Go toward God

Sometimes I’ve wondered about people who find this blog and what they might think about the content of it when coupled with the name “Catholic-esque.” I don’t talk about God all the time on here. I wasn’t really sure what direction this project might go in, but in going through it I have often had to remind myself that the content should come naturally.

What does that look like for me? It means I write what I feel like writing and I try to be truthful in how it reflects life as I know it. The only way I know how to make any of this palatable is through clarity. Sometimes I hit upon a subject that I can’t see through to its end, and it’s usually because I find that the writing lacks clarity of thought or feeling. Those would-be posts remain in my unfinished drafts–they are often useful at future points, so I don’t agonize over their incompleteness. I only regret not being able to finish one of them that I began writing after my brother’s graduation from medical school. I tried to fit too much into it–not just his graduation, but updates on buying a house and becoming engaged. I hadn’t written anything in a little while, and I had too much to say. The main point of the post was lost in all the details. I regret not finishing because it was going to be very happy. I’m not one for big events or celebrations, but my brother’s graduation affected me deeply. I had a difficult time writing about it, though.

Wanting the content of this blog to come naturally means that I’m not going to search for a Bible verse to tack onto the end of each post, and I’m not going to shoehorn God into situations where–if I’m honest with myself–he’s not playing a prominent role. God is everywhere and is present in all things, I do believe that. But if I’m sitting down to write about my problems with work, I know it’s probably not going to end up being a post about my spiritual journey. I need some room to vent. I do look toward God in times of turmoil, but I know who I am to some extent and I know I wouldn’t use those opportunities to then write about my relationship with God. God is always good to me. He is somewhere beyond those petty concerns. He is helping me in bigger ways.

I took a family vacation recently and it was mostly very pleasant. I only had some minor little brother problems–nothing worth writing about–and some confusion over how to best carve out some time to spend with just my fiancé and his son (something that I thought was important for us to do). But overall it was excellent.

We rented a house, my favorite feature being the deck. The surrounding trees were growing so near that it felt like the deck was settled upon them somehow. It was very relaxing to spend the morning time alone, on the deck, floating in the treetops.

I was trying to make a decision about my job, or to be more accurate, I had decided against taking a new job. I didn’t know that I would receive a counter-offer that would force me to reconsider my initial decision. So at the time, I was trying to make peace with my choice to remain at my current job. I was doing some writing here and there. I watched the trees from the deck.

I had going through my head so many thoughts about happiness and what causes it. It’s different for everyone. I knew I had a lot of things in my life that help to create happiness–mine always boil down to love and family. I have love. I have family. It’s hard for me to admit when I feel there’s a missing piece to that puzzle. I feel ungrateful. The knowledge that I have love and family helps put everything else into perspective, because if it came down to a matter of choice, I would choose those two things above a career, or money, or recognition. That didn’t stop the gears from turning, though. Career. Money. Recognition. Freedom. Travel. Leisure. I kept asking myself, where does my ambition lie? I tried getting myself to really imagine and feel the presence of those things in my life–what I imagine they could be like. I imagined and felt what it might be like to have a job that I loved someday. I tried to let that feeling sink in. It would be wonderful to be proud of my job. Of course it would.

I imagined what it might be like to not live paycheck to paycheck. I imagined taking my car in to the shop after the slightest hiccup, knowing I could afford the repairs. I thought of all the work we could do on the house with just a little more money in the bank. With money, I might even be able to go back to school. I could study whatever I wanted with little regard for practicality. I was imagining the kind of money that is separate from the money you work for. I don’t believe that all hard work pays off–monetarily, it does not. I just let myself imagine a life lived not hurting for money. Where that extra money would come from, I tried to imagine as well. What would I be willing to sacrifice for more money? It doesn’t appear out of nowhere. I considered what my own values were. It became more and more difficult to imagine this life with money.

I imagined myself in another scenario, one where I had more leisure time and the freedom to spend that time however I wanted. I imagined traveling to Russia. I want to visit Yasnaya Polyana before I die. I tried to feel however it might feel to do that.

I want to visit museums, cathedrals. I want to see mountains. I want to see glaciers. That’s when I start dreaming.

I return to reality. Career and money, family and friends. Love and ambition. My own limitations–what can I do with them? What can I do right now?

I watched the trees from the deck; my mind was buzzing. I couldn’t stop it. I knew the feeling, I had felt it many times before. I had read it in Tolstoy, as the screw in Pierre’s head, turning this way and that until it is stripped and no longer catches hold and keeps endlessly turning. But then mine stopped and I don’t know how. I was looking at the trees and how they moved. I forgot for a moment where I was, who I was, and what I’d been thinking about.

I had a new thought, but it didn’t feel like I thought it. I had known it already and I had known it for a long time and I knew it didn’t come from me. I wrote it down.

The only real purpose in life is to become one with God and to pursue that always.

I have forgotten it since, only to remember it again. I get to remember it over and over. One night I cried in bed because I had forgotten it. The screw had started turning again and I couldn’t stop it. I was agitated and I could not understand my feelings. The only feelings I had that I could give names to were regret and worry.

And it hit me again, I am unhappy because I’ve been neglecting God.

I think about God all the time, but sometimes I stop searching for Him. I say that I acknowledge his presence in all things, but that’s not exactly true. It’s my ideal frame of mind, but it’s not the reality of my mind. My mind easily forgets God.

God doesn’t forget about me though. I don’t know why this keeps happening, but I really feel like at some of my worst moments, God makes Himself known to me despite the neglect I’ve shown toward Him. I want it to keep happening. I have to open my heart to Him always. I hope He knows that’s how I feel.

The first time I felt God’s presence was in Texas. Howdy! I was still with my first boyfriend, and we had driven down to Tyler to visit his sister. His sister was (and I’m sure still is) a very devout Christian. I was so nervous about staying with her in her home. I was not religious, but I also didn’t talk about my beliefs (or lack thereof). His sister is a very warm and kind person and made me feel very welcome. Still, I was unsettled by how different we were. I can’t explain it. Imagine a non-believer meeting a real Christian for the first time, one who actually seems to embody everything that is Christlike and good. Again, I can’t explain it. I was so nervous about staying in her house. My boyfriend and I slept in separate rooms during our visit. I never did well sleeping in new places, especially alone. I remember wishing we could stay up and watch TV all night together, just so I wouldn’t have to be alone. I was nervous about going to sleep. When the time came, I felt panicked. I laid down in bed, overcome with nerves. I felt like crying. On the wall next to the bed hung a picture of Jesus. I gazed at it and felt like a child. I always had trouble at night. Scared of the dark, scared of everything. Monsters were everywhere.

I was looking at this picture when suddenly I was struck by the most profound sense of peace I had ever felt. I couldn’t compare it to anything from before. I felt it through my entire body, I felt it envelop my mind. I kept looking at the picture, not understanding what was happening. I fell asleep shortly after. I never spoke to anyone about it. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend because I thought he would laugh at me. I still did not believe in God. I couldn’t explain what had happened. In my heart, I knew God was making Himself known to me. I didn’t think things like that could happen though, so I never told anyone. You could say I ignored it. My beliefs did not change in that moment, nor did they change in the wake of it. But it gnawed at me, and continued to do so for a long time, because I had no explanation to offer.

God did His work that night; I believe that completely. I, on the other hand, was not working toward God in any way, and I wasn’t ready to start. I did not want God in my life. God was too complicated. I abandoned the idea of God in the first place because it complicated my life too much. If I acknowledged God, that meant I would have to reckon with a lot of things that could be painful. I’m a sinner, and I sin against God in my thoughts and in my actions. If I acknowledged God, I would have to try to stop sinning (or somehow live with myself while knowing I was sinning against God). If I continued to ignore God, I could keep sinning and feel no guilt. Back then, I liked to think that living ethically was a fine substitute for living faithfully. Forget whether I actually lived ethically–I didn’t, and don’t–it was a convenient distraction. I wanted so little to do with God, but at the same time was very much concerned with how to fill the void left in his absence. If God isn’t real to me, there should be no void to fill, right? Somehow that never occurred to me.

I haven’t found a human invention that is a perfect substitute for God’s law. Our own laws are meant to ensure justice, but they lack the moral guidance of “turn the other cheek,” Christ’s comquestand (made up a word to mean halfway between a command and a request because of how nicely it was phrased so please just roll with it) that pushes far beyond what is addressed in human law in that it acknowledges every human being’s ability to grow spiritually, to be more than mere law-abiders: to become active peacemakers in the world. Our collective purpose is to create the Kingdom of God on Earth.

An aside: I say I don’t write about God very often. I write about my beliefs and values and I consider them adjacent to my faith in some way. My faith may inform my values, my values may inform my faith. It would feel unnatural for me to exclusively talk about my faith in everything I write. Still, my moniker on here is “Catholic-esque” because I think it’s important for people to understand that faith is complicated and that is does not necessarily prescribe certain viewpoints that are typically associated with folks who believe in God. I believe in God. I really don’t care if you do or not. I know that some of the most avowed atheists are doing a better job of protecting God’s creation than are some of the most vocal Christians. It often takes the courage of a non-believer (or maybe I should say a differently-believing person) to bring attention to the most callous acts perpetrated by the Church. The Catholic Church is long overdue for a good toppling. I suppose it’s possible that someone reading this blog, expecting to find more faith-based content, would be left disappointed. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for myself and others like me. Maybe some of this content goes down easier because readers can assure themselves that the writing is coming from the point of view of someone with faith. That’s an absurd thing to even write, given that many of my posts receive zero views. Zero, and I’m thinking about my audience. It’s a laugh. Still, I consider that this content could be read, so in some way I write for an audience and imagine who they could be. End of aside.

When I look back on the events of the last ten years or so, I see clearly that God was guiding me toward Him. I feel like he began by guiding me toward some very beautiful things in life that would serve to put me in touch with God. I wasn’t going to be a person who suddenly decides to go to church again. I wasn’t going to take comfort in reading my Bible. But I did experience a resurgence of interest in reading, just one example of God providing me with a source of comfort through a difficult time. It led to me discovering many new passions that lend the spice to life. I think God gave me Tolstoy so that I might find Him. And He made sure that I continued to experience Him through other works of art as well. It’s the only way I could ever hope to make any sense of God. I had to connect Him with everything that is good, beautiful, and true in the world.

Loving and hating men

The last time I wrote about work, I spoke on the subject of why I’ve quit my job. I condemned my supervisor from every angle that I could manage and still had plenty left over that I could have said.

I can’t help but feel sad and disappointed that I’m leaving. The sadness comes from the thought of losing regular contact with many people who I’ve enjoyed seeing on a daily basis. I’m disappointed because I wasn’t tough enough to stay.

Men ruined that job for me.

I only work with men. My shift is all-male, excluding myself. Women can be found in surplus in many other departments, but in my line of work they are a rarity.

The job that I’m about to take is staffed primarily with women. It will be a huge change for me. Throughout childhood and adolescence, I didn’t have many close male friends. Of course I thought boys were funny and sometimes cute, and I envied their ability to get away with more than girls were permitted to. I was a little tomboy. I kept my hair short, dressed in boys’ clothing, loved playing basketball, grew up with three younger brothers, and still kept “boys” at a distance. So while they were sometimes funny and cute, more often I found them to be mean and coarse. My closest friends were other girls, and even in high school didn’t interact much with boys.

I’ve been working with men for the last four-and-a-half years. I feel like this has done a number on me. Some of these men have been fine and have never given me any real problem. Others have made me regard Lorena Bobbitt as a folk hero. I’m partially joking. There’s a joke to be made somewhere about a partial penis, but I can’t make it happen.

I am constantly taken aback by how two-faced modern men can be. I’d much prefer to experience sexism overtly, rather than having it wrapped up in a pretty package (package…penis…Bobbitt…I’m still working on this one). A former boss who once grabbed my ass was at the very least acting in accordance with what I knew his character to be. Men I work with today, especially the men under 40, have learned to hide those impulses. They have adopted much of the vocabulary of the progressive modern man, the man who pays lip service to feminism because it’s easier than changing himself from the inside.

For at least two years, I’ve kept my guard up around the men who have since joined our department. I have already written about my negative experiences with my now-supervisor. He made me realize that I couldn’t continue to be as friendly with my coworkers as I would like to be. I think I’m a friendly person. I like to smile at people even when I’m going through a tough time. My mood is not their problem–it’s mine. I don’t enjoy inflicting my bad mood on others, and I don’t enjoy having other people see that side of me. Usually the way I cope is by trying to carve out more time to be alone and away from others. I’m doing it today.

I’ve been tempering my personality too much at work, but I also fear a repeat of past situations. When I’m with men and I act like my true self (laughing, telling jokes, goofing off) it is interpreted as an invitation for something more than friendship. I realize that now. My supervisor is not the only person I’ve had trouble with at this job. A former coworker also made a habit of monopolizing a lot of my time, and because I tend to be easy-going, I went along with it for a while. If he wanted to talk, I would talk. He started to fabricate excuses for doing things that would put us together more often, and I began to resist. One time he had the gall to suggest starting a “reading club” together. He printed a list from the internet of some of the “greatest books ever written.” The list was actually okay by my standards because it wasn’t overrun with American literature. He wanted to pick the first book we would read–he hadn’t read one since college. Based on an excerpt (the list included one from each novel), he selected Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. He didn’t ever end up reading it, but I did, and in doing so discovered one of my favorite books.

That was also my way of shaming him a little. He was getting too big for his britches. He wanted to have read big books, but didn’t want to read them. Shortly thereafter, he took the opportunity to say something truly disgusting to me one time when we were together on outside patrol. It was something I could have/should have gone to HR about, but I never particularly liked the idea of going to HR ever since the woman in charge of the department questioned my ability to protect her while I was walking her to her vehicle one day (a routine, mostly done for show, that is part of our daily duties as security officers). After that I decided, à la Michael Gary Scott, that I wanted nothing to do with HR in the future.

I haven’t always experienced these problems on such a level. In college, I was friends with young men who I thought were mostly lovely people. They had flaws just like everyone else. It’s easier to forgive the occasional remark tinged with subtle sexism when you can recognize that the person is genuinely trying to work through those feelings in order to arrive at a better place. I remember hearing of a few heartfelt apologies, usually from a man to a woman he was friends with, when he realized that a remark he made had stung her. I feel like accountability was in vogue at the time because our friendships were that strong, and no one wanted to jeopardize that. It has been a long time since I’ve witnessed or heard reports of a genuine apology given for a sexist remark made or attitude taken. I think most of us could work on our ability to apologize with humility and integrity. Instead, what I usually see happen is that a person in the wrong will then dig their heels in, unable to embrace what it feels like to be ashamed and have someone else know it.

I think of an apology I had to offer recently, to a person who is one of my biggest headaches at work. I snapped at him in anger, in front of other people, when he attempted to speak to me. I was still fuming over his bad behavior from the night prior and could not believe he had the audacity to approach me and speak to me about anything that wasn’t his own apology (which I still have not received). I apologized for my own sake–not for his. I couldn’t have lived with myself had I not made amends, especially before I left for good. He took my apology as an opportunity to tell me how wrong I was in my assessment of his bad behavior. I reminded him that he had been an hour and a half late in relieving me from my post, which meant that I was unable to complete my scheduled duties that night, and that he had promised me twice that same day that this would not happen (I knew it would, which is why I made sure he promised that it would not). I don’t know who I will miss less–him, or my supervisor. It will feel incredible to be rid of them both.

The person that I am at my job is not really me. I’ve been a shell of myself in an effort to protect myself. I refrain from speaking out even when it’s justified. I don’t want to be viewed as unhinged or crazy, even though I see a number of men around me exhibiting terrible behaviors without any ramifications. On the flip side, I also don’t want to go through the motions of thinking that I’ve found a friend at work, only to discover that they had some ulterior motive the entire time. I work exclusively with men, so my guard is up the entire 8.5 hours of my shift. I know at the end of it, I get to go home and be myself–light, happy, and openhearted if I want to be. At work, that is off the table. I’m still laid-back, but my face is rarely as animated anymore when I interact with my coworkers. My mannerisms are more controlled. I avoid or back out of conversations that appear to be getting personal. For me, this is a drag, because I normally love talking in that way. I love getting to know people better. When I encounter someone who seems to be comfortable opening up to me, I feel honored by their trust.

Now I have to shed that tough exterior, and convince my brain to let me go back to my old ways. I’ll be working with other women soon, and I don’t want to continue being this way. This way that I’ve been behaving has come to feel too familiar. I almost forget that I used to be different. I worry that I won’t be able to just…become. My old self. At work.

I worry that I won’t like my new job. Of course I worry about that. I imagine sitting at a desk all day, performing monotonous tasks while my brain atrophies. As much as I dislike many aspects of my current job, it still allows me some amount of freedom, and I’ve learned some ways to keep my mind occupied while I’m there. I’ve really indulged myself in “my studies” these last four years. It will be strange to not have that option, and to see it disappear so suddenly.

In addition to giving up my “studies,” I’m giving up the possibility of ever working with my fiancé again. I know I have said that before, but it stands to be said over and over again, for as long as it still hurts to do so.

I’m giving up my volunteer work at the Humane Society because my new working hours are in total conflict with the volunteer schedule. I still haven’t told the crew I work with on Fridays that this Friday will be my last. It will be more difficult to do that than it was to tell certain people at work that I was quitting. I meant to send them an e-mail today, but I never did. I don’t know how to say it. I know that they rely on me being there. Our crew has diminished significantly this past year, and we’ve been struggling to complete our most basic tasks.

And I’m sure that part of me is disappointed because I know in my heart that this new job, just like my current job, will not be where I find purpose in my life. It cannot offer that. What I do hope to find, maybe, is some peace there.

Generation overload

I have some difficulty staying on subject. I’ve attempted to write this post I-don’t-know-how-many times, only to see each effort branch off into other unrelated topics.

I want to begin by talking about my youngest brother. In the first version of this post, I felt I had to give a little background on who he is. In order to do so, I needed to talk about my other brothers, because I believe part of our identity is formed out of our relationship to other people. As siblings, we play our own unique roles. If one sibling is a doctor, then the other three Aren’t Doctors–they are each something else, but they aren’t the sibling who is a doctor. If another sibling is married, then the other three Aren’t Married–they are each something else (single, partnered, engaged, etc), but they aren’t the sibling who is married.

Let’s say I’m talking to someone about “my brother” and they try to clarify which one by asking, “Is that the one who’s a doctor?” and the answer is “No,” then that sibling is suddenly Not The Doctor. Never mind what their job actually is–it helps define who they are in some way that they are Not The Doctor.

Our rivalries aren’t nearly as intense as they used to be, and at times I would say that no rivalries exist anymore among us. I would say that more often, but I also know my little brother, and I know that this can’t be true. Whether it’s due to his last place in the birth order, or that he’s still maturing into adulthood, or maybe it’s his argumentative nature–whatever it is, he is usually the one who is going to “stir the pot.” I think maybe the rest of us are too tired to even try.

My little brother and I get along very well. He makes me crazy, but we get along because I’m eight years older than he is and we didn’t have the tense relationship that he often had with our middle brothers by virtue of being closer in age to them.

Little brother recently completed his undergraduate degree in computer science. He’s been working part-time at a restaurant for a few years now. Last summer, he traveled across the Pacific Northwest, learning sustainable farming practices. He loves to cook. He sells me weed. If we’re hanging out, we’re probably smoking.

We talk about all kinds of things. He is usually trying to work through something, some problem or idea. Sometimes he just needs a sounding board, other times he’s looking for a conversation. He’s on his way over to my place right now and I never really know what to expect when he arrives (update: it was a quiet, pleasant get-together this time).

One of his favorite topics of discussion is the concept of generational differences and cut-offs. He visits Reddit frequently, and I know from being on there myself that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a vitriolic argument pitting Baby Boomers against Millennials. Given his existing interest in the subject, he gets sucked further into the mentality that breaks down and divides people according to the era they were raised in.

My brother’s birth year is often cited as the terminating point of the Millennial generation, and he rejects any viewpoint that would prefer to categorize him among the generation succeeding that one. One time I made the observation that I thought the criteria for determining the advent of the post-Millennial generation should take into account one thing: If a person can’t recall a time when they didn’t have internet access on a home computer or device, that I would personally categorize them as whatever is “post-Millennial” (I’m told this is being called Generation Z). Of course, this ignores the fact that plenty of people go without home internet access all the time, but I’m speaking broadly here. The point I was wanting to make was that the childhood and upbringing of people who weren’t raised with the internet (and instead had to adopt it into their lives) seems to me very different from those who have never known that experience because they have never lived in a world without “the internet” available to them at home, work, or school.

But this is all the thought that I’ve given to this subject. My little brother reacted negatively when I shared my opinion with him. It was only one viewpoint, based on one observation and supported by no research whatsoever. The only statistics I ever looked into were ones pertaining to household adoption rates of the internet–in September 2001, the percentage hit 50%. Our household would have been in that 50%, but just as many were not.

From my perspective, my little brother was raised in a way that aligns him more with the Generation Z crowd than with Millennials, but he rejects this classification. It’s fine for him to do this. I see it as a desire on his part to distance himself from his peers and to identify more closely with his older siblings and the life we all had together. And of course being the youngest sibling of four (five if we include our step-sister) goes a long way toward shaping his identity.

What I don’t like telling him is that while I think these classifications can be helpful in identifying common traits and trends in the population, and could even be used to address struggles that are generationally unique, that I feel they are used more frequently to encourage division–rather than understanding–among people. And this has been happening since long before he or I were on this earth–let’s say thousands of years ago. They try to put a new spin on it every time, but the fear of and resentment toward the “new generation” is old hat.

The new generation depicted in Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons was marked by Nihilism–today we’re Social Justice Warriors. Either way, we’re willing to throw out tradition and forge a new path. There is a tendency to reject everything that came before as it is considered tainted by outdated values we no longer identify with. Those are just two examples, but these traits are attributed to each new generation that arises and we should not find anything special therein. The historical context differs, but the extrapolations we make from the data appear to follow similar patterns.

Most of what I enjoy in life comes from the past. I can become irritated when I encounter attitudes of indifference toward it, never mind those that consider it dispensable. With that said, I can’t attribute those viewpoints to Millennials or Generation Z kids–what signifies “the past” is relative. Boomers could be just as likely to have these attitudes, they just happen to have matured in the past that the newer generations want to move away from. We’re only discussing these particular groups because we’re living through it, all together, right now. We’re alive and this is what we know, so we talk circles around the subject without identifying that we’re only repeating patterns laid down before any of us were ever alive.

But that brings me to the past, one far enough gone that none of us have lived through it. Do we even think of it? If you’re interested in any aspect of it, then you probably think about it often, or at least whatever part of it is of interest to you. People find all kinds of ways to connect to the past–just the other day, we went on a cave tour, and there’s something about speaking in terms of small changes that take hundreds of thousands of years to occur that can put the present into a diminishing perspective. I know some people who go antiquing as a hobby, or even as a job. My fiancé’s sisters both scour for and sell vintage clothing. Some people, like my Dad, prefer to read books about specific historical periods or events (in his case, the American Civil War).

Personally I prefer older books, movies, and music more than newer varieties. This isn’t a rule, it’s just a pattern I’ve noticed. Other old things I might not care about–I don’t really gravitate toward oldness in objects or material items unless they please some aesthetic sense I have, or act as a signifier for something else that I enjoy. Like most other people, I still live firmly in my own era. I think I just hate seeing things dismissed or discarded based on age. When I talk about “older books,” I’m referring to the publication date, not the form it takes. War and Peace printed on computer paper and held together with the world’s largest binder clip is still the work of Tolstoy and is of greater value to me than an inferior novel in a pleasingly antiqued package.

Knowing this, it probably won’t come as a surprise that one of my most despised modern trends is the one that in schools seeks to replace the accepted “canon” of world literature with works that I’m told are more relevant to today’s youth. In that trend, I see a dumbing-down of scholarship, one that has no faith in young people to understand the past or the lives of others not like themselves. Suggestions go as far as eliminating adult books in favor of their “young adult” counterparts that aren’t as intimidating. I see this as an insult to any student who looks for the truth from their instructor and instead receives an easy lie. The only thing that trend has going for it is the attempt to be more racially inclusive. Even the woman part of me finds it hard to care about increasing my own representation in canonical works, so I’m happy to let someone else take up that cause. I don’t lack for female writers in my life–they are plentiful. I suppose the argument made is that they are underrepresented in the classroom. We had the opportunity to read George Eliot, two of the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, and Harper Lee, among others, so I did not myself feel a void where women writers were concerned. There’s only so much you can fit into a high school curriculum, after all. I would just hope that the quality does not diminish in favor of inclusivity. I also feel that anything new is hot–it gets assessed and dissected immediately, but it’s still on fire. I would hesitate to teach any scholarship on a subject that hasn’t had a chance to cool down–to figure out its place in the world.

Last night at home we watched The Rules of the Game, directed by Jean Renoir. Audiences in 1939 are reported to have been so scornful toward the film that it was pulled from theaters, heavily edited, and was rarely shown in its original form. France banned it during the war. Years later, it is recognized as a masterpiece. In the informative booklet included in my copy of the movie, one contributor compares the trajectory of that movie’s reception to that of Moby-Dick: disregarded, misunderstood, and even hated in its time, it has since claimed its rightful spot among the greatest artistic works the West has to offer. But it took time for that to happen. If we were to make a habit of never looking backward, The Rules of the Game would have been lost to the ravages of time, and Moby-Dick would be the out-of-print work of a forgotten writer.

But of course not everything from the past can be held in such high esteem. People get confused when confronted with “great” artistic works that depict attitudes and behaviors in accordance with their times and not our own. They seem to think it unfortunate that a great work would be marred by outdated attitudes toward women, or racial and ethnic minorities, or what appears to be religious intolerance. I would ask that they try to predict what our world’s humanitarian causes will look like a hundred years from now (assuming the planet has not burned to a crisp). It seems impossible to look that far ahead when we’re currently in the midst of today’s specific social and economic justice issues and feeling like it’s hard enough making any progress where those issues are concerned. And sometimes we regress before we progress. We could therefore be fighting for all the same causes in the year 2119 as we are right now.

Context is everything, and I hope future generations looking back on 2019 will be able to appreciate our very modest attempts at righting past wrongs and will not judge us too harshly for the wrongdoings we collectively decided were “totally worth it” because we died off before we could reap what we had sown. It might be difficult for them to do that, just as it’s difficult for us to understand the wrongdoings that populate our histories. Also, again, our counterparts in the future are going to be absolutely sweltering under the heat of the sun, breathing in poisoned air, and probably not thinking very highly of us if they think of us at all. So please excuse me if I’m not ready to pat myself on the back just because we might someday elect a woman president.

I have a lot of sympathy for older folks and their outdated views on male/female relations. It’s hard for me to get worked up about it despite being a feminist person who routinely encounters sexism in the workplace and elsewhere. I think we could extend an olive branch to our grandparents by occasionally humoring them and actually, genuinely trying to show some respect for their viewpoints. They didn’t exactly have it easy in life. Or maybe yours did. But I believe life has become easier in many ways and we don’t always show our appreciation for the still-living people who struggled and fought through conditions we don’t want to imagine in order for us to have the lives we enjoy today.

Allow me to give an example of a time when I defer to my elders without question. First let me clarify that while I reject and abhor most capitalistic concepts of authority, I have a few people in my life whose will I would nearly always and unquestionably abide by, and it’s out of love. The number one person is my grandma, because she is old and took care of me as a youngster. If she prefers something a certain way, I want to make sure she gets her way. I agree with her when she says things that might seem old-fashioned. It makes sense to me that she would have those opinions and preferences. A man should walk on the street-side when accompanying a woman down a sidewalk, or A man should open the door for a woman when entering a building. Personally, I only care about these things when they intersect with politeness, manners, and common sense. If I were a mother, I would walk on the street-side to protect my children. I obey many rules concerning politeness, so I hold doors open for people–men or women–often. When someone lets a door slam in my face, I think, “How rude!” regardless of the person’s gender. My grandma thinks its important for men to protect women and to treat them with courtesy, and I don’t find anything offensive about that. My brothers mocked and laughed at her recently when we visited the casino and she chastised them for not holding the doors open for her and myself. I told her that I thought she was 100% right and I meant it with all my heart. They think she’s silly and out-of-touch with modern times. I think that she’s trying to teach them how to be good, well-mannered men. I don’t want that effort to die along with her. I find myself bothered by how her wisdom is received in a flippant manner. Maybe it’s a problem of youth–not a generational issue, but youth throughout time. I assume that when we’re old, gray, and irrelevant, we’ll receive our comeuppance.

Now I’ve come to the part in the story where I must share one more thing about myself that has me at odds with my own time. It is the smartphone. I dislike them more and more as time goes by. If I could wave a magic wand and have them disappear forever, I would not hesitate to wave wave wave. I’d be waving like the sea. I feel like the only reason I own a smartphone is because everyone else does. I remember what it was like to not have one and be surrounded by people who did, and it could be quite ostracizing. People simply get tired of catering to your unusual requirements for maintaining normal lines of communication. But I have one now, and I don’t feel left out anymore because of it. Instead, I have other problems. Call them issues of etiquette. I don’t like seeing phones used in situations where people have gathered together presumably to enjoy one another’s company. I don’t care if you’re at a restaurant or relaxing at home with your family–smartphones are a scourge. It feels crazy to suggest that their use should be limited to times when one is alone, but I am crazy and that is my opinion. Because popular opinion runs contrary to my own on this issue, it’s nothing that I would think to vocalize unless I was looking for a fight, which I rarely am. I must accept that this is the way of the world even though I don’t like it. I have to choose which is more important to me: maintaining contact and peace with my family and loved ones, or taking a stubborn stand on an obscure issue that is unlikely to win me any friends. It’s not a tough decision.

Until next time, y’all.

Portrait of a quitter

It’s official–I quit my job! I’m still very terrified of what lies ahead. The “unknown” unsettles me more than it excites me. I’m risk-averse by nature and I don’t like to make big life changes unless the necessity of doing so is staring me in the face, nay, punching me in the face.

As a committed non-risk-taker, I have another job lined up. I declined the offer at first because the health insurance was costly and not up to par (another risk!), but eventually decided to prioritize my mental well-being (only after the salary was increased to compensate for the extra costs).

I’m grateful that this new place showed that level of interest in convincing me to accept the job. I hope it goes well. You just never can know. I remain skeptical as always.

I’m leaving behind the possibility of ever getting to work with my fiancé, which kills me. We have had so much fun together there.

I’m also leaving behind one of the worst supervisors I’ve had the displeasure of working with, and the thought that I might never have to see him again fills me with joy. I was friendly with this person for a brief time, but because I am not a masochist, I chose to deescalate that friendship once I saw his true colors. I’ve been paying the price for that ever since. Soon after the deescalation happened, this man was appointed to the role of my supervisor, and took advantage of his position in order to make my time there as unpleasant as he could while still remaining within the boundaries of workplace acceptability. It helps that very few people know the entire truth about this person, his poor treatment of myself and others, and the selfish motivations that exist behind everything he does.

He is a person who can only do good to others in whom he sees a potential to become exactly like himself. As soon as he gets an inkling that a dissimilarity exists between himself and another person, he begins to attack and undermine that person’s character. If a person is unfortunate enough to find themselves in disagreement with him and even more unfortunate as to think of vocalizing their opinion–whether it be an issue of differing philosophies or differing opinions on the merit of something as innocuous as a television show–they can expect to be downgraded in his mind and therefore subject to tactics of intimidation and humiliation. And I say this as a person who has previously ranted about Maury.

My supervisor’s name is Dan, to make this easier.

I’ve spent a lot of time observing him. I am with him more often than I’m with the most cherished people in my life. That’s the cruel joke of the workplace. I think of all the time I’ve wasted in his presence, and how the sick thing about life is that our obligations to work and make money mean that much of our life may be spent suffering through people who we would not otherwise allow into our lives.

Dan thinks of himself as a smart guy. He can talk circles around people–of course he can, because he learned how to in the Police Academy. He can take a single course in “Verbal Judo” and think he’s the smartest man alive because he learned “tactics” in how to manipulate others into doing what he wants them to do. This has worked extremely well for him in his position and has helped to delude others into thinking that he is of a superior mind.

Dan doesn’t speak to many people–or I should say, many types of people. He only speaks to people who he thinks are relevant, whether it’s because they can do something for him, or because they are akin to him in some way that he has identified. He might try to form a bond with a person when he discovers they share a similar interest, however minuscule it may be. That’s how he knows he has an “in”–he recognizes that sharing interests often softens one person’s heart toward another, and he will exploit that as best as he can. He will begin to pressure you and manipulate you into adopting other interests, practices, behaviors, and outlooks that he finds desirable because they are his own. When you don’t, he makes sure you feel the pain of having contradicted him.

Dan is a person who wants to be liked. He is arrogant enough to presume that there could be no acceptable reason for why another person might not like him. Upon being given the position of supervisor, he fully expected to become the most favored supervisor in the department. He tried his best to insert a wedge between his shift and the others. He participated in and encouraged negative talk directed toward every person who happened to be on a shift that wasn’t his own. He is very skilled at fostering an “Us vs. Them” mentality, and he was able to take it far enough that it became insidious and has taken much time and effort to combat.

Dan’s desire to be well-liked as a supervisor first manifested in the only way he knows how to garner praise and appreciation from his employees: by bringing in food he makes at home and pestering everyone to eat it even after they politely decline. He began to organize potlucks on a monthly basis, which would be fine in circumstances in which everyone was on-board and interested, but comes off as yet another coercive tactic when one realizes he actually has to assign these food-making tasks to people who would rather not participate. Assigning these tasks was his only through road when confronted with people who would not volunteer with excitement and enthusiasm. The people who would do the most leg-work in making Dan’s vision come true became his most favored employees. The others were leeches because they only offered to bring in soda or chips.

When a not-nice person tries to do a nice-appearing thing, they often cannot keep themselves from sabotaging their own efforts because kind acts actually go against their nature. The person will inevitably feel that their niceness was not sufficiently appreciated, and will lash out and become bitter because kindness is never its own reward for a person like this. Dan would give us certain instructions around potluck time regarding who was allowed to eat the food and who wasn’t. He never wanted the other shifts to catch wind of what we were doing, because he feared that they would take advantage of the free food without offering anything in return. He would make sure to make a plate for a certain gallery attendant who often manned one of our posts for us on those late nights, as well as another staff member in administration who would bring in a homemade dessert of some type and who was therefore allowed to enjoy the buffet. If you did something for Dan that benefited Dan and Dan’s plans, you were allowed to help yourself to the food. Every potluck involved an excessive amount of food being left over at the end of the night. Instead of sharing the remaining food with other people who were also working that night, Dan would put it into containers and store it in the office refrigerator, where it could spoil and stink. He would never have opted to share the food with others who did not contribute (and could not contribute because they were unaware of what we were doing to begin with) because his fear of being taken advantage of is just one of the things that overrides his need to be liked.

The benefit of having Dan as a supervisor is that it has provided me with a stunning example of how not to be kind. If I ever think of feeling like my kindness is being taken advantage of, I consider the alternative: the emptiness of a life in which my kindness is conditional.

I’ve already said that Dan doesn’t speak to many people. He also doesn’t read, ever, unless it’s a book that pertains to urban homesteading or maybe a self-help book that is read to convince himself of the powers of his own mind. This wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t so captivated by his self-declared intelligence. Unlike some people who have struggled with situational disadvantages like poor education, learning disabilities, a lack of resources, or perhaps they labor too much in life to even have time to spend doing anything else, Dan is a privileged person by anyone’s measure and his inflated sense of self-worth assures him that his current knowledge of the world is sufficient and he has chosen not to expand upon it. He is a person who thinks that all problems can be solved with logic and reason, and is often befuddled because humans actually operate with more complexity than your average robot. Dan would like to think of himself as the sort of person who isn’t a slave to his emotions, but is more than willing to ignore all of the times his own emotions, which are no more complex than those of a fussy infant, have led him to make decisions that are harmful to others. Since “others” are the victims, he can reassure himself that at least Dan was not harmed in the making of this picture.

Dan is a man, a man like many modern men, who cannot handle the word “No.” He would call himself a progressive, just like those modern men he keeps company with. That doesn’t stop him from operating like a caveman who forgot his club at home. I made the mistake of saying “No” once to his command that we “walk and talk” at work together (this was a frequent command of his back then, never once phrased into a question in deference to common politeness). That day, when he said, “Let’s walk,” and I declined, he left in a huff and shut me out for the rest of the shift. It has since been brought to my attention that he had a crush on me at the time, so of course his feelings–not his logic or his reason–were hurt. Maybe I shouldn’t claim that his reason wasn’t hurt, because Dan reasons that Dan is the most attractive, desirable man at our place of employment, and any woman who would turn him down must be defective in some way. When a woman turns him down at work, he makes attempts to undermine the woman’s reputation as well as that of any man she may have chosen to give attention to instead of Dan. I’ve heard him describe one such man as a “garbage person.” That’s one of Dan’s favorite descriptive terms for a person who is a threat to Dan.

Beware of people who make liberal use of descriptors like “garbage person” or “human trash” as short-cuts through exploring their real feelings about people. If Dan had any insight, he may have been able to notice a pattern developing among the people who in his opinion befitted these terms. As an outside observer, I see one commonality: they are all men who slept with women who Dan tried and failed to coerce into sleeping with himself.

Dan’s insight doesn’t always fail him, but it doesn’t always tell him what he wants to hear either. My now-fiancé (hereafter known as “M”) and I met at work and got to know each other during the time that Dan was aggressively trying to pursue my companionship. He obviously noticed my preference for M’s company, and though it registered that something was amiss, Dan was still in utter disbelief that a woman would choose another man’s company over his own. He assumed–possibly due to our age difference–that M and I were just close friends, so Dan continued in his efforts to draw my attention away from the one person whose company I desired the most. Because Dan’s efforts were failing where I was concerned, he switched gears and began directing soft insults toward M in order to undermine his confidence. The insults pertained primarily to his appearance–he would refer to M as “Kramer” while mocking his hairstyle and lanky build. What is even funnier and more pathetic is that Dan actually vocalized to M that in our particular dynamic as friends, Dan was Jerry and I was Elaine. This habit of turning his supposed friends into gross caricatures of human beings represented in a television show is par for the course for a person who seems unable to see any value in getting to know what is in a person’s heart or soul, or attempts to understand their inner world at all. The fact that M’s characterization was intended to be demeaning while mine and Dan’s implied that we were the kind of friends who might sleep together does not escape my notice. It also speaks volumes about Dan’s lack of awareness of the meaning behind the media he purports to enjoy that he would use as a basis for comparison a show known for its depiction of characters who, while hilarious and well-written, were meant to embody some of the basest qualities found in humans.

Whenever Dan did speak to me, it was usually about Dan and his thoughts and feelings. He’s the kind of person who is always at the ready with a TV show, restaurant, or band to recommend to others without ever asking a person what it is that they personally do enjoy already. If any of these phrases ring a bell, you might know someone similar:

“You should really watch…”

“You should really check out…”

“You should really listen to…”

And this way of relating to people is “really” fine, but I feel like it can become exhausting as soon as you realize the Recommender-in-Chief has never made a single inquiry into your own likes or dislikes, your taste in a more general way of speaking, or whether you’re even the type of person who uses taste in media as a basis upon which your friendships are formed. Whenever I receive a recommendation from a very enthusiastic person who absolutely insists I must drop everything I’m doing and watch Game of Thrones, or drop everything I’m doing and buy a pressure cooker online, I want to run, run, run. These people are far too exhausting for me to want to have as close friends. As a fully-formed human being working on becoming even fullier and formier, I have plenty of my own interests that I already struggle to create time for enjoying, and I am just not interested in setting those aside in order to please someone who can’t even make an effort to get to know me. If Dan had made a respectable effort of any kind, he would have found out that I:

  • do not enjoy bloated television dramas filled with excessive violence, nudity, and foul language, and
  • don’t even cook meat at home and would probably never buy a pressure cooker, let alone want to start cooking meat in it using the sous-vide method which produces a disgustingly slimy-soft something that I wouldn’t feed even to a 90-year-old granny sans dents.

Dan is aware that he has some powers of persuasion, and he doesn’t like seeing those powers fail him. He gains great satisfaction from advising people in matters he considers himself an authority on and seeing his directions carried out according to his specifications. When Dan purchased his house, many of us were subjected to his newfound authority on the subject of home-ownership. He even suggested that I was foolish for renting an apartment, as if purchasing a home were some easy task. Now that I’ve had the experience of having gone and done it with M, I think my own advice would run contrary to his in many circumstances given how quickly the list of repairs is piling up and how few are the resources we have for managing them.

Another incident springs to mind–one from my early days of getting to know Dan–that should have served as a major red flag. He was talking to me about a friend of his who was down on her luck and who he was encouraging to apply at our workplace. Their exchange was taking place in real time via text message. She made the mistake of telling him that she had looked at the online application, and that it was too lengthy and convoluted to justify spending that amount of time on for such little pay. She was accurate in her observations on both accounts, and to top it off, she wouldn’t have even been aware that it usually takes months for an application to be reviewed at our particular institution (and of course Dan neglected to tell her this). Dan responded by sending her a text message that in its length rivaled the length of the application (I jest, but he is a known paragraph-upon-paragraph texter, just as I am with this blog). In the text, he lashed out at her, saying that he was sorry that he took the time out of his day to help someone who obviously didn’t appreciate his help, and proceeded to attack her for being lazy and irresponsible. He showed me the back-and-forth of their entire exchange with a certain amount of pride, and said, “Well, I guess that friendship is over.” He was even proud to show me the part where she in turn called him out on his tendency to exert his control over the lives of people who are supposed to be his friends, and that he had a problem with minding his own business. She hadn’t even requested his help in the first place.

Another story from around the same time: Dan decided one day to tell me a lot of details from his recent past, including ones relating to his broken engagement. I heard a long story of various betrayals, which all painted a picture of what appeared to be a highly erratic person (his former fiancé) who he stayed with longer than he should have, in his words. When I asked why he tolerated all of that behavior, he said, “Well, she was really fucking hot,” and left it at that. Given that I’ve since experienced my own broken engagement which occurred not too long after, I can tell you with confidence that my former fiancé’s looks were just about the last thing on my mind when I called it quits. I think at the time I was a little too distracted by his descent into alcoholism, his determination to bring me down with him, and the resulting abuse directed my way (emotional and verbal, one time physical) that I forgot to factor into my decision the idea that I had once found this man attractive. Knowing that I wanted out of the relationship was an easy conclusion to come to–going through with it was much more difficult. It’s not easy to give up on a person who once had a soul you fell in love with, even if you haven’t seen that side in a while. I do not and cannot understand, at all, that Dan’s reluctance to end his own engagement was based entirely on his partner’s appearance. But I suspect it made Dan feel good about himself to have an attractive mate–he cares much for the appearance of things and very little for what is inside.

Today my coworkers found out that I’m quitting. One coworker, Donald, was very kind toward me when he found out. I’ve written about him before. He is the person from the Midnight shift who I refer to in this post and who reappears in part two. I never wrote an update to that second post. At the time, I considered the matter resolved. When it turned out that the situation was not as it originally appeared, I neglected to write another update because what actually ended up happening was just too depressing. If you feel like reading the second part to the story, be aware that the supervisor in that story is Dan. This is what ended up happening:

Donald was offered the position on my shift, Evenings, AKA “second shift.” Then: radio silence from our boss and supervisors. They rescinded the offer without ever telling him. Dan did not want Donald on our shift. He was determined that the spot be taken by another person who was on a temporary full-time status at the time. This person then started working for us on a permanent basis. Still no one informed Donald. He waited and waited. He kept wondering why his schedule hadn’t changed yet. No one spoke to him about it. Of course he eventually realized what had happened. He stayed on Midnights for months afterward, trying to get his spot back as a gallery attendant. It finally happened, and today was his first day back I believe. As he was leaving work, he asked me why I was quitting. I didn’t have time to elaborate on the many reasons that factored in to my decision, so I just told him it was because of Dan. That I couldn’t stand working with him anymore. Donald replied, “Yeah…Dan kind of stabbed me in the back.” It was the first time I had ever heard a critical word from Donald about anyone here. I said I knew all about it, and I told him about my conversation with Dan, and how Dan assured me that he (Donald) would be moved up to Evening shift. Donald went on to say that they had indeed given him the position, only to put another person in his place without telling him.

Actions, we are told, speak louder than words. These cowards couldn’t even use their words to speak to Donald, so I don’t know where that leaves us. If Dan didn’t want him, it was his duty to inform him of that fact. He never did. He left him hanging. He knew he could do this because Donald is in no way a threat to Dan. Dan acted as if a mosquito had landed on his arm, and swatted it away without a thought.

I have little else to add about Dan as a supervisor. I know him too well to have any respect for him, but at the very least one would have hoped that despite his shortcomings as a human being, he would have still been able to perform the functions of his job in a competent manner. Instead, working with him has felt like an exercise in chaos management. His judgment is questionable at its best and reprehensible at its worst, and I will thank God for every day that I get to spend apart from him in the future.

Good tidings to all who made it this far.

And if you have anyone in your life who frequently likes to play devil’s advocate, consider asking them why that would ever be necessary.

Know thyself, pt. 2

In my last post, I brought up the subject of the MBTI test and how my INFJ result has provided me with some new resources for understanding why I think the way I think, and why I do the things I do, and maybe why I’ve been feeling so tortured by all of the above.

I’ve been a little down in the dumps lately and have turned a lot of criticism my own way because I hate a lot of things about the way I am. Sometimes I can feel very lonely when I think about how I don’t really have friends anymore like I used to. I have one friend who I see occasionally, and that’s my one and only friend. My fiancé is my best friend, but I think people need friends outside of their romantic relationship in order to have a life with some balance in it. My fiancé is very different from me in that way–he has many friends, some of whom he sees pretty regularly, others he may only see once in a great while, but somehow he’s still able to maintain all of these friendships.

I have no idea how to do that. I always drop the ball when it comes to friendship maintenance. I lost contact with many friends from school after my first breakup, and I’ve never been able to get back on track. It’s difficult for me to make friends in the first place, and I am terrible at maintaining friendships with people who I don’t see anymore, no matter how close we may have been at one time.

I think this happens in part because I never think to reach out. Let’s say my work schedule allows me two days off and I realize I don’t have any plans and will most likely be alone those days. I don’t then scramble to make plans happen–I instead feel this deep sense of relief that I can just be home by myself doing my own thing. All–and I mean ALL–of my hobbies can be done in isolation. That’s probably why they’re my hobbies.

I don’t go to the movie theater anymore, but that used to be a hobby of mine and I would try to go alone if possible. I don’t really enjoy seeing movies with other people (aside from my fiancé) because I don’t enjoy the part afterward where I find out I enjoyed it and they hated it, or they enjoyed it and I hated it. I will pretend to have enjoyed something that I didn’t actually enjoy in order to spare the other person’s feelings. I am so sick of other people’s opinions that I find myself hiding my true feelings in order to avoid pointless debates about things that don’t really matter.

But I think that contributes to my loneliness. In my life, I don’t have many people with whom I can be authentic. I’ve had it here and there, and it’s a beautiful thing because it enlivens my entire world, and I have a great desire to experience that feeling. But I have no idea how to create it.

And I have no idea how to describe it. It’s about more than just finding people who like all the same stuff I like. The closest friend I’ve ever had was someone who on the surface I did not have much in common with, but we were still able to talk for hours upon hours every single day about everything under the sun. She was my rock throughout high school and had the biggest and most positive impact on me during a time when I really needed a friend to help me grow. I shudder to think about the person I’d be today without her influence. Adolescence is already such a confusing time, and a single good influence can be the difference between one following the path of truth, compassion, and light as opposed to one of emptiness, cynicism, and darkness.

Turning back to the subject of my previous post: let me link again the list for reference because everything I wrote above pertains to the #2 item said to make INFJs happy, and that is meaningful conversation.

Enough said.

The #3 item is a deeper understanding of themselves. Maybe I should also share that the way I found the list (titled 12 Things the INFJ Personality Needs to be Happy) in the first place was by typing “infj happy” into a search engine and clicking on the first result. I kept wondering if perhaps I was searching for happiness in the wrong places, even wondering if happiness was worth pursuing in an imperfect world. I don’t think I desire the material or external trappings of happiness; rather, I just want to be happy with myself. If anyone has read this blog, it may be clear that I’m unsatisfied with myself despite “having” things that are without a doubt satisfying to have. I have a loving relationship to be a part of, and my heart breaks for people who want that above all things, but are deprived of it in the present. I know that without mine, I would be in an even worse place because it would mean the loss of my soulmate. If I didn’t have a romantic partner, I would hope I would be able to find that connection in a friend. I spend a lot of time alone by choice because I am comfortable in my own company. When I start thinking about how I relate to the world, or just how to be in the world, I begin to lose my sense of self because I feel as if I fail in many attempts at properly being in the world and all that jazz. What role am I meant to play? How involved should I be in that which is outside of myself and my immediate concerns? Sometimes I think the most I’m capable of is being a background performer in someone else’s story. A stagehand for a play of someone else’s creation.

Item #4 on the list is human contact, not social contact, where human contact is described as “mutual human understanding.” It makes the point that INFJs are often mistaken for extroverts. I feel like a very shy person who can pretend to be extroverted when the situation calls for it. In social situations, if I’m doing well, it’s because I’m constantly reminding myself to try to be normal and say/do normal things. Let’s say you’re like me and you struggle to make conversation with people. I know some tricks that can help, and if I’m in the right frame of mind I can usually make them work okay. I’ve been told that most people really like being asked questions about themselves. I do not share that viewpoint, but that’s what I have to work with. So if I’m struggling to make conversation with someone, I’ll try to ask them about something that (from previous interactions) I already know them to be familiar with even if I personally know nothing about the subject. The only problem with this is that sometimes I get into bad situations because I know nothing about the subject, but my question seemed to indicate that I personally also share that same interest and therefore I hit a wall when I can’t do anything to further the conversation. Then I’m back to feeling entirely awkward all over again. C’est la vie.

#5 is alone time, the most obvious inclusion because without it, all who feel this way would go insane. It’s also so (all so-so) necessary to include it in any piece written about introverted people, because I suspect that these little lists and articles are often shared by introverted people with the more extroverted people in their lives. It’s a way of saying, “This is how I am. This is why I am the way that I am. I may sometimes wish I were a different way, but really, I’m comfortable being this way as long as I’m allowed to be this way.” We often feel like we have to ask for permission just to be who we are, or that we must provide an explanation for our behaviors. We really are very concerned with other people’s comfort levels. When I get the sense that my introverted nature is making someone uncomfortable, I try to “turn on” the extroverted side of myself even if it might be uncomfortable for me to do so. I take comfort in another person’s comfort, so it usually evens out. Any time I leave a situation where I’ve had to turn on my extroverted function in order to fit in, I find it difficult to simmer down. My head will be buzzing for a long time after. I hate this feeling because it feels to me like anxiety, but I know that this passes with a bit of alone time so it’s no cause for alarm.

Item #6 is structure. And I quote: “INFJs require some amount of routine and orderliness to function at their best. In general, they like planning ahead rather than being spontaneous, because it gives them time to prepare (both mentally and otherwise). Their plans tend to be fairly loose and flexible…Think: A weekly calendar with a few things penned in, not an hour-by-hour day planner.” Right on the money. I especially appreciate the specific example of the weekly calendar for what structure looks like for the INFJ. My friend recently asked me how I keep track of everything that I do. I told her that I don’t really do much so there’s not much to keep track of, but if I have an appointment I’ll usually add it to my calendar. Everything else I need to remember is just in my head. I don’t have a lot of things going on outside of my usual things, so once I know the pattern, it’s easy to follow. I never think much about the role of structure in my life. My fiancé has a son with autism, so structure plays a role in my life by association, but I don’t ruminate on structure as a concept. It’s just there, and I get to take it for granted that it stays that way.

Thank God I’m at #7, independence, because once again I’ve been thinking, “This is too long. I gotta bail. No one will read this,” followed closely by, “WHY do I care so much? I gotta be me, baby! If not here, then where?” I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition more, which is difficult when my intuition tells me one thing–the thing I know I want–and my brain is in close pursuit trying to substitute in its (intuition’s) place the thing that I think will be accepted. Yes, I want to be accepted, but not at the expense of being true to myself. It might sound silly to use my blog as an example of a time when this conflict occurs, but it happens so often with minor things in ways that I don’t realize, so why not provide a minor example? I don’t know what to think about independence, or the need for it (because in adulthood it seems self-evident), but I am aware I have a problem with authority. I don’t take commands easily. You can ask me to do something–sure–but if you command me to do something, I will fantasize about ways to sabotage your request so that you don’t get what you want because you didn’t ask nicely. Do I follow through on these fantasies? Not usually, because the self-preservation instinct kicks in before I fully go off the rails.

I feel like I recognize God as the ultimate authority figure, and I don’t even follow everything that He supposedly commands. I’m too arrogant and stubborn for that.

Scrolled up to check what number I’m at. Crazy Eight. An orderly environment. This one is interesting because I’ve only recently begun making efforts in this area. When my fiancé and I moved in together just recently, it acted as a wake-up call for me, a person who has often lived in filth. I saw how differing expectations regarding cleanliness drove a wedge between my parents. They are divorced for other reasons, but had many incompatibilities like this that are worth me thinking about if I don’t want to head down the same path. I see them both as happier people now that they’re each living life on their own terms, whatever that’s worth. The list describes an orderly environment for INFJs in this way: “They are probably not the types to alphabetize their bookshelves (attending to tiny details in their environment drains the intuitive INFJ), but they do need things generally picked up, put away, and clutter-free. INFJs tend to like minimalist environments, because too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.”

When I read the part about not alphabetizing their bookshelves, I wondered how this person knew that. I’m serious: HOW DID THEY KNOW? It’s too accurate. I’ve been deliberately not alphabetizing my books (and music, and movies) since before I was born–that is how ingrained this practice is in me. Alphabetizing seems to me one of the least intuitive ways to organize my belongings. Instead I start with two books: Middlemarch and Anna Karenina, my go-to “favorite books” (there are many more, but I try to start simply). I put them at eye-level in separate nooks. We have those Massive Kallax Shelves from Massive Scandinavian Chain that people also like to use for records (and frankly are way better for records than for books, but it’s hard to beat the price and the amount of stuff you can fit in them) so everything Eliot and Tolstoy are in the central eye-level squares and I just kind of expand outward from there. Proust, Fontane, Turgenev, Nabokov, Hardy, Mann, Woolf–they get their own squares of prominence as well. I guess I organize by author and how much I like them, then by nationality (or time period, movement, etc, because I separate Soviet writers from pre-Revolutionary writers on the basis of being totally and completely different). If bookstores were organized this way, I could find things with much less effort. With that said, I’m still a human mess, but I make a concerted effort not to be out of deference to the stability of my relationship with a person who is VERY neat and orderly. He’s the first person I’ve been with who is neat and orderly on a consistent basis, which makes it much easier for me to meet him on that level because I know that he’s keeping up his end of the bargain. I’m no longer left to deal with the mess created by two people as I was in my last relationship.

Also “Hardy Man-Wolf” is mine. I like how that sounds. I’m claiming that.

I also relate to the observation that “too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.” When I started Big Girl Art School, I was mildly put-off by the decor in one studio in particular. The walls always seemed to be papered in student artwork. The first class I ever had in that space was called “Creative Strategies,” and it was one of those classes where we didn’t really make art per se; rather, we engaged in projects that were meant to expand the way in which we thought about and approached our art practices. It seemed incongruent with the nature of the class to then have to look at other students’ poorly-executed drawings and whatnot pinned up all over the walls. It felt like a barrier put in place inside my head to have to look at all of these mediocre artistic attempts while simultaneously trying to make conceptual breakthroughs in our own art.

Or maybe I’m just a judgey asshole.

Love Potion No. 9 is an outlet for their insights. This blog is that; whether it contains insight has yet to be determined.

Item #10 is an outlet for their creativity. I do feel an emptiness of spirit when I’m not working on something (which is a regular occurrence these days as I’m not currently engaged in any artistic/creative projects and the most I’ve done are some goofy drawings on my laptop that I hesitate to show anyone). Combine numbers nine and ten and and they pretty much explain every interest I’ve had in life (minus sports). One change I’ve noticed in the past few years is that I’ve tried to become more of a vessel for other people’s insight and creative output. I got sick of knowing nothing and trying to create my own work because the work itself seemed like the product of a shallow, ignorant mind.

Eleven is beauty. I don’t know what it says about me that I gravitate toward beauty in prose and in film, but have less of a need for it in art. But I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from. On the rare occasion that I do see a movie that is “new” and has a wide-release in theaters, I find little to nothing that is beautiful in what I’m watching. I’ve lost enjoyment in many types of movies that in the past I wouldn’t have had any qualms about watching (let alone enjoying). I shun whatever is excessively violent or rotten; in addition to that I avoid films that are aggressively ugly not just in appearance but in their outlook on humanity. I can’t abide by it anymore. Where prose is concerned, I know little about what is being written today. I can get down with Modernism, but after that I grow skeptical. I have a disregard for plot. A book could be “well-plotted” and I probably wouldn’t notice or care. I love many books where nothing much happens and I suspect I enjoy them in part for that very reason. The same applies to film. Art is a different beast. People seem to not only desire, but require, that beauty be present in works of art in order to see their value. And I simply disagree. I also find it funny to demand that art be always beautiful while accepting absolute trash that takes on the form of books and movies.

Finally we’re at #12, at least one person who “gets” them. I do have that person, thankfully, and I plan to marry him. From what I’ve read/seen/heard about other INFJs, we seem to struggle with being able to share everything about ourselves, even with the people closest to us. Part of me always wants to keep certain aspects of my life, my thoughts and ideas, my dreams and fantasies, completely private and inaccessible to anyone. I feel like there is something I’m always trying to protect in myself so that it doesn’t leave me forever. And I don’t know what to call it. Those times when you know you could say something (read: share something), but you stop yourself without really knowing why–I wish I had the ability to remember every time this has happened, and what it was that I was thinking of sharing only to then stop myself before I did so, because perhaps I could then compile all of those “almost-said”s, see what they have in common, and figure out what I’m trying so hard to protect and why. I think I have a lot of trust in people, and faith in people, but not when it comes to me and things about myself.

Finished for today and I hope this can be helpful for some.

Know thyself

Every now and then, I feel either forced or compelled to take a look at myself and do something that is akin to taking an inventory of my life so far–not so much an inventory of accomplishments versus setbacks, but moreso an inventory of my feelings and how they have shifted over time, and considering what that leaves me to work with in the present. A sort of “Who am I now?” type of thing. Major life changes and events almost always spur these periods of reflection, but because a lot of them are invisible to other people, I rely on my own, often flawed ability to engage in introspection (which hopefully improves over time, but which I suspect just gets more confused or complicated as time goes on).

After my first boyfriend broke up with me, I had a rough time for a while. I was prescribed medication to help me deal with an anxiety disorder that I didn’t realize was a problem I perhaps had been experiencing for a long time. If I had taken an “inventory” of my life at that time, which I’m sure I did in some kind of sick, desperate way, it would have involved me accepting this new information about myself and trying to figure out how it fits into my life overall. New information gained can sometimes lead to one reframing one’s past experiences and developing a deeper understanding of Why this person came to arrive at this point in the present time.

To put it simply, a psychiatrist told me I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I realized that beginning in childhood I’d often made myself physically ill (always stomach aches) from worry and manufactured distress over any possible thing I could think to worry about. So while I was addressing my anxiety problem in the present, I was also reflecting on the innumerable sources of my anxiety throughout my entire past. Being able to put a name to a problem can give one a sense of power over it–the first step to addressing a problem is to acknowledge that it exists. But I began to hate that part of myself once the novelty of learning this new thing wore off. I also think time and age played a role in lessening its impact on my life.

The faculties I had at the time for dealing with the sources of my anxiety were underdeveloped to begin with. Seemingly small things looked like potential catastrophes because I always anticipated the worst possible outcome in any difficult situation. Further experience has shown me that each of these “catastrophes” would have required additional disastrous elements to come into play in order to develop into the life-destroying force I was imagining prematurely.

These days, it’s often difficult to put myself back into the frame of mind I had at times when I incorrectly thought my life was falling apart. It’s not that I don’t “recognize” my past self, because I can still imagine the emotional pain and what it was like to go through it. The difference is that I see that pain as self-inflicted rather than as a manifestation of my outward problems (with my boyfriend, school, work, etc). I caused my own pain most of the time. I only had to use my own bad thoughts to magnify any real pain a hundredfold and turn it into pain that was too big to comprehend and deal with effectively.

Pause for a second. I’ve already gotten off track. The text above is only included because I required an example from my real life in order to gracefully approach the subject of my efforts to understand myself better.

I understand that I do not understand myself. I have lost a lot of the clarity of mind that I had as a younger person. I understood what I liked, I understood my goals, and I did not question as much my relationship to other people and the world. Even though I was a weird kid and struggled socially at times, I still had a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. I would dream without limits. I had massive, unreasonable expectations for my future.

Now I’m 31, and with three additional zeroes you get somewhere close to my annual pay (before taxes) at a job in a field that I either detest or tolerate, depending on my mood.

I bring up my pay only because I think I’ve internalized this number to the point where I do consider it my true worth. I applied for a few jobs recently, and nothing came of it. I always look for jobs in the $30,000 range because I’m unskilled and that’s what I make currently. The thought of applying to a job that pays $40,000 annually and getting it has become more and more unbelievable as the years go by, and I can’t remember the last time I applied for a job that would actually increase my earnings rather than simply maintain them.

Out of the blue, the business that I was working for in an on-call capacity contacted me to ask if I would be interested in submitting my application for a full-time position. I had two interviews this time around. I thought both went pretty well, especially compared to others, at other places, that upon reflection make me want to die of embarrassment. At the end of the second interview, I made a big personal leap for myself (in regard to assertiveness) by asking about the details of their benefits package and healthcare plan. I did not receive the response I was hoping for, because after mentally crunching the numbers, I realized I would be shorting myself about $3,000 annually at the absolute least due to the monthly cost of the premiums offered.

To put it simply, my current job that I felt like I had to desperately escape from or risk dying of disappointment in myself actually has really great healthcare coverage and is as cheap as you can imagine if you participate in the company’s Wellness program. I knew all of this, but I didn’t know just how bad it could be at other jobs, so I had nothing to compare it to in my own experience.

A lot of folks stay working here because of the healthcare.

That is not the worst reason ever to stay in a job.

I also tried reminding myself of all the people I would miss if I left. I was being very cavalier about the possibility of leaving a job in which I get to work with my own fiancé on a regular basis. And that part is so great that I wonder how I could ever have been considering leaving just because a few people here are very hard to deal with. I should leave if I find a better job, yes. I haven’t found that job yet, and that’s okay for now, because the alternative I have found is astoundingly bad.

I’m not about to dive into a stream of inspirational B.S. in which I tell myself that where I am in life is Totally Okay. I’m not okay with it, and I don’t think that’s just the depression talking. I’m not okay with it because I’ve known for a while that the “career” aspect of my life went off the rails somewhere along the way and I’ve never been able to correct it. I’ve always felt tremendous pressure to excel in that aspect of life. My sense of identity is tied up tightly with what I’m doing in my life at a given time. As a student, my identity and sense of purpose was clear. I knew how to perform well and how to produce good work. My confidence reached its peak in college, and has gradually decreased in the years since. Looking back, I find it funny that my sense of self-worth could ever have been that high at a time when I was so stupid–so mentally and emotionally stupid.

I think it was at some point in my later teenaged years that my brother wanted all of us siblings to take the Myers-Briggs test and compare results. We were on vacation at the time and someone had brought a laptop along–we had a lot of fun because like many siblings, our differences and similarities have always been an intriguing subject (one of course that is patently uninteresting to anyone not directly involved). I remember my result because it’s the most absurd example of wishful thinking I have from that time: INTJ, “The Mastermind.”

Now, my brother–the one who initiated the test-taking–is a much more likely candidate for the INTJ label (though I feel like he very easily vacillates between introversion and extroversion and would be a difficult person to “type” correctly). Me ending up with that result is more a result of delusion than good-faith test-taking. It rang true enough for the time, though, and more importantly, it sounded like what I wanted to be. I guess it made some sort of impact on me, because I remembered the result for quite some time afterward despite never being fully indoctrinated into the MBTI cult (and I say that with affection!) and not really understanding the meaning of any of the letters following “I.” I can’t look past I–how apt.

Years later, at a now-former job, a conversation about the MBTI came up (the first time ever since my initial test-taking) and I was shocked when a person who I always felt a deep disconnection with (by that I mean: their behaviors and ways of thinking were so incompatible with my own that I found them to be disturbing) told us that she typed as an INTJ. I did not immediately go back and retake the test. I just figured there must be quite a difference even among folks of matching MBTI types, and went on my merry way.

Then I think another few years passed, and I must have been reading something about INTJs when it clicked that I wasn’t finding any true reflection of myself in the description I was reading. I retook the test. INFJ. And damn did I spiral downward for a bit because it can be very uncomfortable for me when I’m faced with a reflection of myself that isn’t just the wishful-thinking version of who I am. I was never so deluded as to think I could ever type as an E rather than an I, so the INTJ mistype was a sufficient substitute and further reinforced my shameful desire to see my specialness (such a rare type for a woman!) and difference (look at all these geniuses who are INTJs!) codified in some way.

Now that I want nothing to do with the World of Men, losing the INTJ label didn’t hit as hard as it might have had I typed differently much earlier. Gaining the INFJ label was more of a struggle. One can only be confronted so many times with detailed explanations of one’s most deeply-guarded vulnerabilities and poorly-concealed flaws before one feels that one may go insane. But on occasion I would find something that was actually comforting in its precise portraiture of the INFJ type. The first of these was this list found at Introvert, Dear (and penned by its founder, Jenn Granneman). By the end of it, I thought maybe at some point I had blacked out and written it myself in an act of hyper-focused introspection resulting in a true understanding of myself for once in my life.

The list attempts and thoroughly succeeds at detailing twelve distinct things that an INFJ type needs in order to be happy, and in a moment of remarkable insight, the author has chosen to place in the #1 spot the very thing whose noted absence in my life is the surest sign that I’m currently (current to the time) struggling inwardly: “A sense of purpose.”

Now that I’ve reached this point in my post, I’m going to finish up and return to the MBTI subject in a different post. Even though I don’t mind writing lengthy posts, I feel like people mind reading them, and therefore choose not to continue when faced with too many words and not enough pictures. There have been times when I’ve thought, “Maybe I should add a funny image right here to break up this wall of text,” but in an effort to follow my heart I usually choose not to add images unless they express what I cannot. I don’t need to apologize or make concessions for a long post. I also absolutely, positively loathe the trend of inserting images and animated gifs into a text just to keep some imaginary reader’s attention. This is why I avoid the review platform on Goodreads–it’s abhorrent to me and I feel like it discourages thoughtful reflection and analysis in favor of a Buzzfeed-style “hot take” of stupid quips and reactions culled only from media that has been given the stamp of approval from the culture-averse philistine. And already I’m thinking, “Wow, too harsh, tone it down,” because I’m worried that I might hurt someone’s feelings. But I remind myself that the reason I started this blog was to be able to scream into the void. I would never in a million years talk to anyone in this way, but I must be true to the worst parts of myself in this format at the very least. To be continued.