Tag Archives: stories

Anxious Outcomes

I recently had a conversation in which I learned about the degree to which my anxiety affected at least one of my adult children.

Parenting is an ironic business. Having been a chronically anxious child myself, always feeling unsafe and afraid, I strove mightily to protect my own children from any sort of fear or insecurity. Of course, I did this by assuring them all was well, all the while fearing all was not and never would be well. Being no less intelligent than I am, they heard the words but knew the truth of my feelings, and thus their trust in me was damaged, an exact replay of what happened between me and my own mother. You know, that thing I was never going to do when I was a parent!

Well, I’m humbled. I’m also sad, because I didn’t want either of my kids to battle with the burden of anxiety. It’s a hard way to live.

However, I understand that parenting, at best, is an imperfect process, and I try to hold my mother and myself with gentle arms regarding our choices as mothers. Parenting less than perfectly does not imply a lack of love. I know we both did the best we could with what we had at any particular point in time. No parent can do more.

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

Still, this kind of revelation is a far cry from my hopes, dreams and intentions when I held my newborns. On the other hand, it speaks to the strength of my relationship with my adult children that they can tell me the truth about their experience and I can hear it.

After our conversation, I’ve thought a lot about fear and anxiety. I can’t go back and reparent, but I wonder if I might, even at this late stage, find a way to extricate myself from the insidious tentacles of anxiety. I’ve been thinking about my life and trying to understand exactly what the roots of my anxiety are.

According to an internet search, fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” Fear is considered real, in that it’s right there in front of us, and elicits an immediate response.

Anxiety is an “emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of turmoil; a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically regarding an imminent event or something with uncertain outcome; a nervous disorder.” Anxiety is differentiated from fear by being more diffuse and generalized and focusing on imaginary outcomes and possibilities. Physiologically, it elicits the same response, and therein lies part of the problem.

Both are unpleasant emotions or feelings that affect us physically, intellectually and emotionally. We evolved to respond to fear in certain specific physiological ways, returning to baseline as the fear passes. Fear is a valuable feeling, helping us discern and avoid danger. I certainly don’t want to disable mine. I know the feeling of fear, but it’s not a frequent experience.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a chronic state for me. I can’t remember ever being free of it. I’ve developed a lot of coping mechanisms over the years, some more effective and appropriate than others, but I can’t imagine what life would be like without it. As far as I can tell, the feeling of anxiety provides no benefits whatsoever to me or anyone around me. It’s highly contagious and negatively impacts others in my life, to say nothing of the damage it does to me. We are not constructed to tolerate the chronic level of physiological arousal produced by anxiety.

I never before actually looked up these words, and I’ve never had the above distinctions between fear and anxiety until this week. I conclude that I have no problem with my relationship to fear, but I’m a slave to anxiety.

I find a kind of mordant humor in having a chronic unpleasant feeling regarding uncertain outcomes. Excuse me? All outcomes are uncertain for everyone until they happen! Most of us operate most of the time as though we know exactly what will happen next, but we don’t. I’ve lived long enough to know that’s all an illusion. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next on any level. For some reason, I’ve given that fact the power to make me miserable.

I have a powerful imagination, which makes me a good writer and creator. However, it also occasionally makes me captive to my own stories. I forget that my stories are just that–stories. I make them up, tell them to myself over and over, and behave as though they’re true, never really noticing when they diverge from reality. In my head, it’s all so real. I do know the difference between a story and what’s real, but I have to remind myself to keep the two separated.

Some stories are so old and deeply ingrained it takes a cataclysm to make us realize they’re not true, and then we have to deal with being wrong and all the consequences that follow, an uncomfortable, humbling and messy process.

If my anxiety is rooted in uncertain and imaginary outcomes and possibilities, it seems obvious that I can disable it with a little discipline, a dash of surrender to uncertainty, a lot of presence and the will to change. I’m chagrined by the possibility my anxiety is a lifelong bad habit as much as anything else. Could that be true? Yikes.

I wish with all my heart I’d been a better equipped and less distressed parent, but I remind myself I can’t go back. I can’t begin parenting again from ground zero. I can’t go back to the young woman I was and explain all this and give her the support and safety to actively choose to turn away from anxiety before starting a family. There’s only today, so many years later, as I sit with my laptop in my lap and the sun coming in the windows, glancing at my notes, thinking and writing.

I know all I’ve ever wanted for my own mother is health and happiness. I want the same for my kids. I suspect Mom and my sons also want that for me. Perhaps it’s time for me to shape an anxiety-free life now, not only for my own sake, but for those closest to me as well.

We build our lives on outcomes, one after another, more than we ever notice. We remember the spectacularly good and spectacularly bad outcomes, but what about the countless others? Outcomes are complex, not black and white. Outcomes can create visible and invisible ripples that last a lifetime. I can hardly think of a more fruitless endeavor than worrying about or trying to control outcomes. I’ve survived every outcome to date. What makes me think I won’t continue to do so–until I don’t, of course? But the outcome of death is largely out of my control, too. Why worry?

There are so many things I’d rather do than struggle with anxiety!

There are so many stories to imagine, share and write, rather than keep in my head and hurt myself with!

Anxiety is too expensive. I’m not interested in maintaining it anymore.

Better late than never.

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

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

 

 

 

 

Romance

I read a blog a few days ago titled ‘Romance Ruins Real Love’.

The blog reminded me of a conversation I had with an old friend some years ago. She said her favorite part of relationship was the first weeks, when everything is romantic anticipation and excitement. I remember how violently I disagreed with that view, though I didn’t say so to my friend at the time.

I never trust romance, because I don’t equate it with love. Even as a child, I was suspicious of princes on white horses. As an adult, I want a relationship that survives the flu, a broken toilet, a week-long power outage, job loss, poverty, a car accident, a road trip, moving house and painting a room together. Anyone can dress up, buy flowers and make a reservation, given adequate time, money and motivation. Anyone can make love with words. Many can show up for a great night between the sheets. Most of life, however, consists of day-to-day challenges, tasks and unexpected stuff that no one can prepare for, and that’s when we find out what we’re made of, as well as those around us.

Photo by Jan Phoenix on Unsplash

In spite of all that, I hunger for romance in my life. I always have.

I realized this week I couldn’t come up with a succinct definition of romance. I could write lists of what I find romantic, sensual or sexy, but how do those categories overlap into a central core of what romance actually is? As I sat down to begin this blog, I grabbed my Random House College Dictionary and was absolutely shocked at what I found.

Romance: A baseless, fanciful story; a love affair.

Wait, what? What about palpitating bosoms and muscled, shirtless heroes and wine and roses and diamonds? What about bikini waxes and lingerie, high heels, flowers, poetry, songs, movies and messages of love via social media? What about sex?

Is the whole world searching desperately for something that’s not even defined as real? I always thought it was real and attainable. I’ve thought of it as a rare phenomenon, a kind of shining miracle that can’t be bought or captured, that comes only to certain remarkable, young, beautiful and deserving people.

I’m ashamed to want romance. It’s not for someone like me, someone flawed, broken, aging, unbeautiful and in many ways unlovable (another of my stories). To dream of romance, to yearn for it, is pitiable and pathetic, and I keep such dreams well hidden, releasing them only in my writing.

I notice all of these thoughts and feelings about romance, all the shame, futility and bitterness associated with one word that means a baseless, fanciful story. Wow.

I paused in writing the blog and thought about Random House’s definition for a day. I decided the thing I find most disturbing about this definition is that it’s purely subjective. Do we each have a unique baseless, fanciful ideal we’re searching for or trying to create? I’ve written about stories  before. If my idea of romance is nothing but a baseless, fanciful story inside my head, it’s not about anybody else. It’s only about me. It’s not something I’ll ever discover out in the real world.

No wonder I haven’t been able to find it!

Huh.

If romance is just another of my stories, then it’s pointless to carry shame around because nobody will participate in my ideal. I’m the only one who can be responsible for my story. Nobody else even knows it, unless I tell it, and this is a private story I’m unwilling to reveal. My story of romance is part of who I am, a piece of vivid and passionate authenticity. It’s what I dance with and write with. I need it. It’s an aspect of myself to be nurtured and cherished, not ignored and denied.

Romance is not about them at all. It never has been. It’s about me.

Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

This is a place I’ve been before, although this time I’ve followed a different road to get here. When I lived alone in my own home in my old life, I became romantically self-reliant, as it were. I was lonely, but I realize now I was probably the most satisfied romantically I’ve ever been. I burned candles and incense. I bought flowers for myself. I took myself to the movies, to breakfast, out for pizza. I took long, luxurious baths with music and essential oils. I bought my favorite sexy underwear and wore it for my own enjoyment. I gave myself weekends away and night walks to watch the moonrise. I danced naked. I bought art cards I loved and mailed them to myself to mark special anniversaries and days.

Then I came to Maine and began life with my partner, and because I had a man in my life again, I gave up on romancing myself. I realized my new relationship is deeper and stronger than romance. I no longer feel lonely. Many of my needs are being met now that have never been met before. Life in central Maine in a 100+-year-old falling-down and leaky farmhouse with very little money is not romantic, however, and my partner is a pragmatic Yankee. He’s about as romantic as a rock. He loves me. I don’t want him to be different, and I recognize he is not equipped to satisfy my hunger for romance.

Well, no. But given the above definition, is anyone? Has my search for romance been in vain because what I long for isn’t out there at all, it’s in here? Was it my responsibility all along?

I say again: Huh!

If I decide to be the best romantic partner I’ve ever had, is that hilarious or creepy?

One thing’s for sure. I won’t have to work very hard to be the best romantic partner I’ve ever had!

Wait, I already am the best romantic partner I ever had, I just took some time off. And now I miss me.

Our daily crime: Let’s go romance ourselves!

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

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