Friday, July 26, 2013

Taking Back the Pen: Rewriting Your Story is one of my favorite websites to visit.  I spend about a half hour each day browsing the various blogs and usually I find some little snippet that is helpful, interesting or just entertaining. Yesterday though I came across a post in Stuck by Anneli Rufus that really hit home for me.

Self Loathing: The Ultimate Prejudice begins with the line "we aren't born with low self-esteem."  This is a pretty obvious statement to me.  As babies we are blank slates with no experience in the world by which to judge ourselves or others.  She then shares her story which, as she explains, is also her mother's story.

"Hers is the only story I have ever told. In telling what I thought was my own story, I was always telling hers, because I loved her in her suffering and sought always to please her, and because she taught me fear and self-recrimination, taught me dedicatedly year upon year although she meant no harm, just as medieval coopers and barbers taught their apprentices: Do as I do and do it well and you are set for life." 

Story.  This is what resonated with me.  Humans are storytellers by nature, we have looked to stories to pass on life lessons, to explain the world around us, to entertain, and to escape daily life for thousands of years.  On a community level they give us a shared experience that brings us together.  We seek to emulate the heroes of these tales and use the villains as cautionary examples.  But what about our personal stories?  The ones that were penned in our brains as children and which we have been telling ourselves ever since.

As children a large part of this story is written by others: our parents, the media, our religion, or our social circle. The story can come from experiences both good (winning a race) or bad (sexual assault).  We use these personal stories, both positive and negative, in much the same way as our community does. We take from them our life lessons, use them to explain our world, and why we don't feel loved or worthy or good enough.  We write them down on the pages of our brain and repeat them to ourselves, over and over and over again through each stage of our lives.

"And thus children who might have become anything became coopers and barbers not for a year but forever, not because they wanted to but because when they were too young to helm their own fates, adults deemed it so."

Just to be clear, this isn't just another blame-it-on-our-parents-because-you-are-unhappy excuse.   If your story is not a positive one and if it did come from your parents chances are it was their story too and the only one they knew how to tell. And while you might harbor some resentment, or anger, or wish that you'd been given a different tale to tell the cliche of being unable to change the past and learning to let go of it is a true one.  It isn't easy but to cling to the past risks making one bitter and the story will never change.

Because now, no longer a child, as an adult you are the author of your story.  You can keep telling the same one.  The one that says you aren't worth it, or it's better to be invisible and unnoticed, or that you are ugly, or stupid, or that you will never make anything of yourself because you have no talent, or that sex will cure loneliness, or it's too late to become the person you want be.....

or you can pick up the pen, turn to a fresh page and begin to write a new chapter and write a new draft.  The story you wish to be yours can be and then you can can share it with the the world, your children, your friends and most importantly yourself over, and over again...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Happier App

Today, via a friends post on Facebook, a new app called Happier.  It is a social media application where one only posts happy thoughts or more specifically the "happy moments you find in everyday life."

Now you all know that I tend to be cynical of the whole, think-happy-thoughts-and-happy-things-will-happen-all-the-time school of thought.  Happier does not seem to be about that, in fact the site actually tells you to stop trying to reach an idealized state of happy Nirvana, it is instead about recognizing the happy moments you have even on those "I want to hide under the covers everything is going wrong days."

If you visit the website and take a look at the featured moments they range from finding $10 in one's jeans pocket to having dinner with an old friend to watching sunsets while eating ice cream.  You can categorize your happy moments, add pictures to them, tag friends if they are members of the site and if you feel so inclined, smile and comment on other people's happy moments. 

Okay, I know this all sounds all rainbows and caramel popcorn; your gag meters are likely almost in the red zone so I'll explain just what it is I really like about this idea.

When I am feeling down in the dumps, which seems terribly often these days, I am not the type who is going remember to sit and count my blessings or make a gratitude list.  And generally when I do think to make one of these lists I start to feel worse because I can't help but compare my gratitude list to those things I think others have to be grateful for or I worry that I might not have enough on my list or I just don't see how what I've got to feel good about outweighs what I am feeling gloomy about.  

Happier isn't about looking back and taking an accounting of your happiness, it isn't about looking ahead to the things you want to achieve that might one day bring you joy.  No, what this app is about is right now and the happiness you are experiencing in this moment. Plus, when you have that moment, however big or small it may be, and you open the app to capture it you see your name and the happy moments you have listed recently.  Not a list of what everyone else is being happy about so you can't think, "Oh, my moment is so can I possibly post about how awesomely crunchy my cereal was when Joe just got promoted and won the lottery." 

Nope, while you can choose to view what your friends happy moments, the app is really focused on you and what you have to be happy about right now.  You no longer have to worry about lists because you are making one as you go.  And unlike gratitude lists where sometimes you have to mentally stretch to find things you are grateful for, when you look back at your list you will know that in those moments you felt good enough, happy enough that you wanted to capture it.  

Finally I also like that it is easy.  My phone is generally always within reach so I don't need to go for a pen or paper just tappity, tappity, tap and it's noted.  I also like that the posts are happy moments, as though the creators want to remind us that all things are temporary.  The sad moments pass and the happy ones too, but it is all right now. 

**I should add no one paid, poke or prodded me to write this.  It was done 100% of my own free will.  

***You won't find me on Happier under Spinster Jane, I'm there under my own name, which a few of you know!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to be Alone: Again...

Yes.  I've shared this video before but I've come to notice lately, due to a rare string of days spent by myself, that I am not as comfortable in my own skin as I'd like to be.  That I still spend a lot of time finding distractions like Facebook, the sudden need to sort the sock drawer or endless hours of Netflix, instead of allowing myself to be alone with my thoughts.

I explained to a friend recently how with all of this recent alone time I discovered that at some point in the past few years I'd become afraid of the dark.  I meant this in both the literal things-that-go-bump-in-the-night sense and in the metaphorical sense of facing my own shadows.   I am surprised, shocked a bit actually to find myself here.  I used to be a 3:00 AM insomnia wanderer, going for long walks in the night or sitting in the absolute darkness of a closed door closet when I wanted to quiet my mind.  I spent a lot of time facing my own demons, doing "the work" as they say...

And now I find myself here, jumping at every mental creak of the floor boards, waiting for my subconscious to jump up and shout, "Boo!"

So here it is again, "How to be Alone" by Andrea Dorfman

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Struggle through...

I am feeling the pressure of time; of too much to do and too many deadlines; of summer ending and my days becoming once again filled with classes and homework.  Despite this I did get myself out of bed and off for a walk by 8:00 AM.

I wish I could say that the walk felt good.  That somewhere along the foggy route I began to feel invigorated in mind and body.  This however was not the case.  I was tired, probably slightly dehydrated, and every step felt like I'd had to talk myself into taking the next one.  It was slow going with every hill turning into a mountain and every bench I passed calling my name.  A three mile route that I'd usually average about a half hour to complete took me 45 minutes.

In fact the only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that I had walked this route before.  I knew it would eventually be over and so I pushed on.  And truthfully it wasn't entirely unpleasant.  Today's fog gave the ocean a mysterious quality with the sounds of gull wings, waves, boat rigging and fog horns floating out of the white void.  As always there was lots of bird song to be heard and plenty of flowers blooming in the damp.  But when I arrived home I was more happy that it was over than I was about having done it.

Sitting here now showered and caffeinated I do feel a small sense of satisfaction at having managed to do it even if it was a struggle.  I'm sure there is a lesson in that but I'm also quite sure there is a lesson to be learned in my next cup of coffee...