tales from urban dilettantia

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Crashing back into it

Quite a long time ago, four long years ago.  Big, fancy house.  Husband.  Cats.  Three and a half years ago, suddenly looking hard at my tangled, messy, perpetual barely-hanging-on-ness.  Starting to think about ‘happiness’ even though – as many pointed out to me – this wasn’t quite the correct word, and it was prone to be confused with hedonism.  What I was trying to express was ‘rational, loving and sustainable well-being’.  But that’s too long and too difficult to explain.  So I talked about My Happiness Project.

Looking backwards for a moment, there are posts from that time on my old LiveJournal with tags like’my happiness project’ and ‘lifehacking’, arbitrary words for a much bigger thing, and recording fragments of a journey.   On that journey, I got somewhere; some great distance from the place where I had been before. It started to feel like it was somewhere I could stay forever.  And then moving out, immeasurable sadness, innumerable boxes, and constantly fighting everything down on every front.’The thing I regret the most over the last couple of years is not having had the capacity to hang onto tight the gentle, kind love for myself that I’d been carefully cultivating.  Finding that it was possible to actually like myself was – for various historical and then-current reasons – a great, unfolding knowledge and a completely new experience.  It is utterly unacceptable to live in such a manner that when I look hard at myself, I sigh.

Somewhat unexpectedly over the past few weeks, the spark that triggered my first headlong crash into really, truly learning to be okay has been reignited.  I’m thinking about well-being, looking again at my mechanisms of self-sabotage, starting to clear out all the clutter – mental and physical – that has accumulated in every corner of my life.   Looking at being a woman who does something more than just hang on, just cope, just hoard every little bit of energy and sanity to be able to get up, go to work, and do it sufficiently well.

I’m waking the hell up and crashing back into it, in the passionate, enthusiastic way I crash into things when I’m  very excited.  I’m reading, re-reading, thinking, planning and considering two years’ worth of swirling chaos dissolve in the face of one little step after another.

And I’m going to write about it a little, because sometimes the best thing of all is remembering that you’re not the only one on the road.

In Which I Learn Things About Safe Spaces

Due to an unusual intersection of the Easter break and Anzac Day, Australia enjoyed a glorious five day weekend, some of which I spent at the Swancon/Natcon science fiction and fantasy conference. (Until I ran out of human interaction capacity, upon which I returned home to hibernate. By which I mean, play Portal 2.)

Good times were had, and this year I had the honour of being invited to sit on the Safe Spaces panel, in which we talk about communication, situation management, consent and boundaries. Sometimes, Safe Spaces can be quite contentious (the irony!) as it’s a topic on which people have very diverse and strongly-held views.  By the time it was about to begin I’d catastrophised myself into thinking it was going to be a bloodbath of some sort and that everyone would yell at me. I can be a bit of a dork like that.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all and we were able to cover a range of views and practical techniques to address various social situations. I brought some of my recent militancy to the mix, in addition to the discussions of more gentle and effective communication, and no-one appeared to glare at me nor tell me I was a horrid person who was Doing It Wrong.  (I worry somewhat excessively about being yelled at and told I’m a horrid person who’s Doing It Wrong, even if I don’t believe it.)  In the process, I learned a couple of things from the audience and from the other panellists that I think are worth sharing here.

Firstly, I had a moment where I realised that I’ve been coming at this from a place where I’ve always been something of a doormat and people-pleaser.  I’ve been working on standing up for myself and others, and on being assertive and outspoken. This has been immensely helpful, since I was raised to be a Good Catholic Woman who avoided causing offence at all costs, and it has certainly helped me realise that I don’t have to please everyone and that it isn’t necessary for everyone to like me. However, a certain comment led me to the realisation that it’s not a black and white issue and that there’s no need to beat myself up if I choose to be polite, tell a convenient white lie or not fight a particular battle. We use the tools we have, and it’s as valid to be kind, distant or evasive as it is to be blunt, honest and assertive – neither is reprehensible or inappropriate, and both approaches can be useful and practical.

Secondly, I was reminded that those things that are obvious to me are not obvious to everyone. Listening to one of my co-panellists talk about the value of learning to ask her loved ones to respect her boundaries and preferences – in her case, a strong aversion to physical contact in many circumstances – initially had me thinking ‘Well, of course I tell my friends clearly what I need, and they work with it. That’s what people who care about you do.’ However, I then remembered being an extremely sheltered eighteen year old who was so worried about fitting in that she would never have asked a friend to stop (or start) doing something to make herself comfortable. It’s good to circle back to such points in a mixed group; as obvious as they may seem to a thirty-something woman who’s been talking about this for years, they’re can also be the catalyst for someone else to realise it really, truly is okay to ask openly for a specific kind of consideration. I, for one, had almost forgotten the experience sucking up anxiety and distress, and hiding my discomfort for fear of being thought strange and difficult.

In short, no-one shouted at me, I said my bit and learned stuff. Good times.

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About

@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.