Wednesday, August 31, 2011

honesty is the best policy

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had invited me to join her at a birthday party. I love parties -- it's like going to a bar where the bouncer cards your personality -- and was particularly excited to go because my friend was going to introduce me to a guy she thought would be a good match for me. Win-win-(wine)!

A couple of hours before the party, though, my friend emailed me and said that she was exhausted, so it might take a little longer for her to rally to go to the party -- was I ok with going later? I put myself in her shoes and thought about how awful it feels to go out when I don't feel like it and I sent her an email back saying that I would be ok going alone if she would rather not go.

She was surprised that I would make the offer -- I don't love going to parties alone -- and she triple checked to make sure I was ok with it. I told her my policy: I don't make offers that I wouldn't be happy (or at least ok) with because I want people to believe that I'm ok with the offers that I do make.

A similar scenario presented itself a few days ago. A friend and I were planning on having dinner, and I was really looking forward to seeing him again after a long absence. Shortly before dinner, I got an email saying that he had had a long, tiring day and would likely be low-energy when we got together. I told him my policy, and said that I wasn't going to offer to reschedule -- why invite disappointment? -- but that if he wanted to make that offer, I wouldn't offer a lot of resistance. He clarified his comment by saying that he didn't want to reschedule, but was just giving me the heads up that he wouldn't be overly energetic. (His phrase? "I won't be juggling sparklers.") Disappointment averted!

I developed this policy after years of making offers I felt compelled or obligated to make -- offering to forego the party I was already dressed and ready for, or offering to go to a noisy, overcrowded bar when I really just wanted a quiet dinner. I did it because it felt like it was the "right thing to do," but it always left me feeling crappy afterwards. Sure, there are going to be times when things are going to be cancelled or plans will fall through -- that's unavoidable. But I don't need to go out of my way to invite people to disappoint me, especially (as happened in the second case) it wasn't on my friend's radar.

I also do this because it can send mixed signals to the other party. If I offer to cancel or reschedule or change the plans in a way that I don't want to might make the other person think it's what I DO want, and they may accommodate me accordingly.

So I just stick with honesty. And I make sure I'm consistent and that my friends know about it. So far, it has worked really well.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene (or, why a restricted media diet is a good thing)

It's one thing to be prepared. And so staying tuned to the news and making sure you have the latest information is important, especially in the event of an emergency (or a Pending Emergency, as this storm really turned out to be). It's another thing all together to continually bombard yourself with images and information that serve to do nothing but raise your blood pressure and anxiety levels. And I don't think it's actually the media's responsibility to monitor how much of the information you take in. That's your call. (Would I like it better if the news channels weren't fear-mongering for ratings? Yes, yes I would. But it's kind of their job to get ratings, right?)

I survived hurricane Irene easily, as did virtually all of my friends, so it's easy for me to be fairly blithe about this. But there was so much build up, so much tension before the actual storm that I started to get worried even though my apartment (and the apartment where I weathered the storm) were not in a threat zone. I made sure we took necessary precautions -- had water on hand, secured items on the roof, etc. -- and then that we turned off the TV. We checked in periodically, just to see if anything had changed, if there was any chance we'd be directly hit or otherwise affected, but as soon as the news looped back around to information we already knew, we turned it off.

Same thing with facebook. Some of my friends online were posting nothing but terrifying updates about the death toll or the misery of the flooding. And I'm not saying they shouldn't post those things, especially because they were true. Facebook can be a good way to get information shared. But I'm saying that I should be careful about how much of it I take in -- especially when the cause of the drama is something that I can't do anything about.

So should we all just sit around and be ignorant? No, of course not. But monitoring how useful the information is that we're processing and balancing that with how anxious it makes us feel is important. And we'll all have different levels of acceptability.

I think people like a little bit of drama in their lives. It helps to make us feel alive. And so a storm like this can provide us with that little bit of adrenaline. But adrenaline, not burnt on some task (like fighting or fleeing, which it was created for) can turn into stress and be quite harmful to our bodies. And the bodies of our friends and families. And we forget this.

So it's your choice as to whether or not you look at the Glenn Beck article that called Irene a blessing. (Yikes!) And it's your choice -- if you read it, how much do you read? (Two paragraphs.) And it's your choice -- you can close that window and focus instead on something where you really can make a difference. Like calling a friend. Helping a neighbor. That kind of thing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

community organizing

All my life I've wanted a group of friends who all hang out and know each other. That television-inspired fantasy life where I hang out with the people from work every night. Or I go home to a whole apartment building full of amigos. But it's never been like that. I've always had great friends, but very few of them have known each other. Even in college -- my friends knew of each other, but very rarely (outside of that one directing class where just about everyone had slept with just about everyone else in a strange variety of couplings) were friends with each other.

As an actor, I lived the fantasy a bit more than I do now, since the theatre community was much smaller and I knew more of the players. While we weren't all friends, we knew people in common and we came together after work, kind of like they do on tv. People ask me if I miss acting and there are two things I do miss -- the applause and the community.

Over time, I've come to accept Some Day My Group Will Come as a fantasy, and have focused on strengthening the individual friendships that I have. But ever since I left acting, I've really missed belonging to a community. Knowing and caring about people who know and care about each other. Working together with people I enjoy towards a goal that is bigger than just hanging out. Being of service to people who I believe if the tables were turned would be of service to me.

I've done a lot recently to build my community, including reaching out to new women as friends. I'll be honest -- it can be awkward. Here I am, 34 years old, and asking women I've just met (and find awesome) if they'll be my friends. Do they want to get coffee some time? Maybe go to the beach together? I mean, could it be more second grade? I've found, though, that the awesome ones are open. They welcome me and my second grade advances. So there must be a need for community out there.

I've explored a lot of options for community recently. Committees at work. Leading a book group. Even going to church (which, if you know me, you know this means I'm serious). I'm thinking about helping adults learn to read. I'm thinking about getting more involved in alumni events. This idea of community really speaks to me, but I just don't know where to find it.

Short of having children, what do you recommend?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

what I learned about presence

Often, when I'm working on these different months, I don't know what the month is really about until it's almost over. And that was true with July. I started out thinking it was about sensuality, and about living in and enjoying my senses. But I realized that spending time focusing on my senses was really bringing me into the present moment. When I was chewing on that fig and goat cheese combo, I couldn't be thinking about how I was going to finish writing my class on time. When I was feeling the wind in my hair, I wasn't obsessing over when I was going to get my laundry done. And when I was hearing my nephew laugh, I was only thinking about how I could get him to do that some more. (Answer? Peek-a-boo. That kid's an addict.)

Living in the present moment when you're a really thinky person like I am, is a challenge. For years I have told myself this story about how my mind and my intellect make me funny and awesome. So I don't tamp down my brain because, according to the story, doing so would make me less funny and less awesome. I've resisted meditation. I've struggled with any definition of self that leaves out the mind. I list "smart" as one of my best qualities. Because, in fact, I think my brain's kinda sexy!

Recently, though, a teacher of mine explained meditation differently. She said that meditation wasn't about getting rid of your mind, it's about letting it rest. When I'm not calling on it to perform -- or rather, when I'm not rewarding it with my attention for performing -- it will take a break. And I can just rest in the peace and quiet. And I can feel the air conditioning on my legs. I can hear the thrum of the traffic outside. I can smell the barbecue wafting in through the window. I don't have to jump through hoops of worry. I don't have to repeat song lyrics or plan the day. I can just be here now and relax.

When I started the Year of Yes (well, ok, the 14 months of yes), I assigned the months to the qualities randomly (using Excel, because I'm a dork). Because of the way things are turning out, the month of Presence is being followed by the month of Mind. August is all about mental pursuits, the delight of ideas for the sake of ideas, and generally pushing myself to new perceptions. I've picked up a book that I think will be appropriate -- Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. And I'm looking for good lectures and learning opportunities.

At the same time that I'm fascinated by pushing my brain to new limits, I also want to retain what I've learned about presence so that I'm thinking only when I choose to. So that I'm the boss of my mind, not the other way around. I want to drive the mental bus and not just be some random passenger in a mental version of Speed. (Because if my mind the bus, what the hell is Keanu Reeves? Riddle me that one, fancy brain!)