Tough love

I think I’m sliding into a new awareness of myself in relation to others. It’s too subtle to call a levelling up, but I’m hoping I’ve at least passed a checkpoint, because I don’t want to have to do these past few weeks over.

I’m in an awkward phase right now where I’m feeling the need to chase down the disharmony in my life. I’ve spent the last year or so cultivating peace, so this new strategy doesn’t appeal, but it’s either that or let myself stagnate. The growth is where the challenge is. And for me, right now, that is in my most difficult personal relationships. Personal relationships that I may prefer the luxury of writing off. Personal relationships it would be perfectly reasonable to encourage writing off.

It’s important to detach the idea of having them go the way I want them to, and having them teach me what I need them to. I regularly get stuck in the former because I resist the latter, which causes pain and makes me want to reconsider. But the only way out is through, and they are teaching me. And I’m starting to feel the effects.

Maybe I’m learning the hard way, but then that wouldn’t be anything new.

Mudskipper

I’m going to have to start doing that thing where I carry a tiny notebook with me everywhere, to write down random thoughts I have. Throughout the course of my day I think of many things I might like to write about, but, recently, whenever I sit down to write, I’m blank. And then this thing I’m doing feels like a slog.

I used to be good at slogs. My life was just one long slog.

Then I got sick of it, and I got much better at whims. For a while, my life became a fantastical, disjointed string of whims.

Once I’d taken the time to recover from pissing away all my energy on grinding ineffectively for an ego-driven life, it began to emerge that, probably, living on whims wasn’t going to get me much further.

I wanted to believe, on some level, that I could bypass future slogs by successfully harnessing motivation. I began trying to learn the secret of inspired action.

I still haven’t learned it, really, because I’m still facing a slog. Several slogs, in fact. I still have too many ideas tugging at my focus and, in between brief bouts of clarity, the result is overwhelmingly a sort of white noise.

Holding onto any single strand of inspiration long enough to mean anything is tricky for me. I’m starting to accept that resurrecting my ability to slog may be the right way forward. To relearn how to wade through the silty mud when the tide’s gone out, instead of sitting down to wait.

I have conflicting ideas about this, still. I think I still believe it’s possible to avoid the slog – not the hard work, but the work that feels unnecessarily hard. And so my reaction when I see the mud up to my ankles is where did I go wrong here? Well, maybe I did go wrong, maybe I didn’t, but the fact of the matter is there is mud up to my ankles, and I’ve got too much shit to get on with to just languish in it.

Get off my lawn

I have a bad habit of seeking validation for my point of view.

I used to be offputtingly defensive, which I have come to understand was a necessary way of protecting myself from harmful and erosive influences. It allowed me to uphold boundaries, albeit it in an overly rigid, dysfunctional way. I used to keep a clear space around me at all times and if someone intruded on the lawn I’d shoot them down without thinking twice. Stay. The fuck. Away.

One day, I guess out of exhaustion or loneliness, I decided to lock up the weapons. When people turned up on the lawn, I just let them stay there. If they asked to come in, I’d reply “if you want”. And so people started indiscriminately trampling all over my space, according to their own desires rather than mine. They stole stuff, they flytipped, they made a fucking terrible mess in the bathroom. And the whole time I was thinking just don’t shoot them, just don’t shoot them, at least I haven’t shot them. Although I’ll admit I pulled out the sawed-off shotgun on a few occasions.

Eventually, when it seemed I had nothing left to lose, I shooed everyone out and started the clean-up. And then I went through the whole cycle a few more times because I still hadn’t learned what boundaries are meant to be.

I have built a lot of skills, and fences, and gates, over the past decade. But I still have much more to do.

Right now, I am noticing a problem when people come onto my lawn, or even just within earshot, and start shouting that I’m wrong, or that something similar to something I have said is wrong. My initial response, without any further qualification, is “oh shit, am I? “and I worry about it until I have the time to go away and reearch the same things that I already researched to come up with my original opinion. Because, yes, I did research it already.

The process of recovery has begun, with a few good stern talkings to when I’ve caught myself doing this inappropriately over the past few weeks, but, damn, do I look forward to a day when living isn’t quite such unnecessary emotional labour for me.

Becoming better than fine

I wasn’t raised to be a particularly good person. I was raised to be fine, I guess; I was polite, I minded my own business, I kept out of trouble. Even if the trouble was where the virtue was at. And especially if the trouble was actually just getting caught. But the focus was more on looking after oneself than anyone else, and I grew up believing essentially that I was living in a relatively unsafe and scarce world, where a step out of bounds to aid another was probably a risk not worth taking if you didn’t really have to.

I didn’t give it much thought. We don’t normally give our childhood programming much thought.

An example of a really mundane, vaguely lazy, vaguely selfish, fine-I-guess thing I never questioned was when I collected a shopping trolley and it had rubbish in – receipts, empty bags, wrappers, whatever. It was a very routine occurrence, and I would very routinely transfer the debris from my trolley to the next trolley and move on.

Then one day I went shopping with my boyfriend of the time, at the age of 26, and he watched me do this and said why wouldn’t you just put it in the bin? And I didn’t know. I just thought that’s what you did. And I think it is, largely, what you do, if you’re a fine-I-guess sort of person, which I think most of us are. Hence the receipts and wrappers and bags being there in the first place. But I’d never thought about it.

I have spent quite a lot of time, by this point, studying good people, and the decisions they make. I’ve learned a lot about being better than fine, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. A good deed actually requires me to override my programming most of the time, and that’s if I even notice the opportunity. I probably still miss a lot.

Wouldn’t it be nicer if being good was just instinctive? If that’s just what i thought living was?

I bought my son some litter picking gloves. He was very excited. I think we’ll make it a thing.

A shared language

Something I have been thinking about quite a lot lately is how we can tell someone something with complete openness and honesty, and they can still receive something totally misleading.

Effective communication is about so much more than telling the truth. We need to be able to anticipate how the other person will hear our words based upon where they’re operating from, and alter our message accordingly. Which sounds dangerously close to lying. But if we don’t do anything to manage how our message will be received, we can easily have the effect of lying unless that person is already of a similar mind to us.

So often, we have conversation after conversation with people, and never reach a mutual understanding. What’s worse, we’ll often feel like we have understood, because we’re satisfied with how we’ve expressed ourselves and we’re satisfied with what we’ve heard in response. But our individual narratives can still be miles apart.

This is how pain happens, even when we try our hardest: The limited ability of words to express truths.

When we hit this pain, we have a choice. We can continue down our separate rails, refusing to see the root of the disconnect. Or we can attempt, through trial and error, toil and ardour, to find truly common ground. We can choose to create, from scratch, a shared language, by first accepting that it doesn’t yet exist.