, but one gets the feeling it's more of an excuse to spend time in this world and with these characters, and said characters are entertaining and well-drawn enough to be worth the investment. I'm wondering how it'll wrap up; the themes don't point for a truly happy ending, and neither does the alt-history-noir setup, but given the effort they're putting in to untangling this mess, I suspect Landsman and Berko will pull at least "bittersweet".

all about love, by bell hooks. This week's chapter is on community, and the importance thereof in giving us a place to practice love, especially for those of us raised in unloving and dysfunctional family situations. I've long been a proponent of making community connections a bigger part of our lives - it's something that doesn't get a lot of emphasis in our mainstream culture, with its deleterious emphasis on the nuclear family as the social unit uber alles - but I'm not sure I agree with her framing. She seems to come from a place of fundamental certainty that everyone participates in a community in good faith; thus, she believes that, while distancing is sometimes necessary, there is no reason to ever cut ties with a person; everyone can and will change for the better when presented with evidence of the hurtfulness of their actions. She cites one friend in particular whose family was incredibly hurtful towards her when she came out as a lesbian; apparently after some years, their attitudes changed and they were able to have a worthwhile relationship.

Obviously, I have a lot of issues with this paradigm. I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt; we're all human, we all make mistakes. But she seems to be falling headlong into several common social fallacies; the fact is, there are drama queens, and missing stairs, and other individuals that a community is better off without. Setting boundaries with these people, and actively limiting your social interactions with them, is a net social positive - not only because it increases your happiness, but because limited options due to social censure is its own lesson. I'm more torn on the question of whether they can learn; presumably, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt in order for them to learn, but based on my past experiences, I have a very difficult time trusting that someone with an established pattern of behavior will have any desire to change, let alone gain the self-awareness to do so. I'm sure it can happen, but I have a hard time trusting that it is what's going on in any given situation - especially when it's so much easier to claim you're trying to change without actually, y'know, doing any of the work. Maybe this is a reflection on me and my trust issues more than on anything inherent to humanity, I don't know.

What I plan to read next

Back before I put a moratorium on new book-buying, I had pre-ordered Cherie Priest's new book Brimstone, which just arrived in the mail. I have a feeling my to-read shelf is going to go neglected in my next selection...
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My last post might have been lighthearted in nature, but strangely (and despite freezing temperatures today), it really does feel like spring has begun. I wonder if there's any actual connection between changes in people's lives and changes in the seasons. I know it's always felt that way to me, but I'm not precisely an unbiased observer.

In any case, we're due for a high of 72 on Friday. Time to get the bikes out!


What I've just finished reading

Paper Girls, vol. 2, by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang. I'm completely entertained at how much DNA this series shares with Stranger Things, at least for the first couple of acts; refreshingly, however, the kids terrorizing their neighborhood on bikes are all girls, and this informs their outlook more than a little. There's less character-building and more action in this volume, as the futuristic elements teased in the first come into full play here. I enjoyed it - the thought of a Godzilla-sized tardigrade terrorizing a quiet suburb entertained me to no end - but missed the interplay between the characters, as most of this volume (understandably) consists of their splitting up to do detective work and figure out what's going on. There are some good moments, though; I'm hoping that the next volume, which is going to have to start providing some explanation, finds a way to keep the character development going alongside.

What I'm currently reading

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. I remember seeing promotional posters for this book everywhere when it came out, probably because it's set in Southeast Alaska and I had just moved to Juneau at the time. I'm enjoying Chabon's characters and the wryly vivid way he describes his characters and world: "The rest of Sitka's homicides are so-called crimes of passion, which is a shorthand way of expressing the mathematical product of alcohol and firearms." Interestingly, I'd barely noticed the dialect until reading a review that pointed it out, despite having had real trouble with it in other works (I couldn't make it past the first couple pages of A Clockwork Orange). I wonder if it's because I'm listening to it via audiobook; it would make sense, given my significantly-better reading (as opposed to audio) comprehension, that my brain would be worrying at the unfamiliar words and have trouble getting past them when written, but would be so busy interpreting and piecing together the sounds that it'd be more willing to sort of gloss over the unfamiliar words and pick them up from context.

all about love, by bell hooks. Given my general dislike of philosophy books, I seem to be reading a lot of them all of a sudden. Even when they annoy me, realizing I can journal about them and make them into a sort of dialogue helps them feel less preachy. But it also doesn't make for particularly fast reading - I think I've managed all of one chapter of this one all week.

The chapter in question is on values - and specifically, how many of our cultural values actively inhibit living by a love ethic. So it's probably not surprising that I found a lot of stuff I agreed with, haha. Still, this passage in particular caught my eye:
 
We see movies in which people are represented as being in love who never talk with one another, who fall into bed without ever discussing their bodies, their sexual needs, their likes and dislikes. Indeed, the message received from the mass media is that knowledge makes love less compelling; that it is ignorance that gives love its erotic and transgressive edge.

Speaking as someone with more than a passing interest in erotica, this kind of thing drives me nuts. Some folks really do dig anonymous sex, but in my experience they're a minority - and usually it's more the transgressive thrill of the act itself than anything particular in the sex that they enjoy. Seeing so many movies where the message is "these people are in love and that magically means they're 100% compatible in the bedroom despite their never having, y'know, sat down and talked to each other about what they like" both sets up an unrealistic cultural standard and actively suppresses a normal and healthy part of sexuality. It took me years and several partners to get past the "if I have to tell my partner what I like then clearly we're not really In Love!", and I know some people never get past it; opening up your mouth and asking for what you want is hard enough without that kind of baggage attached. (I genuinely wonder if this kind of problem has been more harmful to our collective sexual health than the oft-laughed at pornographic tropes; at least with the latter, it makes no bones about being a fantasy and not representative of real life.) Besides, talking about your desires is sexy - it demonstrates confidence and self-knowledge. Leaving that out of a romantic story means you're missing out on some seriously good stuff.

What I plan to read next

It's pretty up in the air at the moment - I've got a fair amount on my plate right now.  Still, I suspect I'll be eyeing something new soon - you can't keep a good polybibliophile down for long!
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"The last thing to determine conclusively is whether you are in a comedy or a tragedy. To quote Italo Calvino, ‘the ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: The continuity of life, the inevitability of death.’ Tragedy, you die. Comedy, you get hitched."

--Professor Jules Hilbert, as portrayed by the inimitable Dustin Hoffman in Stranger Than Fiction


Back when I first saw this movie years ago, it set me on ruminating over the difference between comedy and tragedy. The definition above isn't untrue, if a bit simplistic - obviously there are plenty of comedies that don't end in weddings, and tragedies that don't end in death. A better definition might be that a comedy ends in a strengthened sense human connection, whereas a tragedy ends with a weakened connection and/or increased sense of isolation, but that's describing the effect rather than the cause.

So here's my proposal: a comedy is a story where the protagonist learns, grows, and changes. A tragedy, on the flipside, is a story where the protagonist has an opportunity to learn and grow, but misses it, and fails to change (or fails to do so enough to avert loss).

This, I think, is why comedies are so often love stories - be it romantic love, filial love, friend-love, or even self-love. Love is one of the primary drivers of change in our lives; to quote M. Scott Peck, love is "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth". For those of us lucky enough to live in relative safety, few other forces will ever highlight our weaknesses while simultaneously driving us to aspire to better - that is, provide ideal circumstances for learning, growth, and change - than love.

I suspect, also, that this is why comedies tend to focus on younger protagonists, often those of working- or middle-class. Younger people, even those in their 20s, are in many ways are still discovering the world around them; it's often easier for them to admit that a former assumption was incorrect, because their world is still very much in flux. That's not to say that a change isn't without consequences, both internal and social; otherwise the story would have no stakes. Think of the romantic hero afraid of being laughed at when he falls in love with a less-than-acceptable partner, for instance, or the pre-med graduate whose whole life has been about becoming a doctor, until they picked up the guitar. But it's easier to make a drastic career change, or to make better friends, when you're younger; as you grow older and settle into habits, the stakes get commensurately higher. Tragedies, by extension, tend to focus on older, higher-class subjects - especially rulers in one form or another. And whoo boy, when you're the political and social figurehead of a kingdom, do you have a lot to lose by admitting that you're wrong. Often, however, your country has even more to lose by your refusal, which compounds the magnitude of the tragedy.

Of course, no good framework is ever offered without examples and discussion - that's how we vet any theory. So let's have an impromptu humanities class! What are your favorite comedies or tragedies? (No judgment allowed on people's choices; there's just as much room for discussion of the tragic/comic aspects of Riverdale or Three Men and a Baby as there is of The House of Mirth or The Yiddish Policeman's Union.) What are the stakes? How does the main character change (or refuse to change)? Is the story a tragedy from one perspective but a comedy from another? Does your choice upend my whole theory? Let's discuss!
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...my path through the cultural morass has mostly been to be unquestionably brilliant -- it's really hard for people to argue that you shouldn't be on the team if you're the best at it.
--[livejournal.com profile] thewronghands/[personal profile] ivy, on dealing with society's engrained sexism

Having written recently about my sense of pride, this quote resonated in my mind with the clarity of a plucked string. If I'm the best at something, no one can criticize me or tell me I don't belong somewhere; in our culture, as a member of a group traditionally excluded, that's a potent defense. Unfortunately, it feeds right into the negative side as well - It makes it difficult for me to learn new things, because I have to first admit that I'm new to this and don't already know everything about it. And if it turns out to be harder than I expected to pick it up, if my unspoken mental "time allotted to become brilliant" is exceeded, I grow very tempted to abandon the effort - the risk of being challenged on it is simply too great.

Upon reflection, I realized it's social as well as vocational: I used to be obnoxiously assertive with my opinions, arguing them to the death when challenged. I've grown better about this in recent years, cultivating the ability to ask others and listen to their responses as well as to pick and choose my battles, but I've noticed that the more men are in a particular group, and especially the less attention I feel they're paying to non-male points of view, the more likely I am to revert to my old habits.

And god forbid I am challenged and shown to be less than brilliant, says my insecurity - that might lead people to question my brilliance in other arenas, and soon I'll be shut out entirely.
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Given that Brian and I are both big fans of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, I perhaps should not have been surprised to find myself deluged in mailed flyers for their new season - and specifically, for their 30th anniversary season special of $99 for tickets to three shows. The date and seat options were limited, of course, but with some finagling I found a set of dates when we were free, and thus was Brian's Christmas present taken care of.

Last night was our first show, King Charles III, a "future history" of Great Britain; basically a speculative work on what the near future might hold for the British monarchy, written a la Shakespeare (although in truth it hewed closer to the style of his tragedies than his histories). Queen Elizabeth II has just died, and after a lifetime of waiting, Charles III has ascended to the throne, just in time for the passage of a bill by Parliament that would severely restrict freedom of the press. The Prime Minister, knowing Charles' long and contentious relationship with the tabloids and confident in two centuries' worth of precedent, is understandably dumbstruck when Charles refuses to sign the bill into law, thus throwing into question the long-held (but nonetheless relatively recent) tradition of royal political neutrality. Parliament doubles down, the King digs in his heels, and events spiral outward from there, with various family members reflecting on both their duty to Great Britain and the opportunities afforded them by the conflict, even as the people, cleanly split on the issue, grow restive, organizing protests and counter-protests all through the British Empire.

I hugely admired the intelligence of the play; political intrigue is a favorite subject of mine, and both the playwright and the actors did a fabulous job demonstrating the complex (and often conflicting) principles and desires that drive each of the major players to their respective conclusions. I particularly enjoyed the uncertainty around the title character - is he, as he claims, driven purely by his faith in the necessity of a free press to a functioning democracy? Is he secretly enjoying his time in the spotlight, after having played second fiddle for so long? Is his obstinacy truly the result of closely-held belief, or is he also trying to make his mark on history in the relatively short time allowed him on the throne? Even juicier were the reflections on the role of royalty and government in British society. Is it the royal family's place to influence politics? If they refuse to take a stand on important issues, do they serve any purpose other than hollowed-out puppets of Parliament? What about their value as figureheads, standing for the continuation of Britain? What principles are worth the upending of political and social custom to defend? Which is more important in government, principle or stability? Can there be stability in a democratic society? What good is continuation if the country has no integrity left to carry on defending?

To its credit, the play balances its Serious Political Commentary with a healthy dose of humanity - a subplot regarding a love affair of Prince Harry's, and the meticulously drawn character of King Charles and his interactions with various politicians and retainers, bring some much-needed humor to the proceedings. That's not to say that it's perfect; the aforementioned subplot is a little underdeveloped, and (much to my personal annoyance) the female characters are relegated to stock Shakespearean tropes with no real arcs of their own. But even with those frustrations, I appreciated the show; it may hold few solutions for current anxiety-inducing political climate, but it's still reassuring to see that others are asking the same questions. Highly recommended.
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"Take this paper, and write down all the regrets you have from the past year. Then we'll burn them and start with a clean slate."

My friend hands me a torn scrap of foolscap, and I pull my purple pen from my purse, considering. The other party guests banter with each other, covering up the inherent vulnerability of the moment by proposing outrageous stories or asking whether such-and-such mundane thing counts as a regret.

I write a few lines, mostly small things; slowly, they begin to imply a theme of something larger that I can't yet articulate. I write a few more, circling around the issue: I regret not taking some of the opportunities my mother offered to grow closer. I regret not reaching out to my friends when I needed emotional support. I regret letting my certainty that I already knew the answers cloud my ability to learn new things.

Finally, I've outlined the shape enough to identify what it is my brain's been hiding from me: carefully, in clear letters, I print "I regret all the times my pride has kept me from connecting with the world."

Then I circle it and underline it twice, as if to emphasize its importance to the oncoming flames.

--

"Even from the time Ambrosia was little, she knew her self-worth."

I am twelve years old, and my mother has told this story many times. Still, my back straightens a little.

"When she was a toddler, I would take her to the playpark in our neighborhood, and she would want to stay longer. So I would tell her, 'Okay, I'm going home without you,' and pretend to leave. And she would keep on swinging, or playing on the jungle gym, until I turned right back around and scooped her up."

At this age, in the nadir of middle school, I am just now beginning to be aware that my greater-than-average self-confidence has been a handicap to my social acceptance. Eight years of teasing, of ostracism both subtle and blatant, of outright violence on a few memorable occasions, are finally starting to penetrate. I am slowly realizing that, contrary to the "just be yourself!" messages of a thousand thousand afterschool specials and middle-grade novels, my defiance of social dictates - my refusal to wear 'normal' clothes, to care about my presentation, to keep my opinions to myself in class - are exacting a very real toll on my ability to get on with my classmates.

Until this point, I've taken pride in not caring about the shallow and superficial things most people in my age group care about, in marching to the beat of my own drum. But the constant shaming wears on me, as it is meant to do; we are social creatures, exquisitely attuned to the slights of others. It will be some years yet before I start to appreciate the value of building my personality through careful negotiation with social norms, of bearing superficial markers indicating belonging to a particular class or cohort. And it will be many more years of careful observation and learning - often by saying precisely the wrong thing - until I learn the subtle arts of getting along in a community, of deferring to others' knowledge even when I'm convinced of my own correctness, of influencing group opinion in small ways, of quietly building social currency against the day when my integrity will demand that I take a stand.

--

This morning, cocooned in blankets and absent any driving motivation to get out of bed early, I sank into the sort of brightly-lit, highly-detailed dream that often seems to visit me at such hours. I was visiting a mall storefront that turned out to be a beautifully decorated Jewish temple, run by a particularly Orthodox sect. For some reason I had a pressing need to wash my hands, and I remember asking a stern-browed woman if I might do so; she looked displeased at the notion, but apparently my need was great enough to overcome her reservations.

I proceeded to the back of the space, where there were several sinks, and started washing my hands at one of them, only to realize from the horrified faces of those around me that not only was I using entirely the wrong sink, but that I was trespassing upon the men's side of the temple, as well as likely violating several other rules I didn't even know. I take such pride in knowing the social tenets in any given situation, in acting carefully to ensure the comfort and approbation of others; the realization that I was in a situation where I was socially illiterate sends a wave of shame, pure and unadulterated as few non-dream emotions are, swamping my chest and my cheeks. Strong as it is, it burns indelibly into my memory the dream that might otherwise have faded in the light of day.


--

"Are you feeling inspired?" I ask my client, once she's taken a few breaths of her aromatherapy oils. We had been laughing at the silliness of naming a scent blend "Inspiration", as if achieving so notoriously elusive a state could be as simple as taking a few breaths.

"Oh, absolutely!" she answers, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Now I can go home and finish all those half-done songs I have filling my notebooks!"

We spend a few moments bonding over the difficulties of musicianship, and the specific frustration of unfinished artistic efforts. She admits that she finishes perhaps one in ten songs that she starts; I, having not even been brave enough to start ten, feel simultaneously relieved and humbled.

I've long known that my difficulties in finishing anything artistic stem from my perfectionism; so long as a song or a story lives only as an idea in my mind, it will always be perfect, spared the trauma of birth and the inevitable marring of being shaped by imperfect hands. But, with pride much on my mind of late, I begin to consider how much of that perfectionism stems from pride. Completion means sharing, and sharing means risk - of judgment, of failure, of losing my sense of specialness. If I could let go of that need to feel special, set apart, would that help me to take artistic risks? Would it be easier to share something imperfect and true if I didn't tie my self-worth to my pride?

That last thought startles me with the truth it implies, and I almost miss a stroke in the massage.

--

"You can spend your life trying to fit yourself into a box. But you'll always be too much for some people. For others, you'll never be enough. But the great joy is that, if you let yourself, you'll always be exactly enough for you."

Something in the yoga teacher's voice catches me, which seems odd - I've been ruminating of late on how the doctrine of self-exceptionalism has been harmful in my life, and on the surface her message reads very much as a variation on the "just be yourself!" mantra.

You'll always be exactly enough for you.

It occurs to me, as my brain slowly slots the puzzle pieces together, that perhaps the problem isn't pride, per se - it's what I'm proud of. All my life I've been told that I'm talented, intelligent, exceptional; all my life I've been secretly terrified that I'm going to seriously screw up and prove everybody wrong, prove that I really am that weird girl who deserved to be bullied and ostracized, disappoint everyone who had such faith in me. I've accomplished a few things, it's true, and I'm proud of them, but I think I've been even more proud of how they reaffirmed my belief in my own exceptionalism.

And yet...in order for me to be exceptional, it logically follows that others have to be unexceptional. And I've long since rejected the idea of talent as a zero-sum game; I strongly dislike the idea that because one person doesn't measure up to another on one arbitrary scale, that means they don't have something to contribute on another axis. I wonder how much of the fear and misery I can forestall by refusing comparison, by practicing humility with regards to others, by working on being enough for me.

I wonder if, freed of its shackles of fear and embracing its gift of imperfect life, my art might someday take wing, finally able to share itself with the world, to help forge those tenuous connections we so desperately need.
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This morning, a friend of mine posted about how much his life had changed. A couple of years ago, he'd been stuck in bleak despair; since then, he'd met someone he loved wholeheartedly (and who loved him back), had significant career success, made friends, and contributed to his community. Needless to say, he was feeling much happier.

It's no secret that what makes me happiest is seeing (and helping) people, especially those people I know and love, to Be Better. So this post made me happy in a deep and fundamental way, even though I had little to do with his life's transformation. But when I went to respond, what came to mind was Louis Renault's Victor Laszlo's line to Rick at the end of Casablanca: "Welcome back to the fight."

That seemed a little odd, until I thought about it and realized how apropos it truly was. We speak of happiness in this culture as something to be achieved, or found, or bought; an item to accomplish and then check off our list. But (much as with physical fitness, or education) the goalposts are constantly moving. Fulfillment doesn't happen on its own. Social connection doesn't happen on its own. Financial success doesn't happen on its own. Artistic achievement doesn't happen on its own. Love doesn't happen on its own. Each of these things requires effort, demands that we get out into the field and fight for them, proclaim our belief that they can happen, that we can Be Better against an uncaring or even hostile environment. The fight may be easier or harder on any given day, depending on what surrounds us and what we bring to the table, but it's always a fight. Some days we are triumphant, and are feted and paraded through town. Some days we come home bruised and bloodied, battered by an indifferent world, or the fears and insecurities of others, or our own self-doubts or faulty brain chemistry. Most days we make a little progress; on the good days we can look back and appreciate how far we've come.

Happiness, contrary to its word root, doesn't happen on its own. If we're going to Be Better, we have to fight for it - constantly. But it's a fight worth joining. We have so much to learn, so much to create, and so much to be.

It's customary, this time of year, to wish one's friends joy of the season. But - say it with me - joy doesn't happen on its own. Instead, I invite each and every one of you reading this: come fight with me. Be Better with me. The world may reject us, may hit us in our deepest and most vulnerable places - but we can decide to pick that torch right back up and shine it high. We may never know how much others need that inspiration.
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I've tried my best to keep my political posts to a minimum, this election. This is not because I don't like politics, or think they shouldn't be discussed in polite company; I find sociology and demographics and economics and all the other fields that contribute to political choice-making fascinating. Even more, I feel strongly that the point of a democracy (and deliberative government in general) is to encourage discussion and exchange of views between people who may not agree. It's slow, and inefficient, and often anxiety-making; it requires an ability to listen in good faith, and to find common ground. But, at its best, it helps us broaden our viewpoints and make decisions that are best for everyone. I've made a very real effort, therefore, to befriend people on all parts of the political spectrum.

And so I feel like I've gotten a front-row seat to our country's increasing polarization over the past decade. And that's made discussing politics increasingly uncomfortable.

There's no one single cause that I've seen a convincing argument for. Income inequality absolutely contributes, as does the stark divide in rural vs. urban culture and economic opportunity. Self-constructed Internet echo chambers may have had an effect, as well as the culture of bullying that Internet anonymity has given rise to. A news media that depends on conflict and horse-race reporting to generate clicks. But the one very real effect is a complete breakdown of communication between people with different views. An obstructionist Congress that refuses to work with the other branches of government. A Supreme Court evenly split along ideological lines. And, on a smaller scale, a stream of people in my social media feeds - many of whom I like and respect - demanding that people who voted for an opposing candidate, or who have different ideas about this or that issue, unfriend them right now. No more communication.

And the damned thing is, I can understand that. We're all human. None of us like uncertainty. None of us want to admit we might be wrong, that our friends might be wrong. A lot of us aren't even comfortable discussing our thinking anymore - it's too likely someone will take advantage of even that small vulnerability to land a sucker punch. It's so much easier to hide in our bunker with the people who pass our tests of ideological purity, who will reinforce our view of the world, and who won't challenge us for fear of being ousted from our circle.

But the cost is...this. A government so dysfunctional it can't even fulfill its basic, Constitutionally-mandated responsibilities. Social media feeds full of 'gotcha' memes and biased information. And now, a whole section of the populace that feels so left behind, so ignored, that they've (very likely) elected a supremely unqualified person for the highest office in the land, solely for the satisfaction of throwing a brick through the window.

It's times like this that being a big-picture sort of person gets really depressing. Because, ultimately, there's not much I can do about any of these trends. I can't make people listen to each other. I can't stop Internet trolling, or demand that the media quit publishing clickbait headlines, or stop my friends from posting questionable memes. I can't fight what feels like the inevitable tendency of humanity to lose sight of common goals in favor of petty squabbles.

So what can I do? What can any of us do?

Listen. Cultivate empathy to the people you might normally dismiss. Empathy is not the same thing as sympathy; it doesn't mean you agree. It simply means you're willing to consider what they have to say, and their possible reasons for saying it.

Find common ground. For all that we love to find reasons to argue, we're all human, and that means we all have far more in common than we don't. No matter your differences in background, culture, or demographic, I guarantee you have something in common with the next person.

Bring people together. It might be small ways - a yoga class, a church service. It might be bigger - writing a novel, running a protest. But find some way to help people reconnect with others. Help them remember that we're bigger than this.

Set healthy boundaries. Say no to interactions, discussions, and relationships that only drain you. This might seem counterintuitive, but people with the strongest sense of boundaries are able to be the most openhearted with others, because they've saved their energy for the difficult work of listening in good faith.

Maintain your integrity. Practice what you preach.

These are my resolutions for the next four years. What are yours?
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I've written quite a bit about my struggles with anxiety and depression, both in terms of how they feel and how they manifest in my behavior. Yesterday, however, a friend linked to an article that resonated quite a bit: Living With High-Functioning Anxiety.

My experience is somewhat different from the writer's. For one thing, mine tends to move in cycles; there are times when I can't stop the stream of internal criticism, and other times when I feel perfectly normal and happy. For another, even when I'm in an anxious phase, my symptoms aren't usually that severe. But I feel firsthand so much of what she's written. The perfectionism. The need to constantly be busy while avoiding important or high-stakes tasks. The inability to ask for help, because that means admitting you're not capable of handling things on your own. The vacillating between "everyone has it together but you, what's wrong with you" and "other people have things so much worse, what are you complaining about".

Those of you who've been around the past couple years have probably noticed my increasing focus on self-care, mostly through increased physical activity and better diet. (I know that, to some people and in some circumstances, I've come across as more than a little evangelist on this point; to those people, I owe an apology. Yoga and self-care have been quite literally life-changing for me, but I suspect in my exhortations I was ignoring the twin contributions of a move to a much better-for-me environment and a significant socioeconomic boost that came about at the same time.) This has done a lot to stretch out the periods of feeling happier and more balanced. But these past several months, I've been feeling the anxiety creep up on me even with those efforts; this latest bout has lasted some weeks.

Another link from a friend, Life Hacks of the Poor and Aimless, has shed some light on what's been going on in my subconscious. Laurie Penny posits that my demographic's obsession with self-care isn't in spite of the scary events going on in the rest of the world, but is in fact a reaction to that very sense of helplessness. We can't refill the Ogallala aquifer, or stop ourselves hurtling past the carbon emission point of no return, or fix a broken political system, or avert any number of other disasters that seem to loom over the horizon. So we turn our focus selfward instead, and convince ourselves that by practicing "radical self-love" we can find happiness - and, on this philosophy's darker side, feel as if we're insufficient when our self-care practice fails to adequately substitute for a stable and functioning social contract.

And yet, the answer can't be to give up self-care entirely. One of my favorite yoga teachers would probably fit Penny's description of an "Instagram happiness guru", or at least an aspiring one. But I go to her classes regularly, because she makes a real effort to make them a safe place, where we can work on self-improvement without judgment. When it feels like the world is falling apart around us, where there's no good answer or right thing we can do to stop things hurtling toward a horrible conclusion, there's a real value in that sort of centering, in exercising that little bit of control we do still have. I always leave her classes feeling more hopeful, more able to focus on the positive aspects of my life. It doesn't always overcome the overall sense of helplessness, but it provides a bulwark, a small protection for my sanity that helps me keep a more even outlook.

And let's not kid ourselves - outlook is important. It's a lot easier to focus on the positives, to work towards making the world a better place in those hundreds of small ways that seem insignificant but are far more likely to ripple out into something lasting, if we're feeling energized and stable and hopeful for the future. Zeitgeist matters; the more we become convinced that the world is headed for disaster, the more likely it is that we will bring that disaster on ourselves. No single one of us can prevent it, no, but by each doing what we can to help raise each others' spirits, perhaps we can improve our collective future.

That's what I feel in my more hopeful moments, anyway. During those times when the anxiety starts to build, when (to paraphrase Brian) I spend more and more time either absorbed in news articles or staring off into the distance, I start to think that this is what my friends and family felt like during the Cold War. Those awful moments of hope mixed with increasing dread, that encroaching certainty that the worst will happen, it was just a question of how and when. It's not a fun feeling; I especially hate how it robs me of the ability to enjoy things in my life here and now, when the worst (whatever that might be) hasn't yet happened, and may not at all.

I've been thinking, too, about my earlier post on paradox, and how essential it is to our existence, even though it's uncomfortable and difficult for us to accept. Perhaps this is how humans get into these destructive spirals in the first place: we don't like uncertainty, we want things to be good or bad. And if things stay uncertain enough for long enough, if the constructive future feels too difficult or too far away, eventually we pick the bad option, just for the relief of knowing the uncertainty is over. Perhaps this is why it's so important to practice holding our paradoxes: that anxiety and depression are challenges to overcome and perfectly reasonable reactions to an increasingly scary world; that we need to focus on taking care of ourselves and fighting for a better society; that we can contribute meaningfully to our collective future and we're dependent on other people to help us build that future.

My head is not the happiest place, of late. But I hope getting these thoughts out in the open will help, if only in the sense of lancing the wound. And to everyone whom I owe letters, or a phone call, or words of comfort - I'm sorry I've been so unresponsive lately. Hopefully this will go some measure towards explaining why.
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I have an ongoing dialogue of sorts with a Facebook acquaintance about compassion, and the need to exercise it while - incongruously, it seems - maintaining strong boundaries to protect yourself. And in a recent iteration of this conversation, it occurred to me that this sort of paradox was far from unique:

It is precisely the embodiment of these sorts of opposing values that fascinates me about life. We need to be compassionate, and we need to have strong boundaries. We need to be open to new ideas, and we need to be skeptical of claims presented without evidence. We need to keep our games (literal, metaphorical and political) simple enough to be accessible, and complex enough to keep our interest. We need to focus on the goals we hope to attain, and accept that the path to them may be more roundabout than we anticipate (and that the roundabout path may be more rewarding). And although you will find people advocating one side or the other of literally all of these metrics, those who are most successful are always the people who realize that it's not an either/or proposition, but being large enough to embody the whole.

What really struck me, when I was writing this out, was that I had started out phrasing it as precisely the sort of either/or setup that I later disclaimed. "We need to be compassionate, BUT we need to have strong boundaries." "We need to be open to new ideas, BUT we need to be skeptical." It was such an engrained habit of thinking that it wasn't until I reached the final sentence that I realized that I was presenting these options as choices, and thus reinforcing precisely the sort of either/or framework I was decrying.

Having recognized that, still...it was surprisingly difficult, writing these seeming contradictions out not as quandaries, but as both/and directives. Even though there's plenty of research showing that people with the strongest boundaries are also the most compassionate. Even though just about any Internet comment thread will demonstrate the dangers of both over-openmindedness and over-skepticism. Even though my own life has borne out the value of the long road to a goal. Even knowing all of this, it was almost physically painful to stop thinking of them as choices, and start thinking of both as necessities.

Thinking about why, I was put strongly in mind of Q's final admonition to Picard in All Good Things...:

 
Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.
Q: You just don't get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.
Picard: When I realized the paradox.
Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered.
That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

Paradoxes don't sit well with human nature.  We like things to fit neatly into boxes, to be all good or all bad.  It's genuinely difficult, almost painful, to hold two seemingly-contradictory ideas in our heads, even when we know they're not a contradiction, but two halves of a greater whole.  

But while I can't speak for anyone else's experience...when I manage to hold the paradox in my head?  It's exhilarating, even elevating.  Like I've grown larger, somehow.  Like someday I might be able to understand the entire universe.  

I'm curious, now - do any of you have experiences like this?  Are there paradoxes in your own lives that you struggle with?  Things you've learned that make you feel bigger?  Tell me!

missroserose: (Balloons and Ocean)
It's the first real cold morning of winter (15 degrees in Farenheit, -9 in Celsius, At Least Three Layers And All The Winter Accessories in Ambrosia), and I decided to skip yoga class before work because I'm having a hard time convincing myself to go out before it's absolutely necessary. So now that I have two whole hours free, I thought I might wave to my LJ friends and reassure them I made it into the new year just fine.

Biggest laugh of the morning: Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History. "maybe if i keep covering more of my face with my hands/he’ll forget i’m here/and go away"...oh man. Vivid memories of working circulation in my college library, and certain patrons who thought they'd try to chat up the cute girl behind the desk.

It's been a quiet first week of the year. Our holiday plans fell through somewhat - we'd intended to go to a dance/concert with some friends, but they had an emergency and had to cancel. Since we already had tickets, and I had an outfit all picked out, we decided to go anyway; people-watching was fun, but ultimately we just weren't feeling it and decided to hop a train home before the rush. And really, that was okay; we got back and sipped some leftover sparking wine and went to bed. I guess this is officially The Year We Are Old.

Since then we've mostly been hanging out at home, partly due to holiday budgetary hangover and partly due to Brian having come down with a cold (Brian, dismayed: "I was working nights all month and barely left the house! Where did I get a cold?") I managed to fight it off successfully with a combination of Emergen-C and taking it easy for a few days, but given that next week he's going to be commuting to/from a client site in the suburbs, I think our plans to take down Christmas decorations are getting delayed a week.

Other than that, though, things are good. I have a longer and more thoughtful post percolating on finances, long-term goals, social/generational trends, and luck, but the upshot is, we're finally at a point financially where we're able to seriously save for a home of our own. I've honestly doubted for a long time we'd ever reach that point, since the places we wanted to live (i.e. urban environments with good transit and lots of restaurants/attractions) tend to be quite pricey, and historically we're more prone to want to enjoy our money than sock it away; but thanks to hard work, good social connections, and some excellent luck, it's looking like we may be able to start seriously house-hunting (or, more likely, condo-hunting) in a couple of years. We'll see how it works out - make plans and the gods laugh, after all. Still, it's a nice place to be.

I don't have any New Year's resolutions as such; most of my goals are continuous (keep up with yoga/healthier food choices to keep my mood issues in check, keep an eye out for new career opportunities, keep learning new things to avoid getting stuck in a rut, et cetera). But a theme that's been coming up in my life lately has been practicing gratitude without anxiety or entitlement. I have a lot of friends who did not have a great 2015, often due to factors entirely beyond their control; I know that someday that might be me (in cases involving death of a loved one, someday it will be me, unless I die first). And I also know a lot of people - including me, sometimes - who have trouble appreciating when things go well because all they can focus on is how temporary it is, and how things are bound to go wrong eventually. So I've been working on holding that sense of gratitude, and the vulnerability it entails, and being gentle with the part of me that wants to get caught up in worrying about the future. Similarly, there's the part of me that's terrified of becoming an entitled white person, who subconsciously believes they're owed their privilege and success simply because they've always had it; it's partly why I get so uncomfortable in the suburbs, where there's a high percentage of people with that mindset. So I'm trying to be gentle with that part of me as well, acknowledging its existence and reassuring it through various means (staying socially aware, donating when I can and without feeling guilty for not giving more, practicing compassion towards others even when they're doing things I disagree with or find inconvenient). It's a tough balance to strike, and man, is it difficult to practice self-love towards the parts of your personality you don't like. But it feels like important work, so I'm going to keep at it.
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
The word "book" seems insufficient to describe this 500+ page, multi-year, multi-collaborator project. Although now that I think about it, I think it's less a problem of linguistics than of presentation; the book format itself is insufficient to contain it.

Women In Clothes is an consideration of precisely that - women (of varying ages, cultures, body shapes, gender and sexual identities, and income levels) and their relationship with their clothing. The examination takes the form of a collection of short pieces: answers to a long (and continually evolving) survey they designed; transcribed, and occasionally translated, interviews; pictures of prized pieces or collections; and the occasional whimsical moment such as a series of photos of several women trying on each others' outfits in sequence. Often the pieces are cut and pasted, with a number of quotes grouped together to highlight their similarities, or a range of answers to a single question set against each other for contrast. The overarching concept seems to be to create an - or perhaps simply to record and replicate the existing - ongoing conversation about clothing between women from all over the globe and all walks of life.

It's an ambitious idea, and to a degree, effective; I've certainly come away with a broader understanding of how history and life stage and geographic location have affected the clothing choices of other women. The problem lies in the sheer amount of information involved. The book is nearly twice as long as an average novel; and, due to the inherently democratic nature of the project and the thoughtfulness of the contributors, there's just no easy part to point to and say "that could go". (I can only imagine what a laborious and painful process the editing must have been, and how much was probably left behind.)

Hitchcock is credited with the adage that a movie should not last longer than the average theatergoer's bladder capacity; while there's no similarly simple metric for books, the fact that it took me seven months to get through this despite it being about two of my favorite subjects indicates that something's not working in the presentation. I think it might have been better exhibited online somehow - wiki-style, perhaps, with hotlinks that encourage the reader to casually browse, swinging between related subjects, rather than railroading them along in a straight line. Still, even in book form, it's an interesting read for anyone interested in the intersection of psychology, sociology, and fashion. B-
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I picked this book up initially because, as a massage therapist, it sounded like it would be useful information for my field.  But it turned out to be far, far more than that.

As anyone who regularly reads this journal probably has guessed, I find people fascinating: the way our genetic proclivities and life experiences combine to form a literally infinite number of personalities; the way we build mental structures upon which we can hang the barrage of sensory input the world gives us each day; the way we're all susceptible to certain modes of thinking and flaws in reasoning and yet each find our own particular ways to deal with them. And, sadly, the ways in which we hurt each other, and ourselves, despite (usually) not meaning to.

This last has been a continuing source of fascination and frustration to me. What causes the self-destructive, or other-destructive, behavior that seems so tragically common? True, a small percentage of the population are psychopathic, uncaring of the damage they inflict except as it might come back to affect them; but the vast majority of hurt is either an unintentional treading upon a sore spot, or a lashing out in response to a perceived threat.

Dr. van der Kolk elegantly articulates something I'd observed but had trouble putting into words: with a few exceptions, people who hurt others do so because they are hurting, themselves. What's more, he posits, and backs up with numerous studies, that most of that hurt is caused by unresolved trauma; either from childhood (the results of the Adverse Childhood Experience study he and his colleagues pioneered, referenced several times in this book, paint a shocking picture of exactly how prevalent childhood trauma is in our culture) or from later on in life. Unfortunately, the current drug-focused psychiatric climate can do relatively little for these people, as medication can address the symptoms but do very little to resolve the underlying causes.

This sounds like a depressing subject, and it is - although described with clinical detachment, the events that many of Dr. van der Kolk's clients have undergone range from tragic to horrific. But the book takes a hopeful and (at times) inspirational tone, describing numerous successes and advances in treatment, citing both case studies and randomized trials demonstrating their efficacy (or, at times, suggesting the need for further study of promising but largely untested methods).

Even more strongly, Dr. van der Kolk advocates for the political will to take action in stopping trauma at its source - instituting educational and social-support programs for underprivileged families, refocusing school programs from punishing difficult children towards understanding and teaching them coping strategies, making treatment available at a low cost to people from all walks of life. As he states in the epilogue:

When I give presentations on trauma and trauma treatment, participants sometimes ask me to leave out the politics and confine myself to talking about neuroscience and therapy.  I wish I could separate trauma from politics, but as long as we continue to live in denial and treat only trauma while ignoring its origins, we are bound to fail.  In today's world your ZIP code, even more than your genetic code, determines whether you will live a safe and healthy life. {...} Poverty, unemployment, inferior schools, social isolation, widespread availability of guns, and substandard housing are all breeding grounds for trauma.  Trauma breeds further trauma; hurt people hurt other people.

For so much of my life, I've tried to understand why so many people - often people very dear to me - have trouble making positive decisions for themselves.  Now, thanks to this book, I have an answer - and not just a single answer, but a holistic framework that includes familial and social factors, a range of observable responses, and treatment possibilities.  Having recently acquired my LMT, I'd been mulling over possible further career goals; thanks to the inspiration of this book, I may well look into the field of trauma treatment.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in people and the ways they interact with the world; I'd go so far as to say it's a must-read for anyone in nursing, medical care, massage therapy, social work, counseling, or other socially-oriented professions where we see people in moments of vulnerability.  But honestly, I wish people everywhere could read it and take it to heart; compassion and empathy are fundamental to social connection, and given that we're wired to be social creatures, what could be more universal than learning why and how we are hurt, and how to help each other through it?  A++ with cherries on top
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Last Friday night, I had a very bad reaction to NyQuil.

To call it unexpected would be something of an understatement; NyQuil has always been my go-to cold medicine. When I've got a sore throat, am coughing too hard to sleep, or am otherwise miserable with a cold, it's always been there for me, willing to knock me out for a few hours of much-needed rest. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say I've probably taken it a hundred times over the past several years. Even this past week I'd taken it a few times - I've been dealing with a lingering cough and scratchy throat from the Swedish flu, which seems to get worse at night.

But this time, something in the chemistry was off. Instead of falling asleep and waking up in the morning, I awoke after two hours, heart pounding and blood pressure skyrocketing...only to nearly lose consciousness as it bottomed out a few minutes later. I had tremors, sweats, chills, nausea, and all the other symptoms of a bad flu, made worse by the clockwork shots of adrenaline that jolted my system every half-hour or so.

Since sleep was out of the question, I put the time to use doing what few things I could - Googling the symptoms (they all checked out as less-severe uncommon side effects of the drug), making and drinking tea to stay hydrated, and taking deep breaths and firmly telling myself that this was temporary, that I would make it through this. That last was rather more difficult than it sounds with the regular adrenaline dumps, but it was pretty much all I could do, so I did. (I would like to add with some minor grumpiness that, had I been in Sweden or just about any other first-world nation and could go to the ER without it costing literally thousands of dollars, I would have checked myself in for observation - "liver failure" was listed as a "severe" possible side effect. But I decided against it and instead checked my skin and the whites of my eyes every hour or so to make sure I wasn't showing signs of jaundice.)

Quite frankly, I was fucking terrified. In precisely the primal, hindbrain, violent sense that phrase evokes.

---

It's occurred to me, as I've been listening to the book on trauma that I was wrote about in my last post, that this qualified as a mildly traumatic experience - I was in fear for my life and I could do very little about it; even once it was past, I couldn't shake the feeling that it could recur, despite (obviously) avoiding NyQuil since then. And as I started to pick up the pieces of my daily routine, I realized that I could observe all the stages of healthy-person trauma recovery that Dr. van der Kolk discusses. I found words to describe the experience (naming and articulation). I reached out to friends and family for support (social connection). When I experienced some minor avoidance and flashback issues -- difficulty getting to sleep the next night despite being exhausted; performing a massage in an unusually warm room yesterday and, as I started to sweat, feeling my heart rate and blood pressure rise -- I dealt with them using deep breathing and centering techniques, reminding myself that this was not the past (reestablishment of temporal perception). And, gradually, my brain has been able to put the experience in the past (integration), instead of being constantly on alert, convinced that it will happen again.

---

Recently I've been ruminating on The Pictures are Pretty but the Struggle is Real, a plea for us to "be real" on the Internet. The author's a little fuzzy on the definition of "real", but suggests that we need to be honest about the things we're struggling with, to allow some of the rougher edges of our lives to show, in the hopes of better connecting with other people.

My feelings on this are...complex. I applaud her intent, but I think she glosses over a lot of the complexities of honesty and sharing. I think [livejournal.com profile] alexmegami had an excellent point over on Facebook: "The Internet is also home of the overshare. I question the ability to be fully yourself with an audience of hundreds or more. While I'm not opposed to honesty...a fight with your spouse is not something to be blasting across the tubes the day of or the day after or even within a week or two, especially without their okay." Vulnerability is powerful; misusing that power to hurt others is not cool, even if you genuinely need help.

And that's not even addressing the question of degrees. Is saying "I'm having a rough time of it today" any less honest than saying "My partner and I had a huge fight over moving today"? Is making a joke to put a humorous spin on a scary situation, as I did with NyQuil by announcing our breakup on Facebook, any less "real" than admitting how terrified I was, as I did above? Heck, is it somehow less honest of me to wait a few days to blog about it, until after I'd had some distance and time to process, than it would have been to write a mostly-incoherent in-the-moment accounting?

There's a lot to be said for the power of vulnerability: used conscientiously, it can be a powerful invitation to sympathy and connection. As [personal profile] peacefulleigh put it: "I strike a balance, or at least I try to, with triumphs and moments of frustration. But even in the latter, the point is not honesty, it's connectedness. I know that my friends have either felt that way too, or we can all laugh together at my foibles later."

And there, I think, is the key. There's nothing wrong with honesty (or "real"ness) in and of itself, just as there's nothing wrong with preferring to present a more polished appearance to the world. But neither of them are an end unto themselves. The point is connection; remembering that we need to strike a balance between reaching out from a position of power ("Look how thoughtful and smart and together I am!") and vulnerability ("I'm really scared about this and need help"). Maybe one's success on social media (and in the social world in general) is best measured in connections made. I think that's what I'm going to experiment with, ultimately; if I feel like I'm not engaging with people, I'll check to see if I'm spending too much time in one mode or the other. Which, yes, will probably require me being vulnerable a little more often. Sigh.
missroserose: (Default)
I don't wear the bras I sew, I just buy the cheap ones from krom chhat {an open-air market that sells clothes in piles on the ground}. I pay around 2,500 riel for a bra [60 cents]. It's new but not a quality bra. The bras I sew and the ones I wear are quite different. I sew my bras very carefully and the stitches are very tiny and strong with good-quality thread. But the bra I wear is very bad quality and the thread is not double-stitched. It's sewn with larger stitches. Because I sew every day, I know that the quality is totally different.

While I am sewing bras, I often think about whether or not I could ever wear a bra like the ones I make. The bras I make are very beautiful with a variety of quality fabric and I sew them very well. The fabric is good, it's so soft, and it will make the person who wears it feel cool and comfortable. I used to think that if I could have one quality and beautiful bra like I make, I would be really happy and I would be very beautiful. But it's impossible. These bras are for export, and the price of one of the bras I make is almost equal to my salary. While working, I hold the bra up in front of my face, then I ask myself who is the woman who will wear the bra I am sewing. I also wonder how the women in those countries are so rich and lucky to wear these expensive bras while the person who makes that bra just wears a very cheap one bought from the pile of clothes on the ground under the umbrella. So I feel jealous.


--Leap, a Cambodian garment factory worker, as told to Julia Wallace and translated by Kuch Naren. Published in Women In Clothes, 2014, p. 230.


I remember the first time I bought a high-quality bra. I used to wear inexpensive ones as well - probably not quite that cheap, but the ones you could get on sale at Wal-Mart, or in two-packs at Costco. Realizing that I could afford to go to Victoria's Secret and get a couple of well-made bras made from high-quality fabric was almost a revelation. I spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time delighting in those bras, stroking the soft lining, enjoying the vibrant colors, appreciating how comfortable they felt, and admiring how they made my breasts look under my clothing.

And I wondered, at the time, who had made them. I've done some sewing, and I know to a degree how much labor goes into a carefully shaped and structured and fitted piece like a bra. I wondered what their life was like, and (if they had breasts) whether they ever wanted to wear bras like the ones they'd made so carefully to sell overseas to wealthy European and American women.

A good quality, well-fitting bra isn't a necessity, exactly. But it's amazing how it can change one's entire view of oneself.

I wish I could send one to Leap.
missroserose: (Default)
This morning, I was reading a discussion elsejournal about the importance of how one conducts themselves online, positing that negativity, since it can ruin so many people's moods and thus their whole experience, should be avoided as much as possible online. Someone else brought up the point that negative emotions/experiences are a fundamental part of being human, and sharing them should be okay, because it helps us all recognize that we're not alone. I'm posting my response here, both because I think it's a point worth wider consideration, and because it's a lesson I'm learning in my own life right now.


I think there's a crucial distinction to be made here. There's a big difference between sharing one's troubles from a position of vulnerability and ownership, and doing so as a means of vindictive projection.

The latter I see far too often, and tends to happen when people are too afraid to understand their feelings are fundamentally their own, and start talking about how Others are Responsible. Sometimes they do it in a passive-aggressive way, pretending they're talking about themselves, but the subtext is clear. Sometimes it's just out-and-out active "These people are ruining everything!" What always gives it away, however, is that they're giving away their agency left and right. "Why doesn't everyone feel the way I do? Clearly that's the only way that's correct!" It's a seductive trap for a lot of people, because it renders you helpless; you don't need to put forth any effort to think about your own reactions, or do any work to change them, because it's all on the Other People.

In the former, however, you're saying "I'm having a rough time with X, and this is why"; you're owning your feelings and acknowledging them, as you say here. This is tough for a lot of people, both because you're having to take responsibility for your feelings/reactions (which often means examining and/or changing them), and because you're putting yourself in a position of vulnerability by asking others for empathy. Most of the time, people will instinctively understand that, and will respond accordingly. But sometimes, especially when they're projecting their own issues, someone will take the opportunity to sucker-punch you right square in that vulnerable spot you've so conveniently opened up for them. And that kind of social rejection hurts like few other experiences; it's no wonder we're so afraid to be vulnerable.

The strange thing is, however, that when you're truly standing in that spot, having empathy for yourself and your shortcomings, it gives you uncommon clarity into others' minds. We're all human, after all, and our problems and mental processes are far more alike than different. So while it's painful, when someone you care about takes that opportunity, it's not as world-ending as your initial fear of that experience might have suggested. You've already acknowledged your humanity, in its strengths and shortcomings; if they can't see it, then it says much more about them than about you.

So I say yes, share the less-acceptable feelings. But do the work beforehand; make sure you're coming from a place of power, not giving that power away in a mean-spirited attempt to deprive others of theirs. *That's* the sort of negativity that ruins others' experiences, and the root of most real evil in the world.
missroserose: (Default)
*surfaces* *waves* Hi everyone! I'm still here! Better than that, I'm doing wonderfully. I'm probably going to still be in limited-social-media mode for a couple of months, however, so you'd best get your photos now! Assuming this sighting is not just a prank being perpetuated by forces unknown.

Summer and winter are both wonderful, but I have to say that for my money, I particularly love spring and fall. They're the transition times: in spring, our sluggish blood starts to move faster, waking up from the long dark winter and reminding us that life is out there to be lived. And several months later, after the manic rush to experience the glorious summer weather and all the associated opportunities for community connection and celebration, autumn comes and encourages us to slow down, to contemplate where we are, where we're going, and where we'd like to be when we finally settle in for the long cold nights.

Spring here is rapidly turning into summer, however, and my calendar is filling up. Some updates, both on current events and future plans:

School: A month and a half left, and still averaging a 97.6%. Not that it really matters; no one asks about your grades in the field. But it makes me happy to know. :) I just started my Conditions class, which I'm very much enjoying; that's where I get to learn specific techniques to help people with particular muscular issues. First lesson: do not overuse your thumbs during a full day of practical classes after weeks of mostly-academic work. (Ow.) Second lesson, related: soaking your hands in cold water really works to reduce inflammation, even if you have to swear up a blue streak to do it.

Travel Plans, Concrete: I have tickets to Anchorage, July 23 to August 4, to visit my mother. Are you in the area? Are you reading this? Then chances are I'd love to see you! Let me know if that's a possibility and we'll make it work. And then later that month (August 24 through September 4), Brian and I both have tickets to Gothenberg to visit my friend Petra. Yay for facing my fear of international travel! Yay for seeing dear friends! (Also yay for built-in housesitters - when my mother-in-law heard our plans, she was all, "Okay, I'm housesitting for you." She'd never been to Chicago before visiting us last Christmas, and kept calling us during our first year here - "The news says fifteen people were shot this week! Are you guys all right?" Then when she stayed with us for a couple of weeks, she went from being clearly hesitant to leave our apartment to "You guys want to stay here? No problem, I'm going to take the bus downtown, bye!" So we're kind of cheering for her and possibly her sisters to come stay and paint Andersonville red while we're gone.)

Travel Plans, Hazy: A dear friend of mine in Washington is expecting in October; I've sent her a letter offering to be an extra pair of (massage-trained!) hands around that time. If she's interested, I'd kind of also like to stay in Seattle a couple of days; I have a few friends in the area and can probably find a couch to crash on, especially since I can pay in trade. :) It's been a while since I spent any real time there, and it's still one of my favorite cities. Plus, now that I've accomplished something that feels worthy of a tattoo to mark it, I'm thinking I might hit up one of the artists at Hidden Hand Tattoo - I've heard very good things about them, and their work is collectively pretty outstanding. But we'll see how it goes; I haven't even heard back from my friend yet, let alone worked out finances or tickets.

Future Plans, Also Hazy: People keep asking me what I'm planning to do after school, and my answer is generally "Read! And play guitar!" Since I haven't had the time to do much of either for the past six months. Career-wise, there's probably going to be a gap of a couple of months between graduating/applying for my license and receiving it; word is there's something of a backup on background checks due to various local political reasons. I'm thinking I'll apply to work at the school's associated clinic to start; it's not the highest-paid option, but they treat their employees well and there are numerous additional opportunities for related work like teaching if I want to pick up extra experience. Eventually I want to branch out into my own practice, but for now I'm okay with working for someone else, especially since I know it's a good group of folks who pull together when crises hit.

Celebrity, accidental: Thanks to a fortuitously-timed public expression of empathy, I recently was featured on a new local podcast focusing on Craigslist's "missed connections" section. It's not really fifteen minutes of fame, but I got to talk about the fascinating social tension between our desire to help others and our fear of making things worse, and also about stripping down in a convertible and incidentally making a truck driver's day. The producer did a really fun job with the Rango sound effects, too. Check it out! Mine is episode 3, "To The Girl Crying".
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Flu recovery continues; slower than I'd like, but it's progress. Amusingly enough, my annoyance at the time recovery is taking has decreased dramatically today, as the weather went from sunny and warm to "35 and snowstorming". I think this anonymous person pretty well captured the citywide reaction. I'm slightly annoyed about missing class, but it's nothing I can't make up, and I have all of tomorrow, too.

On the upside, being confined to bed/couch has done wonders for both my social media interaction and my study time. Since the former's probably of little interest to anyone but me, here are some cool things I've learned from my Pathology reading over the past couple of days:
  • Growth hormone, in addition to its eponymous function in children and adolescents, is largely responsible for tissue repair/replacement in adults - in short, healing.  It is also secreted almost entirely during stage IV sleep, the deepest level.  This fits with my own lifelong observation that most of the feeling-better recovery from illness takes place during long naps or overnight; it also explains why the people I've known with sleep apnea or other sleep difficulties tend to seem operate under a consistent sort of run-down malaise.  (And it explains many of the statistics where lack of sleep/sleep disorders increase susceptibility to any number of problems, from colds to heart failure.)
  • For all that the vast majority of fad diet advice is absolute bunk, it's completely true that the typical American diet is damn near toxic.  The number of digestive and metabolic disorders that can be reduced in risk (if not outright prevented) by limiting intake of preserved/processed foods and refined sugar/flour is staggering.  Unfortunately, despite it having been repeated by the USDA with slight variations for decades, the dietary advice of "eat whole grains, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and some lean meat; keep consumption of processed foods and refined sugars to a minimum" has so far failed to catch on.  Maybe someone needs to take out flashy ads?  "Prevent cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes with this 1 weird trick!"
  • Be kind to your liver.  Seriously.  You likely have no idea how much it does for you, every day.  They call it a "live-r" for a reason.
  • Unlike the common cold (which is no longer contagious after three days of showing symptoms), influenza remains contagious all through (and, to a lesser degree, for a little while after) the recovery period.  Hence, I am refusing to feel guilty for staying home sick ever again.
  • My mother always thought 90s-era Barbie was antifeminist because her feet were molded to wear high heels.  Clearly she was simply suffering from a severe, untreated case of pes cavus.  New from Mattel:  Treat jammed arches and prevent bunions with Orthopedic Barbie!  (Unfortunately, her footwear is roughly five times the cost of her designer heels, because something something capitalism something big government something healthcare.  At least until she's 65 and qualifies for Medicare.)
Forty more pages to go, and then I'm done...until it's time to study for the final.  Almost there!

Also, current average grade is 97.8%.  Just throwing that out there, says the former-barely-B-average student.

Feel-good moment of the day:  pictures from India's first lesbian wedding. What a beautiful commingling of traditions.  They look so happy.

And finally, here's Homework Enforcement Cat, helpfully covering up the answers so I can quiz myself (and pet him).

Homework Enforcement Cat
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50 Shades of Grey has just had the second-biggest February box office opening in history. Right behind The Passion of the Christ.

Apparently ecstasy, be it religious or sexual in nature, is only acceptable in our culture if it involves obsession, dysfunction, and serious physical or psychological harm.

(Note that I'm not intending to slam either Christians or kink practitioners here; I think we can all agree that the films present a realistic version of neither Christianity nor the kink scene. In fact, it's that very lack of realism, as well as the focus on suffering, that makes their incredible popularity strike me as worrisome.)

Am I completely off base here? Does anyone else see this parallel?
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The exchange of money reminds me a little of sex. You can do it thoughtlessly, to fill the need of the moment. You can make it the center of your universe and be addicted to it. You can do it cynically, to get things out of people you dupe. Or you can do it with sincerity and affection, hoping to give as much to the person you're exchanging with as you receive. Our culture tends to think of earning money as prostitution, rape, or sin. But earning money can be wholesome, healing, and giving, not just to yourself but to your community.
--M.C.A. Hogarth, writing as [personal profile] haikujaguar on LiveJournal

One of the first questions I asked about this school, before I enrolled, was whether they had business courses as part of the curriculum. I'm not going into the field to expecting to become wealthy, but I value self-sufficiency, and would like to have the training to operate independently if I can't find an organization I mesh well with. I was pleased, therefore, to learn that the owner's background was originally in business; it was his and his wife's dream to open a massage clinic, but they had trouble finding therapists that met their standards for business practices.  They started the school as a way to train their own therapists before opening the clinic a few years later.

I'm coming to realize, having spent quite a bit of time in both the school and the clinic (running the front desk for work-study), that it wasn't just business education in the traditional sense that they wanted - scheduling and tax forms and accounting. It was people who understood the ethics of business, who grasped the importance of being intentional and careful and communicative, who could manage that tricky balance between self-care and self-giving. As the owner put it to me on my first day of work-study, "We need to take good care of ourselves and our business -- to make sure that we are acting in accordance with our ethics and our values -- so that we can be of service to others."  English not being his first language, I suspect it was only lack of familiarity with current buzzwords that kept him from coining the phrase "sustainable service".

* * *

"Well, you see, you have to find someone who needs something you have. And then you figure out what they have that you need. You exploit them, they exploit you, and it becomes mutually beneficial. It's simple."

And, really, it is. The Boy's description of the economics of human transaction is arguably the simplest thing I've ever heard. Also the most simplistic, the most fundamentally debasing, and the saddest things, all at once.

"Don't you think compassion has a part to play? The recognition of someone else as separate from you?" I can't help but needle him a little bit, take advantage of the status he ascribes me due to my gender (he is, essentially, a mama's boy) and my greater age. "Would you see clients who didn't respect you as a person?"

The defensive shrug. "If they paid me, sure. Wouldn't you? Money is money."

I shake my head. "No. I have too much integrity." I do my best to say it as a statement of fact, not as if I'm bragging; though when he doesn't react, I suspect I'm giving his vocabulary too much credit. "If someone doesn't respect me, I'm not going to want to see them again. It's part of why I'll probably run my own business."

"Then how are you going to find enough clients?" He's still defensive, but also genuinely puzzled.

I turn and look at him, directly, for a long moment. "Do you truly believe that there are so few people out there who are willing to recognize your common humanity?"

He turtles, overlarge shoulders coming up, the scrunching of the face I'm coming to know so well. "Well, sure. But they're all broke."

I make some politely disagreeing response - "that hasn't been my experience", or something to the same effect - but ultimately I leave it at that. It's pretty clear my experiences aren't going to be real to The Boy. Not in the mindset he's occupying at this stage of his life.

But I'm rapidly learning that, much as they push my buttons, his behaviors -- the defensiveness and inability to learn, the unwillingness to connect with others, the dismissive demeanor -- are all tied to his fundamental values.  If his entire life revolves around making himself into whatever his clients want him to be, what use has he for personal integrity?  Arguably, in his situation, a lack of personality is an asset.  Human interaction is based around sharing oneself with others; if he has no self to share, it comes off as all the more real when he makes something up for his clients.

But that brings up the corollary question.  If every worthwhile transaction is based upon mutual exploitation, why should he care about making his clients feel genuinely nurtured and cared for?  

I wonder how he ended up at this school -- heck, in this entire industry -- in the first place.  The trite answer, of course, is "Because it's exactly what he needs to learn and grow!"  But while that may be true, he also needs a willingness to reconsider his values, to examine his assumptions and where they came from.

That part of the curriculum, he's failing pretty spectacularly.

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