tales from urban dilettantia


Strange Patterns and Rabid Insecurity Raccoons

For the first time in quite a while, I wandered down to Quaker meeting this morning, which was a wise choice as it turned out that the hour of quiet thinking was particularly useful and enlightening.  This post is the outcome of that hour of quiet thinking.

Two of the ideas that have been trending for me recently have been Fear and Shame.  (Why yes, I did have an excellent Catholic education – how did you guess?)  And over the past week, I’ve had a couple of really, really useful conversations about Life, The Universe and Everything which have helped me piece together a pattern I hadn’t noticed.

This is what happens when I do something that scares me:

1. I am scared.
2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway.
3. I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, even if the thing was good.

After thirty-one fine years of obliviousness, I noticed this and realised it was rather strange.   I wasn’t getting anywhere figuring it out intellectually, so I tried something else while I was sitting in meeting today and decided to run it past my inner monsters and see what they thought.  (I’d like to note here that my inner monsters care a whole crapload about my well-being; they just tend to have tunnel vision and can be really inept at implementation.)

So, this is what turns out is actually going on in my head:

1. I am scared.  Often I am scared beyond reason because I have had both a personal and a cultural upbringing where women who do scary things are punished and hurt, and regarded as foolish.  And I am scared beyond reason because my brain – for reasons of upbringing, mental health or other – tends to return a lot of false positives.

2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway, at which point my inner monsters start shouting ‘hey woman, you have all these shiny fear signals that are supposed to be saving you from being hurt or punished – what the hell are you doing ignoring them? This is horrible, self-harming behaviour – how can we trust you to look after yourself when you dismiss everything we flag as scary!’

3. And then, I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, because I have a vague and hard-to-pin-down sense of having chosen to be self-harming, foolish, unwilling or unable to look after myself.

This is such a strange little pattern, and one I haven’t come across before in anyone else’s writing or discussion.  And I can see there are actually two things here to work on, which is what has been making it a bit more difficult – I need to do something about the false positives and the learned fear at (1), and I also need to work out how to negotiate with the inner monsters at (2) and have them know that I really, truly will listen to them and that they can trust me not to engage in acts of self-destruction.

Now what I really want to know is, is this strange little pattern specific to my brain, or do you recognise it too?

Tiny Seeds & Long Shadows

Some days, I am fortunate enough to stumble across sparkling little ideas and quotes that are Exactly What I Need To Hear at the time. Recently, at a time when I was feeling pretty wretched about a number of things, Havi posted this on her blog:

When you encounter a bully, they seem so big.

They seem so big because you’re also seeing the shadow of every other bully you’ve ever encountered, at the same time.

They seem powerful because you are remembering vulnerable. They seem threatening because you remember being threatened.

And it sparkled (and by sparkled, I mean it shouted ‘hey woman, pay attention – you need to know this’) because I realised that – while she is ostensibly writing about bullying – the underlying concept translates so well to other things.

Relationships seem so overwhelming and powerful, because I am remembering being vulnerable and hurting and exhausted. Projects seem so overwhelming because I am remembering being let down by others and overwhelmed. Social engagements seem threatening because I am remembering being threatened or harassed or otherwise encroached upon.

My sense of overwhelm, my fear and my near-constant catastrophising are products of my bringing Every Single Thing That Has Ever Happened To Me to new experiences. It’s time to start realising that new experiences are just that – new – and only tiny seeds, neither great, nor looming, nor foregone conclusions.

To borrow from the late, great Bill Hicks (and if you haven’t seen American yet, you should), it’s a choice, right now, between fear and love. And tiny seeds grow into better trees with love.

Random Jumble Post!

1. I’ve been taking quite a few photos recently, including more of the Perth Zoo:

2. I’ve also adopted a new rabbit in need of a home, largely because bunnies are social animals who generally do better in pairs. Her name is Bunny du Pompadour, aka Reinette, and I found her via the good people of S.A.F.E. Perth who were totally down with me organising bunny dates between Walter and prospective companions.  It was internet dating, for rabbits!

3. I’ve discovered a few nice new iPhone apps recently. ScannerPro is great for moving documents and scribbles in my sketchbook straight onto the internet:

4. And then there’s Simplenote…let us just say that I am as madly in love with Simplenote as a woman can be with a piece of text-document management software. It’s so…simple! And it speaks to everything else! I have the iPhone app for portable use, and access my notes via a PortableApps version of ResophNotes on my work machine (it copes just fine with the corporate firewall) and Notational Velocity on my Mac at home.

5. I’ve been reading Havi Brooks’ The Fluent Self blog quite a lot, largely because her internal dialogue sounds so very much like mine.

6. I gave away a large pile of clothes, stuffed toys, books and random items at the Really Really Free Market last weekend, which conveniently happens to be held in the park one block from my house. I strolled down with my granny shopping trolley full, and returned home with an empty granny shopping trolley and a small adopted tree. (I have named him Buswell, for media reasons.)

7. Last week, I took the alarming step of hiring a cleaner to visit my house once a fornight to clean the bathroom, do the floors and dust. I have conflicted feelings about being the sort of person who [needs to hire / hires] a cleaner, but my initial feelings about the shiny floors and lack of general filth are very positive indeed.

8. And finally, I’m in the middle of the messy transition that is getting off Venlafaxine, with all the mood swings, involuntary twitches, shaking and happycrazysadcrazyOMGPANICcrazy one might expect. In spite of this, I’m pretty relieved with how it’s going – it’s far from pleasant but it’s manageable. I’m taking it slow and am relatively stable at a low dose of 37.5mg a day at the moment, and should be completely clean in a couple of weeks.

Welcome To Leftovers-Night

This post is like a Leftovers-Night dinner.  You’ll see.

Right now I’m doing some work that involves re-running a model through twenty or so different scenarios, and each run takes around a minute, so I have Notepad up and am using the runtime to write. It feels like a luxury to have some time to start thinking about having a page to fill with words.

I’ve been trying to manage the number of hours I’ve been spending in the office, but even when I’ve been able do that, the intensity of the last month has been something to behold. There’s not much I’m able to say about it in a public forum, but it involves a lot more responsibility and a whole bunch of time-critical work. I’m hopeful October will see a promotion, as I feel there’s a significant mismatch between the level I’m on and the work I’m doing.

Over the past month, the last module of my professional qualification has started up, so I’m studying and involved in a bunch of other things too. I know it’s something I come back to time after time here, but the struggle to manage commitments seems to be something of an ongoing theme in my life. I made a mind-map while I was having lunch yesterday, and even though many things spawned sub-commitments and began to ooze from the edges of the A4 page, it feels better to have the majority of it laid out.

Out of everything I’m doing at the moment, passing the last module of my Grad Dip is far and away the most significant one when it comes to my long term well-being. In part, this is because repeating will be a very expensive exercise, but more because the timing of finishing the course directly relates to when I’ll be free to leave my current employer without having to repay my sizable study debt. ‘Freedom, horrible freedom!’ as they say. (‘I’m the Queen!’ ‘No you’re not!’)

What else? Oh yes, the week just gone has been a shocker when it’s come to mental health – by far the worst in recent times. While horrible, the upside of this has been that I’ve managed to get through it without messing up anything significant, which is quite exciting – my ability to manage depressive episodes has really lifted in the past couple of years, and this is a topic I’d like to write more on at a later date.

Other than that…well. I’ve seen The Mountain Goats, Jeff Martin and Henry Rollins recently. Rollins was doing his Frequent Flyer spoken word tour, and I don’t think I have anything near the articulacy to express how moving and inspiring I found it. The man is a spectacularly interesting human being, and I find much of his discussion around depression, adventure, happiness and human experience to be almost painfully resonant. (I’m selfishly frustrated that he’s famous, because if he weren’t it would be easier to say ‘hey mate, come have a drink with me and we’ll talk about life the universe and everthing’.)

Musicwise, I’ve been obsessing over a few things, mostly relating to recent gigs. Jeff Martin’s Live in Dublin album is excellent, and I would strongly suggest getting it from iTunes if you haven’t already. portabledave has also put me onto The Tallest Man On Earth aka Kristian Mattson, a profoundly Dylan-esque folk muso from Denmark whose new album, The Wild Hunt, I’ve had on repeat. And then there’s the latest Mountain Goats album, The Life of the World to Come, which has this song about the thylacine, the dodo and the golden toad which just about moves me to tears every time, because (like most Australians?) I’m well aware of the heartbreaking footage they’re referring to in the first verse:

The sun above me and a concrete floor below
Scratch at the chain links maybe bare my teeth for show
Fed twice a day I don’t go hungry anymore
Feel in my bones just what the future has in store
I pace in circles so the camera will see
Look hard at my stripes, there’ll be no more after me
Laze by the shoreline while the sailors disembark
Scratch out a place to sit and rest down in the dark
Smell something burning downwind just a little ways
They set up camp and sing and sweat and work for days
I have no fear of anyone I’m dumb and wild and free
I am a flightless bird and there’ll be no more after me

In Costa Rica in a burrow underground
Climb to the surface, blink my eyes and look around
I’m all alone here as I try my tiny song
Claim my place beneath the sky but i won’t be here for long
I sang all night the moon shone on me through the trees
No brothers left and there’ll be no more after me
(- Deuteronomy 2:10)


And finally, a few links that I’ve stumbled across and appreciated in recent weeks:

Love and Logic

tacit posted a thoughtful article today on choosing relationships. I wanted to point it out, not simply because it’s a good article but also because it covers a number of points that really resonate for me personally. This part in particular hits home:

It is possible to deeply, sincerely love someone and still not be a good partner for that person.

I’d also go on to say that it’s possible to choose not to be someone’s partner specifically because you do love them so deeply and sincerely, and want them to live a life the best possible life they can. For me, love is not about being all-conquering, but it is very much about choosing to do the right thing by the people you love even when that’s very, very difficult to contemplate.

Another point that interested me was the discussion of relationship choice in the context of fail-safe logic, basically contrasting the outcomes of taking a blacklist/dealbreaker approach to potential partners to those of taking a whitelist approach. I really like the concept of this being an abundance model as opposed to a starvation model – the choice of approach implies quite a lot about one’s self-perception and self-worth:

A person who holds a starvation model of relationship, in which relationships seem to be rare and difficult to find, is not likely going to want to use an approach that fails open, on the fear that if he doesn’t take a relationship opportunity that presents itself, who knows when another person might express interest? If relationships seem rare, then why not jump at an opportunity if there seem to be no dealbreakers standing in the way?

And, just because I love this bit, and because I see so many people doing the opposite so unhappily:

I think that people who hold a starvation model of relationship often seem to be always searching for a partner, and that can really be off-putting; whereas in an abundance model, if you simply live your life with enthusiasm and joy and instead of seeking partners you seek to develop in yourself the qualities that you desire in a partner, then other people will tend to be drawn to you and relationships will be abundant.

So much for writing original content today! However, I’m not sure I can say any of this better than it’s already been said, and it is something I wanted to share.

A Thousand Words

Being an approximation of what I’m up to at the moment.

Waking Up, Growing Up

I used to be a much more prolific blogger once, and perhaps a better writer if you favour the sort of writer who rambles prettily about the things she’s been up to, or indeed about nothing at all.

To be fair, life has been absurd over the past year or two, and I’m only now just starting to shed the feeling that the bottom has fallen out of my world.  I’ve been reading old posts, and it seems like I fell asleep one day as a art student and have only just woken to find myself thirty, in a corporate job, playing activist in my spare time and inexplicably, terribly in love with Perth.  (Says she who spent so many years plotting her escape.)

I’m a less lyrical writer, a more talented photographer, a more absent friend, a better and more prolific artist.  There’s dust on my musical instruments and on my gaming rig.  I’d like to do something to fix that.  I’m both fiercer and more gentle, both more and less patient. So it goes.

In the interim, I’ve learned something about loving people and places for what they are, and letting relationships be the shape that fits. I have a lot more to learn, but also plenty of love.  And for the first time in a long time, I’m looking at my life and wondering where I’ll be this time next year, instead of fighting to stay afloat in the current.


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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.