creativity, fear, personal growth

2017 and Desire

I don’t usually make a big deal out of the new year (I’ve always thought if you want to make changes in your life, why not do it any time of year?), but at the end of 2016 I found myself realizing I needed to make some major changes in terms of lifestyle and goals.

To help me decide what changes I want to make in 2017, I read The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte (order it from Amazon here) and went through the book’s exercises. They were immensely helpful. LaPorte argues that often, the goals we set aren’t best for us and don’t fulfill us. They are the goals we think we should have rather than goals that will actually make us happy.

LaPorte walks the reader through identifying their “core desired feelings”–three to five words that best define how you want to feel. The idea is that focusing on how you want to feel and then using those desired feelings to guide your actions can help provide clarity and lead to a more fulfilling life than setting goals the more traditional way.

It is a bottom-up rather than top-down process. For example, instead of “go to the gym x times per week,” you might choose “healthy” as a core desired feeling. Each day, you’d try to stay mindful of what choices you could make that would help you feel healthy. You might find that your original goal of going to the gym stresses you out, and that eating fruit and going on bike rides are what actually make you feel healthy.

The core desired feelings I came up with were centered, aroused, flowing, and playful. I’ve been using them for a month so far, and already they’ve led me to make decisions that surprise me, decisions that leave me feeling how I want to feel, but are quite different from what I very recently thought I wanted.

I definitely suggest buying the book and trying this process out for yourself, especially if you feel at all stuck or uncertain about what you should do next in life. (Note: this is not a sponsored post–I just really liked the book that much.)

Here is a little more information about why I picked each of my desired feelings, and what each means to me:

Centered.

2017 is going to be a year of great change for me. I graduate this year and must find a new job. I’m interested in finding a new community to live in (maybe even a new state!) and a romantic partner. Knowing that almost everything that is part of my daily life right now will change this year has led to deep feelings of uncertainty and with that, a desire to feel centered.

I considered “connected,” “certain,” “relaxed,” “calm,” “rooted,” “self-possessed” and other related terms, but settled on “centered” because it seemed to best capture how I most want to feel while being most realistic (people cannot always feel certain, relaxed, or calm). Anxiety is something I deal with on a daily basis. I realize that it is a natural part of life that will never go away, but I believe I can still feel centered even when I’m in the midst of uncertainty or anxiety. Feeling centered will not only help my anxiety seem more manageable, it will lead to better, more confident decision-making. When I’m centered, I, not my transient emotions, am making the decisions.

In addition to dealing with anxiety, I also often deal with “fibro fog,” meaning my memory is sometimes poor and my attention sometimes fragmented and scattered. I am someone with many interests, perfectionist tendencies, and a tendency to be self-critical, which means the fibro fog is difficult for me to accept. I’ve allowed it to de-center me many times. Again, I know I cannot rid myself of fibro fog completely, but I can choose to deal with it in ways that make me feel more centered.

Aroused.

I chose “aroused” for a few reasons. First, I have fibromyalgia and often suffer from fatigue and fibro fog, so I want to feel more mentally alert and physically energized rather than in pain or sluggish and tired.

Second, I am currently uncertain about some very fundamental things in my life–what career I want to pursue, where I want to live, who I want to date–but I know I want to feel interested and engaged in my career, community, and romantic life. I will most likely obtain a full-time job this year, and that comes with some fears that I will get stuck in something boring. That fear is also part of why I chose the word “aroused”–you can’t feel aroused and bored at the same time.

Finally, I chose “aroused” rather than the other similar words I considered (alert, energized, interested, engaged) because I like that it can have a sexual connotation. I want to explore my sexuality and generally feel sexy and like a sexual person. I’m looking for a committed partner right now, and that’s terrifying! Our society does a great job of equating monogamy with monotony, which is part of why I want to focus on being aroused as I am dating to find a partner. You cannot be both aroused and tired of your lover at the same time.

Flowing.

Earlier in 2016, I was creating a collage when I came up with the phrase “to flow like water.” I know I’m not the first person to use this phrase, but at the time it felt unique to me and perfectly mine. It perfectly described what I desired to feel then and continue to desire to feel now–flexible, beautiful, part of nature, ever moving rather than stuck, stopped up, dry, etc.

2017 will be a year of great change for me, and I’d like to handle it well and “go with the flow.” I also don’t want to make the wrong decisions (i.e. pick the wrong job, city to live in, person to date) because of my desire to play it safe and have certainty. “Flowing” is the ultimate acceptance of uncertainty, almost a celebration and enjoyment of it.

I also considered the words “connected” and “flexible,” but chose “flowing” because of the water connotation. I love water and would like to move closer to a beach this year if possible. Flowing also seemed fitting in many other ways: with fibromyalgia, my muscles are often tense and sore but I’d prefer they be soft and pliable. Mentally, I want to be able to quickly let go of hurt, anger, and pain, and keep moving forward easily.

Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow” is the final reason I chose the word “flowing.” To be in flow is essentially to be “in the zone” or fully present–it is the state people reach when they are completely absorbed by the task at hand. In flow, time feels like it stops and everything else ceases to exist. I want to be “flowing” because I want to be in flow when I write, paint, and go about my daily life.

Playful.

I am currently pursuing a creative career. My hobbies are also creative. I love to write, paint, photograph, and just come up with ideas. There’s a certain feeling when you’re in the zone–it contains arousal, it contains flowing, but there’s more. I almost chose the word “creative,” but when I thought of “playful,” that felt more right because it applies to more situations.

A conversation can be playful. A walk around the block can be playful. I don’t want to be one of those adults whose life gets more boring with each year. I want to feel like I’m having fun! That doesn’t necessarily going out and doing something wild, but approaching as many situations as possible with a playful mindset. I want to be playful not only in my creative endeavors, but in my friendships, and my romantic relationships, and my overall approach to life.

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death, fear, Florida, health, personal growth, places, writing

When Tony Pierce tells you to blog, you do it.

florida foliageIf you don’t know who Tony Pierce is, click this link, look around, and come back. I’ll wait.

The other day Tony, or as I like to call him, “The Blogfather,” pointed out that entering an MFA program has slowed down my blogging. Where do I start?

Tony, you remember my old blog posts from 10 years ago? Five years ago? You were there, you read them. You know I used to (figuratively) cut myself open, reveal everything. It was cathartic. It was terrifying. It probably helped some readers, and it definitely helped me. Writing as therapy.

It was also the reason I deleted my old blogs–I didn’t want to be indefinitely raw and exposed like that. I didn’t like finding out friends, family, and acquaintances read about the most personal parts of my life and gossipped. I didn’t like suspecting that guys who were super into me then suddenly not might’ve changed their minds after realizing how much I put online.

To me, personal blogging has always been similar to when a close friend pulls you aside and says, “C’mon, it’s me. Tell me what’s really going on.” When I open up a draft post on my personal blog, I want to let it all out. So yeah Tony, school has kept me busy, but it hasn’t slowed down my blogging. The reason I haven’t blogged is because I know what I’d want to tell you if I started writing.

mushrooms

I’d want to tell you that, while I don’t regret moving from Illinois to Florida or entering an MFA program, it has been very difficult. First, one of my parents needed treatment for a brain tumor and I felt awful being away during that. So awful. Then my grandfather got sick. I missed my opportunity to see him before he died because I was here, in Florida, writing and studying. I don’t know that it was worth it. Right now, my other parent is dealing with a rare and dangerous blood and spine infection. It is improving, but again it’s hard for me to be across the country, unable to help.

Sometimes being in Florida to study and practice writing feels really dumb and selfish of me, and if I were going to give it to you straight, I’d end up telling you that.

I’d also want to tell you that eight people I know in Illinois (not including my grandfather) have died of various causes since I left and that it weighs on me. The deaths are unconnected, but it feels so strange–why so many, in such a short amount of time? Is that just part of getting older–each month someone else you knew dies? These are eight people I wasn’t terribly close with–old friends I lost touch with after moving, acquaintances I used to see around at shows, former classmates, close friends’ family members I’d met a few times.

bougainvilleaI’d want to tell you I feel sad about these deaths and think of them often. I’d want to tell you I also feel guilty about feeling sad, as if I didn’t know the deceased well enough to deserve to grieve. I’d want to tell you I feel shitty for blogging about them right now, that I don’t want to make other people’s tragedies about me.

I’d want to tell you that I’m dealing with health issues. That the symptoms feel like a moving target. That I’m doing my best to stay calm and optimistic while I try to yet again figure out what the fuck my body is doing. I’d want to tell you that I’m suffering and afraid. I’d want to tell you that I feel very alone in my pain and fear.

I’d want to tell you that I found out I can’t take out any more student loans because I already have a masters degree–it turns out the federal government will only help pay for the first one. I’d want to tell you that this means I have no clue how I’m going to get through the next two years. Despite being thirty-four years old, I do not have significant savings. I’d want to explain that a “funded” graduate program isn’t really, not unless you can live off of about $1,000/month. My expenses exceed that and I do not yet know what is going to make up the difference.

palm trees

I’d want to tell you that I’m becoming disillusioned with academia. That while I’m grateful for all I’m learning, I’m realizing the system is deeply unfair. I’d want to tell you about the day I saw a flyer at Aldi and realized that grocery store assistant managers make more money than many full-time college instructors.

I’d want to tell you that promoting beer pays me twice as much as teaching undergraduate writing courses pays me. I’d want to point out that college sports coaches are the highest paid public officials in many states. I’d want to write potentially melodramatic things such as, “What is wrong with America?”

I’d want to assure you that, despite all of my woes and worries, life isn’t all bad. I’d want to show you photos of Florida foliage and tell you even a short walk resets my mood, leaves me marvelling at nature.

I’d want to tell you that I love instagram, and even though that sounds cheesy or basic or whatever, it has become a bright part of my day. I’d want to tell you that I’ve decided to, for real this time, buy a nice DSLR camera whenever I can afford it. That even though I can’t afford it now, my iphone is a substitute and I enjoy taking photos and thinking about photos I will take in the future.

I’d want to tell you that I go to the gym every day now and it’s become a surprising source of strength and calm for me. I’d want to admit that for the first thirty minutes or so after walking in the door I feel anxious, want to leave, and think some variation of “I don’t belong here and everyone can tell.”

pink puff ball flower

I’d want to tell you that I notice those thoughts and feelings, keep exercising anyway, and feel amazing by the time I’m done. I’d want to try and make that into some sort of metaphor for life. I’d want to express hope that if I just keep on moving through difficult times and do not waver in my commitments that I will ultimately be rewarded with feelings of security and peace.

I’d want to tell you that I’ve made two really great friends down here, and that we’ve started a lit mag and a live lit event. I’d want to tell you that I have crazy, incredible daydreams in which I can eschew an academic career by growing one or both of these two things into a business.

I’d want to tell you that I’m still working on my novel, and that it’s horrible, but that’s okay. I’m plugging away and still telling myself I’ll finish it this summer. I’d want to tell you that I’m equal parts proud and embarrassed of it. I’d want to tell you that writing it might be the most challenging and exciting thing I’ve done in my life.

I’d want to tell you that I have over fifteen finished pieces of shorter writing and that I am submitting like crazy. I’d want to tell you that even though I’ve only received rejections so far, I don’t plan on stopping. After years of not believing in my writing ability, I finally have faith in myself.

brussels griffon

I’d want to tell you that my dog is awesome and that I’m not embarrassed to say he’s my best friend.

I’d want to tell you that music is a beautiful panacea. I might try to get you to listen to Surf, if you haven’t already. I’d want to remind you that the right Apocalypse Hoboken song can help when dealing with unpleasant emotions.

I’d want to talk about TV and say I get it now, I’m sorry I was an “I-don’t-watch-TV” type of snob a few years ago. That Bojack Horseman and Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer and Orange Is The New Black make my life feel richer.

I’d want to tell you that while things don’t always feel okay, I know that they will be, or that they already are, even when they aren’t. I’d want you to know that I’d know I was mostly writing that for myself.

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death, fear, media, personal growth

People die every day.

People die every day. Every single day. People are dying right now. Lots of them.

Some of them are 85 and older but some aren’t. Some are in the United States–your state or city even–but some aren’t. Some maybe played a part in their death, like they got drunk before they drove, or they joined a gang, or they smoked cigarettes for 20 years, or they dragged a razor against their wrist. Some didn’t play a part in it, like they were a baby who drowned in the bathtub because they didn’t even know what a bathtub was and their parents walked away for too long, or they were painting a building and the faulty ladder collapsed, or they were celebrating at a wedding in Yemen and the United States government murdered them with a robot.

How’s that song go? Six million ways to die: choose one.

If you do the math, which I did, about 33,000 people die per day throughout the world and 6,700 people die per day in the United States.

I’ve gotten better at watching and accepting the news without becoming worked up. I’m getting better, maybe I should say. I’m still working on it. Life includes horrible, terrible things, like constant death, more deaths than we can comprehend. About 23 deaths happen per minute. After I opened this browser window, I spaced out for 10 minutes thinking about what I wanted to write. Over 200 people probably died during that time. Death is upsetting. I will probably never not be upset by it, but I can at least accept that it happens and that it upsets me.

I no longer feel confused about the fact of death. Sure, I’ll never truly “get” it, but that’s because I’m not God. I accept that deaths happen. I accept that they won’t stop happening. I accept that I’ll never fully comprehend it. In my teenage years, I didn’t have this acceptance. I was obsessed with the concept. I desperately wanted to understand why. Not any more. I accept that I cannot know.

What I don’t “get,” what I’m stuck on now, what I hope I can start to see more clearly, is, with so many deaths, how do we pick? Which deaths matter? How do we decide? Which deaths are the most sad? Which are unfair? Which are tragedies? Which should make national or international news? Which ones deserve our attention, and which do not? Which should we rally around and have conversations about? Which type of death should we work the hardest to prevent from recurring? At a societal level and at an individual level, when to respond and when to ignore death?

I read Elliot Rodger’s autobiography. I felt sad for him. Maybe it’s because he was a decent writer and I relate to writers. Maybe it’s because I generally empathize with loners and outcasts. Maybe it’s because he was clearly an unreliable narrator, clearly delusional, and I could see his mistakes happening in slow motion throughout his story, but I knew it was too late for me or anyone to try and intervene. I didn’t pick these emotions; they just popped up. I noticed them, though. I accept them.

Rodger killed and died because of almost entirely imaginary rejection. He was convinced women were repulsed by him, but he had never so much as said “hi” to one that he liked. I felt sad that he dealt with that anger and loneliness. I felt sad that his anger and delusion drove him to such an extreme. I felt sad that his life ended so early. I felt a sad, deep sense of loss while reading that he toyed with the idea of becoming a writer. When I read that his mom had encouraged it as a career path, I saw a glimmer of hope, a salvation he had nearly grabbed, but let slip through his fingers. Writing is transcendent. I felt sad he got stuck in his own obsessions, and wasn’t able to use writing to overcome them, to gain clarity, to see them for what they were.

Which deaths matter? I’ve seen many people write that they’re glad Elliot died. I’m not. I don’t agree with what he did, of course. You might think it’s foolish, but I don’t know I can honestly say I’m glad about anyone having died, ever. I’m sure some deaths throughout history have been for a greater good, but even typing the beginning of that sentence puts a bad taste in my mouth. I mourn for the friends and families of Elliot’s victims. Still, I don’t think his death is any less sad than the deaths he caused. Yes, even though he chose his death. Even though, according to many, he “deserved” it. It’s still sad. It’s all sad. Death, itself, is sad.

Were the seven deaths that occurred in Isla Vista more sad than the ~33,000 other deaths that happened across the planet that same day?  More sad than the ~6,700 deaths that happened in the US? They certainly garnered more air time. Who chooses? Who gets to pick? We seem to agree that when the elderly die, it isn’t as sad or important because it’s more expected. Plus it seems more fair–they were given a chance to have their way with life. But even excluding the elderly, there are still thousands of deaths per day. How many deaths can we hold in our attention at once? How many should we hold? How do we pick which ones matter?

Like I wrote earlier, I’m getting better at watching, at accepting. I see waves of outrage and despair. I see raw, expanding, uncontrolled emotion. Sometimes I feel it in myself, but then I stop and look at it. I try to figure out how it got there. Why am I outraged about this death, and not the thousands of others? Generally, the answer is that it’s because I know about this death. I’ve heard details. I can fairly easily imagine either the life of the victim or of the mourning loved ones.

I don’t want to call the outrage and despair “manufactured.” These are emotions that feel awful and real, in response to events that are terrible. Who am I to trivialize them? Still, when there are 33,000 deaths a day and large groups of people are all blinded by anger over the same six, I’m suspicious. Who picked which deaths people were supposed to feel sad about that day? Could it have just as easily been different deaths?

How does the media choose which deaths to emphasize and run detail after detail about? Am I a cynic to think they choose the deaths that involve the largest spectacle, or are the most novel? Am I a cynic to think they choose the deaths with the story attached that is most easy for their audience to understand? Am I a cynic to think they choose the deaths that are most likely to rile people up and get them angry, ensuring they’ll watch, click, comment, and share?

Am I insensitive to say that, in the whole scheme of things, if we’re sorting deaths by importance, which we are by necessity because of the sheer number of them, that I think the Elliot Rodger mass shooting-related deaths were probably some of the least important that occurred that week, and least worthy of our mass amounts of attention? I fell into it, too. I watched his videos. I read 138 pages of his writing. I got caught up in it. Only later did I realize it wasn’t a good use of my time or attention.

About 100 people die per day in car crashes in the US. That’s much more important to me than mass shootings because it’s more likely to negatively impact me or someone I love. Even if I view it unselfishly and objectively, car crashes are still more important because they’re more likely to affect anyone. It seems logical to focus most on the deaths that are frequent and most preventable. Car crashes get my vote. Connect them as a trend. Market them as an overwhelming tragedy deserving of our attention. Talk about them in connection to one another on the news in grave voices night after night until something is done.

Car crashes don’t have a simple story line, however. They’re not very sensational. The American public watches psychological thrillers and murder mystery shows, not shows about how to build safer cars, write policy that reduces drunk driving, or create more widely used transit systems. The mass shooting deaths follow a story line that we’ve seen before, feel familiar with, and, in some perverse sense, have fun trying to solve. In the past week I’ve read literally dozens of articles, blog posts, and tweets of people who believe they’ve figured out the six Elliot Rodger murders and know how they could’ve been prevented. I’ve even shared my two cents in conversations with friends. I haven’t seen anyone in the past week, however, comment on how we as a society should handle the probable 1,200 car crash deaths that have happened since the day of the shooting.

Or maybe it isn’t the lack of a catchy story. Maybe it’s big oil. Maybe it’s the car manufacturers. Who owns the media? What stake do they have in an auto-centric society? How involved are they with government, and in what way? I’m not sure. Thinking about it makes me feel sadder, and tired. Who chooses which deaths are important? Not us, I don’t think. Not the ones feeling the outrage and despair. Not usually. People with more power.

Several mass shootings have occurred in Chicago recently. Why aren’t those stories sweeping the nation? Murders happen in Chicago neighborhoods way more than they do on college campuses. Wouldn’t it be most beneficial to use our time and effort trying to solve that problem? Maybe there’s silence because of the unspoken social agreement that deaths are less important when they happen to people who “deserve” them. Maybe the American public can’t find clear cut “good guys” and “bad guys” in the Chicago murders. Does a gang banger deserve to die? Does a drug dealer? Because of racism, is the American public fuzzy on which of these Black deaths are “innocent” and which aren’t? Everyone knows the blonde, teenage sorority sister was innocent, and that the narcissistic sociopath who daydreamed about forcing all women to starve in concentration camps was not. That mass shooting was clearer cut, easier to understand.

Confession: I don’t have a conclusion. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m not building up to “the answer.” I’m muddling along. I’m thinking about all of the people our federal government is killing with drones and I’m feeling sad, then I’m looking around and not seeing many others feeling sad for that reason and as a result I’m feeling isolated. Which lives matter? Which deaths are important? Who gets to pick? What constitutes “news?”

Maybe the slightly sick feeling I have is because I’m so averse to manipulation. Maybe I can’t stand knowing that these corporate media outlets play such a big role in dictating what we talk about and think about on a day-to-day basis. Maybe part of my sadness lies in looking around and realizing that so many others, even intelligent others, don’t seem to notice this regular cycle of manipulation of thoughts and emotions. Maybe part of my anger and frustration is with myself for not having cracked the code yet, for not having figured it out. Who chooses which deaths are important? How do they pick? What are their motives? Could more deaths be prevented if different stories were run? Could our wars end? What are we sacrificing as a society by giving away our attention, by trusting that the stories we see on TV and the internet most often are the most important?

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facebook, fear, friendship, internet, personal growth, relationships

The top ten reasons I quit Facebook

About a year ago I permanently deleted my Facebook account. I have no regrets and am very glad I did it. Still, a full year later, I regularly have people acting like it’s strange I’m not on Facebook and asking why I quit. Here are my top ten reasons:

1. I felt addicted.
I checked Facebook every day, multiple times per day. As I began bringing more mindfulness into my day, I realized I was checking the phone app instinctively, without even realizing it, whenever I had the least bit of down time. I’d look at Facebook while sitting on the toilet or waiting in line at a store, for example. Of course this avoidance of the present moment can be achieved through other smart phone activities such as playing games, text messaging, or browsing online stores, but for whatever reason those do not hold the same pull for me.

Although I don’t think my frequent checking of Facebook qualified as a true “addiction” (it didn’t interfere with my work or social life), it bothered me to know I was engaging in an unconscious behavior so frequently. It bothered me even more to think that Facebook had probably spent several years and millions of dollars intentionally making their site more addictive and I had fallen right into their trap. It made me feel dumb, as if I lacked self-control, and as if I was being fooled.

2. It was a waste of my time.
As I became more aware of how often I checked Facebook, I realized what a waste that was. At first I tried to justify it since I usually wasn’t on Facebook for more than a few minutes at a time, but I realized even those short bursts had an attached opportunity cost. Minutes add up. Even if I spent only 10 minutes per day on Facebook (much less than I was spending), that is equivalent to 60 hours or 2.5 days over the course of a year. Thirty minutes a day is equivalent to 182.5 hours or 7.6 days per year. I wondered how different my life would be if I spent those minutes doing something of value, such as reading a book, silently meditating, or writing down short story ideas.

3. It negatively impacted my mood.
As I became more mindful, I noticed that my mood soured a bit any time I went on Facebook. I’m not sure why. Maybe it had to do with FOMO (fear of missing out) after seeing snippets of other people’s lives, or maybe my feelings were hurt because I didn’t get enough “likes.” Maybe I was just disappointed in myself for checking something I no longer wanted to check. Either way, I felt worse after looking at it and did not enjoy time spent on the site.

4. I didn’t gain anything from it.
People have asked why I quit Facebook but not LinkedIn or twitter, as if that implies some inconsistency. I have recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn, and the service has helped me get jobs in the past. Some day I’d like to delete my LinkedIn account, but right now I’m still obtaining value from it. Twitter hasn’t provided me any tangible value like that, but I enjoy it, and enjoyment is valuable. People I follow on twitter regularly make me laugh or share articles that make me think. With Facebook, I couldn’t identify any positive value.

Full disclosure: Six months ago, I had to create a dummy Facebook account to manage my work’s company page. It isn’t a “real” account–it has no photos, information, or friends. I did use it a few months ago to join an MFA Creative Writing group, however. I wondered if Facebook groups like that would provide value, and if I’d deleted my old account too hastily. In the end, I left the group and reaffirmed that I am not missing anything valuable by being off of Facebook. For a couple of weeks the group became a thing to obsessively check as I waited to hear back from schools (with many others in the group saying they did the same), and I probably would’ve been better off without joining it.

5. It seemed boring and out of touch.
When I first joined Facebook I was in my early/mid-twenties. It was new(ish) and cool (or at least interesting in its novelty) and exclusive in the sense that you couldn’t join without a university email address. By the time I quit, my grandma was on there. So was my mom. So were a bunch of my aunts and uncles and cousins. So were people from work. Their updates bored me, and knowing they read mine made me paranoid that I was being judged for showing them parts of my personality I wouldn’t normally show to them.

The whole thing began to feel stupid and pointless, the same way myspace felt right before I stopped using that. I reached a point where I’d sign on and think, “Why do we all do this?” Once I’d hit my 30s, my Facebook feed became overrun with photos of weddings and babies. I have nothing against either–I love meeting my friends’ babies and cry at every wedding I attend–but if I’m not close enough with someone for them to personally tell me about their major life events, I don’t really care to know about them.

6. I resented the way it changed my relationships.
A close friend got engaged and I didn’t know about it because I was taking a Facebook break at the time. (If you doubt our closeness, know that I later stood in her wedding.) Same with another close friend who had her baby. When I expressed hurt at not being notified of these major events, the people who had them said they didn’t contact friends individually because they figured everyone would see the news on Facebook. I didn’t like that.

On my birthday, I received over 100 “Happy Birthday!” wall posts from people who I doubt would’ve showed up if I had thrown a party, and a few from people I consider close friends. The mix made me realize that Facebook was blurring the lines between close friend and casual acquaintance. I didn’t like that, either.

I decided if our society is moving toward more relationship exchanges happening via (quasi-) public broadcast rather than true interpersonal communication, I don’t want to be a part of it. Instead of the widespread broadcasting and reading of others’ broadcasts, I want my real relationships to be obviously maintained through actual personal intimacy. I decided I was okay with allowing any acquaintanceships that were purely Facebook-maintained to fade away.

7. I resented the way it changed words.
A friend said to me, “I think I’m friends with him, but I’m not sure.” When I asked if she was unsure if she liked him or not, she clarified no, she just couldn’t remember if she’d “sent him a request.” I’ve heard many people say they “like” something, when they mean they went on Facebook and clicked a button that says “like” in conjunction with that thing. Maybe it’s because I’m a reader and a writer and a respecter of language, but this irritates me and I don’t want to propagate it.

8. I resented its attempt to become a necessity.
There are many things I dislike about Google, but I’m not going to quit gmail because I want to be a member of the present day. Email is a necessity. A wireless phone (maybe even a smart phone, at this point) is also a necessity for the lifestyle I live. Facebook is optional. Of course the company would love people to believe otherwise–the more “normal” and ubiquitous it is to have a Facebook account, the more money Facebook shareholders make. I actively reject and resent this idea. I identify it as something strategically pushed on the general public so certain people can increase their profits. I don’t want to help them. (In August, when I quit my present job and start school, I will permanently delete my dummy Facebook account and be 100% Facebook-free.)

9. All of the reasons I could think of for staying on it were negative and fear-based.
I wanted to quit Facebook much earlier than I did, but I held on out of fear. The number one reason I could think of for staying active on Facebook was that something bad might happen if I didn’t. What bad thing, you ask? I don’t know. That’s the thing–I didn’t have anything specific I thought would happen, just a general feeling that Facebook wasn’t something I could live without. The few times I mentioned to others that I wanted to quit, they reacted as if I were talking about doing something insane, like choosing to live on the street. I don’t want to live a fear-based life.

10. I hated giving up that much personal information.
Privacy is one of the main reasons I quit Facebook. I list it last, however, because when I’ve named privacy as a reason for quitting Facebook, people have either acted like I’m a crazy conspiracy theorist or rushed to remind me that Apple, Google, Verizon, and every store that has a loyalty program is working hard to erode my privacy as well. The latter is true, but still a logical fallacy (called the nirvana fallacy) when used as a reason for me to stay on Facebook. Sure, my privacy isn’t being kept perfectly by everyone. That is no reason to go and voluntarily share even more private information with a company that I know will immediately give it to the government and sell it to advertisers and marketers.

Facebook’s invasion of privacy bothers me more than most others. They don’t just want your name, they want it all–birth date, phone number, current location, birth town, company, schools attended and degrees attained, sex, romantic relationship status. Years ago, I remember reading conspiracy theories about government plans to steal and stockpile citizens’ personal information. It turns out they didn’t have to steal it–we willingly typed it into Facebook ourselves.

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To sum it up: I used to unconsciously check Facebook multiple times per day even though it was collecting and sharing my private information, wasting my time, providing me no value, negatively impacting the nature of my relationships, and putting me in a bad mood. I’ve never once regretted quitting Facebook, and the short time I joined a group using a dummy account just reaffirmed my decision to permanently delete my account. Although I won’t overstate it and try to pretend that quitting Facebook has completely changed my life, I will say I generally feel happier, healthier, and smarter without it.

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fear, personal growth, writing exercises

100 Fears, a writing exercise

After linking Carmen Maria Machado’s guide to MFA applying in my post on deciding which MFA programs to apply to, I binge-read her blog for the next hour or so and came across an interesting post in which she outlines a writing exercise on fear.

Machado had students in her horror/mystery class write a list of at least 100 fears–it could also include revulsions, discomforts, worries, and anxieties. She made her own list, and had this to say about it:

The length of the list is critical because it pushes them beyond the most obvious entries, forcing them to really dig deep. When I was doing this exercise myself, I became stressfully aware of everything that scares me on a day-to-day basis. Terrors that normally just flashed across my brain were caught, noted, and catalogued. It was simultaneously empowering and unnerving, and also helped me sort out a story I was working on.

Last night, I created my own “100 Fears” list. It was an interesting experience. About half-way through I stopped as I became self-conscious about my fears being too weird–most of them fall under the worries and anxiety category. Some are clearly beliefs that depressed or paranoid people hold. I had to remind myself that they are my fears, not my actual beliefs.

I pushed through and kept writing, and by the time I got to 100, I was having fun again instead of feeling bad. Searching for more fears that I carry felt like a treasure hunt, of sorts, and I ended up coming up with 16 extra because I was on a roll.

After completing the list, I reflected on how the exercise could help my writing. I instantly came up with two short story ideas based on fears I’d written. I also realized that writing a similar, but much smaller, fears list for the major characters in my novel could help me better develop them. I’ve written so much about what my characters want and what motivates them, but never the top 5 or 10 things they fear, which I plan on doing tonight.

Without further ado, here are the raw, uncensored, sometimes self-obsessed, neurotic, and paranoid thoughts that came to mind when I brainstormed 100 fears that I hold.

Fear #1: I’ll never finish the novel I’ve been working on for 3.5 years.

Fear #2: I’ll finish the novel and it’ll be good, but no one will publish it.

Fear #3: I’ll finish the novel and someone will publish it, but it’ll be bad and get universally horrible reviews. No one will ever want to publish me again.

Fear #4: Everything I’ve written so far in my life is terrible and everyone but me has realized it.

Fear #5: I’ll never write anything compelling because I don’t have it in me.

Fear #6: I have it in me to write something compelling, but I’ll die before I do it.

Fear #7: I’ll die young.

Fear #8: I’ll die before publishing a book.

Fear #9: I’ll die before falling in love again.

Fear #10: I’ll never truly fall in love again and it’ll be because I’ll continue to only fall for guys who can’t possibly love me back.

Fear #11: I am too judgmental and critical to fall in love again–I will always find something wrong with the guy and that’ll cut me off from the possibility of love.

Fear #12: I’m not too judgmental and critical, I just don’t have access to the high-quality men I could love because those guys think I’m not in their league.

Fear #13: If I never get married, I’ll miss out on the joys of a love and bond deeper than I’ve ever known.

Fear #14: If I do get married, I’ll feel claustrophobic and as if I’ve attached myself to someone who brings me down.

Fear #15: I will never meet a guy I find attractive who is interested in exploring Tantra with me.

Fear #16: None of the guys I find interesting or could love would want or be capable of monogamy with me.

Fear #17: If I fell in love with a loyal guy who wanted monogamy, I’d feel bored and trapped sexually.

Fear #18: The best sex of my life is already behind me.

Fear #19: I’m too old to learn to do the splits or become significantly more flexible.

Fear #20: My face is only going to get uglier and more wrinkled and I’ll like looking in the mirror less and less as time goes on.

Fear #21: My friends are only going to become more boring with time.

Fear #22: I’m going to die in a really dumb way, like by tripping and hitting my head the wrong way on the corner of a coffee table.

Fear #23: My genitals are getting grosser with each passing year, but I don’t notice any difference between I see them every day.

Fear #24: My breath is bad and brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash doesn’t help because the smell comes from the grossness deep inside of me escaping.

Fear #25: Guys who have kissed me and not contacted me again did so because my breath was bad.

Fear #26: Guys who messed around with me and did not contact me again did so because they thought my genitals looked gross, smelled gross, or both.

Fear #27: The best physical shape I’ve ever been in is behind me.

Fear #28: I will never meet a man who tells me the truth instead of what he thinks he has to say in order to get what he wants from me.

Fear #29: I’ll never meet a man who views me as an equal partner and not someone who needs to be managed, lied to, manipulated, or evaded.

Fear #30: Men don’t fully understand that women are humans just as much as men are.

Fear #31: A man who asks for monogamy just wants to control my sexuality–he won’t stay loyal if a tempting opportunity comes along, and if he’s disloyal he won’t tell me.

Fear #32: My brother will die young and I’ll miss him and regret not being nicer to him.

Fear #33: My brother will never find true love either, and it’s somehow my fault. Maybe my personality rubbed off on him.

Fear #34: My mom will die first and my dad won’t know how to live without her. I won’t help take care of him much because I’m selfish and a bad daughter.

Fear #35: If I have a baby, I will kill it accidentally by leaving the wrong toy in its crib or something equally careless and dumb.

Fear #36: If I have a baby, it’ll be born with severe health issues or a developmental disorder. I will want to give it up for adoption instead of caring for it and everyone will think I’m an evil monster.

Fear #37: If I have a baby, it’ll grow up to have psychological problems because I won’t parent in a normal way.

Fear #38: I’m too cowardly to pursue my dreams 100% so I’ll never achieve true success.

Fear #39: I’ll be in debt for the rest of my life.

Fear #40: I’ll die before my parents do and they’ll inherit my debt, which will be a major burden.

Fear #41: Even though I think I’m intelligent, I’m not.

Fear #42: I am intelligent, but in a way that has little practical application and only makes my life more difficult.

Fear #43: My happiest moments are behind me.

Fear #44: No one understands me.

Fear #45: My family and friends pretend I’m normal, but they don’t really believe it.

Fear #46: There is someone out there right now who would like to murder me.

Fear #47: Some day I’ll dive, fall, or get pushed into a pool and either get paralyzed or die from hitting the bottom.

Fear #48: I once saw a TV program about people who purposely make themselves disabled because then they feel like everything they do is heroic. All of the pain and health problems I’ve dealt with have been fake and a mild version of this.

Fear #49: I am becoming dumber.

Fear #50: I’m lying to myself when I think I’m becoming fitter–I’ll only gain fat and lose muscle from here on out.

Fear #51: My waist is the smallest it’ll ever be and it’s not even very small.

Fear #52: I’ll accidentally kill my dog by letting him eat something poisonous.

Fear #53: Dogs don’t love humans. They’re just constantly hoping for food.

Fear #54: There is something that exists after life and it is much worse.

Fear #55: Old married couples don’t love each other any more, they just aren’t independent enough to leave.

Fear #56: A man can’t look at his wife the same way after seeing her give birth–his attraction will transfer to some other woman.

Fear #57: A mentally ill person will attack me some day.

Fear #58: When I tweet at people who have more followers than I do, I look like a wannabe or an ass-kissing idiot.

Fear #59: When I am being most open, honest, and vulnerable, people think I’m being a fraud.

Fear #60: No one can ever really know another person.

Fear #61: People can truly know each other, except for me, because there is something wrong with me that puts insurmountable distance between me and the people I want to be close with.

Fear #62: My butt is too flat and no matter what exercises I do it will not get round.

Fear #63: I’m pathetic for internalizing cultural beauty standards and I should become confident enough not to care, but I won’t.

Fear #64: My friends and I will never have as much fun together as we did in our teens and twenties.

Fear #65: My parents don’t love me as a person, they just act like they do because they believe parents are supposed to love their children.

Fear #66: My parents like my brother more than they like me.

Fear #67: My parents would’ve preferred to have a daughter with a personality opposite of mine.

Fear #68: Every time I think I’m being funny, other people think I’m being either mean or weird.

Fear #69: I’ll get into a car accident and have way more injuries than necessary as a result of tensing up all of my muscles on impact.

Fear #70: I’ll never again find new music I enjoy the way I used to when I was younger.

Fear #71: My love of hip-hop indicates some sort of hidden racism.

Fear #72: My attraction to black men indicates hidden racism.

Fear #73: It doesn’t matter how not-racist or not-sexist a person aims to be, some of the racism and sexism in society will stick no matter what.

Fear #74: I will experiment with mushrooms or LSD again someday and do irreparable damage to my mental health.

Fear #75: I won’t experiment with mushrooms or LSD ever again and will miss out on a major mind-expanding personal growth opportunity, which will make me a more uptight, close-minded person.

Fear #76: No one in my family tree has done anything remarkable.

Fear #77: I’ll never do anything remarkable.

Fear #78: I will get in a bar fight some day on purpose, just for the experience of it, and end up getting killed or paralyzed.

Fear #79: Any time a guy says he likes my writing all it means is that he’d like to have sex with me.

Fear #80: I share too much on the internet and it disgusts and embarrasses people in my life.

Fear #81: My writing makes it clear that I’m a try-hard.

Fear #82: I will live to an old age, but waste all of those years by not doing anything meaningful or substantial.

Fear #83: A better life would involve less time online, but I don’t have the willpower.

Fear #84: My neck is fat.

Fear #85: I have bad skin and will have acne until the day I die.

Fear #86: I’m addicted to the internet and letting real life pass me by as a result.

Fear #87: People I’ve sent letters or emails to will make those communications public and when viewed out of context I will look like an idiot and be humiliated.

Fear #88: My value system reflects that I’ve become less mature over time.

Fear #89: There’s no hope for humanity and the best case scenario is that we die out.

Fear #90: My extended family would be ashamed if they knew the true me.

Fear #91: If I ever publish a successful book, my extended family will be horrified by the contents and gossip about me instead of being proud and happy.

Fear #92: I’m going to waste my sexual prime being celibate because I’m too judgmental of and picky about men.

Fear #93: I’m going to waste my sexual prime being celibate because I’m afraid of intimacy.

Fear #94: Having a boyfriend would ruin my chance at becoming a successful writer.

Fear #95: Most of my fears list items are just anxieties, which shows that my life is easy and my problems aren’t real. If I ever complain about anything I’m being self-centered and insufferable.

Fear #96: My inability to remember book titles and author names means I’ll never be able to have discussions with intelligent people about books, even books I’ve read.

Fear #97: I’m operating at maybe 50% of my potential and living a mediocre life as a result.

Fear #98: I’m a follower trying to be a leader and failing.

Fear #99: I’ll never own a car made in the past five years.

Fear #100: If I post these fears on my blog, people will think they are my actual beliefs and think bad things about me, like I’m really messed up and self-obsessed and should be embarrassed of myself.

Fear #101: I’m so weird that even my fears are abnormal.

Fear #102: That I’ve never been raped is a fluke. My time will come, and the experience will break me.

Fear #103: I’m deathly allergic to bees, but don’t know it yet because I’ve never been stung.

Fear #104: I’ll never be able to shake the resentment I hold toward Christianity and the church, even though I think it’s pointless and a waste of emotional energy.

Fear #105: I make a huge deal out of things most people just take in stride.

Fear #106: My clothes are unflattering and ill-fitting and everyone knows it except for me.

Fear #107: I look like I’m poor.

Fear #108: I’ll have lower back pain for the rest of my life.

Fear #109: Most times I get upset, I’m overreacting.

Fear #110: Most times I get upset I’m not overreacting, I just doubt myself because ex-boyfriends gaslighted me. I’ll never stop doubting whether or not my reactions are valid.

Fear #111: Carmen Machado will read this and think, “Oh God, this was not what I intended with my exercise. Why did she do this? How sad and embarrassing.”

Fear #112: I’ll get pregnant and have a miscarriage or still birth.

Fear #113: I’ll get pregnant and have a miscarriage or still birth and be more upset that my stomach was stretched out for nothing than about losing the baby, proving that I’m vain, selfish, and heartless.

Fear #114: When I move to Florida I’ll have sweaty armpit stains constantly because of the humidity and people will think of me as “that girl who always has armpit stains.”

Fear #115: When I move to Florida every building will have the air conditioning on so high that I’ll constantly feel freezing cold and be unable to concentrate or enjoy myself.

Fear #116: Present moment awareness isn’t the key to transcendence after all–it just makes people more aware of negative and unpleasant things they would’ve been better off ignoring.

And…that is it! My list of fears. Wow, what an experience. I teared up a few times while writing this, I’ll admit. Some of the fears were expected, as they are things that pass through my mind regularly, but most surprised me. It’s yet another reminder that writing is an excellent form of self-discovery.

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