Saturday, June 06, 2020

Long Silences are normal and indicative and symptomatic

It remains true and bears retelling that not-writing is destructive to my mental health, and also what I tend to do when my mental health is tenuous.

But the difficulty of self-expression has been amplified by the myriad of ways I've been humbled and forced to re-learn my lenses over the last year.  Oliver/Sir O was diagnosed with Autism, anxiety, ADHD, a written expression learning disability, an executive functioning deficit, and classified as 2E last fall.  It was not an unexpected diagnosis, but it knocked the wind out of me and forced me into wildly unfamiliar territory in aggressive and unexpected ways.  I've been having to reimagine everything I've known about how minds work to make room for the neurodivergent ways my children interact with the world.  I've had to become aware of and name the herculean effort I put in daily to co-regulate with each of my children and their lagging skills with self-regulation.  It's been massive.

Then, just as I was beginning to be able to tell which direction wa
s up, the pandemic and all of it's attendant drama, discord, and carpet yanking happened.  I have had so many aspects of my view of and relationship with my own reality shaken and stolen away that the sheer volume of paradigm reconfiguring I've had to do is staggering.  My brain cannot keep up, and I keep emotionally forgetting what I cognitively already know and have processed.  On a much less traumatic scale it's like that moment when you wake up in the morning and have to re-remember that someone has died, only for scores of less earth-shattering adjustments.  I never quite have all of my feet under me.

I've been struggling to sleep.  My brain starts racing around 10 pm, and usually my heart starts to race too.  Lately it's been vivid sensory memories from my time in London in 2002.  Mostly really good memories, but they feel so immediate, like I'm actively living them, and the melancholy of how far gone and away they are (and how impossible they'd be to recreate in a pandemic) makes them really acutely emotional, melancholy, even tragic. I weep from midnight on until I finally collapse.

It's hard for me (and everyone else) to navigate next steps forward.  Goal setting and relationship maintaining and healthy recreating are so impossible to navigate in a world of infinite high-stakes unknowns.  Not knowing what the next school year will look like, not knowing what the economy might even remotely look like, not knowing whose careers will be affected in what ways, not knowing what social activities will be safely available or when...... nobody can plan their life the way humans need in order to stay sane.  And all this on top of the most dramatic civil unrest of my lifetime, when the stakes of so many things seem insanely high, dramatic, unstable, and tragic.

I remember, in the aftermath of the 2016 election, when I was really struggling, finding helpful metaphors in the language of deep festering wounds being opened up to heal properly.  Lots of things (power imbalances) that we (the privileged) pretended were overcome in the 80s have been forced into the bright light to be reckoned with and hopefully dealt with more thoroughly and honestly this time.  I don't know that we will altogether succeed this time either, but hopefully progress will be made. Hopefully the arc of history will lean toward justice and will treat us with some mercy.

I haven't had much luck finding my place or my voice in the current BLM moment.  Most white influencers I follow are tripping over themselves trying to find appropriate and sensitive content to post, mostly finding and sharing black influencer accounts and resharing their content.  I haven't got a business or professional identity to keep afloat right now, so it feels more safe and authentic to just literally mute myself, rather than to post about how I'm muting myself and then still posting others' content.  But it also feels odd/off to be silent in a moment when "silence is complicit" is au courant.  But I'm listening and watching and doing my best to start conversations with kids for whom all conversations are hard to have.  I'm sitting in deep deep discomfort with every facet of every previous self. I hope it is constructive, it's certainly painful.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Fast Forward and the cost of not writing

Here I land, I blip.  My voice on the internet is too closely resembling a teenager's diary.  "Been a long time since I wrote.  Catch up catch up, sketchy details.... Going to do better...... Next entry is 1-2 years later."

Not good.

And I don't just mean "not good" because all the details and nuance and sensory detail gets chucked when time runs scarce, but also "not good" because not writing has a crazy-making effect on one's brain.  When you don't write you stop processing your own life in ways that make sense.  Your own capacity for constructive self-reflection atrophies and your perspective on your own life is like looking at a Serrat painting from 2 inches away.  If it doesn't lead to suffering then at least it aggravates it.

But the attempt to write always meets friction from my perfectionist project brain.  I've functioned as a slave to the most urgent mess or need that I've neglected for most of my life, always thinking "I'll get to that when I can find time to do it properly."   This has never served me well, but has utterly laid waste to my life with 5 and then 6 kids.  It's so deeply engrained that it's a real beast to expunge.  Daily effort, work of a lifetime level stuff.

I thought this first year of my last postpartum experience (fingers crossed) was going to be all about getting my ducks in a row.  My house was going to to be tamed and all of my primary relationships smoothed over.  The ducks are still on strike though, and I'm perpetually proving incompetent at all the most basic management skills needed to herd cats.  Every single one of my six children require a tremendous load of emotional labor and flexibility from me.  Not a single one of them qualifies as "easy going" in any capacity.  Training their two dozen or so collective quirks and psychoses into a functional relationship with reality is the lion's share of my work right now, and never was there anything less rewarding than forcing an anxious isolationist out of the house or trying to unearth an idea to motivate a child who hates writing like he hates sticking his hand in hot coals yet has a week-long intensive learning disability tutoring session coming up.

So much fun, friends.  Fun to the nth degree.

But underneath it all I've been determinedly plodding along trying to clear paths and space for personal development and ambition.  It might look like imperceptibly slow progress, but it's stubbornly constant as I carve out moments in all the odd corners for it.

I live streamed erratically over here over the summer. Everything I do is erratic, but all I can do is refuse to give up.  I tried to share my effort and my process in mapping out my next steps toward doing something intentional with my own work.  Which work is what?  Writing, scholarship, teaching, learning.  Still exploring options.  Mostly it's just figuring out how to say "my work" without using air quotes.  That's the bar right now.

Language is not kind to women like me.  I shall have to take it by the horns and wrestle it into submission.  No more air quotes language, you're going to find adequate ways to depict my reality, OR ELSE.

Anyway, back in the saddle-ish.  If I continue to allow for imperfect offerings, perhaps I can write more often.  It would be a good move, methinks.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

In which my life exploded and I'm having to learn how to climb out from under it.

I'm getting better at being intentional with how I use my time and resources.  I'm a goal-setting fool and I keep track of my progress tightly, but I still struggle to come up with two minutes to rub together in a row.

Life with six kids is essentially kicking my butt. (And yes, Bunny cut her own bangs a while back and no, I did not handle it well.  Also, yes, meet baby#6 who is also boy#5).

I have learned really thoroughly to not expect relief from pregnancy until after the 4th trimester, because life immediately postpartum is always relentlessly intense.  Newborns, at least my newborns, do not tolerate mama trying to use both of her hands.  Nope, baby must be able to sense mom's heartbeat in order to refrain from that certain newborn wail that makes every iota of a mama's body and brain freeze up and her milk let down.  So, there are a very few things that I can manage to do while baby wearing - some food prep and laundry folding, but all the jobs that involve bending over and getting up and down from the floor, or being near heat or chemicals?  Nope  Not happening.

And this dysfunction is piling up on top of nearly 9 months of pregnancy neglect of my house and family management.  We'll call it discouraging, and leave it at that. No need to burden you with all the thought processes behind my daily pity parties.

But I'm trying to catch occasional footholds and allow myself the grace to start small, and start over small, and do what I can do and let it be enough, for now.

I organized the medicine cabinet the morning after Christmas when I wasn't the only adult in the house.  I purged one of the kids' bedrooms while Mr Renn took all the non-infant kids to see Luminaria.

I'm discovering that one of the keys to being an organized person is having enough garbage receptacles in all the right spots in your house.  (Because I don't have one in my bedroom, which also functions as my office, and trash seems to accumulate in here like breeding rabbits or field mice)

Also, I think I'm going to start scheduling regular purging sessions for once this baby more predictably allows me hands-free time.  On the calendar - the kids go somewhere else and I purge and organize for an evening an area where they would normally impede my progress.   Isn't that what most moms mean when they pine for a break?  Just a chance to speed through the tasks that weigh heavy on their minds without a litany of interruptions?  An opportunity to try out that productivity  phenomenon called deep work?  (Seriously though, I listened to that audio book and thought over and over again, "but what about small children and their constant, constant barrage of interrupting?"  The authors plainly showed their male privilege by being oblivious to this as a source of interruption and failing to address it.)

But I'm settling into the idea: this is my "one thing" for the year.  Possibly my "one thing" for a season of my life here.  I need to get my home and family life in order.  I need to do all kinds of damage control, we've jumped from one state of survival mode to another since moving to this house, and I've never gotten good systems in place and it's making life hard for everybody.  So, just as soon as the newborn survival mode begins to let up, I plan to use whatever time or energy I gain to purge and simplify and organize and plan.  And while I know time is set and finite, if my energy doesn't improve then I'll shift my resources to addressing that problem first.  The status quo is not sustainable.

Yet my outlook is actually much more buoyant than that probably makes me sound.  I am so relieved at the prospect of spending a year not being pregnant, and at the idea of managing to prioritize things that matter to me, and at the idea of being able to muster emotional energy to care about things that matter to me.... it's all very encouraging.  So, even if I can't tackle much of it right.this.very.minute, I know that things are looking up.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Improvised Carpentry

Squishy has very little to do with this post, but his expression speaks to how I felt as this went down. 

(As we find out, my interview is available to stream here, so go listen to me speak very slowly.  I'm clearly out of practice when it comes to adult conversation.)

I've been scrambling this afternoon trying to figure out how to listen to my interview online.  It appears to have been superseded by a BYU soccer game (Too bad they can't predict when those are going to come up and make that information more widely available so poor fools like me don't get all misinformed?)

But this is the sort of punch I roll with pretty well by now.  If one of my pre-earth-life objectives was to learn to be flexible and deal admirably with stress-level-whiplash, then I'm well on my way to checking that one off the list.  There's not really even energy left for resentment as I emotionally shrug "well, this is consistent with my current karma," and soldier on.

Soldiering on looking like responding to a dozen texts and a few Facebook comments wondering why they can't find my interview, and me suddenly wishing I hadn't made such an announcement out of it. It's clearly not a big deal to anyone but me.

Is it ok if it's still a big deal to me though?  It was the most momentum I've mustered toward taking myself and my efforts and their necessary next-steps seriously in a long time.  Probably since my MA graduation over a year ago.  I need the energy of considering this to be a "big deal" so that I can prioritize finding time to write that book I've had almost 2 years to write, and for which I have only a few notes and articles in a neglected email inbox folder to show.


In the wake of the interview, though, I did find the time to re-visit several of the texts that I brought up.

Ian Bogost's 'Carpentry' - from Alien Phenomenology: This talks about a lot of the frustrations and shortcomings of creating academic writing.  Especially how philosophy and criticism are in some ways diametrically opposed to creativity and creating.

Briefest of intros to Laurel Ulrich.

Rufi Thorpe's Mother Writer Monster Maid - which is a tremendous exploration of modern woman-ness and how motherhood informs absolutely everything and how that can be both good and bad and wonderful and terrible, but maybe shouldn't be assumed to always be a liability.  Also - language warning, but worth it.


I happened across this sentiment on Meg Conley's Instagram a few days ago:
                              "Problem 1: I may never get over how selfish it feels to spend five hours a day
                                writing something no one else may ever read. Problem 2: I know I'd never get 
                                over spending those five hours doing anything else."

I have problem envy.  I haven't spent 5 hours in one day writing since I was in the thick of my thesis writing, and I miss it like crazy, but I'm also in the crazy-thick of the thinnish things that are 5 small children and a too-busy husband and another debilitating pregnancy.  I'm not even managing to brush my hair properly every day.  

But, at least the debilitating pregnancy part has an end (in sight!) which leads to that challenging 4th trimester, which also, mercifully, ends.  So by next Spring, I know I shall be an entirely different human.  And if I can aggressively restock my poor body's depleted iron supply, I can have hope that that entirely different person shall be infinitely more productive, and (dare I hope?) creative, than I am today.  That is placing a lot of stock in the future, but it is also something to be optimistic about.  Which is not nothing.


In the process of re-reading my thesis to prepare for this interview, I found that the appendix I had created as a blogger resource (quick read) was actually also the incredible first few steps toward outlining the book I need to write.  That I had somehow forgotten how I'd compiled it, and how useful it had the potential to be for me, is kind of a cruel irony, because that was a hurdle that kept me from moving forward for a good chunk of those 2 years since.  But now that I'm reacquainted with it, onward and upward and baby steps forward toward creating something useful, and then finding the best way to share it far and wide. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The terror of articulating my thoughts

One of the petty comforts of not finding the time to write and articulate my thoughts is not having to wrestle with the strength of my arguments and my logic.  So if nothing else is worth taking away here, let's just assume that more of the people who argue in the world should also have to write.

Since the world is on fire with every flavor of enmity, and I have that insecure temperament of a moderate, someone who is never really sure they've got it figured out and who tries really hard to listen with my best effort at dispassion to every side of every argument, I tried really hard to dig through this interview with Renauld Camus.  (Because said temperament makes me inclined to slog through all the political philosophy I can stand.)  It's a really difficult read, partly because the interview itself was clearly uncomfortable, and partly because it's easy to quickly disagree with elements of Camus' argument and then summarily dismiss it in its entirety.  I briefly debated it with Michael Austin and while we both agreed that (this) Camus treated race and phenotype as entirely too static of a thing, I still came away unsettled about this idea of a universal fear (or at least propensity for a fear) of replacement.  And here's where my brain went.

From what I can tell, especially after my long incubation period of studying identity construction and performance during my Master's Thesis research, the tools most people use to build their senses of self are very language-centric, and are subject to all the limitations of semiotic meaning making.  So as a person making sense of life, I latch on to words that describe to me what I am or what I am not, but by so doing I inherit the boatloads of baggage that come with those words.  Rarely/never does all that baggage actually apply to my lived experience, but as I claim that word, over time I absorb at least some of that baggage.  So each of us should, perhaps be extremely thoughtful about this process, but a huge proportion of it has already happened long before we are old enough to even be taught what "semiotics" means.

The direction I'm headed with this is that these words, these self-identifiers, have the potent ability to become idols and false gods for us.

An example: at the end of the year in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, my elementary school teachers handed out individualized certificates to each student, saying "you win the class award for most _____."  My award for each of these years was the same: "Most Creative."  With that kind of reinforcement, it was easy for me to accept and internalize an identifier for myself: I am creative.  Only I knew there were a lot of ways to be creative and that I wasn't most of them.  I lacked the ability to purposefully create anything visual.  I couldn't draw or paint worth beans and my handwriting was utter chicken scratch. So I dealt with some cognitive dissonance as I tried to define myself as a "creative" person who would have perhaps been better described as "imaginative."  But as long as I clung to "creative" I felt guilt and failure at being.   And as long as I felt like the primary "thing" I was supposed to be was "creative" I was going to feel that way.

The same thing happened in high school, where I was flagged as a "high achiever" and "valedictorian."  I left high school feeling like if I didn't achieve something tremendous then everyone would view me as a disappointment.  (Hint: I often struggle with feeling like a disappointment.)  If I hadn't absorbed "high achiever" into my identity construction, and given it such precedence, then perhaps it'd be easier for me to believe my perennial affirmation "you are enough."

So, back to applying this to the world at large.  Here's where I am.  I come back to wondering what sort of an identity construction could we engage in that would ease or eliminate this fear of replacement?  What things could we believe about who we are that would make the world wide enough (for Hamilton and me)?

Well, here's where I get spiritual/religious.  But I'm also being philosophical/metaphysical (as much as I'm able) - so take whichever of those avenues makes this most meaningful for you.

If I am able to set and maintain my primary identity construction around "I am a child of God, of infinite and anti-fragile worth."  Then it has the power to eliminate this fear of replacement that, perhaps, lies beneath and behind a lot of the anger and hate and poor logic in the world.  If I am a child of God, then you can be too, and it does not diminish me or render my value less certain.  My heart gets cracked open wide enough to allow wishes for successes and love all around, without any fear of anyone else's value to threaten my own.

It occurs to me that placing any other primary identity marker above this one, has the potential to pinch off our hearts and create space for that fear of replacement.  If the primary thing I am is smart, then someone else could be smarter than me and what does that leave me to be?  If the primary thing I am is pretty, then who am I once my beauty fades?  If the primary thing I am is part of a normative culture, then who am I if that culture is being shifted and challenged?  If the primary thing I am is my ideology or political party, then who am I if I ever allow for the strengths of a counter-argument?  If the primary thing I am is my race or my phenotype, then who am I when I'm confronted with the fluidity and messiness of empires, invasions, barbarism, and cultures throughout history?

So what I'm wondering, and it's a pulsing, nascent, developing idea, beyond whether this concept has any merit, is whether it has any application.  There's a lot of people wanting to resist hate, but how do you effectively eliminate or change these kind of tensions?  How do you change hearts?  I concur that education is a powerful tool, but you cannot teach someone who doesn't trust you.  You really cannot teach someone who believes you dislike them.  "Kids don't learn from people they don't like."  So there's something - some kind of work, that has to precede any effective education.  What might that look like?

I'm drawn into a couple of non-competing corners here.  There's Paulo Friere and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  His concern with treating people as agents in their own education and not just subjects to be acted upon by teachers.  The importance of waiting to teach until the student's mind and heart are ready.  He was mostly concerned with the minds and hearts of oppressed people: those in poverty and minorities.  But I wonder how many of his principles can apply to any population that is clinging to dysfunctional beliefs that resist the love and equality required for a Zion community (of "there were no poor among them" i.e. - there are no hearts set upon inequality).  It's a lofty vision, but possibly a constructive direction?

Another thought is of Crucial Conversations and it's attendant tools.  There are absolute minefields of safety problems being ignored in social discourse today is mind boggling.  What if everyone took the idea of "safety first" to heart and tried to make sure their conversations were safe places where people could come to the table vulnerable and open-minded before dispensing with their logic and arguments?  Can you even imagine that world?  Is it possible that  THAT is the primary issue at the heart of all the rancorous discord in the world?  Is the issue as much HOW we are engaging in dialogue as WHAT we are debating?  Admittedly that would be a hard point to measure or prove, but it would give both sides of any debate something to work on in themselves.  And we all know that we're far more likely to make progress at changing ourselves than at changing anyone else, right?  (Please tell me we've figured that one out.)

It also strikes me as far more... constructive?   To be trying to convince someone else "you are a child of god, you are enough.  You have a value beyond your imagination that no power on this earth can diminish (and that you cannot yourself measurably increase) - rather than trying to convince them "you are wrong and you are a horrible person."  So there's that.

But obviously I haven't completed any rigorous thought experiments here.  This is just a lady with an overactive penchant for philosophy, who happens to be trying to keep a household with 5 small children afloat while she gestates a 6th one into being.  Pondering these things is more appealing to me than more domestic tasks, but I haven't exactly got the resources to do anything justice right now. Still, fleshing my thoughts out and forcing them into paltry, stumbling words felt like a justifiable act.
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