hollymath: (Default)
I had to remember to put my phone on silent before I went to church.

I don't think I've been to church since i had a phone to put on silent, except going along occasionally with my mom when I'm back visiting and I can't use my phone in Minnesota anyway.

I haven't gotten myself to church since I was, what, nineteen? Somewhere in my first or second year in college I went from the holdover of fairly evangelical Christianity I'd finished high school with to wanting to sleep in, and then working night shifts on Saturdays and somewhere amidst the practicalities my keenness drained away and my belief drained away altogether without me noticing until long after it had.

I've been to the odd wedding (including my own!) or funeral in church since, but not anything so closely resembling a normal service until today.

And today wasn't that normal; it was the baptism service for my fictive nephew, who was not christened or baptised as a baby and decided of his own volition this year that he wanted to be. He just turned eight today.

It was strangely familiar: the liturgy is more modern than I grew up with, but a lot, especially the congregation's responses, is pretty much word-for-word what I was used to, and it surprised me how much came back to my mind, just in time for me to say it. I fumbled through prayers, only remembering one line as I finished the previous one, and even remembering one of the hymns (though not from my fusty old church but from the Bible camps of my teenage years).

But it was also very different: so much more relaxed not just from the officiants at the front (both women!) but also from the congregation, who chatted incessantly beforehand, who didn't mind their kids running over to talk to their friends somewhere else, who clapped when a six-year-old read the gospel (and having a six-year-old reading the gospel at all!).

It was really special, including Jack using his dad's christening shawl in the baptism. And his Bible as, basically, a prop. "Jack's dad is giving him the Bible he had as a child," the vicar said, and the honesty of small children compelled Jack to say "but I have to give it back to him afterward," which got the biggest laugh of the event.

I'd never seen anyone baptised who wasn't a baby. Indeed my mom was fretful and slightly judgmental of family members who'd never baptised their children; baptism had an air of insurance about it, it was a layer of protection to get in place as soon as possible "just in case..."

The more evangelical Christians I fell in with as a teenager left me with the idea that baptism should be a meaningful decision made by the individual at an age where they can make it. But of course all the baptisms I saw were at my mom's Lutheran church or my dad's Catholic one, where the only way one differed from another was whether or not the baby cried when it got water on its face (and, when I was old enough to spot this, whether the family were regular churchgoers according to the grumbling judgment of my own family).

Whereas this clearly had Jack's personality stamped all over it, and I thought that was lovely. He bounded around, running to and from the front of the church as need be, reading out lines he'd practiced both in the baptismal service itself and as part of the communion service, disappeared to talk to a friend one time when he was about to be needed up front again, delivering that line about having to give his dad's Bible back with perfect comedic timing, and a million little things that made me feel lucky to know him well enough to recognize him here and to be a part of his special day.

At the end of the service the deacon said, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Stopping for coffee along the way." And it just made me grin. The first part I'm so familiar with, the second wasnt even an implicit part of the doxology I grew up with; at my mom's church people lingered to chat but at ours everybody scattered as soon as we shook hands with the priest on the way out. And even my mom's was too formal to have the coffee being mentioned.

When I got home and changed, I still heard my necklace rattling around on its chain around my neck. I wear them too infrequently these days, I'd forgotten all about it. It says "We're all stories, in the end" and I wore it because I got it as a Christmas gift from Jack's mum one year.

It was fitting anyway for today, a day where near-fossilized stories about my childhood joined up to stories about the people I'm glad to have in my life now that things are mostly so very different but still can be linked back to the old ones.

Only much later did I learn my necklace was a quote from Doctor Who, since I never watched all the Tennant episodes, and that made it a nice choice for today too, when I got home just in time for the news of who the new Doctor is, and the potential for lots of new stories.
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Sometimes the word "friend" feels really inadequate when you're poly.

Sometimes something happens to someone close to you and there are people you can't tell, or at least you can't tell them how excited or devastated you are at whatever kind of a thing it is (they've won an award, they have a serious illness, whatever) because you're not out, or they're not out. Or maybe because you wouldn't use a word like partner for them...but friend isn't enough, either.

We don't have the vocabulary.

And when it's a happy thing you're affected by, this might seem less of a problem because at least you're happy. When it's a sad thing, it seems extra sad that you can't even explain why you're so sad.
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Finally got the last of the unpacking done. I've never left it as long as this! A week and a half.

It's not hard work -- I just folded and (mostly) put away a load of laundry with about as much difficulty -- except that it's hard emotional labor.

New stuff. And we don't need more stuff.

There's nowhere to put what we already had.

I need a better system.

I need fewer t-shirts.

And sweaters.

I need Andrew to tell me which clothes he doesn't wear any more.

It's hard to get rid of stuff my parents got me, though. There is so little of them in my life as it is.

But... Some of what they've given me is control-top tights and I'm never gonna wear those; I've got tights that actually fit and aren't trying to make me into a different person!

I'd sort of like to be a different person in other ways, though. I'm angry so much of the time lately, which is so weird for me so it's disconcerting too.

I'm connumicating badly, to the extent it might've cost me one of my volunteering roles -- something that's still too stressful to think about enough to write it, but suffice it to say it's the one I'll miss least.

It'd be a relief not to be doing it except I don't know what's gonna happen with that thing now and I do really want it to happen, and because I think I was unfairly maligned which hurts my pride but honestly pride is pretty far down on the list of things I get to worry about.


May. 26th, 2016 12:55 pm
hollymath: (Default)
I'm so tired, when I'm home I'm either sleeping or feeling bad about all the things I'm too tired to do, like clean myself or the house. I expected a day or two of that after my parents left, but it's been almost a week now.

I was so good at keeping on top of dishes and tidying and stuff while they were here -- partly to keep them fro grumbling or doing them for me, partly as an excuse to keep busy enough not to have time to think -- I hoped that I might be able to keep it up, as it's easier to keep things clean than get them clean... ha.

I kind of wish I'd been able to keep up the levels of willpower in getting chores done that I had for the previous couple of weeks. But then I think about how badly it exhausted me to push myself to do so many things when I didn't think it'd be good for me, and how I knew I could keep that up only because it was for a limited time. It's not very kind to myself to wish that I lived like that all the time.
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Yesterday [personal profile] haggis told me that instead of having specific New Year's resolutions this year, she was just thinking "make the easy things hard, and make the hard things easy." I've been thinking about that a lot since then, and the more I do the more I like it. Make the easy things -- spodding on the internet, procrastinating, etc.etc. -- hard, make the hard things -- sorting out house, doing errands, etc. -- easy. I'm not doing a great job of it so far, but since it's a general approach to things and not a hard-and-fast resolution, I don't need to feel bad about every time I fail to make the hard things easier or give in to the things that are already too easy. Even when I'm "getting it wrong" (like when I added to the clothes all over my bedroom floor rather than tidying them up, which is what reminded me I wanted to write about this idea), I'm finding the idea calming and helpful, and not something I'm berating myself for not living up to immediately and perfectly, not something I see as a chore or a difficult task.

Today when I saw [twitter.com profile] SurvivorKatie, she said that instead of typical resolutions about going to the gym or losing weight, she determined this year was going to be about self-care. And it was great to see that in action during our time together, as she was starting to buy clothes for the size she is rather than waiting to have things until she's the size she wants to be.

I've never liked the idea of New Year's resolutions much -- they've never worked for me, being so arbitrary and showing up in the middle of winter when my instincts are just to curl up and wait for spring. But this year I'm loving seeing my friends' ambitions, knowing that they have the skills and wherewithal to do great things in their lives, and for all of us to support each other in that.
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This is something I wrote a while ago and never posted, for reasons I no longer remember. It's not a resolution, but it seems as good a manifesto to start off this new year as any.

I started on LJ with a very annoying style, that of the cute precocious kid who was too old for that twee stuff now but hadn't yet learned what to replace the too-clever, artfully structured, neatly-tied-up-with-a-moral-at-the-end kind of writing that'd made my high school English teachers love me.

I like to think I've improved a bit since then, but I do still tend to write only when I've got something that will amuse or interest what I imagine my readership to be. So vehemently did I resist the everyday updateishness kind of journaling that my LJ wasn't a very good way to find out what was going on in my life: I'd happily write all about having Chipotle for breakfast but never mentioned that I had a girlfriend, or failed a class, or moved, or the kind of basic stuff that people usually tell each other when they catch up after some time apart.

It's a bit hypocritical of me, because I love to read that kind of thing from other people: I love reading about your dreams and how you got caught in the rain on your way to the bus stop and what you're making for dinner and what you drank last night and how work went and everything. Absolutely love it. But I've never been very good at telling that stuff for its own sake myself.

So it was kind of interesting for me to read this article on how writing about the ordinary experiences of your life can be even more cheering to you when you go back and read them as the extraordinary ones.

It turns out, people are bad at predicting how much they'll enjoy reading back what they've wrriten about their lives.

Which, actually, doesn't surprise me because I had to read Our Town in high school and it fucked up my brain, it appears, permanently. It's a play about ordinary boring small-town early-20th-C. Americans who do ordinary things like be born and deliver the milk and get married and all that.

The part that's always stuck with me is Emily, at the end. She's a young wife who's died in childbirth, and we see her among the dead, people she recognizes from her little town where nothing ever changes much. Those who've been dead any length of time don't feel any great connection to the living world or the things that mattered to them while they were in it, but Emily is new and still attached to what she loves. She wants to re-live her life. The old dead folks tell her that it's possible but advise her against it. She insists, though, and sees her twelfth birthday: her mother is up early nagging the children to get ready for school, her father comes home with a present for her. Small talk is made about the cold.

Emily starts out very excited -- "Oh,that's the town I knew as a little girl. And, look, there's the old white fence that used to be around our house. Oh, I'd forgotten that! Oh, I love it so!" "Oh! how young Mama looks! I didn't know Mama was ever that young" -- but as she watches the conversation unfold, she starts to get agitated: "I can't bear it. They're so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I'm here. I'm grown up. I love you all, everything. I can't look at everything hard enough."

Finally she says, "I can't. I can't go on....I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed."

Well, ever since then, I've fucking noticed. Reading that play made me cry, not in class but after, and I think quite a few of my tears since have been shed thanks to this, in some way. Because I too grew up in a small town where nothing ever seems to change much, and while of course I didn't die I did move away, and that has had a similar effect to me: I'm still here, I can see it all in my memory, but they can't see me and they don't know how much I treasure these images, these people, their ordinary lives.

So I'm trying to practice writing about the everyday stuff that I have so long been so bad at. Let's see if it gets me anywhere.
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1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?:
Got registered blind. Used a white cane. Got interviewed for Woman's Hour! Saw pictures of Pluto that are more than four pixels wide.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?:
I don't do new year's resolutions. I know they aren't going to happen.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?:
Andrew's niece. Here's me holding the two-week-old baby, while Gary the Wonder Dog tries to get my attention.

4. Did anyone close to you die?:
Terry Pratchett counts as "close to me," right?

5. What countries did you visit?:
Minnesota. Wales, for [livejournal.com profile] ejbigred's birthday trip.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?:
A proper holiday, which I define as more than a weekend long and not involving my family.

7. What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?:
According to Manchester City Council, I've been blind since the 20th of April this year. (I have a card that says so and everything!) It's marked a real change in my life, how I think about myself, and the services and support I've been gleefully able to take advantage of.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?:
Applying for PIP and being successful. After the years-long nightmare of ESA, it was relatively straightforward now and helped immensely with both the practical and emotional costs to myself of being unemployed.

Health work to get myself registered blind and make use of as much of what this makes available to me as I can benefit from. And I did a lot of hard thinking about careers and ended up with some great volunteering gigs (one of which I see I still haven't written about here so I'll try to do that before the end of the year, too).

9. What was your biggest failure?:
I've failed pretty hard at executive function, something that I do for two in this household. And failing at something for which I am relied upon really sucks too. I've been very avoidant of conflict, to the point of making the conflict worse when it inevitably arises -- not conflict like fights, more like not wanting to tell people things I don't think they'll like and then either making it worse when I do of course eventually have to tell them, or exploding with anxiety myself because I know I will eventually have to. Very old and very shitty coping (or, failing-to-cope) mechanisms are rearing their ugly heads lately.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?:
Only mental. And sinus infections.

11. What was the best thing you bought?:
Possibly my railcard, or my CEA card that for the princely sum of six pounds lets me take someone along to the cinema with me for free now that I'm officially disabled.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?:
You know what? Mine. I dealt with a huge amount of bureaucrazy (that is a genuine typo, but I'm keeping it because I think it's my subconscious trying to tell me something) in looking after myself and an increasingly-poorly Andrew, in going to some extreme lengths to help dear friends move house, in doing some hard thinking about careers and volunteering and stuff. Yeah. I will pat my goddam self on the back this year, however uncouth it is!

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?:
I rejoined Twitter this year which gave me all kinds of new reasons to be appalled. Most politicians in both the country I'm from and the one I've moved to, really.

14. Where did most of your money go?:
Plane tickets, mortgage, boring awful stuff like that.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?:
New Horizons! Getting a Disabled Person's Railcard and bus pass (the temptation to go on completely unnecessary journeys just because they're free still hasn't left me). Going to Brighton/Hove with [personal profile] magister. My volunteering placement to help visually impaired people enjoy the Museum of Science and Industry.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?:
Possibly "Ship to Wreck"?
I didn't think much at all of Florence + the Machine's first album, but I find this song absolutely captivating. Every time I heard it on the radio I was like "I love tthis! What is it?" and when I finally found out I was surprised as well as happy. Nearly bought my dad this album for Christmas, because I know how he likes his chanteuses.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you
i. happier or sadder? This is really hard to know. Both, maybe?
ii. thinner or fatter? Slightly thinner, if the fit of my clothes is anything to go by. Even unintentional weight loss like this can be really hard on my mental health so I'm having to be careful not to think about it too much.
iii. richer or poorer? Andrew got a bit of a pay rise, for being such a hard worker, around the same time I started getting benefits, and the combination of these just about equalled the minimum-wage I'd likely be bringing in if I were working, so I feel a lot richer.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?:
Reading. I miss reading.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?:
Procrastinating. [I said this last year too. I think it's probably going to be the thing I wish I did less of every year forever.]

20. How will you be spending Christmas?:
Same as always: with my family in Minnesota. Mom is dropping ominous hints that this might be the last year Christmas Eve is where it's been every year of my life, though.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?:
Not with anyone new.

22. How many one night stands?:
Oh gods my life is just so not set up for one night stands to ever happen.

23. What was your favourite TV programme?:
Doctor Who. I said this last year too, but I've enjoyed this year even more than last.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?:
Probably Donald Trump, because not only is he completely awful but he's also personally responsible for the increased dread and terror a lot of my friends -- any POC, anyone who is even a little bit different or weird -- is living with in the U.S. these days.

25. What was the best book you read?:
After Terry Pratchett died I read or re-read a lot of early Discworld books, and was delighted to discover they're as good for me even with the sadness of knowing there will be no more than they were when I read them with an anticipation of a new one to buy Andrew for his birthday each year.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?:
I think it was quite how hugely music affects my mood, and how I need to be careful with it because of that: rather than just listening to things because I like them, I can and indeed should tailor them a bit more when I'm not doing well. I've found ambient/space music incredibly useful for calming me down when I'm anxious, which is handy because I do also enjoy listening to it (though Andrew heard me playing some without headphones once and thought the noise meant my computer or the fridge or something must be broken). My favorite source for this at the moment is this, though if I'm in the mood for even more space in my music, I also like Mission Control which plays Apollo audio -- wonderfully mundane stuff about cameras and checking levels of things -- over the music.

27. What did you want and get?:
A diagnosis for the pain and misery Andrew's been in (he has psoriatic arthritis, apparently, which at least is very treatable; treatment should happen after Christmas).

28. What did you want and not get?
A holiday of more than a couple of days. I had a couple of nice weekends in London and one in Brighton/Hove, but that is not enough, especially considering how demanding a year this has been otherwise.

I also wanted a lot of stuff changed/improved in and around the house that did not happen, due to lack of executive function as much as lack of money.

29. What was your favourite film this year?:
Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian. So pleased I got to see them both in the cinema.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?:
I'll be 34 on Tuesday. I've no plans. But I've already had some completely amazing presents: a Night Vale hoodie ("mostly void, partially stars"), the KATI tea-brewing system from Katie who swears by this herself, Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?:
Better politicians.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?:
I bought a few pairs of black combat pants and seem to wear them all the time. It's good to be able to keep everything in my pockets.

33. What kept you sane?:
Sertraline and beta blockers. Hugs and conversations.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?:
I...don't know? I used to say Peter Capaldi, but he's too good at being the Doctor now for me to fancy.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?:
Most of them! UK general election results (and the resulting "shitting on the poor/disabled/brown/foreign/etc from a great height"), #refugeeswelcome. #blacklivesmatter. Bombing Syria. I've tried to balance combating the FUD about Donald Trump (who I'm convinced cannot be President) while acknowledging that just by getting the oxygen of publicity he's doing damage even if he doesn't get near the election.

36. Who did you miss?:
[personal profile] magister, of course -- we'd see each other most weeks, but some of those weeks in between seemed awfully long. [personal profile] mother_bones and [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours don't live around the corner any more, and I really miss that/them, while acknowledging that their new house and everything about it is otherwise superior in every other respect. It's been a year of me and [personal profile] trinker particularly missing each other, too.

37. Who was the best new person you met?:
I met [twitter.com profile] SurvivorKatie before this year, as a rarely-seen friend of friends, but this year we've really gotten to know each other, found we have a lot in common that we don't necessarily have with many other people, and basically always had a completely awesome time in each other's company.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015:
The exact flavors of bullshit that drive you crazy are the ones that keep you alive.

39. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?:
My parents and James, I imagine.

40. Quote a song that sums up your year:
Under starry skies we are lost.

41. What was your favorite moment of the year?:
It's very hard to choose a favorite of a whole year.

42. What was your least favorite moment of the year?:
Hearing a name and voice again that I'm really much happier without.

43. Where were you when 2015 started?:
Brighouse, I think?

44. Who were you with?:
I don't remember. I probably wasn't very awake.

45. Where will you be when 2015 ends?:
Brighouse, if we're up to it after flying back home earlier in the day.

46. Who will you be with when 2015 ends?:
Either Andrew or Team Brighouse or both.

47. What was your favourite month of 2015?
August was pretty good: enjoying my volunteer course, looking forward to my placement, did a couple of Prides.

48. Did you drink a lot of alcohol in 2015?:
On occasion, but overall less than previously.

49. Did you do a lot of drugs in 2015?:
Only caffeine and sugar and the aforementioned booze.

50. What are your plans for 2016?
Get British citizenship (via a Kickstarter book I still haven't kicked off, oops).
hollymath: (Default)
1. What kind of soap is in your bathtub right now?

In my bathtub? I first read this as "in your bathroom." I don't have any in the tub, but we keep all our shower stuff along the edges of it: Lush juniper shampoo and any random shower gel for me (right now it's one I got for Christmas last year, though I actually got it in about March I think); tea tree shampoo and coconut oil (for his beard) for Andrew.

2. Do you have any watermelon in your refrigerator?

Not now! Wrong time of year! I'm too cold to want to eat watermelon right now. And my veg box has made me aggressively seasonal in my eating because it's very rare indeed I buy fresh fruit or veg outside of it. This week we got plums and bananas.

Read more... )
hollymath: (Default)
There is one thing I've been struggling a bit to wrap my head around in the last month or so.

With the surprisingly easy (and quick! I was told the decision would take 6-8 weeks but it was more like two) awarding me of PIP...and this happening soon after Andrew's annual review at work where he was given a small raise in recognition of how hard he works...

...the combination of these two things happening close together means that our income has now increased by just  about as much as the wages I tend to get in the jobs I have done.

We are basically as well-off now as we were when I was working, without me having to work.

Which isn't to say I don't want to, of course. I function much better with structure and nice people around and feeling I'm "doing" something. But it has starved the gnawing guilt and anxiety about me not working -- which Andrew always told me I shouldn't have anyway, but that never affected it -- and it means I can be a bit more careful about what kind of work I pursue. It means volunteering will be okay for me. It means I don't have to take jobs that ruin my mental health for the sake of keeping us housed and fed.

It feels like the greatest luxury of my life.‎
hollymath: (Default)
Today I'm trying to sort out our home insurance, which I've been informed needs to be renewed in the next thirty days.

That means it's only a month short of a year we've been living in this house now. Which is hard to believe: it either feels like we've been here forever, or that it's no time at all and I still have excuses for why nothing's been sorted out yet.

It's been a terrible and difficult year. I am anxious for the weather to improve and life to improve this spring.
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It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.
I do try to thoughtfully compliment people as often as I can. Sometimes I worry about being the effusive American, about embarrassing people. (But, I now realize, I worry less than I used to!)

And, thinking about the rest of that article, I do think I fall in love easily. Mostly I've led a life safe enough that I could stay pretty vulnerable most of the time. Spending an evening like that described here sounds like lots of fun to me!

When I first read it as a teenager, I was intrigued by Heinlein's "The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just." He's wrong about so, so much but I still think he might be right about this.

But, having no particular time or energy for things like falling into any more love just now, though, I still like the idea of handing out thoughtful compliments all the time.

hollymath: (Default)
So yeah. This is my life right now. (And at other times. But it's worse lately than it's been in a long time.)
Because there is a place beyond tired — bone tired — where you don’t even have the wherewithal to ask for what you need. When you’re in this state of mind, kind humans offer up their time and talent to you, but somehow you can’t receive it. You’re in a fog of exhaustion where you can only see an arms length ahead: reply to this email, return this call, drink this coffee, do this dish, survive, barely.
And it's nice to know I'm not the only person reacting to this stuff in the way that I do.
Then someone stopped offering help and started ordering me around — namely my husband (which, if you know me, is pretty hilarious). “That’s it,” he said. “Get in bed and take a nap.”

Without saying another word, I stripped down, peeled back the clean, white sheets of the hotel bed, set the timer on my iPhone for one hour, and crashed.
If you don't get why somebody would unquestionably take advice like this, be glad you've never been in this state where you're failing so hard at basic stuff like eating or sleeping or relaxing that you're not only bad at them or not doing them, you don't even notice you're not doing them, you don't care you're not doing them, and you don't even think doing them with help you feel any better. Sometimes you get into a state you just can't get out of by yourself; you need someone to tell you how to do it.

I think about this kind of stuff all the time, and I talk about it a fair bit, generally with the few people who kinda provide this for me. [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours and I acknowledge this really blatantly; I think it started at Lib Dem Autumn Conference in 2011, the first I went to, and since he remembered what his first Conference was like and since I was staying with him and Eve in a house rather than by myself in a hotel like most people do at conference, he was explicitly kind of looking after me, reminding me to eat and making sure I was reasonably happy. And it worked really well, because I have very fond memories of that week (driving adventure! Akira the Don! Akrams! D pointing out Edgbaston when we drove past because his dad always did that! huddling together for warmth while waiting for a taxi back on like the fifth night in a row when we'd been out from nine in the morning until eleven at night!), without which I probably wouldn't have gone to any subsequent ldconfs.

And that's still a thing he and I do for each other; I go over and cook dinner every now and then, once he ordered me Chinese takeaway because I was in such a state I couldn't even operate Just Eat or have opinions about food, we tell each other to go to bed if we're online too late at night, and if I'm running myself into the ground and never giving myself a break for too long, he'll threaten to chain me to a bed somewhere so I have to relax -- which never fails to cheer me up, and I don't care if that makes me weird.

So anyway, I think and talk about this but I haven't written about it because I have never been able to find a way to address the fact that I really only approve of telling people what to do if it's very specific people and very specific things and very specific situations. And I haven't been able to articulate what those are! I just know them when I see them. Mostly I know them when they happen to me. And as this writer says, when it happens to you you're not in a state to talk about it.
I have had so many moments when I am deep in the fog and I don’t reach out. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a neat story about my sadness. There are only a few people that I feel comfortable being totally incoherent with, calling and saying, “Hi. I’m going to cry. I’m okay, but I’m just going to cry.” Often I don’t call, not just in order to spare someone my blubbering, but to spare them my confusion over what they can do to soothe me. It’s so much responsibility, isn’t it? It feels like we are expected to be simultaneously devastated and proactive in our culture.
I do a lot of apologizing for myself and my existence, and my friends think that's unnecessary -- because of course they do, they're cool people who don't think anybody needs to justify their existence like this -- and it's because I do feel like this pressure to have a neat story about my sadness and to be proactive rather than blubbery and to tell people what they can do to soothe me.

I spend a lot of time making decisions and looking after people. Buying the house, much as I like it as a place to live, has given me a pretty near constant state of decision fatigue. Andrew's been unwell in recent months in ways that I'm really good at helping with, which is awesome because I'm glad I can do that, but it also means that I'm doing all the executive function for two people, it sometimes feels like, and that is difficult in itself. It's not just that doing the chores and remembering the appointments and running the errands is difficult (though sometimes it is, because it makes demands on your willpower and stress levels just like something like poverty does), it's that having to organize the to-do lists and the meta-to-do lists can be mentally and emotionally tiring...something I learned from a post in the wonderful Blue Milk blog which I'm still grateful to [livejournal.com profile] haggis for pointing me at because it's been very useful to me ever since to be able to keep this in mind:
Walking someone through all the steps in preparing a meal, making sure you haven’t run out of laundry powder for when it’s their turn to do the laundry, writing the shopping list for them and describing where on the aisles they will find the items they need to buy.. all draining work.

Making sure the family meets its social obligations and remains connected to its community is work – were birthday presents bought for children’s parties, did the mother-in-law get a phone call to wish her well in surgery tomorrow? Who is keeping an eye on how well the children are adjusting to the new school? Who went to the parent-teacher interviews? Who worries about whether it is time to see the pediatrician about the younger child’s night terrors?
Just articulating that social and psychological chores exist has been hugely helpful to me. Because part of my problem was that I was feeling exhausted despite not being able to point to anything that explained it, and this is where the possibly most evil word in the English language comes in: should. I shouldn't be having so much trouble doing simple things. I should be better at looking after myself/my house/my husband/my job/everything. I shouldn't be such a drag or a bore or even a slight inconvenience to anybody. I know these thoughts are ridiculous but, if we could extinguish thoughts merely by wanting to...I don't think mental illness would be such a big problem for humanity.

The only really effective way I know of to beat those "should"s is to cut myself some slack, and that's easier to do when I can convince myself that there are actually a lot of real obstacles and energy-sapping things in my life. That seems like it'd be a depressing realization, but actually it's kind of awesome because it means me feeling shitty is not, as I tend to assume, a sign of weakness or failings on my part, but a totally reasonable reaction to difficult shit going on.

And one way to remind myself of this is to listen to the people saying "Go to sleep. Come out for a drink. Eat something. Do you want to come over and hang out? You can do the chores later. Looking after you is more important right now. You are important."

Okay, they might not think that's what they're saying! But I think it is. I absolutely love Captain Awkward's answer to "how can I help people with depression?", which I think goes back to "don't stop at 'is there anything I can do to help?' "

Making suggestions can seem presumptuous, and generally sensible people expect their loved ones to be the best judge of what they need. My first link addresses that as well:
In part, people resist doing things — bringing soup, making an acupuncture appointment, taking the kids for the day — for friends in need, because we wisely understand that not everyone is built the same, particularly in their darker moments. Some of us genuinely want to be left alone; we need the salve of silence. Some of us feel comforted by a body right up next to us — the isolation shattered by the warm breath of another human. Some of us need sleep. Some of us need to be dragged out of the house.
After a while you'll get to know what your important people are likely to need. And you can always ask them. I make a point of trying to ask "would you like advice or sympathy?" when people tell me their problems, because I know sometimes I want pragmatic solutions and sometimes I just want someone to make sympathetic noises or give me a sandwich/whisky/fun excuse to get out of the house.
hollymath: (postmark)
It's been abundantly clear to me all along that I'm not really going to get any better until I have a job again.

And yet of course you can hardly find a thing I've done less, since I got back from my parents' almost a month ago now. I was just about managing before that, getting myself that one interview and signing up for job agencies and dealing with calls from recruiters, but I distinctly remember on the plane from Amsterdam back to Manchester contemplating the tasks now before me and just finding job-hunting an insurmountable task. I dreaded the life I was going back to, with this looming so large in it.

The calls from recruiters had dried up, now that I could say yes to the short-term work I'd had to turn down when it had been offered. I've heard nothing from the agency, nice as they were, who wanted me to come in and get registered with them, or the others I've talked to online. And I have done far too little job-hunting.

I know exactly why: probably the most common reason for procrastination. I'm scared.

I'm scared I won't get a job as good for me as the one I just had, which was flexible to a fault sometimes but that was still best for my mental health; which asked a lot of me and exposed me to lots of interesting things; which meant I hardly ever had to work on Thursdays so I could see [personal profile] magister (how that will work if I end up with a less forgiving job is one of the huge concerns I'm not even letting myself think about now, because the normal thing would be to see him at the weekends but Andrew already frets that I spend too little time with him...).

I'm scared I'll end up with a job that will make me miserable or even more ill. Because, statistically, most of them have. And the ones that haven't, I don't know why they haven't. Or I don't know how to get another one like them.

Also, Andrew's been really, really unwell lately and it's been really nice for me that I can be around to look after him, and to pick up the slack in the errands and chores he can't cope with. To have to do this while working I could just about manage, but to do it while I have to look for work sets off all my Petulant Alarms for the seeming unfairness of it all.

I read an interesting article the other day (from [personal profile] andrewducker, I think?) about the role of self-compassion in overcoming procrastination.
Most procrastination-fighting techniques focus on ways to change a person’s behavior: just get started, take action, any kind of action. But a recent study suggests a different approach: being kind to yourself.
I was intrigued by this because the regular "just fucking do it" type of advice wasn't working very well for me right now.
Sirois found that people prone to procrastination had lower levels of self-compassion and higher levels of stress. Further analysis revealed that procrastination might increase levels of stress—particularly among people low in self-compassion.
Yep, that sounds like me!
In fact, her results suggest that self-compassion may play an important role in explaining why procrastination can generate so much stress for people: “Negative self-judgments and feeling isolated by one’s procrastinating can be a stressful experience,” she writes, “that compromises the well-being of those who chronically procrastinate.”

Sirois suggests that interventions that focus on increasing self-compassion may be particularly beneficial for reducing the stress associated with procrastination because self-compassion allows a person to recognize the downsides of procrastination without entangling themselves in negative emotions, negative ruminations, and a negative relationship to themselves.
And that certainly sounds good!

And then there's this:
“Self-compassion is an adaptive practice that may…provide a buffer against negative reactions to self-relevant events,” writes Sirois. The implication is that by interrupting the loop between negative self-talk and procrastination, self-compassion may help us avoid the stress associated with procrastination, extricate ourselves from that downward spiral, and help us change our behavior for the better.

Interestingly, her study found that students tend to procrastinate more than adults, possibly because they seem less able to regulate their negative emotions and negative self-evaluations.
Obviously I'm not a student nor even a particularly young person now, but for other reasons I even more obviously have trouble regulating my negative emotions and negative self-evaluations.

All of which makes it look like I'm doomed to procrastinate, especially when it's particularly bad (i.e. stress-inducing) for me to do so...which would be depressing, but since that's already happened, it's oddly a relief to see somewhere outside my own head articulating what might be happening, and that it might not be happening only to me. Something that I hadn't previously thought of might help me, and that means I can try it. Being nicer to myself can't hurt, anyway. Right?

When I read this last week I was particularly dubious of my ability to suddenly develop more compassion toward myself -- something I've always struggled with isn't going to be fixed by a few days' worth of vaguely meaning well -- but luckily this coincided with a time when I was feeling particularly confident that I could outsource that compassion.

One of the upsides to a lot of my close friends being in difficult situations at the moment is that we're all trying to get out of difficult situations, and we can lean on each other and be there to be leaned on with empathy and sympathy that come easily to us right now. If [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours tells me it helps him if I come round and keep him company while he does stuff on the computer, and then drives me to Ikea so he can help me get a dining room table, we both can end the day feeling better than we did when it started, both because we got done something that we needed to do and because we helped someone else.

I've been helping [livejournal.com profile] haggis sort her house out a bit lately. Tasks she avoids I'm quite happy to do, and her happiness when I've done them is very cheering. Cleaning and painting, the things I've done so far, are wonderfully obvious as well; it's really easy to see tangible results to what you've done, which is satisfying. Plus it means we've had time for a ton of tea and chatting, which has been useful because there are similarities in our lives that it's good to talk about (and I think the familiarity this breeds, as well as how much of it is house-related stuff, is one reason new people at the bi pub meet thought we were a couple, which as always when people believe I'm dating my friends made me smile), but also we're different enough that things that are impossible for one of us might well be easy for the other.

And often the things that I've been asked to do or helped to do by my friends motivate me to do my own things myself. If I don't think about it too much, good habits are starting to form. Talking about things like forming habits means I'm thinking more consciously about them, which means I'm remembering to empty the dehumidifier and water the plants and all that stuff. It means I don't always clean the kitchen but I'm aware the next time I want it of how much nicer it is not to have to clean it before I can cook. The simple cause-and-effect relationships are soothing in a world where everything else seems complicated or entirely out of my control, or both.

So while in some ways September has been a grim and awful month in an entirely different way than August was -- August being The Month of Mom Being Sick (and me technically getting paid at the end of it) means that The Month of Me Being Unemployed was pushed back to September -- it's been positive in some ways, too. After a few weeks of just sitting around, losing days to misery and listlessness, thinking that the waited-for external help and motivation would never arrive, it did, actually. And I'm very grateful for that.


Aug. 28th, 2014 12:23 am
hollymath: (Default)
While I was searching for the internet (or rather, the thing that made the internet into wi-fi so I could spend time with my mom while actually typing frantically to sympathetic friends on my phone) I finally found where Mom had packed away all the books that used to be on my huge, sturdy bookcase.

That my mom saw fit to replace all my books with knick-knacks and stuffed animals says a lot about our relative priorities.

I sorted through the four boxes of books, finding about one box worth of stuff I'm at all interested in.

Some that made me absolutely beam to see them again: the Garrison Keillor-edited Good Poems, which I've missed a lot, Anne of Green Gables -- I got the whole set in a box when I was very small; heaven knows what happened to the rest, but it's nice to have the original and I suppose by now I can get the others as e-books if I want to read them again -- the huge Norton anthology of poetry that was so important to me in college, even my Norton Shakespeare, which I was so immersed in the semester I took a class on him when we had to read a play a week.

Having been left so long, there were a lot that mystified me. How did I end up with the German fairy tale? (It's a kid's book, in German.) I remember it, someone actually got it for me in Europe if not Germany (maybe Sarah, when she was studying in France? maybe Seth got it somewhere?). At the time I knew just about enough German to read it, but I no longer do, adding to its mystery.

Mostly I don't think about the life that I abandoned so sharply when I got married. I was very unhappy by the time I ended the era where I had and read all these books. I don't really keep in touch with the people I knew then, or even with a lot of the things I cared about then. A lot of it I don't miss, but I did leave behind some good things along with all the bad. And even ten years later, it's weird and hard, but also exciting and good, to go back and try to sift what I still want, what's still me, what's still worth having around. Andrew's comment to my last entry asserts that I am still in many recognizable ways the person I was ten years ago, which is of course inevitable I suppose but also unsettling to me.

These books are from the first time in my life I really failed at anything, the first time I was depressed though it'd be several more years before diagnosis or treatment. They're from the last time I had a brother.

I kept a lot more poetry from college than I remembered: Yeats, Adrienne Rich, Beowulf (don't need that now; I've got the Seamus Heaney translation I prefer), Anna Akhmatova... and something called Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, which I distinctly remember loving thanks to the high school English teacher who changed my life...but I can't remember the poems I loved or even how I ended up with the book, which made for a really spooky petites-madeleines moment. I am both excited to open it and rediscover it, and also savoring the fleeting experience of remembering loving something without remembering why. It must be almost fifteen years since I saw or thought about the book, almost half my life, and isn't it strange that things so important can vanish so completely?
hollymath: (Default)
This is not my problem, but the the advice-column answer is describing me:
And then there are smart women with lots to say who are also very sensitive and weird and analytical and incredibly talkative, who ALSO listen very closely. These women are often labeled "a little too intense." We think way too much, and slice and dice everything under the sun like a Ginsu knife that's been sharpened one too many times and is now capable of cutting a watermelon in half like it's made of crepe paper.

And while it's true that no one REALLY needs a knife that sharp, there we are, the sharpest fucking knives in the motherfucking drawer...Every now and then, we want to bring up tough, tangled, difficult situations and memories and experiences, and we want to slice and dice that shit up and shine a light on this or that and dig deeper and wonder and ponder and maybe even cry some tears over some dusty old loss or some injury or even something bad that happened to someone else.
This is one of the things I hate most about myself. I can't help but connect unconnected things in my head, and from this comes art and creativity and charm...in some people, but in me I swear it only leads to tangents and digressions and killing conversations.

I do not have the problem this letter-writer does because I am loved by good listeners, and I have lots of reassurance from them that my bouts of incessant talking about everything in the world, my excessive enthusiasm and empathy and weird random memories, are completely fine.

But I have all those reassurances because I need them. I need them because the first assurances didn't work, because I still keep pre-emptively apologizing for being rambly and weird. It gets really bad when I apologize for the pre-emptive apology (because I'm so conscious of how dumb and annoying they are...even as I'm also conscious that this can set off a vicious circle of apology that could end the world's energy crisis if only we could find a way to harness it).

I don't know why I do this. But I realized today that assuming it's the usual reason for pre-emptive apology -- getting the criticism in myself before anyone else can do it, so I can to some extent control it -- isn't quite sufficient.

That's probably part of why I offer annoying stupid unnecessary apologies for talking, but part of it also is that the person who hates this isn't my partner like it is for the letter-writer. It's me. I hate this about myself. I will listen to and be charmed by and even crave the intensity of anyone I care about...as long as it isn't me. And since I find myself wearying and I'm neurotypical enough that if I'm not careful I expect others to share my thoughts and beliefs based on no evidence whatsoever, I worry that I must be putting people off. And that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy once the apologies start kicking in, because people who continually apologize for their own existence are hard work.

I think I'd have been pretty bad at this talking thing anyway because I was a weird kid who read a lot -- and indiscriminately -- and didn't have anyone to talk to about most of the things the books put in my head, but moving away made it so much worse.

Because now sometimes I have to feel a bit tired and sad when I think that there's nobody around who gets some of the things about me or how I got to be this way, and that the best they can get is my explanations. The closest I get to an exception to that is people like Andrew who got the explanations long enough ago that I don't remember most of them -- and he's met my family, which helps a lot.

(Just deleted a big paragraph here about something unrelated, sparked off by a mere few words of that last sentence. Proof as if I needed it that I really am as prone to that kind of thing as I say I am here.)

And of course Andrew knows a lot of things about me that I haven't had to tell him, because he's known me for ten years. I'm very "tell, don't show" about myself so I have to remember that "showing" is going on anyway, that people will make up their own minds about me without or even despite what I say about myself.

Talking with a couple of friends last week about someone we all know, one of us said, "And her story of herself is..." and eventually acknowledged that she wouldn't like this story (even though it's one that I bet all of my mutual acquaintances with her would agree on, and no it's not any of you so don't worry, and that's not the point anyway) but that there might be similar unflattering stories that people have about us. I had already been wondering what people's story about me would be, and worried that it was that I am mean and abrasive (I have been feeling especially sarcastic lately, and don't know if this is because I'm encountering more douchebaggery as of late or because ive only just reached a basic level of self-awareness).

It's probably that I talk too much.

All right, I'm bored with this, I'm going for a Twix.


Mar. 22nd, 2014 06:21 am
hollymath: (Default)
Can't sleep. I'm so tired but my thoughts are racing. All about where everything will go in the new house.

Which seems ludicrous when it's all managed to fit in this little flat, but then, not ludicrous somehow because our standards are higher now. What I accepted in someplace we're renting I don't want to think I'll be putting up with for however long we live in this house (and for all Andrew's dad's hypotheticals -- "what if you're offered a job at four times the wages in London?"...well, Andrew wouldn't apply for a job in London because he hates London, he wouldn't accept it even if he were offered it because he hates London, and I'm not at all sure that we'd have any nicer a house even at four times the price in London! But, y'know, other than that...! -- and assurances that we can think about somewhere nicer in five years, we intend to live in this place a long time. So I don't want to spend all of it with books flung on shelves everywhere and so much clutter that most of our possessions are useless, things to be stepped around, compelling me to live my life in the corners they have left me, having overrun everywhere else.

I felt a bit better once I remembered we have a loft.

Which seemed just as ludicrous -- how could I have forgotten that? But then there are so many things I have to think about right now, and they're all whirling and jumbled in my head.

It probably doesn't help that the new house doesn't really feel like mine at all. So who cares if it has a loft, right? It's hard to wrap my head around it. I keep catching myself thinking the most inane things, like that the light in the basement isn't working and we're the only people who will figure out why. I'm used to being where the buck stops in so many areas of my life, but never before with where I live. I feel hopelessly out of my depth. Andrew and I went around flipping switches and seeing what they turned on or off, him dashing into the bathroom to hide behind a cupboard door and shout "yep, the light's on now!" when we were testing a hypothesis about what might be the switch for the boiler, and I thought Christ, I feel like a kid just playing.

It's been five years since we moved here, the longest I've lived anywhere since I left home at 18, and so I'd almost forgotten this sense I always seem to get when I move, that it feels like summer camp or something . In a week I'll go back to my old life. It's stupid, but I've always done it, since my first night in my freshman dorm.
hollymath: (Default)
I said something on Facebook the other day about all the forms I had to fill in for the bank and the solicitor and someone commented "but at the end you'll have a house, so yay" which made me feel bad for whinging. I am so painfully aware, through this whole process, that I am bitching about something that my culture encourages and respects and values and that I'm lucky to have the money -- even if it is my in-laws' money -- to do.

But I don't really feel like I'm a house-buying kind of person, and I feel awkward and uncomfortable in this position... which is no doubt why I can't stop thinking or talking about it, while other people don't feel the need to go on about buying a house. My friends Kat and Lucy just bought a house and you hardly heard a peep out of them except when they were moving, and moving is a thing where everybody asks their friends for help even if they're just going from one bedsit to another so that's nothing particular to the experience of buying a fucking house.

Indeed Kat commented on my Facebook post too, saying "Moving in is a hassle. But its a lovely feeling when u own your place," and my brain exploded when I read that, because I can't even think about the actual process of moving, yet; I'm so far from the emotional tenacity required to put all our shit in boxes that I've created a big mental firewall around the subject. And no doubt some others too. Because I've got so many stressful, expensive and difficult things to do first and I can only contemplate so many at a time.

I know my friends mean well with comments like these -- they're just saying hang in there, it'll be worth it, etc. -- but I feel the same kind of pressure when I hear responses like this that I used to feel when people (who think this is a suitable topic for conversational small-talk!) would assume I have kids or at least that I want kids. (I'll never forget the person who replied to me saying I didn't have children with, "Oh, don't worry, I'm sure you'll change your husband's mind eventually.")

My mom tried similarly to be encouraging on the phone last night. After she asked where the house-buying process is getting up to and I attempted to answer without getting too vague or whiny (note: I cannot do this), she made a polite sound that went something like, "You'll be glad when it's done and you've got your house," but I think I ruined it by replying, "Well, it doesn't really matter if I will be glad or not, does it?" I tried to laugh but she could only say "No, I guess it doesn't," and move on to another subject.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm miserable about buying a house. But I can't really say I'm glad or excited or any of those positive emotions that society expects as just another part of the highly-regimented ritual of house-buying, either. (And honestly, even if I was miserable? That wouldn't matter either. I'd still be talking to estate agents and filling in forms and taking my fucking passport to the bank today (because I'm a foreign) and looking for somewhere I can photocopy bank statements for the solicitor.)

I'm not very good at giving the socially-expected reactions, anyway. As well as not wanting kids, I can honestly say that my wedding day was one of he worst days of my life. (I'm glad to be married! But everything about the wedding was so sad and frustrating and awkward and outside my comfort zone that I cringe to think of it, even eight years later.*) From that experience I learned that not feeling able to express my unhappiness, because there was such huge narrative pressure for me as the bride to be radiantly happy, was one of the things that made the whole experience so difficult for me. I think that kind of discomfort at defying society's general expectations is what I'm running up against here now too.

Andrew hates forms, which is why I was filling them all in. And I have the legible handwriting, but that's less a problem than the fact that just being in the room when I'm doing them, and with me asking him as little as possible, leaves him so tense the muscles in his back hurt for the whole day. The forms are a microcosm of the whole process: it doesn't matter whether you come to it eagerly or reluctantly, suddenly or deliberately, whole-heartedly or distractedly, ambitiously springing up the property ladder or warily dealing with the cognitive dissonance of a heretofore non-materialistic lifestyle. You will go through the same meat-grinder as the rest. You will write your National Insurance number here in this box.

I spend years cultivating a conviction that it was wrong to be taught that some ways of living life are good and some ways of living life are bad, that there's more to life than an impressive job title, that failure is okay and the unexpected directions life takes us in can be the best ones...and then you try to buy a house and it's all about those markers of success my parents were always after: Do you have good jobs? What the fuck is your credit like, anyway? Let's talk about insurance. Let's talk about the possibility of one of you dying in the next twenty-five years. Let's talk about the rest of your lives, right now, first thing on a Saturday morning when you're in your pajamas and don't feel very grown-up at all.

But then, never mind all that existential crap: just write your National Insurance number down, for the sixth time, in this box.

* One of the anniversary cards we got, from the aunt so wrong-headed as to send me Thanksgiving cards, had some dross in it about "remembering us as we were when we got married"; Jesus what a terrible idea that would be! When I got married I was raw with grief, in a dress I hated, watching my mom cry the whole day...cheers!


Nov. 12th, 2013 02:33 pm
hollymath: (Default)
In a world where so many friends and acquaintances are pursuing or starting nascent relationships that my nearly-seven-month one (not to mention the nearly-ten-year one!) feels like the old establishment by comparison, I'm really trying not to add to the unseasonal twitterpation.

I was delighted to have, a week or so ago, confirmation that I'm succeeding at this.

I was talking to [livejournal.com profile] haggis and [livejournal.com profile] smescrater about the house-buying stress, and happened to mention how helpful it is to me that James actually likes looking at and thinking about houses.

[livejournal.com profile] haggis's response was "Who's James?"

I could have punched the air in delight. Yes! I am not going on about him too much!

She'd seen him only a few weeks earlier, when a bunch of us went to The Wicker Man for Andrew's birthday, and she spent eight hours in a car with him on the way to Edinburgh and back in July, and he's the only person called James I really know (certainly the only one I'd inflict me-having-to-do-house-buying-stuff on because it makes me a grumpy irritable monster). And I do talk about him sometimes! So I wasn't trying to confuse her; I thought she'd know who I meant without further elaboration.

But I guess it's my own fault; I didn't talk about him at all at first. We started seeing each other not all that long after Andrew started his new job and was still awfully stressed and unwell. The idea of me having a new relationship wasn't thrilling him (though he was supportive of me as always). So I kept pretty quiet about it at first, out of respect for his totally understandable wobbliness but also actually having a bit of my own, too: my most recent relationship ended in a very ugly fashion (it didn't help that this was something I never really got to talk about either; a few people know my perspective, but he dominated the public narrative about it) and when after recovering from that I finally started to be interested in people again, I had an unbroken string of disappointments for the next year.

At that point even the most confident and self-assured person (which I am certainly not) couldn't be blamed for being a bit wary. Sure, the new person seemed like a great idea, but all the previous ones had too, and look where they'd gotten me. What reason could I have to think this one would go any better?

So I kept quiet until I knew the answer to that question.

But I've stayed pretty quiet since, too. I haven't thought too much about why. Maybe out of habit, and the belief that it is better to shut up occasionally (which I'm still working on), and not being out on Facebook, and how sweet and funny it is that some little things still feel like a big deal to me (like leaving a comment on his blog to say I love him, which I never did until two days ago)...and anyway it's a little bit fun to know I'm confusing my friends when I don't mean to.
hollymath: (Default)
Andrew's usual excuse for refusing to tidy anything is that tidying will only hasten the heat-death of the universe, but once or twice he tried "Clutter is wealth."

He got this from a Greg Egan story about an intergenerational spaceship. Trying to point out that we're not living on an intergenerational spaceship did about as much good as trying to point out how negligible the difference in entropy would be, cosmologically speaking, if his desk was clear or if he admitted the possibility of books or DVDs that he could live without.

But in one important aspect, our flat differs from an intergenerational spaceship only recently: until now, we were basically stuck with what we already had on the premises.

The reasoning behind "clutter is wealth" is evidently that old or broken or otherwise discarded things can find new and possibly unexpected purposes, perhaps much later. On a ship in space for decades and centuries, there's presumably little or no chance to stop off somewhere to stock up on supplies.

Starting to think about clearing some stuff out (my own, of course, not Andrew's), with moving looming over my head in the near-ish future, I've uncovered a lot of stuff that makes me go, Oh yeah, that... or Urgh, why the hell did I keep that? but usually I know.

Usually the answer is what it would be on the intergenerational spaceship: Because I didn't think I could do any better or I couldn't replace it or I might need it some time.

Or it's just a generalized sense that I shouldn't waste things, so even if I don't have someone to give them to, I shouldn't just throw them away. A tiny book on French grammar given to me for an OU course I gave up on? It's not even mine! Who do I know who's learning French? Oh, no one. So there it stays. Music boxes my grandma tells me were gifts to her from my brother or me when we were small, that she's now given back to me? Well, doesn't that mean she didn't want them anyway? I don't remember them, and have no use for them (and a household containing a dyspraxic person is not a knickknack-friendly household), yet I can't get rid of them.

It's not like hoarding in the sense that it's a psychological/emotional problem. I don't like it. I don't want to do it. It's hoarding because I almost literally couldn't afford to get rid of stuff just because it was a bit rubbish or broken or not quite fit for purpose any more.

Why do we have such a stupid, ungainly, nigh-on dangerous coffee table? Why have I kept this awful cheap acrylic yearn that I can't use up as fast as my aunt resupplies it at Christmas because I can't make anything that will touch skin with it? Why did our sofa smell faintly of cat piss for the first year we had it? (Either it's finally faded or I've just stopped noticing since.)

Some of it's not even rubbish so much as just not to my tastes. I was going to say that I've only just started having tastes, but that's not true. I'm only just starting to unearth what they are; before they were just causing me misery that I wasn't differentiating from the other things that cause me misery. That I'm starting to pick these out is...good, probably? Overall? But as is the way with most acknowledgements of misery, it gets worse before it gets better, as you take note of the things you were avoiding thinking about or dealing with and shake your head and go “how did it get like this?”

I am not living in squalor or anything, don't get me wrong. But I am living almost entirely surrounded by things I don't feel I've chosen. And enough of these are Andrew's books or music or DVDs, about which nothing can be done, that I feel I have to get everything else as right as possible in order to not feel suffocated, claustrophobic, in my own house.

So yeah, no pressure there.

We've stopped being on an intergenerational spaceship because we're not as completely poor as we were. (We will be, the second we buy the house, but never mind.) I can chuck things away knowing that, if I unexpectedly actually want the thing I haven't touched since we moved in, I can get another one. Nothing I'm getting rid of is very high-value, by definition (I remember once thinking the most expensive things I have are my laptop and my passport). So it's more than worth it to me to clear it out, to not have to pack it, to not have to think about it. My external environment mirrors my internal state, and each unnecessary thing I can remove from one improves the other a little bit.

I'm still nowhere near the minimalist utopia I have only recently realized I associate with middle-class homes. Not that poor people aren't houseproud, far from oit. But stuff just seems to accumulate beyond the ability of the space to hold it, and it's harder to throw things away because they can't easily be replaced later.

I think. Maybe. I don't know. And I never will because the empty minimalist house is never going to happen to me, not with Andrew buying new stuff from Amazon every week and promising me it'll all be okay when we buy a new house and he can put all his stuff in one room and shut the door. I don't believe that'll happen -- we might have to choose between that and having any room for guests to sleep over, for one thing -- and even if it does I am dubious that it will last.

Books, empty plastic bags, a baseball cap, dirty dishes, DVDs, shoes, more books, dirty clothes, clean clothes, magazines, more books, empty wrappers, unnecessary receipts, CDs, keys, comics, USB sticks, toothpicks, more books, bits of paper with incredibly important stuff written on them, absolutely useless bits of paper, and yet more books seem to take over every spare inch, every flat surface (and plenty that aren't flat) in every room in the house. A bigger house will just be a bigger canvas for this challenging art project we call life. Having the money to buy a house thrust upon us will not change what kind of people we are; it won't be pine floors and magnolia and leather sofa sets and the single carefully-chosen vase on the mantelpiece or painting on the wall.

This is mostly comforting -- I like who we are -- but a tiny part of me that I hate is a little sad about it. Opportunity and choice just wake up the aspirational beast. No wonder I'm still wary of caring about things; I'm still sure it's going to cause me more misery, later on.
hollymath: (Default)
So [personal profile] andrewducker shared this link called "I didn't love my wife when we got married." I've always been intrigued in how definitions of love and relationships change through people's lives, so I clicked on this, but was disappointed to find it was basically the opposite of how I think: this is someone who thinks that what he's doing now is loving and everything previous was some lesser thing.

I wrote a comment that ended up getting both much too long and much too personal to post there, so I'm putting it here:

I did see a couple of things that disappointed me:

1. The nice things he uses as examples are doing the dishes, making dinner, and childcare. This can only be a big deal, a loving gesture, because he portrays these as things he can choose to help with if he feels like it, and that assumes that until then they're her responsibility. I wouldn't be feeling lovey-dovey toward someone who took for granted that I'd do all that stuff, either!

2. Another only-slightly-less-depressingly ubiquitous perspective he seems to buy into is that the way he feels now is the true and proper feeling and everything previous was through a glass darkly. I know people like this, revisionists of their own history, decrying all artistic or entertainment tastes they no longer espouse, rejecting all previous relationships as being with people who were utterly evil and without merit...they're like Bertie Wooster's friend (I can never keep their names straight) who falls in love with every girl he sees, waxing poetic and swooning until the next woman drifts into his field of vision.

This guy's saying his feelings for his wife now are Real Love, and that they weren't until recently? Obviously he's the best arbiter of his own experience, but I'd have to say in my case that I did love my husband before we got married, and he was telling me he loved me from very early on -- long before I thought he could know what he was talking about, but he's been just as adamant ever since. Yet our relationship has changed enormously in the, what, nearly ten years we've known each other (coming up on eight of which we've been married).

Yes it is different when you're skint, it's different when you're cleaning up after each other. It's different when you start to argue, and it's different when you start to speak in your own little language of allusions and running jokes and sometimes your own words (a lot of the silly conversations between Andrew and me that I transcribe, I have to translate to English from the nameless language of which we two are the only fluent speakers in the world). But I would argue that all of those things are still "love". The word wouldn't mean much to me if it couldn't be flexible, if it didn't encompass multitudes.

I learn all the time how to get along better with Andrew, what constitutes nice things for him and how I can do them... and that's great, but it doesn't negate what I did when I knew him less well. It doesn't mean those things weren't love.

I didn't always love as I do now -- love him or myself or anyone -- but I don't think I could love as I do now without having gone through all those other things I named "love" at the time. Because I really meant them (well, most of them, and the declarations of love I felt pressured into don't have any hold over me now), for better or worse. And if I want to believe that I mean it now when I say "I love you" (which I do!), I owe it to myself to take that past love seriously, even as I cringe to remember some of the people I bestowed it on. (Interestingly, I found that doing love-as-a-verb stuff -- offering emotional and financial support, fixing problems, being sympathetic, doing the real grunt work of a relationship -- was really good for masking a lack of love. It's easy for me to act like I love somebody without examining whether or not I really do, and I think that's an important thing about myself that I couldn't have learned if I haven't been so stupid with my love sometimes.)

So I wouldn't trade my understanding of love for this guy's late-comer, one-dimensional love... even if his love looks so pure compared to mine, which is so chaotic and inexplicable.


hollymath: (Default)

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