Present Tense

•May 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“Have you ever read ‘The Secret’?”

We were talking about intention and manifestation.

“I haven’t.” I said. “I like the idea of manifestation, but I always struggle to make it work for me.”

It was a nice idea: the thought that I could just think things into existence by concentrating on them. And I could think of a handful of times when it had worked for me inadvertently: that things had come together just so after I’d been thinking about them. But just as often I’d wished and hoped and obsessed over things that I wanted only to be disappointed over and over again when they didn’t happen.

“Thoughts are energy- everything is energy, therefore thoughts can become things.” Was the fortune cookie explanation for how and why it should work.

“Ok, fine, I mean, I like the idea of being able to think things into existence.” I protested, “but what about disappointment? When you think so hard on something and it doesn’t happen? Where does that fit in?”

“The trick is you have to think about it as if it already exists.” Was the answer, and then my bus came and I had to go.

The conversation stuck in my mind: the past few days have been especially fraught with severe plunges in mood, to the point of outright sobbing over little nothing past-tense insecurities like the age at which I lost my virginity. It’s not like it’s something I can go back and change: no point in crying over it. And yet, there I was: sniffling into the soapsuds while trying to do the dishes.

Depression is a hell of a drug.

The whole next day I sat at my desk in an intermittent rain shower of tears as my mind paced back and forth over everything I wanted and didn’t have, ever person who’d ever ignored or excluded me, everything wrong with my life, all the ways I was holding myself back, etc. When it couldn’t find actual things for me to cry over, it started to make shit up.

Stop it! I told myself. Focus on your breathing!

I’ve been reading a book called “Radically Happy” lately, which is ninety-five percent instructions on How To Meditate; Step One- Focus on your breathing.

Breath in. Breath out.

*tears* *intrusive thoughts* *persecuting voices*

Breath in. Breath out.

It didn’t much help.

Sometimes, if I was lucky, I would be able to clear my mind for a few minutes at a time while doing nothing else, but the instant I went back to work, the torrent of feelings would come rushing back. I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose by researching Manifestation a little bit more, so I looked it up on the internet.

My takeaway was twofold:

  • It’s not things you manifest, it’s feelings about things. (Ex: feeling valued as compared to having money)
  • Focus on these feelings in the present tense. (‘I am valued’, not ‘I wish I was valued’).

It was worth a shot. I made myself a list:

  • I am welcome.
  • I am wanted.
  • I am celebrated.
  • I am satisfied.
  • I am impressive.
  • My value is recognized.

I took about fifteen minutes and concentrated on a few of the items: thought of ways they were already true, thought of ways they’d been true in the past, and imagined ways they’d be true in the future in the best possible world. What did “welcome” feel like? Having people smile to see me, having doors open, being invited to join groups, being invited to adventures… I could think of examples of ways it was already true, and then thought of ways it could continue to be even more true.

After fifteen minutes, I felt calm and I stayed that way for the rest of the day. So, whether or not it works as an exercise in wishful thinking, I certainly found it helpful as an immediate remedy for my low mood, which is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe there’s something to it.

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Noodled

•May 9, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“Let’s do ramen.”

A couple of friends were in the neighborhood of my work right around dinner time and suggested that we meet up at a noodle place a few blocks away. The Curmudgeonly Lion was game: Wednesday night has become our night out, and we were always looking for new places to try.

It had been months since I’d gotten proper ramen- the last time that I tried I got stood up, waited an hour for my food, and ate it cold after schlepping my sorry self home on a bus for another ninety minutes. The experience was more than a little bit disheartening, and even four months later I wasn’t sure I was over it.

The noodle place our friends suggested was within eyeshot of my bad memories. We stood on the corner waiting for a table and I struggled to resist the urge to keep looking around as if I expected to see my past self come walking around the corner at any minute. I imagined flagging her down and telling her to go ahead and catch her bus- that things weren’t going to pan out and she might as well head home and have a hot meal and an early night.

Even as we sat at our table, tangling chopsticks in thick, slippery noodles, I had to work to keep the bad experience from haunting my peripheral vision. I regretted that it had had such an influence on my life- I wanted to believe that I was strong and stable enough to let disappointment roll off my back like raindrops on a windshield, but instead there I was- struggling to pay attention to the conversation while history played out on a frayed reel in the back of my mind.

In an effort to gain better command of my mind, I recently went online and ordered a book called “How to Make Yourself Happy” by Albert Ellis, but the book that arrived was called: “How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable” by the same author. For a while I considered returning it, but then decided that maybe it was a hint that I ought to take a different approach to managing my feelings and decided that I might as well keep it. I haven’t started reading it yet.

In the end I made it through. The ramen was delicious and the company was amiable. I suppose I can count it as a step towards moving on from the bad experience: gradually rewriting the bad memories with better ones.

All Cut

•May 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I did a thing.

It was time for a haircut.

I’d put it off for as long as I could, but all the little tendrils around my hairline had grown out just long enough to form little wings over my ears and spring shaped curls along my collar that no amount of combing or wetting or slicking could convince to join the rest of my hair in braids, buns, pins or clips, and I was tired of feeling shaggy and overgrown.

Back in January I’d gotten long layers- a small change in look, but a big step for me. Up until then the only person whom I trusted with scissors near my hair had been myself- with mixed results. Now that I’d found someone whom I trusted at least enough to explain the reasoning behind various techniques, and who had successfully talked me out of dying my hair platinum blonde in a fit of New-Year-New-Me enthusiasm, I thought I might be ready to take another step forward towards a bolder look.

I longed to have the courage to do an undercut: buzzing down the hair along the sides and back, and leaving it long on top. I knew I wasn’t ready to commit to anything too deep or extreme- just a little hidden, subversive cutting that could easily be disguised for work and weddings.

I almost didn’t even dare to mention it to friends or family- I’d talked up the whole hair dyeing thing to a few people and then had felt foolish when it never materialized. So when I mentioned it to the hair lady, and she had suggested a consultation instead of just putting me on the calendar door an appointment, I felt certain that she was going to try to talk me out of it. And me, being just wise enough to pay attention to the opinion of professionals, would listen.

“Let me show you what we’d be taking off.” She clipped my hair up into a heap on the top of my head and scratched out the line of the proposed undercut with the point of a comb.

“Actually it’s not that much…” She said, after considering it. “A lot of this is damaged anyway, and you still have plenty of hair with the layers. Do you want to do it?”

I decided that it was easier to just go ahead and take the plunge. If I tried to make a second appointment I’d find plenty of excuses to procrastinate. And if nothing else I needed a trim. “Ok, let’s do it.” I said.

The stylist did the undercut first. I couldn’t remember the last time anybody has come near my head with a trimmer, and I braced myself against any strong feelings that might come bubbling up, but mostly I just felt… Relief. This was something that had been on my mind for a long time, and now I was getting to do it. I was surprised at how much that mattered to me. I loved my long hair, but I loved feeling like the hair was a part of me, rather than me being some kind of overly elaborate accessory to my hair. I didn’t have to be defined by how my hair happened to come out of my head, I could shape it and change it to fit the self that I felt like on the inside, and that was a new feeling for me.

With my hair down, it hardly looks any different.

As bold gestures go, my haircut was still pretty subtle: once the ends were trimmed and the layers adjusted, it didn’t look all that different from before. Slightly less length. Slightly more shape. If I wore my hair down, the undercut didn’t show at all, and that suited me fine for now- I could always go bolder later.

Sneaky little undercut…

But it felt good to make a change, even if it was a small one. So much of life has been in suspense lately that it felt good to make a decision and execute it all in one evening.

Cheat Code

•May 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“So what would you like to get out of these sessions?”

It was my second session with Aurelius, which meant the getting-to-know-you pleasantries were taken care of and now it was on to goal setting. The first session felt like a lifetime ago, even though it had only been a week. I’d tried to use the intervening time to consider what I hoped to accomplish.

“I want to find ways to manage my depression.” I said. “Though that’s been better lately.”

This was true: after nearly a whole month of low energy and mood swings I’d somewhat managed to find my balance again without a second thought. But I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of thinking that it was gone.

“And I’ve made some discoveries about myself that I want to integrate into my life more: to live more fully, more authentically.”

The past year had been nothing if not a journey of self discovery: new friends, new interests, new festering obsessions. I’d finally managed to accept my body: for a most of my life my poor body image had dangled over my head like a sword of Damocles. Now that the threat of constant self consciousness was gone I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I was finding myself trapped between “Hey, I’m hot AF,” and “what if I still don’t belong?”

It was going to take some work to resolve this.

“And I’d like to work on getting over my anxiety around making phone calls.” I concluded.

This one had come up over the weekend: I’d been lamenting how all the entry level assistant jobs universally included “heavy phones” and “rolling phone calls”, the very mention of which would strike terror into my heart. It was a fear I’d had for a long time: even working as a sales rep and as a receptionist for years. I’d *mostly* gotten to the point where I could make necessary phone calls, but I’d never really found true comfort with it.

This, naturally, was the item we addressed first. Aurelius believed strongly in the efficacy of accupressure tapping: a sequence of tapping gestures on various pressure points on the face and body that would release the energy that knotted itself up into anxiety.

I was a skeptic, but it seemed worth a try: being free of the irrational fear of making phone calls would open up a lot of opportunity for me, and if I needed to suspend my disbelief long enough to tap out a-shave-and-a-haircut on a few acupressure points then it seemed like a small price to pay.

So I tried it. Tap the back of the hand. Tap the cheekbone below the eye. Tap the collarbone. Tap the rib…

I did the tapping myself, mirroring Aurelius’ gestures.

Look down to the left. Look down to the right. Hum a few notes of “Happy Birthday”. Count to five.

Up, up. Down, down. Left, right, left, right. I wondered. How the hell did anybody ever figure this out?

I felt like I was tapping out a cheat code to break the rules of the world. The fear of phone calls had been part of me for as long as I could remember. What might life be like without it?

“Thinking about your fear, on a scale of one to ten, where would you say it falls?”

At the start of the exercise I’d described my worst fear of phone calls as an “eight or a nine” remembering the days when just thinking about the fact that I’d have to go to a job involving phone calls on Monday would be enough to tie my stomach in knots all weekend.

“I don’t know?” The thought of the fear seemed difficult to call to mind- like I was only faintly remembering it. “Three, maybe?” I didn’t feel any different, but trying to think about being afraid of phone calls seemed unimportant. The memories were still there, but they felt thin- like I was just readi2ng for them out of habit.

“Three’s pretty good, let’s do it one more time and see if there’s a difference.”

We repeated the ritual.

“And now?”

I tried to reach for the fear, but drew a blank. I didn’t feel any different, I just couldn’t seem to think of what it was that had been so frightening. Could it really have been so easy? I wanted to believe that it was possible, but it still seems too good to be true.

I haven’t actually tried cold calling anyone yet, so I can’t say if there is any real change, but I’m enjoying the fantasy of it: the confidence to make and field phone calls without flop sweat and a pounding hear? Yes, please. Would be worth the copay.

Look Back

•May 6, 2019 • Leave a Comment

It was a make-a-to-do-list-then-never-look-at-it kind of weekend. It wasn’t bad, exactly, just full of little unexpected detours.

On Saturday, I got together with a mentor from USC to catch up and to get some notes on a script I’d recently written and rewritten and submitted to a contest. I was embarrassed to realize it had been over a year since we’d last gotten together mostly due to me spinning my wheels trying to find My Direction. So it was good to see her again. We had coffee and scones and talked about scripts and about the state of the world and generally had a good visit. I confessed, somewhat embarrassed, to the fact that is started therapy.

“Good.” She said. “Everyone needs therapy. I do therapy. We do therapy. It’s good for you: keep you from making bad decisions.”

I felt a sense of relief to hear this from one of the most down-to-earth practical people that I knew: it wasn’t just for the sensitive and self-involved.

Later in the evening the Curmudgeonly Lion and I had made tentative plans to have a couple of friends over for dinner, but the plans fell through. Instead, I went out for a run and then puttered around the backyard for a while: pulling up the spent ranunculus plants and trimming back the monsterous oregano shrub and pulling up weeds and bermuda grass. My sister, Bean, had over-bought compost for her patio garden and had given me the leftover bags which I figured could be put to good use on the flower bed if I could clear some of the overgrown undergrowth.

It was a good plan until I went inside for dinner and could barely move from so much bending and reaching.

Le sigh.

But I went right back to it the next day. I uprooted as many weeds as I could then layers on the compost and covered it all with landscape cloth. So now it looks… Exactly the same as before, just tidier.

My time was limited: I only had about an hour of backyard time before I had to clean up to head to a memorial service on the USC campus for a mentor who died suddenly a month or two ago.

Oops. I thought, as I applied eye makeup. This is going to end in tears. Oh well.

The memorial service was lovely and well attended. A cluster of old classmates formed during the reception afterwards: beginning the tradition of reunions-at-funerals. It was good to see familiar faces and to learn what everybody was up to these days.

Afterwards, I drove home to touch base before heading to my writer’s group, and once writing notes were given, and dinner eaten, and Game of Thrones watched the weekend was over.

So now it’s back to the working week: therapy tonight, coffee with a friend tomorrow, a continuing jog on life’s treadmill. But what can you do? It beats the alternative.

The Climb

•May 3, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“It took, I dunno, six years after getting out of school before I got a start as a writer.”

This was from John Wells- arguably one of the topmost showrunners in television, who had led such shows as ER, The West Wing, and Shameless. I felt an instant flood of relief: I was going on three years out of a very expensive grad program and it seemed as if I were burning every hour of my life just trying to make ends meet, much less shove the Career-In-Entertainment boulder up the proverbial mountain. I was writing every day, and now and then I’d try to squeeze in a university event or workshop to try to feel like I was at least near my dream, but mostly I struggled with the constant fear of why haven’t I found a toehold yet, and what if I never do?

I mean, I wasn’t psyched about the possibility that I might have three more years of this limbo to endure, but to know that the likes of John Wells had taken a long to get a start was an immense relief: he’d done pretty OK in spite of the delay. Maybe there was hope for me yet.

The infuriating truth about success in the entertainment industry is that everybody who has “made it” can tell you how they got there, but nobody can stand where you are and give you directions.

Just keep going. Seems to be the bottom line. An act of extraordinary faith. Successful people look back on the days of having too little money in the bank to get a twenty dollar bill out of the ATM, or about selling off possessions to put gas into a car that would die every few blocks: about living on couches and having relationships fall apart, and I sometimes fear that I’m living life too comfortably to ever reach success: as if my anxious need to pay my bills and live in a house and eat three meals a day might somehow prevent fortune from favoring me with a breakthrough. I try to remind myself that I don’t need to go looking for trouble: the point of the story is the perseverance, not the adversity. Someday I too might tell about how I worked three jobs at once or moved across the country only to get rejected within the first week of arriving. These weren’t things that actually helped me get to where I am today, but they didn’t stop me either. Really that’s the important part.

Last year I made a five year plan- or, at least, a vision of where is like to be in five years, the details on how I would actually get there were hazy. I’m now a year in, and I don’t feel much closer to the goal- no representation, no industry mentors, no fast-paced entry level jobs that pay peanuts but help me make contacts. The only thing I’ve done is write.

“How much have you written?” John Wells described a conversation with a friend from early in his career. “If you stacked all your work on the floor how tall would it be? Let me know when it gets to this height.” He indicated a stack somewhere in the neighborhood of his knee. I’m guessing that I’m somewhat closer to the ankle, but I’m pretty happy with the progress so far: five feature scripts, one television pilot, and one monster novel. That’s something, right?

But once again, it all keeps coming down to keep doing the thing. Keep Writing. Keep working. Keep in touch. It’s not so much a leap of faith as it is a free-solo climb up a rock face in dense fog- it’s an endurance sport, but I’ll reach the top eventually.

Aurelius

•May 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” My therapist was quoting Marcus Aurelius, which I took to be a good sign.

I’m new to the business of therapy. I’d tried to speak to a councelor once before while in school to try to mitigate a period of crisis-level anxiety. The lady listened sympathetically and offered kind words of encouragement, but didn’t try to make any significant inroads into my underlying issues. I worried that my first session with this new therapist would all be: how does that make you feel and tell me about your relationship with your parents. But instead he was quoting the Stoics.

This, I thought, I could work with.

It was a relief to know that I’d been paired with someone who seemed to be on a rational-philosophical wavelength. I didn’t want to be pathologized. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time searching for repressed traumas which may or may not exist. I didn’t want to talk endlessly about my feelings: I knew the problem was with the story in my head that I was telling myself and that the real distress was coming from my apparent inability (or unwillingness) to change it. It hadn’t *quite* occurred to me that therapy could be approached from the point of view of philosophy. In retrospect it seems painfully obvious that the two are related, but it has been so thoroughly repackaged as a Medical Treatment that the philosophical elements get ignored or rebranded as spirituality: a category that can quickly lose objective rigor.

Then again, I’m not one to talk: I count it to be a good omen when I find change on the sidewalk. In fact, I’d found thirty seven cents just walking the block from my car to the office building, and was counting it to be my lucky day. (The sidewalks continue to be generous with the change: on my commute this morning I collected one hundred and twenty pennies (three of them wheat-ears), one nickel, and one cinco centavo coin before making it to work. I may be a hot mess these days, but darn tootin’ I have some kind of penny lepruchan watching out for me.)

At any rate, the point is that my current struggle is to tell myself a story that doesn’t kick me in the insecurities every day. Finding pennies reminds me to keep my faith that things will work out ok, but it’s a coping mechanism, not a solution. I do believe that things will work out, but I also believe that I need to work for it, in whatever form that takes. But I do feel like I’ve found a trailhead at last for the journey in front of me. I’m not sure where it will take me, or how difficult it will be to walk, but I feel certain it will get me to where I need to go.

 
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