Out Of Context Jukebox

This is Sammi.

Because of this lanky galoot, I have found myself saying some things I never expected:

“Stop eating the rocks!”

“Don’t chew on the floor!”

“Quit swallowing the string!”

Not the smartest dog in the world, but means well. Sort of. 😳🙄

I Voted….

…well, yesterday. It was Primary Day in Pennsylvania. I am proud to have voted along Planned Parenthood’s suggestions for core races and to have voted for some anti-gentrification candidates as well.

Wow, Happy May

Happy First Day of Ramadan, Happy Cinco de Mayo, and Belated May the Fourth be with you. *confetti*

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted here. It’s not like life has been THAT busy. It’s also not like I forget. It’s more like – time sometimes flows faster than other times, and I’m chasing a leaf down the stream instead of paying attention to what’s on the banks.

It’s also been a beautiful, if odd, spring. My allergies are really kicking up but the flowers are amazing. Lilacs, irises, peonies and clematis in our courtyard; tulips, cherry trees, dogwoods and buckeyes elsewhere. I have a ton of photographs and I probably should post them here. Just because it’s really hard to get my crap downloaded from Instagram. *eyeroll*

The weather has been a roller coaster, which I suppose is to be expected with how we Westerners muck with the environment. The dogwood in our courtyard got blown down by a nasty windstorm about 2 weeks back, and an ornamental cherry up the street has bloomed – and then the blooms killed by the subsequent cold – no less than 3 times. It was 85 degrees earlier this week and now it won’t get above 63.

But I still have a lot of joy in how beautiful it all is. I kinda adore how we humans love to complain about weather as small talk, yet constantly adapt. And while the prospect of climate change scares the everloving out of me, I keep seeing people working at it from all sorts of directions. That’s some good news.

Because that cherry tree? It keeps blooming.

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.