How to Disagree With People On the Internet and Still Respect Yourself In the Morning

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How many times has this happened to you -- you stumble upon some internet brouhaha where people are saying folks voted for Trump because of economic anxiety (nope) or how antifas are just as bad as the Nazis they are fighting against (NOPE), and you wade on in, armed with facts and links and your mighty, towering intellect, determined to set these sadly misinformed people straight.

Ten hours later, you emerge from battle with an even lower opinion of humankind than you had when you started, thinking, Well FUCK, I have a pretty low opinion of humankind already, so how is that even possible? 

Some folks set boundaries for themselves on how they engage -- they just don't take part in political discussions, or maybe they don't take part in discussions with people they don't know personally -- and I think this is wise. I have experimented with such rules for myself, and sometimes they've really helped me. Like, in the weeks following the election, I gave myself permission to not fight about politics online, because I was too raw and got into a whipped-up headspace way too quickly, and it wasn't good for my mental health.

But, for me anyway, I do believe there is some value in participating in online discussions about tough stuff. I have learned so much from many internet friends over the years, through talking with them about tricky issues. And those conversations weren't always easy or pleasant, but I appreciated them, because when other people call out my blind spots, I get a chance to LEARN and GROW and both of those are very important to me. (On Season One Episode 12 of my podcast, I discuss an instance where a friend called me in on some careless thoughts I shared if you're interested.) 

I think there's also value in calling out blind spots where I see them, especially around race and gender and weight and all the various ways in which folks exclude the interests of other folks who are not like them. It's not that I expect to change anyone's mind by arguing with them -- it's more about the bystanders. Like, if I'm standing up against sexism, other women following the thread may appreciate it. Or if I'm calling out racist language, some folks on the thread might learn from what I'm saying, or I might learn from what they are saying.

So, yeah, I'm not gonna stop discussing hard topics on the internet any time soon. But, as a fiery and unapologetic feminist, I have to admit that sometimes I get into a zone where all the good reasons I outlined above are not what's motivating me at all. What's motivating me is the desire to slam some condescending dude's dick in a car door for public amusement. 

And sure, that's fun sometimes ... but it's not really my goal in life. I don't really want to make all the men suffer (usually). I mostly want to help people SEE, and to be helped in turn to see my own blind spots. And when I get into fighty/flighty/lighting things on fire mode, well, not much of that happens.

So, how do I stay focused on my goal of education/being educated rather than retribution for condescension? I've come up with some strategies that help and maybe they will help you, too.

1)  Discuss, but don't fight.

This is my cardinal rule. When my heart starts pounding and I feel myself being more invested in sick burns than the actual topic at hand, I step away (or at least I try to -- progress, not perfection). If someone calls black folks fighting for their rights "thugs," I will call it out. I call out false equivalency where I see it. I definitely call for more subtle expressions of thought beyond "Repubicans and Democrats are both bad!"  

But if the other person come back at me with a wall of text about why thugs is not a racist term, or how liberals just want to be offended by everything, or how if we aren't tolerant and nice to Nazis then we are just as bad as they are, yadda yadda yadda, I disengage. 

2) Offer information respectfully, then disengage. 

If someone talks shit about how awful it is that some black folks are calling for reparations, assume that they just don't know any better and leave them a link to Ta-Nehisi Coates's brilliant work on the topic. If someone talks about how obese people are bleeding our healthcare system dry, offer them an alternate view and encourage them to read it. So many people pop off about shit they don't understand at all (including me!) -- if you have a wider perspective or more experience on the topic, share it! Then go back to #1. 

3) Consider a two-response rule. 

As discussed here, the first response is to make your point and the second response is to clarify any misunderstandings. If nothing productive is happening in the discussion at this point, it's not going to magically get awesome. After two responses, generally I have said my piece. I have stood up for the people I believe I need to stand up for. That's enough. 

4) Pay attention to how you feel in your body. 

If my shoulders start hunching up ... if I start feeling anxious ... if I start to feel addicted to checking a thread for responses ... it's time to walk away. There will be more jerkburgers to fight with tomorrow! Which leads me to my next rule ...

5) Remember that you can't hug every cat.

Do you remember this silly video from a few years ago, where a woman cries about how there are so many cats in the world that she can't hug and someone made it into a song? I know it was a joke ... but the phrase pops into my mind quite often when I get in that headspace where it feels like everyone I speak with is in denial about unconscious bias.

Because, you know, most people in general are in denial about unconscious bias. And if I speak up every time I see someone with this particular blind spot, I will have literally no time to do anything else. Ever. So, I hug some of the cats that come across my path, and let the others go. And I try to address these blind spots I see in other, less personalized ways, like in my writing, as opposed to cat-by-cat on Facebook. 

6) Trolls get memes, or nothing at all. 

Trolls are not worth fighting with, because half the time they are bots anyway. You can spot trolls easily by looking for terms like "snowflake," "liberal elites," "love it or leave it," etc. These folks will not be convinced by your eloquence, so just drop a meme on them and get on with your life. I mean, unless you are PMSing really hard and feel like stomping them. Moderation in all things, my loves! 

7) Delete, ignore, and block liberally and with glee.

In some of my online hangouts there are some seriously wack dudes -- red-pill-taking, total misogynist dickwads. Some people try to make them see sense, and I bless them on their journey, but that gets a big old nope from me. I feel quite happy to use the features that technology gives me to remove these vile expressions from my life. 

What are your personal guidelines for engagement online? Have you ever gotten anywhere interesting in an internet debate? Do let me know in the comments. 

Eight Ways to Live Your Life As A Beautiful Fuck You To the Patriarchy

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It's no joke that the patriarchy is coming for us HARD, y'all. I mean, it always has been -- but in the last couple of years, misogyny and many other forms of dickishness have felt even freer to unmask themselves and run amok in the hearts and minds and political philosophies of many people who once seemed rational but now seem like low-functioning bots.

This is a heart-breaking development, especially because we were *this close* to having a badass grandma as our president instead of an evil game show host.

But, even with our broken hearts, it's important to remember that we still have power. We have the power to resist, to refuse to comply with what patriarchy demands of us, to allow ourselves to grow bigger and stronger and even less pliant to what our culture would ask us to be. 

Because fuck the patriarchy. Fuck white supremacy. Fuck the coalition of haters that now constitutes the Republican party. Fuck the thousands of years of history that tell us no one is as smart or good as a rich white dude.

We don't have to go along with their game. We can instead choose to live our lives on every level as a glorious living example of FUCK ALL THAT SHIT RIGHT IN THE EAR. Here are some ideas on how.

1) Categorically refuse to hate your body as a political act.

The patriarchy wants us to hate our bodies. The patriarchy wants us to think that our worth is decided by dudes thinking we are hot or not. The patriarchy wants us to look upon our stretch marks and fat rolls as failures. But fuck that. Our bodies are nothing more and nothing less than vehicles that allow us to experience life and contribute to the universe. Plus, middle fingers are part of the body, and they are VERY IMPORTANT.

So, next time you feel yourself starting down the shame spiral about how your body does or doesn't look, realize that Donnie Johnny himself is the one who wants you to think that way. That should be enough to shut that shit down. (If not, download my book and work through it -- it will help!) 

2) Look for and build plenty of love in your life outside the confines of "romance." 

Romantic love can be a beautiful outpouring of support and cuddles and laughs, but it can also be a hamster wheel that you run on your entire fucking life for absolutely nothing.

The patriarchy raises us girls to see romantic love as our only viable path to happiness, like we are locks that need a special key in order to fulfill our life purpose. And this super heavy emphasis on one particular narrow form of love can spin out so many troubles in our lives.

  • It can make us feel incomplete if we haven't found a Special Person yet.
  • It can make us settle for shitty relationships and suck up years of our lives trying to make those shitty relationships work.
  • It can make us feel devastated when a partnership comes to an end, because who is going to want us now, old and fat and weird as we are? 

If and when you catch yourself thinking like this, please remember that all of that is bullshit designed by the patriarchy to get you to abandon your own dreams in order to serve others. Patriarchy relies on the unacknowledged and uncompensated labor of women in order to run. It literally needs us to abdicate responsibility for our own well-being in order to contribute free labor to society. So let's not. 

How do we untangle this and move forward from it? That's the topic of my ENTIRE next book, but it boils down to this.

  • Remember that your life is YOURS. You may choose to join it to others, but no one else is entitled to it.
  • Remember that romantic love is optional, and there are many paths to happiness that do not involve it at all.
  • Recognize and foster all forms of love in your life -- friendship, fellowship, hanging out with babies, making conversation with folks in line at the grocery store. All kinds of love are equally nourishing to the human spirit. 
  • If you want partnership, hold out for a trustworthy and compatible partner. Bad relationships are sooooo much worse than being alone. 

3) Make your own money and find a way to save some.

Different families have different arrangements, and they can all work fine, but the thing we want to avoid here is anyone feeling like she can't get out of a shitty situation because she doesn't have the means to do so. Because that was the boat that women were in for literally hundreds of years and it's a shame to end up in it again, here in the 21st century. 

4) Hold up and protect people who have less power and privilege than you. 

Show up for DREAMers. Learn about systemic racism and work to dismantle it within yourself. Speak up at work when someone tells a gross joke. Uplift the voices of people of color, women, folks with disabilities, indigenous groups. Whatever levers of power are within your reach, use them. 

5) Recognize and maintain some humility around the fact that we are all participating in the shit-showiest parts of society. 

All of us who are alive right now are part of what's happening in the world. None of us is purely outside it. Whether we like it or not, we are embedded in our culture's unjust structures of commerce and power. (Yes, this even includes Bernie Sanders.)

That means that, yes, white people benefit from systemic racism. Men benefit from systemic sexism. Able-bodied and neuro-typical people benefit from the fact that our culture doesn't really think about the needs of folks with disabilities and different ways of thinking and being in the world. 

Acknowledging the fact that you benefit from systemic inequality doesn't make you a bad person. Nor does recognizing that you have unconscious bias. In fact, acknowledging our privileges and our biases is the first step towards becoming useful in the struggle to dismantle them. Read up on this, and try not to become defensive about it. Practice humility. None of us knows everything.

6) Pay attention to politics, and not just on the internet.

Hook into a local activist group, or maybe several. Call your Senators and representatives. Learn about local elections and issues in your town and region and state. Donate money and time to candidates who you think will do a good job. 

By and large, the Republicans are much better at this than we are on the Left. We've been stepping up our game lately -- Indivisible has been a huge galvanizing force -- but we need to keep it going and take back our cities, states, and federal government for people who believe in facts and also give a shit about other people.

7) Listen to people, especially those whose stories you haven't heard before.

I'm not that interested in hearing what Nazis think, personally, because I'm pretty sure we all know what they stand for. And I've spoken with and read about enough Trump voters to where I'm good on that, too.

But there are many folks in our society whose points of view are not well covered, which means it's easier to stereotype them. Try not to fall into this trap.

  • If you are white and a black person tells you something about their experience, listen to them, because otherwise you will sit in your stereotypes forever.
  • If you are able-bodied, listen to disabled people when they describe how difficult it is to navigate world that wasn't designed for them.
  • If you are not fat, listen to fat people when they tell you about how they went to the doctor for a sore elbow and were told to lose weight to solve it.
  • If you are a dude, and you don't want to be "that dude," listen to women when we tell you our stories of being assaulted and ignored and devalued.

It's not easy to listen to these stories because many of them are painful AF. But that makes it even more important.

8) Feel and express as much joy as you possibly can. 

The bastards want to grind us down to where we just give up. They don't want us to feel joy. They want us to be overwhelmed and depressed and feel like "whatever I do doesn't matter, they are going to win anyway, so, eh, I'll just be over here yelling into a sheetcake."

No. FUCK THAT. The fact that they don't want us to dance and live our lives and be free makes me want to dance and live and be free EVEN MORE and I hope it has the same impact on you. 

To be alive is to have the capacity for hope and joy, so exercise it. Do whatever you can to keep going. Make a point of it. Write a list of all the things that bring you joy, and do them as much as you can, possibly while also waving your middle fingers in the air like you just DO CARE.

Because this world is OURS. I believe that what we are witnessing is nothing less the death rattle of white supremacist patriarchy. And we can hasten the demise by reclaiming our time and our space -- in our minds and our bodies and our relationships and our towns and the whole wide world. 

Nice Is Not the Most Important Thing To Be

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Scene: a gray office in a gray office building. My boss and I are on a contentious conference call, which consists mainly of folks complaining about how a project we are trying to plan is literally impossible.

"It's really hard! It's going to take us two years! This is insane!" I listen for a while, doing jerk-off motions to make my boss laugh, then I unmute our line. I speak slowly and directly. 

"Okay, guys, so I guess I should go back to management and tell them no, it can't be done, and they should either give up on it or find another team to do it ... right?" 

I hear crickets for a moment, then a heavy sigh. "No, I guess we'll have to figure something out." And we do. 

At the end of the call I turn to my boss and say, "Haha I bet everyone on that call thinks I'm a massive megabitch now."

He shrugs. "Maybe, but why do you care?"

And in that moment I realized that my Pittsburgh Steelers-loving boss is also a bad-ass feminist, because he was RIGHT.

In that moment, on that contentious call, nice was not the most important thing for me to be. It was far more important to find a way past the complainy part of the discussion, into the "OK, assuming we ARE going to do this, what's our best path forward?" part. And, in that moment, the easiest path from A to B was for me to de-prioritize my need to have everyone in the world think I'm a sweetheart. Because I'm not. At least, not always.  

Niceness = Silence

More often than not, being nice means being quiet. It means swallowing our own thoughts and wishes and desires to make life easier for other people. It means silencing ourselves in order to keep the social order peaceful and conflict-free. It's a word that is constantly used to rein women in.  

  • "It's not nice to answer all the questions, Hermione! Don't be such a know-it-all!" 
  • "Be nice! Your coworker didn't mean to be racist, he's just clueless!" 
  • "I know you don't like this guy but you should be nice to him anyway, he's a nice guy!" 

Somehow, in all of these situations, women being nice is more important than women being educated, or true to our own values, or honest about how someone else's behavior impacts us.

Knowing all this, it's incredible to me to realize how deeply this need to be seen as nice is embedded in us, from our earliest moments existing as girls in this culture. Even with the giant Don't-Give-A-Fuck streak that I seem to have been born with, I STILL start to feel frantic when I'm in the midst of a situation where what I want diverges from what the people around me want. Even when someone is habitually overstepping with me -- I am still the one who feels like I've done something wrong when I uphold my boundaries. 

The dude at the bar who keeps pressing his ass against mine when there is PLENTY of room for both asses to exist without touching. The fellow at work who keeps interrupting me to repeat what I just said, only louder. The man who is taking up two whole tables at the coffee shop when there are no empty tables available. I will speak up to all of them now, for sure, in a clear and direct voice. But that doesn't change the fact that I still feel a huge amount of pressure to find a way to make myself okay with all of it. 

Niceness = Upholding the Social Order

This is because I was taught to make myself okay with all of it. That is what girls and women are supposed to do -- fill in the gaps, gloss over the inequities, invest our emotional energy into making everything okay for everyone except ourselves. And THIS is what niceness truly is about -- holding our tongues in order to uphold the social order.

The patriarchy relies on girls and women to do this, rewarding us with the moniker of "nice" when we succeed, and punishing us as bitches when we either fail at being nice or choose not to prioritize it. It's like niceness is a circle of light, and we get to stand it in only so long as we don't cause too much trouble. The instant anything becomes more important to us than niceness -- like justice, for instance -- we're outside the circle. We're not nice anymore -- we're nasty, cast out of the realm of low-maintenance, lovable womankind. We're feminazis. We don't know our place. 

Niceness = A Weapon Used Against and Wielded By Women

We are taught to enforce niceness in ourselves and in the women around us. Like, the last time some dude was pressing up against me at the bar, 51% of me felt LIVID at the encroachment, and 49% of me felt ASHAMED that I was going to have to do something about it. I wanted to unobtrusively back my stool away from him forever, or even leave the fun night at the bar with my friend, just to avoid the conflict.

I didn't, of course -- I ended up throwing some elbows when words didn't work -- but I really wanted to. A huge part of me was more than willing to give up on my right to take up space in the world without being groped, simply to avoid the conflict, to continue to "be nice." 

I've seen this kind of policing happen between women as well, in dirty looks and shocked expressions when other women step out of the circle of niceness and start to be a little more real. And it's not just about interpersonal relationships -- it's about politics, too. I've seen it in groups of liberal white women when they don't want to listen to women of color because it's "divisive" -- aka "not nice" -- to talk about race. I've seen it in groups of women who respond to valid arguments with statements like "Don't be so hateful -- some Trump voters are good people!" 

But I've also seen what happens when women let go of niceness as a goal, and let other concepts be more important instead, and it's a beautiful thing.

Qualities That Are Far More Important 

If "niceness" is far less important than we think, and basically a tool of The Man used to keep women quiet, and something to which we no longer need to aspire, then what should we aspire to? Well, thanks for asking. I believe that all of these qualities are far more important than and even often in complete opposition to "niceness."

  • Honesty
  • Directness
  • Compassion
  • Justice
  • Equality
  • Righteousness
  • Protection of vulnerable people 
  • Wisdom
  • Forethought
  • Social sensitivity
  • Listening

Am I Saying Everyone Should Be A Giant Bitch? 

No, of course not. There are many situations in which it makes total sense to be nice. We want to be able to share our toys, to extend each other compassion, to get along with minimal friction in the nuts and bolts living of life. 

But when niceness is the highest priority, not only do we end up silencing ourselves in service to it -- it can also become comically inefficent, like when there are 4 cars at a 4-way stop and each one waves the others through. Everyone's just trying to be nice, sure, but we all sit there for ages waiting for someone to do something. It's much, much better to be that someone, to take the brunt of being "not nice" to get going again. 

So ... this week I'm reflecting on my deep desire to have everyone think I'm nice all the time, and what that costs me when I heed it, and what's possible when I don't. For me, it's about being willing to speak and hear the truth, regardless of whether it makes me look like a sweetie. I am really fucking nice, goddammit! But it's not the only thing I am.

How about you? Does your desire to have everyone think you are a nice person hold you back in any way? What might your life look like if niceness as a concept slid a few spots down your priority list? Tell me all about it below. 

 

My Best Time Management Tip: Stop Hating Your Body

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How many hours of your life have been spent wasted having a cow about the way you look? More than you'd like?

For me, those wasted hours always seemed to come upon me when I was getting ready to go out somewhere and do something that had nothing to do with my appearance. I'd be trying to get dressed for work or for a party or to go out and play with my band, but everything I tried on would made me look and feel like Jabba the Hutt.

And I'd sit on the edge of my bed with my head in my hands feeling like a total failure. Why am I even trying to look cute? It's not even possible. I'm too fucking fat!

Then I'd put on my schlumpiest pants and head out the door, my confidence to face the world pre-shredded.

The interesting part is that, even from that place of feeling like a disgusting hosebeast, I still went out and did some pretty awesome things. Like, me and my body would give a killer class at work, or have a blast with my friends at the party, or rock the crowd at the bar till they couldn't take it anymore. Once I got past my freakout and into doing my thing, I completely forgot about my Jabbaness.

So feeling ugly never really held me back from doing anything I really wanted to do ... but it did cause me to waste a lot of time and emotional energy. Every single time, I had to hack a pathway out of it. And every single time, it was hard work.

What an odd sensation it was -- on one level I felt super cool, and on another, I knew I was absolutely vile. And I'd watch the two levels duke it out from day to day. Sometimes the cool feeling won and other times I got lost in vileness, but either way, the struggle was real and also absolutely exhausting. I was just trying to put on some pants and live my damn life and all of a sudden I'd find half of me having to talk the other half down off a ledge? Brutal.

Eventually I got sick of the back and forth -- I'm worthy! No, I'm heinous! -- and I decided I was NOT going to waste ONE MORE MINUTE of my ONE PRECIOUS LIFE worrying about my gut or my stretch marks or one boob being bigger than the other or whatever. And, obviously, when I achieved this, I got the benefit of feeling generally okay about myself and my appearance most of the time. A little-heralded side benefit is that I also reclaimed a huge chunk of my time and brainpower and life essence.

Ever since I took steps to evict from my head the patriarchal ideas of what I was worth being equivalent to what I looked like, getting dressed hasn't been a big deal at all. Not even on my wedding day, where at the last minute I decided not to bother with Spanx after all, because we were serving barbecue and, reader, I was planning to ENJOY IT.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be free from the gravity of the beauty shame spiral? How it must feel to be able to keep and spend your energy on worthwhile endeavors rather than throwing it into the body-hatred black hole? How your life might change if you could step out of this madness?

Well, here is the good news -- it is COMPLETELY POSSIBLE to change the way your brain works on this topic. It's COMPLETELY POSSIBLE to dismantle what we've been taught and learn to evalute ourselves by much worthier standards. And it's NECESSARY if we want to live full and bold lives.

How can you evict the patriarchy from your head when it's been squatting there since before you can remember? That I can help you with -- just click the pink box right over there in the sidebar >>> and I'll send you a free copy of my book. Read it, try what it suggests, and I guarantee you'll get to reclaim big chunks of your precious time.

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Try To See It THEIR Way, Especially If They Are Dealing With Stuff You Are Not

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

I really hate the song "We Can Work It Out" by the Beatles. Check out the lyrics and see if you can see why.

Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking till I can't go on?
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone
We can work it out
We can work it out

Is that a classic dudebro argument or what? There's no, "Let me try to see it your way and you try to see it my way and from there we'll work it out." Nope, it's just the old My Way or the Highway trick. We can work it out, but you, my dear, will be doing ALL the work.

Now, I'm sure that Paul has matured in the 50-some years since he sang this song, and probably has developed the ability to have two-way conversations when he's in conflict with someone, so I can't bawl him out too badly.

But it's amazing to me how many people walk around with the attitude that others must always try to see it from THEIR perspective, without ever making the effort to understand anyone else. This plays out interpersonally all the time, from disagreements with friends to differences in opinion at work.

Nowhere does it play out more blatantly than when PRIVILEGE is involved.  

Like, seriously, have you noticed how completely unwilling most folks with lots of privilege are to even contemplate walking a mile in the shoes of someone with less? Men dismissing the perspectives of women without ever really considering them ... white people assuming that they know everything about racism even though it has never touched their lives ... able-bodied people believing that people with disabilities are taking FULL advantage. You know what I mean. 

Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Right after the election of the Donald, I was part of an online discussion of mostly white women. (As we all know, white women voted for the Donald by a 53-47 margin.)

In their grief over the results, some of the liberal white women in this discussion thread started talking in alarmed tones about how many Latinx people voted for Dolt45, until one of our Latina members got pissed and told everyone off. In what world does it makes sense for a bunch of white women to bitch about the few people of color who voted Republican, when it was clearly white people who did this in the first place?? Don't you even try to blame this shit on us! 

Maybe you can guess what happened next -- it was not an opening of white lady hearts and minds after they listened to the criticism and tried to imagine how it would feel to be Latina and hear your people being bashed when white folks are the ones responsible. 

No, what happened was the white women lost their shit. How dare you speak to me like that! I was only asking a question! Why are you getting so angry at me? This is abusive! 

Now, I can imagine and you probably can, too, that if I were a Latina woman who had dealt with various expressions of racism and discrimination my whole life, I might be pissed about the oblivious white-centeredness of that discussion, too. It only takes a little effort to swallow the defensiveness and try to see it HER way ... but these white ladies chose to defend themselves in their racism rather than have the chance to grow past it.

Part of the function of privilege is to shield people from the awareness of what non-privileged folks go through. So, the more privilege a person has, the less aware they are of the fullness of reality -- they are literally only seeing a small, curated slice. 

Coupled with this cluelessness is the assumption by the privileged that they already know everything about what everyone is going through. More than that, they also feel they know how everyone else should meet their challenges.

To the fat, such a person might say, "You just have to eat less and exercise more, it's not that tough!"

To women, such a person might say "Please, tell me which laws make it legal to discriminate against women."  

To someone with mental illness, such a person might say "You just need to get some fresh air, you'll be fine!"

If you've never experienced having your problems privilege-splained to you by someone who has never experienced them, well, it's exquisite. I mean, the irony is exquisite, once you get past the stabby feeling. 

I don't want to be such a person, and my guess is you don't either. Which means that we all need to remember -- if we want to be halfway decent people, we absolutely need to make the effort to listen and empathize and learn from people with less privilege. Otherwise, by default, our worldviews will be missing huge chunks of reality. 

This kind of privileged-dismissal-by-default is a HUGE mistake, and people make it all the time -- with big important issues like racism and sexism and also with many smaller, dumber situations as well. 

Like not bothering to put yourself in the shoes of the person you're annoyed with at work who is taking a little longer to solve a problem than you would like.

Or glaring at the old person who doesn't know how to handle the credit card machine instead of imagining how it must feel to be an old person trying to figure this out while a lady behind you fumes that it's taking too long.

Or shutting down a dear friend who is trying to show you genuine errors in your thinking, instead of just listening.

I have to admit that I am no master -- my desire is to try to see it from the other person's perspective, but I don't always succeed. Too often I bulldoze along like baby Paul McCartney, expecting other folks to come along to my way of thinking without making much of an effort to understand what they are saying. But, I want to do better.

So that's my challenge to myself -- try to see it THEIR way, especially when they have a perspective that I can't see from where I am sitting. Because when I take the time to do so, I notice two wonderful outcomes. First, I learn something I didn't know before, and second, I find it easier to behave more like the compassionate person I want to be. 

How about you? Is it easy or difficult for you to put yourself in someone else's shoes? If you're a bulldozer like me, how do you remind yourself to make the effort to see it from a different perspective? Would love to hear your thoughts, please share them!

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Eliza's Right, Take a Break

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

How often do you find yourself all jammed up, and you try to power through, but the more you power through, the worse things get? 

It happens to me daily. I work in software, and my job involves a great deal of troubleshooting and problem-solving. My process is both intuitive and analytical, and when I'm on the trail of a solution, I never want to give up until it's done. I push and push, and sometimes I get there, but more often, I just get more and more frustrated.

The same thing happens when I sit down to write. When the words are flowing, I'm flowing, too, and nothing feels better. But when the words stop, or when I have a concept that I'm not sure how to break down for the reader, the frustration again starts to rise. 

What is that frustration? Is it a sign that I'm useless and a failure and no solution is possible, and I'm just going to sit here in front of this computer raging and muttering to myself like a crazy person until I die and devolve into a skeleton? 

Probably not. What I'm starting to see is that frustration is only a sign that I need to take a break. Make a cup of tea, watch the birds, take a walk, do some dishes -- anything to break up the glut in my mind and open my perception back up again. 

Because when I don't take a break, and I keep trying to power through the frustration? I start fucking things up. I make silly mistakes, I forget what step I was on, and I get super-real-to-the-point-of-bitchiness with the people around me. And then I feel awful. 

If this sounds familiar, well, there's a good reason for that -- it's how human beings work. When we are in the midst of bad juju, our perception narrows to a point. We tend to focus on what's wrong -- risks, dangers, likely pitfalls. And that makes sense, in a way, because of where we came from and how we evolved -- like, when there's a wooly mammoth with giant tusks charging at your family, you should probably focus on that first. 

But a software problem in 2017 is not a mammoth, wooly though they both may be. A desire to express a complex thought in my writing with clarity and humor is not equivalent to a desire to stay alive in the face of danger and strife. The kinds of problems that I face these days generally aren't even solvable from a space of fight or flight. They require that I open up my attention and consider new ideas. Even if my customer is having a cow and my boss is having a cow and I am also having a cow, I need to find away to set all that aside and let my mind breathe for a minute. 

This requires that I stop freaking out. It requires that I allow my brain to relax and the ideas within to mix and mingle freely. And the very best way to do this is to take a break, to focus on something different and allow the pressure and vexation to run out of me. 

It's best if it's a major break from what I was doing before. Like, if I'm troubleshooting something on the computer, picking up my phone doesn't make for a very good break. It works much better to do something completely different, like vacuuming or lifting weights or painting. The goal is to exercise a different part of my brain and hopefully get my body and blood moving, too.

It takes effort for me to remember and allow myself to step away for a while, because what I've been taught is to stick with it. At school, at work -- all of us are taught to sit still, to override our natural instincts to ebb and flow, and to keep our little noses to the grindstone for the allotted amount of time, whether it's an hour in math class, or eight hours in the office. So my default is to try to push through, even though it doesn't work that well. 

When I do remember to take a break, though, and afterwards I go back to the issue at hand? I have fresh eyes and a new perspective. Without exception, I'm able to do what I wasn't able to do before I switched things up. It's kind of magical, how breaks can lead to breakthroughs. 

The dangers of NOT taking a break are spelled out in the second act of the genius musical, Hamilton. In "Take a Break," Hamilton's in the midst of shit-tons of work drama, and his wife and sister-in-law exhort him to run away with them and spend the summer upstate. Their voices entwine in gorgeous harmony as they try to convince him, and it's not only about the fact that they want to spend time with him -- they both can see that he's in the frustrated place and desperately needs to switch things up.

Tragically, he doesn't see their good sense. He makes a terrible decision -- to stay in town and power through -- and in the very next song he fucks up majorly, sowing the seeds of his own political destruction as well as the death of his oldest son. Everything unravels for him, and it all stems from his inability to step away from the fray for a minute and reconnect with the easy and free-flowing parts of life. If only he had listened to Eliza and Angelica and taken the damn break! 

So, this week, let us all learn from Alexander Hamilton's mistakes and NOTICE when we are getting frustrated. Let's pay attention to the moment when trying to push through an obstacle starts to feel more like banging our heads on a wall. And let's use that feeling as a cue to step away and give our minds a chance to unclench for a minute. 

Are you good at recognizing when you need to take a break from whatever you are doing and switch up your internal experience? Do you find frustration to be a good workmate, or a barrier to getting your work done? Tell me all about it!

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Being Productive Is the Most Fun

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

Last weekend, when I was taking my day long break from the internet, I cracked open one of my favorite books of all time, The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

The Gazette was a newsletter in the 90s, dedicated to "Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle," and it's a hilarious and illuminating read. Author Amy Dacyczyn has a wry sense of humor and a gift for finding the juice in dry topics like the efficacy of pre-patching kids' jeans before they sprout holes, or the cost savings of using cloth versus paper napkins. 

So I was flipping through this beloved book the other morning and came across an article called "A Proclivity for Productivity," which is about how Amy doesn't understand why people like to lie on beaches doing nothing. To her, doing something is far more enjoyable.  

"Being busy, being productive, doing things that improve your family's long-term prospects should not be seen as drudgery to be endured until you reach the cherished goal of utter inactivity. The happiest and most successful people I know have realized a critical truth: The act of doing things is more fun that doing nothing. If this is not your current attitude, you should work to acquire it."

And, boom. My hair blew back a little at that point -- Amy was COMING FOR ME, because I am what is known in the common parlance as "a lazy whore." As a kid when I'd spend time with my thrifty, hard-working paternal grandparents, my lethargy used to drive them crazy. "HEIGHTH OF AMBITION!" my grand-dad would bellow when he'd see me lying on the couch, watching cartoons hour after hour, eating endless baloney-and-butter sandwiches. 

My tendency has always been toward lying around, consuming media, and partaking in the fanciful delights of the mind, aka daydreaming. I have this part of me that just loves doing nothing so much, omg, it's THE BEST. And, when I'm deciding how to spend my time, "doing fuck-all" is often my top choice. 

Which in some ways is great! Some folks have a really hard time relaxing and I feel super lucky to not have that problem, I guess?

But my proclivity for sloth-like behavior doesn't make me happy when it crowds out too much of the productive stuff I could be doing ... that I actually love to do. 

Because Amy's right -- being productive is pretty fun! A work day when I can get into a flow state and knock out a slew of problems, an afternoon spent painting or writing or cleaning something that was gross when I started -- all that simply feels good, in and of itself. Plus, at the end you have a painting or a song or a clean kitchen to boot -- and there is nothing not to like about that. 

So, the last few days I've been trying to pay more attention to how I choose to spend my time, so that instead of my default choice being "Put your feet up and chill," it's more often "Find something to do and do it!" And it's been good -- especially alongside taking some consciously internet-free time during the day. Bursts of productivity uncoupled from internet distraction -- it's a powerful combination. 

As is my wont, I made a huge list of things that I want and need to do, and when I am looking for something to do, I just pick something and run with it. And it's been working for me! Dishes, paintings, work problems, blog posts -- I've been knocking them all out, and liking not only the results but also the way productivity makes me feel. In a world gone batshit crazy, nothing brings me more joy than to offer a few small contributions to the other side of the scale. 

How about you? Are you like my grandparents, who worked constantly all day and never even sat down outside of mealtimes? Or like me, the heighth of ambition over here eating Lucky Charms in front of the television? Do you feel like you could use a productivity boost, or do you need to cultivate the ability to chill? (I am soooo good at chilling, y'all. Please feel free to request any tips.) Tell me all about it! 

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Get Off the Internet Every Now and Then

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

Recently, I’ve been a little down-hearted -- and I know I’m not the only one. The world gets more and more bananas every day, and though I’ve been feeling like this off and on since last November, the last few weeks, it’s been mostly on.

Many times per day, I set myself some task or other, and then moments later somehow find myself lying prone on my couch scrolling through the day’s atrocities on my phone, feeling lost and tired and afraid.

Like most people, I’ve had a moderate internet addiction for years, but recent events have definitely made it worse. I keep thinking I’m going to miss something big, important, or extra ridiculously dumb, because big, important, extra ridiculously dumb stuff seems to happen in abundance every damn day.

It’s not like I’m a recluse drooling on the keyboard all day -- I mean, I have a husband, a job, friends, places to go and shit to do. But I’m definitely on the internet more than what feels healthy. It feels like this low level thrum of fuckedness rumbling through my gut all the time now. Somehow, checking my phone turns it down for a minute, but also makes it much worse in the long term.

The addiction has recently ramped up to the point where I often pick up my phone and start cycling through my favorite apps and online places without even realizing it, mesmerized and unfocused, my consciousness dissolved into the device in my hand.

But to be constantly neck-deep in this river of fucked-up news makes me feel physically ill. The world in the phone is such a shitshow, and we need to keep our eyes on it for sure, and stay involved and engaged … it doesn’t have to be every moment of every day, though, does it? I mean, it can’t be every moment of every day. It just ... can't.

So last Sunday when I woke up and found myself scrolling and feeling gross before I’d even made it out of bed, I realized I needed to switch this habit up, and I made a decision -- I was going to stay off the internet all day long. No Facebook, no Instagram, no podcasts, no videos -- just me and some books and paints and stuff to do around the house.

And, oh, it was marvelous! I did so many chores! I washed dishes, scrubbed the range, swept up all the nasty crumbs that gather under the kitchen cabinets, took down some rather impressive spider webs, and vacuumed AND steam cleaned the carpet.

Then I read a book -- a paper book! -- and painted a girl and hung out with my husband and drank tea in the backyard and sang my favorite parts of Moana while I worked. And I wrote for a while with a turquoise fountain pen in a journal with fantastic paper, and I stared at the trees and let some lovely ideas slowly unfurl in me.

By the end of this day of doing only 3D activities in the 3D world, I was surprised to notice that I felt brand new. My mind unclenched and lost itself in the moment, watching ants marching around the patio and birds zipping through the sky. My brain felt like it'd had a nice glass of wine in the bath, followed by a relaxing nap on clean sheets.

Do you also feel like maybe you’ve been plugged in too long and too hard? Like it’s time to disconnect from the Borgian reality that is the internet for a minute? Like your brain could use a bath and a nap, too? If any part of you is saying “Yes,” then you should take a day off! It’s easier and more luxurious than you think. Here’s how:

  1. Put your devices elsewhere. If my phone is sitting next to me, I know that I will definitely pick it up and start dicking around before I even realize what I’m doing. To break that habit was so simple though -- I just put my phone and my iPad away in my bedside table where I couldn’t unconsciously pick them up. So easy.

  2. If you have a random question you feel the urge to look up, write it down. Since the advent of the internet, my tolerance for sitting with an unanswered question has gone way down, but it’s not like I actually NEED TO KNOW the name of the actor who played Walder Frey and Argus Filch RIGHT NOW. So I jotted these random questions down to look up later. Interesting fact: by the next day I had lost interest in them.

  3. Make a list of activities that sound fun or productive to you. Go for a bike ride, clean your closet, visit your mom, hit up the library, work in the garden, day drink and write poetry, go to the shelter and play with homeless dogs -- whatever you want.

  4. Do the stuff on your list all day long. When you are done with one item, move on to another. Go ahead -- live a little!

  5. Go to bed without checking your phone. Congratulations -- you did it! You successfully remembered what it was like to be alive before 2007! Go you!

Is it ridiculous that something as simple as getting the hell off the internet requires tips? Sure it is. And maybe you don’t need help with this particular issue. Maybe you already have extremely healthy boundaries with your phone -- if so, mazel tov.

But if you are a craven half-cyborg like me who finds yourself melting into your device more often than you would like, and it makes you feel shitty, then maybe give the day-long fast a try. My guess is that you will feel more like a real human person by the end of the day.

Fuck Fish, or What It's Like To Be a Hummingbird

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When I was nine years old, I learned about a way to twist up different colored pipe cleaners into spirals, then combine them to make cute designs. I soon started making refrigerator magnets and selling them to all the grownups I knew ... but a few months in, I got bored and started collecting weird stamps instead.

As a teenager, I had a massive crush on a dude who was super into Allen Ginsberg, and I got super into Allen Ginsberg, too -- so into him that I wrote my junior year history paper about him and won a shit ton of awards and got to go to Washington, DC. I even sent the paper to AG himself, and he marked it up and sent it back! <3 After a few months, though, I lost interest in Beat poetry and that boy, and moved on to my next obsession, Les Miserables.

One weekend in my early 30s, I suddenly felt the urgent need to make purses out of old album covers, and I started a business, and I got to travel around the country selling them to fabulous shops including the Liberace Museum in Vegas!!! But within a couple of years, the thought of making another purse out Madonna's first album made me want to kill myself, and I lost all my desire to dig through dusty old racks looking for album cover treasures, and I quit.

I went through these cycles of obsession and disinterest so much that my friend Michelle and I developed a term for them -- Fuck Fish -- after a scene from Adaptation. In this scene, Chris Cooper's character talks about how he, like, falls in love with a succession of things -- turtles, fossils, mirrors -- then suddenly just can't deal with them anymore. At a certain point, he always gets to the place where he's just done. Fuck fish.

And, yep. I'm the same damn way. I used to feel bad about it. Shouldn't I want to develop mastery so that I can be super duper great at something? Don't I need to put in my 10,000 hours or else I'm a useless dilettante? Don't I need to focus on one thing or else my life will be a rambling, ramshackle mess?

But, as in so many cases in life, "should" doesn't matter a whit compared to "is." Maybe I should want to devote my life to just one thing ... but I don't.

At the beginning of the Fuck Fish cycle, I gulp down enormous amounts of knowledge and do huge amounts of practice and I grow so quickly that it's almost amazing, and I'm super productive and having about as much fun as it's possible for a nerd like me to have.

But after I reach the Fuck Fish point, I just ... can't. Continuing to knit, or play in a band, or whatever it was that I was so recently gung-ho for feels like trying to walk through slowly hardening concrete. So, even though I know that I should buckle down and keep trudging, usually I don't. Usually my eye is caught by some other shiny object, and I levitate toward it.

My beloved Elizabeth Gilbert is the opposite of me, one of the mega-focused, single-pointed souls who find one thing they love and never deviate from it. When I saw her speak last fall in Brooklyn she talked about how when she was sixteen or something, she lit a candle and took a sacred vow to devote herself to writing forever. She just knew and that was that.

She calls her type of person a sledgehammer, and says that these are the folks who tend to be rewarded in our culture, and their focus can make them capable of truly amazing feats. (99% of Olympians are sledgehammers.)

But there's another kind of person, too -- the hummingbird. This is the kind of soul whose natural process looks like this -- they go up to a flower, they drink deeply, and they are satisfied. Then they move on. THAT'S A-ME. And though it's true that hard work, determination, grit, focus, yada yada yada ... sorry, I just nodded off there for a second ...

Anyway Liz reminded us that hummingbirdness is also important, because of cross-pollination. Hummingbirds inject calligraphy into computers and puppies into healthcare. Hummingbirds are how you get chocolate into peanut butter.

But, you may ask, isn't it true that hummingbirdness is basically the same as flakiness? Yes and no. I will be the first to admit that there can be a wide overlap between the two, and this is something that all hummingbirds need to be on the watch for, including me.

At the same time, I would not characterize myself or many other hummingbirds as flaky people. Over the several decades of my life, I have developed some ability to knuckle down even when I don't want to, and I do enormous amounts of work very quickly and very well, and I do my best to honor my commitments.

Still, I can't ignore the fact that my nature loves freedom. The experience of liberty motivates me more than the possibility of becoming an expert. I love to be able to drink those first extra-sweet, brand-new flavors from a blossom and really, deeply enjoy them ... and then I love moving on to the next one.

You have to understand that I tried to change. For years, I tried to push through the end of the Fuck Fish cycle, and sometimes I have been able to. And these, I guess, are the loves of my heart that ebb and flow and always come back to me -- mostly writing, singing, and making pretty things with my hands.

But there are lots of other times when I just can't find a way to push past my natural stopping point, so I just move on. And if I'm honest, I have to admit that once in awhile I feel a tiny twinge of regret. Like ... if I had focused on writing songs or upcycling album covers or sewing dresses for the last twenty years, who knows where I would be today?

When I look at my life now, though, the regret dissolves away, because I am already living my damn dream. I have a level of freedom to do what I want that almost no one in history has ever had -- especially a woman! And I'm surrounded by so much love and so many opportunities to enjoy myself and be of use. Fundamentally, I really do treasure my capacity for learning and connecting the dots between lots of different, tasty parts of this world. And I'm grateful for all that has flowered from it.

So who knows whether my brief love affairs with knitting, the musical Hamilton, using technology to make custom clothes, Vipassana meditation, creating album cover purses, Beat Poetry, writing songs, or Jane Austen movie adaptations will ever flare up again. If they do, I will be ready.

For now, what's got my heart is walking through the yummy-smelling pine forests of Colorado. Coming up with ideas that feel smart to me, for work and for my book and for my life. Playing with paint and pastels and iridescent inks. Filling old books with fresh new paper. And noticing, and appreciating, the almost magical way in which everything I've done infuses and inspires everything else I do.

What's Happening?

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A month or so ago, my website was hacked and I lost a year's worth of posts :( so allow me to recap. Last summer my husband and I got rid of a great many of our belongings and hit the road. We spent about six months rambling around the country, from Portland to NYC, and finally decided to settle down in Boulder, Colorado. Here's why:

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It's incredibly beautiful here, and quiet, and the winter has a sunshine/snow ratio of about 90/10. We lucked into a super cute house one block from the bottom of a mountain, and we now have a couch and a bed and dining table again. Still no chairs for the table, but that will come soon enough ... and we do have this guy:

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Working from home, taking lots of walks, drinking lots of tea -- it's a nice life. I'm working on the whole making friends thing, and painting, and writing. Yes, friends, I got myself a writing coach, and he is great, and my second book is rolling in a direction that Goddess willing will eventually lead to it being done. Very exciting.

It feels a little bit like we've dropped off the edge of the world, and I rather like it.

More adventures loom in the next few months -- San Miguel de Allende, Amsterdam (or Amsterdang, as Jolene and I call it), Dusseldorf, London, Scotland, and New York City. Stay tuned for pictures and maybe even fabulous insights? We'll see. I can guarantee pictures at least.

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