Tempus Fugit

I had my therapy session this morning.  First of all, the temp has dropped considerably, which makes me a happy camper.  Autumn is definitely here–and it’s my second favorite season.  No, you get no bonus points for guessing my first since I’m not exactly reticent about it.

Anyway, I walked into my therapist’s office and started blathering about how I’ve lost my momentum since my mom left.  After my therapist listened to me list my dissatisfaction with myself, she asked a seemingly non sequitur question.  She said, “Minna, what are you going to do after I’m gone?”  I looked blankly at her.  She said, “Not on my vacation, but after I retire.”  I stared at her, and she hastened to add, “I’m not sick or anything, but I’m a month away from 61.  I want to retire when I’m 65.  4 years is not that long.”

I admit, my first reaction was sheer panic.  I have been with her for some time, and it freaked me out to imagine not having her in my life.  But, that was her point.  I have been steadily gaining momentum in the last year and a half or so (with setbacks, of course), and I can’t afford to slide back again.

Four years ago, I was saying I would have a house by the time I was forty.  Well, I’m going to be forty in eight months, and I will not have that house.  It’s not that I couldn’t have a house by then, but it’s that I am not prepared to make that decision by then.  Am I closer to making that decision?  Definitely.  Am I there yet?  No.

Here’s the thing.  I haven’t had to be a full adult yet in my life.  I haven’t had to face the consequences of really failing.  Now, it’s time for me to put away childish things and be an adult.  And, if there is no external reason for that to happen, then I have to make it internal.

Back to my therapist’s question. After my initial panic faded a bit, I thought about it.  I said that what I got from her was clarity and a new perspective.  However, I had other people in my life who functioned in similar ways, and what’s more, I often times know ahead of time what her response will be (though it’s not as elegant in my head as it is when she says it).  We have been together so long, I know what her basic tenets are.  She is not always going to be there.  And, I tend to think, “Oh, I am going to bring this to therapy and talk about it” before making a decision.  That’s not a bad idea with big, tough, grappling issues, but it can be a way for me to avoid having to make  any decision at all on my own.

And, then I thought about that in application to the rest of my life.  I tend to say things like, “Oh, my mom is going to be here for two months.  I can’t do anything else while I deal with that.”  “I will start looking into publishing after my mom leaves.”  What I realized in therapy is that I subconsciously had the view of putting life on hold while these episodic events happened.  Hello?!!! Life is made up of episodic events.  Duh!  And, there will always be something happening that I consider an interruption to my real life–because that’s what life is about.

Another thing we talked about was the party I attended on Saturday. I said what gracious hosts Stewart and Kendra were and that I had a good time.  However, I walked away feeling melancholy because they had a version of what I wanted.  They live in a complex of artists’ lofts, and their apartment is really neat.  They both are gainfully employed.  On the side, he is an artist and a performance artist.  She is a belly-dancer.  They have two adorable cats (I got that part), and they have each other.  Their relationship may not be traditional, but that only adds to the intrigue.   That’s what I wanted (in a general shape), and it seemed so far away.

My therapist told me she was glad I felt some melancholy because that meant that I was still in the ‘let’s get going’ phase.  Since I tend to drift toward inertia, it’s dangerous for me to let the melancholy settle in too much as I will use that as an excuse not to do anything.

Choolie and I have had several conversations about our perfectionist tendencies.  It goes something like this.  I think, “Oh, I have so much to do.  I have to do this and this and this.  I can’t do it all perfectly, so I won’t do any of it!”  Then the self-shaming and self-blaming enter the picture, and it’s a great excuse not to do anything.

I talked about this in therapy, too.  My mom and I have cobbled together a working relationship.  I have a list of jobs I am supposed to do for her, none of them editing-related, and I’ve been letting it slide because I fucking HATE that shit.  I really hate housecleaning with a passion.

On a related note, my mom has been bugging me to get my resume to her so she can disseminate it to her students who have to write papers in English–which, obviously, is not their first language.  I have been hesitant because I am not sure I want to get that much more entwined with my mother.  And yet, as I mused, it’s really actually the American way to get a job through your connections.  And, as the subject is sandplay therapy, I would at least be interested as I edited, unlike when I edit economic papers.

My therapist reframed the issue for me.  She said, “Doing editing would help you make money in a way that is not completely disagreeable, and it will help you to meet your end goal, be it renting an apartment or buying a house.”  That’s part of being an adult, in other words.  Doing things that you don’t love with an eye out for the end game.

So, here are the twin points.  On one day, I can pick an item from the list and say, “I am going to be an adult about this today.  I don’t want to do it, but I do want to earn the money that will help me pay for my utilities.”  The next day, I can pick an item and say, “This fucking sucks, man.  I hate this shit!” and do the chore anyway.  I can rebel, in other words, complete with slamming doors and listening to loud music.

I haven’t written any fiction for a few months for a variety of reasons.  One is that I feel if I don’t do the work I need to do, I shouldn’t do anything pleasurable.  The second reason is that while I love writing, I hate the process of trying to get my work published.  It’s tedious and humiliating and blah blah blah.  I would rather not sully my beautiful mind with such things, but it’s inevitable.  I have commented before that I don’t like to do the hard thing, and it’s true.  I will go out of my way to avoid the difficult parts of a task–which, of course, ends up creating more work for me in the end.

Another thing I realized–I can always quit, say, editing for my mother’s students if I decide I don’t want to do it any longer.  I can always break a lease or even walk away from a house (though I don’t necessarily advise it).  Nothing is permanent.  This is important for me to remember as I tend to get bogged down in, “I’ll be stuck here FOREVER!!!!!”

My therapist will be on vacation next week.  She informed me that she wanted me to start on this list right away and not wait for her to return because that would be two more weeks gone.

So.  Here is where you, my loyal posse, enters the picture.  Whenever you see me around, be it in person, on the nets, or wherever, I want you to say to me, “Hey, Minna, have you done one of those items on your shit list yet?” or, “Hey, Minna, how’s it going being an adult today?”  I will most likely curse you and be pissed at you, but I will take your words to heart.  As Choolie knows, my initial response to anything is, “Fuck you!”  However, I will listen to what is said and digest it later, gleaning from it what I need to know.  It’s the same with people prodding me to do what I need to do.  Initially, I resist and am resentful, but in the end, I am grateful that I have people who care enough to nudge me.

However, my therapist is right.  She is not going to be around forever, and ultimately, I am the one who has to get shit down.  I would do well to remember that.

21 Responses to Tempus Fugit

  1. Don’t forget that part of being a happy adult is allowing some of the child in as well. JP and I have always had trouble being part of that adult world even though we aren’t too bad at it. Sadly, life is filled with things you have to do even though you don’t want to, like work and money and homes, but we have always had our eye on the end game, the next step, how we’ll use what we are doing now towards getting to the next step. And now 23 years later we made take everything we’ve accomplished, the money we’ve saved and return to that state of childhood freedom that we dream of. You, Minna, don’t give yourself enough credit for being able to achieve what you are capable of achieving thus keep putting it off. Life is a game, whether work or whatnot, and you have to follow some of the game’s rules just so you can get the prize at the end. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up who you essentially are. I think maybe that is what you are afraid of (like Jean-Pierre) thus you make achieving those goals impossible for yourself. Writing it down is perfect, just write it down in a way that makes the unattractive attractive to you!

  2. There’s nothing better than drinks with a friend after a long day of work/shit list. Girlfriend, you better get busy–and, I’ll see you soon! How’s Tuesday?

  3. File this under Tips & Tricks, it’s a technique in learned while studying Professional Personal Coaching. Sometimes when I feel stuck about what to do next to further my life goals I will consult with my Future Self. Here’s how it works: I make some time and space for reflection, then I envision myself in whatever future realm of manifested desires, then ask my Future Self what it was/how it was that I got myself there. I ask alot of questions, get as many details as possible. Talking it out with Future Self I frequently discover underlying motivations and inner gremlins. I find it to be very insightful & revealing. More clarity results, which helps keep me on track.

    Peace & Positive Progress to you, Minna.

  4. I do love your shrink, my Twin.

    So. Let’s grow the fuck up and do some seriously cool stuff, shall we? =)

    But one item of caution…the thing about not letting yourself do fun stuff when there’s a long list to do? Yeah, that can really mess you up. As a normal working mother, I have my job, and then I have the “second shift” (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/courses/knowbody/f04/web2/sansell.html) to handle as well. This leads to a perpetual To-Do list, and a bit of stress and chaos when I look at my schedule.

    But you have to have down time. Time to rest, time to relax and laugh, to read a book, to do nothing, to pet the cats, go drinking with Kat, whatever. Even though the activity might seem frivolous, it is still important! I’ve had to learn this too, although I will admit to struggling with it. I still feel guilt sometimes when I take a day and spend it with a book by the pool, or I ignore my laundry or chores to go shooting. But you need that time to balance the responsibilities to avoid burn out and resentment.

    Now get off your lazy ass and go edit something. =)

  5. Every time I see that phrase, I think, “Tempus Fuckit.”

    That aside, I will be more than happy to give you shit about getting off your ass and doing something.

    …Says the pot to the kettle.

  6. Your therapist might have been too polite to put it like this, but: You have to learn to kick your own ass.

    Do you wake via alarm clock every day? If not, start. If so, set it a half hour earlier and use that time to work on your list. Go to sleep a half hour earlier if you need your sleep. If you don’t have a bedtime, set one. That’s what grownups do.


  7. Jamie, yes, you bring up good points. It’s not a matter of either/or (be a grownup or be myself), but it’s hard for me to always see that. In addition, if I don’t do anything (either that which I have to do or that which I want to do), then what an even BIGGER waste of time. It really is a matter of discipline for me, I think. I have never been very good at it.

    P.S. It is amusing to me how much JP and I have in common!

    Kat, ouch! I feel the sting of your whip! And, Tuesday it is.

    Friend, great suggestion–it’s similar to my thinking about what I really want and not just what I think I’m supposed to want. If I can get in touch with my Future Self and see what’s realy important to her, then I can figure out the means to the end.

    Kel, I love my shrink, too. She’s very, very good. And, yes on the fun part. Depriving myself of fun isn’t gonna motivate me to work harder–it’ll just make me resentful. I think it goes double for you because you have so little free time to start with. Thanks for the push, and don’t forget ‘flat’ in that description of my ass!

    The Artist, heh. That’s funny. You can be the pot to my kettle in part because you are not quite an adult yet (thus, you have more wiggle-room to sit on your ass. Um, you know what I mean), but more to the point, because I asked for the help. Thanks!

    Dan, I agree. I have to kick my OWN ass (but it doesn’t help to get reinforcement from others). That is, indeed, being part of a grownup.

    Sleep: I am wary of messing with it because I sleep very poorly and try to grab it whenever I can. It takes me up to an hour to fall asleep, and I rarely sleep more than four/five hours in one jag. I know that many adults set a bedtime and a wakeup time, but is there any logical reason to do that if I don’t have to get up at a certain time for a job?

  8. is there any logical reason to do that if I don’t have to get up at a certain time for a job?

    It depends, obviously. I think in some cases there’s a chicken/egg quality to it; maybe the fact that you don’t have to get up for a job reinforces insomnia. Or conversely, maybe if you had to get up (if just to work on your list) you might sleep better knowing you didn’t have the “luxury” of taking a long time to fall asleep. (I’m assuming a lot here, I know.)

  9. Dan, it could be. I have been a night owl since I was a kid, and my sleep has never been good. Nothing I’ve tried has worked, so why not give a rigid schedule a try? I don’t think it will help me fall asleep any faster, though.

  10. Try not to think so much in terms of punishment and forcing yourself. Do it because it’s an adventure, or fun, or you learn something. If you spend too much time thinking of it in terms of kicking your ass or having others nag you, it’s likely to backfire into more resentment and convoluted excuses for not doing and resenting those who push. Also, try and open up and share something good about yourself or something you really enjoyed more often. It’s easy to discourage yourself or life when much of what you write is melancholy or accuses you for failure to be perfect or do everything at once.

    One good reason for setting schedules and tasks is so you can reward yourself and feel proud when you achieve them. But don’t make it too rigid or demanding to begin with, or you are just preparing to fail. Nurture slowly, dig your roots in a little deeper each time, and don’t force the process. Pick out a small thing that you’ve been meaning to do, and get it done, just as a piece of fun. When you have, praise yourself, give yourself a reward of some sort, and remember that you did something that you previously had put off or failed to do. Next time you feel low, remind yourself that you have an achievement under your belt, and that the voices of despair didn’t stop you that time either.

  11. mozer, hello, Mr. Sunshine! I know the wisdom in what you say. I can easily apply what you say to writing (which I love but don’t always let me do), but to cleaning? No. For that, the best I can do is find a neutral stance and empty out my mind.

    It’s difficult for me to do what you say because I’m accustomed to using guilt/blame/shame to motivate myself (family trait) rather than anything positive. It’s the same reason why I rarely blog about the good things in my life or what I do well. I’m much more comfortable with the negative than with the positive. Although, funny you should write this because I was actually contemplating writing something positive for my next blog entry.

    Schedules: Good point. Unfortunately, what I usually do when I reach a goal is move the goalposts. That’s a habit I will have to work on breaking. I don’t praise myself, in case you can’t guess–I have a much easier time praising others.

  12. That’s where rewards come in. If you only give yourself a reward on completion, moving goalposts loses some, at least, of its allure. The trick, not always easy to pull off, is to be strong about not taking rewards in advance. Pick something you like and which is a slight indulgence (candy, a hot bath, a new book from the library or whatever works for you), specify the task to be done, and have at it. Task done, administer reward, and allow yourself to feel good.

    On cleaning, I think some mileage can be gained not by seeing the task as pleasant per se, but by taking pride in having done it – despite the tedium and disgust involved in your interaction with the vile sub-celestial world of grime and degradation. Pat yourself on the back, say “Well done” or whatever phrase you find congenial, and acknowledge that doing something dull or mildly repellent deserves as much, and maybe more, praise than doing something fun. You can’t make the task itself especially joyous, perhaps, but you can give yourself a boost for having done it. I wouldn’t set myself up as an adviser, but some people, I hear, lighten the burden by using lots of hot soapy water, playing music, and hopping around like demented things while singing favourite songs. I don’t know if you like the movie Chungking Express, but you can always play California Dreaming while doing the chores, in the very style of Faye Wong. My wife finds my expression most amusing on these occasions, as your average 6’4″ white male makes an odd Faye Wong substitute, but it seems to work.

  13. morzer, I did like that movie, and I am amused at the image that you painted as well. I actually do crank the tunes and dance around while I clean. I prefer cleaning at night, so I can wear as minimal clothing as possible. I put in some Ozomatli or something equally lively, then I have at it. It’s especially amusing to me when I take breaks from cleaning the fridge to do a little booty bumping.

    Rewards: I have no problems with not rewarding myself ahead of time. The problem for me is always with the praising myself bit. For some reason, I have it in my head that if I praise myself, then something really bad is going to happen. What exactly, I cannot tell you, but there you have it. Usually, when I finish a task that isn’t that enjoyable, I just move on to something else or berate myself for not doing it earlier.

    As usual, it’s the mental aspects that’s an issue with me. Gr. P.S. Next time you play Faye Wong, have your wife videotape you!

  14. From pitchforks to requests for my cleaning videos in one night? MEH, sometimes I stand in awe of your bodaciousness! I imagine that learning to praise yourself consistently might take a bit of time, but it’s worth the effort, and it will lift you. If it seems difficult at first, or you fear evil consequences, you can try doing it in an exaggerated, moustache-twirling kind of way with a comic sergeant-major voice. “Fine work, Hong. Dem fine performance” etc. Sometimes making yourself laugh has a more than acceptable effect in the department of morale-raising, and it just takes a starting-point and some practice. If you hesitate to talk to yourself, just remember that it guarantees intelligent conversation on a daily basis. If it’s hard to praise yourself at first, make a commitment not to be negative or berate yourself. That, in itself, would break some of the negative reinforcement that you seem to be getting into. Anyway, try and praise yourself for doing one thing per day. Make that commitment and stick to it, and it will get easier. When you have praised yourself, give yourself a little reward, and smile. It might be hard at first, but the face muscles still work, I promise you.

  15. morzer, hey, can’t get it if you don’t ask for it, right? What you say here is something similar to what my therapist said to me about breaking the loop of negativity that is constantly running through my mind. She said, “Take a break every ten minutes and check in. If you find yourself thinking something negative, bring up a positive experience with which to replace it.” This was after we came up with a list of positive experiences I’ve had. What you are saying is similar, and I would do well to get back in the habit.

    Talking to myself: I do it all the time, and I make no apologies for it! As for smiling, that I can do.

  16. Fuck you, adulthood! Haha

    You said, “I feel if I don’t do the work I need to do, I shouldn’t do anything pleasurable.” Wow, does that ever sound familiar. The weird thing is when the work also has pleasurable aspects. Oh oh, my brain is going to explode!

    I will bug the shit out of you, if you do the same for me a little.

  17. Choolie, I thought you might be able to relate to this. We will mutually kick each other’s ass, except, you have to be gentle with me.

  18. Hi Minna, I am Lawrence Wang’s mother. I still remember you as a very cute, brilliant little girl. Remember ? whenever you went to the library, you always brought back a bucketful of books because you love books so much. I have Psalm 6 as my small gift for you today (10/6/2010):

    O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
    Be merciful to me, LORD for I am faint;
    O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in angony.
    My soul is in anguish.
    How long, O LORD, how long ?

    Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;
    save me because of your unfailing love.
    No one remembers you when he is dead
    who praises you from the grave ?

    I am worn out from groaning;
    all night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
    My eye grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes.

    Away from me, all you who do evil,
    for the LORD has heard my weeping.
    The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
    the LORD accepts my prayer.
    All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed,
    they will turn back in sudden disgrace.

    You are welcome to visit me or call me (952) 942-6636. I certainly will remember you EVERYDAY in my prayer.


    Yu Ann

  19. Aunty, wow, it’s good to hear a voice from my past. Thank you for the memory. I still love reading, and I still have an armful of books every time I go to the library. I hope life is treating you well.