What Are You Afraid Of?

The therapist I’ve been seeing for the past five months today came out with this revelation:

Given the things you’ve said to me, it seems you find the world a threatening place.

My therapist often says things I’m not sure about, and I have to go away and think about them. He’s a Freudian, and I call him on his bullshit. He’s trying to sift through my past, looking for single traumatic incident that imprinted on me this need to defend myself. I could relive every day since I was about 18 months old, and my shrink can pick through  any of the dozens of sub-optimal events that have shaped my view of the world. He would say that I’ve subconsciously formulated defense mechanisms that color all my interactions with people, and that, as a result, my outlook isn’t what it should be.

But there’s one other possibility. I’ve said before that I’m an introvert. No, I’m not going to link to a blog post where I’ve said it, because I say it all the time. Here’s a thing that’s true about many introverts: their nervous systems are wired differently. They experience sensations like sound, light and touch as more stimulating than other people feel them, and therefore have a stronger reaction. When you’re wired up so that bright lights, people talking in excited voices and people, clothes or stray breezes touching your skin feel uncomfortable to you, of course the world is a threatening place.

So it should be no surprise to anyone that, not only am I generally defensive, but that I don’t see that as anything I want to change. What I would like to change, though, is how this particular therapist views me. Because I’m now realizing that while I do have a fair few real problems (like an obscure obsessive/compulsive disorder that is the reason I keep my hair short), viewing the world as generally challenging isn’t a neurosis for me. It’s a reality.

To Bag the Impossible Bag

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been on a quest for the ultimate handbag. I’ve had bags that were like luggage:

Retro squirrel bag

How could you not love this?

 

Bags that were actually boxes with handles:

Red glass box purse

Frankly, a good box purse is still my first choice

 

And bags that had pockets for everything:

Fossil Backpack

Okay, this one's really more of a backpack.

 

But each one left something to be desired. What am I looking for? Something that goes with everything (so, black or brown leather would be ideal), but that has more pockets than just a simple bag. Something that is spacious enough for my tendency to over-prepare (I generally have at least two small notebooks, four pens, seventeen lipsticks, a phone, a large wallet, another wallet with all those stupid loyalty cards, a brush, an iPod, earbuds, and forty-seven receipts, and that’s when I travel light). Something that looks nice, but not too pretentious.

Alexander McQueen clutch and shoes

This, for example, is a little too pretentious for me. Just a little. A smidgen.

 

The fastening has to be secure, but easy to open (don’t say it, I know that’s an oxymoron). And it has to have a shoulder strap. I am normally juggling five things in my hands, and I don’t want my purse to be one of them. At least, not until I have staff that follow me around, interacting with the world for me so that all I have to do is hold my tiny yappy dog and tea.

I think I may end up getting…

 

 

wait for it…

 

 

a diaper bag.

 

Think about it. Diaper bags are the epitome of “holds a lot of stuff.” And modern designs are pretty posh looking! But I’m trying to decide whether giving in and buying a diaper bag as my regular carrying-around bag is the clutter equivalent of giving up and wearing sweats all the time. Clearly, I’m going to have to angst over this for a while longer. And keep switching my stuff between the three purses I have now that I hate and love in equal measure for all sorts of different reasons.

In Dependence

Sorry I haven’t been posting much this past few days, but I’ve been helping my mother move.

When I was a kid, she talked nonstop about her big dream, moving to San Diego and living by the beach. But we took fewer vacations to San Diego than we took to San Francisco, and that’s why, when I moved away from Phoenix, I moved to the Bay area. Now, nearly 15 years later, Mom has finally decided to move to San Francisco as well. Instead of the sunny beaches of San Diego, she’s got the shitty, cold beaches of San Francisco.

There are a few things about moving anywhere that are just crap. One of them is having to wait around to get your internet hooked up. My mother didn’t realize how much she depended on the internet just to feel connected to the world until she didn’t have it anymore. Just before she left Phoenix for the last time, she called me and told me that I didn’t need to pick her up from the airport – she could just take BART to Balboa Park and then take the 29 bus to within half a block of her house.

I didn’t even know that. She knew it because she looked it up.

I didn’t know about Shazam, the service that lets me quit asking people “What’s this song? The one that’s playing right now?” until my mother told me. Or about Pandora, Angry Birds, or a million other really convenient things. My mother, the 70-year-old connectivity whiz kid.

But now, the poor woman is sitting alone in her new house, the house where she can’t watch her Roku, or stream something on Netflix, or answer any of the emails that are piling up because all her old friends miss her, or even comment on this blog post, telling me that I’m wrong, she wouldn’t take the 29, she’d take some other bus. In the two days we were there to help her, I was annoyed at how hard it was to answer email, read people’s blog, etc., from my phone. It’s hard to remember what it’s like to live without the internet, even though I’ve had internet for less than half my life.

It does make me wonder what the future will look like for my kid. She goes to a school that doesn’t believe in computers, but that doesn’t mean we shun them at home. She has never lived without global connectivity. Will she one day be able to IM her friend on a moon station? Will she be able to have connected devices implanted into her skin?

Will she be just as dependent on it as I have become?

I’ll Never Write for the Movies

We all know that I am incapable of having a conversation that doesn’t involve another conversation going on inside my head. But I’ve just realized that perhaps because of my own tendencies, I hate watching television shows where the characters are having some kind of inner turmoil while simultaneously carrying on banal conversation. For instance, a man and a woman are deeply in love with each other and have been for years. Each one hopes that the other one shares the feelings, but can’t be sure.

Him: How are things? Have you been thinking about me every second, as I’ve been thinking about you?

Her: Things are fine. I’ve been so busy. I’ve been thinking about you nonstop, in fact I’ve been fired from four jobs because all I can do is sit and stare out the window, fantasizing about what it would be like to be your girlfriend.

Him: That’s nice. I’ve been busy myself. Perhaps not as busy as you, but fairly busy. You’ve been thinking about me! You’ve been thinking about me! I mean, have you been thinking about me? Because if you’ve been thinking about someone else, I may have to kill myself.

Her: I’m glad things are going well for you. Really glad. I hope that you’re just putting a brave face on the misery you’re feeling without me, as I am.

Him: Thank you. It was so good to see you. Marry me. Seriously. Marry me.

Her: It was good to see you too. Kiss me now. See? I’m closing my eyes. It looks like I’m blinking, but I’m just closing my eyes really fast because I want you to kiss me.

This is Gone With the Wind, Remains of the Day, Big Eden…too too many films to count where most of the story is about people not talking to each other.

It makes me wonder if I should perhaps start letting some of my own internal monologue out. Maybe if I start letting my own internal monologue out, some of the weird misunderstandings so apparent in my own life would disappear.

This couldn’t possibly go badly, could it?

Observing the Decencies

I’ve drawn the Pirate into listening to Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety. It’s the kind of audio book where we stop the playback every few minutes so that we can talk about what’s being said.

One of the points he made was this: “As our standard of living goes up, the luxuries become the decencies, and the decencies become necessities.”

I realized that I had only considered two classes of things: necessities and luxuries. When those are your only choices and you divide all the stuff you own into one of those two camps, you either sound like a delusional hedonist who classifies having a car for each person in their household a “necessity,” or like a rich liberal apologizing by classifying owning a computer as a “luxury.” Granted, what qualifies as “necessary” depends on your circumstances. If you work from home at a tech job, a computer is a necessity. For families living in dense urban areas with public transportation where only one spouse has a full-time job, having more than one car isn’t necessary. Convenient, but not necessary.

Here’s where the idea of “decency” comes in. It’s the idea of a thing that isn’t a luxury, but is a step up from a necessity. The wonderful world of hygiene is a great example. We all agree that keeping clean is a necessity: the first line of defense against diseases ranging from the common cold to cholera to ebola. If we agree that hygiene is a necessity, and hygiene means soap and water, we also agree that soap is a necessity.

If you are the hardy type, you can mix the same lye you use to unblock your drains with some water, add your cooking oil (including bacon grease and meat trimmings), and create a soap that will burn your skin, smell bad and serve your purposes. That’s necessity. Buying lye in bulk and using only your used cooking grease, soap made this way would cost a just under two and a half cents per ounce. When I was a kid, my mom always bought Ivory soap. It didn’t smell weird, and it was inexpensive. You can get Ivory soap for about 13 cents per ounce. Necessity or decency – your call. What happens when you get to things like Lush? Depending on your preference, you’ll be paying $1.99 to $2.64 per ounce for this high-end soap – two orders of magnitude more than the DIY version. There’s no way anyone can justify that kind of outlay as “necessity,” and calling it “decency” is disingenuous.

It’s been making me think about my own definitions. How much do I need most of the things I use and enjoy? How do I justify to myself the purchases I make? I need to think harder about the choices I make. I need to make sure that I’m not buying things just because I’m being lazy or self-indulgent. I need to remember that I’m not alone on this planet, and that I need to play fair, share, and leave some stuff for others.

Sincerely Yours

One of the many things that marks an introvert is the tendency to live in one’s own head. I don’t know how conversations work for extroverts, but for me they work something like this:

Me: Hello! It’s nice to see you! Is that her real hair color? I wonder if she thinks my dye job is awful.

Her: How are you! I haven’t seen you in a while. What’s going on?

Me: Nothing. I mean, I’ve been really busy, but it’s just the same old stuff. I sound really lame, don’t I? Oh, crap. She’s looking at her watch. She thinks I’m boring.

Her: I’m going to lunch with George at 1. Have you met George? He worked with Marshall in purchasing before Marshall moved to Des Moines. I heard he’s doing really well there. Really happy. He and his wife bought a five-acre property with a 100-year-old farmhouse that they’re fixing up.

Me: Wow! That’s great. He’s working in Iowa, or remotely? She thinks my house sucks. I know she does. For crying out loud, I’m not the DIY type! Or does she think I’m not happy? Why did she say “really” happy? Like I’m faking it? 

Her: Oh, he’s working remotely. Well, I’ve got to run. Call me! Let’s get together for lunch next week!

Me: Absolutely! Does she really want me to call, or is she just trying to be nice. I’ll call her, but I won’t mention lunch. Just in case she didn’t really mean it.

That’s right. Every single exchange is questioned. And long after that one-minute exchange is over, I’ll still be playing it in my mind, continuing to question “Did she really mean that?” for the rest of the day. In practice, it’s exhausting. I never feel like I know the truth about how other people feel about me. Whether someone is laughing at my jokes because my jokes are really funny, or because they think I can do something for them. When someone expresses delight or admiration for the work I’m doing, I don’t know whether it’s the work, or whether they’re trying to impress me by being impressed by me. I’m as susceptible to flattery as the next person, but I would also like to know that when someone is nice to me, they’re nice to me because they actually like me.

And just so you know, if I’m nice to you, it’s because I like you.

Your Kid’s Marriage Is Already In Trouble

In the past few days, I’ve been catching up with an old friend – “Can This Marriage Be Saved?,” a standing feature in the Ladies’ Home Journal. I’ve loved that column since I was a kid for the same reasons that I slow down to check out accidents. Schadenfreude.

The format has been the same since I can remember: first the wife tells her side (this is, after all, a women’s magazine), the husband tells his side, then the counselor gets a turn. I read the feature uncritically when I was younger, but now I’ve started taking a harder look. The counselors tend to be Freudian in their approach to problems, meaning that they look for the root cause of each person’s issues in that person’s childhood. People who tuned out when their spouse expressed dissatisfaction had distant, cold parents. People who couldn’t let go of any wrongs done to them had suffered some defining trauma early in life that they couldn’t get past. People who assumed incorrectly that they shared goals and feelings with a spouse who was silently seething with pent-up resentment had parents who never talked openly, and the spouses had parents who either fought all the time or never fought at all, making the spouse need to avoid conflict at all costs. The fact that the sitcom format of problem and resolution that resolves itself in just a few column inches gives the illusion that if you can just learn to speak in “I” statements, count to 10 before responding to criticism and plan 2 dates nights a month with your spouse, no amount of lying, cheating or fighting will put your union asunder.

I spent yesterday at The Exploratorium in San Francisco. The place was packed to capacity with groups of parents and their children acting in the same ways that you see them act at Disneyland, the zoo, the supermarket, in restaurants, at the movies, etc. As adults, we may act differently in the office than we do at home or out with friends, but as parents with our children, our act never varies.

What fascinated me most were the kids that drive everyone else nuts. These kids were losing their shit. Screaming, throwing themselves on the floor, clamping themselves onto their parents legs while begging for whatever they felt they can’t live without. Every time I saw a kid melt down when Mommy had her hands full and was looking the other way for a millisecond, or kids who ran between tables terrorizing other patrons while their parents ignored not only their kids’ behavior, but the reaction it was getting from other adults, I thought “Your kid is going to grow up, get married, and end up on the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal, and it’ll be your fault.”

The kicker came after the museum closed. The Pirate and I waited outside for the girls to finish up their tour of the Tactile Dome. A boy of about 12 tackled his grandmother, knocking the woman to the ground. The woman sat there, looking dazed and monitoring herself for possible injury for a few minutes while the kid stood over her, grinning. A man I presumed to be the kid’s father came up and scolded him, but the grin never left the kid’s face, he never apologized, and once granny got up and went away limping, the kid ran off to play with his siblings/friends. Even the adults said nothing about it among themselves, acting as though it was perfectly okay that this woman would certainly have bruises and scrapes (she had fallen hard on a concrete sidewalk) and could have more serious injuries (she fell right onto her tailbone – a sure recipe for back injury). Nobody walked the older lady to her car or looked in her direction as she shuffled away.

This kid is going to grow up with the sense that his actions have no consequences about which he need ever be concerned. He’s going to think that no matter what he does, it’s someone else’s problem. He will never feel that he has to monitor himself or take responsibility for any mess he makes. What kind of adult relationships can he look forward to?

I despair of a country that sees children as either decorative imbeciles too stupid to be given any responsibility or as bothersome pests, best ignored until they’re old enough to make entertaining party conversation. Neither does anything to prepare children for the life of a responsible, self-actualized adult. But maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I should be more grateful that parents everywhere are grooming their children to entertain me by becoming the subject of columns with titles like “I’m a Hoarder and My Husband Hates It.” Your husband may hate it, but I can’t get enough of that stuff.