It's just a phase
Phases. They’re everywhere. The moon has phases. Fashion has phases, usually called trends. The weather has phases we label as seasons. People go through phases, individually and collectively. We even have special titles for those age-related phases most humans pass through, like childhood, young adulthood, and middle age. Zoom out far enough and humanity goes through phases en masse we refer to as generations. Take an even broader view and we have historical ages and prehistoric periods.
When I was a kid and I heard adults talk about someone "going through a phase" it always sounded disparaging. As if the only phase a person could go through was a bad habit they picked up and hadn't put down yet. Thinking about it this week, I realized that every aspect of my life is actually a phase. The good and the bad. I went through a phase when I always had a pet cat. Then I discovered I could breathe more easily without all the dander, so I entered my current phase of living without cats.
Like a lot of people, my tastes and preferences have changed over time. Not necessarily because I have grown wiser or progressed to a more sophisticated existence, although that does also happen from time to time. But sometimes I just do something differently than the way I did it before. Like all the hobbies I've taken-up, enjoyed for a while, and moved on from. Or the many iterations of my self-expression. They are all phases, some just last longer than others.
The western swath of humanity has been in a colonialism phase for the last half millennium. I'm ready for us to collectively overcome this phase, but it's going to take a lot of people doing a lot of work to get us to whatever is next. It can be difficult during a phase to imagine any other potential reality. We look at what’s happening right now and think this is the way things are, the way things have always been, and the way things will be forever. The irony of that falsehood is that humans are incredibly adaptable. That’s our number one survival technique and we employ it constantly.
Humans also have astounding capacity for imagination, unlike many other creatures. So why is it so damn difficult for us to imagine the potential of our own adaptation? There are many examples of major shifts in our collective history, like the time folks skipped 10 entire days forward to switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Or that one time we shut down much of society for months that stretched into years because of the Covid pandemic. We can definitely do drastic shifts, most of us just choose not to most of the time.
Maybe one reason is our societally reinforced practice of short-sightedness. Maybe it's the emphasis on perfection baked-in to our institutions and systems. I have definitely avoided starting some things because I wasn't sure I could get it completely right. Undoubtedly, there are many contributing factors. One important one is our perspective. As soon as we forget that what we're doing is only a phase, as soon as we start thinking the habits we have are permanent pillars of our person-ness, the higher the stakes seem and the more daunting the prospect of shifting.
There was the Julian calendar phase. Then there was the Gregorian calendar phase. Maybe we'll make it to the 28-day-thirteen-month calendar phase, whatever that will be called. We've had the north is up on maps phase. We could just as easily have a south is up phase, or an east is up phase. And maybe looking at our world from a different angle would help each of us look at ourselves from a new angle. Seeing where we are from another vantage could help us see all the places we could go.
Humanity is not just going through phases; we are a phase. There was a time before we all existed and there will be a time that comes after us. It's impossible to predict what will usher-in the next phase of the universe or when it will begin, but ultimately it doesn't matter. The universe never rushes through its phases. Stars form, burn brightly, then fade into darkness. We are each born, we live, and eventually we die.
As long as I continue to hang around on this planet, I'd like to do my utmost to select my next phases with intention. I'd like to remember they don't have to be the perfect next choice, or a permanent next choice, just a little something that moves me ever so slightly in the direction I'd like to be headed. It's easy to forget at any given moment that I'm just passing through. But it's worth pausing and looking up once in a while to find a reminder. I've had other phases, just like you. And there are many more to come. Let’s choose ones that bring us all closer to health, safety, and satisfaction.
Information and Inspiration
I did a favor for a friend without them asking because they have been overwhelmed lately and I thought it would be nice. They thanked me and asked me not to help them in that particular way in the future. I was a little bit crushed because that act was an expression of my love for them and they did not want it. It doesn't feel good for an offering of love to be unwanted. But what I didn't do in response was make it their problem. I did not insist they hear or process my feelings of disappointment in their disinterest in my act of service. I respected their boundary and talked through my feelings with somebody else.
Later in the week, I was on the other side of a similar interaction where someone offered me an expression of their love that I did not want in that moment. They did not handle it quite as gracefully and needed to tell me all about how it made them feel to have been refused. It's a brave thing to advocate for oneself and assert a boundary, especially to a person who we love and care about. Made even more difficult if the emotional consequences of asserting that boundary are that I must then also do emotional labor for the boundary-crosser.
Those back to back experiences got me thinking about access and entitlement. Many years ago when I decided to divorce my first spouse, my parents were not the first people I called. I called my best friend and I called my sibling. I needed a particular kind of support I could not have received (and didn't want) from my parents. Unfortunately, this was a challenge for my mother to understand at the time. She called me thrice upset. Firstly because I had not called her to tell her right away. Secondly because I had not confided in her all my many reasons for leaving my spouse beforehand. Thirdly that I was abandoning my relationship instead of trying to make it work.
A few years, many conversations, and a lot of processing later, I understood that my mother saw herself in my first spouse. Their similar stories of childhood trauma manifested in similar expressions of that trauma as adults. Most specifically, they both struggled to believe they were worthy of love and sought to prove to anyone who claimed to love them just how much they didn't deserve it. It is a strange and human thing to resist so completely the thing which we most desperately want in our wounded heart of hearts.
For my mother at the time, me leaving my spouse because he had finally succeeded in pushing me all the way away was alarming proof that she too could be cast aside at any moment. Confirmation that someday someone she loved might tire of being tested and leave her to suffer alone and uncomforted. And none of my mother's feelings were any of my responsibility. I am not required to reveal my inner self to anyone, even if doing so would assuage their discomfort.
No one is entitled to access my internal world. No one is entitled to see any part of my Self I do not want to show in any given moment. Any time I reveal a part of me to another person, it is a gift I offer. And that gift that can be accepted or refused because that's how consent works. Just as I am not obligated to share, no one is obligated to see or hold or appreciate any part of me or any particular vulnerability I express.
This is true for everyone. We each get to decide what we share of ourselves and with whom. And we can each change our mind any time we want for any reason, or for no reason at all. I want to share myself for my own reasons; so I may be seen in the fullness of my humanity. I don't want to share my internal world for the sole purpose of accommodating someone else's insecurity. And I especially don't want to share my authentic self to alleviate someone's discomfort when that discomfort is rooted in their own unchecked assumptions about my thoughts and feelings.
Of course as humans we relate to each other through our shared vulnerability, so it is difficult to have a close connection with someone without sharing any part of ourselves with each other. But the point is: no one else can tell you what you must share, when, or with whom. That decision is up to you. And one person sharing of themselves does not obligate another person to reciprocate. If you want to give the gift of a certain expression of your love, it has to be okay for the other person to not want that at any time for any reason.
This is a challenging concept for many folks in modern American society. Even people who agree intellectually that everyone should have individual autonomy still find it challenging to live-out that value in their lives and relationships. Probably because there's a great deal of messaging to the contrary. Just look at basically all messaging intended for or broadcast about fem-bodied and fem-presenting humans.
Just as we are not entitled to know what anyone else is thinking or feeling in any given moment, we are also not entitled to know what kind of body parts someone else was born with or currently has. We are also not entitled to understand why a person expresses their gender in any particular way. And we're not entitled to feel comfortable with someone else's gender identity or gender expression. Yet a whole lot of people think they deserve to know at a glance whether someone has indoor or outdoor plumbing and get upset when they can't tell using long-established gender norm markers.
None of those feelings are the responsibility of anyone except the person who is feeling them. People with gender expressions outside the boy-girl binary are not obligated to explain themselves. No one is required to receive your thoughts, feelings, or opinions about their clothing, hair, makeup, or any other aspect of their self-expression. It's okay to feel however you are feeling about whatever you're having feelings about. Put on your big kid pants and bring those feelings to a friend or counselor or your journal to process through them.
Media does not show us many good examples for how to hold our own feelings and avoid burdening others with them. Wednesday, the TV show, is just such an example that misses the mark. Wednesday goes to boarding school, where she meets two boys who both take a fancy to her (and dislike each other - very original). Maybe she also fancies one or both of these boys. They each make invitations, which Wednesday refuses. Then they each get mad at being refused. The boys don't get access to Wednesday's time and affections just because they want it and asked nicely, but this is a TV series so other characters intervene and cajole her into dating one or the other. It's so close to being a fem-liberationist show in a lot of ways, but doesn't quite get there.
We even have bad examples of well-meaning folks slathering their own emotional experience all over everybody else in a professional setting. Take an article I read this week about relabeling what is often referred to in the accounting industry as a "clean-up job." The author begins by explaining their personal aversion to the phrase and their regret to have created so many messes as a child which their parent cleaned-up and which they were not aware enough to be appreciative at the time.
They ask fellow accountants to choose another description for the correcting, re-ordering, and untangling work we do with a set of books in-need. They also explain at length how we are wreaking havoc by referring to that work as "clean-up." This author is bringing a lot of added emotional value to their discussion of this particular topic. It’s important to consider how our word-choice impacts others, and it’s also important to remember that not everyone experiences the world the same way we do. Be thoughtful with your language. And also, it's okay to call a spade a spade.
Feel your feelings. Express your feelings. Share your feelings. These are all parts of being human. Just please remember that your feelings are not the sacred truth of the universe. They are your experience of the world and the people in it, informed by all your past experiences and traumas and privileges and the narratives handed to us during our development and each and every day we continue to exist. Your emotions do not entitle you to access or time or resources.
I know our world does not show us how to handle our emotions with grace or understanding. We are not taught how to experience or express our feelings in a healthy and sustainable way, especially the most powerful and intense emotions. But it’s worth learning how to listen to yourself and how to explore underneath those feelings to identify what’s driving them. That exploration gets you closer to the truth of what you need and want. That clarity will allow you to honor your own autonomy and uphold your own boundaries in a way that respects the autonomy and boundaries of everyone around you. And if we all practice more of that, we all gain access to greater health, peace, and well-being.
Information and Inspiration
But what's Phase 2?
I went to a restaurant this week and hanging on the wall next to the bathroom sink was a sign that read “she believed she could, so she did.” When I got back to the table I noticed the same saying on the coffee mugs as well. On its face, it seems like a pleasant and uplifting sentiment. Empowering even. You go girlboss. Believe in yourself and you can do anything. But there was also something about it that needled at me in the background.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized what was gently tugging at my subconscious: Phase 2 was missing. That inspirational phrase tells an incomplete story. A fuller account would be something like "she believed she could, so she put in the work, and then accomplished the thing." Belief alone does not make things happen. Belief is what convinces you it's possible and worth trying, but the taking action part is what actually makes things happen.
That abridged inspiration reminded me of the underpants gnomes from the "South Park" TV show. In one episode, the kids discover gnomes stealing one kid's underpants. They follow the tiny thieves back to their gnome cave where they have amassed an enormous horde of underpants. The gnomes explain underpants are big business and share their strategic plan:
None of the gnomes can recall Phase 2, so they continue diligently executing Phase 1 waiting for Phase 2 to make itself happen. Clearly not a sound business strategy. Also not a sound life strategy. Although there are plenty of us chugging along doing the same ole, same ole waiting for something different to pop into our lives. And it's not really surprising, given all the messaging we're constantly bombarded by about how we just need to buy the right thing or look the right way or be the right person and all our troubles will be over.
I think we can take an alternate lesson from this situation. If you have an end-goal in mind, it is extremely helpful to have a plan for how you will accomplish that goal. Sometimes it's critical, even. Without a plan you may never realize your goal, or you may spend a lot more time or use a lot more resources getting there. But efficiency is not the only measure of worth, value, or success. Sometimes it's fine to jump right in to Phase 1 before you know what Phase 2 will be. There's value in figuring things out as you go.
It’s also okay to zero-in on one ingredient that really helps make something happen, like belief in yourself. Maybe you've spent a lot of time practicing all the other parts of what it takes to accomplish this kind of goal and the only reason you haven't yet succeeded is because you haven't previously included that one final critical component. The key to enjoying the process, whatever its shape or structure, is being clear about what kind of experience you are signing up for.
If you want a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience, have at it. I cannot function that way all the time because I like to plan and I value order and structure in my life and my pursuits. I enjoy the experience of goal-setting, strategy planning, evaluating progress, and seeing the aggregate of all my actions coalesce into an accomplishment. That doesn't mean it's the best way to get things done, it's just the way I enjoy the most. Know thyself.
There are also plenty of aspects of life we don’t need (or want) any kind of plan or end-goal in order to participate in or enjoy. Friendships are a terrific example of something that begins indeterminant and develops without clear initial direction. We don't know when we first encounter another human how our connection will grow or fizzle over time and amidst ever-changing life circumstances. That's part of the fun of human connections: they start with an idea and then you get to see where it goes organically.
Like friendships and relationships, it’s good to do some things just to do them, or for the experience of having done them. Like play, for instance. Humans get a lot out of play no matter who they are or what life circumstances they exist in. With play, there doesn’t have to be a grander purpose. There definitely can be, like playing a sport to accomplish a title. Or playing a game to develop a specific skill or learn more about yourself. But we don't need a reason; we can just play for the sake of play.
I think a lot of people (especially adults) forget that. I heard an interview this week with a scientist discussing his research into why humans play. He had a lot of theories about what evolutionary advantage play provided to humans at various historical points in our becoming the beings we are today. It was interesting, but it all seemed too focused on “getting to the bottom” of a mystery that's only mysterious if you assume humans wouldn't have continued to play unless it provided some quantifiable valuable to humanity. What if it wasn’t about utility or advantage? What if it was just... enjoyable? That’s valuable in its own right.
We modern humans living in societies shaped by colonialism have inherited a particular system for measuring the value of our pursuits and our selves that doesn't serve most of us terribly well. We measure many things in terms of productivity. There is much less, if any, emphasis on how much pleasure or satisfaction we derive from something, excepting whatever displays of pleasure or enjoyment we can also profit from. Which is why social media influencers exist as a phenomenon.
Capitalism makes it necessary to value some of what we do in terms of productivity at least some of the time. Which is why I have tried over the years to make money from things I enjoy. Sometimes that has worked out well and other times it just sucked the fun out of an otherwise delightful pastime. Like the time I started an alterations business and it turned sewing into drudgery instead of a fulfilling and enjoyable way to participate in capitalism. I'm grateful to have settled into a reasonable truce with my current business: using a mix of skills I enjoy and skills I perform well to accomplish mostly meaningful work.
I would love to spend more of my time doing things that bring me joy without having to also consider whether all the bills will get paid. I think we all would. And what amazes me is that we absolutely could. There are plenty of resources in the world and the math checks-out. We could all have healthcare and education and housing and food. We just need to rearrange what we value, how we value those things, and assert the will to make it so. That's humanity's missing Phase 2: tax the ultra-mega-wealth-hoarders and Phase 3 can be taking care of everybody else.
Information and Inspiration
You have to listen first
The last year I worked for the IRS, my team and I were surprise to learn during our annual training that our entire job had been changed, effective immediately. No warning from on-high about a coming shift, just another mandatory briefing via e-learning module casually outlining how our job was going to work from that point forward. I was so shocked when I went through it, I assumed there had been some kind of mistake. But since we were each taking the assorted courses asynchronously I was alone in my cubicle with my confusion. So I leaned over the wall to ask my neighbor.
They had not reviewed the briefing yet. Neither had most of the rest of the team. The one team member who had also seen it agreed with me about its content. So directly to the manager’s office we went. She had also not seen that one yet, but heard our concerns and told us she would watch it immediately and get back to us. I called my union president and let them know what was going down.
A couple hours later our boss called an emergency team meeting. In short, she was flabbergasted. Completely gobsmacked by the everything different we were apparently supposed to be doing starting last week. She told us to sit tight while she ran her objections up the leadership chain. Meanwhile, the union chapters were talking to each other and preparing to inform the upperist of upper management they had missed some important procedural steps.
Some while later my boss received an email titled Cease and Desist. “Oh good,” she thought, “the Union paused this madness until we can talk through the impact and implementation of such a massive change.” Nope. It was from upper-upper-upper management ordering her to cease and desist her rabble-rousing and fall in line with the changes. Good try, boss. Sorry Senior Leadership thwarted your attempt to manage in-line with the contract and advocate for your employees’ rights.
So a procedural battle ensued, management rolling back it's changes until the execution of the new job order could be formulated in accordance with our employment contract. What we learned much later (during the many-months-long union-management throw-down) was it all started because some analyst sat in their office for two years crafting a solution to a problem apparently identified from on-high. That’s not all that unusual, but the problem in this case was they didn’t ever talk to any of the people actually doing the job. Not once. No focus groups. No surveys. Nothing.
That's completely asinine. How can you solve a problem you don't understand? You can't. And yet many people and organizations try to do just that all the time. Countless NGO's are working all around the world at this very moment to solve problems they don't fully understand for other people in other places with other cultures. And it's not going very well in most cases. Afghanistan is a perfect example of America rushing in to another country to solve its problems without listening to the locals.
Statistics are wonderful and numbers can provide a lot of insight, but they are completely useless without context. And to understand context, you have to talk to the people living, working, and raising their children in that context every day. Even more importantly, you have to listen to what they tell you. Fortunately there are some great examples of folks doing just that. A doctor in Boston has been treating patients who don't have an indoor place to live for the last three decades. He has been successful in understanding his patents' needs and treating their ailments precisely because he listens to them.
There are also some scientists getting out of their labs and into the streets to advocate directly for changes they hope to create in the world. I heard a conversation this week between some of these activist scientists on the BBC program Science in Action. One person discussed the need for diversity of tactics to create lasting societal change, which is a key point. Some folks need to be holding up signs and shouting through bullhorns among the masses. And some folks need to be in the lab doing the science.
Modern society has a lot of problems that need to be solved. And as historian Hugh Ryan so eloquently explained in a recent episode of the History is Gay podcast: it all comes down to whether people are getting the care they need. People who don't have housing need care. People who are addicted to harmful substances need care. People who don't have enough to eat need care. People with medical conditions need care. Traumatized people need care.
As a societal collective, we are not taking care of all of us. Our system is not set up to do that right now, but it could be. We could restructure it and I want us to do that. But first we need to listen to all the people who need care and support when they tell us what they need. Listening to others starts with listening to yourself. Spend some time getting to know yourself and identifying the filters through which you process the world. If we all do that, maybe we can stop thinking we know what other people need better than they know themselves. Then maybe we can take better care of each other.
Information and Inspiration
One size fits none
Many years ago I took a sewing class. The focus was alterations. I learned creative and useful methods for taking garments in, up, out, and down. I also learned most commercial patterns are designed with a B-cup bust. That means if you have a larger bra size you generally have to buy a larger shirt, even if the rest of your torso does not require it. At the time, I was thoroughly offended on behalf of all humans with a body outside industry standard specifications.
I was also glad to finally understand why I had to alter every piece of non-stretch clothing I ever bought. We are all different shapes and sizes; that’s how humans work. But it’s not very practical (or profitable) for fast fashion to try and serve all body variations in every style it produces. So we end up with a default that doesn’t fit many actual people. Instead it fits the ideal body as defined by misogyny and racism. Then specialty shops pop-up to serve the rest of us who have different hills and valleys going on.
Similarly, one way to work or function in the world is not a good fit for every person. On the surface I appear to function quite well in the modern world, but it’s just because I have developed a compendium of coping strategies. Over my lifetime I have created epic work-arounds for managing in society while my brain does it’s non-standard brain thing.
In many workplaces there have been great strides to allow people to work in the ways that function best for them, especially in the wake of Covid. Unfortunately, these benefits have been mostly available to higher-earning employees. The lowly service workers we all depend on are still stuck laboring in the manner that best suits the boss. This has remained the case despite overwhelming evidence that happy workers are the most productive. It comes down to whether we think the people working those lower-earning jobs are worthy of job satisfaction. A lot of people don’t think those humans are valuable enough to take care of and that's got to change before we will see any drastic shifts in those industries.
We also cannot focus entire on our workplaces. We have to assess all areas of contemporary life. This week I saw a news story about AI generated academic papers. Students are using these AI tools to write their essays instead of spending hours slogging through the process themselves. If educational institutions didn’t require everyone to express themselves in such a regimented and particular way, maybe people wouldn’t resort to using a robot tool to build an essay to spec. Sorry Academia, you brought this one upon yourself.
These and many other issue are ongoing, but I am not completely without hope. I am grateful to see so many playgrounds redesigned with inclusion in mind. More and more cities, counties, and schools are creating spaces where kids of all abilities can participate in one of the most basic and most important parts of childhood: playing with their peers.
Overall, our present iteration of society is not designed for all people to be successful. Only people who can cram themselves into a particular society-defined shape are gonna make it. Ultimately, that’s not good enough. And that's not the kind of world I want to live in. I want everyone to have the opportunity to live their best life no matter what their body shape is or how their brain functions. We are all required in order for the majority of us to thrive. If there are not enough of us invested in each other, humanity may not even survive.
Information and Inspiration
Let's learn better lessons
After 15 tries, the Republicans finally voted-in a Speaker of the US House of Representatives. This week’s news followed attempt after attempt, each thwarted by a small contingent of extremists within the party. The very same extremists who supported last year’s run on the Capital. It’s a strange juxtaposition: marking the anniversary of that absurd and destructive attack on one pillar of US democracy while it’s champions frustrate the order of one of its institutions in the present.
The BBC covered the current unrest in Bolivia during its Business Matters program and the 1986 revolution came up during the discussion. Reflecting on that, the commentator reminded listeners “no country can take democracy for granted” This feels especially relevant to me as a US citizen. Many politicians seem to think the US government is a democracy machine. They act like no matter what inputs you feed it, the Great Machine will faithfully churn-out democracy. The reality is: it's just a government machine. If you feed it democratic parts and pieces, then you get democracy. If you feed it fascism flavored policies and practices, then you're gonna get fascism.
This is one of the many reasons it’s critically important to have strong protections for voting rights. The more participation by the electorate, the broader representation in leadership. Greater representation means more perspectives are considered when crafting policy, strategy, and building institutions. The more flavors of folks considered in building societal institutions and infrastructure, the better chances they work for greater portions of the population. And that’s the point of democracy.
The useless left-ish politicians need to stop pretending they can just keep doing what they have been doing, and the rest of us need to stop pretending their posturing is doing any good at all. A better lesson to learn from Jan 6th would have been that we need to solve some real problems with how this country functions. The supposed progressives cannot wait for the approval of rural America before they start making those people's lives better. Solve some real problems and the disenfranchised MAGA people will eventually come around.
One way to definitely not do that is to alienate even more working class folks. Blocking a railroad labor strike was the opposite of helping people. And the opposite of upholding democratic ideals. It was shameful. Made even worse by the pretending that travesty of legislation was doing us all a favor. All it did was further demonstrate the Democratic party is entirely out of touch with the plight of ordinary Americans. The only winners there were the capitalists. Just like always.
That’s the same kind of mental gymnastics conservatives use to justify “protecting the unborn from abortion” and then immediately abandoning those children the moment they breathe air. Also the same as paying millions of dollars today for art made by dead artists who couldn’t make a living from their art while they were alive. And just as back-as-wards as appointing the CEO of the largest oil company in United Arab Emirates as President of next year’s global environmental symposium, COP28.
We need to learn better lessons. I remember the same kind of mistake when President Obama attempted to tackle the health care crisis in the US. I assumed it was a lost cause when the first thing they did was invite all the health insurance companies to the table to participate in building the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The point of health care is to care for the health of human beings. The point of insurance companies is to produce profit. Those are opposing goals in our current economic system. There is no way to take care of people if the institutions profiting from our un-wellness are setting up the method and mechanisms by which we all access care. It’s quite classically the fox guarding the henhouse.
But not enough people made a fuss at the time, so instead of some universal health care structure we got the ACA. Which didn’t actually solve the problem of the cost of health care. All it did was provide some government subsidies for some people to buy the overprices plans from the private insurance companies. The biggest opposition to the whole mess at the time was the wall of Republicans determined to prevent President Obama from accomplishing anything at all, no matter how much it might benefit their own constituency.
This week I heard an interview with an Italian artisan umbrella-maker. They said “To live long, you need to make long-range plans.” There’s a great deal of value in that. It often feels to me like we're taking collective actions today without considering the needs, challenges, and resources of tomorrow. When things go awry, we need to start with better take-aways. It's less important who is to blame than what we're all going to do differently going forward. If we can manage that, maybe history won't just keep repeating itself interminably.
Information and Inspiration
That backscroll, tho
The first week of a new calendar year is a nice time to reflect on the prior year and consider what I want to put-in and get-out of 2023. Thinking back on it, 2022 was nonstop full-volume in a variety of ways. It seems like a lot of people had a similar experience. For starters there was all the madness of the world, unrelenting since Covid's initial arrival almost 3 years ago. Trump supporters stormed the US capital, Covid variants lingered, the war in Ukraine persisted, extreme weather returned each season, and inflation grew.
On top of the universal chaos came the backlog of things postponed during lockdown, like the four weddings I attended and all the new babies I met (who are now toddlers). The current surging under it all was a constant feeling that the world is completely different now and it’s difficult to identify exactly how to fit into it. I just couldn't wrap my head around how to engage in this new place that looks very much like the old place but does, in fact, function in a completely different manner.
I spent a lot of 2022 trying to figure out how to rearrange my life and restructure my work to fit this new landscape. I tried some things; I got stuck. I tried some different things; I got stuck differently. I realized I needed some guidance, so I flew half way around the world to spend 10 days at a workshop learning how to un-stick myself. I made some headway and returned home with wind once again in my sails, only to be thrown off-kilter by yet another personal tragedy.
So it goes.
A great deal of what happens in life is fleeting. The ups, the downs, the churn of regularity. Even the aspects that persist occur differently as circumstances shift and change. Even long-lasting things that feel like fixtures during their time are washed-out when examined in the fullness of time. That’s one reason it's good to reminisce. It gives us perspective on how we got here and why it feels the way it does to be here now.
I was looking through old photos the other day, searching for something specific to show someone. I greatly enjoyed the journey, which included a very strong vibe of oh yeeeeeaah, that totally happened. I forgot! It was a nice reminder of all the mundane details I captured because they felt beautiful, interesting, or significant at the time. It felt grounding. That was me living all those life moments. And even after all the twists and turns of 2022, I’m still here.
Information and Inspiration
... “It’s a common psychosis!”
At least according to Dr. Greta Pinder-Schloss, the absurd character within a character in the classic (and utterly delightful) 1991 movie The Addams Family. The false doctor explains to Gomez he is suffering an affliction called Displacement. Before his brother, Fester, disappeared decades earlier, Gomez betrayed him in matters of the heart. Now someone claiming to be Fester has returned and Gomez feels guilty about the manner of their parting. Dr. Pinder-Schloss explains to Gomez he has displaced the guilty feelings and identified his discomfort as mistrust for Fester instead.
In the movie, one unacknowledged source of uncomfortable feeling is overlooked in favor of an alternate (and ultimately inaccurate) explanation. If the displacement was allowed to persist unexamined, the mis-explained feelings could not resolve. In that case, actions based on the inaccurate explanation would likely cause misunderstanding, hurt, and prolong suffering for everyone involved. A great volume of fiction exists to explore this very phenomenon, The Addams Family just happens to be one of my favorite examples.
In the real world, this is also an unfortunately common occurrence. How many times have you seen someone act-out rashly in response to the reason they think someone did something before bothering to confirm their assumptions? It happens between strangers, it happens among family and friends, and it describes a lot of modern political rhetoric. Republican politicians have become quite well-known for accusing political rivals of horrific things like pedophilia while excusing actual, known acts of pedophilia perpetrated by fellow party members.
This is part of the problem with conservatism: if you're in it, you can't make mistakes. So if you do err, it better a) not have happened, or b) be someone else's fault. That leads easily to an awful lot of displacement. It also means it's impossible to learn from any failure or to grow in any way. It's also very difficult to actually solve any actual problems, which could explain why they keep manufacturing new problems to solve instead of tackling the ones that already actually exist.
I am personally committed to owning all my mistakes because they are part of me whether I acknowledge them or not. I would much rather be acquainted with all the parts of my self than expend the mental and emotional effort to pretend the pieces I'm not proud of don't exist. I also want to give myself the gift of being in-process. I don't have to have it all figured-out flawlessly because I'm still working on it. I'm continuously working on becoming a more whole and complete me. This practice doesn't mean I am free of all displacement tendencies, but at least I am more likely to recognize when it's happening.
In fact, this week I experienced an altogether different kind of displacement. Last week my partner and I were out of town visiting family. Mid-visit, my partner came down with Covid. We came home and they isolated in our bedroom, feeling awful. I took my still-packed suitcase to the office and set up camp with the guest bed situation. I made soups and teas and cared for my sweetie from a distance. Their illness and isolation are a challenge for them for obvious reasons. The whole experience has also been a challenge for me in ways I wasn't expecting.
I can't bedroom in my own bedroom. I can't bathroom in my own bathroom. I can't office in my office (as it has temporarily become my bedroom). Everyone else in the house has to reschedule their laundry since there is now a person sleeping above the (very loud) washer and dryer. We postponed our Xmas celebration a couple days, but my partner was still not fully recovered so they still had to open presents with us by video. And all the ordinary life things still need to occur, even though nothing can happen in an ordinary way.
I have been feeling displaced in my own home, and without my usual life anchors for support through the stress. That feeling seems to be going around. A lot of the people I talked to this week are experiencing upheaval. Some physical, unable to be in places they usually occupy. Some mental, unable to find solitary space in a house abnormally full of holiday visitors. Some emotional, unable to avoid reminders of prior painful moments amidst all the holiday traditions. It's a time ripe for displacement.
As of 2022 has been full of chaos, unknowns, and upheaval. As it comes to a close, please remember to take care of yourself. If you can resolve whatever displacement you may be experiencing by yourself or with support, please do. Give yourself the gift of starting the year running away from yourself a little less. Embrace wherever you are mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, professionally, and geographically. That's the first step. Then you can review it all and decide if and how you want to make adjustments for 2023 and future.
Information and Inspiration
I have many hobbies, activities, and practices I enjoy, but I don’t do all of them all year round. In the summer I like camping. I’m not excited about camping when it’s too wet or too cold, so that’s off my radar during early spring, late fall, and all of winter. I love sewing and baking, but they are inherently indoor activities so I get excited about them in fall and winter and pay them no mind during spring and summer when the outdoors is most inviting.
This week I took a martial arts class in a style new to me called White Crane Silat. The instructor offered a reminder to embrace the natural rhythm of what I’m seasonally drawn to and rest-in to those urges. It’s winter time right now and I feel drawn to slower, cozier activities. I don’t want to work at a break-neck pace, cramming in everything I can before the sudden economic marker of year-end. I’d rather wind-down gently and ooze across the date line into next year.
We don't all have the option to control the pace of our work, and we often cannot control the pace of our life, so it feels important to take advantage of whatever moments I am able to direct. The last few years I have closed my office for the final two weeks of the year. This began partly to ensure clients got their year-end questions to me long before December 31st, partly to ensure I could accomplish the necessary year-end tasks for my business, and partly to take time off for the holidays. This year I found myself wishing I had the whole month to hibernate.
Taking any time off as a self-employed person is not easy. It involves an obscene amount of planning and preparation. And even with all the out-of-office notifications and staff working on projects while I'm away, I still have to touch-in periodically if I'm gone more than a couple days. If I don't, I will return to an unscalable mountain of email and too many to-do's. And yet, it's still worth going through all the hassle of leaving and coming back to enjoy some time away.
I wish it was as possible to put the world on pause sometimes. We get close with societally synchronized holidays. When the majority of other people are also paying more attention to family and festivities than business, it lessens the occupational FOMO and makes checking-out of work a little less inconvenient for people like me. It's also a relic of a time when human society was more aligned with natural rhythms because we had to be. A time before we had widely available technology to overcome seasonal fluctuations of temperature, light, and food availability.
Today we can turn on the heat (or the AC) and drive ourselves to the grocery store where we can buy almost any fruit or veg or grain, no matter the season. Before we could adapt the world to our whims, we had to adapt ourselves to the seasonal flow of the world in order to survive it. This year I am appreciating the holiday season as a reminder of a deeper connection between humans and nature. If we can see past the sparkle and dazzle of capitalist holiday tradition, it would probably do us all some good to embrace a little more of the natural season than many of us generally do.
Information and Inspiration
I spend a lot of intentional time in the practice of being present. Through martial arts, in my relationships, and by staying abreast of current events in the news. I do this because I'm pretty keen on reality. I want to know what's really happening. Not what version filters through the lens of my traumas and insecurities, or what I assume is happening, or what someone else wants me to think is happening, but what actually is. I want to know and understand my internal landscape as well as my local communities and the broader world beyond.
Getting in touch with what's happening internally keeps me sane and feeling grounded. We are all offered near-non-stop messaging everywhere we go in modern society, and some of those messages are unhealthy or harmful. Some of those messages come from companies that want us to buy their products and services. Some of those messages are the expression of other people's trauma. No matter their form or origin, the messages themselves are so ubiquitous we don't even notice when some cling to us as we go about the business of our daily lives.
Taking some time to peer underneath all the layers of Extra is one way I get to know the me-ist me. As I identify what has attached itself to me I can examine it, acknowledge how it served me, and decided whether I need to keep that particular piece anymore. Then I can shed the unhelpful layers I picked up along the way and in their place I can grow new practices that promote my health, peace, and wellbeing in healthy and sustainable ways.
Keeping up with the world and looking under all its layers enables me to see how we got to where we are now and identify my role in perpetuating or changing aspects of it. I can't work against racism and misogyny if I don't know where it comes from or how it manifests. And that's very important work. It's critical for each of us to understand where those toxins seep through the cracks of our daily lives and lovingly plug the holes and fill the gaps to counteract the poison.
Another important practice is checking-out from time to time. This is something I frequently forget and struggle the most to make time for. Modern life is busy busy and full full. It's healing to go slow slow and rejuvenating to visit empty empty. It’s also nice to vacation from reality by visiting a fantasy world, like reading a good book or watching a good movie. It's important to have a balance, of course. Spending more time in Fantasy Land than you spend engaging in your real life might be a sign that something in your reality needs to shift.
Escaping from the real world to avoid processing unpleasant emotions or experiences is only ever a short-term strategy. No matter how long you delay, you will have to deal with whatever life throws at you eventually. And running from those things usually doesn't make them easier to sift through later. Sometimes allowing time and space gives you the chance to grow the skills or the spirit you need to confront the darkest of the demons that dwell in your dungeon. Other times it only serves to let it grow and fester into a tangled briar patch of pain and hurt.
Ultimately, no matter how much time you spend in an alternate reality or what your reasons are for escaping, you'll probably make it just fine as long as you can still tell the difference between when you're engaging reality and when you're indulging in fantasy. There are some companies that would like to profit from blurring those lines. A tech company called Pulse9 created virtual avatars using AI technology to form an 11-member K-pop called Eternity. And we've probably all heard of the "Metaverse" by now.
I don't want to be fully immersed in my entertainment or social media. I'd like to be transported through my imagination, but I still want to feel the earth beneath my feet while I'm standing. Even some of the fantasy places I like to visit can be too much like reality sometimes. I had to take a break after watching the first couple episodes of The Expanse. The future depicted in that series is a very plausible future reality for humanity, complete with all the inequality, inequity, and bigotry present in our current systems and institutions. I enjoyed both the TV series and the book series immensely, but it didn't count as an escape.
The same was true when I tried to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It takes place in a more or less contemporary timeframe, but there are witches and magic layered on top. Unfortunately the story also includes some horrific misogyny in the halls of witchy power. There’s plenty of gross patriarchy bullshit in the real world, I don't need it in my fantasy as well. Sometimes I just want a story where femm humans exist and they have autonomy and agency that isn't under constant threat from the patriarchy or whatever other shitty problematic thing that assaults me every day in the real world.
This week I wanted to escape to the Land of Holiday Spirit. Sunday night I was already over the idea of work before the week even started. All I wanted to do was spend this week sewing, crafting, baking, watching Xmas movies, wrapping presents, and listening to Xmas audiobooks and Xmas music. I had deadlines so I worked anyway, but I didn't want to. I am fortunate enough to be able to take the next couple weeks away from work so I can swim in whatever waters my imagination creates. Then I can check back in to the real world a little more rested.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.