Category Archives: Uncategorized

the non-milestone birthday

So last year I had a milestone birthday. It was therefore somewhat anticlimactic to have a non-milestone birthday on Monday, that I celebrated with zero fanfare or expectations. (Also, we were fantastically jetlagged on Monday, so there was minimal celebration other than ordering Bareburger for pickup and passing out)

It is usually at my birthday that I take stock of my life and where I am in it, and I think this photo sums it all up:

THIS GUY SERIOUSLY

This is me with my goofball son, in BC last weekend. I am tired but joyful because I am with my baby – and my family. I don’t look pulled together , and I don’t particularly care. I do not need to look pulled together, I just need to be pulled together enough to engage with the people I love.

look alive out there

Tonight, I went to a BAM “Eat, Drink and be Literary” event to see author Sloane Crosley speak on humor and insight in her writing.  Sometimes, I just want to hear another slightly sarcastic forty year old white woman speak to experiences I can sort of relate to. Crosley is of the school of humor where she ties personal anecdotes and observations back to universal conditions, a synecdoche that I feel is representative of Generation Xennial.  We tend to speak in metaphors, in pop culture references and personal essays, in stories that represent the feelings we cannot allow ourselves to be insecure enough to voice.  We are the last generation before social media, the last to have come of age in a time before oversharing was common, and our personal essays therefore depend on circumstance as metaphor for emotion.

That said, I enjoyed all of Crosley’s books, and while reading them, I saw her as being a voice of my generation, using humor as a lens to examine what it means to live in New York City in the twenty-first century.  Yet I have trouble connecting to Crosley’s essays in the visceral way that I connect to, say, Lindy West.  Crosley’s work, and her voice, somehow comes across as too polished, too East Coast, almost academic.  Her wit is polished and slightly self-deprecating, but not in the passive-aggressive snarky way that I relate to as a Canadian.  Her essays are exceptionally well crafted, and exemplify, to me, what it means to be a New Yorker here and now: a sense of being polished and well spoken, of being quick witted and literary, of the inheritance of the legacy of hundreds of years of writers in this particular city.  I am not, however, polished and well spoken, at least not consistently, so my disconnect is entirely a personal one.

And yet, there was a period at the end where everyone was asking questions, and I did not.  I wanted to ask about how being a woman, and a woman of our age, impacted Crosley in her writing.  I thought about asking, do you feel you approach your work differently than you would have had you been born a few years later?  Were you better able to perfect your craft because you were first published in 2002, not 2012, and personal essays were not yet tarnished by a culture of oversharing?  I wanted to ask, how do you feel your voice is affected by being a woman?  Do you feel you write differently or approach humor differently than your male counterparts?  However, I felt like it would have been putting that author on the spot to ask about the differences in how women experience humor, especially since she has never written about the challenges of being funny as a female.  I felt like she was somehow disconnected from the challenge of being a woman in comedy because of her medium as an essayist, as opposed to being a woman comedian in a performance role.  I feel like we’re just not making progress in allowing women to be funny in America, and yet this was not the funny woman to ask about that particular topic (unlike again, say, Lindy West).

Still, I was riveted by Sloane Crosley, by how quick her wit is in conversation.  I appreciated hearing about the writer’s craft, about the intensity of fiction versus non-fiction, about the way creating a story out of memory impacts the original experience.  It’s so true, how crafting an anecdote impacts our perception of an event, as we select only the details that are most relevant to the concept we’re trying to convey, or that are most interesting to our audience.  The memories I’ve written about over the years are now one-dimensional, almost shellacked and preserved for posterity.  Some may have been lost otherwise, but others have been polished into representative tales.  It was interesting, to hear that perspective from an essayist who has given her own memories to her craft.

I even actually enjoyed the most awkward part of the evening, which was where I sat down at a table of total strangers.  The series format is a buffet dinner, at tables of 8 people, each table stocked with wine, thankfully, to help it along.  I took a seat at a table with two welcoming older people, who kindly told me where the empty seat was and then said the nicest thing possible, which was that they guessed my age at twenty-five.  They were lovely people who lived in Brooklyn Heights, and had been in Brooklyn for decades.

The rest of the table, once they returned from the buffet, also all turned out to all be closer to my parents’ age, retirees with time and means to engage in the arts.  They weren’t all familiar with the author, but they all came to every event in the series, whether or not they had read the books.  I quickly discovered that most of them were also long term residents of Brooklyn, going back to the seventies, a time unimaginable in Brooklyn to those of us who consider a pre-2008 home purchase to make one a pillar of the community.  Fortunately, I am fascinated by anecdotes of Brooklyn and New York City from the 70s, and they seemed interested enough in my anecdotes of being a Canadian.  We all got along just fine, and despite my initial nervousness, I found myself chatting away.  (Did I mention these tables also had wine?)

I found the whole experience immensely worthwhile: a chance to support literature, to support the National Book Foundation, to support BAM – but most of all, it was important to support myself.  I do not write essays, exactly, but I do write thousand word blog entries.  I would like to write those kind of essays, to be able to tell a story that encapsulates so much of the world around me, to be able to use non-fiction as a narrative that still manages to contain metaphor.  That, to me, is a high art.  This was also something I chose as my first “artists date“, part of the Artists Way project I’ve committed to doing this quarter as a way to reconnect with my own writing and creativity.  It was something that inspired me, that challenged me a bit, that gave me some concepts to mentally chew on – an idea right in line with the dinner party.  Maybe I’ll go back in a month for Min Jin Lee.

 

 

the scourge of rumination

I have always been prone to an unfortunate cycle: that of impulsive action, resulting in a negative response, followed by self-shaming and rumination.  In recent years, I’ve recognized this cycle, and begin the process of distancing impulsive and inappropriate behavior from my self-worth or my value as a person.  I Vaguebooked about one such incident and my mental process on Friday.

The problem is that I still have a lifelong habit of ruminating.  It’s a well-worn track in my brain, a habit that is hard to break.  It’s re-living and re-thinking through the Moment of Shame: the moment of realization I have where an external response causes me to re-contextualize my behavior as wrong and inappropriate.  I will then ruminate over the behavior and berate myself for it.  In my twenties, when these actions were bigger and clumsier, I could really self-shame myself. It’s why some of the emotion expressed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend resonates so strongly with me:

Now, it’s both better and worse.  The problem is better because whatever I did, it’s usually a small faux-pas, as I’m obviously much older and wiser and have been working on my social skills for years.   However, the problem is worse because my rumination isn’t limited to my own brain.  It now spreads out and colors the lives of my husband and son, or my friends, or my family.  It’s hard to be an attentive and loving wife and mother when the inside of your brain is busy regurgitating shame and anxiety all over itself.

I’ve also realized lately that this kind of rumination triggers a second narrative, which is that of a greater sense of self-doubt and failure.  Once my mind starts telling itself this story, and my brain recognizes the emotions, it starts referencing other similar incidents to create an entire negative narrative.  Whatever the context of the original mistake, be it social or professional, family or friends, day job or volunteer work, my brain will use the latest incident as a trigger to reference past incidents.  These become citations and proof points that I will never function in society as a successful human because I am not trying hard enough to develop and display behavior that would garner mutual like and respect.

The whole process then expands from one small incident into an entire Flowchart of Negativity:

rumination spiral

I suspect that the original rumination process was a coping mechanism I developed in my late teens and early twenties, a way of trying to make myself better so I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life in the kind of social isolation I experienced growing up.  Originally, this was a way of trying to understand external response to my actions and correct the behavior so people would like me.  Over two decades though, it’s now expanded, like some kind of self-destructing grow in water toy.  There’s two additional boxes now on the original rumination track plus an entire new macro level track of negative thought that opens up from these kind of incidents.  Its a disproportionate response that in turn, can open up a depressive episode.

Lately though, I’ve started to realize that my response is not too far outside the spectrum of normalcy, which means there’s plenty of research and material available on this particular mental process.  I’ve read that this is especially common because of the way humans are programmed to need their tribes.  Without the tribe, one is vulnerable, and therefore we are overly worried about behavior that could cause one to be cast out of a tribe.  It turns out that I’m not special, I’m just human.  

Furthermore, rumination is a well-known negative mental process.  It is not something I need to further berate myself for.  I have made it a default behavior, which has made it stronger and harder to break from though.  Just as how I’ve developed the muscles for riding a bike (and killing it in spin class), I’ve also developed the mental muscles around negative thought.  Just like my quads though, these have grown stronger, and more developed, with time.  So just like how I can return to spin class and make progress quickly, it’s also entirely too easy for me to re-build the strength of these old mental patterns.

The strength & training metaphor also makes me realize that I also have control over the situation.  I used to say I wasn’t a runner, that I had developed my muscles for cycling, not running, and that I couldn’t run.  Years later, I run perfectly well – slowly, of course, but I am capable of running and getting faster over time.  I also used to think that the rumination and shame process was hardwired into my brain and that it was a function of my depression and anxiety.  What if it is actually just something that I need to re-train on, just like how I re-trained my quads to run?  MIND.  BLOWN.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a connection between self-shaming and depression – but the depression can be a function of rumination rather than the other way around.  That makes it more controllable.  I’ve observed and documented above how my self-shaming not only leads to rumination, but now opens up an entire additional track of negative thought.  That’s been studied and there are real, scientific brain connections between rumination and depressive episodes.  It’s still a bad thing that I have built connections in my brain between meaningless incidents and a conviction of failure, but it isn’t unique or extreme.  It’s a known quantity, and it’s possible to fix it.

Finally, knowing that this is a mental process happening to other people makes dealing with me so much easier.  It’s easier for me to feel compassion for people other than for myself, and I do not believe that anyone deserves to go through this kind of self-berating shame cycle.  Therefore, if I don’t believe that other people should do this to themselves, I should extend the same sort of compassion to me.  I need to let go of the “tough love” narrative I’ve used to justify berating myself over the years, telling myself that ruminating and the resulting suffering was necessary to make me a better person, one less likely to engage in the poor behavior in the future.  That rationale was a terrible story to tell myself, and one I would never encourage in others because it’s a needless source of torment.  I should therefore show myself the same compassion I would show any other human.

To that end, I’m looking into self-compassion solutions.  If I can stop the process at the original root – the Moment of Shame – I can keep it from branching out into a whole thing.  It turns out there is literally an entire center for this, and they have courses and books and all kinds of things I can use to upskill my brain.  I am a great believer in books, knowledge and training.  It’s also something a therapist is very likely to understand and support me with.

Figuring all this out is hard.  Admitting to it is harder – there’s also an element of lack of self-control here, a further berating for not getting over this years ago.  However, like most things, it is easier once I take it apart, break it down, build a flowchart and attack the problem at the root cause.

stranded in stamford

Thanks to tonight’s MEGA WINTER STORM (#avery #winterstormavery #whydowenamethestorms) I am stranded at a Sheraton in Stamford.  Because, obviously, when a storm hits, one wants to go for as much alliteration as possible when seeking shelter.

I had to go on my last ever trip to my Connecticut based bank client today.  This required driving, because I had to go to “Real America”, aka Not NYC.  And despite my best efforts to leave sooner, I found myself on I-95 right as the storm hit the area around 4pm.  I watched as my time to home on Google Maps went up…and then refused to go down again.  Despite two hours of driving, the time to home stubbornly stayed at over three hours, just with a continuously later arrival time.

Eventually traffic just…stopped.  I sat there watching the snow get heavier, and realized: I was equipped to drive in the worsening conditions in the SUV I was upgraded to this morning at the rental car location.   The other vehicles around me might not be as well equipped, and my SUV would not be immune to other cars or trucks sliding into it.   That was when I gave up, pulled off the highway, and sought a hotel.

It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  First of all, I can likely expense this back to the client since I was asked drive to them on the day of a major storm.  Second of all, if the client is not amenable to the expense, I can afford a $200 hotel room.  My time getting home also isn’t critical: I have my husband to take care of our son so I’m not needed at home until I can get back tomorrow, and even if Paul also got stuck in the storm, Ben could go to any of a half-dozen neighbors or friends locally as part of our Brooklyn child raising village.  I have the sheer luxury of being able to put my own safety and wellbeing first and procure a hotel room instead of slugging through the storm.  I’m grateful that my path in life put me in a position to be able to make a night like this a little easier on myself.

Also: I left the house yesterday!  I did a bunch of things that reminded me of what it was like to have kinetic energy, instead of being dragged down by inertia working at home.  I even managed to socialize a bit, seeing a dear friend for a quick catch-up and then going to a Canadian college alumni event to say hi to the two or three people I knew from other Canadian gatherings,  and pick up the latest UBC Alumni swag:

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I’m not sure when my alma mater started handing out swag notebooks and pins for an alumni association, but I’m happy to have it as a conversation starter in work meetings.  Why yes, it’s a real school!  

Sadly when I go to a college alumni event, it’s difficult to share memories of university.  UBC is huge, and the experiences differ radically.  I have yet to meet anyone who has even a Venn diagram overlap with my memories: most of the alumni I meet at expat events are younger than I am, and many are Business school graduates, not Arts majors.  I  also graduated in 2003, and the defining event of my last two years was my participation in the Arts Undergrad Society and Arts County Fair.  With that major annual event having been defunct for (yikes) eleven years (shut down in 2007), I haven’t met a lot of fellow alumns who share memories of it.

However, there are still plenty of things I’m sure I could talk about with UBC alumni.  Memories of the old SUB, for example!  The many drinking establishments on campus!  The wide range of actual academics!  Vancouver in general!  I mean, how lucky were we to go to school in such a beautiful setting, attached to such an incredible city?  But last night I was just so tired after a day of being outside of the house, from having taken Ben on a school tour, gone to the office, gone to the dentist, met a friend for coffee, done a spin class and walked the ten blocks from the gym to the event…now that I think about it, no wonder I lacked enthusiasm for reminiscing about UBC.  I’ll have to try again at the next expat event on Monday.

Meanwhile, I’m rapidly running out of energy, here in my now cozy hotel room in Stamford.  Being warm.  Having unlimited access to heat.  Also something I’m thankful for.  May all people be so fortunate on a night like tonight.

still benched

I went to the doctor on Monday to check in on my foot, which continues to go from Fairly Normal at the start of the day, to Bloated Puffy by the end of the day.

20180524_094818

First thing in the morning, minimal puffiness.  Or puffins.

On Monday, by the time I got to the doctor at 4:30pm, it was puffing out of the top of my ballet flat shoe like rising dough. I took it to the specialist I saw back when I first sprained the ankle, and he pressed down on the swelling with a concerned expression. “Hm. This shouldn’t be,” he said, and I felt my heart sink.

“So the swelling isn’t normal?” I asked

“Nope. Let me just see how you’re healing. This may hurt,” he said, and then poked my ATFL tendon, where the tear is, connecting my leg to my foot. I winced and exclaimed, “OW!”

“Yep, that’s the ATFL we talked about. This isn’t recovering as much as I’d expect for six weeks in.” He asked if I had been doing the exercises he suggested, and I told him I had, and showed him the range of mobility in my foot. That was actually better than expected, as the doctor was quite pleased with my ability to rotate and flex my foot. He asked me to walk across the room and stand on one foot, and I did. Then he looked at my foot critically, and said, “I’m going to prescribe you an AirCast”

“Oh,” I said, “you already issued me one.”

“Then why aren’t you wearing it?”

“It was slowing me down?” I said, and then started laughing. The AirCast was making it hard to walk quickly, but I did wear it for the two weeks I was supposed to wear it. Now I’m supposed to wear it if I’m leaving the house, again. I’m also supposed to ice my ankle (which I’ve been doing!), elevate it at night (ditto), and wear a compression sock (which I already own). And, most of all, I have to stop pushing myself into activity and telling myself I’m “working my ankle for recovery”. I did manage to regain a lot of mobility doing that, but not a lot of actual healing has taken place.

So yesterday, Tuesday, I dutifully put on my compression sock and AirCast and went to fetch my son from school and take him to a dentist appointment for a chipped tooth. I took Lyfts when we could have walked (we did walk a few blocks here and there, but less than we usually would). I THOUGHT that would be the end of the physical stress on my ankle for the day, and settled back in to work, ankle propped on a stool under my desk, while Ben worked on a school project.

Then Ben managed to slice open his thumb with a knife cutting a carboard box – and I ran with him to Urgent Care, a half mile away. It was only after the adrenaline wore off that I realized how exceptionally bad an idea it had been to run with my bleeding son, his hand compressed and elevated in a dishtowel, across Prospect Heights.

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I got him to urgent care for stitches within twenty minutes of the cut!  Parenting win!

Now I have re-trashed my ankle. Even if I wasn’t committed to resting it and getting better, I would be now because it hurt more today than it has in weeks. The bright side is that it actually isn’t puffy at all: the compression sock and the rest for the past two days has actually reduced the edema. The original ATFL tear, however, is still there. There will be no hiking on Mount Misery this weekend (it’s quite pleasant despite the name!), but there may be a trip to the MRI if it doesn’t improve.

 

Return of the Cankle

My wedding night, I was six months pregnant. I still danced until my feet gave out. I remember after a night of celebrating, both ankles were so swollen that they had disappeared into my calves, a phenomenon charmingly referred to as “cankles”. Today, I didn’t even get the fun of dancing but still, after walking a mile and sitting at a desk, here we are with one cankle:

I still went to the gym tonight, but only to swim. Being in the water meant activity without weight on my ankle. I kept it to 20 minutes on the pool, 200 yards of laps, just enough for me to feel like I did something and to see if that negatively impacts my recovery at all. The ankle hurts, especially since I went off my painkiller/NSAID medication this week, but it’s a pain I can live with.

Also, it was nice to get the swim time in. I have to do some sort of cardio to keep my endorphins up. In my toolkit of Ways I Manage my Brain, cardio is one of the tools I don’t reach for enough. Then on nights like tonight when I do use it, I remember it’s extremely helpful and I should pick it up all the time. It would be smart of me to do more cycling and swimming while recovering enough to run. I just need to get back in a daily habit of prioritizing that time.

Also, I got to see how my new Fitbit tracks swimming! The answer is: in stalker like detail

Like most people, I have a bad habit of dithering time away on the unimportant, which means work takes longer, which means I don’t get to the gym until after 7pm and then end up heading back to the office to take a Scout planning call instead of getting on the subway, which means in turn I don’t get home until 11pm on a Wednesday, which means I can’t get up early enough to work out because I have an 8am appointment to get my bangs trimmed in SoHo. This has nothing to do with my sprained ankle of course, and everything to do with bad habits, the kind of habits that allow me to put off self-care and fitness time under the guise of work, which in turn has been dragged out by a lack focus. Which is why I’m on a subway at 10:30pm on a Wednesday.

In the interim, I have bloody cankles, and my entire right leg is twinging with the effort of balancing on one leg this evening as part of my requisite physio recovery process. But at least I went swimming. I got the start of a better habit in place. I prioritized that activity even if it wasn’t well planned. The cankle will eventually go away, but maybe, just maybe, I can use this time of recovery as impetus to be more mindful and deliberate in my physical activity.

where is the nostalgia club for xennials?

I love going to decade specific nights at the Bell House.  It has a huge dance space in the concert/event “big room”, and at least one Saturday a month they through a decade specific dance party.  Usually this takes the form of Party Like It’s 1999, the 90s dance party, at which I can relive all the greatest dance hits that I didn’t like the first time they were popular, but at least now are laced with nostalgia!  (The DJ once played almost all of “Out of Time” one time in the first hour before the club filled up though so I can forgive him constantly trotting out “The Boy Is Mine”)

More recently, the Bell House has seen a rise in popularity for DJ Jane Elizabeth’s “Tainted Love” nights.  These are described as “building on a solid foundation of New Wave” but in reality, have turned out to be far more esoteric.  Here’s the playlist for the 4/21 edition that Paul and I went to:

When we walked in, my first reaction was that, unlike the 90s nights, I was on the younger side of the Tainted Love crowd.  At 90s nights, even though I graduated high school in the middle of the decade, the Millennial “baby boom” that started in 1983 outnumber those of us born earlier.  Therefore, the DJ plays more late 90s songs to appeal to the millennials nostalgia, instead of sticking to the good half of the decade.  We all know that the back half of the 90s sucked for music because it was all downhill after Kurt died.  (see also: shitty pop punk, rap-rock, overproduced R&B, boy bands, girl bands, etc).  This means that by 1am, I’m totally over the music that appeals to people who are only a couple years younger than I am and feel like yelling at them all to get off my lawn because they are kids with no taste in music, as if there’s a real generational divide there

JUST PLAY VS AND CALL  IT A DAY

My second reaction was that this was an audience looking for older mainstream 80s music.  I am nostalgic about the late 80s from having been a child, and nostalgic about dark 80s from being a goth.  But I am too young to have seen John Hughes movies the first time they came out.  Paul isn’t even old enough for that kind of nostalgia (1975), and neither of us have any nostalgia for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” outside of Bootie.  The crowd around us was gleefully screaming along “JUST A SMALL TOWN GIRL, LIVIN’ IN A LONELY WORRRRRLD”, so at that moment we felt like we’d fallen into the wrong soundtrack.

Then DJ Jane Elizabeth put on “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and i was placated.  First of all, see above on Early 90s nostalgia from childhood.  Second, BLACK MIRROR!  That’s literally the soundtrack to the only happy ending episode, which is about finding your True Love (SPOILER IN VIDEO)

I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING

The irony goes layers deep here, people: “Heaven Is A Place on Earth” is now a song associated with a show that correctly identified our culture’s desire to spend eternity in an artificially created nostalgic environment, and it was being played in an artificially created nostalgia environment that I just didn’t have to upload my brain into in order to access.  Also, I would like to spend eternity dancing my MY true love as well, but Paul and I both agree we would have to go to the evil club in town, which was playing Paul’s favorite band (the Pixies) and honestly, just looked like Bar Sinister (Why does the evil club always just look like Bar Sinister?  Honestly, most goths are HARMLESS)

Still, I’d kind of like a club night that skews to my age group.  Not those Nickelodeon watching kids that came after me, not the mainstream-80s nostalgia, but someplace that would hit people in the Xennial band.  It would run from the late 80s through the Britpop craze, and cut out the worst parts of the late 90s.  But because I fall in the 1977-1983 gap between the Xers and the Millenials, I don’t think my subset of people have the numbers to make it happen yet.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to lean on GenX nostalgia to placate me until I can either upload my brain into a 1996 environment for nostalgia therapy…or these millennials take their stupid Third Eye Blind and their stupider Blink 182 and all the other awful bands with numbers from the 90s and get off my lawn.