Tag Archives: criticism

In Plain Sight

It’s hunting season in Maine. Several days ago a woman was accidentally shot and killed on her own property at 10:30 in the morning by a hunter. We frequently hear shots in the neighborhood, and although we don’t allow hunting on our land, there’s nothing to prevent a hunter wandering in, attracted by the deer, game birds and waterfowl on our 26 acres.

I bought a cheap orange vest I can wear over my coat for my morning walks.

Wearing orange during hunting season is such a simple and obvious safety tactic that I didn’t think twice about doing it, but the first morning I went out with the vest on I discovered a lot of complex feelings about being so visible in the world.

Photo by Andrew Spencer on Unsplash

The first thing I noted was how dangerously exposed I felt. I do not want to be seen by human eyes. I don’t mind if the wildlife sees me, but if they do I’m less likely to see them, so I do my best to move quietly and unobtrusively through the landscape, wearing neutral, natural colors. I stop and sit or lean against a tree for long stretches, hardly moving, watching the river and listening to the woods around me.

The orange vest shrieks, “Look at me! I’m here!” and I hate it. It’s more than just my preference to blend in to backgrounds and maintain protective camouflage. It seems a life-and-death necessity to avoid being seen.

I’ve been aware of my hypervigilance for some time now, and I also know that I’ve never been comfortable in crowds. If I’m not able to position myself in a corner or with my back to something solid and watch, listen and evaluate, anxiety quickly disables me. I need to know where the exits are in any indoor space.

This is interesting, as I’m fascinated by people, and people watching is one of my favorite activities. I’ve frequently longed to be invisible, to watch and listen freely and leave no trace of my presence. If I could be invisible, I imagine I’d still get overstimulated by noise, activity and technologically-generated energy, but I’d feel safer.

The strength of my feelings as I donned the orange vest begged the question: What happens if somebody sees me? What’s so terrible?

That’s easy. Criticism happens. Judgement, abuse (verbal, emotional, physical), negative feedback happen. If I’m seen doing anything, I’m sure to be doing it wrong (according to the observer, anyway). I’m sure to disappoint. I’m sure to be inadequate or inappropriate. My clothes are wrong. I’m clearly behaving like a slut, going out on my own land in my men’s Carhartt jeans and old boots. My hair is wrong. My choices are wrong. If I’m heading for the northern boundary of our land, I should be walking the southern border. I’m too noisy. I’m in someone’s way. I’m too slow. I’m wasting my time and should be doing something more productive. I’m irresponsible. I’m lazy. I’m selfish. I’m scaring the fish. I’m scaring the birds. I’m scaring the animals. I should be ashamed of myself.

Wow. No wonder I don’t want to be seen. Who knew the perils?

I didn’t know, until my ugly orange vest dredged all this up from my swampy subconscious.

On subsequent mornings, as I’ve walked in my orange vest, I’ve thought about the tension between being seen and avoiding being seen. How can anyone be in the world without being seen, even the most self-effacing of us? Refusing to be seen is refusing any healthy human connection. How do we get hired without being seen, or accepted for college? How do we follow our creativity or passion if we’re afraid to be seen? How do we engage in face-to-face conversation or discussion, or participate in politics or as a volunteer?

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

On the other hand, how much exposure is too much? How can we avoid being seen by the shooter at the concert, in church or in the movie theater? We seem to be gradually becoming more and more captive to the Matrix, which makes us increasingly vulnerable to identity theft, technological sabotage and cyber-based terrorism.

I sometimes feel I carry protecting my privacy too far. I can’t say I regret not being on Facebook and other social media, as I’ve yet to hear about anything there that I need. On the other hand, not having a cell phone in today’s world creates a lot of problems for me. My personal issues with being seen are in the context of much wider social issues about exposure and safety. I don’t have any answers for the wider social problems. I wish I did.

For myself, though, it’s clear I need to address some of my subconscious beliefs about what will inevitably happen if I am seen. I’ve also developed a thicker skin about being criticized and judged. At this point in my life I’m really not much interested in the criticism and judgement of others. What interests me is how I feel about myself. My list of terrors about what happens if I’m seen is decades out of date, and I’ve already survived those consequences many times over. More of the same is boring rather than terrifying.

I’m stuck with my orange vest for several more weeks, and that’s OK. I’ve come to terms with it. In fact, I’m grateful to it, because it exposed some old wounds that needed attention. I’m stepping into plain sight In many ways in my life, this blog being one of the most prominent and challenging. Now I’ll practice walking this land in plain sight as well.

Choosing to be seen. My daily crime.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Defining Intelligence

I went to the dentist last week. I spent the usual hour with the hygienist and then the dentist breezed in to give me four or five minutes of exam, comment, teaching and friendly conversation. Thankfully, I don’t require more than this, as my teeth are in excellent shape. In the course of those few minutes, I used the term “permaculture,” and he asked me what it was. I gave him a brief answer, and on the way out the hygienist said I had a “high dental IQ.”

“She has a high IQ, period,” he responded as he left.

I almost got out of the chair and went after him to explain that I’m the dumb one in the family, and certainly don’t have a high IQ.

As I’ve gone about life since then, I’ve thought a lot about that interaction. I’ve also been feeling massively irritated, isolated and discouraged. This morning I woke out of a dream of being in a closet groping for my gun, my knife, even my Leatherman, absolutely incandescent with rage, because a man outside of the closet was having a dramatic and violent meltdown, intimidating everyone present because of something I’d said or done that he didn’t like.

I wasn’t intimidated. I was royally pissed off.

When I had my weapons assembled, I stormed out of the closet and came face-to-face with a clearly frightened woman who was wringing her hands and making excuses for the behavior of the yelling man. I screamed into her face that he could take his (blanking) opinions and shove them up his (blanking blank) and unsheathed my knife, not because of her, because of HIM.

I woke abruptly at that point and thought, I’m not depressed, I’m MAD!

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

While I showered and cooked breakfast I sifted through IQ and conformity and cultural and family rules, economic success and failure, work, invalidation and silencing and keeping myself small . I thought of how pressured I’ve always felt to toe the line, be blindly obedient, follow the rules, ask no questions and be normal. Normal, as in compliant, and refraining from challenging the multitude of life’s standard operating procedures that “everyone knows.” Normal, as in not daring to resist, persist, poke, peel away, uncover. Normal, as in never, NEVER expressing curiosity, a thought, an experience, a feeling or an opinion that might make someone uncomfortable. Normal, as in never admitting that the way we’re supposed to do things doesn’t always work for me, and frequently doesn’t appear to work for others, either. I slammed around the kitchen, turning all this over in my mind, letting the bacon burn, and finally pounced on a keystone piece to blog about.

What does it mean to be smart? Why do I feel like a lying imposter when someone makes a casual comment about my IQ? Why is IQ even a thing? Why does so much of my experience consist of “sit down and shut up!”?

Intelligence is defined on an internet search as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Please note the absence of any kind of test score in that definition. Likewise, there’s no mention of economic status, educational status or social status. Also, this definition says nothing about intelligence as a prerequisite for being a decent human being.

The definition takes me back to the playing field in which I wrote last week’s blog on work . Here again we have a simple definition for a word that’s positively staggering under assumptions and connotations.

Fine, then. I’ve explored what work means to me. What does intelligence mean to me?

Intelligence means the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. Good learners do not sit down and shut up. We question, and we go on questioning until we’re satisfied with answers. We try things, make hideous mistakes, think about what went wrong and apply what we learned. We don’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. We exercise curiosity and imagination. We pay attention to what others say and do and how it all works out. We pay attention to how we feel and practice telling ourselves the truth about our experience. After a lot of years and scar tissue, we learn to doubt not only our own assertions, beliefs and stories, but everyone else’s as well. We practice being wrong. We become experts in flexible thinking. We adapt to new information.

We give up arguing with what is.

Intelligence endures criticism, judgement, abuse, taunts, threats, denial and contempt. It’s often punished, invalidated and invisible. Intelligence takes courage.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Intelligence is power. It does not sit at the feet of any person, ideology, rule or authority and blindly worship. It retains the right to find out for itself, feel and express its own experience, define its own success, speak its truth in its own unique voice, and it remembers that each of us is limited to one and only one viewpoint in a world of billions of other people.

Intelligence is discerning the difference between the smell of my own shit and someone else’s.

For me, intelligence is a daily practice. It’s messy and disordered and fraught with feeling. It means that everything is an opportunity to learn something new. Everything is something to explore in my writing.

I have no idea what my IQ is, and I don’t much care. I’m sick and tired of all the family baggage I’ve carried around about who’s smart and who isn’t and how we all compare. Honestly. What am I, 10 years old? Enough, already.

I’m also fed up with being silenced, and in fact I’ve already refused to comply with that, as evidenced by this blog. I understand a lot of people don’t want to deal with uncomfortable questions. Too bad. Those folks are not going to be readers. It’s not my job to produce sugar-coated bullshit that can’t possibly threaten or disturb anyone.

So there it is. The practice of intelligence. My daily crime.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Get over it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

 

 

 

Boundaries 2: Furry Pickles

This is the second of I’m not sure how many blogs about boundaries.  See last week’s blog for the beginning of the discussion!

Today the aspect of boundaries I want to explore is the one I have the most trouble with.  This aspect concerns managing boundaries with people we love.

Continuing with our metaphor of food on a shelf, last week I was comfortable with my identity of strawberry jam.  I know who I am, I’m in an intact container (most of the time) and I intend to be labeled accurately and effectively.  That’s all INTRApersonal start-where-you-are work.

However, there’s other food on the shelf.  The universe doesn’t revolve around strawberry jam, alas!  In fact, next to me is a jar of dill pickles.

We’ve been together as long as I can remember, sitting side by side on the shelf.  We’ve watched other food in other containers come and go.  The eggs in particular have quite the turnover rate.  We’re companions, friends, and in fact it’s not an exaggeration to say I love Pickles.

But one day I notice something has changed.  The clear green juice in the jar with floating bits of herbs and spices is getting cloudy.  And is that—could it possibly be—grey fur along one side of a pickle?

Disaster.  Catastrophe.  It can’t be true.  My beloved Pickles is beginning to grow fur.  Everybody on the shelf knows what this means.  Sooner or later, the refrigerator/cupboard/shelf Gods will cull Pickles.  Gone forever.

I can’t imagine my life without Pickles.

Naturally, I want to help.  No kind of food could possibly want to wear grey fur.  There must be something I can do.

If I love Pickles, I must be able to fix this.

If I really, truly love Pickles, and my love is real and unselfish and unconditional (and Pickles is worth that kind of love), there’s a way for my love to fix this.

If I fail to fix this, my love is at fault.

That, ladies and gentlemen, eggs and bacon, is where I lose my boundaries.  It’s all very clear and self-evident when it’s laid out in black type on the page, or in this case, screen.  Love can’t fix everything.  Love isn’t always enough.  Sometimes we can’t “help” other people.  Bad things happen to good people all the time.  Loss is part of love.  Right?

My brain understands this.  My brain functions pretty well.  My brain is not the problem.  It’s my heart, my emotions, my stories, my beliefs and my expectations that are unruly and stubborn.

Perhaps I haven’t explained it well, my connection with Pickles.  I know him better than anyone.  I understand him.  He’s the most important person in my life.  He’s part of who I am.  If I lose him, I’ll lose part of myself.  I thought nothing could ever part us, or damage our respect and trust in one another.  In fact, we’re so close we don’t need boundaries.

(Naturally, he feels the same way about me.  He doesn’t say so, but one doesn’t expect pickles to emote like strawberry jam.)

Loving fully and unconditionally means no boundaries, right?  Isn’t that what we learned?  If we love unselfishly, completely, without reservation, then boundaries are unnecessary and we can count on getting that same kind of love in return.  Loving well equals being well loved.  Isn’t that the way it works?  Only a selfish bitch maintains boundaries, an unloving, cold woman, a ball breaker.  Only an indifferent, unfit mother maintains boundaries between herself and her children.  Only a judgmental, critical, power-hungry female protects herself with boundaries.  Generous, attractive, truly loving people have no need of boundaries.  They don’t count the cost.  They always say yes.  They give freely of their resources to whoever is in need without expectations or strings attached.  They never keep score.  They have no needs, these lucky, healthy, beautiful, abundant people.  They feed and nurture the world.

Boy, does this world need people like that.  That’s the kind of woman/friend/mate/mother/daughter/sister I want to be.  If I want to save Pickles, that’s the kind of person I have to be.

Here’s the thing.

I can’t be that.  I’m not sure anyone can be that.

I’m not talking about ideology here.  I’m not qualified or interested in religious debate.  What I’m saying is that I can’t be a bottomless, endless nurturer and giver with no needs, and I’m not convinced anyone else can, either.  I know some who say they can, pretend they can and/or expect others to be, but I’ve never met anyone who really lives like that—at least not long term.  Not successfully and not happily, anyway.

But aren’t we supposed to?

Did I learn this wrong?  Did I misunderstand?  I can’t point to any one person who taught me this, after all.  Did I make it all up?  Or, alternatively, am I not the woman I think I am and aspire to be?  Am I small, mean, petty, hypocritical and selfish?  Am I unable to love the right way?  Am I a fraud?  Am I self-deluded?

Why am I in such chronic painful confusion about something my intellect sees so clearly?  Why does it seem that managing boundaries INTERpersonally carries such a negative connotation?  Why can’t I reconcile loving someone with all my heart with effective, appropriate boundaries between that person and me?  What is the source of this cognitive dissonance?

Which is more devastating—people who have no boundaries themselves and bitterly resent mine, or people who maintain boundaries between us when I have none?

In the first case I feel trapped, resentful and intruded upon, and in the second I feel hideously rejected, unappreciated and used.  Neither feel like healthy connection, but I call both love.

So here I am, side by side with Pickles on the shelf.  We look at each other through the glass sides of our boundaries.  I want to climb inside his container and take him in my arms, love him back into clear green juicy health, but if I do that I’ll start growing gray fur myself, and I know I can’t fix him at the same time I believe I should be able to.  I want to run away, turn away, not know what’s happening, but I can’t.

There’s nothing I can do.  My love is not enough.  Grey fur is creeping over Pickles and I can’t avoid it, flee it or stop it.  I can only wait and watch and sit here in my container, while Pickles sits in his.

RIP, Pickles.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted