Monday, December 7, 2015

The unhappiness of seeking happiness

Today, I am thinking about how happiness and unhappiness are not exactly opposites. The distinction is not meaningless, but more and more I think that happiness cannot being knowingly uncovered while unhappiness is predictable in our seeking.

Our seeking brings about the lists: the lists of society, our parents and ourselves. The scroll grows longer and longer as I say to myself, "If I can just lay it all down neatly, I can work towards and attain the happiness, that promised fruit." The spinning wheel would tell us that once we master the way of eating, sleeping, breathing, having sex and picking our noses we will have happiness. It is simply practice and effort away.

I think the reality is that we find happiness in the most unexpected of places. Not when we are doing nothing or because we finally found time to "relax," but when we are investing in something beyond happiness. Meaning can drive us to do a number of painful things, but the negatives to not negate. Meaning does not dilute in suffering or disappear when we are at our meanest. 

No amount of sheer mental force can make us happy, but there are many good questions of meaning to which we can put our minds. It won't be a haze of happiness, but it won't be unhappiness, either. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Who you should vote for

Every candidate worth voting for is absolutely being deliberate and intentional with their words and actions as they campaign for your vote.

I would like to encourage everyone, no matter the candidate(s) you feel most aligned with in any political race (Newsflash: you've got a lot of other items on your ballot beyond and before the president), spend sometime investigating and learning the rhetorical techniques that are being deployed by their campaigns.

Rhetoric and logic are being used and misused to sway you. Again, I say, candidates worth voting for are speaking with intention, seeking to disseminate something specific.

As voters, we have to ask: What is that intention? Is it to share their message and show us how our values overlap with theirs? Is it to flare our emotions, asking us to lead with our fears or our hopes instead of our principals and reason? Is it to disguise true motivations and intentions?

I'm not asking you to dismiss a candidate because you realize they've been thoughtful in how they communicate with you; I'm asking that we all be critical of our instincts, the quick leaps to group identity that we may feel in the midst of politicking.

What has a candidate or campaign said that makes that sense of identity and representation become strong and clear in your mind? Can you name it? These are hard things to do. It can require us to turn a critical lens towards a movement or a figure who makes us feel comfortable and validated in our worst instincts of fear, hatred and selfishness.

I say that any candidate who is worth voting for is using rhetoric and logic in deliberate ways because the people worth voting for are those who have deep purpose in what they seek to achieve in public service. They do not take that purpose lightly.

They are and will be careful with their thoughts, words and deeds--not to be "politically correct", not to avoid offending our sensibilities, but because they have conviction in their beliefs and they don't want to mislead. They seek to communicate honestly so that we might vote for them with clear minds and resolute confidence in our choices.

I don't know how many candidates we may each see of that caliber in our lifetimes; I hope they are many. Still, I acknowledge that they will likely be few and far between, buried behind those who conceal their beliefs in pretty packaging. We must question them and question our instincts to identify with them. We must be open to the fact that the ones who make us most comfortable are actually the best at making us complacent and distracted.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

You are feeling sleepy...but probably not sleeping.

I'm am an anxious person. I'm not going to qualify how anxious I am compared to the norm or some other standard. I think the important measurement for this conversation is that I am anxious enough that it impacts parts of how I live my life that I would really like to change. While there are a few anxieties I wish I could surgically remove from my life, if I got to choose one to day it would be my anxieties about sleep.

Sleep is supposed to be a restful, recharging part of the day, yet I somehow manage to jam pack it with anxieties. There's the worrying about going to bed and not being able to fall asleep. Then, worrying I won't wake up on time. Slide in a little fear of the moments of existential examination that are bound to occur lying awake in the dark and a side of dreams likely to dredge up my subconscious shit. 

If sleep is supposed to be when I process my day, I'm going to start needing some sleep for my sleep to be processed. 

Like many parts of my life that anxiety has come to roost, sleep has felt at times like an insurmountable task full of mistakes to be made and judgments to be handed down. I don't have any magic cures for any of my anxieties (though I'm always open to magical cures if you have them!), but I have learned a few things. 

The main one is to be able to talk to another person. It isn't just being able to say, "I have a hard time sleeping," but to really delve into and examine with that person the process of your anxiety. For me, this has been talking about all the things I am avoiding when I can't sleep as well as the things I do to stay up--like watching Netflix or writing my blog too late on a Sunday night!

Recently, a college acquaintance reached out to me. It was kind of out-of-the-blue, but in the process she revealed to me some issues she was having with anxiety. What a leap it can be sometimes just to tell another person our anxieties no matter how intimate or removed we may be from them. I'm still working on owning my own anxious being and learning how to share with others my fears. Sometimes that is an exercise like writing this blog, more often it is just being honest when someone asks me how I feel about different parts of my life.

I hope more people are less anxious than I am. But, no matter your personal experience, I hope we can all work to embrace those who support us and our fears. Good night--don't let the anxiety bite.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Some thoughts on love

I've been spending a fair amount of my recent spare time pondering love--what it is, the experience of it and what the "state of love" address might sound like if we were at all serious about its place in the human experience. There are a number of routes of conservation to consider in this topic, but one that I return to in perpetuity is the many ways fear comes hand-in-hand with love or at least the possibility of it.

We fear rejection of unrequited affections. We fear the withdrawal or abandonment that we risk when accepting love offered by others. Love makes us want to expose the parts of ourselves that we fear others may abuse, reject or find incomprehensible.

It is, in many ways, a smart thing to resist. If you've got a reasonably strong defensive drive, keeping love out makes good sense. This doesn't mean being an outright asshole or a hermit, but it can cut a great many things out of our lives because we don't want to accept the risks, hard work and even directly negative aspects of being love.

All of these fears connect to a lack of trust in ourselves. If you feel reasonably secure in your sense of self, it may still hurt when others reject you or your ideas--but you don't see it as the final judgement of who you are. Relationships which involve love, however, are occasions where we can dig down to those deepest parts of ourselves, including the never totally excised vulnerabilities that are intrinsic to our human state.

Such relationships are opportunities to know ourselves and others in ways that we cannot do on our own or "out-of-love" members of a relationship. Being alone and having relationships that don't include love are certainly good in their own ways. I think, however, it is easy to lull ourselves into a sense of security by avoiding love. The real truth is those deepest insecurities reside with us whether or not we open ourselves up to the opportunities to know others in a loving way where we can acknowledge our fears.

If a whole life is spent without taking the risk of love, it is also spent without the connections that can help us find some kind of acceptance of the fragility of being human.

Here's just a short clip of one of the many thinkers whose ideas are helping me ponder love these days:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I don't need marketers to tell me what's beautiful--and I don't think you do either.

Let me preface this whole post by saying that I am glad to see the continuing and growing of conversations about appreciating beauty in a range of body sizes and that I don't think we should just ignore the representations made in mass media and marketing. 

With all that in mind: I don't give a fuck about "body diversity" in the modeling industry. Why? Because I'm already too pissed at advertising. I don't think it really matters if every high fashion house's advertising campaign and every Target flyer in your Sunday paper could capture over the course of the year the breadth and depth of diversity in human bodies--at the end of the day, they are only doing it to sell you shit you don't need! 

As long as our definitions of beauty and value to come from people that are trying to sell us something, they are probably going to continue to suck. Sure, capitalism has learned some tricks: maybe it is better to run a campaign on self-worth than degradation to get people to buy your product. Still, the change only comes about because something sells better.

I don't want my conception of beauty to be defined by marketers who see my successful understanding of "beauty" in the amount of dollars I spend on their brand. If we care about the messages people are getting from clothing advertising, we need to establish and critique the basic framework of marketing. Marketing doesn't exist to tell us the truth or to help us find alternative options: marketing exists to help those doing the marketing. 

You don't need marketing to tell you what's beautiful. Yet, many young people grow up with a large part of their understanding of the world being framed by what marketing tells them. So, I am happy people are criticizing the lack of body diversity in modeling, but we need to follow up on those critiques with action with young people. This means talking straightforwardly and frankly about where our aesthetic values come from and how the worth of another person never comes from their aesthetic presentation to us.

Let's stop buying the bullshit of beauty marketing and start enriching our own lives with a new concept of the value of beauty that doesn't include dollar signs.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A pause

I had a few different things I thought about writing about over the course of the week. Yesterday, a high school classmate of mine died. It is a case of feel sad, but also like I'm not entitled to feel sad at all. I feel angry and sad while also feeling removed, separated from what is happening at home. I tried writing out some of the ideas from earlier in the week, but it's just not happening. I'm planning on a new post next Sunday.

Until then--M

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Adulthood in vitamins and mugs

After the last two posts on expectations in my more idealized view, I've been ruminating on my current experience of expectations on an individual level. Specifically, I have been thinking about the sensations of feeling like a "real adult." I've reached that point in life where I work full-time, exercise regularly, take a multivitamin (almost) every morning--but, I've even got a coffee cup emblazoned with my work logo. There are a number of things that go into feeling one has reached "adulthood"--whatever the fuck it is, actually. I think the real sensations that are worth seeking and developing are more nuanced than any category of "adult".

Being an adult really just comes down to your expectations about what an "adult" is/does. There's no real definition beyond arbitrary line drawing that doesn't account for individual variety. In my case, a lot of what I thought being an adult would be was based on expectations I formed from the "adults" in my childhood. These people who were older than me, supposedly in charge, were my main frame of reference. They continue to hold sway over my subconscious expectations, but the more time I spend thing about those expectations and their origins, the more I come to have my own definition of adulthood.

None of these outward markers really define for me the responsibility and autonomy that I am seeking. Additionally, I am not seeking some title to put behind my name like a Ph.D--I don't need a certificate of adulthood. The attributes I want for myself are ones that I want to be developing for the rest of my life. For example, while I don't think remembering to take my multivitamin makes me an adult, being able to carryout the long-term self-care activities demonstrates to me a new phase of my intrinsic motivations. I hope that I can continue expanding on these small forms of self-care and self-knowledge.

These adult-status items are not unimportant in terms of being able to work on these more existential aspects. Having a job give me financial freedom to experiment with my own self-efficacy in all parts of my life. There are a great many things that the world tells us are "what adults do" can be part of the process of knowing ourselves, but they are not determining factors.

Am I an adult? Depends on who you ask, but personally I couldn't care less. I do care that I am becoming more response-able, efficacious, self-confident, self-aware and free from superficial expectations. I'm not over all the Midwest farm girl hopes that were held for me, but I am getting better at recognizing that they were never held by my hands. The harder step, for me, is knowing this person I am becoming and struggling to communicate that process to those who want to see my "adulthood" as aimed at some kind of stasis.

It can be a challenge to express to another person your own infinite process of becoming; I certainly don't think it can ever be fully communicated. There will likely still be times that I have to present myself to world at-large as a checked-off list of "adult to-do" items. But, for myself, I can live with ambiguity of being a life-long child with growing to be done.