Monday, January 28, 2019

What I do like about KonMari

I haven't read Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  And I only watched one episode of her show before deciding it was too much human conflict and not enough relaxing shots of people folding things.  But it's a cultural phenomenon, and we all have to have an opinion on it now, so here goes.

I don't like to fold things.  And if I got rid of all the things that don't spark joy, I'd have no daytime pants.  Some of the quotes I've read seem a little inapplicable if you don't have disposable income, like "you can just buy another one if you realize you did need it."  But I don't want to just come out against her because there's one thing she's teaching that's really important, not just for tidying up, but for everything.


That is why you take all your stuff out of your closets and examine it as if it weren't your stuff.  Instead of thinking "do I have to get rid of this?" you can think, "would I buy it again?"  Our brains have a giant bias toward the status quo.  Plenty of things which we wouldn't bother to buy, we act like we need because we already have them.

In Thinking Fast and Slow (a book everyone should read), they did an experiment where they gave some people coffee mugs and some people pens, and then gave them the option to trade the gift they got.  Almost everyone chose to keep the thing they already had, not because it was better, but because they saw it as giving up something they already had, and they were already attached to it.

All over the internet, people are applying this wisdom to everything.  What if we looked at our lifestyle, relationships, political systems, and hobbies, not with the bias toward keeping everything the same, but with the attitude that it has to offer something of value to be kept?

This is, incidentally, how my husband got me out of Regnum Christi.  I was obsessing over whether I was unhappy enough to leave.  Instead, he asked, "If you were considering joining it now, would you?"  Well, obviously not.  So I threw it out of my life and that sparked so much joy.

I'm never going to be a KonMari junkie, because like 90% of my stuff does spark joy and the other 10%, I can't afford to replace.  But I did help Miriam KonMari her clothes, and years ago I did my underwear drawer, and it gives you this feeling of lightness to dig down to the stuff you never look at and get it out of your house.

And I feel the same lightness is available when you get rid of an intangible thing: that person you follow on Twitter but who only makes you angry; the time you spend on a website because it's a habit even though it's not much fun; the need to lose weight; the obligation to homeschool or make everything from scratch; the rent-free space a person you dislike is taking up in your head.  You don't have to hate them to get rid of them!  You can just decide they don't add anything, thank them for the good they did you back when they were new, and take them to the curb.  It's okay.  You don't owe anything to the status quo.  You can let it go.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Green vs. blue

I love personality types.  Some schemes are better than others, and none of them are all that rigorous, but I find it helps me to understand better that some people are coming from a completely different place than I am.

So when a friend shared this with me, I loved it.  Basically, the five colors in Magic: The Gathering can stand for five personality types, or rather priorities.  The way I could summarize it would be something like: White prioritizes order and community; Red independence and action; Black self-interest and ambition; Green balance and nature.  But really, you have to read the post.

Anyway, I read that and saw immediately that in my heart of hearts, I'm green.  I feel on a deep level that everything is so complex and interconnected that you will never understand it, you just have to accept it.  Nature always feels like the right answer to me -- to say, "If you meddle, you're likely to make things worse; stick with what's natural."  I hate taking medicines and I hate processed food.  I would love to go live in the woods like the guy in My Side of the Mountain.

Green has its flaws.  If nature is your highest goal, human ends are going to take a backseat.  Sometimes the most natural thing in the world is death, and humans don't want to die (that, too, is natural).  We are part of nature, but every part of nature isn't just in balance with every other part, it's also, in a way, at war with every other part.  You can't just choose to stand aloof from that struggle, simply because you see it is all part of a whole.  You can't help being part of it, complete with all your needs and desires: the desire to live, to protect your loved ones, to avoid suffering.  Anything else would be a little inhuman.

For the past several years I've been becoming more and more nuanced in my views, realizing that many things that are true are in tension with other true things.  For instance, non-aggression can sometimes lead to change; but that is in tension with another truth, that in some cases nothing will get better without fighting.  And I finally started applying this balance and nuance to my belief in balance itself.  Even Green isn't good by itself.  It has to be balanced with other things.  And what I tend to balance Green with is Blue.

Blue is kind of the opposite of Green.  Blue people are scientists and alchemists and wizards.  It's all about the perfectability of the world -- through understanding it.  The sort of person who breaks a thing to see what is inside.  (Who has, Gandalf reminds us, left the path of wisdom.)  But this mad tinkering is, at its heart, compassionate and optimistic.  It says: there is no reason the way things are is the way they must be; we must improve them for human ends.

Blue on its own is kind of horrifying to me.  Too heedless!  Blue scientists spray the world with DDT first, and find out it kills birds after.  Split the atom first, find out about radiation after.  You can actually destroy the planet that way.  And all with noble ends!

But Blue and Green together temper each other's flaws.  A blue-green person says: Yes, there is a deeper balance to everything; everything is more complicated than you think; it is much easier to wreck the whole thing than to improve it; seek to understand before you try to improve.  But on the other hand, the balance that currently exists may not be the best of all possible situations, especially for our own ends, and one might theoretically create a slightly better balance.

For instance: disease is entirely natural.  We can medicate a disease, but when we do so, there can be unwanted effects.  Antibiotics can create superbugs.  On the other hand, what if we carefully harnessed those forces already within the body to train them to fight the germ more effectively?  That way we could somewhat tilt the balance of the fight toward humans without throwing it off altogether.  I'm talking, of course, about vaccines.  Vaccines are very blue-green.  Of course the more "green" you are the more suspicious and careful you'd be, but at some point you'd have to see that survival is more important than a perfectly natural, untampered immune system.

I feel that most people tilt way too hard toward one or the other extreme.  Too green, and you reject science without even giving it a chance, because you're too suspicious of possible harm to existing systems.  Too blue, and you'll fail to recognize the power of a complex system.  Blue wants to control and perfect everything; Green refuses to control anything because everything is already what it was always supposed to be.

I can apply this to about everything.  Economics: Hayek is green (the economy is too complicated! just leave it alone!) and Keynes is blue (here's a math equation which will let us end depressions!).  Foreign policy: the Green approach is isolationism, even if a genocide is happening next door; but the policy that reigns is usually a particularly stupid kind of Blue that imagines we can force international situations into a favorable balance by getting involved in everything.  Parenting: I started off very Green (just let the kids take the lead!) and have tempered it with some Blue (my kids don't actually know what is good for them sometimes).  Too much Blue would be assuming the right inputs from me would automatically result in good behavior.

I'm going to close with two "litanies" referenced in the original post, both of when I find helpful when it comes to seeking truth.  First is the Litany of Tarski, a very "blue" mantra:

If something is true,
I desire to believe that it is true.
If it is not true,
I desire to believe that it is not true.
Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

Next, the Litany of Gendlin, which was described as green:

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.

Both Blue and Green agree on this point: one must understand the world and accept the truth about it.  Which is something I always try to do.  Yes, it's deeply complex, and you're never going to understand it completely.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't seek understanding -- balanced with humble appreciation of the mysteries you won't ever understand.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Word for 2019

Last night, I read through all my old New Year posts.  (And gave them a label, because I do this every year and it's a bit of a hassle finding them.)  The "word" thing has definitely worked well for me.  It gives me the sense that I'm working on something, even though it seems so often that I'm standing still.

Last year the word was "me."  I didn't tell y'all that because I was embarrassed -- it felt self-absorbed.  It had a dual meaning.  First, I need to take care of myself and not feel guilty for making "me" a priority from time to time.  Which I did: I went to the dentist and got five cavities drilled; I got glassses; I paid real money for a real haircut.  Twice!  And I allowed myself to actually insist on a little of my own time to submit my novel and work on the next one.  It helped immensely that John has been supportive.  I really don't think I could do it if he gave me the slightest sense, ever, that I was shirking my real job by writing.  Instead he believes I will actually get published and so it IS real work.  And that I shouldn't give up the work I want to do for something with a shorter-term reward.

The second meaning of "me" is that I should be less embarrassed to be myself.  I realized that I have been making myself vanilla for years--really, since boarding school--for fear of being rejected for being different.  And I never got rejected, but I found it hard to make friends.  I realized that people had a hard time figuring out what I was all about because I was too inoffensive.  Appearance: bland.  Conversation topics: the weather, funny anecdotes.  I almost never got John's attention because of this; he says what made the real difference was when after a whole year of knowing each other, I finally got steamed up enough about something to vehemently state my opinion.  (It was that NFP is overused, ha ha haaaa.)  He liked that because it showed I had some ... "intellectual sharpness," I think he called it.  

Anyway the idea was to do more of that kind of thing.  Try to bat signal the people who might like me, even at the risk that people might be turned off by me.  I don't mean online--internet expression takes so much less courage, and I think I need to work on not doing it too much.  But real, in-person courage.  Dyeing my hair blue was the main way I did that.

And it worked!  Lots of people who would have normally ignored me started giving me compliments.  I had many people say "oh, blue hair! I've always wanted to try purple/green/pink."  A lady at school said that and then actually did it!  I was really proud of her.  I don't know if it helped any, but I've made some friends this year.  My across-the-street neighbor and I talk now, and our kids play.  That's the only in-person one, but I made a lot of online friends.

Some unexpected things happened this year.  The biggest one was working to reform my alma mater and then, when it proved resistant to any kind of reform, working for this advocacy organization.  I didn't do a whole lot, thanks to being overwhelmed all the time, but I tried.

Because of that, I got threatened to be outed as an atheist by a fellow alum.  It freaked me out for about three days and then I called his bluff and told people anyway.  Because you know what?  I don't need friends whose friendship was conditional on me being someone I am not in real life.  Letting go of the fear of rejection from my Catholic friends has been a goal for me for years, and in the end I had to get forced into facing it.  So, thanks?

Of course being ex-Catholic is suddenly a lot trendier all of a sudden, because of the scandals.  There are a lot of people walking away.   And the kind of liberal Catholics I hang out with these days are really understanding of that because they've been tempted to do the same.  Now, I didn't actually leave because of scandals -- if I still thought it was all true, I'd probably be suffering through it to this day -- but scandals do seem like additional evidence that the chain of trust that brings us all those doctrines is not reliable.  Anyway the company is nice.

John has started going to an Orthodox church.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I like that he found a place where he is happy -- and boy is he happy about it.  He's obsessed with reading books, watching sermons, joining Facebook groups.  And that makes me feel suspicious, because getting too into religion was so very bad for me.  I also feel a little funny about the kids getting into it.  While I think some exposure to religion is good, I wasn't expecting them to swallow it all so eagerly.  I should probably write a whole post about that.

He also started getting mental health treatment: a bipolar diagnosis, meds, and therapy.  It's a process, but he's definitely feeling a lot better than he was.  He did well at work this year, but his beloved boss quit, so he's lost some job satisfaction on that front.  Discouragingly, there just aren't a lot of jobs that fit his career path around here.  But the thought of ever moving is .... not appealing.

Overall this year continues the slog upward from the low point that was 2016.  Jackie is still super difficult -- she nurses as much as ever, stays up late as ever, screams quite a lot.  But she plays with the big kids more and definitely screams less as she slowly stops needing the naps it's so difficult to get her to take.  Most importantly, she's developing a ton of personality, so I feel a lot more bonded to her now.  Miriam is getting increasingly bored at home, which probably means she's ready for school.  Michael still complains a lot about school, but he very suddenly started reading recently, so that's good.  And Marko has been doing very well.  He reads a lot and loves school more than ever.  Occasionally he goes on a kick for a week or two where he is as annoying as possible to everyone; I wish I knew what that was all about.  But he's mainly doing very well.

My writing, editing, and submitting are all going great.  I don't have as much time to spend on them as I'd like, but I have some and I'm using it well.

The first step of conventional publishing is to query a literary agent.  You send a letter to the agent with a blurb describing what your story is about, and often some number of pages as well.  I've sent out over a hundred, which was my goal for the year.  And I've had seventy-two lovely rejections, mostly form letters.  But I did get a couple encouraging ones saying they liked it.  One even gave me some tips for revising, which I took.  I also ditched my prologue, which stung, but I got more positive responses after that.  When you've got five pages to impress someone in, you don't want to blow one on prologue.

But I did get eight positive replies, meaning they asked for more pages or the whole manuscript.  Four of them read it and wrote back that they weren't interested after all, and four are still reading it.  I wish I knew how long it would take.  I'm not submitting any more at present, because I want to give them a chance to read it, but I will probably get back to it soon if I don't hear anything.

This is the achievement I'm proudest of this year!  Even if I don't publish this book, I now know how to navigate the query process and have overcome my fear of letting people read my stuff.  It will probably be at least six months before the alien story is ready to query, but I will do that too, and with a lot less trepidation.

So, what about next year?  I tried to think of a word but drew a total blank for awhile.  Then I thought of a day I had last week.  I had talked to a friend, who told me, "You still seem very overwhelmed, and really anxious."  Which was more shattering than maybe it should have been.  My focus has been really heavily on, "but I'm doing so much better!"  And I am.  But I'm still just getting by in a lot of ways.  And anxiety?  Well, that same day I lost a lot of sleep thinking about ever moving from our house.  The very thought that anything could ever change made me panic.  I don't like that about myself.  I used to be so fearless, so excited for change!  Now our life feels like a very precarious balance that can be totally derailed by almost anything.

Partly it's true, because a family of six people is a complicated machine.  But partly I'm still traumatized by 2016.  I feel like any change is guaranteed to be for the worse.  And moving?  Our move was a horrible experience that, years later, makes me never want to do it again.  I feel like I got changed somehow, from a free spirit who was willing to set out to whole new cities without fear, to somebody huddling under the bed hoping that nothing will ever change.  Even though there is a lot that's uncomfortable about my life!  This town isn't exactly ideal for me and we don't have enough money.  A move might be good, but I'm just too scared.

So of course after thinking of all this the word "brave" popped into my head.  I don't like that word.  I want to pick something else.  But I think it's occurring to me for a reason, which is that I am not really happy huddling under the bed.  "Brave" is going to mean working on my anxiety, which is better but still a problem.  Maybe facing new things, whether a move or a new job or something smaller.  I've been way braver this year in a lot of ways, from daring to take the kids places to calling strangers on the phone -- I want to do more of that.

Wish me luck!  Do you have a word for the year?
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