Feb. 7th, 2013 11:48 am
clevermynnie: (and then?)
It's becoming apparent to me that I rely on physicality when I feel mentally out of balance. In grad school, I was certainly aware that I was using running as a way to process complex emotions and stabilize my mood. But endurance running especially has the effect, for me, of shutting down some of the more analytic parts of my brain while flooding it with 'YOU ARE GREAT, THIS IS GREAT' messages. Which is kind of avoidance, a little bit, but when in a complicated morass with no easy way out, it's a big help.

This has been coming up in improv where I notice myself turning to physicality when I don't know what to say. I went so over the top with it this week that I lost my balance, literally, and staggered backward across a room into a wall onto a heater. This was a day after falling into a tangle of mud and thorns on a trail run, and I later ended up falling AGAIN, and basically feeling like when I don't know what to do I throw myself into the physical world in a pretty dramatic way.

But also, to go back to running, just to have a pursuit that provides a physical conduit for the endless striving that sometimes pours out of me is more valuable than I realized. When I am ensnared by thoughts and feelings, having a way to release the frustration that builds up is not only satisfying but provides a lot of mental clarity that I can take back to non-physical pursuits. After I fell in the mud, I ran another ten miles, and I went until my entire mind was consumed by telling my body to just keep going. And then I was able to rest and be still.

muddy feet and sea
clevermynnie: (smile)
After my last post about improving my wardrobe, I managed to get rid of even more of my old stuff. It was easier after the first time, though I did feel the need to commemorate my former love of baby tees with place names or whatever on them:

fitted tees

I can't believe how many clothes I was hanging onto that had stain and cut and fit issues. But hey, nostalgia and such. So I also have been acquiring new stuff in fits, and trying to sort out how to make outfits from it. Read more... )
clevermynnie: (see us waving)
I've been working on a project recently that may come as a surprise. It addresses a pretty common concern, but one I've avoided dealing with for years. What I'm trying to do is fix my wardrobe.

Read more... )


Dec. 16th, 2012 09:18 pm
clevermynnie: (al fresco)
I have been feeling increasingly closed off recently, as if I were folding in on myself. There's really no better way to describe it, but the feeling has made me nostalgic for times in the past when I felt more able to be open. I like the feeling of openness, the simplicity of it but also the ease with which you are able to connect. I had been thinking about this and then came across a wonderful description of the feeling I had in mind, written by Zadie Smith in the New Yorker talking about something completely different:

This is the effect that listening to Joni Mitchell has on me these days: uncontrollable tears. An emotional overcoming, disconcertingly distant from happiness, more like joy—if joy is the recognition of an almost intolerable beauty. It's not a very civilized emotion. I can't listen to Joni Mitchell in a room with other people, or on an iPod, walking the streets. Too Risky. I can never guarantee that I'm going to be able to get through the song without being made transparent—to anybody and everything, to the whole world. A mortifying sense of porousness. Although it's comforting to learn that the feeling I have listening to these songs is the same feeling the artist had while creating them: "At that period of my life, I had no personal defense. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes."

I've never listened to Joni Mitchell, but feeling that way used to be a more regular feature of my life, and I'd like to cultivate that again.


Aug. 30th, 2012 04:24 pm
clevermynnie: (Default)
[ profile] bex posted something on facebook recently about the tension between living up to your potential and being happy... I wrote something briefly there but felt compelled to expand on it.

When I was in my teens, I believed that living up to my potential was a moral obligation. Basically, that if I didn't work my hardest to do as much as possible with what I had, I was being lazy and unworthy of the opportunities and talents available to me. I synthesized these beliefs both from objectivism, which I was really into at the time, and from my own feelings that I wanted to do more and more and more, forever and ever. I was trying to figure out where my own limits were, how much I could challenge myself, and I derived quite a bit of happiness from achievement. I still do, in fact!

But at this point, I have managed to push myself a lot farther than I could have conceived of in my teens. I've also had experiences that have led me to being more thoughtful about what I get from achievements, and to think about what I am trading in order to accomplish things. There are some things I am willing to give up in order to further a goal, for varying periods of time, and some things I am not. For example, at this point in my life I know that I need balance, and a variety of activities, in order to stay happy. Could I get further with one specific thing by excluding all others? Sure, but I would be miserable (and have been in the past when I've tried this), so I don't begrudge myself balance. That was a situation I hadn't really come to yet when I thought living up to my potential was the moral choice.

And more fundamentally, I think it's misleading to think of 'potential' as a one-dimensional thing. What would it mean to live up to my potential? Would it mean working 14 hours a day to get a tenure track position at a research university and aim for high-impact publications and an impressive scientific career? Would it mean quitting my job, writing 14 hours a day, and getting popular science books published that inspire masses of people to pursue science? Would it mean choosing a sport (aagh, so many) and doing it or cross-training 14 hours a day to get competitive and seek out sponsorship? Would it mean focusing on music, finally, FINALLY? Would it mean having some damn kids already and parenting them to be as amazing as humanly possible? Potential exists along so many axes, but the time put in to cultivating potential along any one of those axes excludes the others. There are always tradeoffs, and the nature of potential is such that it can never be fully realized! What's more, as an experimental scientist, I suspect that when we describe the full potential of something (a person, a place, a philosophy), we are probably half-wrong most of the time! It is really hard to accurately predict how ideas translate to the real world, and possibly never more so than when talking about a human being.

So I see the question of living up to one's potential as an optimization problem. There are several inputs with varying weights, and there are terms that can't drop below a certain minimum value, and within those constraints we are each attempting to maximize happiness. This would obviously have to account for happiness derived from achievement, prestige, and money in addition to happiness derived from friends, loved ones, and standing in the freezing rain high up on a mountain attempting to find yourself on a map. I don't think I've solved the problem for myself yet, but I take some comfort in the fact that I'm a lot closer to the solution than I used to be!


Aug. 10th, 2012 04:39 pm
clevermynnie: (Default)
So, Norway. It was amazing and challenging and I can't wait to go back someday. The whole thing was a very intense experience, and this will be a long entry.

Read more... )

So, overall, I really loved Norway. It's a beautiful country, it has a low population and lots of wild places, and it has a spirit of exploration which I love. Not amazing national food, but a few things I do really like to eat, like brunost and rye bread and smoked salmon. Actually, as I've gone around the East Coast of the US and Europe, I have enjoyed myself a lot but I have found few places that feel like home. By that I mean, place that feel natural, like I could belong there, like what's around me reflects and serves what's inside me. I felt that way about Norway, and while I expected to enjoy it I had no idea it would be so amazing! So I really want to go back, would love to see more of Norway or even Jotunheimen again, but obviously much better prepared. I also immediately started thinking about trips to other Scandinavian countries, and selling Ben on the idea. This trip was obviously a mix of very fun things and less fun things, but nonetheless great. And, there are so many pictures to come.

mourne way

Jun. 11th, 2012 03:55 pm
clevermynnie: (and then?)
I ran 39 miles on Saturday, a DNF for the Mourne Way Ultramarathon but a personal record for the farthest I've run in a day, by 8 miles. This race was beautiful, muddy, and hard, and made me reconsider my physical training and my mental response. But I hope to do it again next year, and finish.

Read more... )


Jan. 19th, 2012 09:50 pm
clevermynnie: (Default)
When I was a kid, I did not like my first name. No one could pronounce it correctly, so having it read out loud at school by teachers and instructors was always an exercise in humiliation. And as much as it seems silly now, when I was a kid I was intensely worried about fitting in and sharing traits with others. So I went by Jessie, which was less weird than Jessamyn; I read the Sweet Valley High books and wished I could have been named Jessica (even though Elizabeth was the twin I identified with).

But I did come across cool instances of my name that made me warm up to its charm, like the "roses and jessamine" in Milton's paradise before it was lost. I started to like it by the time I went off to college, and when I met some cousins in the Bay Area and they asked why I didn't go by my full first name, I said that maybe I'd like to, and it was a good time to switch since I had just moved. So those cousins started calling me Jessamyn, and they introduced me to someone who later hired me as a stage manager, and my brief theater career was as Jessamyn. Which felt pretty cool, and convinced me that introducing myself as Jessamyn was the way to go.

These days I am Jessamyn by default, the way I like it... but now I have the problem of anyone who met me before I made that choice calling me Jessie, and anyone who I met through someone I met early on, and so it keeps propagating. I don't want to force anyone to change what they call me, though, even though I am not that fond of being called Jessie at this point. Actually, one of my oldest friends recently told me that she was going to consciously switch to Jessamyn, even having called me something else for 15+ years. I told her she didn't have to, and she said something along the lines of, "I wouldn't be much of a friend if I kept calling you something you didn't want to be called." I still don't want to force anyone to switch, but that really meant a lot to me.

What's funny about all this is that Ben had exactly the opposite experience from me. He went by his extremely unusual middle name until going off to college, at which time he decided he would rather go by his fairly common first name. (His circumstances differ somewhat from mine in that he has an unusual last name too, so he wanted at least one normal name, whereas my last name is normal, more or less.) He asked his family to change what they called him, though I don't think he ever asked his friends to. So as a result, Ben sees an unusual name as something of a curse, whereas I see it as a gift that can be appreciated even if it's a burden at first. And I actually met someone whose teenage daughter hated being named Jessamyn; I reassured the mother that her daughter would probably like the name later on. But I guess it depends on taste, and on the many ways in which a name can be weird. My name just happens to be weird in all the right ways.

on travel

Nov. 21st, 2011 06:16 pm
clevermynnie: (and then?)
While getting to Germany, I was reading Consider the Lobster, which is a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace. The book is very interesting and I definitely recommend it, but one thought from it really stuck with me: DFW has a throwaway line about tourism and travel, that travelers are fundamentally selfish since the traveler is forcing their way into a place that would be nicer without them, and that they confront the greedy, dissatisfied sides of their own natures. I kept thinking about this because, even though I think being a respectful and non-intrusive visitor is essential, fundamentally I disagree with the idea that travel is so unproductive for both the traveler and the place visited. In general my ideas are based in an enjoyment of both culture-oriented travel, like to cities or regions with some particular history, and nature-oriented travel, which can involve sleeping in the woods and carrying everything on your back, but can also involve staying with a friend and taking lots of walks.

Read more... )
clevermynnie: (and then?)
When I posted about my near-term exercise plans, I was asked "And, what is your motivation, your drive behind all this?" Which is such a good question that I feel it deserves its own entry. I think it's simplest to divide my reasons up into a couple of categories:

My physical motivations for exercise:
1. Being in shape frees me to do the things I feel like doing, like swimming for a long time in a lake, walking aimlessly for hours with a friend, running up several flights of stairs because I forgot something; if I am really fit then my capabilities are in line with what I want to do.
2. Strength training, aerobic training, and training for physical skills all contribute to a sense of being the master of my own body, a sensation that I find extremely satisfying.
3. I care less about what my body looks like if I know that it is capable of great things. Which is quite freeing.

My mental motivations for exercise:
1. Exercise seems to act for me as a negative mood stabilizer, often blunting anger or relieving sadness or just excising boredom. It's very rare that I feel worse after running than I do before running (and that's mostly limited to things like the time I fell and embedded tiny rocks in my hand). I start exercising, and initially I am focused on what's upsetting me, and after not very long it starts to fade.
2. I find exercise very helpful from a planning and reasoning point of view; I often sort out problems while I'm exercising, or come up with plans for how to get something done, or reason out the intricacies of interpersonal issues. I think a lot while I'm exercising, looking around at the outdoors and listening to music, and this is very different from thinking in a chair.
3. I am strongly goal-oriented, and exercising to achieve something is inherently satisfying to me, whether that thing is a good performance in a race, increased strength or speed, or reaching a difficult distance or location.

The last reason, which is both physical and mental, is that I love the feeling of exulting that comes after doing something especially difficult. It is probably half endorphins, half the knowledge that I've reached a goal, but I feel like such a complete badass, suffused with a very physical joy, and I love it.


Nov. 9th, 2010 10:12 pm
clevermynnie: (and then?)
I have recently been thinking about self-confidence, and some of the ways it comes into play in my life. It's the topic of many a middle school after school program, but it also sits at the heart of some things that have been relevant in my life, like social anxiety and impostor syndrome.

From a science and academia perspective, research can be performed in two extreme ways: either as a collaborative effort where many people are contributing (which requires a lot of confidence to put your ideas out there and feel ok when some of them are silly), or as a competition in which differing ideas are in a contest with each other (this can also require confidence, so much so that I am tempted to call it a "confidence game" except that has another meaning entirely). Both modes of science can produce results, but they both involve some willingness to have your ideas trashed (in one case by a friendly party, in the other case not so much). And either way, you are participating in an exchange where ideas are the most valuable currency, which is putting quite a bit of confidence in the output of your brain. I used to feel periodically crappy about the scientific output of my brain, because I do not spend all my time on science and prefer to have a broader focus. But in grad school I have really come to terms with that after seeing some of the advantages it can give me, for example the usefulness of having writing as a hobby, or the usefulness of being interested in EE and math on top of physics. And the sanity lent to me by sport, music, etc. But fundamentally, without some measure of confidence I would not be able to persist in this field, and I see that. I suppose that, career-wise, my stubbornness won out over my lack of confidence.

In personal relationships, confidence is still important but the ways that it contributes are very different. I have definitely had a hard time in the past, early in developing a relationship of any kind with someone, when I would be afraid to state possibly controversial views or offer information based on my perception of the other person, for fear that I would have misjudged and the person would then misjudge me in turn. I used to worry about this a lot more than I do now, and basically there are two reasons why it doesn't bother me as much any more. The first part is about trusting my friends, which means trusting that if people who I think are cool care about me and like interacting with me, they are probably right to, and not just showing bad judgment in this one area of their lives. And the second part is about internalizing that other people's judgments of my character, if they are wrong, do not really affect who I am. This has happened a couple of times, where someone has seriously misjudged me (once in a circle of friends and once in the workplace), and while both times it was very upsetting... in neither case did it say anything about me, just about how those people chose to interpret limited information. And more practically, in both cases, worrying about the possibility in advance did nothing to prepare me. So one can conclude that worrying about other people misinterpreting your character is not a fruitful activity, even if misinterpretations do happen.

Maybe there is a third part to worrying less about what other people think, and that third part is valuing your own time. Of course, time spent worrying is often (but not always) time wasted. But also, there is recognizing that it is not my responsibility or a requirement on my time that I correct other people's potential misconceptions, or worry about correcting misconceptions that they have not even bothered to bring to my attention. I put every effort into communicating clearly with my close friends, but with acquaintances that I have already put a reasonable effort into, additional worrying or justification (or worse, inaction) is really just not worth it.

So, I used to be really careful with and paranoid about my words to people I was intimidated by, either in a work or a personal environment, and I used to worry a lot about the way I was perceived. It would be lying to say I'm not concerned at all about it now, but I think I let it inform my self-perception a lot less at this point. My confidence is higher, and it turns out that helps me to get more out of my interactions anyway.


Oct. 26th, 2010 01:40 pm
clevermynnie: (i carry your heart)
I got the idea from [ profile] learnmygame to see what my most frequently used tags are. I started tagging my journal after coming to grad school but did spend a few weeks going back through everything and retroactively tagging. I have kept this journal for about nine years, and the top twenty things I have written about here in those nine years are:

1. ben
2. friends
3. travel
4. school
5. photography
6. work
7. graduate school
8. happiness
9. family
10. news
11. love
12. im
13. food
14. physics
15. psychology
16. science
17. literature
18. music
19. random
20. women
clevermynnie: (Default)
I still need to write about going to the Omega Women&Power conference this year, which is a big task because there were so many speakers whose talks I enjoyed. But one of the differences between the conference this year and last year was my response, both in how prepared I was for what the weekend would be like, and in how I used the weekend as a lens to reflect on my life and what's in it. Last year I got a lot of ideas that made me examine my feminism, and this year I ended up with the broader undertaking of examining my life. A problem I often have is that there are so many things I enjoy doing, and so many things I would love to accomplish, that figuring out a to do list or a list of near-term goals often ends up as a flood of ideas, too many to conceivably act on, difficult to make useful sense of. I'm thinking that breaking things down into categories will help, and what I'm realizing lately is that I need to get better at distinguishing between things I am doing because I like doing them and things I am doing because of momentum or because I want to finish a project (even one that I have come to dislike). I guess I've gotten to the point in my life where I'm not feeling the need to prove to myself that I can be stubborn about something very difficult or monotonous; I've managed to accomplish plenty of difficult things. I'd rather focus on a way to balance things so that I am happiest.

With that in mind, here are the categories and subparts I came up with when looking at things I care about.

1. Science and engineering: experiments, building things, publishing, finishing grad school
2. Music: guitar, piano, attending concerts, listening to music at home
3. Language: reading books, reading news and magazines, blogging, writing fiction
4. Physical activity: running, tennis, weights, swimming, yoga, hiking
5. Environment: travel, exploring new places, being outside
6. Crafting: cooking, gardening, sewing and fabric dyeing, homebrewing
7. Escapism: reading novels, watching movies and tv shows, playing video games
8. Social interaction: talking to my parents and distance friends, local social outings, time with Ben

I might have missing something here, but I don't think so. There is clearly overlap between categories; for example, social overlaps with everything, since I socialize at work, if I go for runs with people, in my tabletop gaming group, homebrewing with Ben, if I read a good article and forward it on, sparking a discussion... a lot of the most rewarding social interactions I have include other categories. Crafting also pops up everywhere, because a lot of the categories I listed have passive and active elements (reading/writing, performing/improvising, movies/games, reading papers/doing experiments) and the active element is almost always a sort of crafting. I have known for awhile that if I start to focus too much on one category, either by an accident of planning or by short-term necessity, I feel wildly off-balance. At the same time, if I skip one of these categories for too long, I start to feel unhappy but it's harder to peg why... I am also starting to realize that I would like to do all of these things occasionally without feeling pressure to do them every day. (The conference brought this out because I attended a writing workshop, where I wrote some novelistic memoir, and it reminded me how much I miss writing fiction even if I stay in the practice of writing essays by blogging and occasionally writing massive emails.)

It was helpful for me just to write out these categories, but what do I do with this information now? I am thinking of trying a new form of log (right now I have a workout log and a guitar log, in both cases to aid training) where I try to do each of these things at least once per week, and something from each category every day. That might be too rigid, for example we don't homebrew every week since the quantity of beer would be too large for a two-person household... but what I want to do is get better at the balance between having everything strictly regimented and having nothing ever happen, and feeling that all of my needs are well met. I am definitely getting better at this with time, but I think if I am honest with myself, I have a way to go.


Aug. 12th, 2010 06:15 pm
clevermynnie: (I see beauty)
I wrote most of this awhile ago, it felt too earnest so I sat on it, and I finally realized that I don't care if it's too earnest. Sometimes I am earnest.

I have recently been thinking about identity. How people figure out who they are, how they find the things that matter to them, how they develop systems of behavior that define their personality, and how events and time shape this.

Probably the most important reason to think critically about identity is its role in finding happiness. It is difficult to find a fulfilling job or enjoyable relationships if you don't know what you want, what makes you feel complete, and most people's searches for happiness are really searches for a place in the world where they fit and their needs (both basic and advanced) are met. How well you can describe and find such a place depends strongly on how well you understand your own identity. It's also a very relevant topic in conflict resolution, actually; one of my favorite things to take away from the book <i>Difficult Conversations</i> was how often the most troubling arguments are those that touch on a person's identity, where they appear to be arguing about some surface level thing but it's really about, "this is who I am and if you are right, I don't like the implications for my identity". So thinking critically about your identity, personality, what makes you you and where it came from, can help a lot when you are having trouble seeing eye to eye with someone.

Where does it come from, though? The most obvious thing to point to is environmental factors: how your parents teach you to view the world, what interests and ideas you come into contact with at what points in your life, how you interact with other people and what kind of people you are able to find, where you live, what experiences are accessible to you and what you choose to do with them. That last part is tricky, because people's choices are, not constrained exactly, but heavily influenced by environment. For example, my love of science was influenced by where I grew up, and the scientific environment I was steeped in from a young age. Different people in the same circumstance, though, may eventually turn away from that or turn towards it; where I turned towards physics, I know others who grew up in the same place I did that went to do other things. So environment is a factor, but not a deterministic one per se.

What about the experiences that you have available to you? Most people feel that their job and hobbies define a large part of who they are, but how did they choose a certain career path or a way to fill free time? The activities people see when they are young and impressionable are somewhat arbitrary, and definitely a function of your geographic location, family income, and social circle. I would argue, though, that many people choose activities to spend time on (whether they are professional or amateur) as expressions of their identity, and even within a certain activity there is generally a lot of room for expression. For example, I take pictures, and I have friends who also take pictures, and our pictures are very different in tone and content. We have chosen the same activity, probably for some of the same reasons, but applied distinct philosophies to it that reflect our differing identities. Now, you could probably argue that there are categories of activities--expressive, appreciative, social, logical--and that, if a person doesn't have access to an entire class of activity, it restricts how they will find to express their identity. People don't get the same thing out of painting that they do out of chess. Does that make their identity fundamentally different than it would have been otherwise? Short-term, certainly, long-term, I am not sure.

The thing about identity is, as much as it is cumulative and carries baggage from things that happened a long time ago into the present, it is also more flexible than you might think. I think it's both freeing and inspiring to view life as a series of challenges and discoveries in which you can change your approach mid-game if you like. Once you have more information and experiences than you did early on, there is always another opportunity to do things better, to be closer to the person that you want to be, and to learn more about yourself, others, and the world. Even if you feel stuck in a rut, or locked in to behavior you don't like, or corralled into actions that feel too compromising to your ideals, there is always a chance to change that. Change takes time but it's always an option, until you get to the point where your identity expresses what you want to perfectly. Assuming that such a point is actually achievable, but even if it isn't, I think the journey is worthwhile.
clevermynnie: (Default)
One of the best parts about coming back from Europe has been getting back into an exercise routine. I realized in the stressful weeks before my trip and in the clarity that came with vacation that I was not prioritizing exercise high enough in my life. If work piled up I would sometimes drop it, then be even more unhappy than the original stress had made me. And I would think wistfully about high school sometimes, and how I had 'so much time' for exercise then... but the truth is, I was crazy busy, I just made time for exercise because I was on teams and I wanted to do it. So why am I not making the time now?

So I am back doing weight training, swimming, and running a lot. I'm trying to find someone to play tennis with regularly (I know some people but disorganization prevented this from happening regularly in the past). And I just started my third season on the Quantum Fielders, the physics department's intramural softball team. I am no longer terrible at softball! I can bat decently, though the more I practice the better than will be. I can throw and catch pretty well, assuming I can use my dominant hand; I ended up fielding right-handed the first game for lack of a glove, but the second game I went leftie and of course, did much better. And actually, in the past I was usually catcher (a very good catcher!) because that position requires the least understanding of how fielding works. But I have started to play other positions, which are more complicated than catcher but I can learn something. Of course, there is also a sprinting aspect of softball, which is good for my running!

Speaking of which, before I left I had been lamenting the idea of the Spring 2010 Marathon, which was somewhat sabotaged by my low spring mileage and finally killed by my trip. I got back and decided that running a marathon would be irresponsible, but I could run a trail half-marathon (which combines two things I have been wanting to do, a trail race and a half, and maybe will set me up to try a trail marathon as long as this goes okay). So I signed up for the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut, which has a half and a full marathon and is about an hour's drive from here. Their post-race party sounds amazing, too. I would also really like to bike more and possibly do a late-summer sprint distance triathlon... but my goals for not sucking at biking never seem to be met, so we'll see how that goes. It'll help once I get over the hump of needing an unoccupied parking lot to practice in.

And what this leads to is that I do want to run another marathon, so I will do one in the fall, and that gives me some time to train a lot. I think if I can get a couple of months doing 40+ miles per week, that will be very good for me and increase the odds that I can break the 5-hour mark on my marathon time, which taunts me. And I really do feel better and happier the more I exercise... I doubled up a run and swimming yesterday and felt so joyful (albeit, with tired legs). Being happy is a primary goal of mine, so I am going to try to be more mindful of how I prioritize things with respect to how happy they make me.
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
I have been playing guitar for a year now! I started my lessons last January, with a really cool teacher who is a former economist and recycling coordinator. It was the first time I had started a new instrument since I was five years old and I picked up the violin. I stopped playing that in high school, but I have been playing piano without any serious breaks for slightly over twenty years now. I love the piano, but there are so many other instruments I was always interested in learning as well. It's very fun to have finally started another one.

Since I have playing guitar for only a year, and I'm busy with grad school and can't practice as much as I'd like, I'm rather bad. I've certainly improved, but I still have trouble doing some things correctly all the time, my strum isn't consistent, etc. etc. I think it must be easier to learn an instrument when you are little and you don't quite know how bad you are. But actually, learning guitar as well as my experiences with softball over the summer reminded me of something about myself: I really dislike being bad at things, and it takes me awhile to pick up physical skills.

Of course, everyone dislikes being bad at something, but as a kid this definitely hindered how much I practiced things like piano or tennis (just ask my parents). The only reason I got good at anything was that the one thing I hated more than being bad at something was quitting. And I've realized that hasn't really changed, except now because I have so many things going on and I try to be so organized, I am impatient for progress. I initially came at guitar lessons thinking, the point of these lessons is so that I get better. I don't want to and can't afford to take lessons indefinitely. But at the same time, practice can't always come first, and I couldn't afford a lesson every week, so my progress felt slow. This was initially really frustrating, and made it hard to get motivation to play. This came to a huge head with my guitar teacher, who left his old career partly to get away from that kind of pressure, and we talked a lot about it.

Since then I have been trying to be more process-oriented about guitar. I still want to improve, but I am focused more on enjoying what I'm doing right now. It made it easy and fun to practice every day on my vacation, and I am getting more out of my lessons. I'll try to apply the same approach to intramural softball when it comes around again: try to get better but don't worry so much about it. And actually, running has been like this a little too; it's hard to shake the feeling that I am bad and I need to get better, even though I enjoy running so much at whatever speed is comfortable. It's a little funny that I am this bad at learning a new physical skill, since I have already learned lots of them and there are so many more that I'd like to try. But I guess the approach that I take to sports or music usually assumes a base level of ability, which I have with the things I've been doing for awhile but is lacking in the newer things I've picked up. And it's not unreasonable at all that how you approach learning something from a beginner level is different from how you approach it from an intermediate or advanced level; the way you think about the skill has to be different because your goals are different.

I'm glad that I'm sorting this out because learning to do something new is extremely rewarding and fun.
clevermynnie: (I see beauty)
It's one of my strongest beliefs that people should have an unconstrained set of choices, as full control over their lives as is possible in a system that attempts to give people an equal footing. But to me this also means taking responsibility for the choices that you make; one of my pet peeves is definitely people who complain about some part of their lives but are unwilling to make the choices necessary to make themselves happier. Sometimes our happiness is not entirely under our control, but often it is and all it takes is some careful thought and a willingness to change to make small or large improvements in our lives. I have a hard time understanding why people might not do everything in their power to be happy. One reason that I can think of, though, stems from something I am particularly bad at.

I have written before about stubbornness/perseverance, which I believe to be one of my strongest character traits. I do not let go of things easily, I hang on and figure out how to make it work, and sometimes that has positive results. But it can be a fault as well; another valuable trait is knowing when to quit something, when to re-evaluate and change tactics or change paths altogether. I do not do this well; the example that most readily springs to mind is when I played the violin in high school and was in the orchestra. There were two orchestras, one for freshmen and one for everyone else, but technically you had to audition to get into the higher level orchestra, and the best freshmen every year got to start there. I was in the lower orchestra my freshman year, but then was told by the orchestra director that while I was good enough for the upper level orchestra the next year, he wanted a solid concertmaster, and if I stayed in the lower orchestra for a year and was concertmaster I could move up the following year. It was a crap offer, but I didn't recognize that and I didn't see how else to continue with violin, so I stayed. I did not really enjoy orchestra much that year, and at the end of the year I was sick and almost didn't get the audition piece in time, but auditioned only to be told that I had to stay back another year because I was just not good enough--despite several people who had chairs behind mine getting promoted. I tried to take it to the music department chair, but of course she believed the conductor and not me, and didn't believe that he had lied to me about moving up or told me a variety of contradictory things about where I rated. I can see how from her perspective she thought he was reliable and I was making things up, although this director had lied to the students about many other things, like going to competitions and pieces to play and things like that. In the end I quit, I didn't want to add a second set of music lessons (on top of piano), and I have not played violin seriously since. It's impossible to predict how things will turn out, of course, and if I had stuck it out and moved up then maybe this would have been another story from my life about how perseverance pays off. It doesn't always, though, and sometimes persevering in the face of obvious mistreatment when there is no goal or improvement in sight is a decidedly stupid thing to do. It is a waste of happiness.

I mention this because I am lucky to know several people in various parts of my life who have drastically changed their paths, because it will make them happier even if it is hard. It is hard to look at the path you are on, a career path or a relationship or an identity, and honestly evaluate that it is not right for you or not making you happy even after you have invested a lot of time in it. When you have put time into a degree but it is not in the industry you wanted, or when you are going into debt for something that is mostly stress and pain, or when you are in a relationship that used to be great but is now a dead end, or when you have to change everything to be with someone you love, or when you are strongly rooted in one place but know how much happier you could be if you moved, or when you left school a long time ago but realize that what you really want to do involves going back. I watch these people making these huge changes, and I am blown away by how difficult it must be, not just going against habit and momentum, but picking up and rearranging huge portions of your life because you know you will be happier. Some choices that lead to happiness are simple, some require stubbornness, but some require an incredible amount of imagination and courage, to pick up and go another way. I have not made any choices like that, but I admire the people who do immensely, and I am so grateful to witness people's audacity in defining their own lives.

It fills me with joy to know people who aren't afraid to pursue dreams.


Oct. 3rd, 2009 10:23 pm
clevermynnie: (Default)
The New York Times has an article about anxiety which I found interesting. They talk about signs in childhood of later anxious behavior, the difference between an anxious persona (outward appearance) versus anima (inward feelings), and about degrees and coping. I've always been more anxious than I would prefer, although I don't find it to be debilitating. But I identified strongly with these paragraphs:

"In the modern world, the anxious temperament does offer certain benefits: caution, introspection, the capacity to work alone. These can be adaptive qualities. Kagan has observed that the high-reactives in his sample tend to avoid the traditional hazards of adolescence. Because they are more restrained than their wilder peers, he says, high-reactive kids are less likely to experiment with drugs, to get pregnant or to drive recklessly. They grow up to be the Felix Ungers of the world, he says, clearing a safe, neat path for the Oscar Madisons.

People with a high-reactive temperament — as long as it doesn’t show itself as a clinical disorder — are generally conscientious and almost obsessively well-prepared. Worriers are likely to be the most thorough workers and the most attentive friends. Someone who worries about being late will plan to get to places early. Someone anxious about giving a public lecture will work harder to prepare for it. Test-taking anxiety can lead to better studying; fear of traveling can lead to careful mapping of transit routes."

Getting places early, mapping carefully, staying on the straight and narrow... yeah, that's me. Though I'll also procrastinate on things that make me anxious, which isn't a great habit. And the worrying is not always productive. :P I do tend to have a lot of contingency plans, though.
clevermynnie: (I see beauty)
I mentioned before that I learned a lot about feminism and myself from the conference I went to. It's daunting, though, to write about; there is just so much to say. I think the best way to tell it is to start out with what feminism is, all the things it encompasses, and then describe how I got there and what it ended up meaning to me.

feminism: a definition )

feminism via... objectivism? )

discovering the framework )

I hope that explains why my feminism came from a sense of empathy and justice, which led to a deep desire for an egalitarian meritocracy. I would guess that a lot of people who don't identify as feminists agree with me there, although I'm sure some of us disagree on the details of how we can best act on these ideals. I have been thinking and processing for awhile now, and the conference at Omega was perhaps the pinnacle of that. But, what can I do? The first step had to be understanding my own beliefs, and finally it seems like I'm getting there. The second step has to be talking about them with others, which I've been doing and will try to step up; this is something that I will learn a lot from and may also help others start their own journey. Where I go from there is hard to say. It's one of the most important things I could do to try to live these ideals, though, because what feminism means to me is freedom, not just for women but for all of us.
clevermynnie: (see us waving)
I had to do this one because it's fun to know what your friends associate you with, especially a friend you lived with for years.

1. Comment to this post and I will give you 5 subjects/things I associate you with.
2. Then post this in your LJ and elaborate on the subjects given.

[ profile] chih associates me with these five things:

1. cinnamon

Cinnamon is my favorite spice. There, I said it. When a recipe calls for a measure of cinnamon, I put in a heaping measure of cinnamon, usually 2-3 times as much as is called for. I used to make cinnamon buns and triple the filling. My oatmeal cookies have cinnamon (and its partner spices in crime) galore. I recently made some couscous stuffing which was heavy on the cinnamon and orange blossom water, and it was amazing. I would also like to smell like cinnamon all the time, if I could.

And it is such a beautiful word! And such a lovely warm and spicy flavor, and so diversely useful. Cinnamon cinnamon cinnamon!

2. Claire and Henry DeTamble

These are the main characters of The Time Traveler's Wife, which I read recently but I think Chih read before me. It is an interestingly constructed book which is about two people who are deeply, deeply in love and the course of their life together (under somewhat bizarre circumstances). I'm hoping this means I am associated with twue wuve. :)

3. hair diffuser

I have hair which is very nice but rather picky. It's midway between curly and wavy, and it's suggestible, so if I put it in a bun after showering it'll stay mostly straight, but if it dries curly it's hard to mash the curls out. And yet said curls are delicate, and can be turned into a 'fro easily! If I am making an effort to have amazing hair, which I occasionally do, I use a diffuser (this one, in black) to dry it quickly while maintaining the curls. If I air dry it, that kind of works but sometimes the curls get more stretched out from the weight of the hair. I used to take showers at night, actually, and sometimes my hair looked beautiful in the morning from drying on the pillow around me; other times it looked wretched and half-flat, and then I put it in a ponytail. I think the last time I used my diffuser was at my wedding.

4. "Leaving on a Jet Plane" song

That song should make anyone who's been in a long-distance relationship cry a little. It was sung a capella at my wedding, which was wonderful and I wrote about already (the last paragraph and photo). And I used to sing it at karaoke a lot. And thinking about it is making me tear up a little again. Why did I write about this while Ben is out of town?

5. swimming

This is like cinnamon, in that I can enthuse about it endlessly. I love the way it feels to be in the water, moving so freely with the water carrying away the heat, tiredness, grime, or stress of a bad day. It is meditative and thoughtful the way running is, and though the view is worse the sensation is better. And it is very good for you! I have met a lot of people who swam after getting injured in another sport, but swimming is no-impact and the only thing you can do to hurt yourself is mess up your shoulders by using paddles too much. When I see water I want to be in it, so for me a beach trip is wasted unless I swam, and I love going into rivers and lakes and ponds. This is probably why I made my entire bachelorette party go into a glacial lake with me at midnight the night before my wedding. It was great!


clevermynnie: (Default)

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