Tell Me I’m Wrong

Tell Me I’m Wrong

I like it.

I do. It’s new – maybe a few years that I’ve had positive reactions to being accurately corrected – but it feels so good when I do. It actually gives me a physical rush. Maybe rush isn’t the right word. It’s like a piney breeze softly winding through my body. It feels like freedom.

When I find out I don’t know shit…

I don’t know why, but it feels like Freeeeeeeeeedom

(thank you for the only upbeat popular songs of 2021, Mr. Batiste)

Oh, don’t think it’s always been this way. It definitively ain’t. I’m one of those people who has had a lifelong embarrassment of showing ignorance. Not any ignorance: I allowed myself some realms of detached unknowing. Mostly in realms I didn’t care about. You could tease me relentlessly about never having seen a full Star Trek episode or most forms of etiquette or different cuts of meat or fantasy novels and I’d laugh it off. But for a shockingly, shockingly broad swath of topics, not knowing something churned up not interest, but shame. Even some things I didn’t give two shits about, like the names of different kinds of rocks. I’d still feel stupid because I know we covered that at some point in grade school. So I should know it. Different kinds of architecture? Never studied it, but I know educated people often do, so I should know it. Damn near every event in history, every geographic location, every word in Spanish, every philosopher, every person who ever accomplished anything noteworthy, every non-obscure scientific theory.

Everyone who shares this affliction has their own unique backstory, I’m sure. As a child I was shamed and sometimes psychologically tortured for hours if I failed to define a word correctly or adequately explain why a race riot somewhere in Asia was noteworthy. And it wasn’t just facts or intellectual prowess I was expected to excel in, but physical activities as well. If I didn’t rapidly learn how to hit a tennis ball without lobbing it over the fence or catch a baseball thrown with some velocity at my face, I was met with anger and heaping gobs of disappointment. Is it any wonder I mournfully sat out softball while my BFA class got to know each other on the field my freshman year in college? Or wouldn’t partake in any new activity until I had already practiced on my own beforehand? There was also a fun little twist in that my abuser often accused me of “pretending not to know.” I really wonder where the hell he got that one. What kind of masochist did he think I was, to invite hours of soul-crushing confusion and barely contained violence just for fun?

Weirdly, or not, I have treated myself with much the same bad logic. I put a slightly different spin on it: knowing that I don’t know an answer, I’m clearly not faking it, so at least I don’t have that bullshit to contend with. Instead I see my ignorance as a personal failure. For someone who considers herself logical, it really doesn’t make any more sense than my dad’s accusation. If I don’t remember something from high school, did I choose to forget it? Obviously not, so how can I blame myself? More things are forgotten than remembered by every person, every day. And even more things are never acknowledged in the first place. We’d be unable to function in society otherwise. Perhaps I didn’t study hard enough, but considering the overwhelming mass of things I expect myself to remember, “enough” is an unreachable goal. Many crucial facts are things I didn’t even learn in class, things that might have been casually referenced in passing. If I had worked to commit to memory every stupid tidbit I’m expected to know, I wouldn’t have lived a life.

What if my ignorance is, Buddha forbid, just plain old stupidity? I certainly can’t blame myself for that. And if I am intellectually stunted, I’ve done remarkably well for myself.

Why does knowing things even matter? What wisdom or insight or empathy or connection is gained simply by carrying oodles of items around in your head? What real knowing comes of it?

Of course, if talking oneself out of bad habits were enough to erase them, we’d all be a whole lot healthier. My intro was an optimistic exaggeration. There are still too many areas or scenarios in which I feel that shame creeping in, and one of them will be put to the test yet again for the umpteenth time next week. I’m taking a Spanish class for the first time since 2019, and as much as I love the language, relish speaking it, and crave fluency, practice has always been an opportunity for me to start waving that flag of self-loathing. I can rationalize my way out of the wise analysis of previous paragraphs with the simple fact that I have been studying Spanish off and on for decades, so obviously I should know it perfectly by now. I will also be participating in an Mindfulness Intensive program during part of the semester, so I’m hoping that will help me process any fucked-up feelings I’m experiencing.

The irony (so often with the irony) is that I may be right about my language expectations. It is entirely possible that someone who has been studying as long as I would know the language at least comfortably, if not fluently. According to language experts, the main reason I haven’t gotten there is because I don’t spend nearly enough time actually interacting with people in Spanish. And why? Because I’m afraid of being wrong. You see here, that old Buddhist mantra creeping in – you can’t really love others until you can love yourself. Our fears create the scenarios we fear.

Alan Watts, apropos of I don’t know what, once said that the Japanese in Japan were generally excellent English speakers, but an Englishman had to get them drunk to hear them talk because they were too afraid of embarrassing themselves to try when they were sober. I empathize, mis amigos. Your culture of shame is far vaster than my culture of one, but I feel you.

I have come up with a procedure that would get rid of all these self-positioned and self-perpetuating obstacles: just detach the identity from the emotion. Because it’s not the embarrassment that kills you, it’s the shame – it’s the attachment of the embarrassment to one’s sense of self that creates the shame. I deal with this whenever I try to get White people to talk about race and racism, and it does get frustrating. At times I just want to shake them and say, “your ignorance is not your fault/you didn’t choose to be raised under White supremacy/you’re not doing anyone any good by hiding from it/ you can make things better for yourself and others if you just open up, allow yourself to be wrong, and grow.” And of course, I recognize that I am in the same boat, just on a different river.

So I am not there yet. But feeling that freedom of openness, of detaching my mistakes from my identity, of just letting them be and moving on, should make it easier to welcome that liberation with my Big Enemy of the language I should know. We’ll see. I’ll keep you in the loop.

Imperfect Work

a minusI spent several months of last year trying to brainwash myself out of self-loathing. It was helpful, in that I learned quite a bit, and the intellectual path is the quickest way to my heart, but I don’t know that it accomplished its goal in any significant way.

The better way, probably, is to keep working on doing the opposite of what my loathing overseer demands, on a pathetically constant basis. I will (try) not to yell at myself for breaking a plate or overcooking rice, or assume everyone else’s ideas are better than mine (until I decide they’re all inferior – or vice versa), or make every moment quantifiably “useful,” or force myself to a certain level of perfection before I share anything with anyone.

That’s where you come in!

I haven’t written much lately, and haven’t blogged nearly as much as I was intending to overall. It’s hard to churn out even two posts a month when every piece has to be without errors, coherent, and cohesive. I’m not saying what I have permitted was good, it just isn’t full of bad-person-mistakes. It’s taken me a while to accept that perfectionism is a problem. To be honest, I still don’t. But I do recognize its destructiveness, and the hypercritical source of it. For some of us, if we don’t perform to a certain standard, we are unworthy of being accepted and loved. That is totally rational, as far as I’m concerned, but I know that I am fucked up and I Am Working On It.

So I am going to attempt to post once a week for the next several months. Putting out that much with work & projects & language study & volunteering & meditation & exercise & dog & guy necessarily dictates a minimal amount of edit time, but in order to head off any sleepless nights and screen blindness, I’m setting some rules around it (which I will Not Hate Myself for Breaking).

This is post number one. Discúlpame.

Thanks for Not-things, 2018

In Nest Birds WildlifeI am thankful for countless entities in my little life, and I’ll happily tell you all about them some drunken night, but this year’s statement of gratitude has come out of a different place.

I am thankful for being unmoored.

For feeling insecure, for being unsure, for being uncomfortable

For every time I didn’t have a strong opinion, or wasn’t willing to fight for my side

For every time I realized I was wrong, had been wrong, for years, decades. I am so very wrong.

For every person I lost respect for and every one that no longer inspires feelings

For every thought I no longer think & every song I no longer hate

I’m probably no better than my Thanksgiving 2017 self, but many mini revelations have left me feeling vulnerable & ignorant & exposed & inspired in the past year and I am hungry to put all this not-ness to work.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.  (Pema Chodron)

Self-Loathing and the Second Language

se habla espanolI’m writing this from Costa Rica, where I have ensconced myself in una escuela intercultural in an attempt not just to improve my Spanish, but to get over my fear of speaking it. I had another one of those “no shit” revelations last week, to wit: I can choose to be happy about how much Spanish I’ve learned instead of being disappointed in how much I’ve forgotten or have yet to learn. Yeah. Who would have thought that was an option? Not me. It’s certainly not my default position. I have always been disappointed in my failings in Spanish, at least ever since my very first year of studying the language in 7th grade. I grew up in a neighborhood of Mexicanos y Puertorriqueños = I should have already known the basics before I ever stepped into a class. Seemed reasonable to me at 11. And at 40. Continue reading “Self-Loathing and the Second Language”

How Winter Kills*

winterWoman & Guy go out for dinner & a movie at the art museum. Pleasant conversation follows – good film, bad audience; good food, bad waiter – as they join the line of cars waiting to exit the parking lot. Woman, sitting in the passenger seat due to her low tolerance for alcohol, looks at her sideview mirror and remembers she got the car – finally, right?! – washed today. Did the mirror get moved? She asks the man if he can see out of her mirror. He doesn’t answer. She waits. She calls his name. He responds with mild defensiveness. She sighs, “it’s just … exhausting!” She presses her palms against her face, hard, and wills herself not to cry.

And just like that – winter depression makes its grand entrance! Continue reading “How Winter Kills*”

On Getting Older – a Bonus Birthday Post!

100 birthdayI’m not someone who tends to freak out on my birthday. I don’t call exceptional attention to it either. But this year I’ve decided to give myself a more significant gift (dinner, fancy drinks, a movie, the pedicure I’ve been talking about for 5 years, Cadbury milk chocolate eggs, 2 days and 3 glorious nights off the anti-inflammatory diet, 3 days without working, 2 days without touching a computer) and to try and articulate some recent thoughts I’ve had on getting older.

Continue reading “On Getting Older – a Bonus Birthday Post!”

Separation Anxiety: Is Feeling Separate the Enemy of Happiness?

Zoe and I were sitting around a bonfire at an open prairie campsite when a chipmunk cautiously ventured from the tall grass onto the mowed trail next to us, grazing for crumbs. The little guy was easily spooked, darting undercover at any sudden movement, but who could blame him? Birds of prey hovered constantly overhead, scanning. Our chipmunk lived under relentless threat of death from above. Continue reading “Separation Anxiety: Is Feeling Separate the Enemy of Happiness?”