jakebe: (Default)
This weekend was largely productive! I spent a great deal of time working through emails we've received in our New Fables account and making sure we started sending out responses to people; we're not quite out of the woods yet, but a great deal of the thicket has been cleared. It's been really interesting reading through the submissions we've received. (I'm a slush-pile reader for New Fables, by the way). It's a great window into what tends to get thrown our way with poems and short stories, and there's a tremendous spread of talent out there. As I read more and more submissions, I find that my senses on what makes a good story (or poem!) are fine-tuning. There's a certain 'je ne s'ais quoi' that's usually apparent within three paragraphs or so that tells me if I'm intrigued enough to continue. That sense isn't developed enough where I feel I can safely reject a story by that point, so I usually end up reading the whole thing if I can. But often, my first instinct serves me well.

My writing work hasn't been going quite as well. I wanted to write a short story for this year's "Heat," and while it's proven to be more difficult than I thought it would be I haven't given up on it just yet. I've just given up on it being written in time for this year's "Heat". :)

There's been a great conversation over the past several months about diversity in sci-fi/fantasy. People have talked a lot about how novels and short stories don't serve women or people of color very well, and I'm really glad that people are having this discussion now. As a black man, I haven't really noticed a dearth in people like me in sci-fi novels, but I can't lie -- if someone wrote a modern fantasy that featured characters from say, inner-city Baltimore, I'd read the hell out of it! I think there's an opportunity for folks like me to tell stories that are influenced by their background; it makes them unique in flavor and perspective, but if the story's good enough it can be relatable to just about anyone. If I can put myself in the shoes of the young white male protagonist, for example, there's no reason why someone else couldn't imagine themselves as a young black guy.

I feel like I have a fairly unique background and perspective. I'm a gay, black Buddhist who grew up in inner-city Baltimore and consciously made the decision to distance myself from my family and my culture. To a large extent, my sexuality catalyzed that distance, but I'm sure I could reach out and reconnect with certain members of my family at this point. But to be honest, I don't want to. The reasons for that are complicated, messy and (if I'm really honest) shameful and wince-inducing -- all ripe material for stories, as it turns out! I want to use my life experiences to fuel my writing in some significant way. I would really like to emerge as an off-center voice in the chorus of furry/sci-fi/fantasy literature.

But in order to do that, I have to write. My story idea for "Heat" involved a zebra taking her rabbit boyfriend to a family function for the first time. I wanted to make a conscious choice with the species for each character, to use them as a sort of shorthand/analog for societal, racial and background types. The zebra "coming home" to a world that she remembers and struggles to reconcile with is a theme that resonates with me; I wanted to explore the tension I feel between the life I have now and the one I've left behind. How has the zebra changed in her many years away from her family? How will she be seen by the people she left behind? What traits have she kept, which ones has she buried only to have re-emerge in proximity to her family? Will this contact to her old world help her synthesize these two parts of herself?

I often wonder about this sort of thing. I'm a minority that comes from a distinct culture, making a go at joining the majority culture (sort of). I know I could be seen by a lot of people as an Uncle Tom, an Oreo, a race-traitor. Someone could say easily that I've forgotten where I've come from. But you know what? It's not true. I remember where I came from all the time, and it's a big reason why I'm here instead.

It turns out the themes I want to explore in this story aren't quite easily done in a 5,000 word piece of erotica. I need more time with the idea, to see how it relates to the characters whose story I'm telling, to see how I can juggle this kind of subject matter in a short story. It turns out you can't really pick at old wounds on a lark.

So, in order to get my writing mojo back for now, I'll fall back to something that's a bit easier for me to bang out: macro stories! I have a fun little piece that I'm working on for Megamorphics, and I'll try to use a few writing.com interactives as a sort of 'stretching exercise'. I'll be using these little story bits to focus on the skills I feel I'll need to tell the zebra's story -- a clear sense of character and history, the ability to use setting to set a mood, how to pack in complicated detail in simple-sounding paragraphs. Meanwhile, Leticia and Dale will have to wait for next year's "Heat".
jakebe: (Hugs!)
Imagine your willpower as a car that you drive to get from place to place, and that your destinations are anything that you might want to do with your life. Something simple, like making a sandwich or getting dressed, is a quick jaunt to the corner store. Something a bit more involved, like training for a marathon or writing a novel, is a cross-country trip. If you need to do anything, no matter how trivial, it's going to involve getting into your car and going for a drive. Why? Because for the purposes of this metaphor, life is one big Los Angeles freeway.

Some people have souped-up roadsters that are just a pleasure to drive. These are your go-getters, your Type A personalities. They have no problem with getting things done; they just get into their cars, listen to it purr and suddenly they're at their destination. These folks are rare, and most of us have no idea how they do what they do because their cars are so awesome it just doesn't register. Most of us are in Fords and Toyotas. These guys are in Ferraris.

But even for those of us in econo-boxes, it's not so bad. As long as we give our cars enough fuel and take care of them, we can get most of the places we need to go. A particularly arduous trip might tax our reserves if we hadn't prepared well, or it turns out to be more difficult than we anticipated. But running out of gas almost never happens. When it does...you know how much of a hassle it can be.

Suddenly the car that you use to get everywhere has become this two-ton burden that you have to look after. You can't leave it on the side of the road, unlocked and vulnerable. So you have to push it to the nearest gas station and that's no picnic. It takes all of your energy just to move it, and the moment there's even a small obstacle, like a bend in the road or an upward incline, well that's it -- it's just impossible.

This is what happens when you're depressed. Your brain, the thing you rely on to get things done, suddenly runs out of fuel and forces you to drag it along with you to accomplish anything. When it's really bad -- when your mood is completely depleted -- just getting out of bed and making yourself presentable enough to go outside is a massive undertaking.

For most of us this only ever happens once or twice, and usually after a traumatic event that saps us. You're already running dangerously low, and it's easy to get caught on the road when your fuel just runs out. For those of us with chronic depression, though, this is a constant worry. Let's look at it this way: there's something wrong with the fuel lines in our cars, so a full tank of gas doesn't get us nearly as far as it does most people. Our gauges are faulty, so we're never quite sure how full our gas tank is. And as a result, we get caught on the road on the way to somewhere, suddenly empty.

There are ways to manage the issue. We patch up the holes with duct tape and sealant, but it's not a perfect solution. We need to re-apply it every day, and watch for times when the solution we've found is not working as well as it once did. If we think we can go a few days without re-applying the fix, the chances that we find ourselves stranded dramatically increase.

Just in case you're wondering, I'm talking about drugs here. If you're anti-depressants, take them. If you think you'd be fine without them, talk to your doctor before doing so. You might think you're fine, but remember that your gauge is faulty; it helps to have a mechanic come in to verify that the 'trouble' light really should be off.

This is what happened to me, and why I've been suddenly incommunicado for the past several weeks. I thought I was all right, even with a number of stresses piling up on me, and stopped taking my anti-depressants for a while. And before I knew it, all of those destructive loops, anxieties and mood crashes hit me again. I wasn't prepared for it, and just like that it was all that I could do to deal with work and other obligations. Things like blogging and writing were completely out of the question. Fuel was gone as soon as I got it.

So the car's been in the garage for a while; I've been steadily bringing it back to health, and taking it out on short runs to work or to a role-playing game I run a few times a month, but that's it. Gradually, as I grow more confident that I can take it places without it leaving me stranded, I'll be trying to do more again. But I'll have to be careful. I don't want to push myself too much and get myself into trouble.

So if I'm a little irregular around these parts, or I drop an entry or two, that's likely why -- I'm saving my precious willpower for something that's a bit higher on the necessity scale. But I'll definitely be trying to update as regularly as I can, to fill this space with my thoughts on movies and storytelling, with bits of fiction here and there.

If you have a faulty fuel line like me, please make sure you stay on top of its maintenance. It's so easy to get yourself in trouble, especially when you feel like you're fine. And if you know someone with a faulty fuel line, please be patient with them. Not only is there an issue with their brain, there's an issue with their brain monitoring; things can look awfully distorted in the middle of a problem, and it's not always easy to navigate. Just point us in the right direction, support us where you can, trust us to eventually figure out that our gauge is steering us awry.

I've been dealing with chronic depression for my entire life, but I've only actually been managing it for about five years. My recent adventures in self-medicating tells me that I'll need to manage it for the rest of my life. Some days, this bums me out. I mean, who wouldn't want a Ferrari that purrs like a kitten and leaps when you tap the pedal? But the fact is, I have an econo-box with a busted fuel line, and it will require vigilance to make sure it performs as well as it can. The act of maintaining it teaches me patience, acceptance and to look for joy in the unlikeliest of places. With the right attitude, my broken-down little car can be the very thing that forces me to find new ways to get where I want to go.
jakebe: (Buddhism)
It's taken me a very long time to understand what meditation is for. When I first started to practice, I assumed that the time I'd spend on the bench was in preparation for something else. By sitting down and counting my breath (one-in-out-two-in-out) my brain was being molded in a way that would manifest elsewhere. I assumed that meditation was a ritual, and that like most magic it would work in ways I wasn't looking for, that it would surprise me with its effectiveness when I needed it to. An incredibly stressful situation would arise, and suddenly I would get through it with grace, focus and clarity without knowing how it happened. One day, just like Neo in The Matrix, my eyes would open and I would simply see everything for what it is. Instead of lines of code, I would see another person, sharing the same air that I was, wanting the same things I did, no different from me at all. I'd put in the time, and there would be a reward later, a mysterious effect disconnected from its cause by time and thought.

That's a completely shitty idea. I know that now, of course, but I didn't then. It took me a few years of sporadic meditation to understand that meditation isn't a preparation for anything. It's an act, it's *doing*, and that you're expected to take the focus and awareness you cultivate on the bench and carry it with you through your day. Meditation isn't a ritual that pays dividends down the line -- it's the beginner's version of how Buddhists are expected to move through life itself.

It can't start out any easier. You simply sit down, and pay attention. The ideal thing is to pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment without attaching to it; when you attach to it, the thought carries you away from the present along a stream of associated thoughts and moods. When that happens, let it go, then return to where you are. It takes practice to maintain that presence, but the idea is that when you do you find yourself responding to what arises in a much more centered way. And the bench isn't the only place where this happens. Meditation is a practice you can cultivate wherever you are, whatever you're doing.

That's one of the things I've been trying to focus on recently. My meditation practice is as spotty as ever, I'm afraid (I've never been one to develop good habits), but even when I don't manage to sit on the bench I've been trying to really pay attention to what I'm doing when I do it. If I catch myself getting stressed at work, I take a moment to step back from that emotion, figure it out and move on. It really helps when you're dealing with anxious or angry customers I've found; instead of taking a remark or behavior and being carried away by it, I can try to anchor myself and focus on a need that's being expressed.

And that's a huge deal to me. I come from a long life of depression, which is a pretty self-centered condition to have. You get used to thinking in circles around yourself; everything comes back to you, how you're deficient in some way, how no one could ever love you, so forth and so on. Even managing it, it's difficult to learn to step outside of yourself if you don't work for it. That's what meditation does for me; it provides me a way to step outside of myself, simply by being active in my awareness and focusing on my surroundings, other people, or feelings as they arise and fade. That helps me relate to people better, it helps me solve problems more quickly and easily, and it helps me to understand people and their perspectives without warping it through my own.

One of the reasons I'm talking about this is to try and explain my perspective in the hopes of encouraging people to explain theirs. Meditation helps me quite a bit, but I know a lot of people really aren't into it. I'm curious about what other folks think about it -- is it useful to you, if you practice regularly? Did you try it for a while, but find no good use for it? What do you do instead, if you have something that centers you? How does it work?

I think it's important to have a way to remember the things that are important for you, no matter who you are and what you believe. Meditation is mine. What's yours?
jakebe: (Thoughtful)
A few weeks ago we had a friend came visiting us from a pretty far bit away, which gave us the opportunity to see a lot of people we wouldn't have seen otherwise. One of them was a really cool Indian woman who was refreshingly blunt and gregarious. We embraced and regarded another, and she told me with a smile that I looked different.

"Yeah, I gained a little bit of weight," I said half-jokingly.

"You gained a LOT of weight," she told me. I watched what I ate that night, but the damage had mostly been done by that point. My clothes were fitting me less, t-shirts and button-downs stretching over my prominent belly. I was starting to get a little breathless climbing even one set of stairs. Despite this, giving in to the temptation of sweet pastries was far too easy and motivating myself to exercise was far too hard. The result? The numbers on the scale are creeping up steadily.

At the end of his visit, my friend looked me right in the eye. He's British in just about every way possible -- unfailingly polite, with no bone of contention in him. That's why it was so shocking when he told me bluntly, firmly, "You need to lose weight."

That was the wake-up call I needed. I've always known that eating less and exercising more would be a good thing, but in the kind of way that you vaguely know that fire is hot and horses are big. It's not until you're confronted with uncompromising reality that it hits you. Wow. This is absolutely true. Fire is hot. Horses are big. And I weigh too much.

I've gone from a low of 181 pounds earlier this year up to 192 right around now. I wasn't rail-thin down at my 'fighting' weight, and now I'm noticeably...girthy. I was 'blessed' in the genetic lottery with a fat-deposit box of a stomach, so that's what tends to grow first and disappear last. It's a little difficult to shop for clothes at this point; stuff that fits my upper torso well tends to stretch around my stomach, and my pants are forced lower on my hips to make room. It's uncomfortable and it looks bad and it just sucks a lot. Trying to look better is next to impossible until the frame I'm covering actually, you know, looks better.

A recent clothes-shopping trip really brought this home. There were so many pieces I loved, but couldn't pull off because of my body's shape. I think the three-punch of vanity was motivation enough to really dedicate myself to slimming down. Still, motivation doesn't always translate to action, which is the big dilemma right now.

Because despite my best intentions the basic facts remain. I love to eat and I don't really like to exercise. Something has to change in order to beat this -- it goes beyond setting up habits or counting calories or dutifully setting a schedule. I have to find a way to enjoy eating right and exercising, or else none of the changes I want to make stick.

On the other side of the New Year I'll be trying to tackle this. I'll be focusing more on running (both indoors and outdoors) and the elliptical, then stretching to increase my flexibility. Maybe there's a way I can 'gamify' this, at least beyond what you do with Fitocracy. Maybe, with the husband's help, I can set up a little reward program. Run three miles, earn something nice.

Eating is going to be a little more difficult. With sweets I've developed the mindset of the addict -- there's no such thing as a little bite here or a small treat there. I'll have a little bit, and there's a rush of pleasure that immediately needs to happen again, so I'll have more. And then more. Before too long a treat becomes a habit, and I've sabotaged myself with weight gain. Something has to give.

The idea of giving up sweets the way an addict gives up their vice makes the world seem cold and gray. ;) But at this point, it might just be necessary. I don't think I can control myself too well when it comes to cookies, cakes, pastries and candies. I've tried, but there's just no willpower there. I don't mean to trivialize the very real nature of addiction by linking it to my situation, but that's the closest analogy I've got for it. Maybe it's time to drop those sweet things entirely in favor of fruits and yogurts. But in order to make that stick, I have to make a positive choice (I'm going to eat fruits now.) instead of a negative one (I can't have sweets any more.).

Those are just a couple of ideas, and I'll be writing about more as they come to me. I was hoping some measure of public accountability would help me keep on the straight and narrow, but I don't think that'll do the trick any more either. I think I need to become obsessed about food, strict with it; I need to view it as a battle that I'll be fighting my entire life, or maybe more "a game of inches". I need to fight for every inch that I lose, because that's where life happens. In the words of the great Al Pacino.
jakebe: (Buddhism)
I've been thinking a lot recently about forgiveness and our ability to accept the faults of our fellow man. With Dead Man Walking and a few other things, I've become enamored all over again with the concept of unconditional love, of ultimate acceptance of the foibles inherent within us. Part of what makes us human is our flaws, right? Being unable to take the mistakes of other people ultimately separates us from our fellow man, and that's something we're simply not wired to do. Humans are incredibly social creatures in every sense. We're built to form tribes.

I believe that Buddhism encourages to take this to a useful extreme. Instead of encouraging us to pay attention to our own tribe (other Buddhists, our family, furries) at the expense of every other one, we're taught that everyone we meet really belongs to one big tribe and we should treat them as such. Even when they're behaving in a way that clearly indicates we're an "other" to them, we treat them as a brother, with unconditional love, because that's the truth. A slap in the face is an action caused by a delusion, and we don't react as if what that person thinks of the truth is true. Then, we would be buying into the delusion. We would be caught in the same trap.

That's a very difficult thing to take to heart, make no mistake. I'm committed to that ideal, though. I've been thinking of the people I've written off in the past, revisiting who these people are and trying to make my peace with them. They are all my brothers and sisters, after all, no matter how much they drive me batshit insane. You can't pick your family. ;)

There's another danger with taking that stance, though -- the other side of the road you need to avoid if you hope to hit the Middle Way. It's quite possible to become too accommodating, so that you end up allowing wrong behavior in the name of keeping the peace for your tribe. At least, I do, and along with this re-awakened sense of compassion I would like to also develop a stronger sense of my convictions.

I really do hate conflict. It takes an awful lot to get me to confront someone on behavior I don't like, and even then I try to find a way out of the argument as soon as possible. Getting into a debate is exhausting work, and the worst part is the best outcome you can hope for is browbeating someone to your side. By the time you've "won" an argument, your opponent is diminished, lessened, and they're much more likely to have taken away the lesson that they're not supposed to argue with you than anything that's actually useful. Screaming matches are empty expressions of anger that does no one any good. It separates you from someone you arguably care enough about to get into a fight with. There's got to be a better way to stick to your guns without causing that rift, right?

I'm personally much more likely to retreat and sulk when I feel slighted. Sometimes I'll tell myself that it's because I want to keep the peace, or it's simply not worth it to confront someone, but honestly it's because it's easier to keep hurt feelings or disapproval to myself and let it vent where it's unlikely to do any damage. The only thing is it does damage that's more indirect. It allows me to nurse grudges, harden my bad opinion of someone, and (worst of all) encourages other people to do the same. Talking shit about someone while they're not there is something we all do, but it's perhaps one of the biggest things you can do to strengthen 'your' tribe while severing your connection to another. It's antithetical to Buddhist teaching -- the target of your gossip is your brother, same as the person you're gossiping with.

Ugh, anyway, not trying to get all high and mighty here; just thinking aloud about my habits and where potential traps are lying. Part of forgiveness, compassion and the idea of this 'universal tribe' to me is being open -- I should be able to express points where I've taken a stand or come into conflict, but with the intention of removing a block that separates me from someone else. What I *have* been doing -- avoiding conflict and sniping the behavior of others -- doesn't help me do that.

What I'm trying to say here is that open acceptance does not equate to rolling over or giving up what you believe in to go along with the crowd. Doing that just breeds resentment and makes the conflict indirect and hidden; you end up 'venting' instead of seeing the issue for what it is and dealing with it as it needs to be dealt with. It's ultimately difficult because, in the interest of smoother relations later, it forces you to step up sometimes and say unequivocably, "This is not OK, but I hope we can get to a point where it is."

And if someone is not willing to help you do that, well...that still doesn't change what you do. You still love them, accept them, and treat them as a member of your tribe. It doesn't mean you condone the behavior. It doesn't mean you accept the wrong. It simply means that you're ready to remove the distance between you when they are. And that's a difficult thing to do.

It's my belief that all people are worthy of this respect, consideration and love. Even when they've done terrible, monstrous things, they're still people. Retreating from them, considering them monsters, hating them for what they've done won't help them see the pain they've caused themselves and others. It just further alienates them, and makes them feel justified for their actions. If you shun someone, it's easy for them to identify as a martyr. If you bring them close, it's much harder for them to be alone.

To all the people I've wronged, I'm sorry, and I hope that you can come to me so we can discuss the problem openly. To all the people I've felt wronged by, I'm still working to forgive you, and I probably won't come to you to stir up old grudges. You've likely moved on by now, and I think it's time I've done the same.
jakebe: (Buddhism)
Over the weekend Ryan and I watched Dead Man Walking, with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. In case you don't know too much about it, here's a brief synopsis: a nun is sent a letter from a Death Row inmate (who murdered two teenagers, raping the girl before he killed her) requesting her help with his case. She accepts, of course, and strikes up a relationship with this man as well as the families of the victims. This is a situation completely outside of her experience, and she has to navigate not only her own feelings but the exceedingly raw and difficult emotions of everyone involved. The families of the victims are understandably angry, and want to see the inmate die. The inmate himself is difficult to like but desperate, and Sister Prejean's investment in him lends him a grace and dignity he's unwilling to take on himself. It's an incredible, moving film and if you haven't seen it I can highly recommend it.

The movie leaves you with an awful lot to think about. Besides the obvious hot-button topic of the death penalty, there's so many questions that are difficult to answer. Sister Prejean believes in the idea of a basic human dignity, that simply because a man exists he's entitled to a certain set of considerations. Does that really exist? Can someone do something that strips them of that? The families of the victims certainly seem to think so, and that clears away the biggest argument against putting this inmate to death -- that as a human being, there is something fundamentally wrong about a system that allows him to be effectively killed by the state. How do you reconcile the idea that people can become something...less than human with other religious ideas? How do you square the idea of the death penalty and all of the reasoning for it, with a Christian mindset?

OK, so that loops back to the death penalty, but removing that question entirely, you can't fault the victims' families for being so angry, so hurt. This is an act so devastating that the consequences have come to define who these people are. Because the actual victims are no longer alive to carry the mantle of victimhood, their parents take it up themselves. There's a finality to it that makes it so much more difficult to handle because it's so senseless and needless. How could someone else take a life so lightly? How could someone be so self-absorbed that they don't think about the suffering they're causing someone else? Normal people don't rape and murder a teenage girl. Normal people don't just kill people on a lark. Anyone who does that must be broken, immoral, soulless. That's the only reason people can make sense of something so random.

Once the certainty of his death sets in, the inmate must face the reality of his life. On one hand, you wonder if he would have arrived at that point if death weren't staring him in the face. On the other, you feel that Sister Prejean's assertion that there is a basic goodness in him has been affirmed. Despite the inmate's racist, sexist attitude through most of the movie, his love for his mother and family is undeniable. It's difficult to reconcile the Sister's experience of this man with the reality of what he did, and in fact she's the only one who even comes close to taking in who he is entirely. It's because she's the only one who wants to.

And this brings me back around to faith, its purpose, what it does for us when we truly understand it. The movie is set in the south, so just about everyone is touched by religion in one way or another. Yet it seems that Sister Prejean alone has any idea how to behave compassionately towards all parties. Even the prison's chaplain states that the inmate is simply a bad person out to manipulate her, to use her for his own ends. Was she able to coax goodness out of him simply because of her faith? Would she have been able to do this if she had been more directly involved. If, for example, someone were to do something similarly horrible to Ryan or my mother, would I be able to see past his actions to the basic goodness and decency I believe to be there? It would be incredibly difficult for me to look at someone who's hurt someone I love, see past what they've done to something I only believe is there and struggle to see their worth. Why would I? If they don't believe it's there themselves, why should I work so hard to lead them there?

One of the things I took away from the movie is how difficult it is to truly forgive someone who's wronged you in a severe way. I think we've all been hurt deeply by someone at some point, and it's really easy to put them in a class beneath you (or at least the people you admire) so that you have an excuse to hold on to your hatred, bitterness, anger. I do it myself -- there are grudges that I'm holding on to even now, fueled by the fallacy that someone is...less than. I think it's a completely natural impulse that helps us to preserve our self-image and our ideas about the world and our fellow man. But it also holds us back from holding the full measure of the human experience.

Any one of us is capable of doing something unspeakably awful. Any one of us, from the people we admire most to the lowest of the low. But we're also capable of great love, of wonderful things, of being generous and kind and astonishingly open. It's difficult to reconcile the two extremes of our potential, but I think we absolutely need to if we ever hope to look at other people with any sort of clarity.

We all have our people or groups to hate or mock. For most of my peers, it's going to be Christians for all kinds of understandable reasons. A lot of us grew up in strict Christian households that focused on avoiding God's wrath over embracing God's love. We live in a society where the public discourse seems to be dictated by people who insist on forcing people to recognize their own self-absorption, a trait that is as anti-Christian as they come. Most of us have been hurt tremendously or known someone who has been hurt by someone in the name of Christ. We see it so consistently that our idea of the typical Christian has been stereotyped, a sort of empty vessel that mirrors any delusion that makes them feel superior. And this may be a bit of an extreme equivalency, but it's the same process that these people use to justify the death penalty to themselves, or the cutting of our 'social safety net', or anything else we think of as harsh and isolating. They've been hurt and made to feel afraid too. This is their reaction, the same as ours.

It takes compassion, strength and resolve to see that, and to base your actions on that knowledge. A lot of us choose our delusions because the alternative is too difficult, including myself. Put simply, it's easier to hate the people who are unkind to us. It's so, so much more difficult to love them, to find them worthy of love. Most people can't do it. I can't do it. And that's what makes Sister Prejean's story so remarkable. In simply opening herself up, as honestly and completely as she knew how, she found a way. Sometimes it takes that kind of contradictory behavior -- to surrender yourself to a new experience, to cling tightly to the ideals that will guide you through it -- to do something that the rest of us see as impossible.
jakebe: (Games)
The last time I ran a role-playing game was two or three years back. It was a 3.5 edition Dungeons and Dragons game, set in a home-grown world I had been building over the past few years. I tried to run a game in the setting a few years earlier, back in Arkansas, but that game had imploded in a spectacular fashion. I really wanted to tell a story in this universe, though, and I thought I would be able to take a look at my mistakes and improve my storytelling for this new batch of players.

It didn't quite go as well as I'd hoped. I clashed with one of my players pretty badly and he ended up leaving the group. Another, I suspected, didn't really want to be there despite repeated assurances to the contrary. Part of this was my own problems with self-image and depression at the time. A third player was new to this whole business, and there were issues with his concept that I honestly think I bungled. A fourth player moved away, and I used that as an opportunity to end the campaign.

The campaign, I think, crumbled under the weight of my expectations for it. I wanted it to be spectacular and exciting, mysterious and involving, and if my players weren't singing their praises at me from on high I wouldn't have been satisfied. No matter what I did right, I was certain I could do it better. And everything I did wrong was proof that the game was total rubbish and people weren't having any fun. Stress at work, depression and my own unachievable standards killed any fun I could possibly have making it. Letting it go turned out to be a relief.

So, fast forward to a few years later. I'd like to think I have a better grasp of storytelling under my belt, as well as a solid understanding of what works and doesn't work in a tabletop role-playing game. I think my biggest issue was over-reaching with my story, making it so large that there was no room for change. My ideas for the plot dominated everything, and if the players jumped the track I had so carefully laid out for them I didn't have a plan B. Things would jump the rails and I had no idea what the terrain was like over there. I spent so much of my time in panic mode.

Now I'm getting the itch to run a game again. I want to go back to the universe that I've created, but this time I think I know how to make it work. You just start small. Narrow your focus, plan a few games out at *most*, always bring things back to the players and what they want. I have a clear idea for the kind of story I'd like to tell -- dramatic, character-oriented, with a healthy splash of action set pieces -- but I also know that the success of the game depends on how malleable I can be. I think I can tell an exciting story while learning to let go of my ideas about how it should proceed.

Anyway, my previous failures were still my fault, just not in the way I thought at the time. I've had a few years to learn as a player from a number of really good gamers, and the lessons have proven invaluable in changing my perspective on RPGs and what they can do. I'm outlining a few of these lessons to keep them in mind for this new game I'm creating, and as a way of presenting this out to the Internets so I can get help with refining and refuting these ideas.

+ For the purpose of the story, the players really ARE the center of the Universe. I think one of the biggest mistakes I tend to make in my games is trying to punch up an air of mystery, that there are forces in the world at work beyond the perception and reach of the players. For a passive audience, perhaps, this piques interest and encourages you to play along to figure out what that mystery might be. For a role-playing game, where players are active participants in the story, it's just annoying and frustrating. No one wants to be told about far-reaching things that they have no way of influencing. It just makes them feel helpless and unimportant, small and ineffectual. That's not why people play games -- they want to be heroes that make a difference in the world around them. Anything that brings a player-character front and center in the story is good. Anything that makes them feel marginalized and out of control is bad.

+ Keep the plot as streamlined as possible. I have nothing against complex plots with a lot of moving parts. In fact, I love them! TV shows like LOST, Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica feature a giant cast of characters all with their own arcs and agendas, each acting to pull the course of the story towards something that favors them. This tension makes for incredible storytelling. In games, I've found, this doesn't work quite as well. I think you can work with such a tapestry when your audience is 'passively engaged', where it's not expected they have a say in the direction of the story. In role-playing games, your audience (the players) rightfully expect to be the chief drivers in the way the plot goes. The NPCs are generally there to either try to drive the plot the other way (antagonists) or add more muscle in the group's direction (allies). The more factions you have tugging in different directions, the more this tends to diminish the power of the player's actions. I'm not saying it can't be done, but if you're adding a bunch of moving pieces, you have to consider how this new faction affects the player's lives and their ability to feel in control of the situation.

Besides, when you have work, social engagements and who knows what else to think about, it's really fucking hard to keep a boatload of storylines straight in your head. Especially if you're the GM. Chances are most of the brilliant plotting will end up happening off-screen if it happens at all, so it might be a good idea to be a bit more myopic about the scope of the story in general. If things end up getting complicated, let that develop naturally over time. Don't force it.

+ Learn to love what you're doing, instead of doing something for the love. I tried to turn this into a pithy maxim and it didn't quite work, but the idea behind it is sound. I often got so hung up on instant feedback and glowing accolades from my players that anything short of "this was the best game ever" became personally devastating. Sometimes a game is simply going to be "good". And every once in a while, hopefully not often, you're going to try something that didn't work, fail with something you've experimented with, or people will just have an off night. I think it does a world of good to believe in the process of your storytelling, trust that you're doing something good, and fall in love with the process instead of the results. That goes for all kinds of writing, actually, but it really helps to keep your sanity when you're running a role-playing game.

+ The more attention you pay to your PCs, the more attention they'll pay to your story. This one seems a little contradictory, but I don't think it is. Obviously, you have an idea for a story or scenario and you want to play it out. But if you tailor your story to the strengths and weaknesses of your characters, the more entwined they'll feel in what's happening. If a player enjoys, say, taking advantage of people's naievete, let them do that for a while -- but make sure there are consequences for his actions. Maybe have the villain run a long con on the PCs that takes advantage of some mistaken assumptions they've made, or have one of the allies fall out with the group and refuse a vital piece of aid. The story becomes a natural outgrowth of the character's actions and philosophies, then, instead of an external influence encroaching on their lives. This requires flexibility, an understanding of what players want out of their characters, and a solid grasp on the world and how things move. It's not easy, by any stretch, but the effort pays off big time.

I think that's all I have so far. What do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree? Are there any fundamental lessons that I've overlooked? I'm really interested in what former players of mine have to say about all of this...
jakebe: (Dharma)
My mood tanked almost immediately after I got up this morning. A step on the scale revealed that I had gained my sixth pound this month. Despite sleeping a good seven hours I felt groggy and out of it. My pants fit a little more snug, and any shirt that I wore just seemed to emphasize the swollen sphere of my stomach. I left the house feeling fat and unattractive.

I don't know about you guys, but for me there's always a laundry list of things I don't like myself waiting in the wings for just this kind of moment. Once I start getting down on myself for one thing, all these other things start to pile on. I go from being fat to undisciplined, and from there a whole world opens up. Within the hour I've gone from "I really need to lose ten pounds" to "I'm a failure who screws up every opportunity given to him and will never, ever get it right." An off morning becomes the latest chapter in this long story of failure.

Once that narrative is established, all of your actions get swept up in the momentum. Ordinary interactions become these social minefields where my failings blow up in my face all the time. Every little thing that goes wrong is ultimately caused by my lack of foresight, or some kind of deficiency on my part. The world stops being just what it is. It's a constrictive, unfriendly place that just leads me back to how terribly I suck.

So when a coworker's request for clarification on an issue I asked for help with was answered with increasingly snippish responses from me, I had to check myself. I pulled out of the conversation, walked away from my computer, and gave myself a little bit of breathing room. It was then that I realized I was spinning a narrative of my failure. I was setting up a coworker as an enemy before he even had a chance to make that decision. I was sniping to try and cover up a failing that didn't have any relevance to the situation at hand. I was being a jerk to people who didn't deserve it.

It's not enough to recognize that you're carrying a harmful narrative with you. You have to find a way to bring it to an end. It's going to sound so cheesy, but I ended up having to forgive myself for everything I had done to make myself upset. I let myself off the hook for being fat. I told myself it was OK that I was so scattered. I wasn't dumb. I wasn't lazy. I wasn't a failure. I just needed to pick myself up and work on being better.

Once I ended the narrative I was free to see the world outside of it. Nothing had changed -- work is still rough, and there's a bunch of people breathing down my neck -- but I didn't feel beaten down by it. It wasn't evidence of nothing ever going right for me. It was just a busy day at the office.

We get trapped by our own stories so often it's easy to forget that we're spinning them ourselves. We give ourselves these stories to make sense of our environment, to give ourselves an identity, to reinforce or values and ideals. And they can be incredibly useful for that. But our stories aren't written in stone. If we don't like the way we're going, there's nothing that says we can't end it right then and there and pick up a new one. Any single moment can be a good time for a fresh set of opening words.
jakebe: (Default)
We’re coming up on the third month of the new year already. Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday I was just coming back from Las Vegas, buzzing with excitement about a new way of pulling off New Year’s resolutions that was bound to meet with more success than previous years. After so much failure, I felt like I had an experiment that could crack the ‘code’ of getting a habit to stick.

Now? I’m still struggling with writing, losing weight and keeping my focus. Why? Because I’ve always had a struggle with writing, losing weight and keeping my focus. I’ve been trying to shed pounds for a couple of years now, and I keep bouncing between 185 and 190. I’ve tried to turn the dozens of ideas for short stories, serials and novels I’ve had into something tangible, and I run into a wall every time. I set clear goals time and time again, break them down into manageable chunks with clear deadlines, and every time I watch those deadlines race by with nowhere close to the amount of work I thought I’d have done by then. It’s a pattern.

What’s going on here? I’m not a stupid guy. I’m not lazy. (At least, I don’t think I am.) I’m just easily distracted and ruled by fear. That fear of failure is overriding every good intention I have; if I try, and don’t make it, that’s worse than never having tried at all.

Or so I think. Is that an easy answer? Is there something else at work? To be honest, I really don’t know. My self-disciplined crumbled under the weight of high school and I haven’t been able to put it back together since. It’s been nearly fourteen years since I’ve seen a major project to completion. That’s...not very good. Not good at all.

We all like to think that change is easy. We believe that dropping bad habits is as simple as deciding to drop them. And for some people, that’s absolutely true. For me, though, I have the momentum of a decade and a half of slackerhood to fight against every time I want to achieve something. Whatever muscles I use for the struggle are weak. I’m not used to prolonged and sustained effort. Short, excited bursts of activity are all I’m good for, and then I’m spent. It’s back to pastries, wasting time and following any old thing that catches my fancy.

This isn’t meant to be a plea for sympathy or reassurance. It is a bit self-flagellating, I’ll admit, but it’s frustrating to know that I’ve been making the easy choices for so long that it’s become habit. A habit that, I’ll admit, I don’t seem to be having much success in breaking.

More than that, I think I just needed to state that I’m having trouble, and why that is so. I think the only solution is to keep ‘working out’ those muscles. Put in the effort for as long as I can until I give out. Rest, then put in more effort. Each time, I should be able to keep it up for a little bit longer. It’s not about how many times you get knocked down. It’s about how many times you get back up. Or something like that. :)

Nose is going back to the grindstone. Wish me luck, folks.
jakebe: (Meditation)
If there is anything I will remember 2010 for, it will be as the year I became comfortable with myself. I am thoughtful, playful, self-absorbed, frightened, and insecure. I’m OK with that. This year I’ve learned to accept who I am and all of my flaws, and how to navigate that confidence with the need to change. Accepting yourself, of course, doesn’t mean your work is done, or there’s no need to get better. It just provides an excellent foundation for you to do so.

A lot of people had a really rough year, and I almost feel guilty saying that this was the first year that I felt optimistic about the way things are going. To be sure, we live in uncertain -- even scary -- times, and I’m not ignoring all the people who’ve lost their jobs this year, are having trouble finding new ones, or have all kinds of other things going on that are wearing them down. Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s hard. But I think working through this hardship is just one way of making us better people, of reminding us of what’s important and the impermanence of everything. I feel like the current recession has shifted the national consciousness a little bit. We’re not as concerned about bigger and better as we used to be; we’re concerned about having enough, about making things that last, about quality over quantity. If there’s one good thing about this year, it’s that we’re all a lot more mindful about excess, and we’ve been forced to pull back from it.

Which means, for me, that I realize more and more to separate the impulse of gaining something from the act of pursuing it. For example, when the thought of getting a candy bar comes up, it does NOT mean I immediately have to go out and get a candy bar. I’d been operating under this semi-mindless behavior for a while now, and I still wrestle with it every day to be honest. But there are so many other things to consider: the dollar I’d use to buy this candy could get me a little closer to buying a car, or paying for my visit to the dentist. It could buy a better shirt, or shoes, or help me with the vanity project of having my braids done. Besides that, eating candy whenever I feel like it is probably going to give me diabetes some day (it runs in my family), and it’s definitely not helping my waistline now. Sure, candy scratches the itch that arises in me, but that’s only a temporary state. The itch will return, and another dollar will be spent. And another, and another. Eventually, I’ve got no money for any of the dozen other things I want to do and I’m in desperate need of new jeans that don’t cut into my belly. Sometimes, it’s good to just sit with the itch for a while, feel the urge arise, continue, and fade. Hunger has gone from the trigger of an automatic process (hunger --> buying food --> eating food) to a reminder to consider what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I can ask myself “Is it OK to be hungry right now?” The answer is often “Yeah.”

I know that my situation isn’t as dire as most people; the example above proves that. For too many people hunger isn’t something that comes around every so often, a curiosity that you can explore and use to call you back to yourself. It’s a constant weight, a reminder of what is lacking. I realize that I’m doing a typically American Buddhist thing -- using first-world problems as a gateway into practice. It’s interesting because there’s an argument to be made that this view is only another delusion, and that we’re blanketed from reality by our own relative affluence. It’s easy to be mindful of hunger when we can make a choice at any time to stop it, but what about those people who don’t have that luxury? What can mindfulness do for them? How can they practice?

To be honest, I don’t know. Which brings me to my next point. I’ve become comfortable with who I am, but at the same time I realize that self-absorption is only so useful. I call myself self-absorbed because it’s my natural inclination to see the world through the way it affects me. I have a very strong ego that way! I can try to put myself in another’s place, to see another aspect of our shared experience, but it’s not automatic, and sometimes it’s not even something that occurs to me. With hunger, I can watch it rise, study it, and let it fall away. I’d like to be able to do the same thing with my sense of self; now that I feel comfortable with it, it’s time to let it fall way for now. It’s time to try and engage with the world as it is.

There is so much going on outside of my head! Every person you meet is a world unto themselves, a walking biosphere of processes, thoughts, dreams and stories that you only see a tiny fraction of in the time you meet them. There are seven billion different versions of “The Truman Show” going on at any one time, all the time, everywhere. It’s difficult to wrap my brain around the concept, but that’s the reality. It helps to remember that.

I would like for 2011 to be the year that my narrative becomes more entangled with others, where I can take a back seat in the interest of the other people’s betterment. I can’t guarantee that I’m going to remember this goal at all times, or that I’ll live up to this theme always, but that’s all right. Perfection isn’t what I’m after here. The effort is.

Of course, I have more ideas about resolutions and such, but that’ll have to wait for a little while. The next few days are going to be a whirlwind of activity, and I want to make sure I nail down my resolutions and have started working on them before I start talking about them in earnest.

Anyway, I hope everyone out there had an immensely happy set of holidays, and that your New Year is bright with promise and potential. I’ll see you guys on the other side!
jakebe: (Aborigine/Shamanism)
If you're a Changeling freak, you'll know that today is the day the Seelie Court traditionally hands over the reigns of power to the Unseelie Court. Since the rise of High King David and the establishment of Concordia, however, this day has largely taken on a symbolic role. Fae -- regardless of Court affiliation -- drop whatever discipline they can impose on themselves and revel in their darker natures on this day. Even trolls can be found doing things they would never dream of doing any other day of the year.

Of course, things *actually* happen today as well; the Mists are especially thin on Samhain, so kinain and those with any sort of touch to the Dreaming might notice your seeming slip a little bit. Don't be alarmed if this happens; they won't remember a thing when the sun comes up tomorrow. Unless they do -- and then they're a problem you're responsible for until the following Beltaine.

If you're *not* a Changeling freak, then this is the perfect day to watch movies as scary as you can stand them, hand out candy to costumed strangers, or celebrate in a myriad other ways you may find appropriate. :D Any way you want to, have a wonderful Samhain.

On a related note, I've rediscovered my love for 'fake' mythology. One of the things that White Wolf was very, very good at with the Old World of Darkness is reinterpreting holidays, modern sites of power and (in only some cases) historical events to allow for supernatural creatures. This gave the presence of vampires, werewolves and faeries a kind of weight they wouldn't have had otherwise, and made it easier to buy into the world. When I was in high school, I even remember 'celebrating' some of the Kithain holidays with my friends. My first introduction to a lot of the old pagan holidays, rituals and beliefs were in Changeling: the Dreaming. Sad, I know. I'm sure a lot of people are apoplectic at this point. :D

As part of our Horrorfest this weekend, I caught Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 for the first time yesterday. It had gotten such horrible reviews when it came out, and I was such a big fan of the original, I refused to see it up until this point. One of the reasons I remember the original so fondly is the ingenious way they spun a plausible-sounding history/mythology around the Blair Witch. It was one of the first movies where the 'culture' surrounding it was just as interesting (and in some cases, more so) as the movie itself. Ultimately, though, the movie was a nice commentary on the hysteria surrounding The Blair Witch Project and the phenomena of inventing a mythology that catches onto the public consciousness. Just how valid is a culture that's completely made up?

I think the movie ultimately falls into the camp that people can't just make up their own reality. That perceptive filters, no matter how many people adopt them, will always be trumped by actuality. It doesn't have the time or inclination to investigate the worth of these filters, though. No, you can't change your reality by believing things will be different. What you change is your ability to deal with things and the way you react to them. Perceptive filters (mythologies you subscribe to, religious beliefs, personal philosophies) give you the tools to play the hand you're dealt to the best of your ability.

Where people fall into trouble, I think, is forgetting what perceptive filters are (ways that you interpret reality, not necessarily reality itself) and mistaking them for the end itself. In my opinion, if what you believe makes you a better person, more able to deal with your life than otherwise, then go for it. We all need some kind of distortion, I think. But we should also be aware that the way we see things might not be the way things actually are.

So, I guess that what Samhain has become for me, to tie this all together. I enjoy looking at the things people believe and why. I love looking at the things I believe (am I really in tune with Rabbit in some way?) and reviewing why I believe them and what that belief gives me. Am I a better person for believing this? If not, what should I do about that? It's something I'll be thinking about between movies today. Well, that and how much I miss Changeling.
jakebe: (Default)
Quite some time ago, I was writing a story. The idea was this lab rat was being injected with this serum designed to make him smarter and larger. Of course, the rat gets *too* smart and WAY too large, and decides to get revenge on his captor, an anthropomorpic cat who thought it her right to experiment carelessly with the 'lesser races'. I was excited about the idea; it was NIMH only darker and fetishy. In my entirely warped mind, I thought Justin would make a pretty cool psychopath.

While I was writing an early draft of it, my cat character got really excited about the progress of the experiment. The rat had grown more than projected, and he was already asking questions that had never occured to him before. In her excitement (and mine too, I was in a groove), she ran to the phone and called her superior, a tiger who was also her boyfriend...

The problem is, I hadn't planned for her to have a boyfriend. I had no idea who this guy was, and why she was suddenly calling him out of the blue. I had been so swept up by the story I was no longer in control of it. It had grown legs and began running away without me.

Disturbed by that, I shoved the story in a draft folder on my laptop and never touched it again. In fact, I've only written one short story since then, and that was more a collection of half-thought set pieces than a real piece of fiction.

Most writers live for that moment, when suddenly a story becomes so real that you're not so much creating it as you are channeling it. When it happened to me, I was paralyzed by the uncertainty it represented. I couldn't handle the idea of losing control, of surrendering myself to a story, of no longer having any idea of what it was meant to be. Even today, I fear getting too wrapped up in fantasy. That fear has really killed my writing.

I've tried to replace it with a sense of obligation; I've taken on projects in the past several months that force me to produce something, even if it is sub-par work. I've tried to spur myself along with carrots ("If you finish this scene, you can have that apple danish"), sticks (public accountability, candy denial) and just about everything else I could think of. None of it's worked. Why? Because I haven't addressed the fact yet that I'm afraid of the ecstatic experience of being subsumed by the storytelling.

I'm sure I'm not alone here. There are so many would-be writers who freeze when faced with all of the moving parts of the story. You have to make sure your plot is paced well, makes sense, and won't spring a leak at rudimentary inspection. You have to make sure your dialogue sounds the way people talk (but not exactly the way they talk), and that it's smart and crackling. You have to make sure your characters are consistent and independent of the plot, not automatons who do what you need them to. It's a daunting thing, when you really care about creating a good story.

The thing to remember (and the thing I'm trying to learn here) is not to be afraid of your own shadow. Even when it surprises you, or leans in a direction you didn't anticipate, it's still a part of you. Sometimes it's a good thing to lose yourself to something greater. In fact, all of the people who've gotten really good at what they do manage just that on a regular basis.

So, how do you relearn ecstatic communion after quite some time away from it? Well, that's the dilemma. I imagine there's no one right answer to that, so I'll be trying different methods until I hit upon one that works. Feel free to offer your suggestions in comments. ;)
jakebe: (Sexy)
It's my idea that rabbits tend towards husky frames. If you look at pictures of most pet bunnies, you'll see they tend to be soft, furry, rounded balls of fluff. Even wild rabbits tend to be small but powerfully built. Hares, on the other hand, are long, skinny, lithe. They're built for speed, and they don't nearly look as cuddly as their rabbity cousins. They're lean and fast.

It's also my idea that rabbits secretly envy the physique of hares. Whereas a hare can eat whatever it wants, rabbits have to mind their calories carefully or else food goes straight to their hips and then they'll be even fatter. It's not fair, but hares are decidedly ectomorphic. We rabbits? Stuck being endomorphs.

It's not that I hate my body. I merely dislike it. There's a pretty decent shape hiding under all of the fat deposits, and I'm determined to excavate it. I want the flat stomach. I want the toned muscle. I'm not ashamed to admit that. Even if it makes me feel kind of shallow and indoctrinated into the whole Californian fitness-crazy mindset.

I've been flirting with the idea of healthy living ever since I came here, but the latest wake-up call came earlier this year. As part of [livejournal.com profile] toob's Year of No Regrets, we took part in the Bay to Breakers race, a 12 k race that takes you on a pretty hilly course through some beautiful parts of San Francisco. We were invited to take part with [livejournal.com profile] malinandrolo, and it was really awesome to test out how far I've come with regards to stamina and such.

All in all, I didn't do too bad: I finished the race in one hour and 41 minutes. On one hand, it's not bad for a first attempt. On the other, that's nearly 14 minutes a mile. That's a bit less than 5 miles an hour, which even for a casual jogger is a little slow. I was doing pretty good for a second there, but on the first hill I sputtered to a slow walk and didn't really recover after that. Ever since then I've been hyper-aware of how winded I get going up stairs, how much strain it is to bend over my stomach to tie my own shoes, that sort of thing. Worst of all, pants and shirts that fit me a year ago are getting...snug, to be kind to myself. Nothing freaks me out more than realizing that the same pants I fit in a year ago are threatening to burst around my girth now.

This is all a part of getting older, I understand. Your metabolism slows down. You can't get away with eating candy for dinner any more. You need proper sleep and actual vitamins and minerals and protein and stuff. You can't trust your body to burn off fat. Instead of craving only sugar, your body's tastes diversify. I, for one, am glad and grateful for this march of progress, but at the same time I'm having a devil of a time learning how to be consistently comfortable with it.

I realized this fact well after my body started displaying evidence of it. So now I'm a bit behind with regards to taking the proper care. I'd wager I have about thirty pounds of excess fat here, and none of the actual dieting discipline to get rid of it. Getting it has proven to be a long, slow climb.

That doesn't mean there hasn't been progress. Candy bars are a much less frequent occurrence than they used to be. I have cravings for actual fruit and vegetables now. And I rarely have cheeseburgers. However, for every minor victory, there's the usual host of problems. I can't consistently exercise to save my life. I'm still far too in love with pastries and cookies (my current love: apple and cheese croissants from Specialty's). And my desire to develop new habits still frequently outpaces my actual ability to develop new habits.

The general concept of weight loss is so, so simple. Spend more Calories than you eat. Voila! The practice of it, however, is astonishingly hard. It's a lot like Zen that way: be right here. OK! Wait...how do I do that?

There's no secret to weight loss and physical fitness, I'm beginning to see. It's just a matter of being dedicated to eating things that are best for your body to use, and use your body the way it's meant to be use. Run, jump, kick, lift. The only thing making it hard is the way we've developed our society to be as sedentary as possible. It's not easy to find 'real' food to eat, and it's not easy to exercise your body for any good length of time every day. Finding a job that requires sitting eight hours, within a five-minute drive of McDonald's? *That's* easy.

If you're not paying attention, it's easy to keep the same habits that got you through your early adulthood long after they've stopped working for you. Keeping up with the way your body shifts over time requires you to stop, pay attention, make a conscious effort to change and stick to that change with dedication. I know this, but I'm still learning how to do it.

So, hopefully, you won't mind the occasional post or two about learning this stuff -- how to eat well and use my body, how the world around you makes that difficult to do, how to find ways to make that easy again. I'll keep the exercise filter for raw stats and trends, just because I need to have my numbers geek side addressed somehow. But theory and practice stuff, I'll try to keep up at least once a week.
jakebe: (Writing)
It's been a little while since I've made a journal post about what's going on in my life, and I'd really like to, so I thought I would.

Mostly, it's been the same thing: work, exercise, TV and movies, hanging out with friends, and making incremental progress on the same goals I've had for the last few years. It's routine, and honestly not *that* exciting, but it's a good life and I like it. I've shifted my focus over time to making it as best a life as I can. At this point in my development, I realize that the loftiest goals might be a bit beyond me. I don't expect to be a famous writer, or a gifted public speaker, or a wise Zen master. That's fine. I do expect to be a better friend, a wiser person, a more eloquent speaker and writer, and more comfortable with myself. Those are easier goals to meet, and it's kind of a big deal that I made the switch. Gone are the lofty, vague dreams of childhood, where I had limitless potential and boundless energy with which to achieve it. Now, I'm not lamenting my wasted potential, and I've shifted my focus to see just how much I can push myself from where I am.

That's not to say I don't still have goals. I *do* want to become a writer, and I'm working on making progress towards that end. It's slow, but sure. As usual, the biggest obstacle I have in my way is discipline and courage. I make these grand plans at the beginning of the week -- "I will write for at least one hour every day this week" -- and I slowly wittle away those expectations until, by the end of it, I'm consoling myself with finishing an e-mail that took me all week to write and promising myself that I'll do better next week.

I think the trouble here is I'm a morning person. I really am. If I could get up and have an hour before work to get in some solid writing, I'd be a happy camper, but that's unmanageable with the schedule I have. My energy level and focus goes down until I'm at the point where I just want to play video games or watch TV by 9 p.m. I haven't discovered a way to stay sharp through the day, so that by the time I get home I'm ready to dive right in to a short story. Maybe that's something that comes with practice, and what I really need to do is push through the fatigue and write (badly) anyway.

Finally, there's the matter of my inner critic. I have the terrible habit of self-editing while I'm writing, which makes me double back and rewrite every sentence two or three times before I'm ready to move on. I have yet to find a way to consistently shut him up enough to just plow through a shitty first draft, stuff something in a drawer for a while, and then come back to it for the edit. I'm sure there's a way to do it. Again, the thing I'm imagining works best is just shutting up and doing it anyway.

I'm also spotty with exercise, though I really enjoy it. When work is really demanding, I come home tired, but always feel better after lifting weights or running or whatever it is I decide to do. Where I keep falling down is the diet.

I have a tremendous sweet tooth. I love cookies, pastries, cakes, pies, candies, chocolate, whatever I can get my little paws on, chances are I'll eat. I've been trying to train myself away from the worst offenders (chocolate bars, buttery pastries, cakes) and replacing them with stuff that's still not great, but at the very least better. Jelly beans and those little gummi raspberries and blackberries are my new best friends. :) That's worked out pretty well, but I still have a tendency to browse that just deep-sixes me.

Overall, though, things haven't been too bad. I tend to focus on the negative, what I could be doing better, just because I'm actively trying to *be* better. For the first time in a long time, I have the mental capital for it, and I'm really excited about taking advantage of it.

There's this saying that's stuck with me ever since I heard it: "Who you are is what you've done in the past, and who you'll be is what you're doing right now." It's a great reminder that in order to be the person I've always wanted to be, all I have to do is change my behavior right now, in this moment. Make the decision that makes me wiser, or more grateful, or more thoughtful. Be more organized. Follow through on goals I've set. Try harder to do what I find worthwhile. There is no time like the present for all of that.

So yes, I'm doing much the same thing I've always been doing, but also trying to forment a quiet revolution in my way of thinking and handling things. It's working, at least I hope it is.

In other news, I had an absolutely fantastic birthday week. :) Ryan was kind enough to get me a DSi and Peggle: Dual Shot; my dragon knows me too well. On Thursday we went out to Black Angus for steak, and then we hooked up with Cooner and his brother for drinks at our favorite neighborhood watering hole, Adam's Apple New Jersey's. On Friday we watched Funny People, which *was* pretty funny, but also a little depressing and about 30 minutes too long.

Saturday was busy. We went to Brokken and Jonny's housewarming/birthday party, which was an absolute blast. There I met a delightful couple (AngelBunny and M-Tiger, I believe), and had one of the best shishkebabs ever. Also, Bolt made a special appearance. Must have been expensive to get. :) After that, there was my birthday dinner at the Duke of Edinburgh, which was attended by way more people than I thought would come. Thanks an awful bunch guys, for showing up and helping me get trashed. :D

On Sunday we headed back to the movie theatre for a double feature of The Perfect Getaway and GI Joe; both were surprisingly fun. I'm worried Getaway won't be seen by enough folks, especially because it has Milla Jovovich, but if you're in the mood for a good, smart thriller, I'd recommend giving it a try. I'm also in love with the new GI Joe power armor. Ryan had mentioned imagining that buff lion-men were doing everything instead of just guys in suits, though, and he's right; it makes the movie *twenty* times better. :)

Sunday evening was full of KOTOR, and I made significant progress with my time on Tattooine. I finally managed to get those stupid Sand People the water vaporisers they need, so they would stop attacking people on sight, and Mission finally met up with her brother Griff. Griff is a giant asshat.

Finally, there was True Blood, which is just a gem of a show if you guys aren't watching it. Last night's episode featured what was probably the crowning moment of Jason Stackhouse's young, stupid life and the near-resolution of the whole Dallas arc. But, if you aren't watching, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, right? ;)

Now I'm at work, just getting ready to clock in. For a Monday, it's not going to be a bad day. I can feel it.
jakebe: (Default)
So I made this big series of posts about depression, and ever since then I've been largely quiet here except for little micro-blogs or workout stats. Sorry about that; I'm trying to get 'round to my more traditional tl;dr posts, but I'm terrible with time management these days.

A quick rundown of what I've been up to these past few months:

+ Working. With tax season approaching and my workplace gearing up for a shutdown, things got really busy for a while. Now, with people *back* from the shutdown, things are busy for a little bit but they're calming down rapidly. Usually I would be slammed with helping people send Certified mail all day, and after exercise I'd be too wiped out to do anything but watch TV.

+ Writing. Nothing that's ready to show yet, but I've been working on a few things that I'm excited about. It's all streaky, of course, so I'll do a fairly big chunk in three days, then let it all sit for a month and a half. But, you know, spotty progress is better than none. :)

+ Self-reflection. Not too much mind you, and not the depressive kind. Just learning about myself and the ways I've changed in the past few years, since moving out here. It's really important to me right now to figure out who I am.

+ Self-improvement. I've been working to be consistent with all the things I've been wanting to do: meditation, writing, reading, catching up with correspondence and the like. I've been making progress, but I still have a long way to go. I'm also going to be learning to drive in the next couple months and likely getting a car.

+ Bunches of Miscellaneous Things. Playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, planning a few trips for this year, watching TV, being with Ryan, hanging out with friends...the usual business. The past few months have been really good, to be honest, but I still suck to high heaven at time management. :)

Just thought I would write this quick note while I had 15 minutes at work. How're y'all doing? ;)

A Few

Feb. 13th, 2009 04:53 pm
jakebe: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] chris_sawyer linked to this, so I have to as well:

Feeling rejected has surprising psychological consequences. The thing that gets me is not exactly what those consequences are, but the sensitivity of the button that triggers. Even if you hate someone in particular, knowing the feeling's mutual is enough to produce these responses. We're very social animals, it turns out, and our desire for company can be taken to a faulty extreme pretty easily.

Another fascinating idea is how rejected people engage in behaviors that make it *more* likely that they'll be rejected in the future, anti-social and aggressive. It's interesting how this overcompensation is essentially hard-wired into our brains. Which of course makes me think if there's any wonder we have so many maladjusted, weird people out there; if you make it through high school being mocked by most of the people in your world, what kind of adult does that make you when you get through it? Does it work on an even larger social scale? Is it possible that a sort of 'societal rejection' is one of the reasons why the poor or minorities tend to have higher instances of mental illness, criminal tendencies and the like? How far can you take this?

Obviously, this isn't the one answer that explains why a member of a marginalized community might do something morally reprehensible, and it's not an excuse, either. But it's a significant factor, and if it's something we can do something about, then...maybe it means the difference between eventually learning to become functional in a social group and, well, not.

I'm taking a Psychology 101 class this semester, so expect a lot more obnoxiously naive rants about the basics of how the human brain operates. I'm warning you now. :)

*****

This week was pretty bad in terms of mood. I kept bottoming out to a deeper layer of bad mood, and Wednesday was the worst I've felt in a long time. I got so tired of everything that I just wanted to sleep forever, which is a disturbing thing to me. It felt like I was moving through a thick fog with everything I did. I just wanted to be still, and be alone, and not have to move or think any more.

One thing that I think it's difficult to get across is how...automatic this process is. I obsess over friendships and interactions and being able to connect with people, and I know a lot of the time if I could just get out of my own way, chill out and take things as they come things would go a lot smoother. I *know* this, but I can't *do* it when I get depressed and insecure. It's another reason the 'rejection' article hit me so hard; what sounds neutral to most people will more than likely sound like rejection to me. If anything as simple as a facial expression or vocal inflection *might* be construed as something negative, chances are I'll take it that way and run with it.

And of course, this is ridiculous. I *know* it's ridiculous but I feel like I can't do a thing to change this reaction. Most of the time I'm aware of these processes, I know how they work, and sometimes I can ride them out; some other times it turns me into this completely different person. I'll be fine, and suddenly I'll feel like I'm teetering on the edge of this cliff, and then I'm down. It feels like something in my brain is depleted. If I had it, I could feel better, but I don't. I feel like a stalled car in the middle of the road. I don't want to be there, you don't *want* me to be there, but I can't help the situation at all. I'm just out of gas, and I'm stuck where I am until I get more.

In Radical Acceptance, the advice given seems to be to make peace with this mood; to observe it, to let it happen without any kind of qualitative judgment for it. That's a really great idea, but impossible to do when you're in the middle of work and trying to do four things at once, and you can barely muster up the energy to do any of it. It's very easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel like you're trapped and the only thing to do is to quit so you don't have to deal with any of it any more.

That sounds a lot worse than I mean it to. I'm not suicidal. I'm just trying to explain all of this craziness; at the very least, so it makes sense to myself. And to other people.

I also don't want to be the guy who talks endlessly about depression, and bores people with all of the minutiae of every single mood. Just bare with me through a few more of these and I'll try to start posting about other things. This is just new and shiny and it helps me sort out my brain. Also, your input is tremendously reassuring. :)
jakebe: (Default)
It amazes me how missing a few hours of sleep can completely wreck things. The thoughts running through my head for hours are all about how boring and awful and completely unlovable I am. This isn't true of course, so on one level I can disconnect and watch my brain in its little wheel.

But on another level I know that I'm on this miserable little run and I can't seem to get out of it. It's just this moment, and it'll pass, but God it sucks while I'm in it.

I've been all but paralyzed by self-esteem issues for several months now. When I'm with friends I'd rather not say anything because I worry that anything I could possibly say would just sound really stupid and inane, and when I get up the courage to say it I end up stuttering or tripping over my words in my hurry to get it out and get things over with. I can't think of anything to say to people online because I'm constantly worried that I'm going to end up saying the wrong thing. So, I become boring and awful and nobody wants to talk to me, thus confirming the original view. It's a vicious cycle.

I really want off this ride.
jakebe: (Default)
I've forgotten how to have fun. Whenever I engage in an activity that is supposed to be fun, I worry about making sure that I can do it better on my end, or that I'm not pissing someone else off or being too selfish or making them uncomfortable or a thousand other things. When, after all of the other considerations have been taken care of, and I do manage to have fun with something, it's always tainted by the idea that I could have had *more* fun somehow if only I knew how.

You know what? Fuck that noise. I'm tired of trying to analyze comic books to see how all the pieces fit together in a broader story arc -- it's fun to contemplate up to a point, but looking for ways to pad a comic book review that no one reads anyway is just stupid. What the hell?

This month I'm going to dedicate myself to doing things because they're fun, or at least finding the fun again in the things I do.
jakebe: (Default)
Time: 20 minutes
Distance: 1.55 miles
Top Speed: 6.1 mph
Calories: 219

Started the exercise routine again, just in time for the holiday season. It's been really sporadic the past couple of months, because of the wedding, and then the move, and then an illness. There's also been lack of discipline on my part, but let's not get into that.

The treadmills at the new apartment are a lot better than the old ones. There are specific programs you can select (Weight Loss, Cardio Health, Performance, Marathon Training, to name just a few) depending on the reasons you run. Of course I'm using Weight Loss; I tried the 40 minute program, with a 3% incline, and could only make it halfway through before I got too winded. I'll be trying again tonight, just to see if I can make it five minutes longer.

In other news... )

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