Friday, October 29, 2010

critical thinking

I have begun a little ritual: every Friday morning, after I wake and run up the mountain and clean the house and water the garden and generally pull myself together, I hie myself off to the little tea shop a few blocks away and order a pot of their incredible rose-petal tea. Then I SIT STILL for as many hours as I can milk out of that teapot. My personal best is 2 1/2, so far. I bring my psych texts and read; I make flash cards; I watch the movie biz people lunching biz-ily.
That's really it, for me. The rest of the week is spent in a frantic whirlwind: home from class at 11 pm, off to work at 6:30 am, homework and children and cleaning and studying and boiling spaghetti and picking plastic dinosaurs out of tubs of hummus and shards of glass out of the bathwater (don't ask). So those few hours in the tea shop are more than a rest. They are an eddy in the ceaseless flow of the week, the moments when I remember who I am. That sounds pretentious, but I mean it. I am so busy doing things lately, things that must be done again almost immediately---sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, socializing the offspring, that sort of thing---that I entirely forget, for hours at a time, that I even exist.

It's funny what happens when I sit still. I remember that I do exist, and all of a sudden my brain does this funny spastic thing where it tries to remind me of all the things I am, all at once: you love the mountains you speak german you want to live in a cabin by the river and make your own snowshoes out of willow branches you understand soil salinization you write songs you have friends in the Pyrenees you believe in community and permaculture and biking you like tea you gather nettles in the springtime on and on and on until it runs out of breath. Or whatever brains do. I like it, actually. My brain emphasizes the positive, for the most part, and it's nice to have something going on in there besides AAAAAAAAGGGHHHH I'm late! or Ohhhh NO he just threw that thing in that thing after stepping in that thing!! which are, these days, pretty much the default settings.

But sometimes it makes me sad too. Wistful. For most of a half an hour I sat over my teacup this morning contemplating how very much I would love to live in a cabin somewhere. Just that. To have a kitchen looking out at trees. A wilderness to wander in. A woodstove to cook over, pheasants to track, neighbors few and far between but all with that wild look in their eyes, people who know how to skin a deer and rig up a water pump and sew together a wound if they have to.

All this studying of psychology has taught me to examine my thoughts, and that's what I did this morning, following the 5 steps of critical thinking:

1) what am I being asked to believe? That living in a cabin in the wilderness is the only thing that would make me happy.
2) what evidence is there to support this claim? I've lived in cabins before and I've lived in the wilderness before and it makes me feel roaringly alive.
3) are there alternative ways to interpret this evidence? Ummm, yeah.
4) what additional evidence would you need to rule out these alternative explanations? I would need to prove that I'm not happy anywhere else. I would need to prove that living in a cabin would make me roaringly happy NOW, with children, as the person I am now. A person who owns boots of the non-hiking variety.
5) what's the most reasonable conclusion to draw with the evidence you have?

I looked around the tea shop, and at the sunny autumn day outside. I looked down at my boot-clad feet and felt the warmth of the teacup my hands were wrapped around. I thought about how in a few minutes I'd be running to catch the bus to Xir's school to watch his Halloween Parade. I thought about how, before too long, Anainn would be wrapped around me like a little monkey, nestling his fuzzy head on my shoulder.

The most reasonable conclusion: I'm already happy.

And then: AAAAAAGGGHHHH I'm late!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a query...

So let's say, hypothetically, that I am standing in front of the vending machines at UCLA and one of my classmates approaches me to talk about the quality of vending machine coffee. If he, hypothetically, goes on to say that he's been craving Starbucks and is thinking of going after class if I want to wait,

is he asking me out?

If so, I blew it. Hypothetically.

Monday, October 25, 2010

self-image, post-midterm.

Disclaimer: this might be interesting only to me.

I started out this semester (studying psychology at UCLA to get prerequisites for a master's degree) feeling like the elderly, out of it, unintelligent mom in a sea of bright young things who wouldn't dream of procreating a day before their thirty-fifth birthday or conclusion of their post-graduate research fellowship, one. I have never felt so conspicuous--or aware of my age-- in my life.

But this evening, upon conclusion of my first midterm, I noticed that I was the second person to finish--and the first woman. I'm pretty sure I aced the thing and didn't find it all that complicated. I sprang out of there like a spring chicken.

This tells me two things:
1) My self-image is strongly correlated to my perception of my intelligence. More so than to my prosperity, physical appearance, or age. And this is wonderful news, because although there is very little I can do to change my looks or the years I've logged, intelligence is something I can always build. (Apparently one can build one's finances too. But I remain skeptical. ) (We budding psychologists call that "repression"...)
2) Psychology comes easily to me and I adore the reading, soak up the theories, and feel high after class. Could it be that I'm on the right track?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

a weekend of good childhood.

Rain. The scent of woodsmoke; a fire-blackened twig scratching patterns on the ground. Climbing up to the moon, high on the rain-greened hill, and looking down upon a city suddenly beautiful. Round moon, brave boys, laughter. A pitcher of garden zinnias. New-planted peas. Singed pumpkin, candle shadows, pancakes for dinner. Pippi before bed. Pumpkin bread. Long stories, and slippers by the door.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"female trouble"

Hmmm. So I've been up most of the night studying for my midterms in Abnormal Psychology, Psychology 10, and Theories of Personality. By "studying" I mean eating garlic bread, chocolate, and popcorn; making several pots of tea; cleaning the floor on my hands and knees with baby wipes; doing the laundry; signing my son up for violin lessons; ordering art supplies over the internet; planting fall peas in the garden; and washing dishes. So, as you can see, studying is extremely productive for me.

The recent incessant rains have had some interesting consequences. The damp seems to have weakened the plaster of the walls of the 12x12 such that all the screws in the wall are falling out. This led to my bookshelf falling over and spewing its contents all over the floor, bedding, kitchen, you name it. I have not had a free 30 seconds to clear a trail through the carnage since it happened 3 nights ago. My house looks like a bomb hit it. (I mean, more so than usual, and I can't blame it on the kids.) So I've been sleeping in a little ball surrounded by books, pens, rocks, and little bits of houseplant. According to my textbook, this behavior might qualify as "abnormal".

But, according to my textbook, that's to be expected, since I am a "woman", and "women", again according to my textbook, are disproportionately likely to be "abnormal". Yes, we are TWO TIMES MORE LIKELY to experience depression than men and THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY to attempt suicide. Cross-culturally. Also, we have special little syndromes that are ours alone, like PMS, postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis...

Several theories are proposed for why this might be. I find them fascinating. Here goes:
1) Men are not diagnosed with depression as often because they hide it behind aggression, which is more socially acceptable.
2) Frequent changes in hormones might predispose women to maladaptive behavior.
3) women experience more stress than men: we are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to do menial work, likely to face more discrimination, and also there's that whole childbearing and childrearing thing, though they DON'T MENTION THIS.
4) body dissatisfaction, or the constant rumination over appearance, is a stressor that affects women disproportionately; this is a habit that is encouraged rather than dissuaded by societal norms.
5) women are statistically more likely to blame themselves for difficulties and attribute successes to others, whereas men tend to the reverse. Thus women tend to direct their stress responses inward whereas men direct them outward, in aggression.

These are all theories, so of course there are lots of problems and over-generalizations, but the thing that struck me the most was how extraordinarily little control any of them give a woman to change things. Let's see, we can't stop having hormones. We can't stop being the ones that have children and only make 76 cents to the dollar. There's not much we can do about societal expectations and judgments based on appearance. What we CAN do, according to these geniuses, is a) try to be less sad for goodness' sake and b) start blaming others for our problems.

Or we can curl into a ball amongst the books and pottery with our middle fingers firmly in the air and get some sleep. We're going to need it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a nice bit o' navel gazing never hurt anyone...right?

watch out, folks. this space is rapidly becoming a forum for all things psychological---an outlet for the myriad new thoughts my psych coursework is engendering, and a place for some self-indulgent self-analysis.

what fascinates me most about psychology is the uniqueness of each individual: the ways in which we are consistent, and the ways in which we alter over time. the ways we adjust to life's demands and the ways we fail to adjust. the place that I, and many of those I am close to, suspect that I am stuck is in the developmental phase of generativity. productiveness. procreation. this is the time of my life when i vacillate most strongly between poles of self-absorption/stagnation and creativity/citizenship. those of you who visit here frequently are probably already aware of my somewhat conflicted attitude towards motherhood; this conflict extends throughout all productivity-related aspects of my life. career, writing output, all those outward forms of investing one's life energy in lasting ways--they are the most likely to suffer from self-sabotage.

isn't it interesting that i can know this and yet still persist in self-defeating behavior? i wonder frequently where i learned this behavior; somewhere along the line i must have experienced positive reinforcement for holding myself back. i wonder if i can un-condition it. it would be an interesting experiment: to reward myself for every act of creation, every focused step toward productivity, every act of nurture...rewards that would compensate for the loss of immediate gratifications such as sleep, indolence, and even the subconscious fears of what success would mean.

it interests me, too, that so many of my female friends are stuck in the same place. we are child-women, unwilling to commit to one form of life for fear of selling ourselves short; unwilling to mature fully for fear of becoming stodgy or dated. we struggle with the selflessness that raising children demands of us and the lack of support for the selfish behaviors that used to characterize our lives. the role of a woman these days is awfully ambiguous: everything is possible, or so we are told, but the support systems are not in place for the realistic achievement of these possibilities. and so, we are always falling short. i can see how this might lead to an unwillingness to "grow up" and face the impossible expectations; better to develop a self-identity of vacillation than to solidly fail at the goals one has set for oneself.

And yet elusiveness---the quality of remaining noncommittal; the quality of refusing to be pinned down---is a defense mechanism. It can't ever take us anywhere; it masks the central conflict here, the conflict between human capability and societal expectation. I know exactly where I learned my elusiveness---it was adult-onset, and the very clear product of marriage to an incredibly opinionated and judgemental spouse. Now i am slowly, carefully, unlearning it, allowing myself to both have and express opinions. even when they are, sometimes, wrong. even when they alienate others. even then.

and i find myself almost giddy with it....skipping through the leaves, sketching the sky, carrying on animated conversations with strangers. it is amazing how energizing the simple act of holding an opinion can be. the energy it frees is tremendous.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

just bizarre...

I thought this morning "what I am is a creative generalist. I ought to start a website for people like me and see if generalism in general can be brought back around." so I typed in "creative generalist" and discovered, naturally, that it has already been done (and rather well!) by this guy.

And then not five minutes ago, whilst uploading adorable pictures of my children on facebook so as to counteract the smear job I've done on them here, this ad pops up.

I kid you not. I think I have a little crush on the man.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

a rant. take two.

I get it when people are annoyed by a crying child. I really do. I mean, I'M sure as hell annoyed by crying children. I just don't understand the behavior of some of the people who are annoyed by a crying child. Let me just get this off my chest.

1) Could you shut that kid up? No, actually. I can't. Don't you think I would love to?
2) That child is upset! Really? Omigod. You must have majored in childhood development.
3) Get that kid out of here. He's bothering all of us. All right, I'll just get off the bus five miles from home, that's no problem at all. So sorry I didn't think of that.
4) If you can't handle kids you shouldn't have them. Oh, shall I just give them to you then? Or do I drop them off at the nearest orphanage? What, exactly, is the protocol here, seeing as how there is NO WAY OF KNOWING whether or not I am going to be able to handle motherhood WITHOUT BECOMING A MOTHER?

That said, there are of course the truly lovely people who go out of their way to help carry strollers, return fallen toys, and share snacks. Probably twenty of them for every one of the nasties. Somehow, though, it takes just one of the remarks above to throw me into a tailspin that thirty or more kind gestures may not be able to undo.

Here's the thing: it's Xir's birthday today. And for whatever reason, Anainn chose today to have one in 23 hours looooong....meltdown. As in screaming, crying, throwing things, rubbing snotty paws over face and everything else. Incessantly. Meltdown.

So my options were: nix all the carefully laid birthday plans so as not to expose child-in-meltdown to world at large ( and therefore deal with TWO children-in-meltdown, one of whom is quite scathing in his ability to express resentment) or go ahead and proceed with the birthday and keep my fingers crossed that exhaustion would kick in at some point and knock Anainn out. Or wait, there's a third one which at least three people over the course of the day kindly suggested: get a nanny. By the third time I just held my hand out and said "YOU pay for it, and it's a deal." Guess what? I still don't have a nanny. But I didn't have to deal with any more snide remarks from that particular individual, at least.

Do people not realize that they can go home? They can walk away? They can bury their face in a newspaper or turn up their iPod? This is MY LIFE. What do they want from me?

Prejudice is definitely at work here; it is insidious but it is there. I just can't decide whether it is blatant societal prejudice against small children or blatant societal prejudice against mothers of small children. Or maybe it is blatant societal prejudice against just the mothers and small children that don't act like the mothers and small children in Johnson & Johnson ads.

Why on earth does this culture design public places that are supposed to be entirely quiet when we all KNOW that developmentally there is no child under 4 that can be expected to do this? CHILDREN EXIST. EVERY ONE OF YOU WAS A CHILD ONCE. THEREFORE JUST FUCKING DEAL WITH THE FACT THAT EVERYWHERE YOU GO, THERE WILL BE CHILDREN.

Sorry. I'm done now.

When I first wrote this, I was too worn down to suggest any solutions, so I'm adding them now. AND I intend to write letters including them to all of the major entities mentioned here, including the editorial section of the LA times.

1) Big Blue Bus: Include a storage section near the front where strollers can be stowed. Wall off a part of the bus with plexiglas; this will be the "children's area" and will have, at the very least, seatbelts. Soundproofing would be good too. But I'm not holding my breath.

2) Movie theaters: Have a room back amongst the theaters, with a door that closes, filled with cheap toys and books. This can be the waiting area for younger siblings of moviegoing children so that the mothers (or fathers) of said children do not have to pace the halls braving the glares of other moviegoers. Better yet, staff it with another of those bored teenagers they always have at movie theaters so that the mother or father can actually watch the movie they paid for.

3) Libraries: This should be obvious. DON'T put the "Quiet Study" section DIRECTLY ADJACENT to the "Kids" section. Are you listening, Julian Dixon Library? Also, some kind of low gate closing off the kids section from the rest of library would save a lot of baby-chasing and its accompanying noise.

4) Restaurants: This might be playing into the hands of prejudice, but how about a little segregation? Every restaurant from the mightiest French spot to the lowliest Denny's should have a Kids Section. In this section, there are no little trays of sugars on the table. No one hands silverware to the baby. High chairs are de rigueur and don't have to be requested multiple times. (Also their restraints aren't broken. ) The moment you sit down in the Kids Section, little cups with lids and straws are brought to everyone along with trays of finger food. There is no dessert menu. If the children go into meltdown mode the staff are authorized to bring the mother a complimentary stiff shot of something. Any adult who so much as glares at any other adult in the Kids Section is ejected from the premises forthwith. (Unless they're in the same party: that's just marriage.)

5) Museums: On Free Days, offer family-centric tours of the museum that emphasize points of interest for all ages and are a little more tolerant of general rambunctiousness than most. Although, I have to say, most museums are FAR more on-the-ball regarding children than other places.

6) Universities: C'mon. EVERY extension course should have childcare on the premises. This is not a hard one, folks.

I would like to state, too, that I am not suggesting all of these things simply to make my life easier. I think that all of society would benefit from a more thoughtful inclusion of children: study after study has proven that children who are exposed to varying and stimulating environments grow into more intelligent and responsible adults. And, lest this evidence be interpreted as a call for children to be secreted away in stimulating day care from day one, studies have also proven that in cultures where all generations are integrated into daily life, general happiness is higher. Now doesn't that sound good?