Category Archives: Slowbloom

Baby Steps

One of the things I’ve been working on with my therapist is learning to slow down, so my response isn’t laminated to my reactions. We can’t control our reactions; we can control how we respond to those reactions.

little red car

On Monday I took the bus downtown to meet up with some friends. I sat toward the rear, facing forward, and wore earbuds (which are bright blue). A few stops later, a man got on the bus. He came to the back and sat across from me, on a bench that faced the middle.

I could almost predict what would happen next. I turned toward him, and he started talking to me.

Him: “Hi. Didn’t I see you on the bus yesterday?”
I pause the podcast I’m listening to and take the earbud out.
Me: “No. No you didn’t.”
Him: “So I couldn’t have met you before?”
Me: “No. No you couldn’t.”
Him: “What’s your name?”
At this point in the conversation, my stomach starts to clench. Because I know this is coming. And every time a man asks me, I tell him. And then I hate myself for it. But I am learning to pay attention to what I want. And what I want is definitely NOT to give him my name.
So I say, “I don’t want to tell you that.”
I’ve disrupted the social script. He doesn’t know how to respond. He falls silent.

I turn away from him and face the front again. I turn my podcast back on. A stop later, he moves up a seat. A young woman sits next to him.

I like being friendly. I like talking to people. On the bus, even! But for the short duration of a bus ride, no one needs to know my name. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends my story.

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Shopping for therapists

I promised Summer and Carla yesterday that I’d tell them the story of finding my therapist.

Day Lily on fire

In December of 2012 I knew I had a problem. I was interpreting everything as a threat. I couldn’t tell what was what. I felt like the Farside cartoon, where the amoeba wife is saying to her husband, “You’re just stimulus, response! Stimulus, response!” I felt like I was living at DEFCON 1, ready to push the red button that means nuclear annihilation. Recognizing that this response was utterly out of whack with the external stimuli, I decided to get help.

I have gone to counselors before, so this wasn’t the first time I’d gone looking for one. I had at least a little bit of experience and idea of what I needed. I got a referral from a dear friend and went to see her therapist. He turned out to be awful. Case in point:

  • In response to me saying I’d stayed at my job 2 years past the pain point, he said, “You’re a masochist!”
  • For some reason Jodie Foster’s coming out came up. He said something along the lines of, “I don’t mind if women are lesbians, but why that one?” Ironic because I’d seen something on twitter a few days earlier saying that sentiment is so ridiculous. I mean, like he would have ever had a chance?
  • I told him about the first manuscript I wrote, and he said, “You’re not nice.” Um .. it’s a story. And it has to be interesting. Which I said to him. Also, he could have said, “That’s not nice.” Me not nice? Grrr.

So after that first meeting, I went home and thought about it. I talked it over with some friends/support people. I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t right for me and I fired him. I felt so vulnerable and exhausted. I didn’t want to go through this ten more times. I didn’t think I could go through this ten more times.

I took a step back. I thought about all the people I knew, and if any of them were therapists. There was one person who fit the bill. I had met him on Twitter, through a mutual friend. And not only that, he’d visited Seattle the month before and I had met him in person. We’d connected and I knew I could trust him. I contacted him and asked him if he would be willing to work with me. He said he’d give it a try.

As much as I’ve gotten out of therapy, I cannot emphasize enough how powerful this first action was for me. I’d learned to dismiss my intuition and sense of what was right for me. This was the first action I’d taken in YEARS that was in alignment with my core.

In the last year and a half, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to identify what I’m actually feeling. I’ve learned to scan for support, rather than see everything as a threat. I’ve learned not to take things personally. I used to worry about being an asshole. I still do, a little bit, but mostly I consider whether or not I’m being kind. I’ve learned to recognize and go after what I want. I’ve learned that if I want people to see me, I have to be willing to show myself (eep!).

I’ve worked on developing my awareness and slowing down the time between reaction and response, so I can choose my response, rather than the two being laminated or magnetized into a single action.

My therapist told me, “Look for where you fit, not where you fit in.” I could have made excuses with the previous therapist. I could have found reasons to work with him. But I didn’t. I knew in my marrow he wasn’t the right fit for me. And I did feel a little bad, then. Now I understand. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t personal. And he wasn’t the right person for me to work with.

If you are currently shopping for a therapist and you are having trouble finding someone to work with, I hope you won’t be discouraged. Keep looking. There will be someone who is kind and who can help you.

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When the going gets tough …

leap leap

I swim laps a few times a week. In my ideal world of lap swimming, I would have my own lane and never have to share. The reality is, there are usually more swimmers than lanes. Which means sharing lanes. I generally don’t mind sharing. It’s about finding a rhythm with the other swimmers and then praying no one runs into you.

My point is, sometimes swimming is easy and effortless, sometimes there are obstacles. I’ve been working on paying attention to my reactions – that is, the knee-jerk, unconscious responses. I have a tendency to quit or shut down.

On Sunday, I started swimming with my own lane. Ahh, perfection, I thought. Soon enough, one woman joined my lane. Then another. And then another! Before I knew it, there were 4 of us sharing one lane. The flow was fine, but I noticed I was getting annoyed. They had disrupted my peace. MY peace, I’m telling you.

I contemplated getting out of the pool. I’d swum enough. But then I paused. A thought surfaced: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Fuck that shit, I thought. I hate that. But then I relaxed, and I had another thought. What do I want??

What did I want? I wanted to keep swimming. Focusing on what I wanted, rather than on toughing it out, changed my experience. Rather than having to prove myself, I could return to the activity. I could relax and let go of the irritation.

The next time I feel frustrated, when things are hard, and I feel like quitting, I hope I can remember this. It’s good to stop every once in awhile and re-evaluate. Am I still on the path? Is this serving me? Is this the direction I want to be going?

I want to pause and say, When the going gets tough, what do I want?

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On standing up for myself

Umbrella broom shovel stand

On Monday, Fran Wilde posted this piece about being “Mouse”. She spoke about learning to be silent, to be quiet, and gaining competency at sailing a boat. And then she said:

But there is another place where I want that feeling of competence. That sense of being capable:

Speaking up for myself.

I have never felt competent at that.

These words were like a giant gong going off in my head. I’ve been coming to this understanding/realization about myself in the last couple of weeks. I think I’ve realized this before, but in the past, I just felt overwhelmed by it and then let despair set in.

I’ve been working on engaging my fear the last couple of months. I’ve been taking baby steps, and saying out loud the things I think people will make negative judgments about. So far, all signs point to me continuing to do this. Mostly because it strengthens my confidence in myself, which is what Fran talks about in her post.

Speaking up for myself feels like the next stage/phase. I was in yoga on Monday and I realized something I’d never quite put together before. In my adult life, for every employer I’ve had, without fail I’ve jealously guarded my time. I was unwilling to compromise on time. I realize this rigidity is connected to my unwillingness to speak up for myself.

When I was at work, I would let people treat me like crap. When I wasn’t at work, I could choose (i.e. “control”) who I spent time with. If someone was being disrespectful, I could just walk away. Or suffer in silence until the event ended, and then vow to never spend time with that person again.

Fran talks about developing confidence in a physical skill and being able to translate that into another realm. Rose Lemberg responded with a series of tweets about belonging, competence, and privilege. She talked about where one finds strength when there isn’t a physical place to return to (a strong theme for Fran). It was the last several tweets that really nailed it for me (13-18) – like the hammer on the gong.

There is something inviolate at my core, a place I’ve guarded and it is that place from which I can trust myself. It is the place I return, time and again.

As I’m learning to turn down the dial on the fear knob and turn up the dial on the curiosity knob, I’m seeing possibility and considering new ways of being. Including standing up for myself.

For today, I’m taking R.E.M.’s song, “Stand”, as my theme song.

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The Absurdity of Failure

When all else fails, there's tea

What am I afraid of?
I’m afraid I’ll never work full-time again. Which really means ..
I’m afraid I’ll never have work that pays me a living wage.
I’m afraid I’ll have to go back to working in an office with mean, abusive people.
I’m afraid my work will never be valued.
I’m afraid I won’t be valued.
I’m afraid of going after what I really want and not succeeding.
I’m afraid to talk about my experience at Amazon.
I’m afraid I’ll die alone.
I’m afraid I’ve passed my prime/missed my opportunity.
I’m afraid I’ll write my book and no one will care.
I’m afraid to try new things related to employment.
I’m afraid to speak up for myself.
I’m afraid of failing.
I’m afraid of disappointing the people who love me.

What am I not afraid of?
I’m not afraid to travel to foreign countries where I don’t speak the language.
I’m not afraid to try new types of food.
I’m not afraid that my partner will leave me.
I’m not afraid of using technology.
I’m not afraid to talk to people.
I’m not afraid my family will stop loving me.

I seem to have two kinds of fears: the ones that paralyze me, and the ones that I can manage without feeling overwhelmed. For the ones that overwhelm me, I don’t have any way to break them into smaller components. There’s no incremental path to work through that fear. Those fears feel like a solid, massive wall without any doors or windows, no openings whatsoever.

I’m afraid of failing.

Judith Halberstam wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Queer Art of Failure. From the description about the book:

The Queer Art of Failure is about finding alternatives—to conventional understandings of success in a heteronormative, capitalist society; to academic disciplines that confirm what is already known according to approved methods of knowing; and to cultural criticism that claims to break new ground but cleaves to conventional archives. Judith Halberstam proposes “low theory” as a mode of thinking and writing that operates at many different levels at once. Low theory is derived from eccentric archives. It runs the risk of not being taken seriously. It entails a willingness to fail and to lose one’s way, to pursue difficult questions about complicity, and to find counterintuitive forms of resistance. Tacking back and forth between high theory and low theory, high culture and low culture, Halberstam looks for the unexpected and subversive in popular culture, avant-garde performance, and queer art. She pays particular attention to animated children’s films, revealing narratives filled with unexpected encounters between the childish, the transformative, and the queer. Failure sometimes offers more creative, cooperative, and surprising ways of being in the world, even as it forces us to face the dark side of life, love, and libido.

I wrote about failing a couple of months ago. Re-reading that post, I realize I have more to say. Because there’s a piece about mistakes that I haven’t addressed. In American culture, my perception is that mistakes are not tolerated. Hello, “three strikes you’re out” and all that. In my experience, mistakes weren’t tolerated in the business/work setting.

Last week I was asked where I feel free to make mistakes. “Yoga,” was the first word out of my mouth. Because the flip side of all this talk about failure is success. This is what Halberstam is getting at, too.

How have I defined success? By results. And when I look at the “results” of the fruits of my labor, I feel I have nothing to show. I recognize this is fear talking. And that’s why the yoga practice is so different. Because what are the markers of success in yoga? It’s not the physical, outer form, but inner things that are felt. Maybe they are quantifiable? But for me, the biggest markers of success in yoga are qualitative, not quantitative. I think this is the success that Halberstam may be talking about. In my failure to “make it” in the corporate, high-tech world, I’ve freed myself from even having to make the attempt. I have to keep reminding myself that there are many other arenas, many other venues, and many other ways of being in the world that are just as valid.

As I’ve said in my (hu)manifesto, failure is when you stop trying, stop making the effort. I want to create an environment for myself that not only tolerates mistakes, but encourages them. I learn from my mistakes. I don’t want to be punished by them.

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Getting to Know You …

Fear the mouth of truth!

Last week I was invited to participate in the ImpactHub‘s Host program. As part of the process of getting to know one another, we were all asked for a bio. For some people, this may be as easy as cracking a few eggs and frying them up in the pan, but writing a bio for me has always been fraught.

There’s the moment before the revelation, and the moment after. There are calculations and divinations, multiple “what ifs” and a few myths thrown in for good measure. I waver between sharing what I think is acceptable and what will get me killed. Fear, my old friend, has often won these battles. I may share one thing that I think is just on the edge of acceptability, just enough to sate the appetites, without sharing the things that scare me the most. I want to be accepted, to feel that I belong (and not get killed).

Fear lies to me. It yells at me. It tells me if I expose the things that are most important to me, I give all my power away. But as long as I keep them close to my heart, I’m in service to the fear. It’s when I can stand up to the fear, and stand in my truth, that I stand in my power.

The irony is, as long as I hide these parts of myself, I also deprive myself and others of intimacy and real connection. You cannot know the real me if I don’t share my full, true self.

In the interest of this exercise, here is what I shared:

Ask me about: writing, yoga, vegan cookery, queer theory, gender theory, travel, science fiction, marriage equality (and LGBT issues), graphic novels, slowing down.
What am I looking for: broaden my connections in Seattle, learn more about what people are doing to make the world better, friends, part-time work to support my art.
What am I good at? I’m an information hound. If you are looking for something specific, I can probably find it for you. I’m great at connecting people with resources, whether that’s another person, an organization, or an article. It’s why I went into librarianship!

Not too different from my Twitter bio:

Pirate. Werehedgehog. Queer femme. Writer. Librarian. Dork. Blooming at my own speed. Earnestness is my superpower.

I was nervous to share this information about myself. I feared I was going to present a piece of information that would make people run screaming from the room. Much to my disappointment, this didn’t happen. But this is your opportunity. Take it now, or the monster under the bed might pop out.

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A Life on the Techno-Fringe

phone bank

I grew up in a house without a television. When I was a kid, and classmates would learn this tidbit, they would follow up with, “Do you have a phone?”
“Yes, we have a phone. My dad’s a doctor. We have to have a phone,” I would say.
“Then why don’t you have a tv?”
“My mom doesn’t want one,” I’d say.

This is a teensy prologue to the question I often get today: “Why don’t you have a cell phone?”

There’s so much implied in that statement, most of which can be summed by either a) can’t you afford it? or b) what kind of Luddite misanthrope are you?

The other day, a fellow writer I’ve met on Twitter said this:

I responded with:

Mr. Khalifa asked me how I managed to live without one. Which is usually what most people ask. And I’m going to attempt to answer that question.

A couple of years ago I was having this conversation with someone, and they said, “Well, what if something were to happen to J?”
I thought about it, and said, “I’m not a first responder. If something were to happen to her, I hope someone with more training would help her first. I would find out whenever I found out.”

That’s the short answer.

Here’s a longer one. I’m not a spontaneous person. I like making plans. I don’t mind not knowing. I despise the environmental impact. I don’t understand the whole phone contract/plan thing, which just seems like a giant scam. I have a long list of peeves about how people behave when they are using cell phones.

And my girlfriend would remind me to tell you all that I’m not really that cut off. I have had an iPod Touch for the last few years, which allows me to get online whenever there is wi-fi. I’m actually finding free wi-fi is becoming more and more ubiquitous, which is diminishing what minimal desire I might have to get a phone. I can send text messages via google voice if I can get on wi-fi. And trust me, no one ever wants to talk on the phone. Except my mother. And sister.

A couple of weeks ago I made plans to meet up with some friends for tea, and that went off without a hitch. After tea, I planned to meet up with my girlfriend. On the quad at the UW. At peak cherry blossom time. On one of the first warm, sunny days in Seattle. Even though it was packed with people, we did eventually find one another. It would have taken less time if we both had cell phones, but it didn’t end up taking that long in the end.

The only time I ever wish I had a cell phone is when I’m traveling in the country. Trying to connect and meet up with people would be easier if I did have a cell phone. But it’s not impossible to meet up. It’s only the expectation around meeting up that’s changed. Ironically, when I’ve been abroad, if I’d had a phone, it would have been exorbitant to use it. Wi-fi was almost always included in my lodging. Even domestically that’s becoming more common. I was just at delightful set of beach cottages last week that had wi-fi.

Beach dreaming

I’m not holding out or trying not to not have one. I don’t want one. Because when I want something? I just get it. I see how it might reduce a small amount of friction in my life, but for now, the cost just isn’t worth it. I am either in a place where I am available and can connect, or I’m not. I like the structural limit.

But maybe I’ll take Beth Wodzinski’s approach, the next time someone asks me:

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52 Photos: A Present Someone Gave You

Queen Mary tea - rainbow sugar

When I saw this week’s prompt, I initially thought I was going to take a picture of a Shona sculpture my sweetie got me for my 30th birthday. It is about 2 feet high and made out of serpentine (I think)? It’s two figures holding each other, and there is a story about how the sculpture was one of the few to survive the Nisqually Quake in 2001. And how it was so heavy my sweetie had to take it home on the bus, because it was too heavy to carry home.

But then EPIC TEA happened.

Let me back up. Last week I sunk down into a pit of sadness. This happens from time-to-time. I understand generally why it happens and have some strategies for responding. In the midst of this, Lis, tweeted about having tea at the Queen Mary Tea House. I responded to her tweet, and the next thing I knew, she was arranging to meet up with me and three other women on Sunday for tea.

Queen Mary tea plate

It turns out that yours truly was the catalyst and force for bringing together this particular group. There was Lauren, who I had inspired to start TeaVoyeur. I met Lauren a couple of years ago at an InfoCamp and we connected right away. She is a kindred spirit and we particularly connect on issues related to work/life balance.

Then there was Jess, who I’d met through the food tweeters a couple of years ago. And she brought along her friend, Kiri.

Queen Mary: ladies who tea

So Jess and Kiri were friends, and Lauren and I were friends, and Lis was the bold soul who organized the event, but the five of us had an incredible time. I mean, I felt completely comfortable in my skin, with these ladies who are smart and bold and strong and sweet and beautiful. We talked about life, creativity, dreams, religion, feminism and photography, just to capture a few of the topics that swirled around. I didn’t cackle my head off, but I was soul-satisfied, in a way I didn’t even realize I’d been parched. There was no awkwardness, just joy and celebration about each person and what she brought to the table.

After tea, we visited the cherry trees that are blooming on the quad at the University of Washington. It was a zoo.

the crowds

But I did capture a few tranquil images:

blooms and moss

sunlight cherry blooms

As I start another revolution around the sun, I want to carry this particular gift and share it as much as I can this year. Thank you, ladies, for what you gave to me.

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The Pomodoro Technique

tomato rose

My friend Lauren told me about the Pomodoro Technique a while back. The basic idea is to break your work into smaller chunks, work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and then go back. Wash, rinse, repeat for 4 cycles, then take a longer break.

I thought I would give it a try today to see how it would work for me. I was interested for a couple of reasons:

  • I’m easily distracted
  • I thought it would help me focus
  • I could take those 5-minute breaks and stretch, check the internet, etc. without feeling guilty

So, how did it go? I will first say that I modified the technique as it is explained. I did not attempt to complete a single task in 25 minutes. Rather, I approached a larger project and gave myself 25 minute increments to work on it.

This approach worked very well! The first three pomodori I was able to maintain focus. My breaks were pretty close to 5 minutes. The last two pomodori I found my attention started to wander after 15 minutes and I really had to push aside temptation to say focused.

I had a discussion with a few pals on Twitter the other day about multi-tasking, busy-ness and the pick two of time-quality-price. I think many of us feel frantic as we try to fit more and more into our lives. I can relate to the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland: “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!”

I often feel as though I’m running behind, and the urge to do more! faster! is something I tussle with. Some days I’m better at it than others. Creating this blog and identifying the slow bloom philosophy has been critical in silencing that voice that tells me I should be doing more.

I liked the overall effectiveness of the technique, which helped me maintain my focus. One of the reasons I often stop what I’m working on is because I get stuck. But with this approach, I found I forced myself to work through whatever barrier came up, instead of goofing off and then returning to see if I had come up with a solution (which NEVER works – LOL).

I’m curious if any of you have used the Pomodoro Technique, or something similar, to manage your time and productivity. How does it work for you? What do you like? What works? What doesn’t?

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On Failure

fail harder

My friend Claudette posted this piece today: Since when did the word ______ become dirty in yoga?. I wondered what the word was that filled in the blank, so I meandered over to see. Perfection. Oh. That word.

I read with curiosity, interested to see how he was going to unpack what perfection meant in the context of yoga. He does define it, but that wasn’t what struck me so much as this:

I need to deny this small, measly self within me that can’t tolerate perfection, I refuse to be too fragile to admit that I am not strong enough or devoted enough to reach for such an unattainable place. Instead I humbly get on my knees and cry out for the strength to fail, and to fail, and to fail, and to fail, as happily and as endlessly as is necessary to take one step towards the lofty mastery of perfection. Let me champion perfection, protect it, covet it, yearn for it, breathe it, know it, risk for it, love it, respect it, fear it, cherish it, tolerate my need for it, lay it all on the line for it.

And I realized something. I have defined my own failure as my inability to achieve. BUT. This idea of failing and failing and failing again and again and again in pursuit of a higher purpose – that is not failure. That is the story of Sisysphus as told by Camus, the man who found his meaning in repeatedly rolling the rock up the hill, not in attaining the summit. I doubt David Garrigues is an Existentialist, but it’s where I went.

I’ve judged myself by my inability to achieve, when I should have realized that what I lacked wasn’t results, but focus. I had no defining principle, no purpose that pulled me forward. I was merely bobbing along, adrift and responding to whatever I bumped into.

I’ve decided this year to let my writing be the defining center. And because I did that, I leapt at the opportunity to go on a writing retreat for 5 days when it appeared. In the past, I would have let it go, because I hadn’t had enough time to prepare myself. But what needed preparing? Only my mind, which was already ready.

Tell me about your failures. Fail harder. Fail softer. Fail funnier. Just keep failing.

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