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.

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.

Achievements of another kind

Why is the bathroom shower one of the best places to do some thinking?

It’s not as if you get into the shower with a plan in mind to do some thinking. In that way, it’s totally unlike the spaces we create which are intended for productivity–an office at work, a desk at home. I’ve talked before about the importance of rituals, and the mindless ritual of showering lends itself well to facilitating more abstract thought processes. When I was in art school, I had two places where my abstract thought went into overdrive: the shower, and in bed right before falling asleep.

I didn’t make any big breakthroughs in the shower today, but I did feel like my thoughts during that time were the good kind that put me in the right frame of mind to go to work and try to make the best of the day. I contrast that with the times I’ve been assailed by bad thoughts that seem like they’re out of my control. I want to clarify that I do believe that our thoughts are usually well within our control, and our bad thoughts only tend to get out of hand and “beyond our control” when anxiety enters the picture.

Today in the shower I was thinking about how my perspective on “personal accomplishments” has changed over time. It has been a gradual change. The change hasn’t been drastic, either. I haven’t totally redefined what personal accomplishment looks like for me. I do think the change has been significant enough, though, that if I write about it here it’s possible that someone could find it helpful.


As a kid, I would have defined an accomplishment as having won something. Accomplishment = winning. Did I win something? If I didn’t, then no accomplishment took place. No achievement was made.

Awards weren’t the only way to win, though they were still the best type of accomplishment to make. An award is concrete proof that you are the best. The bigger the pool of candidates and the more prestigious the award, the more significant that award became and the more it helped to bolster my ego.

I was very preoccupied with winning awards in my three main areas of interest: sports, art, and academics.

And I did. I won a lot of awards. I didn’t win all of them though, so I was still a failure. A winner would have won every time.

I look back on that kid and I know that kid was too hard on herself. Today I realize that my problems with anxiety were taking root back then. I was the kid who would silently cry at her desk if my test score came back and I only received 98 points out of 100. I had to be perfect. I often went home from school with “stomach aches.” Looking back, these stomach aches were just the physical manifestation of my psychological issues. I didn’t make a connection between the two until a little later. I knew by Grade 8 that my excessive worrying was causing me to feel sick a lot. I wasn’t aware of any possible solution to that problem.

In Grade 8 we used to write daily journal entries in response to a topic selected by our homeroom teacher. Out of many journal entries, I only remember a few of them clearly. One question asked what our greatest wish was. My response at the time was that I wished I wouldn’t worry so much, followed by a couple elaborating paragraphs to fill the space left on the page. My teacher approached me about it afterward. She said she thought it was a wise response. I felt a sense of accomplishment from that, as if I’d won my teacher’s approval in some way. At the same time, that journal entry was a cry for help of sorts. I didn’t write it to impress my teacher, unlike many other things I did with the intention of impressing people. Because of the response I received, my screwed-up brain turned it into just another thing I used to bolster my pride.


The great thing about adulthood, so far, is that the awards are few and far between. A kid who has been accustomed to receiving awards in competitive settings has to wean themselves off of that feeling. At first, we find different ways by which to judge our own worth. Maybe we get accepted into the school of our choice. When it comes time to apply for our first “real job”, a feeling of accomplishment can arise if we are chosen for a position out of a large pool of potential candidates.

I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s something I’ve spent most of the last decade beating myself up about. My inability to secure a job in my field still weighs on my mind–even after the realization hit that I don’t really want to be in “my field” anymore.

Getting a job–the kind of job you go to school for–is just one achievement I wanted to have under my belt by this time in my life. Most chances at an “entry level” job in my field have passed me by. I’m not a recent graduate anymore. I’m not even in my twenties anymore. My resume is a cornucopia of unrelated, unskilled part-time jobs that would impress no one.

If I don’t achieve my dream of getting a job, what else is there?

As it turns out, I have plenty of other options–other ways to keep “achieving.”

I have had to redefine what that means for me.

One time at work, I overheard someone refer to me as a “nice person.” I don’t think I’d ever gotten such a HIGH off of being called nice before. Why? Because it doesn’t happen that often. I have spent a lot of time in my life being a jerk to people. I experienced a series of “rude awakenings” that all culminated in me realizing I’d been acting in a way that was contrary to how I believed I was acting.

These days, it’s an accomplishment to be viewed as being a kind person.

But a truly kind person would not be kind to others just to out-do other people who are also being kind.

If you decide you want to follow the path of kindness, you have to change something about the way you see other people. This is where my faith has helped me. My faith tells me that we are all children of God. We all have an intrinsic value, no matter what our actions might indicate. Even the worst, most undeserving people are included under the banner of “God’s children.”


Practicing kindness began with practicing patience.

I used to have zero patience. Now I have a lot of it. Now, I get taken advantage of more often. Part of having patience is opening yourself up to the possibility of being taken advantage of. No one wants to be a sucker. No one wants to be seen as naive. No one wants to have one of their virtues used against them.

But having patience allows us to do something that I see as a kind act: to withhold judgment.

As a teenager, I was very into myself and my own interests. I often looked down on people who didn’t share my specific views or tastes. I was quick to judge others and made no reservations about letting my opinion be known. Do you ever meet people who talk more about the things they hate than the things they enjoy? Do you ever get the impression that they experience a kind of joy when they discover yet another thing to dislike? It’s really obnoxious, but that’s how I think of myself at that age. And I know many people who are still stuck there, even as grown adults.

Practicing patience has allowed me to get to know people for who they really are. I don’t put a person on a pedestal just because we might have some superficial tastes in common. When I’ve done that in the past, it has led to me ignoring some of the more unsavory aspects of that person’s personality. Because at least we like the same music and can commiserate about our shared views on politics! Right? Gross.

I feel secure enough today in who I am that I don’t look for other people’s approval. My views are my own.

And I don’t feel compelled to inflict my views on other people. Here’s a scenario: You’re taking your lunch at work in the communal break room. A few people at your table are having an enthusiastic discussion about something they all enjoy. You very much do not enjoy that thing. In what way do you contribute to that conversation?

If the answer is something other than “listening politely,” we’ve got problems.

Have patience with people. Your opinion–my opinion–is not so important that you must take it upon yourself to ruin a pleasant conversation.

A while back I had to listen to my supervisor run down a much younger coworker–to his face–simply because this young man enjoyed the show The Big Bang Theory.

Is there anything more pathetic than an almost 40-year-old taking such offense at the TV-watching preferences of his younger subordinate to the point where he feels compelled to get into a heated discussion about it, the purpose of which was to convince this younger person that he shouldn’t enjoy a show that he currently enjoys?

I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish. Using your TV-watching preferences to demonstrate your superiority over another person is sad. It’s television. It’s all meant to be easily digestible in a 30-minute or hour-long format. I don’t care if it’s Game of Thrones or Peppa Pig–you sit there passively and watch it according to your interests and tastes. I don’t understand what there is to feel superior about.

And when someone is open about the things they enjoy, your first instinct should not be to run that thing down–I don’t care how much you dislike it. You’re being a jerk to someone who apparently made the mistake of showing enthusiasm around the wrong person. That wrong person is you.

Do you want to be the type of person who no one can be honest with? Because they fear your judgment, I mean. How’s that working out for you?

When I started to shut up and listen to people better, people started talking to me more. They know I won’t mock or ridicule them for something of no consequence.

I feel good about my newfound ability to shut my stupid face hole. It’s been a major accomplishment I’ve made as an adult and it’s helping me on my quest toward kindness.

Another thing I stopped doing: nitpicking the people who I’m supposed to love the most. The individuals on the receiving end of this nitpickery were most often my boyfriend and my brothers.

There was a time when everything annoyed me. I had no reservations about expressing my annoyance. Little brother cracking his knuckles? I would have lost my freaking mind. But it doesn’t bother me to that degree anymore. It bothers me so little, that I don’t comment on it. And I’m not just seething with anger, either. It’s just not a big deal. He doesn’t crack his knuckles to annoy me. He does it because it’s a habit he developed, and that’s it. I’m trying not to take things like that personally. It has nothing to do with me and it’s not meant to annoy me.

He is a very fidgety, anxious person at times. Sometimes when we’re sitting on a couch together, or eating lunch at a restaurant, his foot tapping is enough to make everything start shaking. I used to snap at him about this. I’ve stopped commenting on it altogether.

I try to look away when someone chews with their mouth open.

If someone is having a loud conversation via speakerphone, I quietly leave the area if it’s bothering me so much.

People don’t do these things to annoy me, so taking it personally would be a waste of energy and a totally misplaced reaction on my part.


Perhaps if I’d been given my dream job right out of school, or had other desires of mine easily fulfilled, I would not have seen any reason to change anything about myself. Sometimes when you get everything you want in life, you unconsciously see that as an affirmation of sorts. Just keep doing what you’re doing! Why change when being a jerk didn’t have any negative consequences?

But even if you’re a successful jerk, there’s a pretty good chance that if you look at the people surrounding you–especially people on a lower rung of the ladder, or perhaps your friends and family who’ve provided you with support along the way–you might find a lot of people who were inadvertently hurt or taken advantage of because of your ambitions.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life–there is absolutely nothing that should preclude you from practicing kindness.

It’s something we can achieve as individuals as well as collectively in our social groups. Why wouldn’t you make that choice? Kindness is not a competition, but we can certainly achieve it. And unlike most other awards and honors, we can make achievements in kindness without limit–starting now, and until the day we die. The possibility is there.

What do you want to do with your life? pt. 2

Continued from Part 1

I wish I could be in college right now, for the first time. I love a lot of things today that I had no clue about back when I was actually going through college. The first book I read after graduating was Middlemarch by George Eliot. I had always loved to read, and I thought I read a lot. But I really didn’t. I barely even knew what I liked to read. I can’t say I’d ever read a book before that was “life changing”. Middlemarch was revolutionary for me because when I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself: Is this the best book I’ve ever read? I think this is the best book I’ve ever read. Why have I never read this before? What the hell have I been doing?

This is my copy and I love it so much.

And I’ve spent the years since then hyper-focused on making up for all the reading I didn’t do back when I was in school. I always say that the one constant good about my job is that it affords me a lot of time to read.

I’ve learned so much in the process. Reading Tolstoy during a time when I felt spiritually lost was the catalyst for me renewing my faith in God. Who, in a time of spiritual crisis, could possibly be left unaffected by Levin’s story in Anna Karenina? Or Pierre’s in War & Peace? Resurrection was so bold and unapologetic in its didacticism and I felt so challenged by it that I was left with a greater sense of confidence in my convictions I had previously been ashamed of.

Russian literature became a focus of mine. I have yet to make peace with the fact that it was left out of my formal education almost entirely–“almost,” because we did read The Cherry Orchard once in high school. I guess that was sufficient? I could go on for ages (take this as a warning) about how depressing it is that American students are only really exposed to American and English literature during their high school years. We talk a lot about diversity in authorship these days, and how to make room for more women and ethnic minorities among the authors of standard “classics” normally touched upon in the high school curriculum. I don’t really care to get too involved in that debate. We’re failing at including female voices and black voices, without a doubt. It’s a major failure in the culture at large. Remember seeing that incredible breakdown on film dialogue? I’m sure the dialogue in today’s best-selling books would fare much better, but that isn’t necessarily reflected where authorship is concerned and how it’s addressed in the high school classroom.

I’m getting a little off-topic. The reason I don’t want to get too bogged down in that specific debate is because if I’m “speaking my truth,” I think of Americans’ fixation on America as just as large of a problem. Do we even care at all about the rest of the world? The less we engage with the artistic output of other countries, the more foreign they’re going to seem to us as people. Americans have no qualms about practicing cultural isolationism, even in institutions of higher education. When we study literature, we study our own literature. We create an echo chamber and then we’re delusional enough to award degrees in it.

In the years following college graduation, I’ve learned that I have no particular affection or preference for American literature, film, or art. I used to think I preferred it, but that was all I knew. It’s pretty easy to have a preference for something when you have nothing to compare it to.

I entered college thinking that I knew what I liked. My focus was always on the arts, so I’ll keep these remarks along those lines.

I had no clue how great a book could be because I’d never read much of anything outside of the texts assigned in school. I rarely watched films that weren’t American productions, or at the very least, films with English-speaking actors. And I thought I loved these things! They were critically acclaimed! I was having fun and getting “cultured”–L to the O to the L. When I first signed up for Netflix and was getting DVDs mailed to my house, I watched a new movie nearly every night. This was one of my passions.

When I entered college and declared as an English major, it didn’t last long for various reasons. See previous post.

I should probably be glad that I took a different path. I was friends with enough English majors to know that they didn’t get to read Middlemarch either, anyway–at least not in school. Is it too long or something? I don’t get it. Here’s a hot take: books you read in school should be difficult. You should feel challenged by them. Your teacher is not mean or evil just because they might make you read something that isn’t easy to digest. Just the other day I had to listen to my 70-something-year-old coworker rant about a book he was assigned to read for class. In his words, his professor is a stupid idiot for assigning it and shouldn’t be allowed to teach anything. Why? Because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness manner and my coworker thinks any book written in such a manner is garbage. God help his professor. It can’t be easy teaching a bunch of young adults who think they know everything, let alone a 70-year-old man who thinks he knows everything. Why even be in school at all? You know everything. Leave.

Maybe the books I enjoy now would’ve been lost on me when I was a teenager, or possibly even in college. It’s difficult to say for certain. I would love to have the chance again to study with intensity something that I love. I don’t mean to imply that college is wasted on young people. I do think that expecting any significant level of insight from young people whose brains are still developing is a Big Ask. And yet we expect them to know and decide what they want to do with their lives before they’ve ever really lived. If college were free, this would be no big deal.

I don’t know if I’ve actually gained any insight in regard to a future “dream” career. I was hoping to someday discover deep within myself some kind of passion for accounting that had been lying dormant all my life. Then I’d just go into the family business and I’d be set. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. Maybe some of us aren’t meant to make loads of money. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m one of those people, if indeed I am. Maybe I’m able to deal with it better than someone else would.

What I’m saying might contradict what we’re taught to believe about the American dream. Plenty have called it out as a bogus concept, often citing examples of how opportunities for success simply aren’t made available to everyone equally. It’s a good point, and I get it. I just want to question what makes it worth pursuing in the first place.

Being able to choose your own path in life regardless of your background is a relatively recent human invention. Sometimes I think true happiness would be easier to find if we weren’t seeking the answer in our choice of career. Your job is just one small part of you.

Right now I’m thinking of those faith-based organizations that preach the “Prosperity Gospel.” Here’s another hot take: they are gross and they should be ashamed of themselves. If you’re reading this and you think God not only cares how much money you make, but wants to actively help you make MORE, you’re gross. Close this tab, exit your browser window, throw your computer out the window along with yourself–whatever you have to do. You are gross. You are harming yourself and the people around you.

It’s easy to mock prosperity theology, and to tell its believers to off themselves, but I think a lot of us live by its principles without realizing it. We idolize money. We idolize people who have it. We’re taught to pursue it even if the pursuit of it destroys our soul. We refuse to be content with what we do have. We assign value to actions based on how lucrative they are. Just recently, I skipped a shift I was supposed to work at the Humane Society because it got in the way of me going to my new part-time job. The only reason was money. One pays me, the other doesn’t. Which one I actually enjoy doing more–that didn’t factor in at all. I’d rather be with the dogs (note to self: new epitaph idea). But I didn’t go because they don’t pay me to go.

It’s almost time to end this. I meant to talk about a lot of other things–mainly just movies and books I’ve loved. I can’t find an easy way to go back and add any of that in among what I’ve already written. I’m sure I’ll have other opportunities in future posts. This is getting long enough as it is. I’m at work right now, but I’d rather be with the dogs, if ya know what I mean.

What do you want to do with your life?

How do you answer that question?

The answer can change from year to year, maybe even more frequently than that for some of us. I don’t think about it as much anymore, and when I realized that, I wondered Why?

Do you remember the days of being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? I was trying to recall how I used to respond to that question. As children, it was something we were asked often in school throughout the years. We might be asked to draw pictures of our future selves, doing our dream job, sometimes accompanied by a little paragraph of description. When I was very small I wanted to write and illustrate my own books. I think my next phase was all about basketball–I wanted to play in college and then the WNBA. It makes me smile thinking back on that–the days of being convinced I could play a professional sport someday! The next phase may have been even less grounded in reality, if you can imagine: I wanted to be some kind of “rock star,” which led to me taking guitar lessons in grade 8 and begrudgingly continuing with them throughout high school and junior college. Let’s just say I didn’t exactly take to it. The thought of ever having to play in front of anyone made me want to crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment.

Drawing and painting had been a hobby of mine since I was very young. Unlike other things that caught my interest through the years, art was one that I actually pursued consistently and seemed to improve upon over time. It never felt as forced as some of my other hobbies. I never gave it much of a thought as a career. More on that later.

In high school I learned to enjoy writing. Before, it had only been something that I wished I could do. Then I suddenly had the opportunity to take an elective in Creative Writing, and it terrified me. I was so nervous for that first class–I only signed up because my friend Kelsy did. Between that class and another called Film Appreciation, both taught by the same instructor, I learned that I kind of enjoyed writing analytical essays. Who knew?

I can at least say it made college much easier– having lots of papers to write seemed like no huge task.

When it came time to apply to college, I decided to declare a major in English Literature. I only lasted one semester at that out-of-state university. I moved back home, enrolled in community college, and didn’t really have anything specific in mind for the future. I took classes in American literature, creative writing, film, theater, and painting. Clearly I was in it to make the big bucks…

One of my art instructors there told me that the department had a scholarship to offer me if I decided to declare a major in art. So I did. It paid my full tuition there and gave me a path to follow. The department’s Art Club even organized and raised money for a trip to London. I went. I was sick the entire time, but of course it was still wonderful.

After a year and a half in community college, I transferred to a small-ish school in the nearby city. Now I was in deep in the arts. This was My Thing now. Soon after, I switched my emphasis from Painting to Printmaking. I still took electives in other areas I enjoyed–creative writing, gender studies, poetry translation, basically whatever seemed fun. I took part in a study abroad program, living in Vienna for a couple of months during the spring and summer. The tail end of the trip took us to Venice for a week, where the 53rd Venice Biennale was happening. That was ten years ago. I thought of that summer as the most significant experience of my life for what it did in terms of propelling me forward in my work and my intellectual life. A few months of having so many new and intense experiences gave me the motivation I needed to complete my degree. I feel like it provided me with the solid foundation that I had been in search of. School changed in a drastic way–I became obsessed with my work in a way that I hadn’t been before. I still had two more years left to complete, but the enthusiasm that remained after that trip was not to be stifled.

And here I am, ten years later. Art is not my career. I doubt that it ever will be. The future I envisioned for myself at age 20 is not one that I can really relate to at 30.

For instance, when I was in art school, the idea of exhibiting my work was still a very attractive idea to me. I enjoyed nearly every chance I got to be a part of different shows or exhibitions. Especially toward the end, we were organizing a lot of these things. People would turn up; all my friends would be there (because they were in these shows too). The pressure seemed minimal. I took pleasure in prepping for the exhibitions and getting everything ready. The receptions could also be fun. Eventually the work came down, and we’d do it all over again with another show at another place with new work to display.

Graduating from art school involved writing my thesis and taking part in organizing the final BFA exhibition. I’m still proud of what I did for it, but the actual reception was one of the most unpleasant I can remember. The work I exhibited was made up of 151 ceramic vessels. A few were broken during the course of the night. It was kind of nightmarish for me at the time. Literally, I had nightmares for months afterward about the show because of how stressful it was. I did win an award, and my step-mom cried out of happiness, which made me feel good because I knew she was proud of me. Most of my family was there, and that was the best part. I didn’t produce any more work after that, not for at least a year.

In the last ten years, I’ve gradually lost my enthusiasm for pursuing a career in art. I don’t think I fully grasped what the “business” side of art entailed. The networking, the rigorous self-promotion, the constant filling-out of applications for residencies, shows, and whatnot–none of that ever stops. It’s not like other jobs where you apply once, maybe get an interview and then a job offer, and then you’re finally able to focus on doing your work (with the guarantee that you will be compensated). When that reality settled in, the future I thought I had wanted began to look very bleak.

In school they don’t really tell you that charisma and connections are just as essential to the working artist as the actual art practice itself.

No matter what job it seems that I have, the ability to be totally professional and polished at all times is beyond me. Sometimes I think having a structured workplace is the only thing that keeps me in check. I don’t think I have what it takes to be in the business of “Me.” Over the years I’ve been involved in little side-projects at times to keep myself entertained, but these things tend to wear out their welcome once they become more of an obligation than simply a “fun project”. If I still wanted to pursue a career in art, I would have to be 100% invested in my art practice, in my own self-promotion, in the constant and endless search for opportunities, and somehow I’d still have to find a way to make money because it’s not as if I’d automatically be compensated for these efforts.

Maybe at age 18 or 20 we’re not really in the best position to make decisions regarding who we want to be or what we want to do for the rest of our lives. I wish apprenticeships were more of a popular thing nowadays. Vocational school sort of addresses that need in some ways, but not to the extent I’m imagining. Four-year college is just too expensive to justify enrolling in when you’re still at an age when you’re discovering new things about yourself, your interests, and your abilities on a daily basis.

I wonder how different my life would be today if at age 16 I had begun an apprenticeship with someone who was willing to teach me a specialized skill set of some sort. What it is doesn’t matter–just imagine some skill you wish you had today, and substitute that in this example. Carpentry, cooking, cobbling, computers, cameras, canines (and the training thereof)–I’m trying to be funny and it’s not working. Just imagine anything. Anything you can imagine becoming pretty skilled at doing, and doing it for about ten years, until you’re in your late twenties or thereabouts. And then you enroll in college.

To be continued…in Part 2