Sunday, May 3, 2009

For fellow procrastinators

I've been having a marvelous week, thanks to a little e-book I read for the second time recently.

I am a highly skilled procrastinator, and I have this big exam coming up in 94 days, 1 hour and 44 minutes. Setting up the counter on my computer dashboard was a masterful stroke of procrastination -- "Look, self. I'm creating a motivational tool for you! That's time well spent." I have a million of them.

Instead of using this post as another procrastination tool, I'm just going to pass this information along. Hillary Rettig is a remarkable author, coach and activist who has written the book "The Lifelong Activist," which is about creating a sustainable, committed life, avoiding burnout, learning to be more effective, and I would say treating yourself more lovingly. On her website,, she shares an extended e-book called The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism and Blocks: a Manual For Artists, Activists, Entrepreneurs, Academics and Other Ambitious Dreamers. It's wonderful, and if you are like me and can be pretty hard on yourself when you don't follow through on something, I would even say that it is healing. Hillary Rettig has such a compassionate and intelligent voice, and she is a remarkable woman. As an aside, she recently donated a kidney to a total stranger as an act of service beacause she had an extra one. What a beautiful way to live.

The other resource I draw on when I'm having trouble facing my work or other parts of my life is called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It's such a helpful tool.

So, fellow avoiders, let's all stop holding back our gifts and see what we can do when we get out of our own way and don't let our fears control us.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fear of success

Alternative medicine as a profession seems to me to be fraught with insecure people. There are so many modalities that make so many claims, and there have always been charlatans, like in all professions. It can be hard to discern who may be authentic and well trained, and who may be really good at sounding like they know what they’re talking about. Sometimes the people who put themselves forward as leaders in the profession seem to be the most defensive and insecure of them all, even when they know what they’re talking about. They’ve invested so much, and it’s difficult to be an expert in something that is largely dismissed as being nonsense.

I was first drawn to holistic medicine because of a deeply affirming experience that validated my inner wisdom and my strength to make conscious choices to change. The new sense of self respect and the belief in my own completeness that I found was such a sweet relief from my internal suffering, that I wanted to learn how to help others find this in themselves, too.

But, going to school to study Chinese Medicine did not teach me that. Some of my most experienced teachers used their knowledge like a cudgel. They described Chinese Medicine practitioners as being either spiritual masters or complete frauds, and as a student, I knew I wasn’t in the spiritual master category. So that left… hmmm…. This was probably a technique to get us to study really hard, but it left no space for going through the learning process with dignity. Until I became a spiritual master, I would be shit according to this world view. And the beauty of wholeness and the simplicity of health that drew me to this field was absent from this world. And Chinese medicine for me became corrupted by a few egoists. Just another place to feel incomplete and inadequate. So sad for us all, and so unnecessary.

Insecure people with a bit of knowledge can be real tyrants. I want to grow my knowledge, but I am afraid that if I do what it takes to do that seriously, I may become one of those tyrants.

I’m trying to re-discover the truth and beauty that inspired me so many years ago so that I can find the right path again. These days I study to take my California acupuncture exam, and I face this great resistance to the material, and the rigor it demands. Maybe wanting to fall in love with it again is just another avoidance technique. I am a skilled procrastinator. But, if I’m going to work towards a goal, I want it to be a goal that I believe in. I really do want to become a healer, meaning someone who helps people find their own wholeness and helps evoke their healing power. I feel this most strongly when a loved one is in pain. I want to do real healing work with great results.

Still, I’m resistant to learning to be great at my profession because I don’t want to become an ass hole. I want to deepen and expand my skills without being one of the practitioners who is blinded by their own greatness and begins thinking that they, the practitioner, are doing the healing. Am I strong enough to handle being great at what I do?

I wonder how the few people who manage to be great at something and to keep themselves and their role in perspective do it?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Confessions of a quitter

I have an irritating habit of theorizing about the problems of “society.” Who knows what that means? All of us? Fox news? “The masses?” Everyone except me? I don’t know what I think I mean, but I’ve just realized something painfully obvious. When I complain about “society,” I’m complaining about me without realizing it.

Here’s one of my old favorites about “society.” I love witnessing virtuosic skill, those people who make things look so easy and natural. Then, when I try something a few of times and I feel clumsy, I get frustrated and I think, “this just isn’t my thing.” From a challenging recipe to a language or a sport or a BLOG, when I fail, I do something else. When the novelty wears off and the fruits of the labor have yet to even bud (because the seeds haven't even had time to sprout), I get bored and do something else, which is to say, I quit.

I began to notice this last week. I’ve been riding my bike about every other day for 3 weeks now, because I’m trying to get used to the saddle before a long bike ride we’re doing in a couple of weeks. I have a tendency to not ride and not ride, and then try a 20-30 mile ride, which is manageable to my cardiovascular fitness, but not to my backside. Then I’m too sore to even think about riding for at least a week. So lately, I’ve been embracing this incredibly manageable goal. Ridiculously short rides more regularly, gradually increasing. I’ve been noticing that I feel so comfortable on my bike! People don’t really forget how to ride, but I never thought about how nice it would be to improve, and how practicing regularly would pretty much guarantee improvement (at my level). Duh. I can be so dense.

I'll make general observations like, “people won’t do things just for fun, if they’re not instantly good at something they give up, and they claim that they’ve tried that already.” Yeah, people DO do that. Especially me.

That persistence in the face of adversity that I so admire, that I find so lacking in "society," -- I have none of that. Or, I should say, I don't bother to call it up out of myself when something gets hard. But I don't officially quit. I just get "busy" trying something else. "Yeah, Chinese is interesting, but I'm just so busy."

So my radar is up, gentle reader, and the next mention I make of “Society” will send a jolt of self-awareness through my central nervous system so powerful, that it may induce me to quit my bitchin’. A girl can dream, can't she?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Meet my inner critic. I call him Edmund.

There are times when I’m simply bursting with ideas and observations, when I want to sort out events or feelings, or write down things to remember forever, even though I know I’ll never come back and read them. Those are the times when my words really flow, because the editors in my mind don’t have time to keep up. I wish I could take my whole inner editorial staff out for a couple of drinks, and make friends with them. If they knew me and where I was coming from, if they had some sympathy for my point of view, I don’t think they’d be so harsh. They might loosen up and have some fun, or at least, be more constructive with their feedback.

I’ve never thought of befriending these entities before – these inner voices from years ago and who knows where. Perhaps I should pour a little glass of brandy as an offering to my critic before I write or set about doing my work – maybe my critic would become a muse.

This would be a dramatic transition. Right now, my main inner critic is definitely a rather portly man. Not rough around the edges like Lou Grant, either, but a real snob. Basil, the dramatic critic character in the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows is about right. And this muse I want to bring forth with offerings of brandy is more of a mother goddess type. So, this is a doozey of a transformation I’m proposing. I don’t think an instant transformation a la “nutty professor” would be convincing, so I’m imagining a gradual shift.

With continued practice, which my portly male inner critic – let’s call him Edmund – informs me I am constitutionally incapable of (that’s his opinion), perhaps my Edmund incarnation would soften and begin wearing brightly colored shirts. From here, his creased trousers might give way to some casual khakis, and eventually golf pants, or perhaps cruise wear. When I can picture him in loose, raw linen drawstring pants and “mandals” (man sandles), I’ll know that I can win this, and eventually I’ll be able to rehabilitate the insufferable Edmund, and have him undergo the gender re-assignment process that would help my mother goddess muse emerge.

If I were Edmund, I would seriously consider cooperating with this plan, because all of my others involved eliminating him from my inner editorial staff, not rehabilitating him. Of course, he doesn’t think I have the authority or nerve to fire him. We’ll see…

Monday, April 6, 2009

The peanut gallery

So, does anyone else wonder what this blog is for? Because to be honest, I’m a little confused about it. I don’t see anything about Chinese Medicine, which is my thing, after all, and worse, it’s so serious, and so freaking earnest. I think it’s time to shake things up and find the fun in this experiment, and hopefully post here more often.

Let’s start with a confession. It’s true that I seem like I’d be a very nice and dutiful student, the sort who would have several sharpened pencils on hand, but that wasn’t the whole story while I was in school, and I spent a lot of years in school. In reality, I had an obedient and earnest exterior, but it hid a seemingly inexhaustible supply of inappropriate observations and comments, and many of them would kind of puff out, under my breath, so only the folks who sat right next to me knew this part of me, for better or worse.

I would rather spend time with inappropriate comment making Eliza than earnest Eliza, though I am sure that there are those who prefer the “normal” seeming version of me. You know – the nice girl. The one you met towards the beginning of coffee hour at church. Yeah – the fucking minister’s wife! I can get a little tired of her.

I can’t tell a joke to save my life, except for my “interrupting cow” knock-knock joke, and I don’t quite have the timing of that one down yet. But sometimes, there’s a great and hilarious moment when I can see the beautiful ridiculousness of the human struggle in an instant. And then, puff, unexpected and inappropriate comment. I want to stop editing those out, because I love those moments. They give me room to breathe and smile and love our flaws and our idiosyncrasies, love our insane attempts to control the uncontrollable, and to deny the obvious. We are incredible creatures, and I feel more like dancing with that reality than ruining it with too much thought.

The new name of this blog is “Under your breath,” because I kind of like it. Your comments are most welcome!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The impatience of the “montage” mindset

Sometimes I wonder how all the TV I watched while I was growing up effected who I am now.

I particularly wonder about this when I am faced with a big project that will take ongoing focus and a lot of commitment and hard work. I don’t have a great track record with self directed big projects – I do a lot better when I’m accountable to some sort of authority, and the threat of “getting in trouble” or letting someone down spurs me through each stage of a project.

I wonder about the TV because, when I’m planning or working on a project like this, I fantasize about just having a good montage instead of studying. I think, in a montage I could just sit here looking focused and weary for a moment, surrounded by my books. Then I could take off the glasses that I don’t have (but they would make me look more serious) and I could rub my eyes and turn back to my books with noble resolve. Then, maybe I’d fall asleep on my books. Then, I’d arrive at my exam and sit there, focusing intently for a few more moments. Finally, the test results would arrive and I’d open the envelope with nervous anticipation, and maybe hug an attractive loved one in celebration before collapsing, exhausted, into a big comfy chair. That could take under 2 minutes on a TV show.

And for some reason, I feel like that makes the work harder. Some bit of my mind expects to achieve something meaningful and ambitious in just a few dramatic minutes. How silly.

These days, I’m making a conscious effort to remind myself of how good it feels to work hard to achieve something. When I show up and do my work, I congratulate myself sincerely. This is a big step, because I used to think things like “it’s about time you got off your butt and took care of this, you lazy jerk.”

It’s painfully obvious that if I show up to work, only to admonish myself for not having already done it, I’m not going to look forward to showing up. I don’t know where this habit of self-abuse came from, but I don’t think that’s what’s most important. I know how I want to face my projects, and I’m going to spend my energy working on that. No more emotional scar forensics for Eliza, no sir. I’m going to try to starve the beast of my resistance and put my energy towards creating what I do want.

Or, maybe I should just watch more Jim Jarmusch movies and re-calibrate my perception of how long things should take.