Raw honesty

One of the ongoing challenges for me in my life right now is working out the balance between doing things and talking about things. I am striving to live more transparently, but it’s a process that I often find really painful. My mom tells me that even as an infant, I would practice new skills privately before I used them in public, and I still have that instinct. Add to that the 18 formative years I spent in a town where my discomfort was a prime source of entertainment for my peers, and you kind of start to get the picture of why I’m so cagey and reserved.

In particular, I have an instinct to go underground when stuff is hard. I imagine that people won’t like me when I’m down, and I hate sharing my pain, and I also hate admitting that I have uncertainty. Yeah, even though I know that other people also have plenty of uncertainty, and that they can be of help to me in my time of discernment, and also, sharing my own discomfort helps other people find comfort in their own.

Even knowing all of that, I still want to hide. But hiding isn’t an option. So here it is:

I am in a really bad mood. I am angry, frustrated, tired, and full of uncertainty. My body hurts. My heart hurts. I am the cause of most, but not all, of my problems this week, and the difficulty I am having getting out of them is also pretty much entirely my problem. I am unhappy, I am the one with agency to find my own happiness, and I cannot find the beacons to get myself back on track.

I acknowledge and believe the platitude that “happiness is a choice, not a destination,” but that doesn’t seem to help me here. I feel lost, and I don’t know what actions will get me back on track, and I deeply fear getting further afield than I already am. I already had a significant depressive episode this year, and I am fucking tired of them.

Also, I realize the irony of not wanting to share my bad mood when my whole personal brand is “Grumpy.” One of my favorite professors in college told me that I was at my best when I was grumpiest, because it was when I did the best cutting through BS. But here’s the thing: I don’t really like being mad at the world. I like being able to say “that’s nonsense,” but I feel like I lost that power somewhere along the way. What happened to me?

I feel like, at 32, I shouldn’t still be in this place where I’m struggling to find my place in the world. I’m mad about it. I am mad that I don’t know how to fix it. I am mad that I’ve let it get so sideways. I am scared that my decisions will leave my kid feeling this way as an adult. I’m scared people close to me aren’t going to like the choices I’m going to make. I’ve spent my whole life looking for approval, and it hasn’t done me very much good. I need to let go of it, and I’m scared. And mad.

All work and no play

It feels weird to start another post of the subject of hobbies, but dudes, they’re important.

We’re at the point of really refining what gets to come with us in the Chinook, and it’s not going to be a whole lot. One thing that IS coming, though, is the Art Box. (Other Boxes of note: Dog Box, Tool Box, Office Box.) At first glance, I think the Art Box seems frivolous, like there’s something more important that could go into the space that it’ll take up.

But the thing is this: Art is important. It’s important culturally, and individually. I can’t thrive when I feel like I don’t produce anything. Working on creative projects helps keep the brain flexible, in the same way that riding a bike makes the body better able to do the work of carrying a baby.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I always read this as meaning that Jack was dull to be around; that having no fun outside of work meant that Jack couldn’t relate to other people. I still think that’s true, but it’s not the whole meaning. All work and no play makes Jack less sharp, less shiny, less bright.

I think that people who make a craft (rather than a “fine art”) as their creative output get a little more leeway from the judgment that “art’s not important.” My friend’s dad is a recreational cabinet maker; another friend has gotten deep into tailoring her own clothes; occasionally I finish a knitting project. These creative outputs tell other people that we’re “doing something” when we’re doing something creative.

Lately I’ve gotten into the habit of waking up on Saturday morning and putting on my trail boss pants, driving the men of the house outside to work in the yard. Part of it is necessity – five adults in one house gets to be overwhelming, and making the backyard habitable relieves some of the pressure of close quarters. It’s practical, too, beyond just necessary: clearing the ivy from the broken fence so it can be replaced, taking last years fallen leaves to the compost, reducing the number of hazards to both children and unprotected feet. But even beyond that, I do it because it enables me to force them to work on something good.

After days of hauling out leaves and unneeded branches and that stupid ivy, I dragged my dad out there after work one evening. “Come to the yard and let’s talk about your trees.”

“I don’t want to talk about the trees!” he said, as if that were even remotely true. But it didn’t matter, really. The trees are there because he planted them, because he needed them, and they still need him. So I dragged him out (that may be a little melodramatic, yes), and made him spend a few quiet minutes discovering what the yard has been up to while he’s been busy elsewhere. I showed him the tiny, perfect red maple seedlings hiding under the crab apple (RIP, crab apple). We talked about the trees after all.

I do the same thing to Joe – I drag him out of the house, into the sunshine, into the yard where he gets to climb and destroy things and find weird shaped pieces of wood. I drag him outside because it’s really hard to force someone to paint, but it’s easy to say “I need you to help me with some work.” “Come keep me company while I clean the garage, and oh, incidentally, let’s talk about art projects!”

I don’t think of myself as an artist, particularly not a good one, but I love nourishing the artist in other people. During an argument with Carlos, I told him, “What I want is for you to finish the ukulele you’re building me!” It wasn’t because I need that ukulele, but because I want him to spend time making art.

I want all of us to spend time making art, in ways that are appropriate to ourselves. We cannot go live our life on the road without bringing with us the tools to improve and maintain our souls. So we’ll bring fewer pairs of shoes or whatever, and make a little extra room for the screenprinting gear. It’s a trade that is entirely worth it to me.

Apropos: As I was writing this, a smart friend shared this video. I LOVE IT!

Watch Mayim Bialik: Blossoming To Science on PBS. See more from Secret Life of Scientists.

What’s In A Name?

I want to give you a quick warning that this may get weird for those of you who don’t like history or philosophy of faith, but bare with me (pun fully intended).

Those of you who have had in-person conversations with me have probably heard these words come out of my mouth, “People like naming things. It is what we do well, it helps us understand.” I think that you have to be respectful of peoples’ names for themselves. If you have had a private, perhaps late-night or intoxicated, conversation with me you may have heard me say something like: “Naming a thing is not the same as knowing it,” or, “You can’t name a path that you are on.”

Part of this view comes from my understanding of the universe around me. That understanding is very influenced by the Tao Te Ching, particularly the day that I read, “You cannot push a river.” I won’t get into the evolution of what that means inside of my head; instead I will tell you what that means to me in thinking about my own name.

My name is Carlos Durant del Rio. That means (roughly): Man Enduring of the River or Strong Endurance of the River.

Depending on the day, I have distinctly different feelings about the river, but I can’t really escape it. That has been in many ways how I have seen my life–surviving or persevering through life. Both my dad and my granddad had the same name: Guardian (Protector) of the River. It’s kind of like Granddad passed his job on to his son. And, in turn, my dad gave me the job of trying to be part of the river.

Days went by, as they are so wont to do, and I met (and much later) married Rose. When she decided to take my name it had a great deal of symbolism for me, like she was committing to get in the river with me. So, get this, her name now means Little Apple Flower of the River. At this point you may be saying “Shut the fridge-door!” No, really, that is her name–she was sort of pre-made to be the little thing that makes the river less terrible.

But, wait there’s more!

I kinda knew exactly what I wanted to name our baby, like immediately, well before we decided to get married I knew I would name my son Rockford. Somewhere in my heart, I knew what I wanted to pass on, what I wanted the next step to be.

We named our son Rockford Jay del Rio. Jay has a variety of meanings, depending on the line you trace, but if I can pass any of them on I will be happy.

Rockford Jay del Rio == (Victorious/Happy/Swift) Rock Crossing of the River.

Okay, the woo-woo stuff is over now. Here comes the big finish…

There is power in naming. Neighbor, Friend, Lover, Family, ‘Ohana, Child, Mentor, you get it (I hope). One of the key components of communication is clarity, and love needs communication. You should give your love a name to give it power.

Rockford and Carlos

Talking about Talking

You know that old saying about what happens when we assume; we make an ass out of u and me! Except, when it comes to relationships, it’s not so much “make an ass” as “make a mess.” Perhaps the most basic assumption we make is that we know how to talk to people.

The truth, though, can be a little more complicated. Even with the person I talk to most, I still run into places where my skills need sharpening, and where we have to work together to find tools that work to keep both of us on the same page. Over time, Carlos and I have come to a series of agreements about how we handle ourselves in substantive conversations.

  • Assume best intentions. We have a partnership; the end goal is always to make things better, for ourselves, our kid, our marriage, the people around us. We’re human and we make mistakes, but we don’t work to actively hurt one another. Even when what we’re talking about isn’t “an important issue,” we still try to work under the assumption that the goal is better understanding, not just arguing.
  • We are on the same team. When we sit down to work out an issue, we make an effort to remember that we are working together. It’s not about winning, or proving a point. The purpose is to work out an issue together. Yes, we get into knitty-gritty stuff, and it’s hard. It can be especially hard when the issue at hand is something that one of us is doing; it can be easy to feel personally defensive. In this case, it’s good to remember that it’s being discussed because we care about one another; we’d probably let it slide if we weren’t committed to making our partnership work.
  • A person’s feelings are not up for debate. When someone says they have a feeling, that is to be taken as an inarguable fact. What is done with that feeling is a different matter. Actions can be right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. How we feel is not to be argued with, or asked to change. It’s fair to say “I don’t understand that feeling,” or to ask for more explanation. We’re not always going to understand what’s at the root of feelings, but talking about them can give us insight. And then we can talk about actions.
  • Keep it relevant. Talk about the issue at hand. Don’t change the subject or look for a place where you can “gain back ground” by being right. On this note: don’t make personal attacks, or bring up “old shit.” If something comes up that needs another discussion, set aside some time for it.
  • Be aware of yourself. Learn to read your own physical state, and how it can affect your communication. Body language, facial expressions, even breathing can be a signal. Sometimes, they’re saying more to your partner than they are to you. Learn to take a moment to check your own state – maybe you didn’t realize that you were making a face that looks like a scowl, or that your voice was rising in volume. Taking a moment to calm your breathing or slow down can be give the conversation a minute to relax as well.
  • Know when to take a break. Some conversations just aren’t going anywhere. It’s ok to take a short break, or a long one. When discussing an “important issue” with a partner, walking away forever is not a good option, but taking a step back can make a huge difference. Have a specific place, outlet, or time. For example: walk different directions around the block, go to different rooms for 5 minutes, or do some dishes–something that enforces separation and has a clear return point. Come back together and leave the petty stuff behind.
  • Say what you mean. This can take practice. You’re going to say the wrong thing sometimes, and that creates an opportunity to be better the next time. You can practice on your own, or with a third party. Say it outloud, so you can hear it. Write it down before you bring it up. I know I can get caught up in my head, and wrong ideas start making sense. Get some sunshine on them.
  • Examine your own position. If something is a hot button issue for you, try to understand why. It’s better for you and your conversation partners if you know where you’re coming from, and spending time examining your own beliefs will make you better able to articulate them, and to choose which ones are actually of use to you.
  • Be aware of your audience. Think about who you’re talking to, what you know about them, how your interactions with them have gone in the past. If you want to make actual progress, keep your conversational partner in mind when putting your thoughts into words. If you’re just looking for someone to yell at, try not to aim it at your partner.

Of course, neither of us always lives up to the standards that we shoot for, but that doesn’t mean that the goal is any less worthy. When we talk to people outside our relationship, these same guidelines apply. Conversation and learning are good, arguing for no reason is not. Unless given reason to do otherwise, we assume that people are coming to a conversation with good intentions, and we treat them with respect. My goal is still to work toward making things better, to find common ground and create more space for love.

photo credit: sachmanns.dk

Some handy tools

I thought it would be nice to do a little round up of some of the tools that we find useful on a pretty regular basis. Some of these are every day tools, some are things we’re still trying out, or that have been useful in the past but maybe not right now. It is in no way comprehensive. These are mostly focused on keeping shit in order, one way or another.

Superbetter You’re a hero, recovering from an illness or injury. Build a network of friends who help support you on your journey to conquer bad guys and get better!
unfuck your habitat “Terrifying motivation for lazy people with messy homes,” pretty much sums it up. Except it’s really not bad. Realistic goals, accountability, and support, proving that yes, we can all take better care of our spaces.
monthlyinfo No-frills online menstrual cycle tracking, with customizable email alerts. I get one that says “your period is coming, be nice!” and Carlos gets one that says “Throw shiny things at Rose!”
epic win Make your to do list an RPG. You set your own goals, and make progress by taking care of business.
sleep cycle Everything is better when you’re sleeping well. I swear it to you. Sleep cycle is a phone-based app that tracks your sleep pattern and wakes you at the optimal point in your cycle.
Donna This is not yet publicly available, but Carlos has signed up for the beta. It looks cool!
Astrid Another to-do list tool! But this one lets you team up, delegate, send email to-dos, and it has a cute octopus mascot.
google calendar Sometimes you need to set aside time in a hardcore way. Want to make sure that you’ll actually meditate on a certain day? Schedule that shit! Spouse time: put it in the calendar! Having the ability to create events on one another’s calendars is really useful for Carlos and I, because it allows us to help keep each other on the right track. I can make an appointment for him, set up email reminders, and never have to (even kind of) nag him. And he can do the same for me. Brilliant.

Pulling together

A recent conversation between my mom and me:

“ALL THE SWEAR WORDS!” I yelped, from the pile of scrap wood and last year’s fallen leaves under the back deck. “I’m going to need medical assistance.”

“What happened? Are you OK?” She came around the corner just in time to see me pull my shoe off my foot, along with the two inch galvanized nail I had stepped on. Without missing a beat (and without passing even the tiniest bit of stress to the grandbaby she was still carrying), “oh, yeah, that’s a good wound. Don’t look at it! Sit down! Some people get freaked out by seeing their own blood.”

“No, I’m fine,” looking at a growing puddle of red under my toes, “I don’t mind seeing my own blood nearly as much as I mind seeing Rock’s.”

The irony of the situation was not lost on me.

Thankfully, as far as nail-in-the-foot stories go, this one is as good as can be hoped for. I was wearing almost-brand-new shoes (so, little risk of the most common type of bacterial infection from this injury), the nail was galvanized (no rust!), and my tetanus shot is current. All of that being said, man, foot injuries are the worst! This one happened to coincide with a recurrence of pain from that time I crashed the Vespa a little bit on my other foot (made yet worse by treating a plantar wart IN THE SAME SPOT). So, basically, at this point I’m like an invalid Victorian lady. I can do anything! As long as it doesn’t involve walking or standing. Thank goodness I’ve gotten over my pathological hatred of swimming, so I can get some exercise.

This is yet another situation in which I am incredibly grateful to be living among a big team all pulling together. It takes a village, because we all need some taking care of now and then. I certainly need my share, but it’s reassuring to know that I am in a place where I can give it as much as I get it (I was doing yard work, after all).

Image credit: inky

Sharing Your Joy

Back in the Pleistocene, circa 2001, I was dating this one.

Her name is Laura Jean; if you read Blue Like Jazz, she is Chapter 5. One day, in between clumsy courtship, whimsical adventures, and discussions of the genius of Kurt Vonnegut she said  (I shit you not), ” No one co-joys.  I mean, everyone is willing to share in your misery, but hardly anyone wants to share your joy.  More people should co-joy!”

This is the first time that I had someone put this into words. These days it is a concept that I spend a lot of time talking about. It is often referred to as compersion, or frubble. It has many names, but my favorite is still co-joy.

One of the very important things to remember is that it’s not just about sharing the joy of other people, but also, sharing the things that bring you joy. One of the traps that many of us fall into is only ever talking about the things that we disagree with, or that we find unpleasant. Only ever talking about the things that make you unhappy makes you a real buzzkill be around. It also leaves the people that you like unaware of your positive feelings.

This week one of my goals is to share my joy. To show my love by telling people the things I like about them, and sharing with people the things I know that might please them too. #50love

An upside to Jealousy

Jealousy is a funny thing. It can creep up on a person in sneaky and unexpected ways, but it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing when it shows up.

Carlos and I have been apart for a month. For a month, he’s been sleeping alone, while I’ve had the company of our wiggly, gassy baby and our wiggly, gassy dog.

He spent a month jealous of the time that I was getting to spend with our littles, of the warm embrace of family bed, and hands-on parenting. He wasn’t seething with jealousy, but he felt pain at missing out on the things that he loves, which is entirely reasonable.

While he was enduring that hardship, I was dealing with the flip side: during one lovely afternoon, my folks watched Rockford while I took a three hour nap. That nap was the longest I’ve slept alone in a bed since immediately post-partum. And let me tell you, that was some sweet, glorious sleep. I think the dog might have been in bed with me, but no human hands touched me while I was sleeping. I didn’t have a lingering eye on whether Rock was going to take a dive off the edge of the bed. It was, without question, some of the most restful sleep that I can remember having.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love co-sleeping, I love our baby, I love family bed. I am not unsupported. But while Carlos was jealous of my time with our family, I was jealous of the unencumbered, quiet sleep he was getting away from us.

I guess this is another of those “the grass is always greener” situations that come up all the time in relationships. I might be totally jealous of the things that I imagine when I look into your world, but I have no idea what it’s actually like to be in there, or what you see when you look out. Of course, that’s not always true – we can talk about things and gain some understanding and perspective. As we grow in relationships with people, we gain insight into their drives and needs and desires. Carlos didn’t have to tell me that he missed sleeping with us, and I wasn’t surprised when he did. He doesn’t get ‘touched out,’ but he knows what I mean when I talk to him about it.

Often when we talk about jealousy, especially in romantic-partner relationships, there’s a feeling in the room that no good can ever come of it. Certainly no good comes from internalizing it and stewing, but we think there’s a strong case to be made for recognizing and talking about the feelings that come up in life. This is a small-stakes example – we were in this set of circumstances for a limited amount of time, and for specific reasons. Nonetheless, it presented Carlos and me with the opportunity to practice and refine one of the basic skills that keeps our relationship working – active, thoughtful communication. It’s not rocket science, but it is a tool, and like any tool you want to use, it needs to be kept sharp.

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Friday I’m In Love

Friday is my favorite day.

Today, it was sunny, although not warm. I swam ten (10!) laps.* Rockford put himself down for a nap!

I get to see my husband so soon! We ate lazy dinner and took Rock on a grand adventure to the grocery store, and washed umpteen loads of laundry.

Friday is taking-care-of-business day, make-hay-while-the-sun-shines day. It’s clean all the floors, get out of doors, baby dinosaur, four on the floor.

It is not, however, the easiest day to get my brain and body to settle into writing. At least, not in a way that fits well into the flow of the day. I get caught up in doing, and thinking-meditating-breathing while doing, and can’t quite get a hold of writing.

Just now, I’m writing while Rock is roaring around the living room, and Joe’s keeping an eye on my cookies. It’s not late, but I’m tired. Happy, productive tired, but still, tired. So I have a bit of a conundrum on my hands; how do I come to writing so that I can give it the love it needs?


*only 10, not 10!, math sticklers.