Thinking of Baltimore [+ link to a great piece you should read.]

You can read my ramblings below, or not, I don’t care. They don’t amount to much. But do please read this: Nonviolence as Compliance , a well-argued and much needed piece, written by someone much closer to Baltimore than this ex-Maryland girl.

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It really wasn’t that long ago that not many people outside of Maryland had any kind of opinion or knowledge of the city of Baltimore itself, much less its long legacy of racial tension (something common to most major cities in the U.S., sadly, but also something that has its own unique dimensions and flavor depending on where you go).

Then “The Wire” happened, and now some people have a vague awareness of Baltimore, that place from the TV show where a majority of residents are black and poor, a sad, gritty little port city soaked in corruption and drugs.

Of course, this isn’t all Baltimore is–of course, it’s more complex than that. But what the show portrayed isn’t untrue either.

It is true that a lot of the city is pretty rough, that middle-class-and-up white people mostly go to only a few areas, and even then mostly for work or entertainment. Because if you have the means, you live in the suburbs, for better schools and safer neighborhoods. John’s Hopkins, a goddamn world class university, is a rather disturbing little enclave of shining wealth–when I took a tour there as a potential applicant, the front gates of campus faced buildings that were quite literally falling apart. Even long time residents of the city often aspire to move out of it, when they have a little more money–at the very least, out to the nearest surrounding areas, the rest of Baltimore county. (This is what characters on “The Wire” frequently spoke of as moving to “the county”.)

But even though I grew up so close to Baltimore–you could literally see the lights of the city across the bay from my Grandparents’ backyard–as a middle class white kid in the suburbs, it wasn’t really my city, not really a place I knew. When Baltimore comes up in conversation, again, usually because of The Wire, I explain it to people this way: you know all that stuff you see on that show? That was my local news growing up. It was right fucking there, but it was also background noise.

The dark side of the city touched my life so lightly, just around the edges. A few times after a heavy storm, we found a needle or two washed up on the beach in our backyard. When I applied to a few selective private high schools in the city my father insisted on teaching me self defense techniques, just because I would be in the city every day (I didn’t end up going, but that’s a different story). When I had an internship in the city one summer in college, my parents worried about me walking the few blocks to the train station after dark, since only half of those blocks were part of the nicer area surrounding the University of Maryland medical center where I worked.

I went into the city plenty–mostly for field trips or family outings to one of the museums or shopping malls around the Inner Harbor. Occasionally I saw a baseball game at Camden Yards, and for some reason I took a school field trip to the Raven’s stadium before it opened, when the purple seats were still shiny and new. And I had a love for it, an affinity for it, that was real. But we also always went home at the end of the day. I’d say that the Chesapeake Bay, the body of water on which Baltimore has its harbor, is in my blood, despite all my time away from it, but I cannot claim that its city is.

And now this city that I hold such an odd, tenuous connection to is on fire, burning up with anger that has spilled over into rioting. And I feel as if I should have something to say about it, something that goes beyond the sharing of worthy articles by thoughtful people that I have done around similar uprising in other cities in the last year. Something that acknowledges the many times the child version of me watched Baltimore… Camden Yards, the old Bethlehem Steel Building, the Domino Sugar sign…stream by the windows of our family car. Something that accounts for the fact that learning the history of the Star Spangled Banner while looking across the water at the bridge that bears its author’s name is one of my most treasured childhood memories, and that stories of drug-related violence on the news did more to make me fear drugs than any DARE program ever could.

But really, there isn’t anything. Baltimore is just a city near where I grew up. I have no special insight here, except maybe this: as I mentioned before, this is not the first U.S. city to experience very similar uprisings in response to police brutality against black men. But it hit me just a tiny bit harder, for the in-the-grand-scheme-of-things-quite-silly reason that I have a tiny amount of personal connection to the place where it is happening.

And the thing is, the issues that have brought this chaos to Baltimore are really issues across the U.S.–it’s just that it’s Baltimore that happens to be burning tonight. So maybe, tonight, imagine that a place that is in some way or another dear to your heart, is the community tearing itself apart. Because it isn’t logical that we need to have a personal connection to really care about injustice the way we should, but it is a reality of how humans work. I think it’s worth putting in this tiny bit of mental effort to try and counteract that shortcoming of ours as a species, if only in the smallest of ways, don’t you think?

Growth is an upward spiral

It never ceases to amaze me the way this whole “making progress and growing up” thing tends to go. The way it circles on itself, keeps bringing me back to the same places, except not quite. I’ve circled back, but I’m on a different level.

Because here I am again, saying “hello friends, it’s been too long.” Saying “I’m sorry.” Saying “how did I manage to forget how good this writing thing is for me, how much I need to make words flow out of my fingertips and into the world, how it makes me feel whole and real?”

I’ve found myself struggling against other familiar patterns of late: taking on too much, being too accommodating of demanding employers, undervaluing my work and getting myself into binds, until one day I look up and I haven’t had a day off or written for myself in weeks, and have entirely stopped making my own plans, instead drowning in survival mode–must get X, Y, and Z done by tomorrow, rinse, repeat. I’ll worry about the future… later. Eventually. And then the stress and the overwork wear me down, physically and mentally, until someone asking me to make plans a few months out sends me spinning into an unexpected panic attack.

And at this point I always start to wonder. Haven’t I been here before? Am I actually getting anywhere, or is all of my hard work just me kidding myself? Aren’t I just the same sad, struggling, broken human I’ve always been?

But though I’ve said these things many times before, it’s also different this time. Because this time, I haven’t been brought to this point by a soul-crushing desk job and futile attempts to get my shit together and leave it, or by attempting to impress a lab supervisor who is literally incapable of valuing my efforts unless they give her the exact results she wants. This time, I’ve been off trying to make a living doing my own thing. Writing. Teaching. Throwing myself into the things I love.

And that’s bravery. That’s growth. That’s progress. Even if the view from here is familiar, I haven’t actually been exactly here before.

The “demanding” boss that I have been too accommodating of is not the same as many entirely unreasonable and uncaring supervisors of my past. He’s not a saint, but it he is actually entirely capable of respecting boundaries and listening to reason, when I actually get around to speaking up for myself. Working myself into illness is actually not, in fact, something that he is demanding of me–it is something I am doing out of habit, and though it’s hard to believe, I actually can talk to him about that. Much of the panic I am feeling about being in this position is leftover–remnants of a time when I was much more at the mercy of employers and circumstance.

I feel much the same about my personal life. I am retreading what feels like familiar ground in therapy and in my relationships, but this time I come in with a different perspective that changes everything. I started dating a new person recently, for instance, and out of habit, I gave him the same old rundown of Things He Should Probably Not Do Because They Trigger Memories of EvilEx. But I’ve since realized that many of those things no longer bother me at all. Their power is just… gone.

I even, recently, unearthed the treasure trove of Evil Ex’s sad/mean/angry emails and voicemails. This used to be something I did to punish myself–I would go looking for the most horrible and deeply personal insults that had ever been flung at me, so that I could remember what a piece of shit I was. But this time, I went looking because I had a hunch: I believed that these records, gathering virtual dust for more than two years now, would mean something different now.

And boy did they ever. I read the same bitter, anger words that once felt like a punch to the gut, and now felt nothing.

Even more powerfully, though, I read my replies. In the space of an hour, I skimmed nearly a year of correspondence. And while I did feel a shadow of my familiar self-loathing–how could I have ever been this pathetic human?–what I felt most strongly, as I reviewed this record of my slow transformation into a human with boundaries and self worth, was pride. 

It’s an incredible gift, really, to have those emails now. Because I remember that part of my life as a time of pain and confusion, of sneaking away to cry in bathrooms, of people avoiding eye contact with the hysterical girl on the bus. I remember weakness. Because when I was in the middle of that storm, that is very much how it felt. Sure, I dutifully fed myself, exercised, showed up to work and therapy and social events, wrote nonsense in my journals and read stacks of books with themes of loss and recovery, clinging desperately to the idea that if I kept doing those things, I would find my way through–even though most days, I didn’t really believe it. Because in the thick of things, how I really felt was that I was stuck, running in circles.

But when you zoom out, when you look at a year in the space of an hour, then you can see it. I was going in circles, yes. I did have many, predictable setbacks. I gave in to the same self-destructive thought patterns and impulses again and again. It is entirely understandable that, from the inside, it felt like I was going no where. But as it turns out, I wasn’t. It was slow and hard and disheartening, but for fucks sake, I was climbing.

just keep climbing... (3)

It’s a frustrating thing to accept, but I believe that this is simply how human growth and learning works. We have to learn the same lessons over and over before they start to stick, and even then we’ll need a refresher now and then for good measure. 

Being the person I am, I’ve been inclined to see this slow circling as a personal failing. If only I were better, stronger, I think… then maybe I could learn the first time. Maybe then I could have bounced back after dropping out of graduate school in weeks, not years. Maybe then I could declare that I Will Write On My Blog Every Single Week Goddamnit, and this time stick to it without struggle or panic. Maybe then I’d be doing something more Impressive by now. Maybe then I’d be living up to what everyone expected out of a smart kid with so much “potential.”

But I’m starting to see that this is just my path. Maybe it isn’t the most inspirational or the most impressive. Maybe I still have a long way to go. But I’m learning to take a deep breath and give myself credit for the climb, to take in how the view has changed instead of merely wallowing about how it hasn’t.

I obviously still haven’t figured out the how-to-write-here-reliably thing yet, but once again, I’m recommitting to trying. And this time, here is how it is different: I’m not going to be ashamed of the fact that this is hard for me, that I’m prone to setting unrealistic goals for myself and then drowning in shame when I cannot meet them. I’m just going to acknowledge that and try again anyways, and keep trusting that progress is being made, even if I can’t always see it.

just a check-in

Hello all!

Sorry I’ve been a bit scarce lately. All is mostly well, I’ve just been crazy busy with work and an assortment of distractions, a few of which have been lovely happy things [visits from friends! a new person I’m seeing!], but most of which have been unavoidable annoyances [ugggh, unexpected chores and getting sick repeatedly. fuck this cold/flu season, damnit.].

I am working my butt off to get things better organized in the next few weeks so I can make time for writing here again, but at the moment I’m mostly trying to apply my non-work time to taking care of myself, so that at least health-stuff stops eating my time and energy so much sometime soon.

I have so appreciated the support and well wishes I’ve gotten from some of my readers here as I’ve been struggling to get my feet under me career-wise, and I promise I’ll be back writing more substantial things as soon as I can.

<3

I’m gonna wriggle up on dry land

My life has been changing so fast, and on so many fronts, in the last few months, that I’m having trouble processing it all. I’m trying to keep up–journaling, therapy, a bajillion conversations with friends–but I still feel like my head is spinning a lot of the time.

The big change to my work life is obviously a big part of what is different, but that change wouldn’t have even been possible if some deeper changes hadn’t already been taking place. I had considered going out on my own so many times before, had even started to plan it a few times, but it never seemed to amount to much more than a day or two of excitement followed by a week of panic attacks.

This time was different–there was still plenty of panic and doubt, but I forged on ahead. Why?

It’s hard to summarize–like I said, I’m still struggling to process all this–but to put it simply, I feel like I’m finally getting out from underneath all of my shit. I feel like the negative parts of my past are finally losing their grip on me.

Obviously this had been an ongoing process. It’s not as if I hadn’t been moving at all, and then suddenly leapt forward. And it also isn’t as if I’m “all better”, suddenly free of self doubt, anxiety, negativity, self-loathing.

But I do feel as if I’ve passed some kind of threshold, reached a critical point.

It’s hard to explain why I feel that way, because many of the differences are subtle, and they’re all so internal and personal. I feel like I’m being more honest in therapy, even though I was never being intentionally DISHONEST before–it’s as if I’ve become capable of putting into words things that I couldn’t previously. I sometimes go whole days at a time without doubting whether I am capable of/worthy of the professional work I have taken on. WHOLE DAYS. I just realized in the last two weeks that I can now do seated meditation without first doing yoga for an hour or being in the room with an instructor, and I’m working on making that part of my regular routine. I could go on.

Overall, I feel more resilient. I experience extremes of negative emotion less frequently, and though when they come they remain as intense as they ever were, I recover more quickly.

I’ve been working to build a toolbox of habits and strategies to keep moving forward, but for years now I feel like the amount of time and energy I’ve put into using those tools has remained relatively constant. And now that’s changing. It’s still work… it’s still so much work… but it’s getting easier.

This is what was necessary before I could take on something as challenging as drastically changing directions in my career–I had to be spending less of my energy on the work of simply holding myself together. And it wasn’t long ago that I thought that was impossible.


 

I wish I could say more, but I’m exhausted and I need to get my sleep–tomorrow is a long work day. Work things continue to be crazy in a good way, and I might have some big work news again soon, but I’m not quite ready to talk about it yet. Stay tuned.

The song from which the title of this post is drawn is linked below. It’s a beautiful song with an ultimately hopeful message, but it also describes abuse, so listen only if you can handle that right now.

Getting my bearings

Well.

Somehow we’re already a whole month into 2015. Someone want to tell me how the hell that happened while I wasn’t looking?

The obvious answer to that question is that I’ve been a little busy trying to adapt to my new “job”–scraping together a living from tutoring and freelance writing. All things considered, I’m fortunate to be off to a good start: I have two significant ‘writing’ gigs (one large contract to write a set amount of content in the next three months, one job for a few hours a week that pays hourly) and a handful of regular students. Additionally, I have some smaller paid writing jobs and I’m doing some unpaid grant writing and science blogging for a non-profit that I’m really excited to be involved with. Those smaller gigs are not amazing for me from a financial perspective, but I’m betting that they’ll pay off in terms of experience and connections.

I know that I should be fine, financially, for the next two months or so. Not amazing, but I’ll be covering my expenses at least. And I really don’t have a lot of time left to take on more work at the moment–I’d like to add just a few more students, ideally, but I really won’t have the brain space left for any more creative projects until I complete my large contract, even if I wanted to try to cram more work hours into my week.

So my job, at the moment, is really to put my head down and do the work sitting in front of me: be a kickass tutor, write great stuff for my all my assignments, and use whatever time/creative energy I have to spare working on fleshing out my private tutoring website or writing stuff here. Not so hard, all I need to do is focus.

The problem I’m having is that switching over to “focusing on getting shit done” from “focusing on finding work” is not as easy as I’d hoped. I’m basically afraid that if I take my eyes away from looking for gigs, I’ll look up sometime in March and realize “my big contract is about to be up and I have nothing else on the horizon”. Or maybe I will miss out on applying for/pitching/etc THE PERFECT THING that I need to do next.

These worries are entirely irrational. For starters, there is no way in hell I’m going to “forget” to be looking out for new work. As for “missing out”… the projects I’m working on now are going to help me be ready to get even BETTER and MORE EXCITING work in the future. Booking myself up for the next year right now wouldn’t be helpful, it would be silly.

Sigh.

Basically, things are going really well–or they would be, if I’d just let them. It’s honestly just so hard for me to believe that, after so much time where nothing seemed to be getting me anywhere, career-wise, things are starting to work. It just seems unreal, so I’m getting hung up on all the “evidence” that this was all a huge mistake: my empty bank account (I’ve only just started my big writing project! Next month will be way better!), my unproductive days (I had a nasty cold this past week and had to tutor on two days without much of a voice, which was miserable. On those days, I didn’t even come close to meeting my writing goals.), and my lack of private students (I had to make a choice to focus my energy on tutoring through agencies instead of finding more students on my own, because I need the income now. It’s not ideal, but this isn’t forever–switching over to private students gradually is a totally legitimate way to start out.).

Things will be good, if I will simply let them be good. Hell, if I really buckle down, and maybe get a little lucky, things could be really great. So of COURSE my jerkbrain is in overdrive.

But somehow, I’m going to deal with it. I’ve risked a lot to make this move towards a more fulfilling work life. What a waste it would be if I let the nasty, negative part of my brain sabotage me before I’ve even really given it a good shot.

Just checking in…

Hello all!

It’s been something of a rough week… lots of doctors appointments–don’t worry, everything is fine, there’s just stuff I’ve been needing to deal with but avoiding because doctors = all the anxiety triggers, for Reasons–, getting my rats spayed (they are also doing great!), the same struggles with settling into my new work routine that I’ve been having for awhile… ugh.

But I kept on chugging along best I could, and things are looking up. I actually took a proper day off Friday and relaxed a bunch, and I’m doing better now. So yay me!

I’m also planning a series of posts to go up here in the next few months, about the various tools [high tech, low tech, and purely psychological] that are helping me manage my crazy new life. I don’t have the greatest track record with post series, as I tend to bite off more than I can chew and then get scared and run away. So this week, instead of spending a bunch of time on my weekly post, I’m bunch of time mind-mapping all the stuff I want to say in this series and breaking it down into manageable chunks. It’s quite the task, but I should be able to get it done by the end of the weekend.

For now, have a great long weekend [at least, if you’re in the US and your employer/school respects that sort of thing], and I’ll be back with more before you know it!

here’s to 2015.

Hello everyone! Happy 2015!

It’s been awhile since I checked in–I was planning on taking a bit of a break around the holidays anyhow, and then I was sick for a bit and got super lazy. But it’s back to work time for us all, and I’m mostly back to health [still having issues with my neck/arm/shoulder pain problem, but I have dictation software to write with when I need a rest, and I’m seeing a doctor next week], so I figured now would be a good time to get things rolling again.

So first off, updates on where I’m at with work things…

The writing job I was super excited about is almost certainly happening–I came to an informal agreement with the company before Christmas, and now I’m just waiting on them to get me an official contract I can sign. I’m also off to a great start tutoring and developing curricula for a tutoring company I’m working with, and I’ve got a few miscellaneous other projects [including a bit of science writing!] in the wings. All-in-all, I’m off to a decent start, and it looks like I’ll be able to pay my bills doing this at the very least. So… hurray!

So with that said, what does that mean for me, and this blog, going forward?

Now, part of me has been tempted to back-burner this blog for the time being. After all, I have so much writing to do, and a number of the things that I’ll be spending my time thinking about… I’ll be writing about for other people. So do I really have time for this?

But here’s the thing: the whole reason I made this big, scary move in the first place was to bring my life closer to what I want it to look like. I had framed that, generally, as “spending as much time as possible doing things that make me feel accomplished/satisfied/joyful/loved/etc”. And if that’s really my goal… well, writing personal ramblings, and keeping this blog, is one of those things.

I do have a limited number of hours in the day though, and I do need to earn a living. I also need to minimize the amount of things that are stressing me out if I want to keep doing this Big Scary Thing without losing my mind over it. So this fun thing that I do, writing here? It needs to be something that brings me more positive things than it does stress.

So my plan for now is to hold myself to posting once a week, but allow those posts be whatever. If I have the time and energy to put together a very polished piece that I’ve been thinking about and planning for awhile, complete with pictures and such, then I’ll do that. But if I don’t find that time before a week since my last post is up, I will at the very least sit down and brain-dump about whatever is most on my mind, as coherently as I can.

Because of where I am at the moment, I expect that I’ll mostly be writing here about how I [try to] get things done–both in terms of logistics (to-do lists and habit tracking apps and all that jazz) and in terms of wrestling with my own brain, which are not exactly separate topics, after all. I might get back to doing link posts [of the most intriguing things on the internet recently] one of these days, but for the time being, if you want to follow the crazy assortment of science- and social justice- and mental health- and politics- related things I read and share with my friends on a daily basis [plus the occasional silly thing], you’ll have to check out my tumblr.* [because that shit is easy to automate. IFTTT and I are the best of friends, you guys.] If you want random life updates and rat photos, there’s instagram. And I’ll definitely be letting you know here once I have stuff up elsewhere that is publicly accessible, just in case you’re interested.

And that, my friends, is about it for now. Not nearly as shiny and inspirational I had planned for my new year’s post, but I’m sure you’ll get that from me sometime soon.

Wishing you all a brilliant 2015!

 

*how do you all feel about tumblr? If you’d prefer facebook , I could start sharing links on the little dose facebook page, but I don’t want to bombard everyone with randomness they don’t want.  Let me know?