Monday, December 21, 2009

New quote

Slavery or Bravery. Pick One.

That's my new quote. It's from a blog I really enjoy, Fashion Incubator, written by Kathleen Fasanella.

For those who don’t know, my self-identity is that of Steward, a less emotionally loaded way to describe nurturing. Steward sounds better than Nurturer. I could have used Cheerleading for the category title but that sounded dorky. Guardian sounded too paternal and by turns partisan so obviously, my thesaurus wasn’t helping much.

Until I came upon Courage and from there led Brave. Even though I’ve felt that for much of my life I’ve been suspended between tedium and terror, those were words I could identify with. In fact, I have a personal motto. It is:

Slavery or Bravery. Pick one.

And I believe it utterly; you can’t convince me otherwise. As someone who’s had a very difficult and sometimes tragic life, I know what it’s like to be born a victim and to live like one but came such day that I realized I didn’t need to remain a victim because being a victim is a choice and that wasn’t one I chose to make any longer.

You can be a slave to your past and to your culture and to the social pressure of your community, or you can be brave and choose your own life starting today. Choosing your own life might retain some of the past's good elements, but choose them and not the parts that make your life worse.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trusting your process

Yesterday was the day I have every week when it seems like I can't play any of my piano lesson. It's always frustrating because the day before, I had played all of my songs fine--maybe not quite up to tempo, and a couple of minor mistakes, but I could tell I was getting there.

The first day after my lesson, I'm playing with close attention, concentrating on reading the notes and playing them. I play very slowly, and go through the difficult parts by themselves a couple of extra times. I practice at least twice a day, each time for a minimum of 15 minutes; often it's more like half an hour three times a day, because I'm having so much fun learning piano. Over the next couple of days I start to play more confidently and with more pleasure than concentration.

But there's always the fourth or fifth day, when it seems like I fell apart: many wrong notes, hesitation before I play the next bar, and frustration. I push on, plodding through my minimum practice sessions. My goal is not to stop practicing any particular song until I have played it correctly at least once and preferably three times, but on the fourth or fifth day most of my practice sessions end with a song I have made so many mistakes on, I'm too tired to go on. I've even wondered whether I can do it at all, whether I have any ability to learn to play this instrument and make the notes into music for my enjoyment.

The only way I can handle the frustration is to remember that this has happened every week. I have to trust my process and keep practicing. Sometimes I slow everything back down, or practice just the hardest things for a few minutes. I know a big part of what has happened is that I got overconfident and stopped *reading* the music while I played, and I haven't actually memorized these songs yet, I still need to pay attention while I'm playing. I also tend to focus on what I'm playing with my left hand, and of course I lose track of my right hand work when that happens. But if I keep practicing through the rough spot, on the sixth day the effort pays off: not only am I playing better, but with ease instead of struggle.

My process isn't the same for everything I've learned, and discovering it usually takes more time than this. Trusting a process also takes time, but it's the only way to improve, so I do. Some kinds of learning I have to take a break from--a few days or weeks to let my new knowledge integrate into how I think and react and make decisions. Other kinds I need to keep making a regular, repeated effort to learn, to practice a skill and remember the tricks of performing it.

Take time to discover and trust your process for learning or doing anything important to you. Observe your patterns and use them to your advantage.

Saturday, December 05, 2009


The year after my divorce, I specifically asked my mother to have me and my kids over on my birthday. I just didn't want to have to plan, cook, and clean up my own birthday dinner with just my two sons. The month previous, my sister's birthday had (for some reason) been a big deal--nearly everyone in the family was there at Mom's, swimming in the apartment complex's pool, barbecuing in the back yard, and generally celebrating together. I didn't need that--for one thing they'd all just been, for another my sister is a family favorite and I am rather the opposite of that. I only asked my mother to cook dinner for me and my two sons, and have a birthday cake, on this first birthday after my divorce.

She repeatedly assured me that she'd invited the whole family just like for my sister's birthday, and that I'd be wowed by the cake. She'd call me up randomly to tell me what a great cake it would be, that she'd had this cake from the bakery before and it was wonderful.

After work on my birthday, I picked up my kids and drove out to my mom's for the birthday dinner. There were balloons! It was kind of neat. But hey, where was everybody? The entire family had independently decided (for different reasons) to fail to come to my birthday party. Well, I kinda figured they'd all bail, but at least my mother got me a birthday cake, right? That's really all I asked for and all I wanted.

After a delicious barbecued dinner Mom triumphantly brought out...a chocolate cheesecake. I smiled. She and my kids sang me happy birthday. She cut me a piece of cheesecake and urged it on me. I ate about half of it, praised it, and we all moved on.

About 15 minutes later she noticed I never finished my slice. "Didn't you like the cake?" she asked. "Cheesecake's your favorite, right?" she said.

"No, Mom, I don't like cheesecake. I have never liked cheesecake. Cheesecake is *your* favorite." I replied. I was disappointed but tried not to show it.

She got mad at me. Told me I did too like cheesecake, that I had always loved cheesecake. That I was only saying it to make her look bad. I kept trying to move on, I thanked her for the party, I told her it was very good cheesecake. I didn't argue with her, what was the point? I was never going to convince her that I've never liked cheesecake.

So not only did my entire family (brother, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins) bail on my birthday party after showing up just a month earlier for my sister's (and they all live within 15 miles of us, it's not like it was a huge trip) but my own mother hadn't paid enough attention in the 35 years she'd known me to notice that I don't like cheesecake, and served it to me for my birthday.

I have an aversion to being offered cheesecake, to even being at the same table with cheesecake, to this day.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Performance versus Mastery

Pixel Poppers says some of us are Addicted to Fake Achievment.

It turns out there are two different ways people respond to challenges. Some people see them as opportunities to perform - to demonstrate their talent or intellect. Others see them as opportunities to master - to improve their skill or knowledge.

Say you take a person with a performance orientation ("Paul") and a person with a mastery orientation ("Matt"). Give them each an easy puzzle, and they will both do well. Paul will complete it quickly and smile proudly at how well he performed. Matt will complete it quickly and be satisfied that he has mastered the skill involved.

Now give them each a difficult puzzle. Paul will jump in gamely, but it will soon become clear he cannot overcome it as impressively as he did the last one. The opportunity to show off has disappeared, and Paul will lose interest and give up. Matt, on the other hand, when stymied, will push harder. His early failure means there's still something to be learned here, and he will persevere until he does so and solves the puzzle.

If you're performance oriented, you'll do great on the easy stuff, but bomb out on anything that requires persistence over time to learn. Mastery motivation keeps you going on the tough stuff, and it's highly correlated with long term success in academics, profession, and personal life.

And it's as easy as how you praise: "You are so smart!" leads to performance and "You worked so hard!" leads to mastery. You can teach yourself to be mastery-motivated by focusing on learning how to do something that takes time, and praising yourself for that effort.

Hat tip Isegoria.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

On fantasies and feminism

Lots of strong reactions in various directions to the book and movie series Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, about a teen girl's obsession with a vampire boy who refuses to drink human blood, but Tiger Beatdown shows me a new viewpoint: they are *women's* fantasies, and that is both why some find them so compelling and why others find them ridiculous and threatening.

[W]e are used to seeing straight men’s goofy, unrealistic sexual fantasies. They are everywhere, all the time. Beer commercials, magazines, Michael Bay movies, porn obviously. We’re used to having female characters flattened out, falsified, emptied out and filled up again with a boundless desire to satisfy men’s needs for no apparent reason. We’re used to the fact that straight male sexual fantasy scenarios (or, at least, sexual fantasies marketed to straight men: and, hey, a lot of dudes are buying them) are cartoonish, in poor taste, unsophisticated, weird. We’re used to expressions of desire, public expressions, aimed at women the desire-expressers have never met and will never sleep with and will probably never even see in all three dimensions, outside of a movie screen or photograph or TV set – discussions of whether the men in question would, in fact, “hit that” or whatnot – and to the sale of those bodies, or at least images and facsimiles thereof.


this is everywhere. We’re used to it. It’s part of the accepted context of straight male desire – it’s tacky as all hell, aesthetically, and that’s just how they do – and so criticizing it, in an aesthetic way, seems pointless. Congratulations, you went looking for art in a product intended to provide boners and came up empty. Surprise! But when girls do the exact same thing – when they prove themselves capable of the exact same sort of objectification, and the exact same goofiness or tackiness or unrealistic fantasy in the name of getting off – well, it freaks people out. It’s weird. Why are they acting like this? Don’t they know that Robert Pattinson is a person? Why are they treating him like a big chunk of meat? Why doesn’t Edward Cullen act like a real guy would?

All of us objectify each other to some extent, and it's pro-survival. If I spent the same amount of attention on the person in the elevator who pressed the button for the 3rd floor as I do on my husband, I'd go bugnuts crazy; we use good judgment in deciding how much of our attention to spend on different people depending on how important they are to us and how much influence/impact they have on our lives.

And probably we all need to grow up, and deal with the fact that everyone we meet in the world is a person with a complex inner life, and also be open to the fact that people are pretty in different ways and our entertainment only portrays one very limited slice of the vast spectrum that is human prettiness, and etc. But also? Be less weirded out by the fact that ladies are getting all freaky about Robert Pattinson. Or be MORE weirded out by the dudes getting all het up about various lady movie stars. Take your pick. Because ladies are people. And if there is one universal truth about people, it is that lots of us are kind of gross.