tales from urban dilettantia

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Adulting and Adulthood

I’ve been giving some thought, recently, to why the neologism ‘adulting’ really grates.

I had a look around to see what other people had said on the matter. Most of the dislike for the word seems to centre on criticism of people – particularly Millennials – for whom said ‘adulting’ is optional.

I take this point, although singling out Millennials makes me uncomfortable (they’re the ones who have to live with the planet that we’ve fucked up, after all). I too have the privilege of letting things fall apart a bit without major consequences.

Being highly educated, white, a property owner, in a permanent job (with sick leave, no less), a good credit record, and so forth, I too have a safety net. I’m fortunate to have choices that wouldn’t be open to me if I lived in public housing, if I had rent inspections, if I had already defaulted on paying fines, if family services were watching me and I feared they would take my children. I’m fortunate that to ‘adult’ or not to ‘adult’ is frequently a choice.

However, I don’t think this fully captures the reason I loathe the term. My issue – the one I haven’t seen raised elsewhere – is one of ability and disability.

I’ve been quite open here about my mental health, and most recently, about my battle with hoarding. More generally, when I’m not well, I frequently struggle with some fairly basic functions. Dealing with the mail, paying bills, doing laundry, running errands, cleaning the house, remembering birthdays, replying to messages, eating properly et cetera. Over the years, I’ve wobbled between keeping vaguely on top of such things, and letting them go altogether. When my capacity to cope has been low, what little I have has been wholly funneled into my job.

None of this is particularly unusual for someone with longstanding, treatment-resistant mental health issues. And I have many friends (some with similar mental health issues, some with mobility constraints, and some with other chronic health conditions) who share my experience.

I won’t speak for them, but for me, the territory between disability and adulthood is terribly murky. I am accomplished at berating myself, and it is but a small step from saying ‘I am unwell’ to ‘I am a failure, I might as well be a child’.

And herein is the problem. Herein is the murkiness. When I see these things – dealing with the mail, paying bills, doing laundry, running errands, cleaning the house, remembering birthdays, replying to messages, eating properly et cetera – referred to as ‘adulting’, there is a subtle sting. An implication that the failure to do these things is a failure to grow the fuck up.

Part of this – much of it, in fact – is my problem, not yours. It is my responsibility to learn not to berate myself, and not to define myself by the things I fail to do. And, I’m well aware that it buys into a logical fallacy – namely, denying the antecedent.

However, I think there is a wider issue here that warrants examination – one that plays into the tendency to infantilise people with disability, and one that challenges what adulthood looks like. When I’m curled up in a ball and can’t leave the house, I’m an adult who happens to be curled up in a ball and can’t leave the house. When I have crippling anxiety about getting a task done, I’m an adult with crippling anxiety about getting a task done. When I’ve eaten condiments out of a jar for dinner because I’ve been steam-rolled by antidepressants that just aren’t working, I’m a goddamn condiment-eating adult.

So, should people stop using the word ‘adulting’? That’s their call. For my part, I’ll work on my own issues – the shaky mental processes that cause it to grate and generate a vague yet needling sense of grief. But I do believe – passionately – that we need to think about how we define adulthood, and how that intersects with disability. We are all adults here, doing our best – clean laundry, or not.

I Hoard Stuff

I hoard stuff. Anyone who has spent much time in my space will know that.

When I look at diagnostic surveys and photographic guides, I find I fall solidly into the ‘you might want to think about getting some help’ category. It’s not reality-television-bad, but it’s bad enough to hurt.

To provide some context, here are a few of the things I have done.

  • Completely lost a room. At least twice. I forget how many times.
  • Avoided having people around without preparatory time to haul piles into spare rooms and close doors.
  • Spent months letting the laundry pile up, buying new underwear instead.
  • Was repeatedly too scared to tackle what’s in the fridge, or in the sink, or in mysterious boxes.
  • Failed to open mail. Piles and piles of mail. (You know what? They send you loads of warnings before they cut services off.)
  • Failed to do my tax for years on end, the paperwork being lost in my piles of clutter.
  • Lost a bunch of clothes when it rained inside and I just…left them there getting rained on.
  • Never cleared my gutters (hence the inside rain).
  • Climbed over piles of things to get to the front door.
  • Slept on half of a double bed, while the clutter napped ominously on the other half.

Now apparently ‘admitting you have a problem’ is half the battle, but I’ve been admitting that for years and you know what? Admitting you have a problem doesn’t open boxes, plug up inside rain, or magically grant access to abandoned rooms.  And, at least in my experience, it doesn’t make you feel much better about yourself either.

Thankfully, I know other people who have done this hoarding thing too. Brilliant, beautiful people who are great friends, great professionals, great human beings. And I know that they are no less great friends, great professionals, great human beings for having hoarded. And on occasion, some of them have been kind enough to let me help them sort a little of their hoard, and I am honoured by that.  It is a hard thing to let people see the piles of stuff, and even harder to let them see one’s emotional reaction to tackling it.

Personally, I’ve fought my hoarding as well as I’ve been able, which hasn’t been all that well a lot of the time.  Occasionally, I’ve had frantic bursts of energy and hired skips and filled them.  From time to time, I’ve bravely emptied a handbag, typically discovering a muddle of medication, old receipts, and oozing nail polish at the bottom.  I’ve researched treatment approaches and developed excellent organisational techniques…and then failed to apply them.

But this year, I think I may be turning a corner. I hope.  I’m taking a new medication for some of my other issues, and it seems to be moderating my hoarding behaviours too, complementing K’s gentle life coaching, and the patience and absence of judgement offered by both my partners.

It seems nuts to think a small pill at night could keep the laundry under control, get dirty dishes into the dishwasher, pick the clothes off the floor, or start chipping away at the deep clutter – the drawers, cupboards, and containers that have been abandoned to their mysterious contents. But it appears that it may well do so.

Just got to clean those gutters. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just got to stop the rain.

Swinging on the Spiral

“I’ve been asking people around me to write about personal positives in their life, the way they make a difference in their own way, as part of their daily experience of living in the world. Now it is my turn to share with you about my life and how I try to make a difference. Where I spend the most time, energy and effort in making a difference entirely revolves around love.” – Jaunita Landésse, setting the agenda for the 51st Down Under Feminists’ Carnival.

It is interesting that I’ve been invited to write about the way I make a difference in the world in a week where I’ve been struggling to even co-exist with the world. After many hours of begging my brain to think-think-think, I decided that the best way to address the subject was to take the scope above and to fill in the gap in this sentence:

‘Where I spend the most time, energy and effort in making a difference entirely revolves around _____.’

And when I did this, I found my answer.

Curiosity. That’s me.

It is perhaps more evident that curiosity drives my inner world, than it is that it drives the outer. I’m a life-long learner, a researcher, a dilettante who hyperbolicly claims she’ll try anything twice, an adventuress, an analyst and a woman who describes herself as ‘interested in everything’. (That’s a lie; I’m not in the least interested in Rugby League.)

If you’ve visited this blog in the past, you’ll have seen that it’s quite the jumble of things. Specific topics (cycling, politics, statistics, happiness, art, polyamory), a repository for my lists of hundreds of interesting Wikipedia articles, and tales of local history that I’ve spent hours and days and weeks researching just for the love of researching. If I have one defining characteristic that has not changed in the least over the past three decades (if you ask my Mum, I expect she’ll tell you I was a most curious baby) it’s overwhelming, unconquerable, fervent curiosity.

How, then, does this curiosity make a difference beyond my internal world? If you’ve had a conversation with me about something that excites me, you’ve probably noticed that (a) I talk really, really fast, and (b) that I love to share the knowledge grown out of the seed of an initial fascination. While it’s hard to gauge a degree of influence, many people – at work, at home, here on the internet – have mirrored my enthusiasm and have taken the time to tell me they’ve appreciated the sharing of my interests. An even better indicator, I think, is that people often go on to send me links, books, thoughts and pieces of news related to a discussion we’ve had, long after the initial conversation. We go on to listen and learn together.

I am most certain that the infectiousness of curiosity makes a difference in the world, as does the distribution of learning. I’ve learned this not from my experience as a giver of curiosity, so much as being on the receiving side of similar excitement from others who share this passion. Their curiosity feeds mine, plants new seeds and ideas, travels off in random directions, and iteratively feeds back into their wonder and awe as it returns. To learn for the joy of learning, to discover for the joy of discovering, to chase trails, to unwrap stories and to adventure on – these are the ways I write my own story and make meaning in my world, and perhaps too, in the worlds of others.

Now, wonder and awe are magnificent things, but has occurred to me as I write that curiosity also makes a difference in a more intimate way. It brings difference into the world because I’m interested in you.

I truly want to understand what makes you happy, what makes you sad, why you do what you do, what you think, how you feel, how you think, what enchants you, what enamours you, where you come from, your stories, how you’re just like me, how you’re utterly unlike me, and how you occupy and interact with your world. And I think, again from being on the receiving end rather than the giving, that it does make a small, warming difference to meet someone who is curious about you. It is good to, in that moment, know you are an interesting creature. And so, in a tiny, intimate way, I can give you the gift of my curiosity and all that entails, and likewise, if you too are interested, you can give that gift to me.

Curiosity has become more than a personality trait. More than an instinct, a proclivity or a habit, all these though it has been. But beyond them, it has become a guiding philosophy; it is my self-determined raison d’être and my maker of meaning, in a universe where I perceive no other meaning than that I create.

As Jaunita lives to love, I live to discover.

Spiralling out, keeping going. That’s the person I want to be.

 

Spiral - Sculptures by the Sea

With a loving nod to Cary, comrade in philomathy. Lateralus is your song.

Public Service Announcements

The Brain

I’m still in the middle of the great brain experiment.   I’m going to persist with 150mg of Sertraline a day for the next month and reassess at the end of it. Right now, it’s making me dopey as all hell, and isn’t doing much for the pre-menstrual merry-go-round of general anxiety, social anxiety and depression. However, aside from the PMDD phase, it seems to be a step in the right direction. (I actually typed ‘depression’ instead of ‘direction’ there and fixed it on an edit – what are you trying to tell me, brain?)

Right now, I’m feeling exhausted and negative about the whole thing and am at the point where in the past I’ve tended to say ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and give up, but I intend to push through this time and see if it’s possible to find an optimal treatment.

The Christmas

Christmas…there’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but have been worried about coming across as terribly self-righteous or critical of other people’s choices, which isn’t my intention at all. It’s this: I am happy to announce that I am not sending physical cards out again this year. And I am not going on the Annual Shopping Ordeal (I hate shopping) to find Arbitrary Stuff to give to people as Meaningful Presents.

I have ordered my parents some prints of my art which I will frame for them. Portable Dave, you can have a voucher to spend on whatever you will most use and enjoy – let me know what that might be. Everyone else: I will bake, give away my art and craft, take cuttings from my garden, maybe put them in little terrarium jars to give away, and distribute the abundance of eggs from my chickens. I will cook for you, draw for you, love you and hug you. (Some of these things may be delivered a little late, as I know quite a lot of people.) I may donate a goat or some ducks to charity in your honour. If you have any special requests, let me know, as I do like to give things that are wanted. But I will not angst about buying you plastic things and wrapping them in shiny paper for you to throw away.

The Tame Chicken

The chicken called Boomer is super-tame now and allows me to pick her up.  All of my chicken-related dreams have come true.

The Seeing of You

There will be another Open House Day at my place in the near future, so long as I don’t go completely crazy or something. Oh wait.

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:

Swooping & Diving

Welcome Swallow

Welcome Swallow

Welcome Swallow

This year, none of my half-drafted text posts have yet come to anything, but I’ll have you know that they’re sitting there in the dusty attic of a hard drive, waiting to be unleashed.

In the meantime, I’ve posted some more birdwatching photos to Flickr, including the Welcome Swallows pictured above.  Wings are exciting; I’m having fun times (and sometimes frustrating times) learning to photograph wings.

My excuse for not having written anything of substance – one of my excuses, anyway – is that I’m buried not only under unpleasant work (Large Accounting Firm has jumped the shark, it really has) but under an avalanche of side projects.

Some of the side projects include doing a triathlon, getting my diving certification, building a barrel garden, harvesting the local laneway/vergeside fruit, looking for a new job, soaking up as much of the summer cricket as possible, and two secret things.  One secret thing is is about tentacles, the other is about maps.

Somehow I think spending time at the beach needs to be on the projects list, but isn’t. It strikes me that this is a terrible oversight.

Enter 2010

I’m feeling like writing again, for the first time in a year or so. I have some Happiness Project posts drafted on my netbook and will whip them into shape and start posting this week. (Did I even mention that I have acquired a tiny eeePC netbook? Joel found it for me in Hong Kong at half the Australian price. I’ve installed Crunchbang Linux on it and fallen in love.)

The wonders of gadgetry aside, I’m feeling optimistic about 2010. It’s an arbitrary flick of the page, certainly, but there was something auspicious about waking up on New Year’s Day with not a trace of my resident anxiety and depression, to spend the day feeling blissfully calm and loved.

Having decided that good years come to those who help themselves, I’ve got myself a referral to a good psychiatrist for a review of my diagnosis and medication. (It’s been over twelve years since I’ve had a psych, so I’m thinking it’s about time.) And I’ve spent my holiday leave doing quite a number of fulfilling things, including:

repeatedly going to the cricket, courtesy of alibaster

working in my garden (it grows!)

spending time socialising the bunny, who remains fabulous

working through my backlog of photos to sort and upload

taking a whole lot of new photos to sort and upload

turning my scary box room into a great study and art room

turning my Hackintosh + PS3 into a media centre that plays almost anything

birdwatching and biking on Rottnest Island with lisamax , boxer_the_horse and grahame.

getting plenty of exercise from running, biking, walking, geocaching, roller-skating and riding Perth’s most awesome vehicle (which belongs to carywin).

sorting out all the necessary paperwork and sending my application for citizenship to the British High Commission

Here endeth today’s random holiday round-up.

Flickr


Tern, Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Nudibranch, Arrawarra, NSW Sea Cucumber? Arrawarra, NSW Urchin, Arrawarra, NSW Starfish, Arrawarra, NSW Polychaete Worm, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Mollusc, Arrawarra, NSW Gastropod, Arrawarra, NSW 

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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.