Thursday, September 11, 2014

Strange Power

Strange things happen when you're open. I don't mean opening your front door - although strange things can happen then too - rather I mean, being open to life. I mean, living - really living.

I am the last person to deny anxiety. I am a queen of anxiety. I have an app in which I record my moods daily (of which there are many) and I frequently check the anxious face, along with the worried face, and the stressed one, and the tense one...

Keep in mind this is when I am meditating and doing physical activity of some kind...which makes me think I could probably stand a few anxiety hypnosis sessions, if not mood altering substances.

I feel anxious every day. Literally - every day - at least once a day, if not sixty-three times daily I am anxious. I don't mean just a little uncomfortable - I mean gut-twisting, nausea-wrangling, lip-biting, nail-drumming anxious.

I carry it in my shoulders. This means they are super tight, up to my ears, and often hunched when I'm going through a particular spell of high stress.

You may have surmised my life is a little stressful these days. Truthfully I am probably more anxious now than I have been since junior high (another story for another time). Then it was a daily battle with the self - a struggle to decide status, acceptance, and place. It's been almost twenty years and while certain elements were released and resolved, new ones grew to take their place. That's crazy.

This anxiety I carry around is crazy. It has been a personal obstacle in more than one situation. It has stopped me from so many things, which seems strange because if you know my history, you know I've done a lot. I mean, I lived in India for six months and it didn't stop me then!

Now you're wondering what it did stop me from doing.

Maybe pursing a doctorate earlier? Trying a crazy entrepreneurial idea to the fullest extent? Calling a long-lost and well-loved friend on the phone to confess life moments? I don't know if it was just the anxiety. I know that was a part of it. I know there was a part of me when I was younger that just couldn't handle the idea of settling down into any kind of set structure. I know there was a part of me that couldn't handle the idea of failing at anything because I've lived under the crippling shadow of perfectionism from more than one quarter. There were expectations and there was always the thought in the back of my mind that I would be imposing - that I couldn't afford it - that I wasn't good enough - that they had other friends in person who were closer or more important - that I wasn't worth the time. These were the words that repeated over and over again.

It doesn't matter how successful or brilliant or amazing a person is - they are still vulnerable. There are still pieces deep in the bowels of a person's soul that are hidden, protected by layer upon layer of acquired emotional armor. But I heard someone say, it isn't the protected who have power. Those with mech-warrior battlements are more brittle than shale, weaker than mica. The armored cannot expose themselves. They cannot become close. They cannot grow outside their protective shell.

The world belongs to the vulnerable - the weak - those willing to expose their soft underbellies to the light of day. Those who hand their hearts and minds to others - despite the risk of betrayal, ridicule, and destruction - own all social power. They are the ones who risk everything, and like a good stock broker, they could lose it all. But they could also win the day. Their rewards could be richer than their wildest dreams, all because they risk everything.

Shed your anxiety. Be vulnerable. It pays better.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are!

Some paths are scary...
Lately there have been several recurring themes in my life and therefore, my writing: coincidence, fate, purpose, choice, self-acceptance, and "coming out."

But worth it.
First of all, I don't believe in coincidence. I'm a person of faith and I've had too many strange things happen in my life to believe in "coincidence." I believe that everything happens for a reason, so you could say I believe in a kind of fate and that things - and people - have related purposes.

That said, I also believe you can choose to ignore or follow your purpose. In order to actively make that choice, many times a person must engage in self-exploration. This often leads to the discovery of both pleasant and unpleasant elements of the self (history, talents, preferences, personality traits, etc). This also leads to the possibility of self-acceptance (or not).

The process of discovery and acceptance in turn leads to the possibility of "coming out."

When encountering the phrase "coming out" most people think of an LGBT person openly declaring their gender/orientation, however "coming out" is not exclusively an LGBT act. Any part of the self that has been hidden, dormant, or laying in a deep recess can be brought to the light of day and shared with others. The process, and often the implications, are the same.

It is the implications of "coming out" - of a change in identity - that piques my interest. It also keeps me up at night.

Coming out is hard. It isn't like going from the identity of coupled woman to mother. That identity is clear and easy to see. It is one most people encounter on a regular basis, and for most people, there are no loose ends or questions raised by such an identity change.

The nature of coming out means the hidden identity or issue being brought into the open is uncomfortable, otherwise it wouldn't have been hidden. There is something shameful or uncomfortable, or difficult about this identity or issue, usually for both the self and others. It calls some fundamental thing into question - roles, relationships, actions, all shift to a new and strange place with this new identification.

Sometimes such identifications become the person. Literally, these difficult identities are so hard to get past for most other people, the self becomes two-dimensional. Suddenly the self is only lesbian, is only an addict, is only poor, is only an abuser, is only a victim, is only a criminal according to the other. Pigeon-holing abounds when the new issue comes to light. In order to overcome this shallowing process, the self must work extra hard to show up this new identity: I am green, progressive, Christian, athletic, multi-racial, multi-lingual, educated etc. These other identities are forced into competition with the "shameful" and marginalized new identity.

Some people choose to embrace their marginalized identity and center their lives around these things, for example a once battered woman turned activist who works with battered women. Another example would be a recovering alcoholic choosing to support others in their quest for sobriety. The centering of this identity surpasses a volunteer level, but moves to paid work as well as possible volunteering. Literally, life in these situations is entirely focused on this "shameful" identity.

The other possibility is to downplay such identities and to focus on something else. I think of the case of Maya Angelou who could have focused much of her writing and energy on the fact that she was molested and raped as a child. She could have written much of her work about - and championed victims of - sexual abuse and assault, however she did not. She chose a wider platform that included socio-economic, race, gender, and orientation identities rather than a single pigeon-holed identity of "victim."

Of course no one is a single thing. Each person has multiple facets, each informing the other. Experiences, preferences, and inherent abilities all contribute to the people we are. Often, however, one aspect or set of aspects stands out. One or a set of identities speaks to us more. We identify with a given set more strongly, and there are reasons for this (our experiences and preferences, for example).

This is where a given person's purpose lies - surrounding those identities of utmost importance.

However there is tension in balancing a person's purpose with the potential of pigeon-holing. There is tension surrounding that question of pigeon-holing and acceptance by others. Will I be stereotyped if I come out? Will I always be only this one thing? Will my identity overshadow my purpose? Will it interfere with achieving my life purpose? - asks the self.

Inevitably, the answer is: I don't know. We cannot know. The other is the one who answers these questions by their actions - their acceptance and rejection. It is only when the self is made vulnerable by coming out that the answer can be given and received. Until then, there is only anxious speculation.

We all have secrets. We all have hidden parts of ourselves. With every hidden piece, there is a debate regarding with whom we render ourselves vulnerable. For those who live more public lives - bloggers, writers, pastors, politicians, celebrities - the debate is more intense. The revelation of a secret self has more lasting and difficult implications. Will my brand be impacted? Will my image be impacted positively or negatively (because it will be impacted one way or another)? Is it worth it? Is it more important to be honest and authentic than to worry about the potential fallout? How strongly do I identify with this part of myself? If I decide to come out, how should I do it? Will it be quiet? Will it be for maximum impact? If so, what would create maximum impact?

These are the questions we ask ourselves. These are the questions that keep us up at night because there are no easy answers. There are no right answers. There are only answers that align with a person's purpose and those that do not. So it comes down to choice: what is your purpose? Who is your secret self? Will sharing your secret self with others further your purpose in this world? If the answer is yes, then it's time. It's time to come out.

Why Get a PhD?

Why should a writer explore a doctorate? Why would anyone? These are very important questions considering that university teaching jobs in the humanities are scarce (numerous applicants for the same few jobs) and the time and energy required for such an endeavor. It's not a small thing.

Here are my caveats to pursuing the lofty and ultimate degree:
  1. A doctorate is only worth doing if it is fully funded. Anything less, considering the job climate (and the mountain of debt most potential candidates already have from previous degrees) is just stupid.
  2. Besides university jobs, there has to be some list of backup options. My own, are related to writing and...other things.
  3. It must be something a person really wants to do. For me, it is one of my bucket list items. I've always wanted to sign things "Dr. Alexis Donkin" which I know would confuse people even more about my sex (Alexis is a masculine name in most of the world and I've been called Mr. in more than one mailing.). This, while a small thing, always puts a smile on my face.
  4. It helps to genuinely love school. Spending at least five more years of life on another degree isn't everyone's cup of tea. It takes work, dedication, and perseverence.
  5. It should help a person achieve other life goals. A doctorate can be an end, but it should also be a means. Anything that takes that much time and energy should be a "twofer" as it were.
 For me personally, there are additional fringe benefits:
  1. I get to connect with likeminded people once more, both experienced and fledgling.
  2. I gain credibility, something that opens doors in many directions - corporate, non-profit, and educational.
  3. I further hone my craft. There's nothing like regular meticulously researched writing to develop a person's abilities.
  4. I will likely have the opportunity to teach while obtaining my degree (and thereby honing this craft as well). I love to teach and I look forward to teaching classes in subjects I love.
  5. I will have swaths of time off throughout the week where I can spend time with my son (especially because I am a very efficient worker). This is a big plus.
  6. I will get away from Santa Barbara and be independent once more (another big plus, despite the loss of regular free child care).
It is for these reasons I have conclusively decided to pursue a doctorate. As it is, I will be chronicling my application process on this blog. The process is not easy and it takes up all my spare time (in between my son's waking periods). Necessarily this forces me to take a break from all fiction writing. At the moment my time is devoted to studying for my upcoming GRE exam on September 29th. I am rusty in many aspects of standardized test-taking (and all those pesky math formulas!) which means all I'm doing these days is studying (admittedly I sometimes play Monster Busters. So sue me...). Wish me luck and send me positive vibes! I'll take all the support I can get!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Willpower in Routine

I had a routine in place. It worked. I wrote posts from my phone. I studied Spanish on my phone. I wrote several thousand words during baby's nap time. I worked out during the morning, either before baby woke for the day or right after nap time.

Then I got sick. And my pedometer battery died. And I had to add studying for the GRE. And my brother got married. And my foot got injured. In short, everything went to hell and my routine disappeared.

I'm trying to get back to something like it was a week ago, but my workout situation is kind of shot, which derails my mood (a noticeable trend). And I'm so frustrated with the whole thing that I have written and scrapped a bagillion blog posts without publishing one. I have touched my manuscript once. I have touched my Spanish app once.

It's rather embarrassing.

The process of getting back on the writing horse is a willful one. Today I forced myself to write this, along with 2000 words of a book. It wasn't easy. I didn't want to and it took a while to get my thoughts in order, but I did it. It can be done. You can do it too.

Even if you find yourself out of your routine, just pick yourself up and do it. That is the hardest part. Once you're going, you'll have momentum. Momentum is a difficult thing to stop.