Day 92, with Many Yrs and Omens

I haven’t been talking much about my year omens here since arriving in Philadelphia, even though I’ve been doing them since leaving Houston. Part of it is because before, I would forget to blog. Another part of it is that it got repetitive. Butterfly, dragonfly, butterfly, dragonfly. Another part of it is that it felt self-indulgent, in the era of 44.5.

But yknow, this is a Time and a Half, and sometimes we need something small and wonderful to keep us going. So I offer this with the idea that it might be something that would lift your heart.

I was worried, this year, that not being able to go beyond my stoop during the day when people are around would mean this would be a mourning dove year, or a sparrow year, since I can see those through the window. Sure, I’ve had those before, no big deal. Butbutbut this is an iconic year, and I was hoping for something more interesting.

Cue clickbait title: “They never expected what happened next!”

Two pale lavender flowers from a leggy purple shamrock plant in a beige-pink pot

OMG IT’S A FLOWER YEAR.

This purple shamrock/oxalis is only freaking four months old. I got the bulbs in February and planted them in early March.

My typical habit is that I wake up, I give the cats some kibble so they won’t wake up Jon, and then I open the curtain so that my pile-o-plants can get more sunlight. I hadn’t even NOTICED a bloom stalk on this baby, so I was shocked as hell to see it had bloomed.

And then it kept going. This was around noon.

WHERE did that other one on top come from?

I’ve never had a flower year, because really – when you’re going outside in late spring, who can tell which flowers or plants JUST kicked off? But this one, unfurling like whoa to greet me first thing in the morning?

I admit, folks, I fucking cried.

(When it comes to tears? Gods I’m easy.)

Here’s hoping that all my readers have amazing omens for the future to come. <3

Janus Gift #4 – Finish Reading Things

This seems like the obvious of obvious. Particularly for a writer and avid reader. But I have about 12 books that I literally don’t want to finish – some I’m only halfway through. It’s not because I don’t like them, either – quite the opposite! I don’t want to finish them because then the story is OVER or PAUSED FOR YEARS and I don’t get any more progress of these characters I’ve so quickly grown to love.

That sounds weird. But it is true.

When it comes to my entertainment, I am character-focused. I’ll forgive a lot of plot fuckery if the characters’ arcs feel true. I will forgive odd/contrived/trope-filled/what have you choices up until the moment where I feel that the characters would NOT make these choices and would NOT move the plot in that particular way. (The Battlestar Galactica reboot is an example of a show for which I let a lot of stuff slide up until a fave character did something WAY unusual.) I’ll even enjoy stuff that is objectively horrible as long as I buy the characters.

The flip side of this is that if I really adore the characters, I don’t want to leave their stories. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it happens often enough that I have a little collection of books I haven’t finished. Sabaa Tahir’s “A Reaper At The Gates” is a terrific example. Laia and Helene, holy CRAP. I have been loving this rich, gorgeous series and I don’t want this 3rd book to end. (Even though I know there’s a 4th book, I STILL don’t want the 3rd book to end.)

But I also really want to know what happened. And the avid reader part of me deserves that sigh of satisfaction at the end of a story well-told.

So I am working on being okay with things finishing. I have promised myself I’ll complete “Reaper at the Gates” and N.K. Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth…”

…and hopefully I’ll get enough into it to be okay with reading Chuck Wendig’s “Vultures.” Which is supposed to arrive in a few days. *bites nails*

Janus Gift #3 – Language as Meditation

An orange word-bubble sticky note with purple marker writing on it meant to indicate a language with no consonants or vowels are being recognized by the listener

An orange word-bubble sticky note with purple marker scribbles on it

I used to be very good at soaking in new languages, though I definitely needed a teacher to help me learn*. Learning new words and how to string them together was almost an ecstatic thing for me. Even the basic concept of “new words” gave me joy, whether the new words were in my birth language or another. Words that didn’t have an equivalent in English prompted an even more intense delight, and I loved swimming in them.

At the time I was in high school, my state had standardized foreign language exams as part of the graduation process. One of the things I was most proud of was that I aced the French exam. My high school only offered French and Spanish, but once I got to college I jumped into German and had plans to learn Quechua and Malagasy, for use in the countries I most wanted to visit. After college, my first job was at a global non-profit, in which I gained a deep desire to learn Tagalog and Arabic. I also started catching on to web coding, and understood those as languages too.

Then came the height of my fight with anxiety. Not only was I enduring weekly panic attacks, but a phobia that used to be minor had blown up and was making it difficult to work. I didn’t respond well to medications, and after some exploration with a therapist I trusted, I started neurofeedback therapy.

Well, I gotta say, the therapy worked on my anxiety. I stopped having panic attacks so badly, and after a while they only came maybe once/twice a year. After a bit of the therapy, one session of talk therapy just whooshed my phobia away. Seriously miraculous.

But I could no longer learn languages, and I was rapidly losing the non-native language vocabularies I DID have. Including some of my coding knowledge.

My therapist did say that the brain’s plasticity could result in some interesting side effects, and that some people stop craving certain foods or end up losing things more often or other such interesting quirks. She wasn’t surprised when I mentioned my own side effect. But as I talked, I realized that I didn’t want the anxiety back. I’d rather lose the languages and be assured my phobia wouldn’t return.

That was over fifteen years ago.

So. Fast forward to a few months before now. I’ve gotten some clues that a certain change is afoot in my quirky brain. It’s best exemplified by something I did while shopping for pet food a week or so ago. I was reading an ingredient list on a bag of dog food to Jon, and only after a few moments did I realize I was reading the FRENCH list, translating it automatically to English for him.

*heartflip of joy*

This was after I had been noticing that when people were speaking French in movies or shows, I’d occasionally say (out loud before thinking about it) “that’s not what they said.” Another day I had a conversation with Jon about the word ‘jamais’. All when I hadn’t been able to do anything other than the most simple translations for over a decade and a half.

Therefore, I’m starting back on the path of language….but instead of focusing on regaining fluency, I’m focusing on language as a meditation. Because I seem to have access to the words when I’m most present in a moment. When I’m not thinking about it.

I’m hoping to re-access the joy I felt in new words. Regardless of whether or not I retain them.

Please wish me luck. ;)

 

* I was and am still kind of embarrassed that I didn’t learn my family’s native language until I was 19 – like I said, I needed a teacher. I couldn’t just grab a textbook and learn – something about the act of watching people speak to me solidified the words in my head better than reading or listening did.

Janus Gift #2 – Reclaim Journaling

Silver fountain pen nib on a journal page

Silver fountain pen nib on a journal page

One of the disadvantages of the digital world is that the content normally consigned to diaries and journals is now something that can be put out into the world for consumption by anyone. As someone who wrote diaries and journals avidly before my age hit double digits, I started putting my thoughts out in public back in 1995, when personal websites started becoming a thing.  I also hopped into LiveJournal fairly early, as the benefit of being able to tailor one’s viewing audience was incredibly appealing. That said, since I was talking about my real feelings and issues, I also had the bad habit of taking my journals and blogs down on a fairly regular basis, feeling like I’d said too much.

But the REAL reason I shut everything down and stopped journaling for a while was because journaling for public consumption turned out to really compound any anxiety, depression and PTSD I was experiencing.* I tried writing non-authentically for a while, talking about events but not any emotions associated. Then I tried blogging only about writing stuff, but in the end I shuttered all my regular daily journaling efforts over 10 years ago.

But I missed it. I absolutely missed it. I tried a few times to restart only to come up against some big internal walls.

Almost two years ago I attended a webinar with the incandescent Andrea Schroeder and the truly marvelous Dionne Ruff-Sloan on journaling and trusting my voice again, and I worked more closely with Dionne after that. She provided me with some prompts to use to get me back into journaling in a gentle fashion, focusing on my emotional state and what . The only problem was that it felt selfish. Unauthentic. Wrong, in some strange way. I kept starting and stopping the process because of how it felt.

So one of my gifts to myself is to work on that. To see what part of journaling feels what way, and experiment with what might feel better. Reclaim the old way of writing only for myself and my future Selves who might want to read and relearn.**

 

* I also don’t do well in group therapy situations. I go downhill FAST.
** This was an important note because I’ve often read and reread what I wrote in past journals. It has been pretty useful to see how far I’ve come and what I need/ed to remember and reinforce.

Janus Gift #1 – The Practice of Practice

A coloring book page from the iOS app Pigment - A fantasy-style drawing of a dragon holding an egg

A coloring book page from the iOS app Pigment – A fantasy-style drawing of a dragon holding an egg

One of the things about being labeled – or branded – a gifted child (GC) in the United States is that you don’t get the opportunity to fail that much. Things come naturally to you, or you learn so fast, that being BAD at something feels like a moral failing rather than a straightforward process of learning. (See the Perfectionism section of that link above.) I mean, sure, no one is good at everything. But as a GC, you feel like you’re SUPPOSED to be. After all, you’re gifted. If you struggle with something, adults around you are likely to be confused. Why are you struggling when you’re so smart? And because it feels like a moral failing, a GC’s patience level with being unable to catch on is often WAAY low, so the tactics adults use for other kids when they need a primer on something tend to feel… almost condescending.

And you know how tolerant tweens and teenagers are of condescension. *eyeroll*

As such, the whole concept of practicing something in order to get better at it? That’s surrounded with a lot of shame for a lot of GCs.*  If you don’t have a family situation that rewards experimentation, even if it results in failure, then there’s even more shame on top of that.

So yeah, as a GC with a very good memory, I was not good at practicing anything. It was incredibly stressful. As a kid I wasn’t even very good at studying. But at least with the latter, reading a book again was simple and something I generally liked doing, if it wasn’t math-based. But things that couldn’t be done with books; things that needed some muscle memory along with the mind? Horrible. Truly horrible.

My hand-eye coordination has never been good. The closest I’ve come to being good at anything that needed some coordination is playing piano, and even that required developing some muscle memory that was just unpleasant without my teacher right there to be encouraging. I also can’t draw or cut a straight line to save my life, and I can’t catch or hit a ball without a LOT of mental calculations involved.

Therefore, this year my first gift is to reclaim something I’ve never had before.

The Practice of Practice.

I get to do things and fail at them. Even fail dramatically. I am practicing getting better at Practice.

I’m starting with video games, specifically 3rd person point-and-shoots. I’m practicing playing characters I’m not naturally good at playing. Practicing developing patience with the dynamics. Practicing being okay with not having good hand-eye coordination and developing tactics to compensate. So far it’s been okay, though I do still sometimes yell at the screen.

I’m also practicing coloring. While I LOVE color and playing with it in various ways, coloring books are a source of a metric fuckton of stress for me. See, the same way I can’t cut or draw a straight line, I also can’t seem to color inside lines. It’s wildly frustrating to be an adult and still color like one is 6 yrs old, and not get BETTER at it as you keep going on. So with coloring books or other types of defined art, if I slipped and colored outside the lines? Perfectionism stated that the Whole Thing Was Ruined. As coloring books became more popular for adults I thought I could try again, but the same pattern emerged. I would try one image, feel like I’d ruined the image and therefore the book, then never do anything with them again.

However, the coloring app Pigment has a setting that allows me to automatically keep what I’m doing within the lines defined by the drawing, and that gives me the freedom to experiment with shading, accenting and blending… and because it’s digital, I don’t need to worry I’ve ruined a drawing I really want to keep. I can redo it as often as I want. I can undo anything I’ve done. That’s not something I ever experienced when I was a kid with paints, markers and crayons. Yesterday I made quite a few mistakes with the dragon drawing I was working on, as shown above, and still really enjoyed the process of experimenting. I was able to redo the face multiple times and still have the “ooh neat!” experience, because there was no consequence to whatever I had done. Any mistake was reversible – no paper to be stored or thrown away; no art supplies wasted.

A precious gift to someone like me. :)

(Note that I still would not be practicing coloring if it wasn’t for Jon and his Xmas gift to me. Without the bigger screen and the stylus, I’d just be tapping to add color. His gift made my own gift to myself better than it would have been otherwise.)

 

Once I get used to video gaming and coloring practice, I’m going to try to practice meditation, then something else physical. Hopefully I can get better at having fun at something, even if I’m not good at it. That’s the aim for this gift – to learn how to practice and have fun at the same time.

 

* Don’t take my word for it – there’s lots of folks out there who write about Gifted Child Syndrome, though each person who writes from their own perspective as a GC has a different frame for it. Feel free to Google it.

2019 Gifts to Myself, a.k.a. Janus Gifts

Some people make resolutions. Some people set goals or intentions. Some people want fresh starts. It’s all kind of the same principle – folks generally want change for the better, and a new year is the kind of threshold that lends itself to making large gestures towards that end.

I have a particular affinity for the meaning and power of thresholds. (I’ve talked before about Janus.) This year I’m deciding to frame that same urge slightly differently, and am making the effort to give myself a bunch of gifts – Janus gifts. These gifts aren’t about purchasing things – they’re about releasing certain stressors on my life in whatever way. Basically, I’m clearing out some of the obstacles so I can step over whatever threshold unburdened.

I’ve got 12 in mind! Next up: Gift #1, or Recovery from a Supposedly Positive Label.

The Length and Depth of Grief

One of the (many) things that annoys me about how we teach children about life is how rarely we talk to them about the different ways in which grief, as in you’ve lost someone grief, represents in different people. We don’t talk about how to deal with it and how to help others with it.

This has become a tough time of the year for me because Oct 26th is not only the day I finally realized I had to let Amelia go. It’s also the birthday of a beloved relative who is sorely missed. It’s additionally the birthday of someone I knew in college who passed almost 10 yrs ago, and while I don’t grieve him, many of my dearest college friends do.

So yeah, my brain plays tricks on me as we come up on this day, and I don’t really have good ways to deal with those tricks. Like making me forget about the date and then dumping something on me like the dream I had two days ago, in which I “discovered” I had forgotten Amelia for months underneath a bed in my parents’ house, but she was still alive. Just typing that sentence out brings back the horror and despair I felt in the dream. (I’ll spare folk any further description.) Or like when I’m having a particular beer and I think “Oh I should text Nicole and J— oh no.”

It feels WEIRD to say “I’m crying because in my dream however long ago I was a terrible companion to an animal who’s been dead for four years.” Or to explain to whomever I’m with at the bar “No, it’s nothing you said, I just thought….”  There’s no good scientific framework for it, either – I look up shit like this study and so far, nothing offers more clarity.

On the other side of it, I don’t have good things to say to my wonderful friends. “I’m sorry for your loss?” Well, I KNEW him, so that comes across as insincere. Offering support and presence? I am most emphatically NOT the person they want to go to if they want to talk about him. And if someone were to say either of those things to me concerning Amelia, I would honestly feel like a fool. There’s only one person – besides Jon – who could offer that to me and have that feel like a support.

But I’m me. And other people are different. The length and depth of their individual grief does not show up like mine. The differences are as varied as each of our specific relationships.

Because there is no way to know, all we have are stock responses to offer each other, and self-dismissive ways to deal with that moment when we’re plunged, unexpectedly, into the crevasse the loved one’s absence has created.

If you are grieving alone because of poor responses from others or, hell, if you’re simply trying to be a brave face? Please know some folks understand how long it can take, and that you never truly get over it.

Choosing A Word Of The Year For 2018

I never used to do a word of the year. It seemed kind of reductionist to me, like how can you fit a whole year’s worth of intentions into a single word? I would do other things instead, like spells* or tarot spreads* or wishes or resolutions … which to me all boil down to the same thing: announcing myself to myself for the Janus moment of the Julian New Year. It was a fun thing to do on New Year’s Day when the hangover brunches were done.

Flash forward to few years ago. I started a new therapist, and he’s all about words of the year. One for the year itself and one for the anniversary of our work together. I started to like it as a theme for the one most important thing I wanted to accomplish in my work with him. It was a metric to use, an assessment of where I wanted to be rather than an obligation.  Yet January of last year it was difficult for me to choose, because I couldn’t get quite the right connotations for what I wanted to achieve. In order to make it work,  I did an image that listed all the associated synonyms** that conveyed the meaning I wanted, and that kept me from agonizing anymore.

Of course, in December he asked me to choose a new word for 2018. Since I’d had such a tough time last year, I whined about it (like I do). Last thing I wanted was either a crappy word or the frustration I had had last year. But after a bit of conversation, I agreed I’d have one for January.

…And didn’t think about it again, because I was on the way to family events, and fuck that.

But it came to me on Dec 31st.
Just jumped into my head, then out in front of me, ready to roll. Kinda like Athena.

My word of the year is howl.

At first I scoffed. Seemed silly, and too on-the-nose for me. But as I thought about it, and subtracted the connotations of pain or distress? It really clicked. Wolves howl to communicate over great distances and, in particular, to keep connected with their close packmates***. They also howl to establish territory, and as I thought about it, I realized my stories are my territory and it’s time I treated them as such, rather than as a sidebar.

This silly, on-the-nose word ended up being hella appropriate.

So there it is. Happy Howl Year!

 

* I do spells and tarot spreads to trick my brain. Rituals are pretty powerful ways to embed things in one’s psyche, and the symbolism in many tarot cards are a fun way to allow my brain to find connections I might not, otherwise.

** For the record, I chose fierce, as in strong, protective, and unapologetic. Not as in looking incredible. ;)

*** Per this study