Nov 30, 2015

Survival Mode - How I Deal with Sh...tuff

Unrelated to this post, but I'm back.  Cutting back on blogging helped a bit, but I still didn't get anywhere close to finishing my story or the word goal for NaNoWriMo.  Still, it's more than I've ever written at one time before!  I think I'm going to set myself an easier word goal per day (maybe 500 instead of 1,700) and see how that goes.  Anyway, back to the post...

What I call "survival mode" is not, in fact, a good mechanism for dealing with things that require actual survival skills.  It's also probably not terribly useful for dealing with real, traumatic situations.  Here's what it is:

Survival Mode

I have a mental place I go to when I'm stressed, anxious, dreading something, or terribly uncomfortable.  I shut off the thinking part of my brain that's coming up with terrible scenarios, or freaking out about our upcoming adventure.  I go as blank as possible and settle in to endure the next few minutes.  Then the next.  Then the next.  (Which is actually very similar to what the main character says in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, "You can endure anything for 10 seconds!")

I think the first time I ever did this was during physical exertion.  We were hiking at the Grand Canyon and I wasn't in terribly great shape.  About halfway back up, I was exhausted, each step was effort, and I was doing my best not to be a huge whiner even though my brain was awash in self pity.  So I shut it off.  We made it to the top, and the whole process was a lot less tortuous than it could have been if I'd been emotionally experiencing each step of it.

I continued to use "survival mode" for physical discomfort.  Long drives where my back was aching, hikes and/or running, getting a tattoo, etc, etc.  But then I made an amazing discovery.

I had signed up for several Meetup events in the DC area.  But I'd flaked out on every single one.  Each time, as the day approached, my brain started complaining.  "I don't really want to do this.  Why did I sign up for it?  It's going to suck, I'm going to be awkward and bored and miserable.  This is a terrible idea.  I don't know where it is.  I'll get lost.  Let's just cancel."

I finally forced myself into a car to attend a Meetup.  My brain was screaming at me, as per usual.  I struggled to remind myself why I had signed up in the first place and that I did, in fact, want to do this, when suddenly... my mind got quiet.

The feelings were still there, but I wasn't engaging with them.  I wasn't excited, I wasn't scared.  I was just prepared to endure.

The Meetup was amazing.  Every time I started to feel awkward, I shut down my emotions, and just brought them back for polite chitchat.  By the end I was feeling positively bubbly!

It wasn't entirely smooth sailing after that.  I missed a few more Meetups, due to last-minute "lack of desire to go" before I finally realized it was probably a mild form of anxiety.  But each success built on the others.

I can't even tell you the number of times it's helped.  Meetup groups, a horrendously uncomfortable bus ride with coworkers, using the "friend-dating" website, posing for figure drawing, that first blogger date.  I mean, basically any time I'm going to meet new people, and sometimes even hanging out with old friends, there is guaranteed to be a moment when my brain says, "Holy crap, I don't want to do this!"

But I know now.  That's not me.  That's some broken, scared, little piece of me that can be overcome.

And I'm not saying that shutting your feelings off is the best way to deal with things.  But when my anxiety brain is at its most powerful, that's the only way I've figured out how to deal with it.

My rational side knows that no matter what happens, if I just endure, I'll get through it and the discomfort will be over eventually.  Just take it a few minutes at a time.

Just like running.  Nothing lasts forever.  And when it's over, you'll probably be glad you did it.

Do you have social anxiety?  How do you deal with the irrational side of your brain?  Do you have your own version of "survival mode"?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Nov 16, 2015

Writing Energy - a Limited Resource

I've been struggling to keep up with NaNoWriMo and I noticed that the days I don't feel like writing, it's typically after I've written a blog post instead.  My hypothesis?  I only have so much writing energy.

So I'm going to be MIA for the rest of November while we finish up the challenge!  I had posts scheduled, but I'm going to push those further back, too, because I'm not keeping up with comments at all and I feel bad.

See you guys in 2 weeks!

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Nov 12, 2015

Woman on Woman Crime - Judgement, Bias, and the "F" Word

I had a couple of interesting conversations this week.  They caused me to do 2 things: 1) Spend a lot of time thinking about the whole stereotype of women as catty bitches who can never be truly be friends ("frenemies") because they're always competing and 2) Really question my own actions and the things I might be doing or saying to perpetuate this stereotype.

I gossip.  I've worked on it a lot in the last couple years, but I still do it.  I have a driving need to analyze situations and people and the things that make them tick.  But there's a fine line between trying to understand who someone is vs trying to find labels for them.

I'm not perfect.  I cross the line into woman-on-woman crime sometimes (to use Amy Poehler's apt description).  Ironically enough, I crossed that line when I was talking about someone who believes and perpetuates the stereotype.  This was pointed out to me as proof that the other person was right because I was fulfilling it.

At first the idea made me upset.  I need to do better.  The issue absolutely needs to be talked about.  But I need to present it in a different way.  I need to say "the belief that ___" rather than "the kind of person who believes ___."

But you know what?  The rest was bullshit.  Here's why.  (And, for the record, I'm glad this conversation happened, because it gave me a lot to think about, and the person who caused this thinking to happen was totally not serious, and I hold no grudges, but obviously a blog post had to happen, because important social issues, dude!  This is the risk you take when you converse with a blogger!)

I am only one person.  To take one statement of mine and then use that to justify any stereotype is ridiculous.  Even if I am a supposed supporter of women and I'm still making those mistakes or phrasing things the wrong way, it doesn't make me any more representative of my entire gender than any other one individual.

This is how all prejudices and stereotypes are born.  We see one person, or one group of people, and we assume they represent all people like them.  We're better than this.  We're smarter than this.

I don't think I need to explain the problem with stereotypes to any of you, but I'll do it anyway.  When someone, especially a woman, says they can't get along with women, or that most women are catty, they're doing several things.

1) Perpetuating a stereotype.  I mean, if a woman said it about her own gender, it must be true, right?  2) Creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If that's what you believe, that's what you will see.  3) Completely missing out.  That is half the population that you are discounting and whose company you will never be able to enjoy and appreciate.  And that is countless women who, like you, are unique and interesting individuals, and being blind to that is a damn shame.

Everyone has biases.  Claiming otherwise is naive.  Since it's difficult and maybe even impossible to reach a point where we are truly unbiased by our culture, the opinions of our loved ones, and our own past experiences, the best we can do and the most we can hope for is to always be open to questioning ourselves.  Is that really a pattern or is it a perception problem on our end?  Does your boss really hate you or is she just not as nice as you think a woman should be?  Are the women around you actually catty or are you judging them by one or two occasions instead of general patterns?

Sometimes the answer is yes, your boss really hates you.  Or your workplace really is filled with negative people.  But you know what?  That's just one example and, while it sucks, I hope we can all be open-minded enough to not let that one group speak for everyone else.  And maybe find a new job with people who don't suck.

And, for the record, this is feminism and I wholly consider myself to be a feminist!  For all the people out there who think it means "man-hating," challenge that assumption and don't let some small group of people make you afraid to use a word that means equality.  Feminism means challenging assumptions and stereotypes in an attempt to find equality for everyone.

If you can honestly say you DON'T want equality, especially for women, then sure, you can say you're not a feminist.  But if that's the case, get out of here.  I have no use for you.

What assumptions have you challenged lately?  How aware are you of your own biases?

*No men were harmed in the writing of this post
**Read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - it is a HUGE eye-opener

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Nov 10, 2015

Things I've Done Right

I saw this somewhere, but I have no idea who it was so if you recognize your idea, let me know and I'll give credit!

I've made more than my fair share of mistakes.  I'm getting better about this, but I used to be incapable of learning from other people's mistakes, and frequently repeated my own.  Oh, I'd learn, but not until I'd made the same mistake 2 or 3 times.

And I could agonize over those mistakes, but ultimately what's the point?  I can't undo them, and most of them were necessary, because if they hadn't happened, I'd have just done something equally dumb instead.  Learning the easy way is not my style.

BUT lately I've been thinking about how things feel different.  I'm happy more often than sad.  I'm not struggling to get by financially.  When I spend time with friends, I feel good about it afterwards, instead of bad, complain-y or gossip-y.  And then I realized... I've finally done some things right.

To celebrate, here's a list!

8 Things I've Done Right

1. Breaking the Bad Relationship Pattern

Before Ryan, I was in a couple long-term relationships.  I was even engaged once.  And we were miserable.  We made each other miserable.  The best thing I ever did was to get out, pick someone who was supportive and a good match for my values, and then read everything I could get my hands on about relationships and communication.

Ryan is amazing but he wasn't a magical solution or the road to my "happy ending."  I had to learn a LOT to be better on my end of the relationship and then we had to do a lot of work together to improve our conflict resolution skills.  I'm sure there'll be struggles in the future, but I'm pretty confident that we'll get through them the same way we've overcome the past ones: educating ourselves, working at it, and making small improvements until we have a system that works.

2. Letting a Friendship Go

I won't get too cliche and go on about "toxic" friendships, but that's basically what it was.  I derived very little real enjoyment from our time together, and spent far more time frustrated about poor life choices, overwhelming negativity, and manipulative tendencies.  Ending our friendship wasn't pretty, and it took a while for the negative feelings to fade, but I do feel better about it now.

I've been thinking more and more about the saying, "You're the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with."  And you know, I don't want to be around people who are going to influence me in a negative way anymore.  Now I've got one less source of negativity in my life, and the friends I have left make me happy.

3. Getting a Dog

This might seem like a no-brainer to you pet people, but I hadn't had many pets growing up, and dogs frightened me a little bit.  I could not tell the difference between happy and angry barks, had no idea growls could be playful, and was pretty intimidated by the whole idea when Ryan mentioned it.  He really wanted a dog, however, so I acquiesced, as long as he took care of "it."  Pssssht!  I was naive.  Luke is my baby, and no way in hell is he not going to get walked because it's "not my job."

Having a pet, while occasionally frustrating, adds an extra level to my life, with warm, fuzzy cuddles, and the sheer amount of emotion I feel for this animal (jk, we all know he's a people).  I can't imagine not having a pet now.  And that's not even going into the studies that show that pets reduce stress.

4. Becoming More Active

Speaking of stress, being more active has shown me how much my physical actions affect my mood.  I've always had a cycle of highs and lows, and before I'd always just curl up in a ball for a day or five, and wait for it to end.  I still experience slumps, and sometimes they're bad, BUT now I have one more tool to help me fight them.

In addition to that, I've noticed the slumps decreasing in frequency, which is amazing considering how much more I have on my plate now than in the past.

5. Learning to Disagree Respectfully

This goes along with number 1.  I have always hated confrontation.  In the past, I'd avoid it until I was so fed up that I exploded and while the resultant brawl would usually get me what I wanted, it wasn't exactly a source of contentment for anyone involved.  Ryan's helped me a great deal, but reading relationship books has really made the difference.  And now that I know how to do it, it's insane that it wasn't just a common sense thing, but (and I mention this a lot, but I heartily believe it) I don't think we have good role models or resources when it comes to learning conflict resolution.

So when someone offended me, instead of calmly saying, "I'm not sure why you would say that, but it bothers me because..." I'd either retreat, explode, or say something in retaliation.  Keeping a calm tone and explaining rather than accusing works wonders!  And it's made life easier for my (now) marriage, friendships, and even familial bonds.

6. Choosing Happiness Over Obligation, Fear, or Security

This is definitely a work in progress, but I'm sick of filling my life with meaningless things because I "should" or out of a misguided sense of obligation.  I remember realizing at some point that Ryan and Roommate didn't say yes if they didn't want to and didn't even feel bad about it!  So I'm working on turning down activities, events, and even favors if I don't want to do them.  I'm also taking a hard look at my life choices (like my job) and making sure my reasons aren't rooted in obligation or fear.

I've skirted around this issue for a while, but I'd been wanting to make a change at work for a while and finally discussed it with my boss and decided (mutually) to drop down to part time in the winter.  I agonized over wanting to freelance for the longest time, but didn't because I "owed it" to Ryan to keep a steady job, and my boss would hate me and my dad would hate me, and it wasn't the "smart" thing to do.  You know what?  Ryan supports it since it's what I need to do to be happy, and he's even shown excitement over some of the freelance opportunities coming my way.  My boss was perfectly fine and reasonable with it, and we compromised with no tension or hard feelings.  My dad will probably be pissed (haven't discussed it with him yet), but he'll get over it.  It's my life, not his, and I value different things.

7. Finding Hobbies

This might sound silly, but one of my favorite things about my relationship with Ryan is all the hobbies he's introduced me to.  I love our gaming group, and having my own dice bag.  I love watching "nerd" shows like Firefly and Doctor Who, and finally understanding what all the hype is about (plus space).  And, as much as I've always enjoyed reading, I don't think it gives me nearly as much satisfaction as what my enthusiasm of the moment is.  Purging the house?  The best fun I've had all year!

I'm a project person, apparently, and life's just not the same when I don't have a passion project calling me to get everything else done to work on it.

8. Self Improvement

I don't know that I've ever liked myself as much as I do now.  Part of that is getting older and getting more comfortable with myself.  But a huge part of it is reading, and learning, and changing the way I do things.  Some of it is stupid, little things, like reading books about how to be happy and love yourself.  But you know what?  I probably wouldn't have thought I was worth love at one point.  I didn't think I was a "good" person.

Now I know that's bullshit and I deserve to be happy, just like everyone else does.  I'm also more tuned in to my own emotions, and better able to identify the things that will make me happy.  I make better decisions, have more confidence, and handle it better when things don't go according to plan.

I'm going to cut myself off there, because I'm getting tempted to put things like "getting older" and that's hardly a decision I made to do.  (Seriously, though, getting older is awesome.)  It is so incredibly gratifying and blissful to be able to look at my life and realize how much more put-together I am now.  I was such a mess!  And it took a while, but all the pieces have finally come together into something I can be happy with.

What things have you done right?  How do you celebrate your successes?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Nov 5, 2015

It's the #NaNoWriMo!

Did you sing the title to the tune of "it's the final countdown"?  If not, please go back and read it again.

Now that you're pumped, let's talk about my current favorite topic!  I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (for the uninitiated, that's National Novel Writing Month), and I'm having a blast.  I'm also less excited about blog posts, because all my writing energy is being diverted into my daily word quota.  Didn't realize it was a limited resource, but there you have it.

I'd had a story idea back in May.  I played around with it, mostly at meetings when I was trapped with nothing but a notepad and pencil.  But it was always a "maybe later" kind of thing.  Enter NaNoWriMo.

A few days before November, people started talking about this weird word that I vaguely remember seeing last year.  I actually went to the website, read more about it, and thought, "I have a book idea."

I kept thinking, "Well, I always give myself too many projects.  I can do it later."  But then I thought, "What if later never comes?"

I made an account.  I read the resources.  I realized I'm a planner, not a "pantser" and I really needed to get some background documents together.  The 3 days leading up to November were a flurry of Halloween interspersed with daydreaming and hastily jotted notes.  Honestly?  Halloween kind of sucked.  So I'm glad I had something positive to focus on.

I've been pouring my little heart out and I love it.  Let me tell you about my story.

My main character is Matt and he's a huge nerd.  I modeled him after Ryan and myself and he's important, because it's through his eyes that we see the story, but he's not THAT important.

You get to see my crappy concept sketches!  Hooray!!!  Matt and his friends playing D&D in their dorm room before craziness happens and Matt finds himself in "fantasy land."

The truly important characters are 7 princesses (seven because three and seven are the most commonly used numbers in fairy tales and three was too few) in a fantasy land that need rescuing.  Except that they don't.

So Matt rescues them to fulfill some cheesy, antiquated prophecy, and then the ladies take over and get to work.  I was going to make a point of the ladies being disgusted by the prophecy's old-fashioned criteria, but then I decided my world didn't have to have gender inequality in the first place.  So instead they're all mildly confused about it, but not too upset because the whole damsel in distress trope never existed in their world.

There's also a narrator who makes snarky remarks.  He/she/it amuses me no end, but I might end up removing this element from the story because I'm not entirely sure it serves a purpose.  I was aiming for an irreverent Terry Pratchett/Douglas Adams style narration but I'm not sure I have the skills to make that come to life.

I'm noticing a couple things as this story forms:
  • I love my own writing.  No humility here.  I mean, I'm not going to brag that I'm awesome (because that's rude), but as I write and when I reread, I'm so in love with it that it's ridiculous.  I know it can't possibly be as good as it seems to me, so I'm going to need to find some external perspective to help me with feedback and to get a realistic idea of the weak areas.
  • The first draft is going to be a lot less fleshed-out than I want.  At first I was trying to figure out how to make it read less like a YA book, but then I realized getting the story down is the first step.  Then I'll go back through and make the world fuller and richer and add detail to the bare bones of "he said this" and "she did that."
  • World building is my jam!  I did this once before in high school, and it's never enough for me to build a story on the framework of our own Earth.  I made up my own planet, thought about how it orbits, how the inhabitants evolved, and even how the laws of physics might differ there.  I love doing this but it also means that, as long as I stay consistent with my own rules, no one can call me out on inaccurately depicting something.  Because it's not our world or culture!

My crappy sketch attempting to show the world layout and trying to figure out if that kind of orbit is even scientifically possible/what that would mean for daytime vs nighttime and what the climate would be like with 2 suns.

Now I'm a newb to this writing community, but I've already seen some "professional" do-gooder author sharing his (highly condescending) opinion of why NaNo isn't "that terrible" even though the premise is awful and the forums suck, and so on and so forth.  Obviously I took some issue to that.  I don't think anyone believes they're going to write a masterpiece in 30 days and be done.  I DO think the community serves the following purposes:
  • Gets us started!  I signed up on a whim and you know what?  I am fully confident that I am going to see this through.  All I needed was that initial push.
  • Accountability.  No, a certain word count isn't what matters.  But having that goal in front of us keeps us writing through the writer's block and uninspired moments.  It builds the habit.
  • Makes it fun!  I love updating my word count, and Kelli and I have been checking in with each other and sharing our experiences.  I love it!
  • Resources.  Honestly, I don't love the resources NaNoWriMo provides, but even if they don't give you all the information you need, they get you started thinking about how to more fully flesh out your story.
  • Confidence.  I think people are reluctant to admit they'd like to write a book, even though most of us feel we have a story somewhere inside ourselves.  NaNo makes it something to be proud of, something to celebrate, and something to have fun doing.

Anyone else out there participating?  Let's buddy up and talk word counts, character development, and plot holes!  (Melissandre, if you're reading this, GET STARTED AND FRIEND ME!  You can do it!!!)

Have you/are you participating in NaNoWriMo?  If you were to write a book, what would it be about?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Nov 3, 2015

Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge - It Begins!

It's back!  This summer I kind of went off on my own, but I missed doing this challenge.  AND I even have a library card now, so I can do this entirely guilt-free and budget-friendly (y).

Here's the categories and what I'm planning on reading.

5 points: A book between 100-200 pages
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (118 pages) (I was going to do this for "debut book" but it was too short.)

10 points: A debut book by any author
— The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (325 pages) (I bought this for a book club, which I didn't end up going to, and I waited too long to return it, so I'm glad to get the chance to use it for points for something!)

10 points: A book that does not take place in your current country of residence
A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin (352 pages) (England/Europe)

10 points: A book that someone else has already used for the challenge
— Waiting to see what someone else has read at the first month check-in.

15 points: A book published under a pseudonym
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens (240 pages) (I had no idea Mark Twain wrote The Prince and the Pauper!  I've seen so many adaptations I just assumed it was a folk tale or something.)

15 points: A book with “boy,” “girl,” “man,” “woman,” or their plurals in the title
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (217 pages)

15 points: A book with a one-word title
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (548 pages)

20 points: A book with a person's first and last name in the title
— One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus (434 pages) (I've had this in challenges before and not actually gotten around to it, so it's high priority this time!)

20 points: A food-themed book
Chocolat by Joanne Harris (306 pages)

20 points: A book with a verb in the title
Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life by Judith Orloff (401 pages)

30 points: Two books with the same title by different authors
Winter by Marissa Meyer (832 pages - according to Goodreads, but that doesn't seem right...) and Winter by Sarah Remy (301 pages) (SO EXCITED TO FINISH THE LUNAR CHRONICLES!!!)

30 points: A nonfiction book and a fiction book about the same subject
— Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku (329 pages) and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (216 pages) (Here's my rationale for this: the one teaches you the science and probability of each theoretical technology and the other uses the most ridiculous and improbable technology there is!  I'm actually looking forward to the first one a lot, because I have no idea which sci-fi elements are a future likelihood and which should be considered fantasy.)

I struggled with some of these categories, but I finally got mostly books I'm looking forward to!  (I have to admit - a book about food was not something I had any interest in.  I did, however, enjoy the movie Chocolat, so I'm hoping that'll help me with the book.)

GUYS!  Winter comes out this month!!!

What are you planning on reading for the challenge?  What book challenges are your favorites?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Nov 2, 2015

Mental Health Monday - Some Resources!

Since attending counseling and the encouragement I've received from many different people, I've begun to delve more heavily into mental health and self improvement.  Here are some of the best resources I've come across in that time (Note: one happens to be my first free book from Blogging for Books, but that's because it was legitimately a good read - this post was getting written regardless.)

4 Awesome Mental Health Resources

1. TED Radio Hour on NPR

TED Talks are great and cover a vast array of topics.  The Radio Hour podcast is even better, because they pick a few talks on similar topics and pull out the best points of each presentation.  Here's the one I really, really recommend, even if you don't listen to any of their other episodes.

They're all good topics, but my favorite was section 2, which talks about staying in the moment, and provides a free resource, the Track Your Happiness App, which is a super cool idea!