Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Irritating my Friend and Gaining a Calling

Tonight was my usual discussion night with my friend, but things were a bit out of kilter. For one thing, I'm coming out of a period of inaction, which has been troubling me. I sometimes get frenetic bursts of energy (even more so than usual) and create massive to-do lists and resolve to get my life and my act together, or choose some difficult or distant goal to work toward. Then I go through a brief active, fertile period, when I plow through several challenging items at a time or socialize more than usual. Afterward, I get overwhelmed and slow down again. I get tired and go into a kind of slump, during which I escape from my problems instead of tackling them head-on. It's a cycle I go through on micro and macro scales, and I try lately to just accept that and be forgiving of my fickle moods.

So, despite a huge amount of mental activity lately and a brewing and mixing up of strange cocktails of ideas, I haven't been doing a whole lot. I have been going to work and doing enough to get by, keeping my household running, and meeting my family obligations. Just keeping up my daily routine is enough work, when I let myself settle into it. But it's boring for me and after a while I get that restlessness again.

So I started discussing things with my friend, who is ordinarily almost heroically patient with my need to think out loud and to plod over familiar ground more than once. She wasn't feeling well, and was a bit more short tempered with me than usual at the beginning of the conversation. I started to feel that I was irritating her when she started offering me solutions to some of the problems I had brought up, and I started to feel defensive.

I have several close friends that I confide in, and of course I have my husband. Whenever I do confide in these close friends, I let many of my walls down. Not all of them, of course, but in trying to share the contents of my mind, I must verbalize, and in verbalizing my innermost thoughts, I make myself vulnerable to hurt. I don't always enjoy opening myself up in this way, yet at the same time, to talk is to experience one of the deepest and greatest pleasures that I desire. The friends that know me the most and the deepest and the longest over time are the ones I most trust. Even so, sharing leaves me open to that innermost shame that I found so difficult to express a few posts back. What if others see into my heart and reject what they find there? What if they don't love me? Will I survive? It's always a shock when I run smack into that deep-seated fear and anxiety.

Because she's my good friend and because we have built this relationship of trust over time, I know that my friend gives me the benefit of the doubt when I say something foolish, when I am inconsistent, when I am irrational, and when I allow myself to be vulnerable. So I also gave her the benefit of the doubt, and tried to listen. The conversation continued, and I felt hurt, but did not bring the walls back up. I just stumbled and then kept going, and my friend was graceful enough to let me continue in my own course. But her criticism was accurate and valid: basically, she wondered if my never ending quest to pin things down and label them, to understand them in the context of a framework and endlessly analyze them, was preventing me from actually taking action to solve the issues.

I guess this is the same as the line I used on my husband last week, which was "I think my problem is that I think too much." He thought this was quite amusing, since I was thinking about thinking too much. I was hurt by that, too. It's hard being oversensitive. I'm just really in earnest about this stuff. It's not that I don't have a sense of humor, because, come on, I'm ridiculous and I know it. But I'm also vulnerable. The problem with really caring is that I really care. The problem with really feeling deeply is that I really feel deeply. I say these things that come out so silly, but in my heart of hearts they aren't silly. They are deeply felt. I know it's hard to understand because I don't understand it either.

I have a deep place that feels deeply. When I speak from this place, I speak the truth as I know it. It's what my heart desires. When I speak from this place it is serious, it is in earnest, it is with passion, and it is with deep and terrible fear and pain and vulnerability. I most often expose it unintentionally, while thinking out loud with a close and trusted companion. The opening up of this place and airing out and clearing out is always refreshing and a relief. Sometimes I really can laugh at it afterward. I guess there's not necessarily anything rational about this song from the deepest heart of my being. It's difficult for me to even put all this into words without being sentimental or romantic. Words like yearning and longing and desire come to mind. I guess these are all romantic ideas, so I do have to be skeptical about all of this that I am expressing. I wouldn't want an unkind observer to this writing experiment. I'd be eviscerated in moments.

Anyway as usual I didn't mean to write anything at all like the above at all. I swear something just comes along and takes over my fingers every time I sit down. A committment to total honesty hasn't fixed whatever it is that ails me.

The conversation with my friend continued and got lighter and more fun. I mentioned that I had been daydreaming about starting a church in my new hometown, and I was oddly touched by my friend's supportiveness of the idea of my someday becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister. So in the same evening, I was hurt by her honest opinion and comforted by her honest opinion. I guess that's just another way of saying that I really value this person's opinion! And in case she ever reads this, you know who you are, and I'm glad you are my direct and honest you. I even trust you with the wacky stuff I try not to tell anyone else.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing About Writing About Writing

Brother. I can't keep up with myself and my ever changing, evolving mind. I meant for this blog to be a bit more focused than past efforts. Originally, I set out to do something that would help other people. That's why I started with breastfeeding as a topic. I thought maybe I could be an advocate, writing about ideas that have worked for me in my own life. Increasingly, however, I keep finding myself returning to myself. Luckily, I still haven't advertised this blog in any way, so even though it's fully public, it's not like anyone is paying attention. I kind of wish someone would pay attention. But, I also know that with the way the internet works, no sooner are people reading than they are critiquing, so maybe it's kind of nice that I'm still anonymous while I work these things out. I noticed some mistakes in my last post, but I don't feel like backtracking tonight.

I did show this blog to my husband a few posts ago, with some trepidation. But no sooner had I walked away than he had closed the window. My feelings were a little hurt. But to be fair, he had his own blog not that long ago, and I didn't follow his very closely, either. I guess that's how artistic pursuits go.

I still like this writing thing when I manage to sit down and get started. I've just been too tired most nights to make the attempt. I think maybe it's good, too to let my brain do a little bit of idling here and there. Or maybe that's just an excuse? I've browsed through other people's blogs, and one thing I noticed is that a bunch of them begin with the line "I haven't written for a while. Been busy."

I'm definitely on some kind of seeking questing thingy. I just went through a month of semi-vegetarianism, due to the influence of Peter Singer and his practical ethics. Then I read a book that argued the opposite tack; it was pretty terrible, but I nevertheless swung back to omnivorousity.

Now, this week I'm on some odd religious kick; I've been listening to K-LOVE, the local Christian radio station. This is pretty strange, considering that I'm an atheist. I feel like I'm listening for something, but I don't know what. I'm becoming practically superstitious (witness my sudden interest in things like IQ scores and astrology) especially when by myself. I keep telling myself I'm rational, but there's no kidding about that while I continuously flirt with mythology, superstition, and occultism. I just happen not to believe in any of it.

So today I joined an atheist message board, and that was entertainment enough for a slow work afternoon.

If you've read any of the other bits, you might understand why I sometimes feel more than a little nuts. It's just that I have this energy. Endless, restless, intellectual curiosity. I don't have the desire to say, run a marathon. The energy is in my body, but even burning the physical energy just doesn't free my mind.

And what about helping people? I don't know why I want to help people particularly, given that I actually seem to want them to sort of let me be. Please, just let me alone to go about my strange wanderings. I guess if I'm going to be deep and meaningful, then the phrase "meaningful work" comes to mind. What I mean is that I have a job now, but I don't find it particularly satisfying. So I keep wondering if I could do something a little more suited to my interests and abilities. I was hoping that writing might be it. It's not like this particular bit of writing is designed to bring in any income, though.

I know. I'm rambling. This happened last time in the unsatisfying attempt to pin down the question of shame. The more in earnest I am about a topic, the harder a time I have being serious and having a coherent point. The clarity is inverse to the felt-ness of the topic.

I guess it would be nice to be useful. I don't feel all that great about what I do. I do it anyway, because I have children and a husband to take care of. So I am useful. I just mean it would be nice to be useful at writing. It's not enough to just write. I guess I need to start looking out for things beyond my everyday experience.

Monday, September 6, 2010

On Not Programming, Astrology, and Shame

I haven't programmed a single line since the other night, nor have I been back to write. I guess the going is getting tough. Traditionally, that's when I give up on whatever project I am currently working on and move on to the next big thing. It's simply painful.

So, given that, I thought this would be a great night to tackle this topic of shame that keeps emerging from between the lines of other narratives. This is a good plan, yes? I'm starting to lose steam, so maybe, just maybe, the next thing I should tackle is *cue scary theme music* the deep, dark, secrets of my sooouuuull... If I had a soul, which is in doubt.(SKEPTIC).

That said, I shall take a brief detour to talk about astrology. Now, I do not believe in astrology. I am fully aware that the chances of distant stars having any significant measurable effect on any individual human life are so remote as to be ridiculously nonexistent. I have taken a college level astronomy class in which my professor took great pains to explain that the constellations present at the hour of our birth are, due to certain changes over time, not even the same as the "sign" we are supposedly born under. I am fully convinced that most of the people who believe in and practice astrology are either under the influence of a pleasant delusion that they have an inside track into the workings of the universe, or making the stuff up for some other nefarious purpose, like getting other people's money.

Even so, I shall take a brief detour to see if I can get any information about my birth chart. I blame a really terrible unauthorized biography that I just finished, and the author seemed wedded to the idea that the birth charts of the involved individuals had a great deal of influence on their lives. I know this is so much hokum. There is still always some part of me that looks for the inside scoop and advantage in understanding; astrology provides a convenient (if misguided) framework to hang ideas on.

I took the detour and went and ran my chart on the internet. I have no idea what calculations they used for this mysticalness. It tells me that I am an Aries, typically characterized as masculine, energetic, and agressive. My moon is in Libra and rising sign is Pisces, if I remembered the time of my birth correctly. I have a whopping helping of Pisces in my chart. The rest is a mashup. I still don't have any idea really what it means, and it no longer gives me the same satisfying buzz that it used to when I was younger. I guess you have to have at least a smidgen of belief to make it fun; I just have curiosity and stubborness.

I no longer feel smarter than everyone else. That was last week, when I thought giftedness was something real. Now, I just feel lonely.

But, I still haven't tackled the shame thing. Shame relates to a perpetual feeling of being different from other people, especially in a way that they might find threatening or disturbing if they were able to discover it. For me it seems to relate to the need to camoflage, to blend in just enough to appear nonthreatening. At the same time I find people endlessly fascinating, but in an almost distant or clinical way at times. I care for their welfare more when they are remote.

I'm not quite getting there. Shame is about hiding in plain view. Shame is about fear of discovery. Shame is about not meeting expectations or living up to vague dreams. It's about wanting what I want, as opposed to what other people want me to want. Shame is not bringing people into my home because I don't feel proud of it, for example. So it has to do with maybe not doing things that I might do differently if I didn't feel ashamed.

There's still something more to this that I'm definitely not able to tap. Maybe it's because I am not feeling the actual emotion at the moment, and I am having trouble coming up with a vivid enough example to evoke the feeling. I think most people are aware of the type of dream at night that where you find yourself at school without your pants on, only to wake up. So I think that an example like that is classic shame; it has to do with transgression, but also with a fear of inadvertently breaking an unwritten rule and suddenly realizing that I have done or might have done something shameworthy-- the equivalent of suddenly realizing I have no pants on and I'm in front of the class.


I stumbled across the above website while thinking over this whole idea of shame and will quote some of it here so that I can respond:

"We feel shame when we think of poorly of ourselves. Shame is the emotion that encourages us to do our best. When we are ashamed we may feel vulnerable and even helpless. Shame reflects a decrease in stature while pride is the emotion reflecting an increase in stature."

I think this page does an absolutely brilliant and incredible job of narrowing in on this elusive demon that I have just been struggling so hard to pin down. The first point it makes is that shame is about "thinking poorly of ourselves," which helps point to the fact that this is an entirely internal state for me-- obviously, people can diplay their feelings of shame, but typically when I feel shame, my instinct is to hide the emotion. So it is an internal experience, not external. Second, shame as something that causes us to to our best, may be part of the puzzle of how I can possibly be an overachiever and yet still be having these feelings.

Third, helplessness and vulnerability are pinpoint accurate summaries of how shame causes me to feel. Helpless, trapped, and dangerously vulnerable, as if waiting for an attack that I cannot prevent.

This whole page leaves me terrified, actually, which means that I'm on the right track, now. It's too easy to stay clinical, abstract, and detatched while tackling these things.

Next, shame reflects a decrease in stature. I had to go look this up. Stature is different from status- it is the ability to help others. Related to status, it has to do with possessing traits that are of value to others or that are percieved as having value to others. It would be, then, a decrease in power and in value to other people, both of which are pretty serious threats.

Finally, it states that pride is the opposite emotion, that reflects an increase in stature. (Oh, how Darcy's and Elizabeth's comments from Pride and Prejudice come to mind!) But in my previous example, the reverse feeling (pride) would cause me to invite others to my house because I would be proud of it and would want to share that emotion with other people.

I've reached the end of my ability to write tonight- I'm just too tired to continue. I guess I'll have to do a multi-part series on this one.