Perspective

This past week I got sick.

The sickest I’ve been in a good long while. Hello, gross snot-head-and-trust-me-you-don’t-want-to-know-the-rest.

It offered a much needed slap in the mucus-creator about my perspective as of late.

Doing academic work of any kind can force you to question your place on this planet, but I find PhD applications to be their own special slice of hell.

“Tell us in 500 words how you will successfully complete 6 years of work, exactly what you will research like a superhuman research-gnome, and how it will CHANGE THE MOTHER F*CK’N WORLD”

Okay…

But for serious, also decide where you want to live/force your SO to relocate to for the foreseeable future, debate the public transit/microbrewery/airport/weather with yourself, and have a breakdown about how this will impact your decision to start thinking about maybe adopting a pet.

Eventually this just forces system failure.

As Allie Brosh (aka Hyperbole and a Half) once summed up adulthood: “I did three things yesterday! Now I’m supposed to keep doing things? It’s like the things never end!”

In my Nyquil-riddled state, I read The Night Guestwhich bends and twists in the realm of magical realism and psychological thriller (extra fun dreams on the ‘quil). It forces the reader to question what is real, what is of value, and how we can tell the difference.

The headstrong caregiver, Frida, reminded me of my more stubborn aspects: “But this was Frida’s way: it was impossible to surprise her. She would rather starve then be caught off guard; she had said so one more than one occasion.”

I strive to be more lithe and flexible with life’s surprises, but I understood all too clearly the need to categorize, solve, and tick off each aspect of my life and future.

I also indulged my YouTube addiction and caught up on some videos. I often enjoy Vlogbrothers videos, and this one seemed to speak directly to me: “You can’t know what an experience will mean to future you until you are future you.

On the mend after a few days in bed, I spoke to my randomly-selected-freshman-year-roommate-turned-good-friend who said these words to me: “You just have to do the now, and worry about the rest later. Much later.”

Alright universe, I get it.

Johari Window

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“Prompts for the Promptless” is a weekly prompt link up, focused on sharing perspectives and expanding minds. 

Introspection: one of my favorite pass-times.

Whether deriving from natural self-centeredness or a deep desire to understand this bumbling sack ‘o guts I’ve got for this trip, I return to a variety of models and attempts at self-understanding.

This week, the challenge is not only to see what I perceive about myself, but to also see if I can intuit what others see as well. It’s almost tailor-made for the theme of my blog!

The Johari Window exercise is rooted in cognitive psychology and prompts the individual, usually as part of a group, to take a list of adjectives and choose a few that lie within each category, or “perspective”:

  1. Open area: The things that you know about yourself, that others also know about you.

  2. Blind area: The things you don’t know about yourself, but others know.

  3. Hidden area: The things you know about yourself that others do not know.

  4. Unknown self: The things no one knows about you.

At first instinct, I’m going to assign some adjectives to each group for myself:

Open area: The things that you know about yourself, that others also know about you.
                    Able, Confident, Extroverted, Independent, Organized, Self-Assertive, Smart

Blind area: The things you don’t know about yourself, but others know.
                    [This one is hard…] Proud, Tense, Brave, Dependable, Friendly

Hidden area: The things you know about yourself that others do not know.
                    [Also hard, pretty open…] Accepting, Sentimental, Self-Conscious

Unknown self: The things no one knows about you.
                    Some of the adjectives that were not applied to me: Adaptable, Calm, Cheerful, Clever, Energetic, Giving, Powerful, Reflective, Logical, Loving, Shy, Spontaneous, Warm, Wise, Witty

Some first reactions:

1. I was much more apt to put negative connotations in the “Blind” area regarding the perception others have of me.
2. I do still feel like a pretty open, self-reflective person – I don’t “Hide” much.
3. I do want to do this in a discernment or close-knit group.

It would be phenomenally interesting to do this as part of a group – seeing which areas overlap in description, and where are powerful areas for breaking down my/our facades vs. letting our real selves rule.

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

~Carl Jung

Express Yourself

Often for those around me, not knowing my opinions on something is like trying to ignore the butts in a twerk video.

I also don’t have a problem repeating it five different ways until you get it, either.

By the way, I’m also totally right.

This hubris is most likely why I’m drawn to the academy (I love me a good soapbox), blogging (self-indulge much?), and public speaking (everyone look at me!).

Not surprisingly, it’s taken me a few years to arrive at the fact that this might not always be a good thing. And yet I still don’t really know how to shut my mouth.

This personality trait has gotten me in a bit of hot water in some work/relationship/public situations, but if I’m really honest I wouldn’t change it.

However, the difficult growth I’ve experienced and been exposed to – whether by my friends, family, or clients who find themselves homeless, abused, new arrivals in a strange country, or imprisoned – have all forced me to work on the opposite side of the coin: forgiveness and listening.

To value the interchange I am allowed to have with others when they choose to share their deepest convictions and most difficult times with me. To not only provide forgiveness and understanding to them, but to ask for it when I inevitably stick my stinky foot in my too-large mouth.

To remind myself again and again to really listen and respond thoughtfully – even if I completely disagree.

To provide the people I encounter with the grace that I have so often been offered in my most challenging times.

But, no matter what, I will always express myself.

[As a special bonus – my favorite “Express Yourself” creation; one of the only visual depictions of New Orleans that actually feels a lot like what I did when living there. Fair warning: Butts. Lots. Of. Butts.]

***

My creation for “Express Yourself,” today’s Daily Post Challenge. Other participants include:

Neverwhere

I just earned (a bit belatedly) another patch of nerd-cred: I read my first Neil Gaiman.

Neverwhere was a blast to read, and I just couldn’t put it down. Makes sense, as it is also a BBC miniseries.

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As our hero, Richard, weaves his way deeper into the otherworldly London-below, he is accompanied by a cast of characters bursting with such imaginative depth that they exceed the strictures of the book itself.

This is one of the aspects that makes this book such a treat – the thoroughly textured, intricate and bizarre secondary characters suggest a fully realized world, although we only get to view a slight portion. One of my favorites was the abbot that Richard meets in what becomes his quest:

“So, the day became one of waiting, which was, he knew, a sin: moments were to be experienced; waiting was a sin against both the time that was still to come and the moments one was currently disregarding. Still, he was waiting.”

Richard is drawn into this world by Door (not the thing, but a person), who he finds wounded on a London sidewalk.

Their drama plays perfectly for the light-reading length, and is a full adventure story in a genre all-too-packed with trilogies as of late.

Also, despite the fantastical and entertaining nature of the book, Gaiman’s famously interwoven philosophic and comic ruminations shine through.

“Richard made another entry in his mental diary. Today, he thought, I’e survived walking the plank, the kiss of death, and a lecture on inflicting pain. Right now, I’m on my way through a labyrinth with a mad bastard who came back from the dead and a bodyguard who turned out to be a…whatever the opposite of a bodyguard is. I am so far out of my depth that…Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile into the place of things that are, and it was changing him.”

No matter if we’re traveling with zombies, bird-men, best friends, or a stranger, that moment of surpassing revelation, of pure presence, of transcendence of the person you thought you were, is one worth remembering and celebrating.

***

Dispatch this week to my lil bro!

Layers

I layer everything.

Sweaters, scarves, bracelets, sewing projects, paint – whatever it is, let’s add more! Over the past week, my little painting has taken on quite a few new aspects. First, a wash out of teal:

Then, after an incredible October hike, a corner of fall color:

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And some bold leaves:

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And, over the next few days, ALL THE LEAVES:

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I think we’re heading towards a fall scene, but who knows! A challenge I’ve given myself is following my heart, not my head.

I’ve left my supplies sitting out on my dining room table so I see them each time I come down the stairs. I might splash a couple dots of green on one day after yoga, or a dash of yellow before I head out to work.

So far, I love what’s emerging.

 

Clean is the New Way

This weekend was one of domestic tasks. I’m not sure what it is about the changing of seasons, but something in me is begging for a routine. For a world of order and a scuz-free shower.

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As I threw in the final of four loads of laundry, swept and vacuumed the never-ending pine needles, and listened to P splitting and stacking wood, I started to feel like my corner of the world was just a little bit more habitable.

I long avoided the super-cleaner instincts that run deep in my blood, but in the past few years my mother’s influence has caught up with me.

While I for sure do not heavy clean each week – I most assuredly do not ever polish the floor boards as was my task in childhood – I now appreciate how great fresh sheets and a (somewhat) tidy house can do for my mood.

Living working/student poor in large cities with many, many roommates increased my tolerance for grime and compromise on decor (I guess that weird skeletor painting does add something to the bonus room…), but I love having my own space.

Space where I can add P and I’s collected tchotchkes, art, books, books and books.

Where I get to decide when to do (or not) the dishes.

Although if I’m truly, deeply honest, I may also be procrastinating (oh hey, PhD applications are due in a little over a month?!?)….but look! Look at the shiny floor!

***

My creation for this week’s writing challenge: pick out the 4th and 14th words (that aren’t “the” or “an”) from your favorite blog. Drop them into this phrase:

“_____ is the new _____.”

There’s your post title. 

And, check out other participants!

Electric Lady

There’s something in the water this week.

Whatever it is, it’s making me want to shout womyn power from the rooftops. Friends of mine got to see Ms. Monae last night in concert (SO JEALOUS), and I was inspired spread the love.

I can’t explain the magnetism this woman brings to her music and art. A few years ago with her hit Tightropeknew I loved her style, mad dance skills and magnetic tunes.

“I won’t allow myself to be a slave to my own interpretation of myself nor the interpretations that people may have of me. I just live my life, and people can feel free to discuss whatever it is that they think and use whatever adjectives they feel.”

It wasn’t until her latest album, however, that I fell in love with her outlook, her groove, and her ability to mix funk, pop, and R&B standards into a whole new universe. That said, she is by no means “underground” yet she doesn’t seem to get the explosion of other artists.

I have a feeling she likes it that way – playing venues like the Roseland in my hometown of Portland, rather than soulless sports stadiums, and creating atmospheres where the weird can rule, and the dance is the master.

“Electric Ladies will you sleep? Or will you preach?”

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***
Thanks to Em for the Concert Commandments!

Lean In

I want to be liked. Who doesn’t?

But, I’ve always been “bossy.” The girl organizing everything from the playground right on up. And bossy is not niceSheryl Sandberg is the same way.

Reading Lean In was fast, rewarding and surprisingly resonant. With candor, insight and an unexpected depth of endnotes, Sandberg explores women in leadership – confirming many inequalities and struggles I know are present, but have somehow recently forgotten.

Along the way I also felt an amazing internal, visceral response to many of her anecdotes and data, putting some recent workplace run-ins in a new light.

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Being a female manager – albeit in a small town, at a small nonprofit, which is its own unique problem snowflake – I am constantly taken aback at how personal critiques of my work can be, and from surprising sources.

I’ve been called mean, too decisive (sidenote: how is that even a thing?), and downright bitchy (that one was behind my back).

Usually I can take it – someone has to drive this bus – but Sandberg’s own experiences put these slights into glaring, uncomfortable and realistic light.

Even though my feminist upbringing gave me a lens to see gender discrimination, I’ve also internalized social attitudes toward me (as a woman) and exercising my (appropriate) power in certain situations as somehow my fault. If they say I’m mean, it must be true – not that I’m just doing my job.

Through observation, I know that my employees and volunteers do not treat men like they treat me. Somehow, I am a combination threat and little child (we’ll let that one lie and chalk it up to ageism – all the isms!).

And you know what? It’s mostly by older women.

Women who had to struggle much harder in the workplace with assumptions regarding their capacity than I ever have. My biggest ally, and actually the first person to point out their behavior to me as maybe not about me, is male.

Whatever the comment, I try to brush it off, assuming I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Which is true, but this is a pretty big fish.

As Sandberg outlines, women all too often tear down other women, helping along a societal standard of few women in leadership that doesn’t really need much help perpetuating itself.

The source could be a co-worker, friend or boss, but violating stereotypical visions of women (subservient, ever-helpful, pliable, etc.) usually backfires. “For men, professional success comes with positive reinforcement at every step of the way. For women, even when they’re recognized for their achievements, they’re often regarded unfavorably.”

And often, the backlash really hurts. Sandberg tries to transform this into an empowered moment: “[I allow] myself to feel upset, even really upset, and then move on – that’s something I can do.”

She doesn’t encourage ignoring these feelings, but recognizing them as real, valid – but ultimately with no bearing on our internal and external ability to succeed.

Sandberg is reaching toward a future where anyone and everyone is truly empowered to live out their own choices, not to feel pressured one way or another by a specific experience or structural limitations (Did you know there’s pregnancy parking at Google because of Sandberg? I do. She mentioned it like five times).

“True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed…Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection. This shift is good news for women, who often feel obliged to suppress their emotions in the workplace in an attempt to come across as more stereotypically male. And it’s also good news for men, who may be doing the exact same thing.”

Sandberg freely admits that her perspective is one of privilege, and I scoffed out loud when she thanked Oprah for her texts in the Acknowledgements, but her insight was invaluable to me.

Just as she outlines, I too want a freer, more equitable leadership model. One where little girls are validated for their assertiveness, rather than shut down; where decisive, powerful women are not written off as bitches; and where we all get rewarded and criticized equally.

I Can’t Feel My Foot

Walking up dark, 3am streets in Washington, DC, people filtered out of every door; filing quietly, quickly toward the Capitol.

Despite the small, traded smiles, I couldn’t help thinking that the mass of bundled-up bodies looked like the calmest reaction to a city-wide evacuation ever (think the complete opposite of ID4).

Running on a few hours nap after an evening spent carousing with SCU alums, I was nervously excited. And cold. So, so cold.

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A few months earlier, sitting at my desk during Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (oh Grad School, you are so useful…), I finally put my finger on the odd feeling of lightness that had overcome me. For the first time in my conscious, active, public life, I was for something. Not against. Not opposed. Not fighting to tear down.

I felt finally free to create, and as corny as it sounds, to hope. I had hope for my government, not the need to rail against it.

Just the prospect of not lying when I traveled (I’m totally from British Columbia) was exciting.

As most liberals of my age bracket can attest, the Bush years (starting when we were freshmen in high school), 9/11, the subsequent wars, the lackluster Kerry campaign of our college years, the PATRIOT ACT and all the rest, added up to a pretty demoralizing young life.

Frankly, I often felt like my efforts were as useful as mittens for a cat.

Now, over five years after that twenty-degrees-is-the-high-temp-you-have-to-be-kidding February morning, the government sits not only in sequester, but is almost completely closed.

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Despite all the political wrangling and lack of care for people that emanates from the Capitol right now, I remember how I felt that day.

Actually huddling with a literal million of my new closest friends, trying to keep warm, straining to find a good view of the jumbotron, happy for a fresh start.

I watched little old ladies cry, little girls get lifted into the air to sit on shoulders, and listened as the crowd starting singing “Na na na na, Na na na na, hey hey hey…GOODBYE” as Bush’s helicopter lifted off after the ceremony.

I hobbled back toward my friend’s apartment, resisting the urge to buy a Michelle Obama spray paint T-shirt, wondering how to keep this hope moving – to translate it to action and make changes to better our world.

While I don’t claim to have found those answers, I know that one of the most positive and powerful things I can do with my life is to be for something.

To not let obstacles, or disagreements, or even fundamental truths make me purely anti, purely against. Rather, to continue to create, even in small ways, the world I want to leave better than I found it.

And just for the record, it was so cold that my doctor told me my foot sprained itself.

***

This was my creation of “Living History” for this week’s writing challenge.

The Existential Life

” ‘Life’ is a troubling and contradictory concept.

Its metamorphic quality is witnessed in the essentialist concept of ‘life itself’ as information, in the twofold approach to life as at once scientific and mystical, in the return of vitalisms of all types, and in the pervasive politicization of life.”
– Eugene Thacker, After Life

Okay, well. Let’s just stop there, Thacker.

One of the reasons I took up writing in the blogosphere is because I honestly find stuff like this interesting. And challenging. And maybe a little annoying.

I am continually drawn to philosophy, despite its seeming inability as a field to embrace clarity or simplicity. That actually might be one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by it.

But as a person who has to, you know, live and not just talk about it, I thought I’d take a moment with this passage. I think he’s on to something really important.

“Today, in an era of biopolitics, it seems that life is everywhere at stake, and yet it is nowhere the same.”

As we (well, as science”) advances, our physical lives are studied, codified, and often extended. This also creates a trend of placing politics and issues onto human bodies; to which women/queer/non-binary will shrug and say…duh.

Many of these topics are placed on living bodies in an attempt to explain and understand existence overall.

To be able to point to an object and say – this is exactly that. Done. Don’t we all feel better with such concrete definitions?

Thacker, however, is indicating how short this assessment falls. Life is too various, too mysterious, and yes even too “mystical” to name by science alone.

“…at another level, in our scientific worldview, it seems that life is claimed of everything, and yet life in itself is nothing. While biologists continue to debate whether or not a virus is living, the advances in genetic engineering and artificial life have, in different ways, deconstructed the idea that life is exclusively natural or biological.”

As an academic, Thacker is steeped in sci-fi and technology as well as philosophy. He sees the problem reaching beyond humanity into everything deemed to have “life.”

Life, when applied to everything, begins to lose its meaning. This adds a further wrinkle, wherein we not only have political and societal issues placed on our physical selves, but that very emphasis begins to devalue our individual lives. If everything is alive, what makes us different?

Essentially:

“We also live in a time in which events at the micro-level are also events at the macro-level: the increasing frequency of global pandemics and the prevalence of natural disasters are events that are at once local and global, molecular and planetary.

While human beings or human groups are obviously involved in such events, there is also a sense in which such events are beyond human comprehension.

In short, life is human-centered and yet unhuman-oriented.”

With seemingly constant, large-scale violence, trauma, disaster and struggle, bodies and lives are again lost amongst the “event.” Suffering is written off as beyond grasp, and therefore, somehow, unimportant.

Herein lies our challenge. To reconnect with our own vision of life. To value our humanity as at once uniquely individual and amazingly communal. To challenge the forces that work pretty hard to help us forget the power of being. To not only empathize, but to act.

For me, that always begins with conscious thought, intention and reflection. Although I’m pretty sure Thacker is not out to start a rallying cry of self-examination, his constructs obviously prompted me toward it.

To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. Although, I’m off to partake of some early Friday beers, as I’m sure the over-examined life isn’t worth living either.

***

Thanks to Sean for the passage!