The Beauty Is In The Breakage

At job interviews, when they ask you “What’s your biggest flaw?” the joke answer is, “I care too much” or “I’m a perfectionist”. It’s seen as a cheap response to imply that you don’t have any flaws, that you’re so in control that your biggest flaw is being too perfect, which is in fact not a flaw at all.

However, at the last interview I had I told them the truth. I said, “I know this answer is seen as someone trying to spin a ‘flaw’ into a positive, but the only people who think of perfectionism as a positive are people who don’t suffer from this. Being a perfectionist makes me a control freak, gives me anxiety, keeps me from asking for help or trusting others to get basic tasks done, and in the end it simply keeps me from being happy. It’s a constant struggle and it’s exhausting.”

I got the job.

Perfect_dayIn an earlier blog post I mentioned the app Habitica, which has been an enormous help to me in making some positive habits and changes in productivity. But there’s a downside to everything, and for me it has been trying (and expecting) to have a “Perfect Day” every day. That means completing every single item on my Dailies list, which is an achievement on Habitica. So far since starting the game, I have had 40 “Perfect Days”.

Which for most people, considering I’ve been playing less than 2 months, would be something to be proud of. But my brain won’t allow me to see it that way.

Here’s the thing about being a perfectionist; it makes you an all-or-nothing person. I want the house SPOTLESS, and if I don’t have time to make that happen I don’t want to clean at all. I want to have a SUPER DUPER ORGANIC HIGH-FIBER MACROBIOTIC PROTEIN-RICH healthy meal, and if I can’t do that I will just say, “Well fuck it, then”, and eat total garbage.  I want to have a PERFECT DAY, and if I can’t do that I will just say “WELP DAY RUINED OH WELL” and stop completing tasks altogether.

Habitica offers the option to “rest in the Inn” on days when you’re sick or on vacation or otherwise not going to be able to do your normal routines, and it keeps you from losing streaks or sustaining damage on Dailies that aren’t done. It’s a really great feature, but to be honest I think I’ve been abusing it. Rather than losing a streak or taking damage on a day that I was perfectly capable of getting everything done (ie. not sick or on vacation), I’ve checked into the Inn before the end of the day. Doing this makes me slack off on everything because I know I won’t take a hit, and the quality of my whole day takes a hit as a result.

What to do? How do I learn to have a balance between a Perfect Day and a Perfectly Fine But Imperfect Day?

plate.jpgHere’s something wonderful. In Japan, there is an art form called Kintsugi, which is a method of repairing broken pottery with precious metals like gold, silver, or even platinum. The theory behind this is that through the wear and tear of use and even outright breakage, an object can become even more beautiful than it was before.

“Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject.”

— Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

I want to incorporate that kind of mentality into my life. For example, yesterday a bunch of my tasks went undone. But you know what? I got to spend the whole day with the love of my life, watching movies and getting ready for Halloween. The “Perfect Days” where I’m super productive aren’t the ones I’m going to remember when I get old, it will be days and moments like that.

And sure, not all the imperfect days are going to be imperfect for good reasons. I’m not always going to miss my To-Dos because I’m having fun; there will be emergencies and illnesses and just plain ole Bad Days. But that’s life. The cracks and breaks and changes and unexpected bits are life; nobody expects my plate to be whole and perfect, and if it were, what would that say about the way I live?

Nobody has the same threads of silver and gold running through them that I do. None of our breakage is the same; it is uniquely ours. It’s not the plates that makes us who we are, it’s the cracks running through them, and how they pieces are held together, that matters.

Keep on keeping it together. You’re beautiful.

 

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Those Late Summer Nights

I’m delighted to report that the first few days of the Ready For Beddy Challenge have been very successful, in no small part because the changing of the seasons has led to suddenly cooler, more gorgeous evenings than I have seen in months.

Sunday night, Owen and I treated ourselves to a night beside the fire pit with glasses of red wine, and let me tell you…that was a great way to end the weekend. Sipping a rich Malbec, watching the sparks flying and the fireflies blinking against the darkness of the trees as the sky turned from deep orange to dark blue, then black…I simply love this time of year. There is a quality to the light that we all know when we see it, that slanting, deep golden sun that brings to mind fresh backpacks and notebooks for a new school year, and the scent of woodsmoke and dead leaves. I just love this time of year, and I was able to sit and appreciate it that night in a way I haven’t done in what feels like years.

It hasn’t been easy for me to carve out the time at the end of the day, at that point when I’m normally trying to squeeze in whatever I forgot to get done earlier on, but I can’t deny that my headspace when I get into bed at night has been so much clearer and more relaxed that it’s incredible. I really encourage anyone to try this for at least three or four nights in a row, see how they feel, and get back to me! Tell me if it worked for you!

Rewriting Who You Are

I grew up thinking that I was not, and could not be, an athlete because I didn’t have the “body type” for it. I heard from so many people, from my own mother to friends to teachers and coaches, that some women just have that slim-hipped, long-limbed, “athletic” build that makes running and jumping easier and more efficient, and that people like me with short legs and hourglass shapes were simply destined to fall behind. In my 20s I was going to the gym and to hot yoga classes 4 times a week , but because I wasn’t running, or playing a sport, or going to spin class, I didn’t think it really counted. I just “didn’t have the body type” for real sports, so I did other, lesser forms of exercise to feebly make up for it.

It’s so absurd, isn’t it? But I believed it. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite pushing myself with personal trainers and going to intense classes and doing yoga poses that many people can’t manage, despite all of that, I believed that I simply couldn’t be an athlete. Even going and buying sportswear was fraught; I felt like an imposter looking through that section of stores, like there was a spotlight on me and people were wondering what I was doing there.

And the problem with believing something so deeply, is that even if it’s not actually true, you will unconsciously do what you need to in order to make it true.

Gradually, I began to let go of doing physical activity, believing that it “wasn’t for me”, and as I started to put weight on I didn’t even really notice. I already believed I was fat, and what I saw in the mirror simply reflected what I already knew to be true. As my weight crept up, any attempts to exercise grew more difficult than they had been, which only served to cement my belief that my body was inadequate. Innately, I was not enough.

A few weeks ago I suddenly heard my internal monologue for what it was. I don’t know what triggered it exactly, but I was out for a walk and all at once I heard, really heard, the words circling around in my head. “Not built for this, going so slow, for some people it’s easy, just am not that type…”

I was shocked at how I could be feeling defeated while I was doing well and taking care of my body.  Then all at once, the realization came crashing down on me: I’ve been letting other people tell me who I am. And I’m 32 years old and still believe it. 

Holy shit. That’s a lot.

So now I’m trying to work through this mental block, and to really see myself instead of seeing this strange version of me that has been standing in the way the whole time. I’m trying to listen to my body and hear what it is telling me, and turning down the volume on the voice that other people put into my head… the voice that keeps telling me, “It’s no use, that’s just not who you are”. As if that stupid voice knows jack shit about who I am.

I wanted to share this to let you know that nobody gets to tell you what you’re capable of. Not one single goddamn person. It can be difficult to be who you really are at times, because that false version of yourself is often is all you have let people see, and when you stop acting like the version they’re familiar with it can be a little jarring. But you know what? They’ll get over it. They’ll be fine. It’s you that you need to worry about.

So get out there, and listen for that little voice, and tell it to get lost when it tries to whisper to you. It doesn’t know you, and it’s not welcome in your house anymore. You’re the boss now. Kick that little shit to the curb.

 

Creating Habits and Getting Sleep

I’m someone who dreams almost every night. My dreams are vivid, with full scores and intricate plots and evocative smells, and on particularly bad nights I will wake up feeling like I haven’t slept at all, as if I only dreamed I had been in bed while my body wandered all over, doing things without my permission.

A month ago, those bad nights were so frequent that I was waking up almost in tears, starting my day not only exhausted but with my head buzzing with the anxieties of the dream, in a sort of fog that would take me better than an hour to shake off.

Things have improved since then, I think due to two changes I made: 1) increasing my exercise, and 2) taking a magnesium supplement. But habits are NOT an easy thing to get rolling, and I wanted to share a how I managed to implement these new habits consistently and tell you about a new plan I’m going to start and how you can make it work for you.

About a month ago, I discovered Habitica, and I can state very sincerely that it has Promo_habitica_stickerchanged my life. I do not say things like that lightly, nor do I say them after only a month, but this is one of those situations where the changes are so marked that they simply must be acknowledged. Habitica is an app, both on iPhone and Android (and a web app for desktop) that turns your habits and to-do lists into an RPG game. You create lists for yourself in different categories, from daily repeated tasks to one-time-only errands, and as you check them off you gain points towards gaining a new level, find food, get potions to hatch collectible animal eggs, rack up gold to buy new weapons, and join up with friends to fight monsters in Quests. It’s silly, and super fun, and just really really well-designed, and it has taught me something about myself that I didn’t want to admit.

I need constant validation and immediate gratification. 

Now, I know these are not particularly mature or admirable qualities to have, but there it is. I make up for it in other areas (hopefully) but I have an awful time with long-term goals and delayed results, and I think that can be hard for many people. Otherwise, we’d all be fit and rich and prepared for life’s setbacks.

I have tried habit apps of all kinds, even the ones where you put down money that gets forfeited if you lose. But in every case, from simple ones to those with higher stakes, I would get annoyed and resentful and stop using it at some point. Habitica is different (and free to use unless you want to subscribe for extra fun stuff, which I did), because there’s always something to find, some animal that you’re trying to grow, a boss that you’re trying to fight. Plus, if you don’t complete everything on your dailies list, well…not only do you get hit with damage, but so does everyone else on your team.

For the first time in my life, and for the stupidest of reasons, I managed to finish an entire 30-Day fitness challenge. For the first time, I hit my step goal on FitBit every single day for a solid month. For the first time, I am on top of monitoring my patron pledges and usernames on my website, and I got things done in August that had been sitting on to-do lists for literal months. I cannot believe the difference this silly game makes! The creators are geniuses, and I just hope that they continue to expand the game so that I don’t reach a point where I’m out of things to do.

The tricky thing for me is that it’s really easy to overdo it; I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, and when I’m not wrapped in a blanket procrastinating I’m pushing myself way too hard and getting burnt out. Predictably, this has led to a Dailies list on Habitica that is a little too ambitious, and I’ve had to move things or cut back in order to ensure my expectations are sustainable. You can do anything, but not everything, as they say.

dreamlandFor 30 days I’ve been following an evening routine that involves starting my dishwasher, picking out clothes for the following day, writing down quick to-dos for tomorrow so that they’re not circling in my head creating anxiety, and generally just putting things in place to ensure that my mornings go smoothly. But the part that eludes me is being ready to sleep.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m not tired by the end of the day. I’m wiped, especially now that I’m being more consistently productive and active during the day. But there’s a difference between being tired and being ready to get into bed and end your day, and even with my evening routine, my body is firing on all cylinders until the moment I turn the lights out in my room. There’s no cool-down period, there is no sense of slowing down; I’m busy loading the dishwasher, thinking about to-dos, dealing with laundry, all right before I lay my head down. It doesn’t make for a sense of restfulness.

So I’ve decided to start a Challenge on Habitica. If anyone reading this uses Habitica and isn’t a member of my party, but wants access to the challenge, I will create a public Guild for it. I just didn’t want to bother spending the gems on a Guild that might only be of interest to those in my party anyway.

Here’s my before-bed ritual, to start this evening:

Ready For Beddy Challenge

full-moon-sky-stars-wallpaper-3

TIPS: Begin at leasts 9 hours before your alarm is set to wake you in the morning, at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. It is best if this routine is done in the living room or somewhere other than the bedroom, so that it sets a firm boundary between where you sleep and where you complete activities. 

 

  1. Be sure your bed is made. It makes all the difference.
  2. Change into pajamas. (This may seem obvious, but I rarely change out of my day clothes until a minute before I climb into bed. I think this will be a nice cozy way to start getting my body relaxed.)
  3. Take evening meds, wash face, etc. Get it out of the way before trying to settle down and relax. (Although I would wait on brushing teeth until after you’ve had your evening drink unless you’re just having water.)
  4. Put phone on charger and do not pick up again. (This is crucial. Not only has the bluish light from electronics been proven to disrupt sleep, but there is rarely anything restful to be found on Facebook or in our email inbox.)
  5. Set mood lighting: turn out all the lights but the ones you immediately need for reading or what have you. Light a candle if you can, which doubles as mood light and aromatherapy, or use an essential oil diffuser/room spray to create a calming scent in the air.
  6. TURN OFF THE TV. Television 100% does not count as a calming activity, the only exception being if you are playing one of those fireplace log videos or something like Moving Art.
  7. Lower your thermostat. Cooler temps make for better sleep.
  8. Pour yourself a soothing drink. This can be anything from a glass of water to a cup of herbal tea to a small glass of red wine. If you’re choosing alcohol, though, be sure to limit it to just one drink; too much can actually have a disruptive effect on sleep during the second half of the night.
  9. For 30 minutes, read, journal, meditate, listen to soft music, or do all of the above. I’m a big fan of the Baroque station on Pandora.
  10. Blow out candle, brush teeth, turn off lights, and get in bed at least 8 hours before your alarm is set to wake you.

What do you think? Do you have any before-bed rituals?

It’s been a minute.

I couldn’t believe it when I checked the date of my last entry on this blog. A full year,  almost! Only a couple weeks shy. I don’t really know what happened, to be honest. I think that I just got overwhelmed, that I felt like every entry was the same old tired series of frustrations about not staying focused, about not managing my time well, about struggling with self-loathing. I guess I figured nobody wanted to hear it, and I kinda didn’t want to write it.

Things have changed somewhat since, however. Well, not so much that as have changed. I realized that the source of a lot of my problems wasn’t that I wasn’t managing my time well, but that I had totally unrealistic standards for myself. I didn’t let myself say “no” to anything, I took on every project I could think of, I expected to spend all my downtime multitasking, and in general I was really not allowing myself to even imagine a balanced, happy life. I think my belief was, “Time enough for balanced later, I have to be successful first.”

Not so. Not so at all, grasshopper.

So I’ve been working on saying “no”. I’ve been working on setting boundaries. I’ve been working on addressing my overscheduled days and not immediately replacing podcasts that have wrapped up with another new one. And while I’m enjoying having more time to practice self-care and take walks and whatnot, it’s not easy. I’m an American, and we know how much this country likes to judge people on their productivity. Not only that, I had a compulsive workaholic father, who made me feel like sleeping in was a sin that could only be atoned for with the backbreaking labor of building a deck, or something like that. I hear his voice in my head a lot, when I’m “slacking”. Ironically, he was also the person who used to tell me, “You don’t know how to relax”.

It’s sort of hilarious to think that I, basically a professional couch potato, don’t know how to relax. But once I started paying attention, I realized it was true. I cannot just chill at the end of the day wrapped up in a blanket and watch TV; I have to be working on my planner, too. Or I need to be editing. Or replying to emails. Or finishing up my weight exercises. Or cleaning up in the kitchen and packing lunch. I cannot relax. 

So this is something that I’m going to really start working on. I want to stop constantly multitasking, and I want to establish a sort of evening cool-down routine, a hard boundary where work is no longer allowed and I’m only permitted to watch TV/movies or read or whatever, with no attempt to finish up on other tasks.

This is going to be an enormous challenge for me. I will let you know what my plan is, as soon as I figure it out!

Writing Full Characters

 

I haven’t written here in so long, instead preferring to focus on taking photos and sharing them on Instagram or Facebook. If you aren’t following me on there, you should. It’s a good time, especially at this time of year.

I have been struggling with my writing, as always, and turned towards some old advice that I had read in On Writing by Stephen King: read more. I took that advice and went hard on it by creating a whole new series for my UNspoiled! Podcast series, the UNspoiled! Book Club, hoping that the tie-in to work would cause me to be more consistent with my reading. And you know what? It worked!

I have been flooded with ideas and revelations since starting the book club, and in some ways I have been a little overwhelmed by the realizations I’ve had. I could clearly see that I was heading in the wrong direction with parts of the story, or that there were pretty big questions I hadn’t considered. But one of the biggest things I have gained from this exercise is a deeper understanding of what makes me tick as a writer, and that I need to explore that more deeply.

For me, it’s all about psychology. I am fascinated by people and human behavior and the ways in which people are shaped by their surroundings and upbringing. This is a huge reason why I’ve been discovering that Stephen King speaks to me personally as a writer: nobody I know of has quite mastered the art of the psychological the way he has. As I was reading both The Dark Tower and IT (I’m not done with either yet, so no spoilers!) I was struck by the fact that King is able to jump from one perspective to another, and still make me care about each individual despite my initial annoyance at being wrenched from a POV that I was starting to like. In a few words, he turns characters into complete people. I may not always like them, and in some cases may be disgusted by them, but I am almost never bored.

After realizing this, I decided to go ahead and create a series of questions that I’m going to begin asking myself about every character I write. All the character sheets I’ve found are pretty surface, asking questions like, What’s your character’s favorite band? How do they like to spend their free time? Do they get good grades?

I mean, c’mon. That’s all superficial stuff, the kind of dating-website nonsense that says nothing about who a person really is. Really you could pick the answers to questions like that out of a hat and still have no idea about the character as a human being.

 I think the questions I wrote get to the deeper root of who a person is. I’m sure someone out there has done something like this before, but I wasn’t able to find it so here it is. I think that, if you know who someone is on a fundamental level, figuring out something like their favorite band comes from a richer, more organic place.

Anyway, I decided that I would share this with you all in case someone out there finds it useful.

 

Childhood

Who are their parents? What values were they raised with? Did they accept or reject those values? If rejected, was this out of defiance (personality), or disillusionment (experience)?  If they subscribed to those values, was this out of faith or out of fear?

Self-Awareness

How do they see themselves? How does their family see them? Does their family know them well, or is there not a close relationship? Is their personality met with encouragement or discouragement, and is this supportive or abusive?

How do strangers see them? Is the character aware that people see them this way? Do they like this or do they try to fight it?

Direction and Goals

What are their goals, both long-term and in this immediate moment? Do they not have any long-term goals? If not, why not?  If they do, are those goals their own or have they been forced upon them? If forced, do they realize that or are they in denial and believe them to be their own? How dedicated are they to these goals? Do they honestly believe they can achieve them?

Friendships

How many friends do they have, a few close friends or many casual friends, and why? How close are they to their friends? Do their friends see the relationship with the character the same way that the character does? Are friendships is important to them or are they OK with being alone? Are they honest with themselves about whether they like being alone?

Sex/Romance

What kind of person is the character attracted to? Are they sexually active? Does the character believe in love, and do they prioritize love or sex? What is their relationship to sex: are they open or timid? Proud or ashamed? Do they have any kinks? What turns them on?

Are they an optimist or a pessimist regarding relationships? Do they prefer someone older or younger, domineering or submissive? Are they aware of that preference? Do they have people interested in dating them? Why or why not, and does the character care?

Are they attracted to people that remind them of family, and if so are they conscious of that? How many relationships have they had? What kind of pattern and do their relationships take on, and are they aware of them? In failed relationships, do they blame themselves or the other party? How does their family treat their partners, and what role does that play in whom they choose to date?

I’m sure I will think of loads more questions, and when I do I will update the file. If you’d like a printable sheet of these questions, you can find it here. I didn’t design the sheet to be filled out like a worksheet, more like a list to be kept and used as a jumping-off point from which to fill your notebooks and Scrivener pages with brainstorms about your characters.

I hope someone out there finds this helpful, and I hope to see you again soon!

My Coach

Since January, I’ve been fortunate enough to be working with a coach named Melinda Sohns, who has a website called Turning Yourself Inside Out. Melinda was looking for a volunteer who wanted to lose a lot of weight, and who was trying to get off the diet bandwagon. Needless to say, I fit the bill.

Melinda is not a coach that stands in front of you screaming to “have some self-respect”, slapping the cake out of your hands while cracking a whip to scare you onto a treadmill. She’s not a coach that has you count all your calories and then tells you what you fucked up at the end of the week. And thank fuck for that, or I might be in prison right now for manslaughter (no jury would convict me of murder).

For three months, Melinda has been meeting with me once a week to talk about the root of my body issues. In the first session, she asked me to start from the very beginning as far back as I could remember, to my first memory of feeling fat. Which just so happened to be in kindergarten. You can see a post I wrote (before even starting coaching) about that here.  We went on from there, her asking me occasionally to stop and go a little deeper into certain situations, and I started to slowly piece some things together right in that first session.

The thing that stood out to me most about working with Melinda was the fact that she challenged me. I have read as many books about weight loss, about “conscious eating”, about healing your connection with you body, as anybody out there. I have tried cleanses and fasts, I have been on Weight Watchers more times than I can count, I became a compulsive exerciser, went vegetarian, went vegan, went macrobiotic, went paleo…you get the drift. And in all the books and quizzes and questionnaires in magazines, they asked the same shallow questions, worded slightly differently, that did nothing but make me feel like, “I should have this figured out by now, I’ve answered these a hundred times”.

Melinda pushed it further. I consider myself more self-aware than the average person, but she managed to get me asking questions of myself that I had never even thought of. “Why do you eat at that time of day? What are you feeling? What are you hoping to achieve when you choose those foods? What kind of feeling would you have if you didn’t eat, or even if you didn’t have the food in the house to begin with? If you could eat anything you wanted to eat, what would you choose most often?”

I kind of surprised myself. It turns out that I would choose fresh, beautiful fruits and veggies instead of Cheetos and cake if I felt I had a choice. And turns out I do have a choice, I just have to make it a priority in my life and in my budget.

And who knew that I avoid exercising as I gain weight because I hate feeling the fat on my body? I hate being reminded of the fact that I’m not thin anymore, and being too heavy to do certain exercises depresses me and makes me want to do even less. Which leads to me gaining more weight, which leads to me sitting still more, and around and around. I honestly had no idea, but after talking to Melinda it was so obvious I felt like an idiot for not seeing it sooner.

Our agreement was to work together for three months and then I would write a testimonial about my experience. I’m sure that you’re all wondering whether I have lost any weight, and the answer is yes, although only about 4 pounds which some people would consider negligible. But I will say this: I’m have believed, for my whole life, that I’m lazy. I believed that my weight was the result of a character defect, and that I would never be able to change that. Melinda pushed me past that and forced me to see that I had assigned a completely unfair label to myself.  What I saw as laziness was a result of deep shame and an attempt to avoid feeling that shame by disconnecting from my body. Knowing that is frightening and disorienting. But most of all, it’s empowering.

Melinda has gotten me to see why I have been caught in the cycle I have, and that’s the most important part.  She gave me the tools, and stepped back to let me claim my own power. Now it’s up to me to face it, and decide if I want more for myself.

I would highly recommend working with her if you’re interested in learning more about yourself and your patterns, getting to the root of some of your beliefs about yourself, and reconnecting with your body. You can find her website here. Thanks so much, Melinda, for all you did for me. I hope we can work together again soon.