The unexpected social situation

I have a theory. A two-part theory. The first part of this theory goes something like this: “People approximately my age and younger do not like to be drafted into unplanned social situations.” The second part of this theory goes: “The reason we don’t like these unplanned social situation has to do with the role that the Internet and cellular technology plays in our lives.” Because we became adults just as the Internet and cell phones were becoming dominant in our culture (or for people younger than me, because the Internet and cell phones have been prevalent their entire adult lives), we primarily negotiate our social lives through these media: we interact and make plans through the web and through texting and social apps, which adds a layer of remoteness to our communications. Rather than having in-person or (if on the telephone) at least real-time discussions about plans, we are able to cushion our response times, allowing ourselves the luxury of really controlling where, when, and whether we interact. The cushion of space, the bubble of isolation, has become an expected aspect of our socialization. We like the control over our lives and our schedules that it gives us. We like the space. For introverts (which I mostly am), we like the mental preparation it allows.

WE HATE TO BE DROPPED IN ON.

Contradict me if you will, but I really think I’m on to something here.

This has all been precipitated by the fact that I got a call from a family friend this morning saying she’s in town and wants to see me today. This puts me in a panic, and my insides are all, “NO NO NO NO NONONO!!” Not only does this mean I have to put off doing some other things I had specifically planned to do today, and not only does it mean I have to suddenly and quickly clean the house, but it means I have to be mentally ready to interact with a person who is not in my immediate circle, and that is the worst thing of all. And it’s not like I don’t want to see her; I do! I just…need….time…to prepare. GAH!

 

Taking comfort in platitudes

Currently, a friend of mine’s husband is going through a medical emergency. As he is battling, I am part of a texting conversation that includes updates from my friend’s mom. Now, aside from, obviously, being very concerned about my friend’s husband’s situation, which I will not dwell on here because I do not think that is fruitful, I am finding it interesting seeing how people react to a grave situation. We have all seen it before, all over facebook, emails, and other sources of communication: discussion of prayers, thoughts and hopes, and, so often, platitudes.

Oh, how I haaaaaaaate platitudes. (And I see I am not the only one). I guess I hate them primarily because they divert our attention away from reality, and give a false sense of comfort through the appearance of truth (because things become true simply by virtue of being repeated over and over, right?). They are born of mental laziness. They reveal an unwillingness to truly trudge through a problem and embrace its complexity, opting instead for a fatalistic relinquishing of control over our own lives. This is why, when people respond to our own misfortunes with platitudes, we sense that they don’t really care, though they are specifically trying to communicate that they do. Honestly though, it’s the mental laziness and fatalism that I hate more than anything, because the use of platitudes SHUTS DOWN AVENUES OF COMMUNICATION. They encourage us to stop wrestling with life’s problems, to give up control over how we solve them. They allow us to seek refuge in that which is comfortable, rather than that which is true. They presume to present universal answers, when in fact real solutions are always rooted in context.

So please, next time: let’s all just shut up with the platitudes.

(Re(re(re)))constructing the Self: New Media, Professionalism, and the Online Persona

Edit: wow, that title absolutely reeks of Academia. And after all my attempts to shrug peel scrape it off me, too.

Lately I’m wrestling with a new problem: how to navigate and negotiate a public, professional self. Since deciding to get serious about my career transition, I have taken steps to create an online, published presence, but without being wholly conscious of it, I have been struggling to define and limit who my online self will be. This is being made much, much harder by the ways that new technologies are trying to make it “easier.” Google (fuck you, Google), for example, keeps trying to connect ALL MY THINGS. As if I want my email address and all the associated random accounts I have created over the past 12 years to be part of my present public persona! I mean, seriously, way to put your own homogeneous, advertising-based needs above my personal needs, Google. The headache process of extricating and forwarding and new-account-making and disassociating is ongoing.

While every professional person, to some extent, probably has to go through this at some point, Continue reading

Apologies

I have always known, vaguely, that I suck at apologies. And I know that that is a terrible thing to be bad at, if I want to be good at relationships.

The problem is that true remorse is required for a real apology, and that acceptance of wrong-doing is required for true remorse. Here is where I always fail, because, while I absolutely can regret that a situation happened, and can wish that I hadn’t contributed to the situation, I can never seem to bring myself to acknowledge that I was wrong. Let’s look at an example:

Last night it was getting late, but my uber-busy husband (Bear) was sitting up, doing after-hours coding for work, as he has been doing most nights for weeks. I went up to take a shower, and when I came down to get him, I didn’t notice that he was particularly focused on a problem: I chatted at him, and he snapped at me. I was taken aback, and annoyed at being treated in that way, but on the other hand I understand that feeling of being interrupted while I’m concentrating, so I decided to just leave him alone, a bit coldly. My reasoning was that I would give him the space he needed and not pressure him to come upstairs, but also let him realize that he had hurt me. Punish him by giving him too much of what he wanted, if that makes sense. (Now, don’t hate me or think that I’m super cruel. I’m just being really honest here; I know I can’t be the only one who lets my emotions guide me to commit small cruelties towards the ones I love most.) But Bear immediately recognized he had hurt me, and he apologized. Not ready to forgive him just yet, I said it was okay, and made to leave. He decided then to come upstairs with me, and over the next half hour as he was getting ready for bed, I could tell that he was really sorry. At this point I was well over it, but he apparently couldn’t forgive himself unless I formally forgave him, which I did (which was, ironically, hard for me to do, not because I didn’t forgive him, but because it was barely enough a kerfuffle to require an “‘I’m sorry.’ ‘I forgive you.'” to begin with).

Afterwards, as I lay in bed thinking the matter over, I considered what would have happened if the situation had been reversed. As it has been, many times. I am most definitely not above snapping at my husband if he interrupts me. But I think I am much more grudging in my own apologies, because, it seems to me in the times when it has happened in the past, that I was not truly at fault for snapping. Unlike in last night’s situation, where (in my mind) I appeared as a hapless victim who could not have known that I was interrupting, in past situations when I have snapped, it was because it was deserved; the interrupter should have known, should have been able to tell, that I was busy. Somehow I cast myself as the victim when I am both the snapper and the snappee.

So, I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it too: I am a horrible, self-centered bitch! I have no empathy! I think the universe revolves around me, and I fart rainbows! Well, I know, logically, that this is not true (except for the farting rainbows part; I totally do that). I do feel empathy for people, all the time, but the problem comes when I have to choose between feeling empathy for someone else and seeing myself as being wrong. And finally, we come to my point: I have lived my entire life in fear of being wrong. Being wrong is BAD. If I am wrong, ever, it means I am not pure, not good, and there is no hope for me.

Other people can be wrong; I can accept them and love them in all stages of rightness-and-wrongness. They can be flawed and lovable all at once. BUT NOT ME. Deeply ingrained within my psyche is the message: “If wrong once, wrong forever and rotten to the core and unworthy and unlovable and nononono this cannot be; therefore, never wrong.” I live my life walking a tight-rope of rightness above of drop-off of wrongness. (And I’m not talking righteousness versus sin; I mean being right; always having the correct answer and the correct response, never making a false move or acknowledging that I don’t know something.) But if I cannot accept that I can be wrong, then I cannot truly accept responsibility for my actions. I cannot truly feel remorse. My apologies cannot truly be sincere.

This is not to say that I do not recognize when things go badly, and try to change my behaviors in the future; I do. But I tend to think of it as “avoiding getting into a similar situation,” which involves modifying my behavior, but not really admitting that I was at fault. I understand this is complicated and probably somewhat psychotic, but I am writing this all down here because I don’t think it’s all that rare. I think this might be typical, actually. The major religions teach us that, in theory, “all humanity is flawed,” but at the same time they tell us “SIN IS BAD DO NOT SIN LOVE THE SINNER HATE THE SIN.” It’s an untenable, impossible-to-live paradox. And I have so, so, so much internalized guilt from my Catholic upbringing. And on the other hand, we have the Perfectionist personality, which is also who I am. Perhaps this stems from a religious upbringing, too. And the paradox is this: How can I be perfect if I am flawed? But I MUST be perfect.

I honestly think that many people are like me in this. And I think that we, those of us who cannot acknowledge and forgive ourselves for not being perfect, NEEEED to wrestle with it. We need to strip down to our skivvies, to our souls, and grapple on the floor with the reality of our imperfection. We need to take down the layer of false pride that forces us to hold ourselves apart, but I mean for real, not just in a fancy show of “I’m so human; I’m so flawed” repentance. We need to force ourselves to confront our imperfection, not as an excuse, but as a way to see the real people that we are, the real impact we have on others, every day. Only when we do this can we make better human connection. Only when we can say “sorry” and mean it, every time.

I think this one quality in my husband, above everything else, is what makes me love him more than anyone else on earth; he is truly generous with his soul. I have tried for years to emulate him, but somehow I haven’t yet succeeded. I will keep trying.

Diagnosis

The first half of this year has been really strange for me. I started with an extreme boost of motivation and energy, but at some point I took a sudden dive into what, I see now, is a deep depression. I know, vaguely, that this is a pattern that I have repeated often through my adult life, but the blogging (here and elsewhere) that I’ve resumed this year has given me access to a new analytical tool; in my previous “life” as a LiveJournaler more than 10 years ago, I had the words, but not the perspective of time, but now that I have both, I am beginning to understand myself in new terms. The term, specifically, is Bipolar II disorder.

What I want to talk about today is not myself, but the concept of diagnosis. You see, I haven’t yet spoken to a professional; I have identified myself as having this disorder only through self-diagnosis. I know, I know, that is no kind of diagnosis at all.* In a later entry, I will discuss specifically why I feel this diagnosis is apt, but first I want to talk about why a label is important to me. I do not want a label to excuse myself. I absolutely do not want a label in order to gain access to any sort of “benefits.” I do not want a label to define me, or limit me. What I want is a label that will liberate me and provide me with an analytical lens to help me deconstruct and construct myself.

People often lose sight of what labels are for, I think. People naturally want to use them to bind: to ensnare, capture, and preserve, because people naturally do not like change. I think we often would prefer to be the only free agents in an otherwise stagnant world (or at least a world that does not change except at our behest). We wield labels like lassos and cages, and in this way they are dangerous. Labels under the banner of Science can be doubly dangerous, because, societally, we have a fear and respect for Science that is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what scientific inquiry does. (And even if we know this, cognitively, the social capital granted by the badge of Science is kind of inescapable. We can know that, just because something is based on science, we shouldn’t consume it uncritically, but for lack of time and interest, we often do anyway.) Scientific inquiry is descriptive and investigative, rather than proscriptive; because of this, scientific findings are never complete, and they are always the servant of reality. As in Biology, Chemistry, Anthropology, and all the “-ologies,” science provides tools for inquiry. Scientific findings are like a network of scaffolding that allows us to look at our subject from new, and increasingly fruitful, perspectives, but they can never, ever, constrain their subjects.**

And so, clinical psychology and psychiatry. Whatever label I be given or not given, I am the living subject. I will not be bound by symptoms: I do not want to edit my personal history so as to fit a prescribed set of symptoms; I want the list of symptoms to be better understood because of me, my behavior (and others like me). I believe that my behaviors exhibit the discovered symptoms of Bipolar II, but I am not married to that specific diagnosis; while the understanding of the disorder itself will continue to change as more is learned, I will continue to be myself. Perhaps the label will be merged with another label in a few years, or maybe this one label will get divided into several distinct diagnoses. But so far, this label has helped me understand a part of my behavior that I had not previously recognized as pathological and potentially destructive. I think that with this new understanding, I can better control the behavior, and, I hope, channel it productively (or at least mitigate its destructive capacity).

 

*And yes, I do plan to speak to a therapist. For the second time in my life. I have a lot of trouble speaking about myself; I start to feel really silly. Even writing about myself is hard, because I can’t shake the feeling that I’m taking myself too seriously.

** Linguistics is the study of living language, where the natural manifestations of human expression are complex, ever-changing, and biologically-based; the science of linguistics seeks to understand natural language by describing and analyzing these manifestations, but linguists must always be behind the reality of language use. Rhetoric is the study of written and oral communication, but the subject of this study, the methods we choose to communicate, pre-exist Aristotle or even the Sophists; like language itself, rhetoric is also a naturally-occurring phenomenon of human communication. The language sciences present a particularly interesting scenario because we are all native, “expert” users of our first languages, and yet we are taught about our language through the filter of scientific terminology and classification (rules of grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, definitions, etc.). While we are all instinctively and intuitively experts of our native languages, those of us who excel at accessing it through the technology of writing, for example, receive a great amount of cultural credit; this illustrates my point, on a basic level, of our tendency to respect “science” over the living subjects of scientific study. And yet the reality is that rules of written language, definitions, etc., are always changing based on use. Since the invention of the printing press provided the means and the incentive to (give in to our natural love to) codify language, this evolution has slowed, but it has in no way stopped, and until English becomes a dead language, it will continue to evolve based on use.

Too Much Information

Sometimes I think I am just not equipped to deal with modern life. Social media and the Internet completely overwhelm me. Too many thoughts and ideas, too many possibilities, become too many obligations, too many failures.

Can’t we go back to 1993? I mean, sure, I’ll definitely keep the social progress we’ve made since then, but I can totally do without ubiquitous smart phones and Internet and texting and Twitter and 24-hour news updates. And it’s not just that I don’t want these things for me, it’s that their presence has fundamentally changed the way the world works; even if I were to choose not to participate, I would suffer from my lack of connection. There is no going back.

Is it just me? Sometimes I feel I am dying a slow, slow death by drowning. Drowning in too much information (hey, like the Duran Duran song! Maybe we need to go back further than 1993…).

In Concert

Humanity is like a huge orchestra playing in concert, only the violins are following one conductor, the cellos are following another. The tubas and flutes are engaging in a personal feud with a long history, and the bassoons are casualties. The clarinets are pretty sure the real conductor is hiding behind the stage curtain, and are taking their cues from the wind. The violas are experimenting with compound rhythms, and the piccolo is only playing every third written note. The trumpets have taken a stand on tuning to 400Hz. The trombones have misplaced their scores and are attempting to improvise. The oboes are wearing earplugs, in a misguided attempt to hear themselves better. The saxophones and french horns are attempting a duet, while the piano is co-opting it into a round. The result is cacophony.

If only we would comprehend our own natures, understand our place within the whole, and accept the reality of others. If only we would listen to ourselves, we could make beautiful music. No conductor needed.

(Not trying to be cheesy or fanciful or trite, here. Was just lying back, awash in emotions over news and the world and the Hate Machine, feeling powerless and empty, and wishing it could be so easy.)

Daily Prompt: Healthy

Ugh. Healthy. A word I have grown to despise.

Too often, it gets brandished as a weapon of absolutism. People who seek to put others down and lift themselves up by comparison attempt to mask their intentions by wielding the word euphemistically, or by dressing up their criticism as concern: “Is that candy bar really good for you?” or “Oh, no sugar in mine, please. I’m trying to be healthy.” (These are pretty benign examples, though). Usually having to do with weight, food, and exercise, the idea of what’s “healthy” has become a convenient shorthand for summing up a person’s worth. Let’s imagine some scenarios:

  • On Instagram, or Facebook, etc., images of doing something that requires physical exertion, such as hiking, biking, running, or home improvement, possibly accompanied by a caption that emphasizes how healthful the activity is: a classic digital identity marker that screams, “LOOK AT ME! I IS SO HEALTHY DON’T YOU WISH YOU WERE AS VIRTUOUS??” Now, granted, some of us hike or bike or run and just want to occasionally share that part of ourselves digitally. Fine. But usually you can tell when someone’s playing it up to emphasize how HEALTHY they are.
  • You’ve lost a bit of weight, and people start telling you how “healthy” you look. Mmhmm, it’s obvious what’s going on here, no *wink, wink, nudge nudge* needed. When weight is equated with health, we have a problem. Perhaps you have lost weight because you’ve gone on a starvation diet: is that healthy? The truth is, there is no absolute idea of “health” as represented by body shape and size, and therefore no one has a right to use this as a judgment of someone’s health.
  • A food product is advertised as “healthy.” Different people have different metabolisms, engage in different activities, and have different nutrition needs. Also, just as people engage in sex for pleasure, as well as procreation, people eat for pleasure, and not just sustenance. The overwhelming (and misleading) emphasis on defining food as absolutely “healthy” or “not healthy” creates and reinforces a food morality that does nothing to promote actual health.

When used as a relative term, in specific situations, “healthy” is a fine word. But I firmly believe that it’s a personal word. NO ONE other than you, and those you have explicitly authorized (such as your doctor when it comes to strictly medical health, or your close friends and loved ones to whom you have opened up), has the right to tell you what is or is not “healthy.” We should not be intimidated by this judgmental concept of health, we should not give in to health absolutism, and we should be mindful not to perpetuate this toxic form of “morality.”

Edit: came across this article and thought I’d append it here; basically a much-more researched and thought-out discussion of this topic and totally worth the read.