A chronicle of the meanderings, false starts (which in retrospect, while sort of embarrassing turned out to be highly instructive), epiphanies, selective apathy (still evolving), wild mood swings, opinions (subject to frequent change), and life lessons of an inveterate dabbler (and her latest dabblings).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Favorite Antidepressant

Modish Biz Tips posted an interesting article the other day. The editor, Jena Coray, had received an inquiry from a female reader. The basic question was, “Do you need a supportive relationship to create a successful business?” The article asked for feedback from both single women and women in relationships. There was an onslaught of responses, from both sides of the relationship aisle.

Pros and cons were reported. Women with significant others said they could devote more time to their business/art if they didn’t have a ball and chain relationship to maintain, but that their mate contributed financially, or provided moral support, or helped with business tasks. Some women said their businesses would be further along if they were single, some said they would not have been able to come so far. Some single women said it would be nice to have someone there to bounce ideas off of, or to help with the bills, or just for more regular emotional support. Some women said they were glad they were single, so they could devote all their energy to their art/business.

I was flabbergasted there was absolutely no mention of mental illness. I mean, come on, how many of those women are on psychiatric medication? Like, half. At least a couple of them are posting comments (on their laptops) as inpatients from their semi-private rooms (with wireless Internet access) in between group therapy sessions. (I mean, they’re artists, right?) I had to roll my eyes. “Oh, my boyfriend has an MBA so his help with my business in just invaluable!” GACK. “Oh my husband is my greatest fan and he does all my shipping and billing and he does my taxes every year!” Big whoop. So—did your boyfriend single-handedly keep you out of the Cracker Box Palace? Did he liberate you from a lifetime of the unfortunate gastrointestinal/hepatic side-effects of lithium? Did he nonchalantly put a stop to your compulsive channeling of Sylvia Plath? Mine did. Hell, he’s probably already prolonged my life by about 20 years. And all he had to do was show up and stick around. Too bad it took me 38 years to find him.

Is a supportive relationship necessary for a successful business? I have no idea. My business isn’t successful. I’m not even sure it is a business. It’s more like a mission from God. Would I be doing it if I hadn’t met Tom? Probably not. I’d be curled up on the couch with my colostomy bag reading over my latest liver function tests. Would I be up shit creek, psychologically speaking, without him? Probably. Would I live? Probably. (See, I’ve been thinking and morbidly planning ahead. Tom is about 14 years older than I am, so if the actuarial tables be true (barring any untimely deaths due to illness or injury) I will probably outlive him and spend several of my latter years without him. I’ve already made a little list entitled “What to Do When I’m Really Old”—stuff I will need to do to keep my head out of the oven. I can't find it or I'd put it in here. I really don’t want to rot away in an armchair the last 10 years of my life, watching reruns of Murder She Wrote on TVLand. I don’t have any kids so there won’t be anyone to blackmail into visiting me or driving me to the urologist. (I’ve thought I might want to ingratiate myself with my friends’ children, like start babysitting a lot-—you know, become an honorary Aunt or something—-but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do that. I threw away all my lithium.) If I have money when I’m old I’ll be able to buy all the happiness I need but I don’t feel comfortable counting on that.)

Wow, I really seem to have strayed off topic. What was my topic?

Oh yeah. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Tom has done wonders for my mental health, just by being there, and being himself. Having been really single my whole life, I didn’t know what simple love, affection and constancy could do for my state of mind, or how much comfort sharing a home with someone who is kind and thoughtful could bring me. And what I would be able to do if I were freed from the weight of all that sadness. Do I need a mate to be successful? Well it sure looks like I need Tom. Thanks, babe. I love you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get Your Mermaid On

Are you the Queen of the Merpeople? The baddest babe on the beach? Planning to strut your stuff on a Caribbean vacation? You NEED this pendant. It will complete your regal look. Hurry and snatch it up before it's gone!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Conceits of the Extravert (and the Introvert)

Several years ago I was out having a drink with a friend (we’ll call her Nancy). I don’t remember much of the conversation (it was a long time ago, and I was drinking), but I’ve never forgotten one thing she said to me. She looked at me, cocked her head and said sweetly, “I just think it’s sad that you haven’t done more with your life.” I was about 34 at the time.

I was speechless. What do you say to a comment like that? (Okay, well, “I'm gonna kick yer ass” is a gimme). Unfortunately, such was my sense of self at that time that instead of telling her to stuff it and walking away, I thought, “Gee, maybe she’s right...” And embarked on a[nother] mini-voyage of self-doubt and second-guessing myself.

Ironically enough, at that time I was actually feeling some surprised pride at the hurdles I’d leapt in my life-stuff I was afraid I would never be able to do. In fact, I had accomplished all but one of my life goals–huge things for me that had preoccupied me and weighed on me since I was young. I had gotten out of Montana and lived in a big city on the east coast for four and-a-half years, which had always been a dream of mine (I was convinced I was really a hard-core urbanite—okay, not so much); I traveled the world, which I had always believed was something necessary for me to really be fulfilled (pretty much turned out that way, too, but not for the reasons I thought); I had finally found a sense of home, a place where I felt I belonged (and remarkably enough, it was Montana, which I had been so eager to leave behind before); I had spent years patiently and doggedly unraveling all the weird, confusing, and painful stuff that had gone on in my family, and felt I both understood it and had made my peace with it; I had actually come to truly appreciate who I was, both inside and outside, and didn’t want to be anybody else (that was huge); and I had overcome a long-term, paralyzing fear of men. (My remaining–and number one–life goal was to find a mate. I’d wanted that since I was a little girl). My sense of wonderment over how far I’d come, and how much courage it had taken me to get there, made my friend’s comment all the more dumbfounding, and degrading. To have somebody piss all over that was deeply insulting.

Well, my side-trip into self-doubt was blessedly short (I eventually came to the conclusion, “Fuck that shit.”), and I’ve thought about that exchange a lot over the last couple of years. And other similar exchanges with Nancy. (We are no longer friends). It was pretty tempting to just label her as a kind of life snob, but I think our disconnects were more due to fundamental personality differences.

FROM WIKIPEDIA—“Extraversion and Introversion” (excerpts)

The terms introversion and extraversion were first popularized by Carl Jung … Extraversion is "the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self". Extraverts tend to enjoy human interactions and to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups. Politics, teaching, sales, managing, and brokering are fields that favor extraversion. An extraverted person is likely to enjoy time spent with people and find less reward in time spent alone. They tend to be energized when around other people, and they are more prone to boredom when they are by themselves.

Introversion is "the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life". Introverts tend to be more reserved and less assertive in social situations. They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, drawing, and using computers. The archetypal artist, writer, sculptor, composer, and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though they tend to enjoy interactions with close friends. They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time and like to observe situations before they participate. Introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement. They are more analytical before speaking.

Introversion is not the same as shyness. Introverts choose solitary over social activities by preference, whereas shy people avoid social encounters out of fear.

FROM WIKIPEDIA—“Analytical Psychology”
The attitude type could be thought of as the flow of libido (psychic energy). An introverted person's energy is generally directed inward toward concepts and ideas whereas an extraverted person's energy is generally directed outward towards other people and objects. There are several contrasting characteristics between extraverts and introverts: extraverts desire breadth and are action-oriented, while introverts seek depth and are self-oriented.

So—you guessed it—Nancy is mostly extraverted, and I am mostly introverted (although neither of us is off the chart on either). And from listening to her commentary on my life, and the lives of the people around her, she has little use for the things that are important to introverts. In fact, I had heard her say that people (I’m paraphrasing here) who were predominantly concerned with achieving some sort of personal peace in their lives are cowards. That their self-exploration and “working through their issues”, etc., is nothing more than an excuse to avoid being active out in the world (in the way that she thinks is worthwhile, of course).

While a gross over-simplification, to some extent that is true (more on that below), and self-analysis paralysis is for sure a potential pitfall for the introvert. But I also believe it is true that the extravert’s preoccupation with other people, objects, and things out there in the world can be used as an escape to avoid looking inside themselves. If the introvert is a coward about the world at large, then the extravert is a coward about his inner world. For the extravert, I would suspect the idea of delving into one’s own psyche, exploring one’s own biases, resentments, buried grief or pain, fears, unconscious motivations, etc., is an uncomfortable idea at best, maybe a little baffling, exhausting, and possibly downright terrifying. And probably not very interesting. The extravert sucks at introspection. And that’s fine, unless those buried fears, misconceptions, biases, etc., are causing them to hurt the people around them, or themselves.

To an extent, everybody has an imperfect life, and an imperfect upbringing. We are all raised by imperfect people, some of them with emotional problems, and their own blind spots, wounds, biases, axes to grind, misconceptions, etc. Some people experience more pain in their early lives than others. Many people have trauma, loss, chronic stress and uncertainty, illness, or even abuse early on in their lives. Very few people (if any) are fortunate enough to be free of mental pain. The introvert and the extravert are going to deal with mental pain in different ways as they mature, and the way they manage this pain is going to determine the trajectories of their lives. Even those with nurturing, affirming early lives without a lot of baggage are going to have losses and disappointments to deal with at some point, too, and the introvert and extravert will have different coping mechanisms (each potentially healthy in its own way), which will play out in their lives much differently. (Not to mention very different strengths and interests). I’m not a psychologist (I’m a French major—don’t ask me why), but I am a homo sapiens, I’ve been alive and sentient (mostly) for over 40 years, and I’ve known a lot of people. I consider myself mostly introverted, and have had close relationships with both introverts and extraverts. So take the opinions below for what they’re worth.


Speaking from my own experience, the introvert is acutely aware of mental pain, and if it’s bad it can be damn near incapacitating. (By mental pain, I mean stuff like feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, grief, aloneness/loneliness, meaninglessness, shame, anxiety, despair, fear, dread, self-hatred, sadness and the like). For the introvert, mental pain is an in-your-face kind of thing and impossible to ignore, like violent stomach cramps. Pretty much all of the introvert’s energies and attention is just going to go toward standing up under that pain—trying to keep her head together, get out of bed, go to school, go to work or whatever, when she feels like she’s being eaten alive. Since her orientation is predominantly inward, that pain is always going to be under a microscope, right there under her nose. She’s going to pick at it constantly. Activity is only marginally effective as a distraction--there just isn’t enough energy left over to even pursue activities and the pain is too loud to be drowned out. And activity (unless it’s intellectual activity) isn’t that interesting for the introvert anyway. She prefers working with ideas and concepts, or impressions, feelings and perceptions. The only viable, long-term approach for the introvert suffering mental pain (well, this is the way it was for me, anyway) is to confront the pain head-on, feel what there is to feel, figure out what the hell it means, and try to uproot it, or at least disarm it. This can look like unproductive navel gazing to the extravert (and sometimes results in great art!), but the introvert is, in fact, attempting to save her own life. For the introvert, to understand the source of the pain is to conquer it, defang it. Trying to ignore it would only push it underground and force it out somewhere else in a different, perhaps more malignant form. And since the introvert is comfortable with her inner world, feels safe and at home there, is fascinated by all that goes on there, and is often analytically or creatively gifted, it’s going to be automatic for her to take this “navel gazing” approach to overcoming mental pain.

This is often a journey of years, if the early trauma was profound, especially confusing, or prolonged. The introvert might limp along for quite a while, treading water so to speak, before she finds the key to begin healing herself. Pervasive mental pain often starts at a very young age, and the introvert may not develop the insight to really work through it until she is an adult. Battling one’s inner demons is very demanding work, and takes a lot of time and privacy—thinking, writing (or painting or singing or whatever), weeping, ranting and raving, more thinking, more weeping, more writing. And even though it’s consuming, for the introvert it’s highly cathartic and definitely preferable to continued pain, and each insight brings a new burst of energy. Eventually the introvert comes through it on the other side in much better shape. But when the introvert is in the middle of figuring it all out, putting aside that task, and diverting energy to socializing, business ventures, or career development or something like that is extremely difficult, especially since those are often draining activities anyway for the introvert, even under the best of circumstances. There’s just not enough room, time or energy in her life for “conquering the world,” “making her mark,” or “networking.” She reduces the energy demands on her for life support, so to speak, to a minimum, so she can devote the bulk of her emotional resources to getting out from under the mental pain. If she’s reasonably functional, she’ll have a job and be supporting herself, but she will deliberately choose something fairly undemanding for her. “Career” is not a priority at this point—that would be putting the cart before the horse (hell, the horse is FUCKED UP, not going to be pulling anything anytime soon.) She won't have a large collection of friends-she'll have a few, deep relationships-and she might find it very difficult to begin or maintain romantic relationships. She may find her mate later in life than the extravert. On top of this, the introvert isn’t really drawn to the world of things and activities and people anyway, so professional domination, broad social contacts, public acclaim, acquiring wealth or possessions, producing consumable items, etc., does not really appeal to her. In fact, that kind of stuff is a real slog, a bore, and an energy drain. Yeah, she avoids it, you bet. What really energizes her and “scratches her itch,” so to speak, is applying her intellect to complex, probably abstract analytical problems, applying her intellect, empathy and intuition to unraveling psychological mysteries, applying her sensibilities and experience to creating a piece of art that means something to her, etc. You get the idea.

Even the relatively undamaged introvert is probably going to take his time launching himself in the world too. He doesn’t need activity for its own sake, and doesn’t really care about public recognition or pleasing other people, so is perfectly happy just exploring the things he’s curious about as the mood strikes him. (And sometimes that results in great art! Or great science.) And he’s going to do some reconnaissance first before he commits himself to some career or life cause—he’s going to hang back until he's sure of what he wants and is capable of, and he’s going to know what he’s getting into before he commits himself. Not in a hurry. And if he does dive into the world of business, or promoting, or “networking” or something more typically extraverted, it will be because he has to, in order to pursue some creative or intellectual vision—not because he likes that kind of stuff or is good at it.

So in terms of economic/commercial productivity, social involvement, public recognition, breadth of impact on humanity, cultural prestige, wealth accumulation, etc., the average introvert (i.e., not a prodigy in anything) is often going to trail behind the extravert. Introverts who have waded through a lot of mental pain are going to be especially “behind” in those areas. They will have spent their early lives simply frying other fish. However, by the time they are close enough to being whole to find their public place in the world, they will seriously have their personal shit together (even if they are starting at square one learning how to run a business or climb a professional ladder). Once free of the energy drain of mental pain, many introverts land on the scene with an unusual degree of wisdom and self-knowledge for their age, the compassion, tolerance and empathy that comes with suffering, insight into the inner workings of other people (because they had so much practice dissecting their own psyches!), an above-average degree of objectivity about their own passions, and a strong habit of thinking clearly and deeply about whatever situation they are in. And of course these are not traits that are generally valued in American/western society. They are not action-oriented, they are often not even visible, they don’t usually produce much income, if any, and they tend to slow the pace of action. Not impressive to most American eyes, although if polled, I imagine most people would say that someone just like this saved their bacon more than once, either through insightful personal advice, a cool head, or an empathetic ear. And of course, many lives have been touched through the achievements of introverts—scientific discoveries, technology, art, music, literature, philosophy, spirituality, psychology, etc.

And of course there are introverts who decline to ever take up a public place in the world, and become more and more isolated emotionally and socially, either because they simply don’t care to, or because they are just too broken to be able to function in a public context, or because, yes, they are, in fact, cowards. That’s a constant temptation for the introvert—to stay where he’s comfortable, inside his own musings and preoccupations, when in fact, it may be time for him to step out and stretch himself in the world. Pushing comfort boundaries and trying things outside his accustomed skill set can be very enriching for the introvert, when the time is right, and many introverts have priceless insights and talents to offer the world.

(SIDE NOTE: In fact, Carl Jung had an interesting idea about the evolution of the individual personality over time—he called it “enantiodromia”. Goes like this:

FROM WIKIPEDIA: “Enantiodromia”
Jung used [this] term particularly to refer to the unconscious acting against the wishes of the conscious mind. (Aspects of the Masculine, chapter 7, paragraph 294).

Enantiodromia. Literally, “running counter to,” referring to the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control. ("Definitions,” ibid., par. 709).

In other words, it’s not uncommon for people to flip-flop later in life and head in the other direction on the introversion-extraversion continuum. (I’ve actually done this quite a few times already—not sure that’s normal... Right now I’m in my “ambivert” phase.))


Even though I’ve tested middle of the road on personality tests, I don’t really feel like I can speak from internal experience about extraverts. I have known quite a few, intimately, however. And from going through emotional crises with them, it seems they are much less aware than the introvert of how they are feeling at any given moment, find it more challenging to identify or describe what precisely they are feeling, and may be unaware of the real trigger for what they are feeling (in fact, if you’re an extravert reading this you might be thinking, “What is she talking about?”). It might be obvious to observers that the extravert is in the grips of a powerful emotion that seems out of proportion to the given situation, but if he is queried about why he is so angry/sad/etc., he will probably not be able to point to anything but the situation at hand. He may be surprised to hear that the intensity of his emotions seems excessive for the situation, and may be skeptical of the idea that perhaps what he’s feeling is really stemming from something else altogether. If he hasn’t expressed a given sentiment in conscious verbal thought, it will be virtually invisible to him, even though it may be plain to everyone around him what he really feels about something.

While the introvert suffering mental pain will withdraw, and curtail his activities and relationships, the extravert suffering mental pain will probably step up his socializing and other activities, to keep his discomfort at a manageable level and maintain his energy. A damaged extravert, like a damaged introvert, may be plagued by all manner of intensely painful feelings—self-doubt, grief, anger, anxiety, hopelessness—but the extravert will seek relief in the external world, rather than isolating himself. Those feelings may manifest themselves for him as restlessness, agitation, feelings of emptiness, or irritability. He will distract himself from this discomfort (fairly successfully) with other people, activities, objects, facts about concrete things—the things that naturally engage and energize him. This is his locus of being, where he feels at home, competent and in control. The damaged extravert’s “acting out” can be destructive/self-destructive, aggressive, dangerous or whatever, or he may be an uber-achiever. He may be a veritable whirlwind of activity—social activity, sports, family, volunteering, business ventures, hobbies, etc. The more pain, the more activity. Since he is gifted in navigating the external world, tends to have more natural self-confidence than the introvert, and has a great capacity for social activity, he may achieve very impressive goals at a young age in things like athletics, business, philanthropy, entertainment, politics, etc. If he is talented, he may achieve fame and fortune at a very young age, or he may have a very broad, concrete impact on people through philanthropic activities. These are things that are generally valued in western society—economic productivity, gregariousness, a can-do attitude, breadth of impact—and have led to revolutionary improvements in human beings’ quality of life over the millennia.

The extravert may also burn himself out at a very young age with alcohol or drugs, thrill-seeking, or risk-taking. As is his tendency, he may throw himself into new ventures without a great deal of forethought, and he may find himself in dire straits when things fall apart. This temptation to look without leaping may be especially strong if he is running from mental pain—he needs new activities to manage the restlessness, or emptiness or loneliness that drives him. If his achievement is driven by buried pain, grief, dread or whatever, it’s going to be very hard for him to slow down—nothing will ever be enough. He won’t realize he is overcompensating for buried feelings of self-hatred, or that all his frantic activity is an attempt to fend off a sense of emptiness in his life, or that his accumulated wealth is a pale substitute for love.

Even the relatively undamaged extravert is going to get a jump on the average introvert in the areas of economic productivity or mass impact, simply because he is more drawn to the concrete world, has more innate understanding of “how to get things done,” and can handle a lot more social interaction than an introvert can. He is going to have broad connections that will help him excel in business or his chosen field that the introvert will not have. His energy will be fed by such activities. And he will be much more comfortable jumping into something quickly, without feeling like he needs to know the lay of the land first—he can figure it out as he goes. On the flip side, his weakness in “plumbing his own depths” might get him stuck in something that doesn’t really suit him, or he may end up having several false starts because of a lack of forethought, or because he didn’t really know what he wanted. He may struggle with emotionally complex relationships (although many people will find him refreshingly “uncomplicated”).

The damaged extravert may be able to churn along for a long time before his buried grief and pain catches up with him. He may arrive at midlife with an impressive empire to show for himself (or at least a large and varied collection of experiences), and may know hundreds of people, but he may be emotionally immature. He may be in poor health because of overwork, stress, or overindulgence in food or drink. He may have failed at relationships because of his compulsive activity, or because of avoidance of difficult emotional issues. At this point, his usual pain management approach may no longer be workable—perhaps he has started having panic attacks, or has had heart attacks, or he has substance abuse issues—and he may have to look inside himself for relief instead. Because he has limited access to his inner world, and difficulty accurately identifying what he is feeling, he’s probably going to need the help of a good therapist. He will probably never explore his own core as thoroughly as an introvert, which probably isn’t really necessary, but he may uncover enough personal/family history to draw off some of the misdirected energy that was feeding his compulsive activity. When the grief, or anxiety, or anger or whatever is vented through its true channel, it doesn’t have to get vented through compulsive activity, and the extravert will have more control over whether or not to pursue a given activity. He won’t need to do it anymore to the same degree—he’ll do it more from enjoyment.

The introvert may judge a life lived this way as lacking “real” meaning (since the introvert is partial to ideas, concepts and feelings), or as just a lot of pointless activity. He may even judge such an extravert as materialistic, shallow, or cowardly (for refusing to deal with his “issues”). (This is, of course, incredibly egocentric and narrow, but in terms of insight and emotional maturity, the extravert—especially the damaged extravert—will probably trail behind the introvert.) But with all his activity, the extravert was, in fact, attempting to save his own life. He managed his mental pain through occupying himself with the things he enjoyed, and fed his soul with the things that gave him energy and made him want to get out of bed in the morning. And when the time was right, when he was able, he started his inner voyage. And maybe, later in his life, he is able to rebuild relationships, or start new ones, on a deeper, healthier level. And of course he may have amassed quite a bit of financial or know-how resources with which he can take care of his own, help other people achieve their goals (like introverts who are trying to find their way in the world!), or improve some practical aspect of daily human existence.

Of course some damaged extraverts never do this. They keep running until they burn out completely (and like, die), or acting out until they alienate everyone they care for, and they never develop any real insight into themselves or other people. Those personal demons are just more than they can stand to look at, or they simply choose not to. Some may just be cowards.

That said, most people are probably a mixture of intro- and extraversion. And most people have probably had reasonably benign upbringings, have a serviceable degree of emotional wisdom and self-knowledge, and can appreciate people who are different from them. My musings in this post were more spurred by dealing with people who were a little more rigid in their personalities than the average person.


Extraverts and introverts can both become a little religious about their personality types, and get to thinking that their personal proclivities are some sort of standard for all of humanity, and that if they’re not personally interested in something it has no value, period. The militant introvert may label all extraverts as shallow, immature and grasping; the militant extravert may label all introverts as self-indulgent, cowardly, and lazy. Occasionally they will be right, but as a generalization it is ridiculous and tragic. A world composed purely of introverts would likely starve to death, and a world composed purely of extraverts would likely blow itself up. We need each other.

I had no problem with my friend Nancy being who she was—in fact, I found her fascinating and always looked forward to hearing about what new project she was working on. I admired her chutzpah. I even learned some things from her, and have tried to adopt a little of her audacity when I'm trying something that scares me. I wouldn’t have ever wished that she stop pursuing the things that really energize her. Personal fulfillment is a great treasure, and if you’ve found the way to achieve that for yourself, for heaven’s sake keep doing it. And while I always knew that she admired some of my traits, she didn't seem to be able to acknowledge the legitimacy of my life choices or my authority over my own life, and that was the kicker for me. She couldn’t distinguish personality from morality. In retrospect, I wonder if on some level she was afraid that acknowledging the value of my life accomplishments would necessarily require her to deny the value of her own accomplishments, which would be an unfortunate misconception to labor under. Hard to say.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Quitter and Proud of It

You know, I think I really prefer the term “Renaissance Woman” to “dilettante.” I was going to name my blog that, but “http://cerebralrenaissancewoman.blogpspot.com” wouldn’t fit on my business cards. And now that I think about it I guess it’s redundant. Because supposedly a Renaissance person (I think I’m offended that the idiom is only used in the masculine) is defined by broad intellectual interests and accomplishments in the arts and sciences.

Well, actually, now that I think about it some more I guess the science part doesn’t really apply to me very much. Or … at all. I used to read Discover magazine but there just got to be too many math articles and all the astronomy stuff was just a bunch of made up math anyway. (You know, “The universe is made of STRINGS because 4/5+p9%[i]*(84756)=7x1,000,000,000,000”. Strings. Really. Can I have a hit of that?). I hit the wall with calculus, so stuff like astrophysics, and regular physics, and probably chemistry I suppose, and cryptography and computer science and I guess maybe all the engineering fields and some other stuff like statistics and economics is … outside the range of my mental abilities. And I guess it might be a little … well, kind of inaccurate maybe to say that I’m “accomplished” in the arts. I have a broad familiarity with the arts. Like, I’m aware of them. And I’ve tried some of them. A little.

I’ve tried a lot things actually, of the mainly non-physically-dangerous variety. (Wait, I take that back—I have done some dangerous things, but not usually on purpose). I’m just a really curious person and I love to learn things. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be useful for me to love learning it. It’s just plain fun to know it. Makes me special. Most of the things I’ve learned I’ve since forgotten, because it was a long time ago. And it was useless. So I never used it. And that makes it harder to remember.

I’ve tried a lot of things too that I just wasn’t good at. For some reason I was thinking that I was good at it, secretly good at it. Really secretly. I just hadn’t developed my skill yet. Or there was some mental block, or phobia or neurosis or something that was preventing me from really blossoming as a singer/songwriter/painter/novelist/handwriting analyst/upholsterer and I just had to overcome my childhood so I could find my true calling.

Some things I just really hated doing. So when I hit a big wall (like lack of talent or feelings of dread), I quit.

Quitting is a vital life skill. It irritates me that the term “quitter” has such negative connotations. It’s really just a taunt, a variant on “chicken”, or “wimp”, and just as meaningless. Perseverance is grossly overrated—sounds an awful lot like “perversity”. Or sort of like. Bunch of the same letters. Or let’s just say there is appropriate perseverance, and inappropriate perseverance. And people who have got the whammy put on them about the whole silly “quitter” stigma have suppressed their natural ability to know which is which. To know when to quit. I bet you know what I mean, dear reader. How many of you have nearly killed yourselves persisting in something that really sucked out loud? Like a bad job or a bad relationship, because you didn’t want to be a “quitter”? Or maybe you kept plugging away at something that was just a bad fit, because by golly you were going to MAKE it fit because that’s what talented/successful/worthwhile/Hispanic people do. Or maybe it was someone else’s dream for you, and not yours. And looking back don’t you wish you had got the hell out of there sooner? And maybe you would have, if quitters were given their due in our society. Kenny Rogers knows all about this.

Let me tell you about all the stuff I’ve quit and how glad I am that I did.

When I was little I’d spend a few weeks every summer with my grandparents. One summer my grandmother and I (this was her idea—she might have had a few beers) figured it would be good if we could write with our feet. Because you never know. Grain threshers and all that. So we worked on that for quite a while. Or at least it seemed like quite a while. Eventually had to give that up. Never quite got the hang of it.

Later when I was in high school I got to thinking about captivity or being lost at sea (I didn’t live near the ocean but you never know where life will take you, right?) and thought, wouldn’t it be handy—and oh so cool, what a totally esoteric thing to know, people would remember me (“Dude! Remember that girl …?”)—if I knew Morse code or the International Code of Symbol Flags? If I knew Morse code I could tap out messages on the cell wall to my fellow captives and hatch an escape plan. Or if I was lost at sea and the radio didn’t work, or I couldn’t figure out how to work it (guess I should have been learning about Ham radios too, didn’t think of that—is it Ham radios on ships? Or just regular radios? What is a Ham radio?) and there was a complete set of symbol flags somewhere I could find them, I could lug them up to the poop deck or the mainmast or wherever and wave out an SOS at passing ships. Hell of a lot better than using a stupid little mirror and the sun because what if it’s cloudy? I did flashcards for myself—drew all the little flags on there and all the little dots. I actually had the flags memorized, the whole alphabet (hopefully I’d never have to spell out “acute appendicitis”), but I didn’t get as far with the Morse code. Just wasn’t as interesting (the flags were so pretty), although it probably would have been more useful. Kind of dropped the ball on that. After a while, living inland sort of undermined my interest in the flags so I kind of let that go. And I figured if I got taken captive somewhere I’d just wing it. It was fun while it lasted, and fantasizing about how I would save the day was very entertaining. But it was probably better for me in the long run that I did my homework instead. It pays to know when to quit.

At other times I’ve been determined to become masterful in other stuff, until my lack of real talent or utter lack of patience or the fact that I really hated doing it led me to believe I needed to move on. I’ve taken drawing classes (didn’t do half bad sometimes--as long as what I was drawing wasn't alive--but if I wasn’t willing to hang it on my own wall I just couldn’t maintain my enthusiasm), acrylic painting classes, oil painting classes (what does it mean if you can’t think of anything to paint when the teacher tells you to do an abstract?), upholstering classes (what was I thinking), photography classes, editing classes (don’t ask), Spanish classes, Latin American (never been there) history classes, etc.

I’ve also been obsessed with other things without taking classes. Several years ago I was determined to be a songwriter. Wrote a bunch of “song lyrics” and decided that it was absolutely crucial that I write the music to go with them and learn how to play the guitar so I could perform them. Bought a guitar (oh, guitar lessons, forgot about that one) and a keyboard and a bunch of “learn to play guitar/keyboard” books. Couldn’t ever quite play more than one guitar chord at a time—I needed about three or four seconds to get in position for the next chord so it wasn’t looking good. Many an evening I sat and stared at the keyboard. Where to start? (Hmm, how about this white one here? Sounds good). A songwriter friend asked me if I had any melodies or anything in my head or ideas about arrangements for how the songs would go. Um. No. Is that important? I tell you, I flogged that pipe dream for a long time. Figured if I could write such amazing lyrics (uh-huh) then I just HAD to have the ability buried in me, somewhere, really, really deep, to write the music to go with them. And then play the music. Figured it was my “issues” that were keeping me from discovering this deeply, deeply, deeply hidden talent. God, what a relief when I finally gave myself permission to not be a musician. The guitar looks cool on the wall now. ("Oh, do you play?" Me: "No.")

For several years I spent hours every day reading novels in foreign languages and acquiring new vocabulary (I was a language major in college, but this was after). Flashcards again. I really did plug away at that for a long time. I loved it. French, Spanish and German. I was even ready to learn Italian when I met a guy and got distracted. I had no immediate plans to go to any of those places but it wasn’t about that. I just loved the feel of those words coming out of my mouth (I have a gift for it, sound like a slow-witted native) and being able to read a novel in a foreign language without a dictionary. (So cosmopolitan). It was a great time-waster and I had a lot of time on my hands so it was perfect. But now that I have more important stuff to do (like hang with my baby and make stunning jewelry that you want to buy) I’m not so interested anymore. I quit in favor of doing something better.

Also bought an economics textbook because I wanted to understand that (should have bought the Dummies one); bought a Latin textbook but never used it (can’t remember now what that was about); knitted for about 15 minutes in high school once; made homemade paper with a blender, a screen and the oven once (sort of looked like vomit and you couldn’t really write on it); was a missionary, briefly; I was determined to learn how to swim better so I practiced side breathing in the bathtub but I hate water and being wet so I didn't get very far with that; decided a few years ago that I was going to make lamps out of papier mache so I bought some books on it but then I thought it would maybe be a fire hazard and I didn't want the liability exposure; ran myself ragged one summer practicing my ground strokes with a borrowed ball machine but I didn’t really have anyone to play with so it was kind of anticlimactic; then I was going to go back to school and become a psychologist but when I read the GRE study guides I realized I couldn’t remember how to do algebra, trigonometry, geometry or chemistry and that crazy people scare the piss out of me; etc. And there was stuff I contemplated learning (like haircutting and a Scottish accent) but I discovered you could do those things without knowing how.

Now I design and make jewelry. I really like it, I look forward to doing it, the stream of ideas is pretty much constant, and I'm proud of my art. Maybe someday I'll get bored with it and move on to something else, but for the moment I've really found something that satisfies my creative urge. And I don't have to draw anything.

Trying stuff is like tasting new foods. Some you like, some you don’t, some don’t agree with you, and some are just too much damn work. Like doilies. Give it a shot and if it doesn’t turn your crank, do something else. A few different things have to come together for it to make sense to stick with something—are you good enough at it to enjoy doing it? How fun is it? Is there enough meaning in it to keep you interested? Do you have enough time/freedom to pursue it hard enough to make it worthwhile? How much do you care about it? How bored are you? You can’t do everything all the time, you have to settle on some things—otherwise you kind of just end up spinning your wheels, like a Labrador with 10 tennis balls. Some of those things might be pretty lofty goals, and you’ll know which ones you really really care about and when it’s time to pursue them. There’s a time to push through obstacles, and there’s a time to let something go—it actually takes a fair amount of mental health to know when to do which. And mental health is something to be proud of.

It’s okay to quit. It’s part of knowing yourself, testing yourself, finding your direction, finding your “bliss”. And closing one door allows you to walk through another.

Quitters rock.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Dune Queen

I've always been drawn to the desert. I loved the barren, arid expanses of southern California, soaked up the searing heat in Egypt like a lizard, and wanted to wander off into the hills in Tucson and never come back. The design for this necklace has been on my mind for several months--sand, sun, heat and golden treasures. I was finally able to bring it to life last week. For more details on this item click here.

I just know I was a queen of some desert kingdom in a former life--I feel so at home in desert climates. Or an empress. At least a princess. Definitely not, like, a beggar or a prostitute or a peasant or something like that. Well, maybe a consort or a concubine. To an emperor. The top concubine. But not some street walker.

The sun is out today here in northwest Montana, for a change, and I can feel summer just over the horizon. Soon we'll be splashing happily in the numbingly frigid waters of Flathead Lake, basking in the long month of summer. Can't wait.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On Finding Home

Ever feel like you just didn’t belong somewhere? Like your real self, your real life, was out there somewhere waiting for you, and as soon as you could find it you could really live? Really blossom and grow into yourself? Or that there was a place out there somewhere, full of people who would understand you and cherish you—the real you? A place where it would be easy for you to shine, find people to love, forge a place in a community?

I used to dream of this when I was younger, in my teens and my twenties. I wanted it so bad it hurt. I felt so stifled where I was, so alien. It seemed so cold and unwelcoming, and it seemed like you had to punch through brick walls just to connect with someone. I was kind of shy about initiating friendships, and wished I could live in a culture where people were more exuberant, where people reached out to each other (and they would just come to you because you’re so intriguing and invite you to their house on the Riviera), where people were tolerant of others’ eccentricities and even found them intriguing (like carnies, maybe).

I was living in northwest Montana at the time, and thoroughly hated it. I felt like I was living in a tiny black box—well, maybe more of a tiny gray box. I had never really lived anywhere else as an adult (lived in Bozeman during college but it wasn’t that different), and had only traveled a little. I felt like I had never stretched myself, wasn’t even really sure what I liked, or what I was capable of (although I suspected it was probably “more”). I had never really seen much of the world. I felt trapped and oppressed and like I had no options. And I didn’t like myself. I felt boring, and freakish (kind of an unusual combination…)

High school was an exceptionally difficult time for me. My family was quickly devolving into chaos, with my father’s drinking spiraling out of control. I never knew exactly what to expect at home at the end of the day, but I could bet it was going to be hellish and humiliating. My father would be roaring drunk, make some embarrassing and inappropriate remarks (but thanks to his practical wisdom I now have a surefire way to monitor my boob sag), and my mother would be understandably mad as a hornet. And then he would sleepwalk in the middle of the night and try to pee in my closet. What kind of a freak lived in a home like that? It seemed like my very origins had marked me as abnormal. (Oh, and then there were the two skinny rat bastards who followed me around at school for two years, informing me publicly at every opportunity that I was fat and ugly. Or ugly and fat (they weren’t very creative). And the guy behind me in math class with the flaky eyelids who would draw pictures of ugly creatures and pass them to me with the explanation that he had just done a quick portrait of me. How nice. I hope he is now bald and as fat as Jared in a town with no Subway. And plagued by yeast infections between his skin rolls. Who, but a freak, would engender this kind of unprovoked hostility?)

In part I was right about needing to get out of Montana. My options were in fact limited there, and there wasn’t really anything there that interested me at the time. I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy, and I wasn’t intent on raising a family (in fact, being someone’s mother was and is on my top five list of “Things to Avoid at All Costs”). That doesn’t leave anything else in Whitefish. I really was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But heck—where to go? The idea of just packing up and going off to some city (I really wanted to be High-Powered Urban Girl) scared the crap out of me. What the hell would I do when I got there? I wasn’t really the ballsy type. More like cautious and analytical. And deeply depressed.

My long journey out of this rut began with a conversation with my friend Ada. I had been living with her off and on, between housesitting gigs. She’s a therapist, and a damn good one (and a great friend). We were talking one day, and she asked me if I thought I might be depressed. Hmm, I didn’t think so. I wasn’t, like, crying all the time or anything, and I never missed a day of work. She gave me a little cheat sheet on the classic signs of clinical depression. Huh, look at that…I’ve got every one of these except the suicide thing. (Although I did think things might be easier if I was dead.) Headaches, neck pain, back pain, body aches, constant anxiety, irritability, indecisiveness, difficulty concentrating, oversleeping, no appetite, zero interest in the stuff I normally liked to do, extreme fatigue … I had never associated those kinds of things with depression, but there you go. She suggested medication, which I was really resistant to. I was petrified by the idea of taking a drug that would affect my MIND. If my mind got fucked up I was screwed. What if I had a bad reaction to it and it STUCK that way? The only thing I had was my mind and I was reasonably sane, even if I was miserable. Well, eventually I felt lousy enough to risk it, and with Ada’s assurances, I went ahead and gave it a try. Eventually settled on Prozac (tried Zoloft first and had the worst 24 hours of my life). Oh. My. God. Even now, some 14 years later, thinking about it, my throat aches and I want to weep. I wish to God I had done that sooner (and if you’re struggling with depression, don’t write it off). I know it’s not supposed to work this fast, but within a half hour (swear to God) of taking that little green and white pill my big black cloud lifted and my little box opened up. The top came right off that little gray box, and I thought, my God, I’ve got the whole world before me, my whole life before me. I can do whatever I want. It completely changed my experience of being alive. Just like that. The doom and the dread and the shame disappeared. All that was just … gone. I actually felt happy, and free, and I could step out of myself for the first time in a long time, like since childhood. The air smelled fresh again, food tasted good again, I could feel the sunshine again, people were safe again, music was beautiful again … I never thought I would be able to feel that way. And I even felt a little bit of … secret liking for myself.

I was working with some really lovely people at the time at Heather’s Candles in Whitefish (I had just made my daring escape from an evangelical pseudo-cult so it was a real haven for me)—Heather, Natalie, Karen, Heather’s daughter Kelly, Rocky, Ryan, and other various people who came and went. With my newfound mental health I was finally able to interact with them. Rocky was a great friend and we spent lots of time talking, and he didn’t seem to notice that I was a freak. So my freak-identity sort of faded. And Ryan, a very grown-up 16-year-old boy who worked magic with the gardens there, was as kind as could be to me, complimentary even, and also seemed oblivious to the freak thing. And that was a jaw-dropper—a teenage boy who is NICE to me? Whoa, parallel universe where I am COOL! And teenage boys are KIND! Well that really stood my self-loathing (and my fear of teenage boys) on its head. I got so used to being with people who seemed to like me, who were apparently under the impression that I was completely normal that I began to take it for granted that I was in fact likeable and normal (and was able to be more convincingly normal-appearing with yet more people). And the more of this positive feedback I got, the more confident I was interacting with other people, which in turn led to more positive feedback, etc. And I even started flirting. UNHEARD of. But I honestly don’t think any of that would have been possible at that time without medication. I wouldn’t have been able to see or believe that they liked me, I wouldn’t have been able to interact with them or build friendships with them, and I probably would not have even been approachable.

I only ended up taking the Prozac for about a year. I just started feeling a little too happy, kind of wound up (I think it was actually causing a little bit of hypomania—I think I probably have a touch of cyclothymia, which is a mild form of bipolar personality disorder). So I stopped taking it and did just fine. Never had any rebound or anything. What I feel it did for me was remove the unreasonable feelings of doom and dread (which I believe were products of a serotonin deficiency), and give me a receptive, or at least blank slate, to reinterpret myself and the world around me in a positive way. It was like a veil was lifted, and I could see myself and the world as it was, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t pretty good. Even after I discontinued Prozac, I was able to take this new image of myself, and other people and the world in general with me, along with all the positive reinforcement I had received, to the next phase of my life. My mind STUCK that way, and it was good!!! In short, the right medication can buy you some breathing room to discard painful or destructive beliefs and acquire new, healthier ones.

So I was primed, primed for a major life change. My friend Ada invited me to come to Washington, DC with her to visit her husband. I had a great time, and met some great people. And I thought, I could live here. And then a job came open at the organization where Ada’s husband worked, and with my newfound self-confidence I talked him into hiring me for it. And off I went. (Turns out I can pack up and move to an unfamiliar place—I just need to visit there first, meet a couple people, and nail down a job. Then I am comfortable going. I actually love change.)

The job was at a private, international humanitarian aid organization called World Vision. Kind of like Care, Save the Children, etc. I eventually stumbled into a position (I mean that, I’m not being modest) that required me to travel a lot, and I ended up making numerous trips to southern Africa. Got to see some countries in between too, and with my frequent flier miles I got to vacation in some pretty exotic places (Egypt was my favorite). It was a dream come true—I had always wanted to travel the world. I had wanted to put myself in unfamiliar situations, unfamiliar cultures, and try my hand at navigating through that. I’m pretty good at communicating cross-culturally, putting myself in other people’s shoes, and adapting to new environments. And apparently pretty good at bullshit (I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing but by golly I had read a lot and acquired some pretty handy lingo—lingo covers a multitude of ignorance). I never really experienced “culture shock.” After a few days I would start feeling pretty at home where I was and it would start to feel like I had always been there. After a month I would nearly forget what it was like to be back at home. But I didn’t really want to stay there. If I had been forced to, it would have turned out fine, but that wasn’t my preference. The uncertainty and sometimes outright chaos of the third world really wore on me after a while. (As well as the eye-searing body odor—I’m going to start a charity that raises money to send Right Guard to Zimbabwe. Well, on second thought, maybe I’ll wait on that ‘til they get piped water).

The first few trips I took, I was surprised at how choked up I felt when I got back home. I remember landing at Dulles or wherever and having this visceral reaction, wanting to kiss the pavement. It wasn’t like it had been a bad trip, I was just apparently really attached to my own country and culture. Who knew? And when I got back home, I had learned some stuff, sure, but I was essentially the same person. It didn’t magically transform me into Work-the-Room Fearless High-Powered Urban Girl. I was still Mysteriously Sexy Low-Key Analytical Wall Flower Semi-Rural Girl. I still had to find meaning in my life (huh...). Being in an exotic place didn’t automatically do that for me. What it did for me was make me realize that I liked living in my home country, and that there was not, in fact, a Work-the-Room Fearless High-Powered Urban Girl lurking under my neuroses. And that my “neuroses” were actually just my natural personality traits—I finally came to terms with being an introvert, mostly, and learning to appreciate all that comes with that. This was amazingly freeing. No more yearning for that as-yet-unidentified perfect place where all my dreams would come true, or I would become a different person. I could be happy right where I was, with who I was (“And you were there, and you were there, and you too! Oh, Auntie Em! ...”).

This was the first major step in my “homecoming.” And once I had accepted that I wasn’t “abnormal,” or hopelessly neurotic—just had a mostly introverted personality type—I was able to admit that I didn’t really like the city. It was overstimulating: the range of choices of stuff to do was overwhelming, I couldn’t keep up with the pace (I just kind of watched everyone else run around), and there were just too many people for me to navigate comfortably. I needed a quieter, slower, simpler environment. When I was back in Whitefish on vacation one year, it dawned on me, this would be just the ticket. So I saved up my money and came back. And apart from the weather I’ve never regretted it. (Going to have to move one day though when I reach the Hip Fracture (a/k/a “Golden”) Years).

Ever since then, contentment has come pretty easy. My mind lives where my body lives. I’m convinced now that I’m essentially normal and not particularly scary, and my family and my carny friends have led me to believe that I’m reasonably likeable. I don’t want to be anybody else anymore. I like my quirks and my abilities and sensibilities—they’re the flip side of my limitations. Before I learned to embrace all these smarmy psychological truisms, I felt like an alien hiding among the populace who didn’t really belong here (“here” being the Earth). But now I’m confident that DNA studies would confirm me as genuine homo sapiens—Earth is my home and I belong here.