sheet.new

Fun fact:  If you use Chrome and Google Drive/docs stuff — which I wouldn't, given more choice, but it's what we use at work, so I'm stuck with it, rather like I was stuck with MS Office years ago — you can type "doc.new" or "sheet.new" into the address bar to open a new, blank document or spreadsheet. 

I started a new spreadsheet, to track my personal projects.  Completely hilariously, especially given that I manage multiple projects for a living, I've never done this exact thing, really, for my personal ones.  Maybe it was too frightening to see them all at once?  But I realized after yesterday's post that I want to improve my visibility:   into what's done and not, what's coming up, what's stuck, and how much time I can actually devote to them.  Right now, I think of "projects" in kind of a lump, roughly divided into physical, writing, making things, etc., and I snatch "project time" when I can and apply it to whatever's been on my mind the most that day. 

It's…not very efficient.  And it makes it way too easy to forget about or shelve things that are at difficult stages, instead of working through them.

I am very aware of all the software out there that supposedly does this, but I've had most or all of it fail on me in previous attempts, and really what I want right now is best done in a simple spreadsheet:  I just want to SEE them all, their statuses, what they need next, stuff like that.  And I want that information to just be there, in front of me, without being hidden away in a new piece of software that's actually in itself a project too.  I always wind up feeling like I spend more time using project-management software than managing projects — it's telling, too, that at work, I track my projects mostly in a paper notebook, and in spreadsheets when I need to share the info (like for budgets and schedules).  Things like Trello and Asana and stuff are really only useful if groups are using them, and I do all the management myself.  I've universally found that they wind up costing more time to setup and use than they ever save with any of their features.  (Same for mind-mapping software, which I gave several of a try…it doesn't do anything that paper doesn't do better except perhaps save links, which isn't a thing I need it for.  And it took more time to set those up than I probably would have spent, say, writing a short-story.)

So.  Spreadsheet.  For now I'm just populating it, as projects occur to me; it's frightening how many of them are buried deep and only even surface in my mind when something external reminds me of them.  I know I can't work on them all at once, and that probably there just ARE too many to finish — but at least this way, I can hopefully be more conscious about what's what, and where the time is going or should go.

Wish me luck, and if you have any brilliant ideas, I'm all ears!

(What a wonderful and weird phrase, "I'm all ears".  So evocative, and without the slightest bit of fancy language.  I love things like that!  Another one I ran across recently is the word "painstaking".  Think about it.  It's something that someone took pain in order to get perfect:  They worked for hours on end, got a sore neck, missed sleep…so we have one word that identifies things that caused their creator pain, and it describes what we mean by it perfectly.  <3!)

 

Posted in better thinking | Leave a comment

The journey from the future to the present

Two things:

1.  Spend more time exercising.  I've been swimming at least 3x per week lately, and it's *great* and I can feel it doing awesome things, mostly to my brain (because exercise is SO good for mental health; can't overstate how much).  I know that more would be better, and furthermore, it's been too damn long since I was in formal kungfu training.  I know of a great-seeming school near my house that would net me another 1-3 exercise sessions (plus valuable training) per week.

I've known about it for like, six months.  "Call the school and set up a first class to go to" has been on my to-do list that whole time. 

The second thing:

2.  Learn javascript.  I need an updated tech skill — I've been in management a while, and my hobbies aren't honing skills that will help me professionally (so I can triple-boot weird OSs on old computers, big deal :D) — and my current job is quite possibly a *perfect* environment for learning useful stuff like node.JS and React, complete with company funding and killer engineers eager to help me learn.

I've signed up for a short class in the basics — I understand code quite well conceptually, but syntax that isn't english grammar trips me up so hard! — and I have an intermediate book that looks good that was in our company library.  But I've only read one chapter and made a few notes, and haven't touched the course yet, even though I stated my intention to move forward with this goal about 2 months ago.

So what's going on?

I'm realizing that I have a lot of difficulty collapsing good ideas from "future" to "present".  As long as they're "future" ideas, they're full of possibility and promise, but the present is hard to do and frought with potential failure.  You could definitely add a third item to that list — though it would almost certainly belong in slot #1 — where I imagine and plot and poke at these wonderful stories, but I run out of steam for working on them as soon as they become too real.  Usually that's right about the point where I have a draft in hand and am trying to edit it.  Suddenly everything feels claustrophobic and I'm sure I'm going to fail. 

I realized today that this is because my focus is staying in the future, even when my activities have moved past the planning phase and into the Doing Stuff Now phase.  I can't let go of thinking about what this will become, and so the deeper I get into the reality of what it IS, the harder it is to make any progress, or even to make myself think about it.  I very quickly abandon things I'm Actually Doing and retreat into the much-easier-to-contemplate futures of other things I Might Do.

There's a mindset one has when doing something now that has to let go of the future of it, to do it for its own sake, to quiet the mind and just make those motions that you gotta make now.  Is calling the kungfu school and going to the first classes terrifying?  Okay; that's what you gotta do.  Does that sentence need rewriting again?  Ok, then you gotta rewrite it — and if you're tangled up in What This Will Become or Whether I'm Going To Fail, it's just about impossible. You're trying to walk uphill anyway; you can't do it if you're dragging every potential future and its consequences with you.

I don't have answers for this lil' conundrum, if you couldn't tell; but I do have a strong suspicion that being more aware of it will be helpful.  Next time I notice myself feeling like it's insurmountable to make that call or open that file or sit down with that study-guide, I'm going to check my brain and see if it's all tangled up in futures.  It probably will be, and then I can try cutting it loose, letting them all go and just focusing on this step I need to take right now.

I'll let you know how it goes!

 

Posted in aesthetica, better thinking | 2 Comments

The manufacturing of gratitude

I'm in southeast Michigan, celebrating Thanksgiving with my family a week early, because it's cheaper and easier for all of us, with our jobs and the kids who all have "broad" families — we don't say "broken"; our divorces didn't break us and the "other parents" are also valuable and deserve time — to split the holiday among.

I'm awake before everyone, even more determinedly than usual, because I feel like without a few hours to myself to process, I'll freak out.  It's not them, really; they're hard but not acutely so; it's just here.  In Michigan, for the thirty years I lived here full-time, I always felt like I was on the edge of freaking out, and when I come back here, several times a year, it's always the same.

I'm out walking.  It's snowing; not the first snow, either.  There's no sidewalk in this apartment complex; I trudge through a watery, crumbling parking-lot, the line of cars on my left and the identical buildings on my right.  Everything that isn't white is grey.  The occasional color of a blue car's peeking bumper, or the fire-hydrant, only make the whole of it look more grey.  I see a few people, bundled up, universally overweight, their heads bowed by poverty and their eyes dull from jobs that drain them.  There are no joggers, no bicycles.  There are trees and grass, but not because we planned to have a nice space there for people to enjoy; in Michigan (at least this quarter of it), the forest is just what happens when you let the land go.  It's beautiful, but not friendly.  Beautiful ruins are our thing.  And everywhere I look, things are either peopled and sad, or beautiful and abandoned.

This sensation, of anywhere my eyes rest causing stress, bringing up bad thoughts, is so familiar, and yet, since I've lived in Boston for eight years now, it's also unfamiliar and I have to get re-used to it for a week or so at a time whenever I come home.  It took almost two years of living in a vibrant, generally healthy place, without the everpresent Midwestern pain and judginess in everyone's eyes, to get used to not doing it.  Now I do it again, my old second-by-second coping mechanism:  I focus on a leaf.  On a bird.  On a crack in the grey sky.  And I force myself to be grateful.  To see the beauty, where I can, and to be thankful for it.

Or to see the horrors that don't touch me (yet) and be grateful for that:  I see a handicapped license-plate and I remember to be grateful that I can walk.  (My brother can't right now, due to health problems, so that's easy to remember.)  I step wrong, my iffy knee lights up with pain, and I remember to adjust my hip-tilt and to be grateful that I know how to do that; I have had kungfu and training, a rare gift, even if it's one I bought myself with intention and work — it's still intention and work that most people I'll see here have never had the option to even consider.  (Partly because anyone who has has, like me, left this place if they could.) 

This time of year, I always hear from my people, and there's always a lot of hard / bad news.  Always.  It may seem like time is getting harder on us, but really, it's just that when I was very young, I was protected — like we protect the kids now — from feeling the whole force of it; if I didn't "need to know" I wasn't told, and of course that didn't feel like a gift then, but it was one.  It let me get used to gratitude, before I knew how difficult it was to manufacture.  Just like we feed kids but we don't make them cook yet.  You'll find out soon enough how much work it is to eat three meals, and even more, to make sure those around you do too.

Gratitude, thankfulness, is not automatic, and it does not "just grow" in most climates:  It takes manufacture.  It takes resources — often rare ones — and hard work, and what you get out the end is not nearly as much as you put in to get there.

But this doesn't make it not worth the effort:  What you get out of it may have cost a lot, but it'll also carry you a while, and you can share it, and trade for it, and live off it in lean times.

In a place like Southeast Michigan, you either learn to make gratitude out of very thin resources, burning a whole lot of time and energy on it, or you starve.  I got by for a long time, being very deliberate about it, but eventually — and it's hard to admit this, still — I just couldn't anymore.  The effort was killing me, and the constant draining away of hope by everything I laid my eyes and ears on was running me dry.  I think a lot of people here, and maybe everywhere, are, or become, immune to the underlying messages of what they see:  A freeway is just a freeway; an abandoned strip-mall is just a building.  And I was never able to do that:  Every single thing I saw, the pain and ugliness underneath hit me right in the face, every time.  To live in a place, now, with bike-paths and small businesses and joggers and colleges, it gives me fuel every single day, ingredients I can use to make enough gratitude, more than enough usually, to get by and to share.  But out here, in the shadow of our post-modern Mordor, I feel like I'm taking punches every time I rest my gaze on anything.

I go home — home to a place that, while far from perfect, still has big visible veins of hope and helpfulness everywhere — tonight.  I love my family fiercely and will miss them like crazy, but I also know that I can't not go, that this is a place I cannot exist in the long-term and be any kind of okay.  Because we all NEED gratitude, and what I can scrape from the concrete here is not enough. 

I'm smoking, as I walk.  I shouldn't smoke; in Boston I'm pretty good about not doing it, unless I'm super stupid stressed, and even then, my vape-pen is usually enough to calm down with.  But I come home-home, and all the things that trained me to it from a young age come rushing back — "eh, you're sucking on a tailpipe all day anyway," we say in Detroit; or "pffft, I don't trust air I can't see anyway" — plus I'm cooped up and uncomfortable and I know I need all my energy to be there for my family while I see them, so I take my moments alone and I inhale smoke.  I agree with the locals, that something about doing it deliberately feels a little better.  Like, fuck you Mo-Town, I'll die faster, I'll eat extra poison, as long as it's my own choice.  You gotta admire that reaction, in a way; and I do admire it — but I wish I wasn't doing it, and I'll leave the cigarettes I bought here, hidden in Mom's house for the next time.  In-between sneaky "walks" to dose myself with numbing drugs, I'll lecture the kids about how awful and stupid it is, and yes, I'll take cognitive damage from that hypocrisy:  But it's damage I'd rather take myself, then let them see me defending it, and learning what I learned.

Gratitude is a manufactured goodThat's true everywhere, for everyone, and the lesson we take from it should be "Okay, so let's get to work" — because it's worth the work, and it's always work.  I still have to work at it in Boston; it's never free.  But I guess my point of view, being a philosophically-minded person raised in a philosophically-brutal place, has taught me some good hard truths about how that meat is really made, you know?  I'm not so dumb as to stall the factory during good times:  I work even harder when there are a lot of raw materials to be had, and I stash my stores for later.  I know I'll need them to go home with during the holidays, for one thing. 

I haven't quite worked out how to make enough extra to bring back plenty for myself and all the hungry ones here, but I have figured out how to have enough while I'm not feeling actively oppressed by my environment, and I have learned how to keep my eyes on the supply, which is a skill I see a lot of people (in both cities) lacking.  I have some good information on hand about what makes good, long-lasting thankfulness, and what will poison it, and what can be used in a pinch to make some when you're on empty and starving.

We wish each other "Happy" Thanksgiving, but I think that bears more looking-at.  A "Happy" Thanksgiving is a time of harvest; and you don't eat your harvest; you get together and you process it into stuff that you can share and keep each other alive with through the year.  Yes, make a great meal together; yes, share stories and empathy; yes, find the good things and hold them close — but not for a happy now.  For later.  For the kids, who can't cook their own yet. 

If you live or know somewhere that sucks your resources away and makes gratitude hard, pay attention:  Maybe you have to be there a while, and get damn good at manufacturing with slim resources; or maybe, like me now, you have to make hay where the sun shines, and ship it back to your blasted home in as much quantity as you can manage.  Remember that we all need it, just like we all need food, and that it's more efficient to cook for many than to cook for one.  And don't just feed people:  teach them how to make that shit.

…I think I might take another walk.  :)

Posted in 'pocalypse, better thinking | 2 Comments

Somebody has to speak

"Somebody has to speak for them as has no voices," said the marvelous character Granny Aching in Wee Free Men.

And this advice — it's more of a demand, though, isn't it? — was penned by a man who, handed a death sentence from an aggressive form of alzheimer's (talk about every writer's nightmare ::shudder::), grabbed that pen and dashed off a few very potent works defending those who need their right to die defended — so he wasn't just scribbling BS that sounded good, either.  Sir Pratchett, gods rest, believed in that quote, which is probably why he attributed it to Granny Aching, a character perhaps only eclipsed in power and respect by Mistress Weatherwax (who agreed with the statement completely, when she heard it).

Have you ever had your voice taken away?  I did — there was part of my life where I was silenced and tortured and shamed for it, and because I was a child and my aggressors were aligned with powerful forces, no-one could or would stand up and speak for me. 

I was bullied, severely, in an environment that provided protection and encouragement to my abusers and strong incentives to my family to not remove me from that environment.  As I work through finding, admitting and dealing with all the places in my inner landscape that were scarred, weakened or destroyed by all that damage all those years ago, I find that there's also a whole other layer of damage, too — the hollow, isolated hurt left from looking around at a whole worldful of adults and knowing that none of them stepped up and spoke for you.

I get it, I guess — it's a lot to ask an adult, with their own life and responsibilities, to step up and call bullshit on the church, to anger my own family and face who knows what other consequences, just to point out — before anti-bullying was a popular movement, too — that that kid right there is being abused and it's not ok.  But I want to point it out because I know, for an absolute fact, that simply someone having tried to do that, however successful or not, would have done a lot to salve and salvage me.  I would have at least known that it wasn't the whole world that had abandoned me.  And believe me, I've paid many thousands of dollars in many years of therapy to even begin to appreciate what a huge difference that is.  It is HUGE.

Look, dammit, the vulnerable are holy:  They are in a place of external weakness, yes, but also a place of great internal change, and the potential for incredible things to happen and be discovered.  What happens to them happens deeply, and matters a lot in the long run.  So in any situation, if someone is vulnerable and others are less so, you step up for and protect the vulnerable, and you do it for the sake of ALL of us, to defend not just the person but also the powerful lessons being learned, and help make sure they're good ones.

So the point of this post is this: 

When you see someone being bullied, be it a kid or a foreigner or a homeless person or whatever their weakness, whatever has left them vulnerable and you still strong, you fucking say something, you hear me?  (I'm not as eloquent as barely-educated Granny Aching, but that's my wording and I'll stand by it, at least for now.)

You say something even if it won't change the situation.  This isn't about your right to have your actions be effective, pretty, or good for your reputation.  This is about actions that somebody must do, regardless, because it's a duty, a cost of being human.  Quit whining and pay it, if fate holds its hand out. 

You say something even if you don't know them from Elijah, and "have no business".  We ALL have business in this; see above.  You open your mouth like a cranky old lady and you CALL BULLSHIT, and you make sure the vulnerable person knows you did it, so that even if nothing else happens, they know that sometimes, at least, somebody will stand up.

It has been one of the great privileges of my life to assure my daughter, frequently, repeatedly, that if she is ever bullied, by anyone in any circumstance, I (and her other family, too) will burn the world down to defend her.  I got to let her know when she was still single-digits old that I didn't give two fucks what the school said — that she and I would lock hands and move on to as many new schools as needed so that she wasn't abused, no question — and that even if I couldn't fix a situation, no one, not God nor Satan nor Santa Claus, could make me stay silent about it.  It was and is a complete honor, to be allowed to put up a sign, kind of like Dr. Who does with regards to Earth, that says This Is Defended, and to let my kid see from the get-go that she has defenders.  There's a very good reason humans tend to want so badly to give their children something they didn't have:  It heals you, it really does — not all the way, but a lot.  

But with power comes responsibility, to quote another passed-on sage amongst writers.  In this case, my power is having healed that deep tear inside me to some degree, and to have been allowed to pass on better to one of my Next Selves.  And that makes it my responsibility, I think, not just to speak up for the voiceless, but eventually to yell at everyone else to do it too — because frankly comfortable people are cowards, and they need to be poked and made angry sometimes, or they won't do the right thing. 

It's not a fun job, and there's a reason the Granny Witches are the ones who do it:  It can be dangerous to anger the Herd, if you're not already established enough that they're afraid of turning on you.  I'm not quite grown enough to take that work head-on yet, but I can see now that it's where I'm heading. 

Step one, stand up under the weight of that abuse and that isolation. 
Step two, realize that I have power, to defend myself and also others, and poke and prod myself into having the courage to use it. 
Step three, realize that we all have power, and are idiots about using it at the right times. 
Then, step four, gadfly the hell out of everyone, to help them be better whether they like it or damn not.

…Sorry, that one was a little heavier than I meant it to get; but not very sorry, since it's all true.  :)  Enjoy your Saturnday!

 

Posted in better thinking, ethics, psychology, social laquer | Leave a comment

Even shorter than a power-nap

Woooo, today was SO busy that I just, at eleven pm, wrinkled my brow and grabbed my phone to check…surely I had posted today?  Ach, crivens; I had not! 

Fortunatelyish, the 8pm flight that consumed all of my day that wasn't spent working is now delayed to midnight at least, soooo yeah, I've read most of a book this evening and still got time to kill.  Yay?

(But in spite of the long wait, I want to keep this short, because you can't trust airports or battery-power, really.  :P  I hope you understand!)

A SUPER useful habit I've developed lately is to "fall back to breathing".  I mean "fall back" in the attention-sense:  By removing my focus from everything else for a short time.  Loud thoughts, especially aggressively unpleasant ones, can't be easily replaced with other thoughts or no thoughts…but, at least for me, paying attention to the body does a pretty good job of filling the channels with more useful chatter.  I've known for a while that I could use taiji to quiet my brain, but that's complicated and takes some space and is really easy to talk yourself out of doing when things are tough. 

Breathing, though, is always there.  You don't have to do anything other than notice it; and because it's a movement, it's easier to notice than other feelings in your body.  But in spite of its ease and obviousness, it's still enough, I'm finding, to get spinning thoughts to wind down.

Focusing on your breathing works a lot better when you do it just a little longer than you think you want to, by the way.  I've done it for ten to thirty seconds plenty before, but recently I was asked to set a timer for three minutes, and I find that much more helpful, while still being wicked fast.

I've not quite gotten the hang of "practicing" this kind of quiet on a regular basis, but I am getting pretty good at responding to difficult things — such as spending your entire evening in an airport! — by stealing three minutes and for that time, just holding my attention tight to my breathing, and bringing it back there whenever it wanders.  It was a bit tricky to sustain at first, but now, those little breaks are almost as good as a nap sometimes.  I said almost!

But still, almost nap-levels of restorative is damn impressive, so I figured this is something y'all might want to play with, if you haven't. 

Oh and lastly, I would like to remind everyone that most airports are horrendously designed, and the fact that they make it difficult to nap in them is gobsmackingly ludicrous.

Thank you and have a nice night.  :)

Posted in hacks | Leave a comment

Endings

Maybe it's comforting to think about endings, since we're only actually halfway through the month.  O.O

The Buddhists have this lovely metaphor of "eight winds", explaining how the forces of external life-stuff shove at you, challenging you to maintain your balance and keep your feet planted (or your stance rooted, if you like the kungfu angle).  The "winds" are basically four kinds of pleasure (gain, praise, etc) and four kinds of pain (loss, dissin', etc) — exactly what you'd think.  There could just as easily be two kinds, or four, but the Chinese hate(d) the number four and love(d) eight, and were probably too fancy for two, so there you go. 

This is related to endings, I swear. 

The thing about endings is, they're all arbitrary, anything could be seen as an ending; but every one shares one characteristic:  You have to get to them.  The ending is a point you have to make it to, and the only way to do that..yup, is to keep your balance while those winds are hitting you.

The false thing about the idea of endings is that after them, the winds stop — ha, no, because again, they're all arbitrary, which means that there's always an ending past the one you're thinking about.  So after you make it there, however it goes, things keep going on, largely indifferent to the fact that you happened to think there was an end-point there.

And I used to think that that falsity meant that constructing or declaring endings was a mistake; but I take that back.  As long as we don't forget they're all arbitrary and minor in the scheme of things, as long as we aren't fooled into expecting the winds to just stop because we Reached That Point we were aiming for, I now think they can be quite healthy. 

For one thing, I couldn't have done any of these blog posts without leaning heavily on my completely arbitrary idea of The Ending of it.  I've always had such trouble stopping writing, because I'm always so hyper-aware that I'm making up the part where it stops, and that I could be (am!) changing everything, the whole story, by deciding that place should be X instead of Y.  It's harrowing, let me tell you.  I am so aware that nothing stops where I say it does, or when I give up on continuing to tell it.  So every time I reach an ending, I kinda feel like a liar.

But I've had to get comfortable with endings, these last two weeks.  To admit that even though they're fake, they have value; they're part of this craft (and most others), and part of living.  A curse of consciousness, I guess; a price you have to pay in order to Do Stuff.

This makes all our symbolism of the Reaper and Death really interesting to me, by the way.  Cutting the string, ending the story, is a task none of us wants, maybe, so we dress it in black and fear and try to convince ourselves that it's a force outside our control.  Buuuuut the evidence, I think, says otherwise.  An ending exists in our minds.  That's an idea that just gets more sobering the more I let it be, y'know?

I ended some things today, including this.  All the parts involved will keep spinnin', and the winds of their effects will keep buffetting me around (more or less successfully, depending on my stance), but to me, that thing as I had encapsulated it is over.

This thing is over, because I said it is, and for no other reason.  To the Universe, nothing of any note has changed whatsoever. 

It is both a tiny meaningless action, and a terrifying power to be forced to wield.

Let's do it again tomorrow, shall we?

Posted in 'pocalypse, aesthetica, better thinking | Leave a comment

What’s possible? NO WAIT DON’T ANSWER THAT

Lately my brain has been finding its truths in two-and-three-word chunks, which is interesting, for very restricted values of "interest", heh.

Recently I was driving and thinking and a song came on that, combined with the thoughts and scenery, made me feel a huge rush of…something, something both big and good, something that could be powerful, I sensed.  But what was this feeling?  I poked around and let it simmer until finally some words surfaced — very, very clearly, too.  The words were, "What's possible?"

Yes, I thought immediately; those are the words for this feeling!

But then another part of my brain responded, automatically I think, to the question-mark in those words, and it started trying to formulate "answers" to the "question", "What's possible?"  True to normal form, it went looking for true words, good words, meaningful words, sifting and choosing…but while this was going on, the part of me that had given me the words "What's possible?" started screaming:  STOP THAT.  NO.  THIS IS NOT A QUESTION.

I was a little shocked by that, but I did stop.  For one thing, I kind of knew it wasn't a question:  It was an answer.  I asked a question, "what is this powerful feeling?", and the answer just happened to have a question-mark in it — but that doesn't make it a question, I eventually realized.  Or rather, it is a question in the sense that the good part of it, the bit you're looking for, is beyond the boundary of the words themselves — but it isn't other, different words.  It's the space where you'd find them! 

"What's possible?" is pointing to a room, basically; a place, a space; and yes, it's the place you'd go to find certain things, certain answers — but my answer, the thing I was looking to learn, wasn't any of the stuff in the room; it was the room itself.  The space that contained those potentialities.  And — this bit's a little weird, but maybe you've experienced something like this too — the possibilities themselves, but not any of them in actuality.  "What's possible?" points to a space filled with things only some of which can be true, and which depends on a lot — me, and luck, and physics, and tons of stuff — but that powerful feeling was about the space and the possibilities as they exist before I, or anything else, chooses any.

If you want to maybe experience a fun thing, try pointing your mind at What's Possible?, and not letting yourself focus on any answers.  Just hang out in that space — see if you can get used to it, or at least get enough of a feeling for it that if you wanted to, you could return there again. 

It's a huge space, and it's full of a ton of stuff (not everything!  but lots) — and yet, as soon as you judge any of the stuff, as soon as you say "I like this possibility" or "I hate that one" or anything like that, you get kicked out of the space.  What's Possible is a space you can only hang out in for as long as you're able to make room in yourself for all of it.  And that isn't usually very long — zow does the mind like answers, and it'll start judging possibilities as soon as you give it an eighth-inch of leeway — but — BUT — while you're there, it does really nice things to your emotions, I'm finding.  What's Possible is a space of no pressure, no endings, no artificial Point At Which This Has All Failed If X.  And it's an immortal space too:  Long past when you and I are gone, What's Possible will still be there, and just as full. 

It's not, I suppose, a comfortable space to hang out in — it doesn't soothe the ego one bit — but it is, by necessity, relaxing.  And also, by definition, hopeful. 

I've really enjoyed the time I've spent there the last few days, since I heard those words and realized that space exists.

Maybe — this is conjecture, but hey, I'm allowed — maybe people could be less anxious and depressed (lack of relaxation and lack of hope, respectively), if they knew how to find and spend a few minutes here and there in What's Possible.

Too bad this is the best I can do for giving directions there!  …So far.  ;)

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAH

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH no, nothing's wrong I just promised myself AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH that if this blog post thing got really hard I could just write AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH and it would count for one day, dammit.

…which is obviously just a way to get myself writing something, which will of course result in something else — and maybe it won't be a particularly good something else today.  That's also fine.  This is a sort of practice, and if there's anything I managed to pick up from kungfu, it's that when you can't do the thing you "meant" to do or "thought" or "expected" to do, you find some other way to practice.  There is always practice.  

Heck, in taiji you can totally spend an entire hour shifting your weight.  Or just standing.  (I've done the former, but the latter (zhangzhaung) is physically grueling and hell no I can't do it for an hour!  Breathing is practice, if you're doing it correctly and correct-mindedly. 

I haven't been able to dive back into my fiction-writing yet, for silly but real reasons; but I will overcome them eventually.  And in the meantime, there is still practice to do everywhere.  I wrote in two different notebooks today already, not counting my phone.  I'm writing this.  And while I do it, I'm thinking about writing, and clarity, and what it means to do it and why I do it. 

Ahem.  So I guess my point is that yes, in kungfu and writing and a lot else I'm sure, sometimes practice does just look like screaming AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH at a wall.  Sometimes just showing up, picking up the sword even though you know it's gonna be a travesty of an ugly freaking form today, is what you can do.  Practice is doing what you can do.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

…man, that feels good today. 

 

(AAAAH!)

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Witch movies, you ask?

…Or didn't you?  Well, let's say you did.  I happen to have opinions on witch movies, and a blog and a daily post-challenge, so let's just pretend you asked about it, just for a second.  Cooooool.

The hands-down best Scary Witch Movie is The VVitch, no contest.  As a horror movie, it is an incredible feat of artistry, and if the witch-character isn't necessarily it's bad guy, that's only because it runs like nine horror plots at once, each with its own bad guy, swapping them out with card-shark slickness to produce a grim masterpiece that gets deeper the more you pay attention, but is likely to have a thoroughly terrifying moment for everyone from the word go(at).  Its use of religious horror, social horror, family horror and straight-up fear of the unknown also make for a compelling fictional "theory of witches / witchcraft" while, having nothing to do with anything historical we're aware of, is nonetheless a fascinating set of ideas, perhaps festooned with some possibilities.

…I can't, honestly, even think of a contender to that one in the "serious scary" category.  But an important and awesome subcategory win has to go to the Scariest Kids' Witch Movie:  Roald Dahl's The Witches.  Just cheesy enough to keep from being outright scarring, and just unrealistic enough to keep it teaching lessons instead of informing opinions about witchcraft or women or history, I enjoy this one every time I encounter it.  Also a fantastic book, btw.  (I read the book first, if maybe that matters.)

When it comes to not-scary adult Witch Movies, there are a zillion (and a ton of TV besides), but about 90% of these suffer greatly in their enjoyability, at least to me, by being blatantly sexist, grotesquely inaccurate, or both.

The standout in this category, and therefore the winner, is 1998's Practical Magic.  And I can't tell you how rare it is for me to give Meaningless Personal Movie Awards to romantic comedies, but in this case (and pretty much this case alone), every time I rewatch this weird and wonderful gem, my joy is affirmed. 

The acting is stellar, partly because it's just old enough that it didn't need to cost 750,000,000 to pay for the kind of star power it has:  Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Diane Weist, and Aidan Quinn all star, and they all kill it, providing the yes, sometimes silly story with a slew of interesting and engaging characters. 

And didja notice that there's 3 women to 1 man in that list?  The whole movie is actually like that — the gender-ratio of non-starring actors is similar, even — but it's in no way ham-handed about it.  Instead, it uses the prominence of women and women's stories to enable cool and surprising plot-elements.  The result is a story that's real, intense, and fun enough to overcome its formulaic underpinnings.  It even manages to make up for being "about love" by being equally about sisters, generations, neighbors and kids, all in uplifting and truthy ways.  Shit, even the love-plot has a lot more depth and emotional power than most.  In one of my more favorite quotes, the hero's profession of love to a woman it seems impossible to figure out a way to have a relationship with is is…"Why don't you do what you do, and I'll do what I do, and we'll see where we end up."  Not, "I must have you," or "I don't deserve you," or any of the miles of bullshit you usually get in this genre.  Instead, we get a profession of acceptance, a granting of agency to both parties, and good wishes without neediness.  Hell to the yes.  …But in all honesty, it's easy to just ignore that and focus on the awesome scenes with "midnight margaritas", the PTA exorcism, etc. that you won't even notice are all well-developed female characters unless you think about it on purpose.  (I'm sorry if I just made it more likely that you will, but how can one not squee about such a thing, done well, 20 years ago and somehow under everybody's radar??)

Magic-wise, sure, it's inaccurate.  But not in horrible, ignernt*, ill-read ways — instead, it takes the kinds of liberties with magic that it's supposed to take in order for magic to to be part of the plot of a good story.  And I have to say, as someone who's read every authenticish text on the subject I could find since I was a kid, that magic and inaccuracy also go hand in hand on purpose.  Partly because that fuzziness, that metaphoric reality, is part of how it works.  And partly because it's been such a guarded set of secrets for every second its been known, that (almost?) everything  "authentic" is bluffing you too.  …And given all that, it's kind of especially beautiful that in addition to their curse, the Owens women passed down the ability to fall from great heights and litrerally land on their feet — there's a moment at the end that taps that nail in beautifully.

I've thoroughly scanned my mental repositories, but chances are pretty good that I'm forgetting some runners-up and honorable mentions — though I'm sure it's true that I've seen and read waaaaay more bad Witch Stories than good!  If you think of anything I ought to add to my utterly unimportant yet enjoyable collection of opinions on this subject, please do let me know!

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Realizations about Posting, Part 1

It's been a little over a week (actually a Novena; nine days) of BlogPostVember.  What have we learned, mind-children?

1. We've learned that its really hard, especially to push "post" once a day; but then again, we strongly suspected it would be, so maybe that doesn't count as learning.

2. We've also learned (again, a thing we "knew", but it's meaningful that now we know it more clearly) that writing this much every day does the opposite of "tiring us out on writing"; contrarily, it's giving me the almost overwhelming urge to write a LOT more, and I'm getting frustrated that I don't have / can't find the time to do it (yet).

3. There's a big lesson about the value of fiction lurking in the mists around this mountain, but I need to climb a little more, maybe get a little colder and more desperate, before I really encounter it.  :brr: It's scary!

4. The kinda staggering degree to which my time-management skills were eaten alive and pooped out and buried by this latest long-ass bout of depression is becoming ever more clear.  I think it's a good thing and I'm ready to encounter this (though immediately regretting framing that encounter as digging up poop?  (p)oops) — but it needs further contemplation, and a careful alchemy of brutal honesty and gentle acceptance, before it's useful.  Good thing there's a bunch more days of this left?  ::weak laugh::

5.  The gap — maybe it's a quantum gap — between knowing things and communicating them is also getting a lot of light shed on it.  Forcing myself to stare down that chasm and take a leap over it, however successful, every day, is changing how I see it…and that's a lesson I had hoped to learn, so if it finishes cooking over the next few weeks, that'll be a huge win!

6.  This challenge also pretty much eliminates the research phase:  I usually take quite a few days to write a post, as I check things out against existing knowledge, and ponder what I'm saying and why…in order to keep up this pace, there's much less of that.  I feel like it'll recover itself somewhat, once I'm more used to the pace — maybe once "hitting post" becomes more normal and stops sucking so much energy?  But I always found the research phase a) not difficult to do and b) easy to get lost in / stop at / do forever, so it seems like forcibly relegating it to a timebox, even if for now that makes it feel like I can't do it at all really, is another good balancing of things.

7.  The act of screaming into a relative void — posting for no-one, or no-one who'll reciprocate — used to bother the shit out of me; but it doesn't seem to anymore, or at least not in this context.  (This feels like it'll wind up tied to #3, given more time & clarity.)  Maybe that's a defense mechanism against the anxiety caused by "hitting post" — I'm certainly glad for that nobody-cares feeling, more often than not — but also, it's a good exploration of the purpose of sharing, even when the writing itself isn't other-focused.  I had a massive realization this week about making space for myself, which maybe I'll manage to put into another post in more detail; but I think some of that knoweldge has definitely been predicated on "writing for me, but also sharing" as a thing I've done literally every day this week.

Sorry I missed yesterday — I did write most of it then, but I passed out from a stressful day before I Hit Post — but I'm back, not giving up; even if the month produces not a damn thing "of value", lessons like the above are still valuable — and thank you, if you're reading this, for coming along for that ride with me!  If you have any thoughts you'd like to share, now or in the future, I would absolutely appreciate hearing them (and if you don't, you are still more than welcome to read and to have your thoughts about it…that's kind of one of the wonderful things about this, isn't it?  Maybe a Lesson #7.5 is that space to think what you want, and then share what *and if* you feel like, is a wonderful, and maybe too-rare, thing.)

Peace!

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