Tales from Urban Dilettantia

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Sharing-Share

As promised in last month’s post, here is the mindmap for my 2016 theme, ‘Share’, along with a couple of mini maps about things that block or enable sharing.

They’re all dodgy phone photos, because the perfect is the enemy of the good, and because holding off until I manage to post beautifully scanned, cleaned-up versions in late 2023 won’t achieve much.

2016 'Share' Map

2016 ‘Share’ Map

Four central questions, or bundles of questions, popped up while I was working on the map.  I don’t have answers for any of them now, but I’m hoping that by the end of the year I’ll be closer:

  1. How to manage overcommitting? How to say no? What not to share? Boundaries?
  2. But who wants to hear?
  3. What does sustainable sharing look like?
  4. Why does this scare me so much?

 

Share Enablers

Share Enablers

 

Share Blocks

Share Blocks

 

2016: Share

Before I die I want to...

Once a year, every year, I choose a theme.

It’s usually no more than a word. A guiding thought for the year to come. A subject of inquiry. A standing piece of advice for life’s decisions, big or small. Once, it was ‘sovereignty’, once ’hearth’, once ’capability’. I think once it may have been ‘balance’, and once ‘the small’, but my record-keeping is somewhat lacking.

So, once a year, every year, I choose a theme. But ‘choose’ isn’t quite the right word. It implies a range of possibilities, when in fact it is a matter of a single idea, bubbling to the surface. Almost always, it emerges when Ju and I meet to discuss the year just gone, and the one to come.

This year, somewhat to my surprise, my theme is ‘share’. I am surprised because it seems more outward-looking, more engaged with other people, and more open than any introvert-who-just-wants-to-be-left-alone could be. Consequently, I have found myself stubbornly pushing back against the idea.

Sharing time? I don’t have time!

Sharing energy? I don’t have energy!

Sharing stories, experiences, food, friendship, space? Did you hear what I said about time and energy?

Evidence that I have found a fitting theme.

As usual, perfectionism – ever my companion – intervenes. It appears self-evident that I need to conduct this inquiry on a grand scale, at no cost to all the other things I do. That somehow (if I’m a better person, a kinder person, a healthier and stronger and more organised person) time and energy will rain from the heavens and all will be well.

This is – self-evidently – ludicrous. I have learned and forgotten and learned again that the only way I do things well is incrementally, in tiny, successful steps. (I recorded this knowledge many years ago on The Map of Win which hangs in my hall, but I still forget and re-learn.)
And so, some tiny sharing possibilities.

Write here again – just a little. Nothing epic, nothing grand.

Help organise Cary’s open-house breakfasts at The Workhouse (instead of just showing up at best).

Process and upload just a handful of a three-year backlog of photos to my Flickr.

Give a tiny gift.

Make a date to appreciate a friend’s new house.

I will – as usual – make a mind-map soon to explore the idea of sharing more broadly and deeply. And this year, I will share it here.

Crashing back into it

Quite a long time ago, four long years ago.  Big, fancy house.  Husband.  Cats.  Three and a half years ago, suddenly looking hard at my tangled, messy, perpetual barely-hanging-on-ness.  Starting to think about ‘happiness’ even though – as many pointed out to me – this wasn’t quite the correct word, and it was prone to be confused with hedonism.  What I was trying to express was ‘rational, loving and sustainable well-being’.  But that’s too long and too difficult to explain.  So I talked about My Happiness Project.

Looking backwards for a moment, there are posts from that time on my old LiveJournal with tags like’my happiness project’ and ‘lifehacking’, arbitrary words for a much bigger thing, and recording fragments of a journey.   On that journey, I got somewhere; some great distance from the place where I had been before. It started to feel like it was somewhere I could stay forever.  And then moving out, immeasurable sadness, innumerable boxes, and constantly fighting everything down on every front.’The thing I regret the most over the last couple of years is not having had the capacity to hang onto tight the gentle, kind love for myself that I’d been carefully cultivating.  Finding that it was possible to actually like myself was – for various historical and then-current reasons – a great, unfolding knowledge and a completely new experience.  It is utterly unacceptable to live in such a manner that when I look hard at myself, I sigh.
Somewhat unexpectedly over the past few weeks, the spark that triggered my first headlong crash into really, truly learning to be okay has been reignited.  I’m thinking about well-being, looking again at my mechanisms of self-sabotage, starting to clear out all the clutter – mental and physical – that has accumulated in every corner of my life.   Looking at being a woman who does something more than just hang on, just cope, just hoard every little bit of energy and sanity to be able to get up, go to work, and do it sufficiently well.

I’m waking the hell up and crashing back into it, in the passionate, enthusiastic way I crash into things when I’m  very excited.  I’m reading, re-reading, thinking, planning and considering two years’ worth of swirling chaos dissolve in the face of one little step after another.

And I’m going to write about it a little, because sometimes the best thing of all is remembering that you’re not the only one on the road.

On better ways of talking

One of the most useful books I read last year was Nonviolent Communication. It’s most likely to be found on the self-help shelves, and you know how I feel about the self-help shelves. Nevertheless, I stumbled across a reference to it on the internet it when I was stuck and full of anger and pain, and was searching for a way to talk without lashing out at others. Indeed I think I only noticed it because I’d heard kvratties mention the name in passing. (And indeed I’m still feeling a little shy writing about it here, as I have a quiet horror of becoming Tim Robbins’ character from High Fidelity. ‘Conflict resolution is my job, Laura.’ Oh dear.)

Sidetracking in the direction of John Cusack-alicious films notwithstanding,  the implicit premise of the book is that, for many of us, common use of language and ways of speaking tend to escalate conflict. Assignment of blame, failing to communicate our needs and making demands of others are habitually embedded in the way we speak to one another. Rosenberg proposes a very simple – almost awkwardly so, on first read – practical methodology to deconstruct our ways of speaking to one another and replace them with more functional language.

When I first read the Wikipedia entry for nonviolent communication, it all seemed a bit simplistic and unsubtle, but for me there’s been much value in it. Most significantly, it’s been a tool that’s forced me to articulate (to myself, even) how I really feel, what I really need and what practical things I can do or ask for to get there. And, for someone who previously left these things floating in a fog of inarticulate ‘grrr’, ‘hiss’, ‘rawr’ and ‘purr’ feelings, this has been a huge leap of self-awareness.

I’m unsure much value there may be in nonviolent communication for anyone coming from a family where this kind of healthy interaction was the norm, but for those of us who didn’t, simply learning to say ‘I feel angry’ or ‘I feel invisible’ or ‘I feel sad’ and asking another person if they are willing to help with that – and respecting their response – can be an intensely vulnerable experience.

It’s fundamentally about honesty – about being clear with yourself and with others about what you feel and what you need, and being able to express that without implying expectation or asking more of another person than they are willing to give.  And so, ultimately, it becomes about opting-out of playing games – and if you abhor games and disingenuity as much as I do, that looks like a pretty big win.

Old Year’s Resolutions

[2007] [2008]
In the grand tradition of previous years, behold my list of retroactive resolutions for 2009!

Refrain from triggering apocalypse.
Spend more time involved in activism of various flavours.
Find and buy myself a house.
Consume less, recycle, gift away and reuse more.
Compost.
Watch far, far less television.
Help a dear friend give birth.
Learn even more about being self-sufficient on a bicycle.
Become fitter – run, bicycle, roller skate, box, walk and lift free weights.
Plant a vegetable garden.
Begin to learn to ask for help.
Make a large number of new (and lovely) friends.
Read about non-violent and more effective communication.
Retain a job throughout the GFC.
Draw more, and for more collaborative projects.
Improve my ability to set boundaries and ask for space.
Learn about the care and keeping of rabbits.
Work on and further improve my photography skills.
Attend Quaker Meeting with interest and open-mindedness.
Sit on and actively participate in a committee for Perth’s future development.
Be honest and forthright regarding my philosophy and thoughts on life, the universe and everything, and learn to be more open when talking about these things with others.
Learn to joyfully be in love without expectation, possibility or reciprocation.
Learn to wait patiently, when being impatient will not help.
Learn to love and accept my analytical and rational leanings (they that have me saying things that often attract a ‘wow, that’s cold‘ response) as fundamental and functional parts of my character, not as defects.
Do many, many things that terrify me.

Spread more love, more of the time.

The Thing About Happiness

While I haven’t written about it in some time, my fascination with happiness and optimal human experience continues. Two years and counting, in fact.

After all this time spent dabbling in psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, ethics, politics, communication, the productivity movement, the Slow Movement, passion, creativity, genetics, sustainability, love, life, the universe and everything, one would hope that I might consider myself a fundamentally happier human being than before. And so I do. But in the course of reading countless books and engaging in more conversations and debates than I can recall, I also seem to have run headlong into my happiness project’s elephant in the room.

The thing I’ve noticed about ‘happiness’ is that we each mean something different when we use the word. (‘Love’ works the same way, sometimes leading to a whole lot of hurt and misaligned expectations. The ancient Greeks did a little better, distinguishing philia, eros, agape, storge, and xenia.) And yet so few authors, both of the positive psychology genre and otherwise, take adequate space to define what they mean when they use this slippery word, and so few conversations make time for the parties to confirm that they’re both talking about the same thing, instead leaping straight into the talking at cross-purposes.
While reading What Makes Us Happy? over at The Atlantic earlier this year, I noticed that psychiatrist George Valiant uses the term ‘happy-well’ instead of merely ‘happy’. Although a little clumsy, I appreciate this because it not only aligns reasonably well with my own usage of ‘happiness’ but also represents an understanding that the term ‘happy’ alone is profoundly ambiguous.

So…happiness. I’ve seen it used to refer to hedonic pleasure, an absence of suffering, sustainable well-being, an absence of negative feelings, an abundance of positive feelings, the experience of a sense of purpose and meaning, euphoria, balance, contentment in the moment, a more fundamental sense of contentment or ‘rightness’ about one’s life, inner tranquility, complete fatalism or submission to a higher power and more, not to mention that warm feeling induced by a glass of wine or five. And, when you think about it, some of those are very different things indeed.

Reading that list, it strikes me that there’s simply no way that I’d dedicate my time to pursuing some of those user-defined experiences of happiness, nor encourage others to do so. The ‘happiness’ in my happiness project would more accurately be defined as ‘maintaining a sustainable level well-being, physical, psychological and otherwise, through both joy and sadness, with realism, rationality, courage and the conviction that my well-being does not exist in isolation from that of my environment and fellow travellers’. This, of course, makes a crap name for a project. ‘My happiness project’ is much catchier, particularly given that my brain has a damn short attention span sometimes.

However, in spite of its essential ambiguity I still like the word ‘happiness’, just as I appreciate the awkward, elusive, often-tricksy concept that is ‘love’. It’s a big, interesting umbrella-term that’s full of all manner of ideas – many of them contradictory. My happiness project may not be your happiness project, nor even encompass your understanding of happiness, but given that I personally find happiness in complexity and sometimes in contradiction, that’s all well by me.
(crossposted from LiveJournal)


Resources

Some Happy iPhone Apps (Depending On Your Definition of ‘Happy’):
Gratitude Journal
Live Happy
DoGood
I Can Has Cheezburger
Gretchen Rubin’s new Happiness Project Toolbox
My recent del.icio.us links tagged ‘happiness

Flickr

  • LEGO Shinkansen
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • LEGO redback spider
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake

Instagram

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I like animals with too many or too few legs.