Latitudes, Attitudes

Please don’t sue me, Mr. Buffett. The series we just wrapped up was a little intense, so I’m going to dial back on the emotional investment and length for a little bit. If I didn’t, I’m afraid I’d burn out on blogging again, and I like the moderate consistency I’m maintaining here.

Reading through Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals made me think about my own rituals and habits. Because I’m usually only in a stable situation for about a year at a time before things shake up dramatically–moving, changing jobs, living situations, etc–I haven’t ever maintained a specific daily schedule for any length of time. However, there have been some general flows within given periods of my life.

Graduate School was my first insight into stability; before then I had worked a lot of swing shifts and irregular schedules that threw off everything else. My master’s degree, though, allowed enough consistency and flexibility that I started falling into patterns. I woke up between 6:30 and 8:00 AM most days, usually an hour before I taught at 7:30 or tutored at 8:30. I would end up teaching, tutoring, going to class, or holding office hours until noon or 1:30, at which point I would promptly go home. Usually, I would try to do as much of my reading and writing as I could in the mornings, while my attention was at its sharpest, and maybe some grading. Then came lunch, usually leftovers of some sort, and relaxing until dinner. Usually that involved watching television or movies, but it wasn’t uncommon to work on some kind of food project at the same time–tinkering with a bread recipe, prepping for dinner, or doing some bulk-cooking of ingredients I’d need later in the week. Then came dinner, usually a relatively large one, and talking with Emily while we watched TV and I graded papers. Five days a week for just about a year. On the weekends, Saturdays were usually relaxing, often with a drink in the evening. Church on Sunday morning, lunch, watching a movie or skyping with family, maybe playing a game of some sort.

While I was working on the first draft of my thesis, the mornings included an hour or two of writing instead of classes, and a 30 minute walk to clear my mind and talk with my parents. Since I didn’t teach until noon, the entire schedule was pushed back by about 90 minutes, but otherwise unchanged.

This summer, without teaching or tutoring and minimal writing, the activities have changed while the major blocks of time remain. Work in the morning, relaxing afternoons. At the start of the summer, work mostly meant thesis research, writing, and applying for work. Now that the thesis is wrapping up and there’s a job lined up, that’s stabilized into writing on here, reading any interesting articles I found the day before, and managing my buffer queue. Most days I’m accompanied on the laptop by a cup of sweet coffee, and finished with everything by about 10:30. Then it’s looking for secondary income–anyone need an English Adjunct?–and playing games until lunch. With lunch, there’s usually a quart of black, cold brewed coffee, and after we normally watch an hour or two of TV. Then it’s coming back to anything I didn’t finish in the morning, and more games or reading–currently Antifragile, just finished Desperation and The Regulators–until PawPaw gets home in the evening and we have dinner. After dinner, the dogs take us on a walk, and we come back for more TV or a movie before an early bedtime.

In college, the idea of a schedule was completely foreign to me. When I tried to establish one, I felt caged and quit rather quickly. Now that I’ve started developing them organically, I’m realizing how much time I really need to get things done. It’s a nice feeling, especially since we’re about to move, I’ll start at least one new job, and there’s a little one on the way. I’m excited to see how my habits change to fit around all this newness!

What about you guys? What kind of habits do you maintain?

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Relationships- IV

I wanted to spend a post talking about being a parent, but I realized I don’t know how to do that. We delivered our first six months ago to the day. People say things to us like “Well, you’ll understand when you’re a parent,” or “We’ll see if you still feel that way when you have kids.” Some days I only want to scream “We’ll see if you still feel that way when you’ve buried your children!” I had a lot of ideas of how I wanted to raise the kids, and what life would be like. Now I mostly just hope that I get the chance to raise them, or at least hear them cry once before they’re gone forever. So, like I said, I don’t know how to be a parent yet. But I know what happens when that parent-child relationship ends early, and I’m starting to get a handle on how to get on with life. There are still bad days–a lot of them–but the last half-year has shown improvements.

The first thing I had to learn was to stop asking “why,” both in the mechanical and metaphysical senses. The gross physical examination didn’t show anything specifically wrong, any biological cause for the death, and I’m probably not getting any answers from the Big Man about where Jamie Shannon’s death fits into The Plan. It was hard to stop asking, because that meant accepting the death and moving on. Some days I still catch myself mulling and puzzling, but the simple fact is that nothing went wrong.

I’m also learning how to deal with criticism again, especially from people who default to being critical. Criticism was hard for two reasons, which were really two sides of the same coin. The first is that when our child’s life could go so wrong for no reason, how much worse are things when people can point out that things are wrong? Second, we’d already been through one of the worst experiences possible, so minor issues paled in comparison. Slightly-less-formal-but-still-correct-comma-usage, words-that-only-encapsulate-90%-of-the-idea, lifestyles-that-are-slightly-harmful? Dead baby, don’t care, shut up. Of course neither of those interpretations are correct, they’re excuses at best, but it’s hard to cut people slack when you can’t find any footing in life.

The crutches will come back out in full force. The excuses in the last paragraph were the kind of crutch I mean, but I’m really talking about the big stuff here. I’ve struggled with sarcasm, procrastination, extreme introversion, skipping church, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol at some point in my life, and booze and smoking are the only ones that I really ever licked. Guess what came out to play? All of them. I shut myself in, doing nothing, lashing out, bringing out the pipe, drinking half the time, and dosing on coffee the other half. My circadian rhythm was interrupted, progress on my thesis stopped, I fell behind on grading, lesson plans were executed half-assed, coughs and headaches filled the day, and I snapped at everyone. The worst part is that you just have to break those habits again before anything can get better. I tried waiting it out, to see improvement. I would have been fired first, and fallen even deeper. I’m still overusing coffee, and I’ve made my peace with that for now, but the rest are mostly gone. Get back into your healthy routine as quickly as possible.

Everyone wants to help, pretty much nobody knows how, which means you need to figure out some stock responses. I defaulted to “nothing.” People were great about offering food, friendship, comfort, and other things that we genuinely needed, but I’ve never gotten the hang of asking for or accepting help. I felt bad about it, like I was denying people the ability to be useful. Some people just helped anyway (Kristen, Angela, Keith, Heidi, Family), while others waited for a signal from us (Joseph, Hillary, Crystal, Eric). I appreciate all of it, even when I didn’t accept. I was stuck on the big picture issues that there was no help for, things like work. So find the small things people can do, and ask for help. It’ll save a lot of time.

Don’t rush it. I’m still trying to heal, six months later and with another one on the way. Do what you can, but don’t worry about what you can’t do. As long as you’re trying, and happy for any progress, chances are that things will be okay. But that means not giving up. There were days that I imagined driving down the road and just…failing to turn. I would have sailed over the edge of a few hundred foot cliff, and I don’t think our Hyundai is rated for that kind of driving. I could have kept up the heavy alcohol or nicotine. I could have given all my students an A- for the semester. There were a hundred ways that I could have given up. I didn’t. Emily didn’t give up on hers, either, and she’d just lost grandma a couple of weeks before. I think that’s really how things improve in general: a lot of small improvements or stagnant days and a big change every once in a while.

That’s it for relationships. There’s a lot more that I could write about: mom, teachers, thesis committee, friends, extended family. They all have an effect, but I don’t know how I would write about them. Thanks to all of you I didn’t mention in great detail, too. Everyone I’ve ever met has made me a better person, even if it’s by showing me who I don’t want to be.

I hope this series has done some good for readers, either in helpful advice or at least comfort. Good luck out there.

Relationships- III

If we’ve covered parents and God, I think that brings us around to significant others on the “influential relationships” circuit. I’ve known a lot of guys who say things like “My wife saved me,” or “I was nothing before her.” I think that’s a wonderful sentiment; I can’t express it. I have definitely become a better person since I met Emily, and a lot of the improvements have been because we’re together. I don’t have any interest in going back to my life before her, but I still have self respect, and “She’s the only reason I matter” sounds like codependent BS. For those of you who say things like “I was nothing before her,” please check right now that you’ve not been dragging your spouse or girlfriend down since the beginning of your relationship. With all that out of the way, I’m not sure I would have survived the last six months without her. We have a good relationship. We watch our families and our friends, see what they do that works for us, and what they do that don’t. Then we try to stop doing the things that don’t work, or change them so that they do.

That brings me to the focus here, the things we do–and don’t do–that work for us. I’m writing this as someone who has been married for all of four years; I’m not an expert, I don’t know how things will change. I know what’s gotten us this far, and kept us generally happy with our lives.

Spend quality time. Not all the time, but a decent amount of it. That means talking about the implications fictional characters’ decisions would have in our life, coaching each other in video games, sharing what’s going on in our days and trying to empathize, and going on walks. Literally, just spend time together. That’s not enough to strengthen a relationship, but it’s a prerequisite.

Support each other.  That also means not judging or shaming the other person when we come to different conclusions in a conversation, for completing an objective differently, or criticizing decisions made throughout the day. It might be fun every once in a while, but it’s the world’s job to test the relationship’s strength, not ours. As Major Frank Burns said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” and we both prefer being supported to being challenged.

Trust. If a relationship is going to work, you have to trust the other person. That’s why support is so important, so the other person knows they can trust you. But it’s more than not cutting each other down; let the other person into your life. If you can share a house, and a bedroom, you can share fears, dreams, and bank accounts too.

Make decisions together. If you’re in it together, be in it together. That means not hiding things because you’re ashamed, and taking advantage of a second perspective.

Accept help. Chances are pretty good that you’ll need some help, especially at the beginning of the relationship. Whether that’s living with family members, advice from friends or other couples, or support from government programs, you’ll need help. Don’t abuse the systems, but don’t be so proud that you reject help. Pay it forward down the road.

Men do not get pregnant. If there’s going to be a kid in the picture, you have to grow up fast. If there’s a pregnant woman in the picture, she’s growing a human being inside her. Her body’s changing drastically, her hormones are probably all over the place, and she might seem like a crazy person. She’s probably doing the best she can, which means the other person needs to pick up the slack. Non-pregnant person, you don’t get to be crazy or selfish anymore. EVER AGAIN. When the baby comes, then it gets to be crazy and selfish. If you’re adopting, you don’t get the slow lead-in time of early infancy to learn what you’re doing, so you both need to bring your A-Game. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it means you don’t get to slack off anymore.

Accept that you have your own things; your own pasts, your own interests, your own problems. You don’t have to have everything in common. I don’t think Emily will ever be as interested in food as I am. She still helps make cookies and accepts that I treat a clean kitchen as a challenge rather than a goal. I’ll never be as worried about a clean house as she is, but I still help with laundry, mopping and dishes when I think about it. Help each other work on the things that are problems, and don’t worry about the rest.

I don’t think anything on the list is really all that profound. As I wrote it, I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “well duh” for almost every item, even when they contradict. But I see needless struggles because people are ashamed, afraid, selfish or proud.

Relationships: A Primer

I want to start a short series on here, given the overwhelmingly ambivalent feedback from twitter, that details the nature of relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but all of them: family, friends, spouses, children, strangers, even relationships with concepts. This might get a little weird, just roll with it. I don’t know that I’ll say anything especially novel, but Allie Brosh said here, you have to sift through some pebbles before you find gold.

I remember my early life as a series of opposing relationships. My religious schooling contrasted with a secular home life. Mom was always around, Dad was usually at work. I was either the happiest kid on earth, or absolutely miserable. I think most kids are like that to a certain extent, and I’m sure my vulnerability to depression didn’t stabilize anything. As time goes on, all of those have evened out, but my relationships still feel very polar.

As my mom-by-marriage recently said, the only options are hell yes or absolutely not. So, let’s spend a few posts talking about how that’s played out in my life. Even if we don’t learn anything, we can have fun on the journey.

 

Relatively, More or Less

More and less are not distinct states, they define each other. When moving in either direction along the continuum, people feel the shift until the adjust to the new amount of whatever. This morning, I happened to notice the contrast.

Seven weeks ago, we arrived in Missouri, and there was a lot of uncertainty in front of me. I had a thesis to finish, a job to find, and a few weeks of reliance on the kindness of family. I felt like I was losing two things that I–and most Americans, I think–prize quite highly. There was less security in this new life, and little autonomy. I was depressed. As the weeks pass, though, I’m growing more comfortable with the situation.

Emily and I are still a long way from rock bottom. We’re in someone else’s house, but it’s better than I imagine homelessness would be. More importantly, it’s with family. Not the family I grew up with, but family is family. Even if the folklore is different, they love us just as much. I’ve turned in another draft of my thesis, and there’s a decent chance I’ve made the last set of major revisions. I’m almost done with that degree. I heard back from a job I applied to this morning. They didn’t say I got the job, or even an interview. They just said “We received your application for employment and we saw that you’re in Missouri.  Will you be moving to Chicago?”

Scarcity is a funny thing. I read the message, and I was excited. Sure, it could have been a lot more positive. But it was something. After weeks of nothing, something is a lot. Something is more. Maybe I’ll be in Chicago by the end of the summer.