Re-re-resolution, Baby Last year, I explained that - while not particularly driven by the arbitrary passage of a date to make scads of empty wishful promises to myself in the after-effervescence of a champagne cocktail - I do like to take the opportunity to look back at some of the little changes and practices I've adopted through the year that have worked well for me, and which I resolve to continue doing. Time for another round of reflection and commemoration of what's going right for me! But first, a fond farewell to a pretty good year!
Toodle-pip Twenty-Thirteen - The new millennium plunges dauntlessly further into its awkward adolescence. That crackling voice-of-ages, the pullulating pimples dotting a once-silken complexion, and growth spurts of both speakable and unspeakable sorts! Sure, the years may have their tantrums from time to time, but they are showing glimmers of true individuality and maturity 'twixt all the torment.
So I raise a glass to our fourteen year old 2000's and thank 2013 for a good showing. That marriage thing turned out to be a kick, for instance. Thanks 2013 for going along with that. As yet another trip to visit the in-laws confirmed, I picked not only a fabulous fellow, but an entire family of warm and loving nutters to add to my list of enviable blessings. The nephews - in all their furious glory - spun through our lives like dervishes conjuring untold depths of oozing and roiling fondness.
My grown kin did their part to overwhelm me with love, talent, insight, and affection. Friends utterly consumed in the whirlwinds of their busy lives still managed to share a gasp of air, a knowing wink, a shot of endorphins, and some fancy chocolate with me from time to time. Meals were shared, secrets concocted, boons covertly granted without a hint of grandiosity.
The clients remained crazy, but the work presented novel challenges and opportunities for some immersive analysis hand-and-heart-crafted for my gifts. The Collaborative Law group remained a wild maverick group of outlaws and heretics, gunning for harmony in a land overrun with twisted justice and sullied "fair and equitable" legalism. And the notes got weirder just in time for a grand subpoena.
The reading was good - a year brought in by Life and Death are Wearing Me Out andThe Wind-up Bird Chronicles; peppered with revisits to my teenage favorites The Beautiful and the Damned and The Alexandria Quartet and Mark Richard's House of Prayer, No. 2; mixed in with Grant Morrison's Batman run and Final Crisis for a further revisiting of my past reading habits; a nice short fiction discovery with Manuel Gonzales' _The Miniature Wife; and I'm running out of space so I'll skip to the end and finish off with Red Sorghum and Telegraph Avenue.
Happy 2014, whatever it may bring. I have a feeling it will be a pretty awesome year. And maybe a horrible one two - there's usually some balance in life, but we can focus our preferred lens on the goodies today, by golly... unless any of you are feeling the festivities of NYE a bit pressingly. I know my cognitive faculties are thoroughly besmirched by that early bedtime after a day of unpacking.
Re-resolution Number One: Penning Thanks Where Thanks is Due
Thank-you cards provide an opportunity to disentangle the blob of generalized bounty, taking each kindness into a darkened room and letting it twinkle in the faint light of mind and ink. In each coruscant facet is utility, frivolity, and - gleaming incandescently above all - the thought that we were told always mattered (which turned out to actually matter most, despite the triteness of the adage).
It is also a chance for me to skip from the icons to the intangibles that they signify: the relationship and connection between gifter and giftee. Writing a thank you card is a wholly self-indulgent act, although I certainly hope that those who receive them get some sense of satisfaction from understanding how they have touched me and how deeply I appreciate them. It is ultimately a means of reminding myself how lucky I am.
I am also strongly intoxicated with putting pen to paper. Although I type prolifically throughout the day, there is a ritual quality to penmanship; a visceral chitter echoes through my gut at the faint rasp of pen against paper. The smudges of ink and high-flying curlicues of my feral cursive harmonize with the polyphonies of the celestial spheres in a way that typing - in its rat-tat-tat Sousian quality - never quite accomplishes. It certainly lends itself to a different and more fragmented style of writing (if you could believe such a thing possible, in my case). Little errors cannot be deleted handily. Sentences thought out halfways before a mental U-turn must somehow be completed. The free flow of ever-forward produces an entirely different creative experience... And reading experience I imagine. I am not sure that my notes are particularly legible. Nor am I sure that they are often intelligible. But, as I mention, it is ultimately a selfish practice.
This year, I am writing one thank you note a day, working my way towards the ones that will inevitably test the limits of a single folio. It gives each morning a special treat and lets each moment of grateful reflection take its own light.
Re-resolution Number 2: Staying Mindful of my Energy Intake and Output
(Part One: Physically) -
One of my biggest projects of 2013 was that oh-so-typical ten-pound weight change, with the apparently atypical spin that I was desperately trying to pack the pounds on. I quickly discovered gaining weight can be as hard as losing it. It took a series of professional referrals up to a very helpful nutritionist and some major math-based reality checks on the way to set me on the weigh (har har) back up. Getting there meant eating about 1,000 surplus calories a day; considering I had apparently been running at a deficit after all my various physical activities, this meant eating about 1,500 - 2,000 more quotidian calories than had been by habit the year prior.
Lessons learned: (1) Walking on a treadmill all day, running, having gym dates with friends, dancing, being a fidgety person who can never sit still, insisting on taking stairs and other things like that, etc. all add up over time to some pretty huge energy demands. (2) Breakfast is highly crucial. If I don't get started on the right culinary foot, I will never catch up by the end of the day. (3) A diet comprised largely of vegetables, nuts, and legumes is a high nutrient diet, to be sure, but it is not a high energy diet. (4) Dairy products and liquid calories are energy powerhouses that don't strain my digestive system.
I still should gain a bit of weight, but it is nice to have gained a sense of what actual "maintenance" looks like. I've managed to work in a lot of little extra tricks - coffee flavored milk throughout the morning (I prefer my coffee black, but luckily, I rather enjoy my milk with a touch of ebon), yogurt at night, wine with dinner, olive oil on the free-flow drizzle tap, a pantry full of grains, potatoes, avocados, seeds and parmesan on my salads, and nuts/dried fruits at hand at all times.
I still eat differently than most people. I eat smaller meals frequently through the day and tend to find the less processing the better. But I feel better prepared for that. On my last trip, I managed to keep myself pretty well fed with the milk, wine, and pursefulls of snacks trick.
When you prefer high-fiber and low caloric density foods, it's easy to feel perfectly full and sated far before you have taken in sufficient energy to compensate for output. The body is an amazingly adaptive little devil. If there isn't food, it will make the necessary internal budget cuts and give up complaining about the lay-offs. So, while I do try to listen to my body, I think maybe the listening requires a bit more active inquiry than waiting for it to pipe up. This year, I'll keep up weighing myself once a week. Trying to trend upwards and adding food appropriately if the trends go down.
Re-Resolution Number 3: Staying Mindful of My Energy Intake and Output (Part Two: Non-Physical):
Last year, my mother in law gave me Quiet for Christmas. Not a hint that I ought to shut my yap, but a book about introversion and related topics. I found myself nodding along so excitedly that I might as well have been moshing. As I've mentioned several times, I'm quite concertedly an introvert. For years, I have gone to lengths to dispel the myths about introversion ("shy") and extroversion ("outgoing"). With the blossom and bloom of "social" networking, introversion has gained in chicness almost as rapidly as a variety of "autistic" behaviors have become more generally mainstreamed through mechanical mediums. It's still pretty much an extrovert's world in the US, but there has been a lot more interest in understanding the spectrum of -versions and what it means to fall at any given point between.
The book also introduced me to the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Naturally, every label is merely an icon for a clustter of familiar attributes, and there is some overlap, but here's how I understand these two labels to apply to me:
Introvert - Those labeled as introverts tend to have more blood flow to their brains, which experts think indicates more internal stimulation. Every input from the outside world sparks a complex inner trip through parts of the brain that include memory, internal thoughts, and feelings. Extroverts have more direct pathways of blood flow to the sensory area, making their reactions quicker and more immediate. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is predominate in introverted experience, which is linked to calm alertness, attention, perceptual learning, and positive feelings when thinking and feeling. Extroverted thinking relies more on dopamine, a reward circuit that in turn requires adrenaline for stimuation. Introverted people tend to be highly sensitive to dopamine and anything that boosts it to levels quite comfortable for an extrovert can lead to flooding for an introvert. Introverts also have an ongoing internal dialogue system that can push any one thought back into long-term memory quite rapidly. They require lower stimulation and more space to retrieve information.
Some associated consequences of the different pathways and neurotransmitters taken in introverted thinking include: (1) having excellent memories, but taking time to access information from that memory (horrible quick recall, especially when put on the spot), (2) needing time to think about things before having an opinion/thought, (3) often needing to detangle their internal dialogue through writing it out, (4) having a highly active parasympathetic nervous system that can make them slow to react in stressful situations and require frequent breaks (5) needing to observe a situation before becoming a part of it.
Basically, and this is where it will bleed over to the HSP, introverts have some much going on in their brains that the additional stimulation of the world around can be pretty overwhelmingly taxing. On the one hand, we are quieter and tend to notice more, code it more thoroughly in our brains, and have more complex reactions to the more we take in. On the other, we can flood. And once that happens, we "go quiet" as I put it when giving my husband the warning. Usually I go straight-out white and can't focus if I've been overstimulated for a long period of time without rest.
Highly Sensitive People - I know less about this, so this will be more summary, but there are some people who are more reactive to stimuli and have a more intensive sensory processing system. For them, sounds are louder, scents are stronger, movements are larger, lights are brighter, and the emotional undertones of a song/motion/tone of voice are all on HD and rebounding through the nervous system. This in turn leads to higher levels of empathy in interpersonal situations and an "intuition" built on semi-conscious reads of environmental subtleties. I tend to notice things, slight flinches or tiny peripheral motions, that others don't. I pick up on moods and aurae of those around me.
I didn't realize until reading more about it, that most people don't. I often overestimate my impact on the outside world because of the world's impact on me (I'm told, for instance, that I speak rather quietly, and this is largely because I speak at about the volume that I'd like to be spoken to). I also assume that people are as observant of small emotional reactions I may project, and may tend to take unconsciously great pains to ensure that I am not betraying inevitable moments of disinterest or distraction, as seeing those in my interlocutor will utterly distract me and - in my grandly introverted sensitive way - will likely cause me to retreat back into my head.
The take-away from both is that I tend to take in the outside world in high-depth zip-files of information, and my brain can go all blue-screen of death when it tries foolheartedly to keep on processing all of it. I don't get much of a kick from high risks paying off. I can live on the adrenaline high of a moment for the right moment, but it takes a pretty heavy toll on me. And when I don't have respite from the external stimuli, my brain gets backlogged, my body goes into a nervous shock, and well... I go quiet (with a little part of me getting more agitated and ever closer to actually someday screaming shut up shut up shut up shut up). This is hard on me, because I am still acutely aware of the appropriate/expected reactions to what others are saying and it pains me to be affectless or unresponsive. I will push myself to continue staying engaged as a matter of course or politeness far past my processing point.
Understanding I function a little differently than others, I've learned to take care of myself and my energy in some of the following ways:
1. When scheduling social times, I often focus them around a specific activity. This allows a certain amount of focus drift (alleviating the intensity of the interaction or allowing the interaction to have a component in which we can both be with each other but with space for our own heads) and usually gives a set period of time.
2. When scheduling social times, I also often set end-times. Whether this be by putting it next to another engagement, or simply coming out and saying I'll be leaving at a certain time with no additional explanation. For me, getting out into the world and connecting is essential, but I value the quality over quantity.
3. When out in high stimuli environments, I use earplugs or headphones. For one, I have pretty acute ears so loud noise hurts, but I am also incapable of not attempting to listen to every conversational snippet I hear, which also leads to Blue-Screen-of-Deathing when several are happening at once. I also try to avoid really busy restaurants and other crowds where applicable.
4. Reminding myself that more-extroverted people think differently and not projecting my internal experience onto them. I remember not to assume that somebody who can't remember every word I say or even hear me is isn't paying attention just because I would remember and hear in a similar context. I remember that I read into other people's tiniest gestures far more than others are capable of imagining, and these tiny flickers are not as glaring or blatant and they can seem. I remember to ignore those first recoiling impressions and talk through it. I've learned that subtle cues are inadequate around most people, and direct expression is required before somebody will understand where I am.
5. I've learned more than my share of conversational stalling tactics when I need more time to access information, make a decision, or get through to that excellent long-term memory. For me, that's more or less the basis of my odd little sense of humor - initially a deflection. I've also come to the habit of asking several questions of my interlocutor, not merely to sate my curiosity but to give myself space as well. Sometimes these are merely about the other person, and sometimes these clarify the question from a mess that my inner dialogue has already stumbled into.
6. I come into work early and leave early. The extra time in the morning by myself lets me be in a concentrated and undistracted environment when I am most ready to do complicated concentrated tasks. Leaving early means I get some recharge time alone at the house.
7. I give people, especially those who aren't similarly minded, a heads up. It's who I am, so they should have an inkling of my needs and expectations coming into things.
8. I "ghost" a lot of the time. When I've had my fill of an event, I just leave. I send thank you notes later. I often let people know in advance that I'll be doing this.
9. I get my sleep no matter what. I have a regular bedtime and I stick to it regardless of the lures of the external world (most of the time).
10. This is a repeat, but I eat frequently. It keeps my blood sugar up and helps me keep up and processing for a good while longer.
11. I drink decaff. No, I do actually have caffeine in the mornings, but a lot less of it. I love coffee. More than about a cup of full coffee will leave me jittery all day. Turns out HSPs are also sensitive to caffeine, so I'm throwing that one in there.
12. I walk and work out, because nothing lets me lull in my own head like being alone on the road or on the machine, just me, my endorphins, and my head. Fully focused on my own breathing and movement.
13. I write. A lot. I'm a super sensitive little dickens apparently, and my introverted brain needs a lot of sorting out of the tangles of the world I've dredged into myself. Writing is my way of processing, massaging, reinventing, and clarifying all those things so that they nicely fit in pretty little tins in the pantry of my mind. It also lets me communicate in a fashion, depth and breadth, I may not often have the energy to do in real-time.
14. I don't feel ashamed or guilty of the steps I take to be comfortable. I accept that I am who I am, and there are times when I push myself full out of my comfort zone, but that each person has his or her own levels and own gifts. If I'm not patient with myself, I'll be wasting what I have to offer to others (like an obscenely categorized and detailed account of their entire life history strung together from chance observations and the occasional conversation)