Thursday, June 16, 2011

Quitters never win...

...and winners never quit. And we all want to be a winner, don't we?

I don't know where this extreme fear I have of quitting something comes from. It's normal for tastes to change, to decide that you don't really want to do something as much as you originally thought you did, or that unexpected things come up and as much as you'd like to do something it's just not going to happen. However, I seem to be of the never say die category and I feel that I must complete everything I have decided to do or die trying.

Over 10 years ago I set out to read Middlemarch on the recommendation of a college professor. Looking back I'm imagining him chuckling to himself about tricking keen students into reading the most BORING book known to man, but then I didn't know any better. I got about halfway through before I realized that I hadn't really understood much of the last 100 pages and decided to give it up.

The memory stayed with me though, and a Facebook quiz that wanted to know how many of the top 100 books you have read shamed me when I realized I had read only a quarter of them. Of course Middlemarch was on that list.

I had gotten my Ipad at that point and discovered that many of the classics were available free of charge and proceeded to download a whole bunch. First up, Jane Eyre. I surprised myself by heartily enjoying it. Then I decided to tackle the formidable Middlemarch. I helped myself a bit by reading a summary of all the characters, since there are SO MANY. I think that was the problem the first time around; as soon as I would get interested in one person's story, the perspective would change. And then she'd start going on a long tirade about English politics. But I'm really digressing here, aren't I?

I finished Middlemarch, and then decided to go onto A Tale of Two Cities. I was never able to get past "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." and now I have. But I haven't finished it yet, and part of me keeps wondering why I'm even bothering. Isn't life too short to read boring books? (along that same train of thought, I have a hard time rereading books I've enjoyed because I feel I should be reading these boring books instead).

If I really decide to never say die, I will also have to go back and learn to play the guitar. I wish I could get my Mom to force me to practice like she did when we took piano lessons as children, because it would make learning a new instrument a lot easier. But learning the piano was a lot easier than learning the guitar, and I sucked at the piano, even with all the practicing.

So, is it OK to decide that I don't want to read A Tale of Two Cities because it's giving Middlemarch a run for its money as the most boring book ever written? Is it OK to decide that I really don't want to learn to play the guitar after all because it's too hard? Is it OK to back out of a commitment that I probably could make if I really pushed myself, but I don't feel like pushing myself? And is it OK to wonder who I'm really asking permission from?

"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." - Mark Twain

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Learning to be Compassionate

I read both of Brené Brown's books and I really enjoyed them. One of the things I got out of her books was how we need to learn to be compassionate. I think most of us can manage to feel compassion for others, even those we don't know. Friends tell us their embarrassing stories and we are able to allow for their raw humanity. However, when it comes to ourselves we are a lot less forgiving.

Tiffany at Gimme Bliss wrote a great post entitled Welcome Your Inner Critic. She talked about how we try to shut our inner critic out, which is often unsuccessful. Since we waste a lot of energy doing this, we should instead invite our inner critic in.  Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun who wrote about a similar thing in her book called The Places That Scare You. She said to imagine that we have a large sky inside of us so we are capable of embracing all these negative feelings we usually to suppress. We are not to hold on to them, but to learn to become comfortable with them so that they don't grow. Too often we try to do everything in our power to get rid of these feelings and we end up doing things that will hurt us in the long run.

This is the Buddhist concept of Samsara. When we search for things that we think will make us happy, we end up suffering more and then continue to do the things that we think will make us happy. It is a cycle of suffering. Prior to reading this book I only understood this concept intellectually, but now I understand how it can be applied to real life.

In order to break the cycle we must invite our inner critic in and visit. We don't need to do anything with it but sit in awkward silence until we no longer feel awkward. This is when we can truly learn to be compassionate, not just towards others but to ourselves.

"Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others." - Pema Chödrön

Friday, June 03, 2011

Existentialism and Uncertainty

I have been feeling a little existential as of late. What is it all about? Do people who are nearing the end of their lives know? And if I can't figure it out in time, what's the point?

Then I realized something important about myself. I like checklists and schedules. Nothing makes me happier than crossing something off of a to-do list and knowing exactly where I'm going to be at any given time. I miss my job because besides the fulfillment of making a difference in people's lives, it incorporated this. From x time to y time I will be teaching, then from y time to z time I will be correcting tests and prepping for another lesson.

I need to know what it's all about so I can cross off all the things I need to do before I get to the end of my life. I would also like to know exactly where I'm going to be, figuratively more than spatially. I just can't handle all the uncertainty involved.

I think my teacher mentality works really well in the classroom and less well in real life. No matter how much I remind myself, I still can't get it through my head that life is not a test. Will I ever stop striving for that A+ and learn to go with the flow? I think it will only be possible when I learn to use my organizational strengths in a different way.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

All or Nothing

As mentioned, I am a recovering all-or-nothingaholic. It seemed to me that if I could't do anything perfectly, it wasn't worth doing at all. Either I would exercise every day or not at all. Sometimes I would be on a good streak, but then I would miss a day for whatever reason, and it would all be over.

Slowly I began to realize that something is better than nothing. It came along with getting rid of black and white thinking. Although it still plagues me now, I'm happy I have gotten better at it. Having a child only compounds feelings of inadequacy and you don't really have a choice to be a perfect mom or not a mom at all once you have a baby.

As a mom, one thing I can think of that has forced me to reconcile with this way of thinking was our decision to use reusable diapers. My first instinct was that we would ONLY ever use the reusable diapers, even when we were outside the house. My husband (whose idea it was to use reusables) said that he had no problems using disposables from time to time, and I realized I was being haunted by old ways of thinking and thought that the occasional disposable wouldn't hurt. Then my daughter was born and she wasn't quite big enough for them and for the first three weeks we used disposables. I was tired enough and it was so easy, but I despaired for all the money we had spent and gave the cloth diapers a go. And then my daughter got a very bad diaper rash, and we went back to disposables. I wanted to quit the cloth diapers and even thought of how we could possibly gain some of the money we had spent back. But then the diaper rash went away, and we gave (messy) time without any diaper at all to keep it away and gave the cloth diapers another go. We still use disposables at night and when we're out, but I've accepted that I don't have to use cloth diapers 100% of the time to make it worthwhile. Even using just one reusable diaper saves one disposable from the landfill.

I am reminded of the story of the two men on the beach. The beach was littered with starfish and one of the men was picking up one at a time and throwing them back in the ocean. The other man looked at him like he was crazy and said, "What are you doing? There are thousands of starfish! You'll never make a difference." The other man picked up a starfish, threw it in the ocean and said, "Made a difference to that one." This has always been my motto for teaching, and I should remember to make it my motto for life. Because something is always better than nothing.

"Ideals are like stars. You will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But, like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides and following them you will reach your destiny." Unknown

Friday, April 15, 2011

Great Expectations, or Much Ado About Nothing

I've come here today to discuss the future of this blog and make yet another reference to The Happiness Project. It really is a great blog; you should go and read it. I could go on to say how it's a much worthier blog than this one, and what the heck are you doing here reading this blog and in a sense it would all be relevant because that's why I'm writing this post. Mostly for myself, you see, especially since I've only got one follower at this point. Which isn't to say that I've got one reader, but still. Small digression to point out that when I started writing this blog, this "follower" business did not exist. And I had to walk two miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways. I only had one boot, because I had to share with my sister. And we used to tie an onion around our belt, because that was the style in those days. End of digression.

The thing is, when I started this blog, I also made a promise to myself that I wouldn't write unless I had something worth writing about. I have kept true to that promise, to the extent that I haven't written very much at all. But the fact of the matter is that even now, when I have a lot to say, I am not writing much.

Right now I am wondering how often I should write, which brings us back to The Happiness Project . The author was advised when she started her blog to write every day. This is part of her post on procrastination, and I get it. It is much easier to get in the habit of doing something when you do it everyday.

My problem is the opposite, I think. If I am faced with doing something EVERY day, I find that to be quite intimidating. I'm a recovering all-or-nothing kind of gal, but that's another post for another day. Besides, once I've gone through all the ideas I've been storing up for a moment when I have time to write, what would I write about?

And this brings me to my final point, and back to make sense of the earlier disparaging comments. A person cannot do anything for an extended period of time unless it is something they enjoy. Steal Like an Artist is an inspirational piece that says that rather than the tired adage "write what you know," you should really be writing what you like. So regardless of whether or not this is the crappiest blog ever and no one reads it, I'm writing for my own enjoyment. And I think there's something to be said about writing honestly about one's feelings and (trying) not to care what others think. Hey, it worked for Wil Wheaton.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Bamboo and the Fern

The story of The Bamboo and the Fern made me realize that we don't always have to be doing and growing. Sometimes it's hard to step back from life and learn to be comfortable where you are, rather than trying to see beyond the next peak.

The Happiness Project
reminds me of the paradox inherent in accepting myself and striving to improve myself. While I enjoy reflection and self-improvement, perhaps it was time to try to appreciate all the gains I have made, catch my breath and rest. It was hard to do, the same way I think people find meditation hard to do- we must always feel like we are doing something. When I was in college and university I would use public transit to get to my destinations. This involved taking a bus to the subway station. Sometimes I would walk the 20 minute walk to the subway instead of waiting for the bus, even I knew the bus would pass me on the way there. I just couldn't stand waiting, it seemed so unproductive even though waiting would have got me to my destination sooner and hence, would have been more productive.

So it is with self-improvement. It cannot be forced when the time is not right. I recently had a child, and shortly before giving birth I realized that I had a wonderful opportunity for growth. There is so much we can learn from our children and I look forward to all the lessons that my little guru has to teach me.

"All change is not growth, all movement is not forward" -Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When I Grow Up...

Sometimes I just feel like I spend the majority of my life waiting around for stuff to happen. Then it finally happens and time flies by. It's like that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when one of the 3 geeks puts this magic lint on Buffy and the world randomly speeds up on her, driving her nuts.

I remember being in elementary school looking at the big high school kids next door and wondering if I would ever be that big. In high school I wondered if I would ever have a boyfriend, especially on that Valentine's day when literally every single other person I knew was getting asked out. When I finally met a special someone, it was countdown to engagement, then wedding, then house, which is where I find myself now. In July I could hardly wait to move. Packing was such a chore; I just wanted to be done with it and be in my new house already! And now it's already mid-September. Where did those 2 months go?

Pretty soon I will be an old lady sitting on the porch of a retirement home wondering what happened to my life. I don't think I am alone in my fears, but others have been more brave and productive than I in their waiting. Julie Powell (see link) started a blog about cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She developed her blog into a highly entertaining book. I can barely scratch two sentences together to make a blog post, and my blog following is nonexistent. I suppose it would help if I posted more often. Perhaps I should develop some kind of shtick, an around the world in 80 days kind of thing. At least then I would have something to write about.

I guess part of growing up (at least in my generation) is that we're all so special. We were told that so many times that we deluded ourselves into believe we were actually going to write that novel we always thought about writing. I want to take that special feeling I have deep down inside and fling it against the wall, because then I wouldn't have to psych myself up to even write this blog and I could just go back to enjoying Solitaire and reveling in the fact that I have an 18% win average. Ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

I think everyone has that scary epiphany in their life when they realize that we don't actually grow up, we just get older. Our experiences make us a little wiser, and our wisdom makes us feel a little grown up, but deep down, we are still little children who are confident that somebody out there knows what they're doing. What we want more than anything in the world is for some cosmic force to come down and pat us on the back and say we're doing a damn good job, we're on the right track and keep up the good work!

So what are you waiting for?

"How you uh, how you comin' on that novel you're working on? Huh? Gotta a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Gotta, gotta nice little story you're working on there? Your big novel you've been working on for 3 years? Huh? Gotta, gotta compelling protagonist? Yeah? Gotta obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Gotta story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? (voice getting higher pitched) Yea, talking about that 3 years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah? (voice returns to normal) No, no, you deserve some time off." -Stewie Griffin [Family Guy]

Recommended Reading: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell