control · humility · surrender

“Can I ask you a control freak question?”

10.1.18.jpgUmm, YES, ALWAYS!!

This was the exchange between myself and a coworker on Friday.  We were in the library where our Scribbles! club had just met (Yearbook, Lit Mag, AV club), and as she looked over to the book stacks she paused and asked me the title question: “Can I ask you a control freak question?”

I lit up:  “YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN!”  How did you KNOW that I spend my life waiting for that question?!  Is there something at all that I can help to put in order, set right, make perfect?!?!

She walked me over to the shelves of books and we had a brief exchange of ideas about how this genre should be displayed.  She expressed worry that if by changing the work someone else did (a volunteer whom she’d asked to do the organizing), she was being too anal.  I assured her that her display idea was the right one—that she wasn’t “correcting” the work, she was “improving” it!—and to go for it.

There is a compulsion to believe that by making order of the world, we are safe or the world is fixed or that we are the reincarnation of Atlas, ensuring the world is hugged and held properly for ourselves and everyone on it.

My mother tells me that her mom had OCD.  I don’t know the veracity of this, but my mom tells me that her mother would lock the door a certain number of times on the way out, check over the oven range knobs a certain number of times, and whether OCD-related, that she’d wash a slab of meat with dish soap before cooking it.

I laughed to my coworker on Friday, as we sussed out the perfect book display, that it was a sheer wonder that I never developed OCD.

My deep-set desire for the world to lack chaos has certainly manifested in a myriad of ways.  My desk at work is generally lickable (should one ever desire to), two people in the last week called me “diligent,” and I’ll straighten all the place settings in a restaurant once I’ve sat down, touching everything just so, not as if I can’t enjoy my meal if it isn’t aligned, but just… well, it makes me calmer to feel like everything is set “correctly.”

While none of these impulses leaks over into the compulsion category, my desire for order in the world can mean that I have little tolerance for very many things that involve other people:  The person who doesn’t understand that merging is a “you go, I go” zipper up the highway, the physical disarray of another person’s home, receiving a promise from someone to do something and that promise not being fulfilled…

Allowing for the fact of others’ good intentions, without seeing the actual proof in the pudding, is agonizing for some parts of myself.  You told me you would do X, and you didn’t.  You did X, but it’s not right, and now I have to ask you to do it again.  You did X, and it wasn’t right, so I took it on myself to do it even though it wasn’t my job and now I resent you.

So many thought cells devoted to how others are “behaving” or not, how others “should” be or not… how “right” I am or not!

The elemental desire for hospital corners (not that I ever have or will put those on my bed!) can bring friction to my relationships.  I want a perfection of my own invention, whiiiich relates back to my blog recently about being the “bitch” and demanding everything from others to be just so.  But, I have zero true desire to be a bitch — which is also to be alone.

There is zero effect I can have on others.  So I suppose I try to find it by organizing books, cupboards, and forks.

If this ordering of the world brings me solace, then, yes, I’m happy to remain a conduit for “control freak” questions.  Where this ordering causes me to suffer in the world, then, yes, I’m going to have to accept, release, and remember that I am Safe.

 

 

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humility · self-love · TEACHING

“Isn’t it unmodest?”

9-25-18.jpg

One of my 7th graders asked me the above question this week.

Their daily journal prompt was to list 5-10 positive traits about themselves.  This wasn’t necessarily things they were “good at,” I told them, but it could include those.  I continued that the turn of the Jewish New Year necessitates that we look at the places we’ve done harm in the last year and the ways that we want to improve, but sometimes we can get stuck there in “what’s wrong with us,” so the prompt was intended to balance out those scales of self-appraisal.

When my student approached my desk during the 5-minute writing time and asked the above question, firstly I taught him the word ‘immodest,’ and then said, “That is a great question, and let’s talk about it as a class.”  So we did.

We had a great discussion.  The writing on the board, as seen in the above photo, was generated from their own comments and from my own opinions/perspective:

  • Is doing this activity being immodest?
  • Am I being “bad” by considering my positive traits?
  • Do I only improve by marking mistakes?
  • Can I improve by honoring my achievements?

We answered these questions with a few notations:

  • It’s not saying, “I’m better”; it’s saying, “I am.”
  • Humility = Being right-sized; an honest fair look includes the positive!

I am so proud of my students for this discussion and for bringing to light the darkness within which we shroud achievement.

As I wrote about last week, my Goals Group’s question of the week was, “How will I reward achievement?” and, frankly, we group of 4 bad-ass women had a complex time attaining an answer!

What we generally and individually came to was that we would reward our achievements with self-acknowledgement.  None of us truly needed or wanted an extra bauble or scoop; that’s not really what makes us feel acknowledged or seen.  What we really wanted was, simply, to feel acknowledged and seen!

And one way to accomplish this is to feel proud of ourselves.

I wrote previously that I was going to start allowing myself to say, “I’m proud of you,” without dampening it with self-doubt, derision, or some twisted notion of humility that breeds self-flagellation.  And, strangely, I have begun to say it to myself.

I did laundry and put my sheets back on the bed (instead of sleeping on the mattress pad next to the clean sheets, as I have been known to do):  Molly, I’m proud of you.

I ordered a replacement toiletry item (instead of waiting for it to run out and scrambling): Nice, Mol, proud of you.

I sent two blog posts/essays to magazine and newspaper publishers: Jesus bloody Christ, Mol!! I’m proud of you!

Eek.  This feeling of pride in my achievements — of self-love, really — is a newfound one.  As I texted my friend about it yesterday: “Frankly, it makes my heart feel denser—uncomf but also fuller.”

And that is how it’s feeling, this neophytic acknowledgement of myself and my achievements.

I do NOT think that it is immodest to honor our efforts.  I do NOT think that we only grow through suffering.  And while the quip “the beatings will continue until morale improves” is a wry and ironic one, it is NOT supportive of the kind of light I want to have, bring, expand, and grow from.

I’m excited for this new chapter I feel I’m entering.  One where I am more attracted by my assets than hiding and immolating over my perceived failings.  Either direction I go, I will not run out of items to list — so why not go with the side that makes me feel kinda giddy?

 

humility · softness · strength

“Even smile in your liver.” ~ Ketut Liyer

9.15.18.pngIn conversation with my friend last week about work and how I was running into personality and style clashes more than I had been, I mentioned the Tarot.  In the tarot, you have 2 major arcana cards dealing with control: The Chariot and Strength.

Their numbers come one after the other, the Chariot first, with its image of a military man atop a sphinx-drawn chariot, scepter, gauntlets, determination, coat of arms.  According to my Tarot-for-Beginners book;) this card represents Victory, Will, Self-Assertion, and Hard Control.

The card of Strength depicts a soft-faced woman in a flowing dress and laurel headdress gently, but firmly closing the gaping jaws of a lion beneath her.  This card carries the qualities of Strength, Patience, Compassion, and Soft Control.

Which is better?  Which works most effectively?  Which is the one to use?

I told my friend that I felt like the Chariot, barreling through others’ softer manners with impatience and certainty of the way forward.  That I’d contemplated that perhaps I needed to use the softer control of Strength, gently but firmly guiding others to my will.

I did have enough insight to next say: But what if control is just not needed here at all?

I was holding up these two archetypes as if they were the only options for how to proceed at work—and in life.  But, what if there was “a third way,” as there always always is.

The third way is the Hanged Man.

I told my friend that this week at work I was going to “step back,” that I needed to stop attempting to control anything and just see what on earth was going on.  That my agida was actually causing pain in my liver, as happens when I’m repeatedly brimful with crackly emotions.

Who were my coworkers?  How were meetings being led?  What results were happening?  What was an objective manner of seeing the situation?

So, this week, I did.  I sat in several faculty meetings, with the letters “SB” inked on my hand and wrist (“Step Back.  Step Back.  For chrissake, remember to STEP BACK!!”).

So, what happened?  Well, at two of three meetings, I simply observed, watched.  What was necessary, what were the dynamics, how were others behaving?  I was able to take that step back and, wouldn’t you know, the meetings came off well enough.  Sure there were places where my voice could have been added, but mostly what I saw was a clear division between the stepping backs and the stepping forwards, and logged my opinions about all their behaviors (judgement being the next character defect I’ll address!).

At the third and smallest meeting, I took the step-back role allowing the person whose meeting it was to set the tone and pace.  Internally, I was screaming to jump in, and then not screaming, as I clicked back in to simply observing.

However, in this situation, it was actually needed that I “step in.”  While there were several ways the meeting wasn’t at all going how I would have wanted it to (and there was behavior I deemed atrocious for adult communication) that is not what I addressed as I stepped forward.

I addressed what we were there to do: plan a shared lesson.

I put forth my ideas—didn’t barrel them through—and a plan was written, enacted, and completed.  And the students had a positive experience.

I have so many opinions about how that meeting could have gone differently (ahem, better!), but in the end none of those opinions were relevant, necessary, or useful.  My experience and ideas as a teacher were what was needed, so that’s what I brought to the table.

The Hanged Man is a place of strength of itself.  It is the card of pausing, of stepping back, of “surrendering to win” — by suspending our (er, my) ideas, I can move forward in the world more easily.  And not least of all, I discovered that my liver hurts less when I’m not trying to steer the chariot or the lion or anything at all.

 

abundance · humility · wealth

Whatchu Got?

9.14.18.jpegAfter meeting with my new financial advisor this week, I was moved this morning to do a different kind of accounting: Gift certificates.

I carry around in my wallet: a punch card full and holding a $20 discount, a gift card for a free massage, a free entry to an SF museum, $70 to a local clothing store, $50 to a book shop, a $50 online gift card, and 5 free movie passes!

It’s all well (very well) and good to tally up my financial records, but if I’m not taking account of these bits, too, then I am not giving myself an accurate picture of my abundance.  I can look at my bank balance and see one number, but forget that I have over $200 in freebies IN MY WALLET.

May seem silly to warrant this a place in my daily blog, but when we stack up our assets and liabilities, are we being complete?  There are the obvious places to look for what is good and positive, but what about the forgotten heroes of our selves, and wallets?

Being where I am in my spiritual house-cleaning, I recognize the metaphor I’m playing out in real-time, collecting and tallying up the disparate assets of mine.  And I appreciate its showing up, because sometimes this self-/internal accounting can be written in red ink alone.

It takes courage, humility, honesty, and something like joy to allow myself to look at the assets written in black, the places where I have more abundance than I like to admit—whether that’s in my wallet, or in the mirror.

 

fear · humility · vulnerability

Be vewwy qwiet…

It’s really uncomfortable to bear witness to others’ humanity.

What happens on the flip-side of that is I don’t generally allow others to bear witness to my own.  Not the struggling parts, the messy parts, the parts that don’t have it all figured out.

The registered shock from coworkers when I share I’m barely holding it together, that I’m making it up as I go, that I don’t feel like I have it all together reinforces my inextricable adoption of the “Look Good.”

“But you seem so confident, you seem always on top of things, you seem so ‘together.'”

It’s all a facade, I tell them with a laugh and a smirk.

But what is that facade?

What is the protective layer I anchor around myself so that others can’t see me squirm?

I always want to clean up others’ mess.  I take on more at work because I think there’s a cleaner way.  I’m told to (literally) “Stay out of his closet” by a close friend when I dated a man whose home was … gross.  I bear witness to someone’s suffering, but hold my breath so I don’t catch any.

I want it all neat and tidy because it’s so hard to be with the mess.  The mess of others, and the mess of myself.

It’s. So. Vulnerable.  To tell someone I work with that I’m struggling.

I once worked in a job where I was told to buy a digital camera for another coworker.  Because I didn’t know how to go about that (it was the early internet days), and because I didn’t have a budget or specifications, I kept putting it off.

I would get calls from that coworker asking for its status, and I would say I’m working on it.  Though I was totally frozen on how to move forward, I did not say that.  I put on my Look Good and said I was on it.

About a month later my big boss came to ask me if it were true that I hadn’t gotten the camera yet.  I froze.  I don’t remember what I said in the moment, but I do know it was within that week that I quit that job.

Yes, the job was not my dream one, but the idea that in order to avoid feeling caught, seen, vulnerable, or “stupid” I would quit a job to protect myself from being a visible mess??  Wow.

I went out with a group of coworkers after school yesterday, and I felt like I didn’t have enough to say, enough to share.  I didn’t have a list of cool things to tell them I was doing.  I didn’t have a list of national parks I’d been to.  I didn’t have kids to talk about.

I felt awkward.  I was fine (I assume they didn’t notice because my Look Good skills are cold steel), but it reminded me of that first/last date I had a month ago where I felt like a cement-tongued wallflower, unable to name one cool thing I was up to… or one real thing about myself.

On the phone this morning with a friend, she said there’s consistently a ton of stuff that I can and want to share about.  “You write a blog every day!” she exclaimed.  Clearly, I’m not at a loss for what’s going on with me, what realizations I’m having, or how I’m bumping against things or overcoming them.

But somehow, that fact never shows up in answer to, “What are you up to?”

Sharing that stuff feels … inappropriate?  Like I won’t be met, so why bother?  Like, nobody wants to hear about it, so shut up?

Ugh.  The ugliness of how we treat ourselves.

I went to graduate school, in part, to begin to move my writing from “the page to the stage,” to get out of the quiet cocoon that is a notebook and begin to share with an audience.  In those moments, I felt like my humanity was valuable, but only because it was for similar people involved in similar projects.  In the “outside” world — in person — is my writing of value?  Are my insights “appropriate”?

If I think my own messiness and vulnerability and humanity are gross and need to be shielded off from the urbane eyes of the world, then I will never launch into my life in the way I desire to.  If I look at the mess of others, personally and professionally, and judge their messes as disgusting and in need of immediate repair, this is just a mirror of how I think they will perceive my own.

I hide and alienate when I want to share and connect.  But to share and connect is to be vulnerable, so I hide and alienate.  Repeat.

What is the value of humanity?  What is the value of messiness, of the power of our flaws and vulnerability to connect us?

What value is there in a Look Good if all it does is look good?

 

growth · humility · TEACHING

#learning

9.6.18.jpgWhen my students say sorry, I respond: Don’t be sorry, be learning.

As a phrase, “sorry” is thrown around a lot, but doesn’t seem to do very much to prevent that same behavior from happening in the future.  It’s my intention to show my students that it’s okay to make mistakes — it is okay to “be sorry” — but if that’s where you stop, then that’s not far enough.

We’re heading into the season of the Jewish calendar that emphasizes a return to self, to “goodness” perhaps, and to the start of a new year.  A fresh slate, a new page, a beginning.  Who do we want to be as we head into that year?  Are we being the person we want to be?

As I asked them recently, where have I allowed fear of not being “good enough” prevent me from accomplishing something I wanted to do?  Where have I not been as courageous, kind, or thoughtful as I wanted to be?  Where I have stood aside because it was the “easier” thing?  …  Where have I thrown something in the black garbage bin because a compost wasn’t easily accessible?;)

I don’t only want to be sorry.  I do need to apologize where it is warranted — and I have this year!  (See recent rant.)  But I also need to be learning.   What is there for me to learn from this?  Am I growing from this mistake / misstep?

If all experiences and people in our lives — from the schmo who cuts me off on the highway without looking to the coworker whose shoulder I sobbed on yesterday when I found out my best friend is cancer-free (thank you, god, universe, everything!) — are here to teach us something, can we pause long enough to discover what it is?  Can I allow it to change me?  To inform my actions, to tell me something about my knee-jerk reactions or long-time habits?

Don’t be sorry; be learning.  (Though I suppose the more clunky, “Don’t just be sorry, be learning” is most accurate!)

Shanah tovah, all.

 

addiction · death · grief · humility

The Cover of Rolling Stone

rolling stone 8 13 17

Last night, I attended the memorial service for an old friend.  He was 28.

Brash, brilliant, and evidently too kinetic for this world to keep onto, his mom shared this thought with me afterward:

“Everybody dies sometime.”

It wasn’t meant callously, but perhaps offered as an anchor in a sea of questions.  Or as a comfort that death is inevitable so we mourners can stop struggling against its perpetual manifestation.  Or, perhaps this thought relieves us of our self-centered individuality and apartness.

But… man… screw that.

There are some deaths that feel tragic, and some that do not.  Culturally, we seem to have created “approved of” endings, ones that feel complete for everyone and bestow dier and witness with a sense of closure and acceptance before the final breath.

Unanticipated deaths like these take post-acceptance.  They require sitting with the scorched wound of it, only later softening into resolution and peace with the past (which is truly the only way we get to court the past).

Knowledge of our universal eligibility for a sudden ending nevertheless makes many of us ungraceful when it actually occurs, tripping over our feet in a tear-stained stumble toward acceptance.

And in its wake, we tell stories.

The stories we’d written for Dez were ones of glory.  Stratospheric rises, magazine covers, and guitar riffs that broke into the hearts of more than we, his mourners.  Or perhaps we wrote humble stories, of a life well-lived with a guitar well-loved, a wry laugh, a crinkled eye . . .

But in a life’s passing, stories turn into something else: memories.  Memories become monuments.  And monuments are never who that person was anyway.