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What I've just finished reading

Future Sex, by Emily Witt. Those of you following along at home may have noticed that this book has generated an awful lot of drama for what feels like, in retrospect, a 200-odd-page blog entry. But such is the danger of high hopes. I'd almost given up on the book halfway through, but persevered through the end, which was bittersweet - Witt returns more to her analytic mode, and even shows some self-awareness about her privileged perspective. For instance:

No wonder people hate Burning Man, I thought, when I pictured it as a cynic might: rich people on vacation breaking rules that everyone else would suffer for if they didn't obey. The hypocrisy of the "creative autonomous zone" weighed on me. Many of these people would go back to their lives and back to work on the great farces of our age. They wouldn't argue for the decriminalization of the drugs they had used; they wouldn't want anyone to know about their time in the orgy dome.

[...] To protest these things in everyday life bore a huge social cost - one that only people like Lunar Fox were willing to grimly undertake - and maybe that's what the old Burners disliked about the new ones: the new ones upheld the idea of autonomous zones. The $400 ticket price was as much about the right to leave what happened at Burning Man behind as it was to enter in the first place.
I also really enjoyed her (lamentably short) chapter on birth control and reproduction, and how our entire social framework for childrearing remains stuck in 1950s norms despite technology having thrust us into an entirely different world:  

40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed parents. This happened because most people have separated their sex lives from marriage, but the thinking about the subject has yet to flip. When people cite the research about the advantages of raising a child in a two-parent home, it tends to be an argument for marriage, not for improving the experience of raising a child outside of it. And this has meant that many women, unmarried but also pragmatic about the challenges of single parenthood, feel the 'choice' they have made not to have a child is not much of a choice at all.
Indeed, she brings the subject of that disconnect home, in this particularly insightful bit:

I had always preferred success through recognized channels: getting good grades, going to the right college. I experienced satisfaction in obeying rules, and I had greater affirmation from my family when we acted as if I hadn't chosen to be alone, when we spoke as if I was simply waiting (maybe for decades) for the right person to come along. [...] I had now absorbed a powerful lesson about resistance to change: that it manifests less by institutional imposition and more by the subtle suggestions of the people who love you.
I feel like there's a really great book in here about social order versus social anarchy; about the way people who dislike or don't fit in to the majority norms instead seek out subcultures with their own norms and rulesets, because most humans function best with boundaries and limits and social reinforcement; about the price those people pay in terms of estrangement from the greater culture, and the varying ways (closeting, sociopolitical advocacy, withdrawal) in which they minimize or deal with that estrangement; and about the ways technology is enabling these subgroups, and whether this means our sexual culture is broadening or merely splintering into individual shards. Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, these remarkably clear-eyed observations are clouded by the author's own unexamined prejudices and assumptions, especially once she starts getting into her own experiences. Ultimately it feels like a missed opportunity, but I nonetheless hope that it might start a conversation on these important topics.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee. Buckles were swashed, adventures were had, supernatural solutions determined to come at too high a cost. The ending is satisfying; without going into details, our three heroes ultimately reject their proscribed social roles, running off to do...they're not sure exactly, but certainly to live their own lives as they choose, Monty and Percy as lovers, and Felicity quite possibly as a medic on a pirate ship. ("But girls can't be pirates!" "Haven't you heard of Grace O'Malley?")

That said, I'm personally a little torn on said ending. It's certainly appropriate enough for the story, and it's true to both the late-teenage perspective of the protagonists and the YA intended audience - it's a stage in life when most of us have little to tie us down and a great hunger for new experiences and the possibility of trying new identities. But the way it's handled feels...just a little bit facile, like the characters are playing dress-up rather than committing to a difficult life road. To a degree, this can be excused by their immaturity; they acknowledge that it's going to be a tough time but clearly don't understand exactly how tough it is to forge your own road, outside of the social ruleset you've been raised to follow. But the ending as written feels like it's supposed to be an unfettered triumph, rather than a "we've overcome this set of challenges, hurrah, but new ones are right on the horizon."

Maybe it's precisely that tonal dissonance that's not quite sitting right with me; as a fellow 19-year-old I would have been all "Yes! Screw the patriarchal social hierarchy! Go live on a tropical island with your beloved with no skills or visible means of financial support! Love is all you need!" whereas 34-year-old me, having had some small experience with the difficulties of moving to a new place with entirely different sets of rules (as well as having complicated moral feelings about piracy as a career in the 18th century), is somewhat more mixed on the prospect. But, difficult as it was, I eventually found my niche, and what I feel is a good balance between social approbation and forging my own path; perhaps they will too.

What I'm currently reading

So this is kind of awkward - technically I'm in the middle of a number of books, but I've done so little reading lately that I haven't made any progress in them this week. Clearly I need to fix this!

What I plan to read next

I have two primary candidates at the moment. One is James Enge's Blood of Ambrose, a birthday present from my delightful friend Claire (with the promise of the rest of the trilogy to come if I like it). Apparently it has an Ambrosia in it! However, my friend Olivia gifted me with Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders, which looks fascinating - and happens to be written by Olivia's aunt. I'm leaning towards that because she'll be officiating at Olivia's wedding later this month, and if I'm going to possibly have the opportunity to meet her I'd like to have read something of hers - I know very little about her other than that she's a writer. But I still have so many other books to finish! Sigh...
missroserose: (Life = Creation)
I was reflecting just now that lately I've been both hyper-aware of what day of the week it is, and completely unaware of how the days are passing. The former because it's the basis for my entire schedule, and the latter because my commitments vary so much week to week that it's hard to get any sense of cycle or rhythm. I'm not overextended, precisely; I've been doing better about keeping my pace sustainable, and taking days off when I need them. But I feel like lately all I've written about here is either the books I'm reading or how tired I am; this seems to be an indicator of the thoughts that occupy my downtime.

Which is not to say I haven't been doing fun things - this summer has been full of them! I went to a storytelling event with my friend Andrea just before leaving for Washington; Brian and I went to the Welcome to Night Vale live show; we took Jamila to see Aladdin and Jamila and her mother to see Hamilton on Broadway, we went to see a local production of Three Days of Rain solely on the strength of the company's previous performances (a gamble that paid off; it was an excellent show), we've been rock climbing with our friend Erin a couple of times, as well as the various just-hanging-out events like movie nights and festivals that summer here is full of. To paraphrase Alice Isn't Dead, Chicago in the summer is happy in a way few other cities seem to be. So it's not that I've been doing nothing other than work. It's just...I don't have a lot of downtime, and a lot of days I fall into bed exhausted. Maybe that's why we all curl up into our hermit-shells come fall and winter - we're so tired from running around so manically for months.

Still. Perhaps I'll block tomorrow off for a rest - no plans to go out, just take a yoga class and some much-needed downtime. (Now that I've said this, I'm almost guaranteed to get a text from someone hoping for a last-minute massage booking, haha.) Saturday is my birthday; Brian and I are getting massages and then going to check out some open houses for a couple of condos in the neighborhood that look promising. Onward and forward.

...I wonder if that isn't actually the fundamental source of my difficulty achieving balance - that need, a la Miles Vorkosigan, to keep the forward momentum going, lest I fall into another rut, leading to a depressive episode. That might explain a little about that sense of almost-fear that feels like it's driving me sometimes.
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I'm grateful that I have no particular difficulty with fireworks; I wouldn't want to have people shooting them off every night, but once or twice a year doesn't really bother me, and I genuinely enjoy the more artistic displays. Towards that latter end, we decided to head down to the park to watch the Saddle and Cycle Club's (yes, we have an honest-to-god country club in our neighborhood, dating back to the 1920s when this area was a tony suburb of Chicago) annual fireworks display. They were gracious enough to invite the plebeians to watch from the beaches and parks nearby...you know, the ones that are public property. So generous!

After literal years of talking about it, Brian had finally nabbed a small grill to do a cookout. So yesterday morning, we bundled up the car with the grill and charcoal and bags of chips and utensils and blankets and a cooler bag with approximately 50 pounds of various meatstuffs and salads and ice packs, and drove all of five blocks to the lakefront park, intending to unload and have me drive back/walk down (parking at the park is difficult on any nice day, but absolutely insane on holidays)...only to discover that the police had blocked off the parking lot, likely to manage traffic flow. Well, at least we didn't go too far out of our way, heh. We pared down our supplies some and I dug an old wheeled luggage bag out of the closet to pack up the cooler and we managed to trundle everything down on foot; Jamila came down to meet us and helped us unpack everything. The weather was lovely - humid, but not unpleasantly hot, with a nice breeze to keep the smoke from the fireworks and cookouts moving. Most of the families around us were Hispanic; Brian commented later that it was nice to spend Independence Day surrounded by immigrants.

Brian's food was predictably excellent; Jamila got a great picture of him in front of our tiny grill. She also documented our excellent burgers and one of our gigantic beef ribs; and, at my spur-of-the-moment request, did her best Baby Groot impression). I spent most of the time sprawled on our blanket, reading and occasionally reapplying sunscreen; at one point our friend Erin stopped by and we chatted for a bit, although unfortunately her dog was feeling poorly so she wasn't able to stay for the fireworks.

Possibly my favorite part of the day, aside from the fireworks show, was dusk; the crowds were starting to go really wild with the fireworks, so everything was getting noisy and flashing, but amidst the chaos there were comparatively tiny fireflies coming out, blinking hopefully at the colorful displays. You keep those aspirations high, fireflies!

Bag Lady

Sep. 27th, 2016 01:50 pm
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I've been saying to people lately that I wish I had one of those "It has been XX days since our last workplace accident" signs, modified to fit my mental health. For the record, it has been 09 days since my last full-blown anxiety episode, and only one of those days started with the quick-trigger adrenaline response that heralds a bad day. Luckily it was a workday, so I was able to breathe through it until I got to the spa and got into the swing of things. Hurrah for working in a field that requires mindfulness and focus. (My friend the yoga teacher/Instagram happiness guru was telling me that she enjoys teaching yoga for much the same reason, and we compared notes on the similarity of the experience. When you have to hold that space for someone else, somehow the effort seems much less than when you're trying to do it for your self. I wonder if some of that is our brains' well-known ability to downplay their own problems, or if it's yet another example of how it's so much easier to go the extra mile for others than for ourselves. Maybe both.)

It's hard not to feel like a little bit of a drama queen for saying "I feel better" - it's not like I've been nonfunctional. Life has been fine, what with work and hanging out with friends, and even enjoying myself here and there. There's just been a cyclically encroaching-and-receding-and-reencroaching cloud of dread hanging over a lot of it, which makes it hard to find that deep-seated gratitude and joy in life that marks the really good days. But despite the relative lack of difference from an outward perspective, I do feel deeply and fundamentally better of late, so I'm going to own that. It's good to be feeling better! Even this insane election hasn't managed to cast a pall; I'm not sure if that's the effects of the changing seasons (hurrah for fall!), or me getting better at accepting things, or what. But I'll take it.

Another potential contributor has been my latest project. To wit: after seeing this post on Facebook, I decided on a whim to gather supplies to make 100 bags to take down to the local homeless encampments. (Aside: I find the term "blessing bag" to be a little twee and condescending, but I haven't been able to think of anything to replace it with. Does anyone have suggestions? End of aside.) My gut told me that having something positive to focus on would help me regain some sense of control and contribution, and I was willing to trust that feeling, even if it wasn't likely to effect any real change in the grand scheme of things.

Unfortunately, my gut does not understand finances well, and initially I was worried that my plans had been far too over ambitious. Toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrushes, maxi pads, and even condoms are all relatively cheap in bulk, but stuff like high-quality granola bars and wool socks (winter is coming, after all) add up fast, and while I don't begrudge the money for the needy, there's only so much I can justify shelling out while still sticking to our saving-for-a-house budget. To my surprise, though, when I started spreading the word in hopes people would come over Sunday and help me assemble the bags, I got lots of offers of financial help as well. One friend found a great deal on the socks, another sent me a contribution that ended up almost perfectly covering the granola bars, and other folks have been sending smaller-but-cumulatively-helpful amounts as well, or ordering things off our Amazon list. All that, plus several folks have offered to come help assemble the bags, when originally I had expected maybe one or two. I feel a little bit like my life has turned into the Stone Soup parable; one of the contributors even thanked me for having the idea and putting things together so she could do something to help. I'm more than a little humbled by the experience. And I think Sunday's going to be a lot of fun.
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It's been a weird couple of months.

Contrary to my hopes, the anxiety roller coaster continues. Sometimes I'm fine, content with my place in the world and the sheer good luck I've had to have the life that I do. Sometimes I'm...not depressed, although in some ways it resembles depression. Scattered. Inward-turned. Uninterested in making social plans (although usually if someone invites me, I have a good time). Unable to talk to people as easily as I usually can. Sullen. Brooding.

Some weeks ago, a Facebook acquaintance pointed me at the connection between panic attacks and hypoglycemia. Short version, adrenaline is a sort of ugly hack ([livejournal.com profile] thewronghands's on-the-nose description) when your blood sugar is low; not only does the resulting rush warn you that something's not right with your body, but it also signals your liver to release its emergency-stored glucose, which brings your blood sugar levels back up temporarily. Kinda neat biologically, but not particularly pleasant to experience.

Since discovering this, I've been making a concerted effort to be extra careful with my food intake, keeping simple carbs to a minimum and eating lots of protein and whole grains. It's helped some; certainly my incidences of adrenaline-fueled acute anxiety attacks are down. But, strangely, there are times when I get the mental effects of such attacks (obsessive thoughts, feeling of impending doom, withdrawn and sullen affect) despite lacking the actual adrenal involvement. It's almost like my body's conditioned to respond that way to stress now, despite my knowing that it's not a good coping strategy. (Which would jibe with Brian's observation that at times it looks like I'm intentionally looking for things to be anxious about.) Frustrating.

I'm not sure what to do about this. My profound (and, I think, justified) aversion to our screwed-up physical and mental healthcare system has kept me from seeing a doctor about any of this so far, but if I can't figure out a way to get myself more stable, that may be the next step. Writing or talking about it helps, but that's tougher when I'm in the middle of an episode, since one of the most obvious symptoms is how I suddenly lose interest in either. Breathing and mindfulness exercises may help in the moment. Past that...well, we'll see. One thing I noticed about massage school and yoga both was how, while I was actively learning new things, anxiety attacks were rare. With that partially in mind, I signed up for CorePower's teacher training for this fall. (I still have the same reservations about their corporate culture and business model that I did before, but it wouldn't hurt to have an additional less-physically-intense income stream to supplement massage, and the knowledge crossover and reinforcement is a very real plus, and the community involvement and journaling it'll require both seem likely to be beneficial. And it's not like I have to stick with CorePower exclusively - I'm looking at working for them as a starting point rather than an end goal.)

As an aside, I was recently laughing in rueful recognition at [livejournal.com profile] thewronghands's description of physical fitness as a constantly moving target; as my life has gotten busier and my yoga attendance has dropped, I've gained back a good ten pounds compared to my peak fitness there. Uncomfortably, I'm beginning to realize mental health is much the same. I mean, I thought I had this whole anxiety thing sorted out, and it turns out, nope, that was just temporary. I guess I could be frustrated about that, but I'm going to try and think of it as an opportunity to expand my toolkit instead. Just as soon as I'm done reading this article about the election and how we're all doomed.
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When Brian and I went to Sweden to visit our dear friend Petra not long ago, we joked that we should go to IKEA and have meatballs just to be able to say we'd actually had Swedish meatballs in Sweden. Much to our surprise, Petra expressed almost violent disgust - "Those are fake meatballs!" So, of course, we asked her if she would share her family recipe for authentic Swedish meatballs, and she did us one better - she actually made them for us while we were there. So we did have real Swedish meatballs in Sweden! And it's turned out to be one of my favorite foods. (I do still have a soft spot for the IKEA ones, but having tasted the real thing, I can't help but agree - they're like the McDonalds version. Cheap and filling and not bad, but nowhere near as tasty.)

In the intervening year, Brian's made this recipe a number of times, and it's become one of my favorites - enough that my consumption of lingonberry jam has increased by a significant percentage this past year. Not only are they surprisingly simple and tasty, they also make a ton of leftovers that reheat very well! And given that I've had numerous people asking for the recipe on Facebook whenever I mention them, I thought I'd post it here.

Note that a lot of the proportions are approximate - feel free to experiment!

Köttbullar - Not IKEA style!

(Not vegan, gluten-free, or low-fat. Surprisingly low glycemic, though!)

1 yellow onion
White pepper
1 egg
2 lbs ground beef
2 lbs ground pork
1 cup milk or cream
1/2 cup flour
1 beef bouillon cube
Lingonberry jam

Chop up the onion into small pieces. (Note: I'm normally a fan of sweet onions, but the stronger flavor of a straight yellow onion works well here. So get out the goggles and start chopping!) Mix it in a large bowl with salt, white pepper, and an egg; add the minced meat and combine everything. Roll the mixture into balls.

Fry the balls on medium heat until they get a nice dark-brown crispy shell. Every time you fry a pan of meatballs, save the drippings.

When all the meatballs are fried, return drippings to the pan along with milk or cream, bouillon cube, salt, pepper, and enough flour for thickening. Whisk together and heat until it makes a nice thick gravy. Return the meatballs to the pan and simmer to reheat them and finish cooking them through.

For a delicious Swedish dinner, serve with red potatoes (boiled and quartered), salad, and lingonberry jam!
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Hello again, Chicago! It's good to be back. I was saying to Brian recently that my semi-regular trips home to Anchorage, over the years, have been an excellent indicator of how much I like where I'm living. When we lived in Juneau, it was nice to get somewhere that felt (slightly) less isolated; when I was coming from Arizona, it was such a relief to get out of the heat and see green and open water again. Now, as much as I like visiting my mother, I'm genuinely sorry that it has to come at the expense of a week-plus of things to do in Chicago, hah. But! My mother is all moved in to her new place (if still in the throes of her decorating frenzy), and it's even more gorgeous than the pictures made it look. It's not somewhere I'd want to live permanently - far too isolated, with nothing within walking distance - but it'll be nice to visit her now and then for a change of pace. (Luckily, she feels much the same way about Chicago. Hurrah for complementary family preferences!)

Speaking of things to do in Chicago, last night I some friends and I went to the first of this summer's movies In Millennium Park. (We brought a picnic dinner, but despite arriving almost an hour early, the entire lawn was taken, so we ended up grabbing seats and just passing the fried chicken and salad and wine back and forth.) I actually enjoyed the movie far more than I expected to. Ferris Bueller's Day Off isn't a favorite of mine, exactly - I always found Ferris to be kind of a twerp, which isn't helped by his complete lack of character arc - but there's something undeniably special about getting to see all those gorgeous shots of Chicago while surrounded by that very same skyline and a cheering crowd. The best part, by far, was when damn near the entire pavilion got up and danced and sang to the "Twist & Shout" sequence. (I was lamenting on Facebook that I didn't get any pictures/video, but...that would have meant I'd have to stop dancing and singing. Nah.) Afterward, Lindsay got a picture of Brian and Jamila and me under the Pritzker's frankly amazing architecture, and later on in the evening I got a nice shot of part of the nighttime skyline as seen through the superstructure. This city is far from perfect, but I do love the very real sense of civic pride we have.

Speaking of civic pride, I've gotten on the sucker list for the Lyric Opera's educational outreach programs, and I've got to give their phone fundraisers credit - they know their stuff. They always ask if now's a good time to talk, they're unfailingly gracious, they ask you about your recent experience at whatever performance, talk about the goals and achievements of their programs, and start with an aspirational sell - "These are all the awesome thank-you gifts you get if you donate at this level" - but never come off as less than wholeheartedly grateful if you offer a (sometimes much) smaller donation. I think what's really impressed me, though, is their enthusiasm; they don't come off as hired telemarketers, but people who are genuinely passionate about music and opera and want to share it with the community. Helping give kids in underfunded schools in my community access to art and music education is a pretty easy sell for me already, but way to make people feel good about giving, Lyric. A++ would donate again.

And speaking of...hrmm. Not sure how I can segue into something about biking from opera fundraising. But! I've got my bike all kitted out for pedaling around Chicago. (Bet y'all can't guess what I named it, heh.) I'm still taking baby steps regarding where and how much traffic I'm comfortable dealing with, but as I was telling my mother, I actually feel far safer on the streets in Chicago than I would in someplace suburban like Anchorage. For one thing, the exponential traffic density and unpredictable patterns mean that people are paying much closer attention to the road, as well as by necessity limiting their speed. Plus people here are much more used to cyclists on the road. In Anchorage traffic moves too quickly; you have to ride either on the shoulder, the sidewalk, or a bike path, and cars don't look for you. I nearly got run over a few times crossing streets as a teenager; while driving my mother's car just a few days ago, I was a little saddened to see a woman on a bike slam on her brakes when she saw me about to cross her path to turn into a parking lot. (I would have let her go first!...but you just can't depend on that attitude in suburban environments.) By comparison, I took a fairly busy road to the store during rush hour yesterday, and actually made better time than most of the cars by dint of being able to cruise by in the gap between the parked cars and the flow of traffic. Though I did keep a very close eye out for car doors that might open in my path.
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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!

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It's 6:30 AM on Christmas Eve, and rather than sleeping like a normal person (or a normal person without children), my brain is apparently wide awake. Not unpleasantly so, oddly; I think knowing that I have plenty of time to catch up on sleep is helpful in keeping the "must get back to sleep/can't sleep, going to be short on sleep/must get back to sleep" stress cycle at bay. But enough that coming out to the living room and making tea and sitting and admiring the Christmas tree felt like an attractive option.

I've been writing letters to, and gradually getting to know, a friend-of-a-friend who's going through a tough transitionary period in her life. We've been Facebook acquaintances for years but (as transitions often are) she's pretty lonely right now, with a lot of difficult issues and contradictory beliefs and unhelpful coping mechanisms to sort through. And at one point, she said something along the lines of this: "Tell me about your life. Because I read your posts and I wonder if you're really that happy."

This hit a bit of a nerve, and has resulted in quite a bit of rumination. Not because I'm unhappy, but because of the context. See, one of the issues I've struggled with most, both in person and on social media, is the desire to always appear happy and content, no matter my actual emotional state. It's both a way of defending myself and my life choices - if I'm happy, no one can question whether I've done the 'right' things in life, can they? - and, in a way, a form of revenge. All those people who've wished me ill over the course of my life can just eat it.

Obviously there are a lot of problems with this; for one thing, as I've discovered over the past decade or so, vulnerability is a powerful social tool, and studiously refusing to use it hamstrings your interpersonal interactions. But the more pertinent issue here, I think, is that it's just not possible for anyone to be happy all the time. We talk about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in this country as if the first two will naturally lead to the third, and perhaps they do: the key word being pursuit. Even "hap", the root word of "happy", literally means "luck" or "chance"; hence why we also see it in "happenstance", "haphazard", and "hapless". For all that our culture is poised to sell you happiness at a moment's notice, guaranteed, we completely ignore that most of our moments of happiness are more like a cat in a sunbeam. Even if we don't change, the sunbeam moves on; our mental balancing point reasserts itself. (The flipside, of course, is that people who go through horrible experiences also eventually get back to that balancing point. It just doesn't make sense, from a survival standpoint, for us to be constantly on one end of the scale or the other.)

And then there's the question of whether we're talking about short- or long-term. When I woke up and opened my computer, I had about two-thirds of a blog post written, complaining about a bunch of miscellaneous stuff - petty things like waking up and being out of coffee, or forgetting my work clothes and having to block off the first half-hour of my schedule so I could get new ones; all the way up to more overarching things like being exhausted from a six-hour shift at the chiropractor's and my crazy schedule making it feel like I'd practically missed Christmas this year. But before I could finish it and click "post", Brian and I had dinner and watched some Star Trek, and the food and relaxation time helped recharge my cope - enough that I decided not to post my whining, since none of it was really all that important; I simply had been losing perspective thanks to exhaustion and low blood sugar.

Long-term, though, could take us all the way back to the beginnings of this blog, almost exactly twelve years ago, which was the first time someone asked me if I was happy with my life. I would say I'm much happier now than I was then, in large part due to figuring out a set of goals, and how to achieve them in a way that fits with my strengths and weaknesses. Clearly, that doesn't mean that I don't get frustrated or upset at times. But I think the better life circumstances, combined with learning and practicing better self-love and self-care, have helped to move my usual balance point up the happiness scale. And because I like myself much better, it's much easier to genuinely care for others, too.

So yes, ultimately, I think I am that happy. I know it's partly due to several spectacular runs of luck, and that it's an ongoing project (once again, the key word is pursuit); I also know that it's probable that I'll have less happy periods in the future, whether due to loss or environmental change or just the pain that comes as an inevitable part of living with and caring for other people. Which is partly why I try to spend less time complaining about petty things, and more time being grateful for what I have now, and the people I get to share it with. <3
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Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, where "fall" is basically a two-week period between "all the trees turn colors overnight" and "the first big windstorm comes along and sweeps all the leaves away", it's interesting to me how comparatively elongated the Midwest version is. Some trees are eager to be the first to show off their bright foliage; but even once they've shed their leaves and begun their winter rest, others are more demurely turning, a few leaves at a time. Even when the wind kicks up a few weeks later, only some of the trees are ready to undress, while others stubbornly cling to their coverage. "Fall" seems an inappropriately staccato word for the season; I think I've started to understand why some people prefer the term "autumn".

Getting home from Washington was a little odd, emotionally. I've been traveling so much of late - I think, of the past four months, I've spent five weeks out of town - that it didn't quite feel real, coming home to my bedroom and my bed and my home, and realizing I didn't have to have plans in place for my next trip. Frankly, my bed almost felt a little alien, like it wasn't really mine; that seems like a good indicator that it's time to let the rest of the world take care of itself, and not rush to fill my calendar with more trips, even though I have so many friends (and places!) I'd like to see.

Besides, now is when I need to be focusing on my career, on building clientele and finding continuing education and generally figuring out how to be the best massage therapist I can be. Immediate plans include getting training in pregnancy massage and finding a good opportunity to learn more in-depth myofascial work; future ideas include looking into that trauma-therapy class [livejournal.com profile] gows recommended, and keeping my eyes open for future opportunities to study physical therapy. (It seems an unlikely path at the moment, as I'd have to finish my bachelor's and then take a two-year course on top of that, none of which comes cheap time- or money-wise. But at one point I thought the same thing about massage school, and I found a way to make it work. So we'll see where my experiences take me.) Additionally, the school director has been talking to me about possibly taking over some of the science classes she's been teaching, which would be awesome experience and a nice way to earn extra money without wearing myself out physically. I can't wait to teach an anatomy class that consists entirely of having the students write a version of "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General" about the origins, insertions, and actions of muscles.

And frankly, I'm glad to have the time to enjoy my city; there's so much going on at any given time that I can't possibly make all of it (especially now that I have a schedule to work around), but I've managed to have some awesome experiences nonetheless. Last weekend [livejournal.com profile] gracewanderer and [livejournal.com profile] cyranocyrano came to stay, and we all went to see the closing weekend of the Chicago Shakespeare Company's The Tempest. Brian and I had already seen it at opening and were blown away, as much by the quality of the acting as by the costumes and sets (featuring a delightfully run-down Depression-era circus theme) and the music (which you could tell from basically the first chord was written by Tom Waits, and was sung and played amazingly well by a small band onstage). Plus the onstage magic sequences were just stunning (hardly surprising, as Teller co-directed). But the actors really carried the day; it was one of the few big-budget Shakespeare renditions I'd seen where you didn't awe at the big setpiece sequences...and then settle back to wait for the wordsy parts to be done so you could see the next big impressive thing. I've noticed folks are much pickier about standing ovations in Chicago than they are in the PNW, but these folks got one both times I saw them, and they well deserved it.

I think I'm going to make more of an effort to take in Chicago's amazing theatre and concert scene this winter. It can get tricky, what with working three evenings a week - I had to pass on Vanessa Carlton earlier this month, which made me sad. But I think it'll be good for me to get out of the house more as the months get colder. I'm already working on getting back to my three-plus-times-a-week yoga schedule (as my sore quadriceps attest) and the improvement in sleep quality and focus at work is pretty clear. So here's to being a little more settled -- but not sedentary! -- for the next year or so.
missroserose: (Default)
I'm in Seattle, and appear to have lucked out with regards to the weather - it's been sunny and warm (for Seattle) and absolutely lovely with the fall colors just coming out. Monday I take the train up to Mt. Vernon to see Donna for the first time in far too long and meet my goddaughter, but for now I'm enjoying spending some time in one of my favorite cities. It still entertains me how the smells here translate to "home" for me in a way Chicago doesn't yet; much as I love my new city, that crisp-cool cedar-and-spruce smell just makes me feel at ease in a way few environments do.

[livejournal.com profile] thewronghands, whose social network I've long admired from afar, is graciously letting me stay in her swanky digs and meet a few of her local friends; especially graciously as she's kind of been swallowed by work lately. (Luckily I'm a little familiar with the "work is eating your world" crunch-time environment, heh.) But I've still gotten to meet [livejournal.com profile] canyonwren, whom I've long suspected is pretty awesome, after years of seeing her comment on LJ. Hi! *waves*

Adora Belle has adjusted far faster than we had dared hope, and is already sleeping in her kitty bed (as opposed to jammed under the far corner of the guest bed) and wanting to be let out to explore the rest of the house. Brian has been carefully introducing her to the other cats; as expected, she gets on fine with Dexter, and things look more or less okay with Tripp, but Leo's really not sure about all of this, and there's been some hissing and growling on his part. So, time to find some baby gates at a thrift shop and see about convincing him that she won't eat him. Sigh. I foresee our treat reserves becoming rather lower over the next couple weeks.

Work has continued to go well, although the clinic has had an extraordinarily slow October - possibly due to the Cubs hoopla and everyone saving their pennies for beer at Wrigley Field. Still, I've had a few rebookings - including one particularly enthusiastic client who told me she'd been telling all her friends to book with me - and I'm starting to get hits from the business cards I've been passing out. And as much fun as I've been having in Washington, I'm actually kind of missing work. Which was never a phrase I thought I would utter. Clearly I've been replaced by a pod person.
missroserose: (Default)
--My goddaughter is here! Sophie was born last Wednesday, and (judging by the pictures) is tiny and adorable and only looks a little like a squashed potato. (Or Winston Churchill. Or Yoda. Newborns. *grins*) I can't wait to meet her in a month! And to see Donna; it's been far too long.

--The first week of my new job went well. Lots of requests for the standard fluff-and-buff, but I did get to work on one man who was right up my alley - his muscles were all knotted up from schlepping suitcases around, and some myofascial and trigger point work did wonders. The receptionist told me later that he couldn't say enough good things about me. He's not local, sadly, but his employer has an office here; I did tell him I'd love to see him again when he's in town next. We'll see. So far this upcoming week is looking pretty slow, but that's life at the bottom of the totem pole - priority for appointments is given based on the hours you were available in the previous month, which with my current schedule should put me solidly in the middle of the pack come November.

--Brian was in Dallas for work all last week...and has to go back today for another week. Boo. I don't mind the time alone, in principle - I can set the thermostat to whatever I want, or better yet, turn off the A/C completely and throw open the doors and windows! - but two weeks at a go starts to feel lonely. As independent as I fancy myself, I've lived with someone else nearly continuously for more than a decade now; that kind of time spent leaves an imprint in your life and habits. (And let's face it, he's pretty cool to have around. Half of my more clever quips I steal from him.)

--I picked up a copy of The Body Keeps The Score on an Audible Daily Deal, and it's turned out to be completely fascinating. I initially thought it would be about the ways our body reacts to trauma, a useful thing to learn about for a massage therapist; as it happens, while it touches on that subject, it's turned out to be more about the neurological effects and how they affect the body and mind of trauma victims both. Fascinating stuff, but what's really been eye-opening for me is the discussion of victims of childhood trauma - neglect, abuse, molestation. These people display a well-known constellation of symptoms - difficulty with emotional regulation, propensity toward obesity or anorexia, high likelihood of self-harm, high predisposition toward autoimmune disorders like lupus or fibromyalgia, and a significant lack of bodily awareness, among others - but the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the "psychiatrist's bible") has no separate diagnosis for the condition, and the completely drug-oriented treatment framework that's sadly the norm now doesn't help either. So they'll reach a crisis point and seek help, and be diagnosed with depression, or bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder, or (if they have a particularly observant therapist whom they trust enough to open up to) post-traumatic stress disorder, and be given drugs to 'treat' that disorder, which won't help long-term because their problems stem from neural patterns and behaviors that were (tragically) adaptive in their earlier years.

This particular bit of knowledge slots nicely into a gap I've been wondering about for years now. I was initially a psychology major in college, but I got discouraged precisely because the field seemed to be all about figuring out which drugs treated what problems, regardless of the person's background or experiences or anything else about them. In all fairness, I know some people for whom such drugs are life-changing; however, in the years since then, I've also had a number of friends who fit exactly the profile described in the book - they've been in and out of doctors' offices for years, trying to figure out why they feel broken and nothing seems to help. Many of them have managed to have amazing lives nonetheless; now that I have some idea of why life has been so difficult for them, I'm even more in awe of their accomplishments. I'm looking forward to listening to the section on treatment strategies, as well; it's good to know there are people working on strategies that actually help these people, even when the medical establishment refuses to recognize their problem.

--I was petting Dexter the other day when I realized that he's developed several more little white furs on his face. In retrospect, this is hardly surprising - he's twelve or thirteen years old, after all - but it startled me a little that I hadn't noticed until now. We humans are so good at seeing what we expect to see, and it's sometimes a little discouraging how easily we fall prey to the assumption that life is fundmentally unchanging. Often it takes something momentous - a birth, a death, a wedding, a career change, a betrayal - to make us realize exactly how time's been passing, and things and people have been changing, despite our merry assumptions of stasis.

I don't really have any great conclusion or insight to this observation, but it's interesting to me how even though we experience time in a linear fashion, we certainly don't perceive it that way. It reinforces my conviction that it's important to take the time to really listen to each other and connect, rather than just taking each others' presence for granted.

And I should definitely spend more time petting my cat.
missroserose: (Default)
Sweden was, as expected, lovely. Petra really went out of her way to make us feel welcome. I admit, I was slightly concerned at the thought of the three of us squeezing into a small apartment for ten days, especially since she was sleeping on her couch in order to cede us her bed. Fortunately, her apartment was actually pretty good-sized, and (as I had reason to discover when I came down with the airport plague on the trip there) her couch was similarly generous in its proportions, as well as comfortable. So we all managed just fine.

What I didn't expect was precisely how similar Sweden's climate is to Alaska's. In retrospect, it's not exactly surprising - similar latitudes, similar climates, similar geological history with glaciers and whatnot from the Ice Age carving out the landscape - but it felt downright strange to be walking along a forested path, thinking about how pleasantly familiar everything looked/smelled, only to hear a bird call I didn't recognize or see an oak tree growing amongst the birches, and realize that I was halfway across the globe, after all. (There was also, I was amused to note, a similar variability in weather; from windy to pouring down rain to sunny, all within ten minutes.)

Given that we were in Europe, where the history comes from, we spent a goodly amount of time going out to old fortresses and houses. One of my favorites was Gunnebo House and Gardens, a country estate with a beautiful house commissioned by a merchant who had made it big during the start of the Industrial Revolution. (Luckily for us, we were the only people looking for a tour in our time slot, so the guide was happy to give us the tour in English.) The architect who designed it was something of a perfectionist, and it shows; the neoclassical lines and symmetry are just beautiful, if taken to occasional extremes (the guide pointed out numerous blind doors added purely for show, as well as hidden doors that looked like part of the wallpaper until you turned the key, which must have been entertaining for guests wandering around in the middle of the night). Unfortunately, the family fortune met a swift end due to both economic factors and the heir's unsuitability as a man of business; the house passed through several sets of hands over the decades, falling into greater and greater disrepair, until it was eventually purchased by the local government as a historic site; the restoration work so far has been piecemeal but high quality.

I found it especially interesting, after reading so many romances that take place during the late 18th and early 19th century; it was a good-sized house, but what really struck me was how small many of the rooms actually were. Even the large salon, where the hosts held dances, wasn't that much bigger than my living room. Admittedly, this wasn't exactly a manor house, just a country villa meant to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life; still, it was more than a little eye-opening.

Other highlights included taking the train to Stockholm to see the The Vasa, a 17th-century war galleon that was so poorly designed and overloaded with guns that it floundered and sank into freezing low-oxygen water on its maiden voyage...and, consequently, was extraordinarily well preserved for for three and a half centuries until the Swedes managed to fish it out and put it in a museum, when all its better-built contemporaries were destroyed. (Historical irony!) And we got to meet up with [personal profile] vatine and experience international karaoke; I was somewhat amused to discover that 80s music is just as popular a choice for karaoke in Sweden. My favorite non-American song that I heard was Björn Skifs' "Michelangelo"; it tickles me how incredibly 80s it manages to be, even though I didn't have the foggiest idea what it was about until Petra gave me a rough translation. (It's a dude singing about how gorgeous his girlfriend is and how Michelangelo should come paint her because "her smile will make the Mona Lisa ask to be taken down". So 80s.)

On a more personal note, I think I mentioned before that I had something of an irrational fear of international travel - where some people are afraid of spiders or heights, my fears all center around being lost in an unfamiliar place, being unable to understand those around me, and being unable to make myself understood. Obviously this was a pretty ideal trip with regards to those fears; almost everyone in Sweden speaks English, we had our friend to guide us and translate anything complicated, and between her presence and the existence of GPSs I wasn't in any danger of getting hopelessly lost. So I was able to make it through and enjoy myself without too much trouble. But...it was still stressful, not being able to read things. I could figure out some of it from pictures and symbols and the few words I do know, and after I'd been there for a few days (and had Petra translate a few things) it felt less like an incomprehensible jumble of syllables. But...man. Am I ever not used to being functionally illiterate. People tell me I seem so together; I don't think I'd realized how much of that was "I instinctively read everything around me, so I know stuff like where exits are and who's on the front page of the paper and what's being advertised". (And that's not even going into missing cultural context like "I know why that advertisement is problematic and who people think should be on the front page of the paper instead.") And...not having that together-ness is something of an emotional strain for me. I found myself retreating to the bathroom rather more often than I normally do, just so I could breathe deeply and touch up my lipstick and otherwise try to re-center myself and get my mental shields back in place.

Still, I only had one minor bout of homesickness midway through the trip, as compared to nearly every day the last time I traveled overseas (which was, admittedly, decades ago). So it's an improvement! I just wish I could be more comfortable going with the flow sometimes, I guess; I think I'd have a much better time if I could let go of that need to know as much as possible about any given situation. But since I apparently can't, at least I have Google and Duolingo and kind friends to fill in the gap.
missroserose: (Joy of Reading)
In the tradition of soon-to-be-godparents everywhere, I've been on the hunt for gifts, especially books to start my goddaughter's collection. Given that her mother and I met in Alaska, I was hoping to find some Alaska-themed illustrated books while I was here, but I ran into a problem I didn't foresee.

Most children's books just aren't that fun to read.

Kids' books, especially those aimed at younger children, are often written in rhyme - which makes sense, as the intended audience is learning about the sounds of words and how they go together. So it seems like it should follow that they'd be written in meter, as well. The bouncy rhythm helps them learn our patterns of speech as much as the individual words, and emphasizes which syllables are stressed and which words go where. Plus, it's way more fun as a parent to read a book aloud when it's got a good rhythm. (There's a reason Dr. Seuss remains so popular - and he made up half his words!) But I came across a lot of books that, while they maybe had a cool concept or nifty illustrations, were just plain lazy in the writing. It looked like the author had gone "Oh, hey, here's a couple of words that rhyme, the lines all look roughly the same length, toss it together, we're good to go." 

Case in point: Sitka Rose, by Shelley Gill and Shannon Cartwright. Great Alaskan-themed illustrations, great concept (how often do you see tall tales about women?), a fun story, and the words even have a sort of folk-song feel to them. But the scansion is terrible:

Rose was raised up grander than the average child
She skied avalanche chutes for fun,
and when her vegetables needed more light
well Rose, she lassoed the sun.

I mean, you've got pretty consistent dactyls in the first line, but after that there's iambs, trochees and anapests all jumbled together. And don't even get me started on how it starts in hexameter and ends in trimeter just in this one stanza.

I realize that children aren't exactly the most discerning audience in the world, and I suppose that explains how most such books got past their respective editors. But think of the poor parents who have to read this book for the ten thousandth time, carefully navigating around the unexpected rhythmic roadblocks and line breaks. I mean, that's just cruel.

Fortunately, with the help of some old memories and a friend of my mother's, I found a few books that were a little more promising:

Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse and Barbara Lavallee

Mama, do you love me?

Yes I do, Dear One.

How much?

I love you more than the raven loves his treasure,
more than the dog loves his tail,
more than the whale loves his spout.

This was one of my favorite books to read with my mother when I was a child. It's not written in verse, but the words nonetheless flow beautifully, and the repetition lends it a feel of poetry absent from many such books. Plus the watercolors are completely sweet, portraying the Inupiaq mother and daughter and the Arctic wildlife with real substance. And, bonus - it comes in a board book version, which will hopefully hold up for a while.

Hooray for Fish!, by Lucy Cousins

Hello, hello, hello fish!
Red, blue, and yellow fish.
Spotty fish, stripy fish,
happy fish, gripy fish.

This one is pretty clearly aimed at younger kids, but given that my goddaughter hasn't even been born yet, I suspect that's all right. :) The meter does change in places, but not mid-stanza; the pages are sturdy, and the illustrations are simple and bright-colored and adorable.  (As Brian commented, "It looks like a tasty book to chew on.")  Plus, biodiversity!

Red Sings from Treetops: a year in colors, by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski

Red sings from treetops:
each note dropping
like a cherry
into my ear.

Red turns
the maples feathery,
sprouts in rhubarb spears;
Red squirms on the road
after rain.

This book reminds me so much of [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume it's kind of uncanny.  The words find that same sort of quiet poetry and everyday magic, and the imagery is just gorgeous.  It's also rendered in free verse, the word rhythms and sounds and onomatopoeia and occasional surprising rhymes all blending harmoniously.  I'm frankly envious - free verse is so hard to do well, far harder than something strictly metered like a sonnet.  I realize this one will probably have to wait until my goddaughter's a little older, but given that my expectant friend is an artist, I suspect she'll get lots of enjoyment out of it in the interim.

And in the present moment, Alaska Airlines had a sale, so I booked my tickets to Washington to go meet my goddaughter during the tail end of October.  Which means, between that and this Anchorage trip and Brian's and my vacation to Sweden in August, this will kind of be the Time of All The Traveling.  I guess I'm making up for the seven months being a school-oriented recluse. 

missroserose: (Default)
Happy birthday to me!

I was going to post a video I found a while back, a parody of Taylor Swift's "22" for my current age: "Uh-oh, hey! I don't know about you, but I'm feeling thirty-two/Read Fifty Shades of Grey and kinda liked it too!" Unfortunately, they appear to have taken it down, which makes me sad. There are a couple of similar parodies by other artists, but none of them feature the singer drinking wine and chowing down on a Costco-size wedge of Gouda, and thus they are clearly inferior. (Mmm. Gouda.)

Still, I can't feel too bummed out. I observed on Facebook that multiples of 16 must be lucky for me, present-wise; I've gotten more presents this year than I have since my sweet sixteen party. I have no idea what it was I did this year, but hey, I'll take it.

(Not pictured: the professional-quality blow dryer I wanted, currently on order by a longtime friend; and a significant contribution towards a professional-quality massage table from my mum.)

It's been a good year, I think. I've made a number of social connections (and lost some as well, all of which were painful but good learning experiences), I've tried and learned a number of new things, I've acquired a few new skills and embarked upon a new career path.

Now for some introspection: reading through a few of my entries from around this time a year ago, I'm seeing a lot of variations on the theme of structure vs. independence in my life. I've often prided myself on being an independent sort of person, willing to forge ahead my own way when there isn't a set path that I like. But while that's true, I've been comparing my mental state now to a year ago, when I was trying (and failing) to figure out a career path in writing and/or music. And I've come to the conclusion that, independent as I am, I need a certain amount of structure in my life to function well. At this point, I don't have a strong enough center or the self-motivation to work with no real idea if or when I'll see a payoff; I do far better when there's a clear set of expectations with (relatively) fixed rewards, which in turn gives me a sense of social identity. (This, incidentally, explains why keeping up enthusiasm for guitar was so much easier when I was busking weekly in Bisbee; I wasn't doing it for money, but the social payoffs in a small hippie town were noticeable. Moving to Chicago, however, removed a good chunk of that motivation, as it's not a particularly busking-friendly town and I don't know anyone in the local music scene yet.)

More importantly, I feel like I've decided that that's okay. I can be an independent-minded person who happens to work best in an interdependent context. It doesn't mean that I don't make valuable contributions, or that I'm not my own person, or that I'm not 'extraordinary enough'. It just means that I know what lifestyle choices fit me best at this point in my life, and points me at opportunities where I'll function at my best.

I'm thoroughly glad I decided to go to massage school; it's a path that gives me lots of options with varying levels of independence, but with a comparatively structured social role and a sense of identity I feel I can be proud of. It's a field with plenty of opportunities for continuing education, which I've found is integral to maintaining my interest. It's something that helps people feel better, which in turn helps them be excellent to each other. And it's something where I can earn a decent income of my own, enough to be financially independent if I need to. All of which, I think, are important to me in terms of finding long-term career satisfaction, as well as mental stability. (Now if the nice folks in the Illinois licensing office would get around to processing my application...)

So to celebrate, tonight is dinner with some of the local folks I've met who actually like my weird intense hyperintelligent analytical enthusiastic slightly-Zen...self. And Brian made me the most delicious chocolate layer cake with mint-chocolate-chip-buttercream frosting. Because he is the best. <3
missroserose: (Default)
I said earlier this month that I love the transitional seasons, and it's true. But Life, as it tends to do, has taken me at my word. It's been a month of changes: some minor; some major, but distant enough in my social network to be relatively minor in terms of their day-to-day effects on my life; a few pretty profound.

Interestingly, the most personally profound are less changes in external status as they are in internal outlook. For one, I've reached the point in my education where I start to look at people and see them differently; in much the same way Brian looks at a new place and immediately scopes out the places where the wireless access points and cameras and other network equipment all are (or if they aren't, where they should be), I've gotten to the point where I can look at someone's movement and posture and immediately suspect what's going on with their musculature/fascial system - where they're tight, where they're inhibited, where they're probably feeling pain/discomfort. So far it's mostly just generalities, but I'm starting to see those around me way a bodyworker sees them, and it's kind of an awesome ability. Even if it occasionally makes me despair when I pass by the same woman day after day wearing the same unsupportive heels that make her entire foot collapse inward.

For another example, I'm actually genuinely excited for my friend Donna - she's the one expecting her very-much-wanted child. (Latest news - it's a girl!) After some discussion, Brian and I have volunteered to be godparents; it'll mean making an effort to visit regularly and remember birthdays and Christmas, but honestly, Donna's practically family anyway, and one of the things I remember most fondly from growing up was the variety of close friends my mother had, from whom I got to learn about many different options in terms of lifestyle and priorities. (It helped me feel less railroaded when I was a teenager, which, growing up in suburbia, felt like a time when the world is simultaneously telling me "You can be anything you want to be!" and "So long as it's going to college and getting a job and getting married and having 2.1 children and buying a house and being a good consumer!") And it feels like the right thing for me; I want to help raise the next generation, but despite my recently-reexamined views on the importance of childrearing, I still am just not feeling any particular desire to have kids of my own. But I'm thoroughly jazzed to be in the helper/supporter role, and am even kind of looking forward to when she gets older and we can take her for a week here and there and give her parents a break.

On a more external front, graduation is coming up fast. I'm definitely going to apply to work at the school clinic, but I've also come up with an idea for a target market that I could build a clientele around - they're both greatly underserved and would likely have need of my services (both in the "needs the work due to physically demanding job" sense and the more nebulous "needs a safe place where they feel cared for" sense). I'm kind of excited because it's the first solid idea I've had that feels right for me. It's still just an idea, of course, and building clientele is as much luck and perseverance as it is ideas, but I'm hopeful. And it gives me something to focus my marketing-class project on.

Less concrete but equally profound has been the continued realization that I have, somewhat unintentionally, become Part Of The Yoga Community here in Chicago. Mostly it's just little things, like meeting someone for the first time and having them comment that they've heard about me from their favorite teacher, or having someone tell me about being at a yoga-related event and having my name come up in the group. (Luckily in a flattering context, at least that time.) I guess it's not terribly surprising; I go to various CorePowers regularly and am unshy and friendly and sort of stand out...but. But.

In all honesty, it's a little bit scary for me. I don't have the greatest experience with community participation; a lot of the traits people initially find attractive about me (forthrightness, confidence, analytical ability, fearlessness in speaking up) tend to read differently in mixed-company scenarios (tactless, arrogant, judgmental, overpoweringly opinionated). In many ways, I still speak Human as a second language; it's difficult for me to read multiple people's reactions in the moment and censor myself accordingly. So I try to make the most effort to spend time with people I know understand me in one-on-one or small-group scenarios. But community links are important, and helpful in one's career as well as one's social life, so I'm making an effort to strengthen those relationships. My marketing class notes actually had an insightful suggestion on that point: "You have: two (2) eyes, two (2) ears, and one (1) mouth. Use them in that order." It's taken me upwards of three decades, but I'm slowly learning when to be quiet and listen.

And this isn't even getting into the more distal-social-network events that're happening - deaths, marriages, pregnancies. Life moves fast! And I feel eminently lucky to be living it somewhere I love that has opportunities for me, even if I'm a bit scared I'll make a hash of them. But to paraphrase Miles Vorkosigan, it's all about the momentum - keep moving, keep learning, or you might as well give up. Things move quickly - let's jump on that train! Onward!
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".
missroserose: (Default)
Hello, world! I'm not dead! I've just been...kind of insanely busy. As mentioned earlier, school is ramping up in intensity, and while I don't feel overwhelmed, exactly, there have definitely been some things falling off the edges of the plate. Thus, this post - part assessment, part update, so I can get a big-picture feel for how I'm doing and my friends have some idea of what to expect for the next six months or so.

Stuff that's going well! )

Stuff that's going less well. )

On the whole, I think I'm doing pretty okay. I could probably stand to de-stress a bit more; maybe a few more hot baths are in order. But for the next six months, I think I can deal. After I get my license, hopefully things will calm down a bit, especially if I'm working part-time. We'll see.
missroserose: (After the Storm)
It's been a good couple of weeks.

Last week I was at my mother's for Thanksgiving. We had a holiday dinner, and decorated her house, and I got to see the Eugene Ballet's touring version of The Nutcracker twice. (Short version of long story: my mother was going to take Brian and me and my friend Carl and his girlfriend Leilani, who in true Alaska small-population fashion my mother once worked with and quite liked, out to the ballet; they ended up breaking up a couple weeks beforehand, so I changed her ticket and and bought an extra one for myself so we could go the day before. It turns out she's pretty awesome, and she's a massage therapist too, so hurray for new friends/future colleagues.) Then we took the overnight flight back Saturday night, slept most of Sunday, and Monday it was off to my first day of class.

One week in, I'm pretty impressed with the New School for Massage. My entire class is a grand total of four people (winter classes are usually slow), but I don't feel that anyone's stinting on the quality of attention. Quite the reverse; I rather like that all of the staff and most of the other students knew us by name after the first day. Dominika, the school director I met before, continues to be incredibly warm and sweet whenever we run into each other; the first day I was running a few minutes late and didn't know where to go and wandered into her classroom by mistake, and she took me to the orientation group personally. (Not that it's a large space, exactly, but it was a nice touch.) And I got an email from her today asking how my first week of classes went, and could genuinely tell her that I feel like I fit in well here. I hope it continues.

For once, I'm not among the more well-traveled of my class. One of my classmates is from Germany and spent the past four years in Tel Aviv, and another is from Guatemala and lived in California before moving here when she was younger. Somewhat amusingly, the three of us are all women in our thirties; our fourth is a twenty-three-year-old dude who currently works as a personal trainer. Fortunately he's pretty easygoing and doesn't seem to mind kicking back and letting us all go on about our experiences; as he put it the second day, "I like listening to stories."

On a more ambivalent note, there's a certain amount of (often jokingly acknowledged) woo-woo stuff in the curriculum. I've been trying to keep an open mind about it, but have been surprised at how strongly judgmental my reactions have been, despite the fact that I have almost no direct experience with it and no knowledge of whether there have been any scientific studies on the subjects. (I am, unsurprisingly, relieved that the bulk of the lessons seem to be largely anatomy- and science-based.) It's not that I have anything against chakras or reflexology or aromatherapy or any of that; I know they've helped lots of people, and it makes sense that it would be part of the material, given that they're commonly used in the field and a lot of clients probably expect you to have a working knowledge of the theory. And believe me, I understand how strongly intuition factors into any healing profession, and whether that intuition takes the form of "your chi is misaligned" or "your muscles are knotted up" probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference on the level where I'm likely to be practicing. (Aaaaand I probably just vividly demonstrated exactly how little I know about either form of medicine. Heh.)

Upon reflection, I think a lot of it's about my personal hangup with pride and how others perceive me; there may (or may not) be lots of evidence supporting the efficacy of alternative models, but science-based healing is, ultimately, more prestigious and respected than alternative modalities in our culture. And I have a real trigger around not being taken seriously; so anything that feels too hippy-dippy crunchy-granola gets a negative modifier attached to it. Which is not precisely flattering; I'd prefer to react to ideas based on their own merits and not whether or not people are going to like me if I espouse them. Clearly I need to ruminate on this issue some more.

Still, it's not hopeless. Rather than using the term "alternative medicine", with the implication of it being a replacement for traditional doctors, the textbook suggests referring to acupressure and massage therapy and chiropracty and whatnot as "complementary medicine". I like that a lot better; it implies that these can be useful tools but aren't meant as a replacement for Western-style treatment. It's nice to think that both modes of thought can peacefully coexist, even if nearly a decade of Apple vs. Android (or Playstation vs. Xbox, or VHS vs. Betamax) tribalism seems to imply differently.

...Now that I think on it, I have almost no personal experience with 'alternative medicine' outside of massage and some very limited acupressure. So, help me ruminate! Have you tried (or learned to administer) any complementary medicine? What was your experience? Did it seem to help? I'm curious!
missroserose: (Show Your Magic)
For all that he's a bit of an odd duck, one of the things I like most about my friend Justin is that his perspective is complementary to mine. We're similar enough that our worldviews resonate at that frequency crucial to close relationships, but his tends to be just a few steps to the left; enough so that he often inspires me to see myself and my decisions in a different light. (I sometimes feel a little ridiculous when I realize that what I'm seeing through his eyes is something glaringly obvious if I'd just considered it earlier, but then, that's also what makes friends valuable.)

In this instance, we were talking about our respective plans for the future, and he asked if I'd considered going into massage therapy. I said that I had, as well as hairdressing or possibly yoga teaching, as it wouldn't hurt to have some extra income (and might be wise to have something to fall back upon in case something happens to Brian, or he decides he wants to leave the computer-security field). Justin asked (not in so many words, but effectively) why I hadn't pursued any of them. And I stopped and gave it some real thought.

Aside from the artistic arena, where we've already pretty much established that I currently lack the motivation to make a workable career, the careers I've been most attracted to are in the personal-service industry; I like to help people feel better about themselves, as I find it to be one of the most immediately-rewarding ways to improve the world. (Admittedly, it's a more ephemeral effect than, say, lobbying for better school funding or running a school in the African slums, but my desire for relatively instant gratification is one of the reasons I'm not super likely to make it as an artist. And giving someone a killer massage, or a really great haircut, still has a measurable positive effect - it can really improve someone's whole outlook, which makes everyone they interact with that little bit happier.) And really, there's nothing that should be holding me back - tuition for training is a little pricey, but not bad compared to a standard four-year program.

So I finally admitted something to myself that I'd been mentally dodging for a while but had never articulated aloud: "I've considered it. But, ultimately, there's more social status in being the financially-supported maybe-aspiring-artist wife of a high-earning man than there is in pursuing my own career."

Yeah, it's not the most flattering realization I've ever come to.

But it's true; I do value social currency. When I was a waitress out of high school, I was good at the job and often enjoyed it but couldn't help but look forward to the days when I would be the one paying for the meal, not the one serving it. I think I mentioned awhile back that I feel a little embarrassed when people ask me what I do right now; but when I tell them that I'm an aspiring writer/musician whose husband supports her, the reaction is almost universally positive - "That's so cool!" or "I'm so envious of you!"

The fact that, were our genders reversed, the reaction would likely be a little more smug and/or patronizing doesn't help my slight sense of social guilt over the matter. And while I'm a strong believer in the "feminism means you should be able to choose whatever path you want, whether or not it fits socially with your ascribed gender" philosophy, there are definitely times when I feel like a bad feminist for being financially dependent on my husband. (Which is more than a little ironic, as my mother and both my grandmothers had to be financially independent due to the quality of their relationships.)

Answering "I'm a hairdresser" or "I'm a massage therapist", by contrast, is hardly shameful, but they aren't really fields that generate respect and/or envy. (It probably doesn't help that I grew up seeing people accord my mother significant respect for her job in the legal field; I feel a little bit like a toddler throwing a tantrum. "If I can't have a highly-respected career I don't want any career!") But honestly, none of the highly-respected fields particularly appeal to me; I know I'm smart enough to go into law or medicine or science, but none of them thrill me enough to want to invest the time and money.

I'm not sure, ultimately, where my thoughts are going to settle on this issue. But this particular epiphany has given my self-perception a much-needed shakeup, and for that, at least, I'm grateful.


missroserose: (Default)

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