About stuff (including me and writing)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Turn around, bright eyes (but don't look at the map)

Every now and then we are minding our own business, getting our work done, making our stuff, when a stupid jerk starts yakking away about how we are just going to embarrass ourselves or we simply can't make what we're trying to make. The voice is coming from inside our heads!! and it is like a cat pushing our papers off the table, but with greater malicious intent and, significantly, way less self-esteem.

My friend - no really, it was a friend, not me - and mutual tweet-follower Michael tweeted a call for help this morning (hi):

How do we out-wit the voice?

So, a few trusty practices came to mind pretty quickly. Not because I don't have to sit and listen to the inner critic literally every (okay, every other) day as I write, but because I do. There are these things that do happen to work sometimes.

1. Remember a project my gut tells me was done well and re-view it. That will shut the "meh, why bother" voice up at least for a while.
Rini's Personal Writing Archives, Four-Year-Old File
 2. Remember what some people (or gatekeepers) said about something I did and re-view their responses. That will give the voice someone else to argue with while I get back to work.

Then another friend of the Original Poster suggested (in addition to tried and true setting small goals and checking them off) a tactic that has had the opposite effect on me sometimes. He recommended reflecting "on the personal trail you are blazing," but I find that zooming out and looking for proof of Good Work in a big picture trajectory actually invites the mean voice to say, "So this map doesn't impress much, does it? You're no closer to the X than you were five projects ago. Wait, I can't even see the X -- what treasure are we searching for anyway?"

Turn around, every now and then I get a little bit tired
Of listening to the sound of my tears
Turn around, every now and then I get a little bit terrified
And then I see the look in your eyes 
- Bonnie Tyler

That can be a trip-up for the upwardly or treasurably mobile among us. The thing for me is to do The Thing that is being done now well, and to remind myself that a Thing or Two has been done well before, so don't get all mired in the map. Just this one thing now, okay.

Of course, life and creativity and productive work are none of them just a bunch of unconnected things. I am fortunate in that I have never been especially stuck on the single, ever-forward-moving path idea. But I understand its temptation and its authoritative claims for a lot of maker-workers, and Purpose driving - maybe for some, even, a 15 Year Plan - has its virtues.

There is a third Silence the Downer Inside tactic I practice even more regularly, and that is the move so fast my mind can't mess me up move. This is when I do what it takes to build some momentum - in my case, in writing - and pound out 750 or 1,000 words or more in one breath. I usually tell myself going in that "it doesn't matter if they're good or not" but that's all I'll say to myself about it because this exercise is not about self-affirmation, it's about action. Most of the time when I exhaust that burst of productivity, I look back over it without trepidation and find there is good, usable stuff right there and as a bonus, the Critic Inside got distracted and is taking a nap or something.

A caveat, for me, is necessary when it comes to pitching and self-promoting -- as in a job application, book proposal, letter of interest... They're a tricky Thing when it comes to revisiting and powering through, because the whole Thing is to deny the critic within and without.

I'd like to get better at stopping and taking more time to represent Me, rather than Perfect Pitchy Me in these projects. Because sometimes I see or think up something I want to do and I'm in such a hurry to get my "Pick me!" in front of the Picker's eyes first that I bulldoze right over the good that comes from self-criticism -- the humor, the carefulness, modesty.

So, that's my take on what to do to do good stuff when I doubt the stuff is good-able.

You? Hit Michael's tweet up (if he's still looking), or share around here with us and me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Of Women and Sports Fans

Oh hi sportball fans and non sportsy friends and people. I am working on a thing. Maybe you could help.
What would it take for you to watch professional or national collegiate women's games on TV?
What would it take for you to get excited about a professional or national collegiate women's game or tournament?
I am particularly interested in (a) basketball, (b) hockey, (c) softball, and (d) soccer.
There's been a bunch of stuff written and said about "Why [Men and/or We] Don't Watch Women's Sports." I'm interested in some additional current, personal perspectives from real sports fans and non-sports people alike.
If you wouldn't hate briefly sharing your thoughts and feels, please do. No long, deeply analytical replies necessary! Comment on this post, FB or tweet me, or take my survey!
Feel free to state what seems to you like an obvious or not-new reason or point, if it's true for you. Or, hit me with some insight or personal perspective if you got it.
I'm into answers that are true for you, not (in theory or "well actuallyness") for Our Society. For you.
Also, if you can stretch your imagination beyond "I'd watch if there were more on TV," that's super helpful, too. But, for sure, note that as a factor if it's true for you, then consider as well: What if there were, at least for a trial period to gauge ROI, more coverage available?_______________________________________________________________________
If it helps to keep in mind, I watch 10-15 professional or national collegiate (men's or women's) sportball games a year, but I read about them every day, not least of all on my great friends' social media. My interest and questions are honest and sincere (if not entirely earnest).

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Listing Some Books, Episode 3: The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Edible Bugs

The Book Review, by The New York Times, is my most satisfying podcast habit presently. It has in-depth conversation about one specific book and author, followed by a roundtable discussion of several books, highlighting what the participants are currently reading, thinking about, abandoning, or paying attention to.

When I listen, I jot titles and authors down for future consideration. I may be moved by the topic, the personality of the author being interviewed in the first segment, or the presentation of emotional or intellectual response by the critics and readers in the last segment.

A few weeks ago, Mohsin Hamid's voice drew me. As he talked with host Pamela Paul about his latest novel Exit West, he sounded warm, self-reflective, sensitive to complex perspectives, and familiar. It turns out, I'd heard him in the car just a few days before on Fresh Air talking about his book with (the hypnotic-voiced) Terry Gross.

This latest writing experience, he said, was different for him because he told the story more than he wrote the novel.

I had probably written his name down before he finished his first sentence about that concept: story in relationship to style. I am a sucker for meta-art and -stories, especially when they're good.

So I checked the local library (via the super amazing wonderful Library Extension I've attached to Amazon and Goodreads), and found one of Hamid's earlier novels available for electronic checkout.

I am currently reading and about 25 percent through The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Subject-wise, in its story of a Pakistani man's experience of September 11, 2001 as a young business analyst in New York, the 2007 novel offers a lot for my tastes as a reader. Globalized identity, religious tension, academic-intellectual life -- all are topics on my lists.

Then there is the device. The Guardian called the narrator's voice (or its effects?) "quite mesmerizing." But so far I've felt more contrived at than engaged. The Pakistani man tells his story - so far - entirely as a one-side conversation with the American he encounters on the streets of Lahore. So far, I don't get it and I don't feel it, if it means some kind of transcendent novel-reading experience owing to the means of storytelling.

I know the story will be - it isn't yet, really - compelling in an inevitable way. It promises to be part love-story, but probably even more so friendship, betrayal, and an un-simply-named quality that any story of 9/11 (implying surrounding consequence) must have. But the one-voiced, excessive-conversation-based storytelling so far mutes the character for me.

For the first couple of nights I approached the book, I read a chapter each evening. . . because it felt like a Thing to Do. A device, almost, for reading the device. And the chapters are sensorily vivid with street and institution sounds and images and smells and temperatures. So I am there, at least for the moment. The character-voice is more than what he has shared so far, no doubt. And I can't deny the trustworthy personality that includes an occasional and funny throwaway Top Gun reference. It-he will evolve: he's nervous in the present, in subtle contrast to increasingly - if youthful - assuredness in the narrative's past.

So I have renewed the book from my library and will probably move through it with more speed now that I've come this far, in reading and reporting. There is also my comfortable resistance to judging a meta-style story's gimmick before the end. Happily I have experienced "that click" when in the end, the way the art was made, made the art just right in its final turns. Sarah Polley's 2012 documentary Stories We Tell rested that case for me when I viscerally went from "c'mon, what are you doing and why are you doing it" to "oh! yes" with the kind of force where I can still picture myself as I was watching. Maybe, then, the monologue-on-the-street novel and I will connect before I'm done.

Most nights this week I have also been listening to Daniella Martin read her Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet before I go to sleep. Given the relative randomness of its topic in my usual scope of interests and the quality of the writing, I'm thinking I must have picked it up as an Audible Daily Deal or some such recently. I cannot remember, and it was never On a List. But it's making a pretty interesting case and the author's dorkiness is growing on me and last night it made me nostalgic for my tarantula-eating days in Cambodia 13 summers ago and waterbugs in China not so long ago.

Tracking points for this week's "Listing Some Books" blog series:

Came across: via a podcast, a radio show, library availability, and probably a passing sale.

Caught attention: because of voice, religion, academia, and curiosity.

And then: Renewed to finish reading (and, in the case of eating bugs, will put on my Lifestyles to Consider list).

Accessed: Library, Audible sale.

Listing Some Books Episodes all done for this go-round! Previous: Two comedic cultural essay to-be-read-list books and Recently finished Dark Money (with meta).

Happy booklisting!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Listing Some Books, Episode 2: You Can't Touch My Hair and I'm Judging You

Podcasts and #hashtags, newsletters and friends, books on cool topics and shelves in bookstores -- these are a few of my fav-or-ite things that move me to add new titles to my array of "to read" (and "to check into and maybe read but also probably not") lists.

This week I am blogging a few books from my current (March 2017) lists. In our last episode, I reported finishing reading Jane Mayer's chronicle of billionaire buried politicking in Dark Money. Now I am thinking about titles that haven't even made it to my bookshelf yet.

2a and 2b. Wikipedia Brown's (@eveewing) #ActualBlackWomen favorite books thread on Twitter:

a. You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain. By Phoebe Robinson, with a highlighted forward by Jessica Williams.

I feel like I shouldn't have to explain what the book is about, since I have provided the title and I have no more read the book than you have. Possibly less. Eve's invitation for recommendations of (recent) books by black women brought out a few mentions of this essay collection. That and a few other points prompted me to do two things:

(1) Look it up on Amazon. Which, thanks to the seriously greatest thing ever invented - Library Extension - simultaneously tells me if my local public library has a hard and/or electronic copy available.

(2) Confirming that it looks like something I would like to read and finding my library can't help me out, I added it to my running Kindle wish list (that could feed into a later-library-borrow list, an audiobook list, or a I-don't-remember-wanting-this-book:Delete list).

From the Amazon blurb:

"Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day."
This is probably a book I will actually read sooner than later, unlike most books on lists and shelves. The intersection of race and feminism and comedy put it in that sweet spot of levity + reality that feels like oxygen some days. Also its currency pulls me in -- both as a book I've seen mentioned in other tweets and lists since its release last fall and because the author's podcast, "2 Dope Queens" shows up as a popular and rec'd title every time I open my listening app. The pod's not on a list yet.

And, the double-edged rhetoric of "I shouldn't have to explain" hooks me like cat. I'm glad we do still sometimes love enough to explain when it seems like if we - the explanation needer - could pay real attention, we might already understand.

b. I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. By Luvvie Ajayi

Speaking of advice and explanations. This one showed up even more times on the Black Women Authors thread, and on a pile of Best of Last Year lists. It went right on another soon-to-be-converted "to read" list: the public library has a hard copy!

I ended up adding I think five books from the Wikipedia Brown twitter thread and scrolled by another five or so I had read within the last year, which probably got on the to-read list because of another #hashtag, conversation, or list. Including a few less recent but I-recommend ones such as Adichie's Americanah, my first (not last) Octavia Butler book Kindred, and Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Tracking points for this week's "Listing Some Books" blog series:

Came across: via a call for recommendations by a writer-voice-woman I admire and follow on Twitter. Knew the names and titles from previous un-followed-up references.

Caught attention: because of intersecting of multiple points of interest for me: racecomedy, women, popular media, calling out b.s.

And then: Trip to the library WHICH NEVER FAILS TO WIN THE DAY.

Accessed: Might go audio on the first.

Listing Some Books Episode 3 up next: Currently reading lists. Previous: Recently finished Dark Money (with meta).

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Listing Some Books, Episode 1: Dark Money

If I were writing a song about a few of my fav-or-ite things, books and lists would rank higher than brown paper packages tied up with string.

This week, I am going to blog a few books from my lists of this month. First, I'll share a couple of thoughts about the books. Then, on the meta side, I'll think about how and why I come to pay attention to the books I do and what I take from the experience of reading and listing. If any of this makes you think of a book you've read, would recommend, would anti-recommend, have heard of, have on your list(s). . . sharing is caring.

1. Dark Money. Finished. Semi-Recommended.

An eerily familiar list of names winds through this exposé of the ways that very rich, self-interested people openly and hidden-ly manipulate specific government policies and public information. Published in early 2016, the book names at least half a dozen figures I had only heard of since the political rise of Trump. (He has only a small role, himself.)

Jane Mayer's extensive research accomplishes important stuff in a book that risks being dismissed as "one-sided," or worse, melodramatically shallow. Most significantly for me, she spells out specific, direct consequences of dark (or, in some cases, sort of transparent) money. Climate change - regulations, reputations - gets enough detailed discussion of donors' influence on members of congress to make me educatedly mad.

I rated the book just three stars out of five on GoodReads mainly because I could have done with just an updated long-form magazine piece. In fact, it began as just that -- but I never read the original article because I can't seem to get myself to read many magazines electronically or paperwise in the last few years. So, it's good it was a book because I am glad I was exposed to the systems and outcomes of dark money. But, it got a bit redundant (at least for me, at my level of interest).

One of the reasons even 400-page books win out over 15-page magazine stories has to do with my thing for motivational-lists. In this particular case, I use GoodReads to motivate me to keep going both in finishing a long book I'm interested in (but might walk away from because of eleventy other shiny things in my space) and in moving through my to-read piles.

If you can point me to an app that lets me list and track and rate/notate all my media (books, movies, podcasts, articles) consumption in one spot, please do so in the comments or tweet me. I'll put you on my Nice, Helpful People list. I use Diigo and Evernote to track blog posts and magazine/newspaper articles read/to read and find neither one friendly enough to keep up with.

Tracking points for this week's "Listing Some Books" blog series:

Came across: via some forgotten tweet. Or probably a Best Books end-of-year list.

Caught attention: because of its intersecting of multiple points of interest for me: politics, economics, popular culture names (Kochs), current buzz.

And then: I'm not planning to pursue the book's subjects further in any focused way. I learned about how parts of our culture work, I became familiar with powerful people and movements, and I got clued into following as related things develop (through general news coverage). It's not on my To Dig list.

Accessed: the e-book from my public library and ended up buying it to finish when I kept getting bumped to the end of the wait list for renewal.

Listing Some Books Episode 2 up next: A few books added to my "To Read" List this month.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Attention, Please: Empathy Produces Curiosity

One of the first things two separate rheumatologists said when disinterestedly diagnosing me with fibromyalgia was: "Well you seem to have all the markers, except you're not overweight."

Since then, every medical professional I've encountered who has been aware of my diagnosis and ongoing nonspecific symptoms has made a point of the fact that I don't need to lose weight. As if having that one additional marker would have cleared everything up earlier and absolutely and saved us all the trouble.

I received my fibro diagnosis at the apparent end of more than three years of overall deteriorating health and diminishing efforts to both name and treat my symptoms. For a while, I was giving blood for new tests and attending appointments with medical specialists more frequently than I was sleeping, it felt like.

My primary care doc was kind and committed. When I'd show up at her office every few months because I couldn't bear just carrying on without some kind of relief - even if just in the form of professional commiseration - she'd test again for Lyme and Lupus; ask again what, when, and how; and offer another referral, along with the occasional drug. At last she said, "Your next move is to see a rheumatologist," and sent me off to one of the remaining medical centers in our area I hadn't been inside yet, carting my inflammation-marked blood work, pain, and debilitating exhaustion.

That's when, in successive appointments a week apart - with more needles and vials in between - I was told, in not precisely so many words, that I could make all this much neater and more satisfactory if I weighed just 20 or so more pounds. In fact, at the time of these appointments, I was feeling the worst and was at the low point of an unintentional drop of close to 25 pounds. (Within a little over a year afterward, I had gained most of the lost weight back and plateaued within a high-normalish range for my middle age.* I was also coincidentally feeling better for longer periods of time.)

This is not meant to be an essay on the relationship of body weight to health. I have really nothing of value to offer about that. But I was prompted to pay attention to it this week when I read an upsetting piece in The Establishment about "prejudiced prescriptions of weight loss" that have caused serious harm. The author describes a series of medical misdirections given by physicians who did not pay attention to what she was saying, feeling, or exhibiting, or to their professional and personal obligations to find out more than what they immediately noticed: the patient was fat. I recommend reading the piece.

In addition to learning about the experience of the author and a few others she reported, I was struck by how frustratingly familiar the kind of response physicians provided was. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in the office to see my new primary care doctor (soon after my fibro diagnosis I happened to move out of state) about another medical issue. Although my appointment was to address a topic she had pursued, one of rather minor interest to me but she's the doctor so I'm game, I managed to mention: "I have been experiencing what I guess is a flare-up of the fibromyalgia for about six weeks now." I said that I was taking the medication prescribed by another specialist she'd recommended, but. . .

Then I didn't actually squeeze in any more details, such as that this was the worst I'd felt physically in over a year and for the longest stretch of time, before she responded: "So that's under control now? Good." Literally either not hearing - or caring - that I had just stated the opposite.

This might not even be a post about fibromyalgia or any other common diagnosis and how doctors need to slow down and pay attention to us and what is the deal with our so called health care system if nobody bothers to care. I am blessed to have, for now, excellent insurance and access to so many professionals who have helped me and lots of people I love and even more people whose stories I don't know, but if given the opportunity to know, I hope I would receive with openness and not ready platitudes or prescriptions.

Martina's piece rightly named the problem prejudice, which by definition bypasses both curiosity and empathy. I get it: we are busy (for example, doctors), we are needy (i.e., patients), and we are way too often repetitive (well, everyone - it's how communication and connection work). But we are not ever redundant. Yet, when we are not careful, care-full, we can't really care well.

It's a devastating feeling to sense that I am redundant to the person I am with, especially if I trust and am vulnerable with them. One of the least things I can do when I am hearing or reading about an experience someone is having - one that they are inviting me to care about - is to listen and take action to learn more, even checking to see if the knowledge (perhaps expertise!) I brought to the conversation is relevant.

* I'm referencing popular medical ranges defining normal ("or Healthy"), obese, and overweight  based on BMI. However: (1) as the Establishment piece notes, there's not necessarily agreement on what those terms mean or their health consequences; and (2) those normal weight charts don't reflect real life statistics for demographics in the U.S.

For a whole other bit on paying attention, there's this on The Imitation Game.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Two Things I am Not Trying to Understand

These two things I am not trying to understand.
  1. Supportive, positive, intentional association with the views and practices of a man who promotes a false flag discussion of Sandy Hook.
  2. Intentional use, repetition, and promotion of rhetoric supportive of institutional and personal abuse of women, African Americans, Latinx individuals, Muslims, and refugees.

Since the United States voted this week to elect the man who will be our new president in two months, we have heard and read many sentiments and statements. We've heard much about needing and wanting to understand each other, to learn why people we know and disagree with voted for someone whose actions and words we characterize as abominable, dangerous, or unfathomable.

I have said that now is not the time to invest further in understanding why the unfathomable was done.

I believe and strongly, painfully feel this because there are two things that I know go beyond a lack of understanding on my part. I don't want or need to understand why someone that I know - as a human and often as a friend - supported the national, world, and cultural leadership of our president elect.

May I be clear: 

I do not say this is "not my" president elect. That is, he is my president elect.

I do not say that I cannot respect, empathize with, care about, or learn from my friends whose vote supported our president elect.

I do not say that a friend who practiced her or his civil right in support of the president elect believes that no children died at Sandy Hook, no teachers died, no parents grieve, no grandparents mourned, no siblings... Nor do I say that such a friend believes abuse is good or that hateful rhetoric is a positive trait in a leader.

I do not say that a citizen must or does agree with everything a candidate says, does, or promotes.

I do not say that a candidate for U.S. president must or does agree with every person or group who campaigns for him.

I am saying that there are things about which I will not compromise because these things are so wrong and simultaneously so integral to the character - at least as it is portrayed - of a leader.

I am saying that, given the length and mass-social mediation of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, I do not believe or have hope that I will hear something new addressing a good, worthy reason to act in favor of a leader who practiced the two things listed above. I don't feel a sense of responsibility or desire to listen to explanations that don't acknowledge the evil in those two practices.

I am not linking to online sources which have received mass, repeated, and diverse attention during the many months before this week. They not only are there, they have been there; now is not the time for us to re-state and re-link to examples as if fresh data or a fresh debate is that one thing we need. (If you are genuinely unsure what the number one point I list above is, and you want to expose yourself to that information, you can do a google or human-conversation-search for Al*x J*nes. [Fill in the vowels.])

Good will not come from our discussing the relative significance of the two practices listed above. Perhaps right now we might not need to know for whom our friends voted (or why). We do need to know how each other hurts and what each other celebrates. This is one of our high callings.

Let's try to understand the economic and other social struggles and pain the federal government may be able to lessen, and how we can participate in that work of justice and relief. Let's acknowledge, even if not in fraught conversation between you and me, that there is nothing good to say in excuse for two unfathomable practices of our president elect.