Hey it’s around 4:30am, and I just wrote a reaction paper for my Developmental Psych class that made me realize that I really am fascinated with, passionate about racism and discrimination research. I always get discouraged because it’s one of the topics du jour, so what would I have to bring to the table? Writing this paper and also working little by little on the crazy four study manuscript reminds me that, fuck yeah this is important and I do have new things to add to the discussion.
The topic of what to focus on for my dissertation has plagued me the last year or so. Do I continue with the discrimination research or do I move my work in the direction of food studies? Part of me wonders if I am using the food studies idea as a way to distract me from / avoid the difficult work on racism. Everyone loves a food studies scholar! Not everyone loves that person who sees racism in everything. But what can I say, I’ve always been a malcontent of sorts regarding social ideas, and I feel that in some way my life’s work must be a sublimation of that energy.
At the same time, I really do feel passionate about the intersection of food, culture, and psychology. It’s an area that is ripe for empirical investigation, and I know that if I pursue it, I will be a pioneer. And let’s face it, I want to do big things and make a name for myself as someone who has great ideas and contributions to science that make the world a better place.
I kind of feel like a jackass (or Kanye) admitting my ambitions, but it’s better for me to own it instead of avoid it - as I’ve been doing the last three to four years. Before I came to Minnesota, I pursued my goals like my life depended on it. So many times, I’ve wondered, what happened to me in the last four years? Where did all my ambition go? Why do I keep focusing my energy on obsessing over relationships?
In the last couple of weeks, I connected the dots in a big way. I feared success. I became afraid of pursuing my ambitions because I learned that doing so means many sacrifices and risks, namely the possibility of indefinite loneliness. For example, one of the catalysts for my breakup with my boyfriend of eight years was the fact that I wasn’t willing to go to a graduate program in New York City (where he was adamant about staying in) because that meant going to a program that was subpar or a poor fit for me. I gave up the potential for a loving, stable relationship with someone who I truly felt was my partner*. Now that I’m getting closer to 30 and thinking about continuing on in academia, the choices do not get easier. There are a lot of incredible, brilliant, and single women in academia. Those who do partner up tend to do so later in life, having children in their mid thirties or adopting. Pursuing a career in academia means being willing to live in the less-than-ideal city or town. It means working a lot with few boundaries to your worklife. It’s hard enough finding someone who is a good fit as a partner, period. It’s even harder when you’re an intelligent woman with opinions. Harder still when you add ambitious to that. AND IN THE MIDWEST! (No mean to hate on you Midwestern dudes, but seriously, what is the deal).
Anyway, the bottom line is: I’m awesome, and I’m sick of being afraid of being awesome to the fullest just because I’m afraid of being alone. Being “alone” isn’t so terrible after all. There is so much truth to the adage that there is nothing lonelier than being in a relationship that lacks depth, connection, and fit. I am not truly alone, either. I am very grateful to have friends and family who I love and who care about me. You know who you are (Sunny! come back to tumblr!).
Alright, peace out. I have a long day ahead of more helping people, teaching, class, and hopefully dragging myself to the gym cause I have a half-marathon in 11 weeks!
*Note: I realize that I tend to idealize the relationship with that Ex but we were definitely not the best fit in a number of intangible ways - spiritually speaking, our views on the importance of family, and in the matter of sensitivity to and compassion for others. Things that become much more important to your core sense of self as you get older.
Research on the Motivational Interviewing approach in psychotherapy finds the most effective way to create change during therapy is to engage in “change talk.” Change talk consists of statements of intention to act, not just the desire to change. Not only that, but goals that are crafted in specific, measurable terms are more likely to be followed through on than broad, vague statements. In other words, “I will increase my intake of vegetables and fruits by making sure that at least half my plate comes from fruits and veggies” rather than “I’d like to eat healthier.”
Most of the times, our new year’s resolutions are non-specific aspirations of what we’d like to become. I am certainly prone to this kind of wishful thinking (and consequently, guilt-laden inaction). “I’d like to be more creative.” “I want to become a more well-rounded person in terms of my knowledge.” “I’m going to have more fulfilling relationships.” Those types of goals are great, but really they’re lifelong goals. New year’s resolutions should help us to tackle those over-arching goals in a one-step-at-a-time basis. So in service of my lifelong goal of becoming a woman of action, in 2011, I plan to:
- Improve my fitness by training for and running two half-marathons. Seriously consider training for the Twin Cities marathon in October. By working on these races, I want to work on a lifestyle shift.
- Completely conquer my lifelong fear of public speaking and performance by performing my own poetry at an open mic. Similarly, work on my karaoke stage presence. I began singing karaoke at bars as a way to get over my stage fright, but it’s still there. I have trouble being vulnerable in front of other people, and maybe just putting it all out there is the way to get over this.
- Reignite my passion for social justice by volunteering and connecting with others who share these values. I want to surround myself with people who are passionate about helping others - whether it is through direct social service or simply helping underrepresented voices be heard. I want to be with people who are not complacent with the status quo. I think that this will help my motivation with getting my scholarly work written up and published. (Hey, maybe this will also help in the boyfriend department - I can hope, can’t I?).
- Take control over my financial life by switching from a credit-based to a cash-based system of spending. Finances have always been a major source of stress in my life, and I’ve worked pretty hard to avoid facing my issues but recent circumstances are necessitating some reality checks. I began regularly working with a financial counselor at Lutheran Financial Services (yes, it’s a faith-based non-profit, but I cannot recommend it enough. Their services are free, and very friendly to those who have a lot of anxiety/lack of knowledge around these issues. They also do not pressure you to utilize their debt management program, which is fee-based). My counselor helped me set up a budget and work with an envelope system to stick with the budget. I am just about to set up that system this coming month, so we’ll see how that goes.
- Acknowledge and accept my limitations, working with them instead of fighting them. For a long time, I’ve known that I’ve struggled with Depression and Anxiety (though I do a decent job at looking like a functioning, happy person). But this past year, I finally started to really do something about it. Talking and catharsis is great - my therapist almost literally saved my life this past year - but I’m working on moving past the inertia and getting to action. Medication has helped. Reading the book, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed” was also helpful. The best thing I got from that book is that when you have depression, you often wait for the right time to do things - you wait until you feel like doing something. Then you don’t because, hello you’re depressed, which then leads you to feel like shit about yourself and the situation. In this way, Anxiety and Depression have a very convoluted relationship because Anxiety wants me to avoid things that make me feel bad. It’s a shame spiral! I am now able to recognize that an internal feeling of motivation may just not be there for me the same way it is for other people. So I just gotta do it anyway, keeping my eyes on the prize and working with more proximal, contingent rewards that will help me get to the larger goals.
- I also need to stop doing work in bed and use my desk more.
That’s enough self-reflection for today. How will you create change in 2011?
It’s almost 11:30am, the day before Thanksgiving. I should have been on the road from Minneapolis to Chicago an hour and a half ago in order to avoid traffic for the 6 hour drive. Instead, I’m trying to find every reason not to go. The wintery mix of rain and snow heading to the Metro. I have no clean clothes to pack. At home in Minneapolis, I have a million things to do - papers to grade, research to work on, books to read, photos to edit, blog posts to write, interviews to transcribe, the other armwarmer to knit, files to alphabetize. All things I’d rather do than to go back home this Thanksgiving.
Home doesn’t await me in Buffalo Grove, merely semblances of my youth. What’s left represents most everything that I’ve moved to three different states in the last 6 years to escape. It’s my high school’s ten year reunion this weekend. For months, my friends have been asking each other, “Are you going to reunion?” and making half-promises that “if you go, I’ll go,” a suicide pact to venture back into the awkward days of adolescence together. The closer this weekend drew near, the weight of the invisible cloak I wore for most of high school grew heavier. Screw this, I thought. Why put myself back into a situation I know that I will be miserable in? And pay $80 to be miserable in a bar with a group of people who I barely talked to in high school, much less in the last ten years. Maybe I’ll reconnect with an old friend or acquaintance for those 4 hours - but then what? I go back to my life in Minneapolis, they will go back to life in Bucktown or Wicker Park with their $50K job, partner, maybe a kid, definitely a dog. We will maybe become Facebook friends and then never talk again.
Then there’s the opportunity to spend time with my ex-boyfriend (the Ex of 8 years) who is in town visiting from the East Coast and bringing his girlfriend of almost a year - the first girlfriend his parents are to meet after me and our breakup almost 4 years ago. The blond girlfriend who is studying to be a lawyer and, oh, does competitive ballroom dancing on the side with crater-sized dimples to match the Ex’s (No, we’ve never met, I did “research” on Facebook). They’re going to hang out and karaoke with our mutual friends. KARAOKE! (Ugh!) I only found out about the visit after another friend decided to include me on an email to make plans which my ex so thoughtfully originally left me out of (“I didn’t want to make things awkward for either of you,” he later explained). I decided that sans my own karaoke-singing, incredibly attractive, intelligent and witty personal companion - I am more likely than not to come out of that situation a neurotic wreck. So, nix that.
But among the things that I am avoiding the most is what I also hold most dear. With my parents’ impending separation and the imminent foreclosure of the house I called home for more than 20 years, “going home” will never be the same. I’m scared to face the boxes of crap that my mom has been saving for me to go through. I am afraid to talk to my relatives who are going to ask what is going to happen to my parents. I don’t want to see my dad’s belongings in the room that my now-dead grandmother used to live in while my mom keeps their bedroom exactly the same, his side of the bed kept warm just in case he decides to come back. I don’t want to face my dad, who isn’t even talking to me because he believes that I have lowered myself into an unrespectable person and educator by getting a tattoo and sticking up for my mother in the breakdown of their marriage. I don’t want to try to give him a kiss on the cheek or even a weak “Hi, Tatang,” only to be turned away from or met with nothing more than a grumble (my Filipino dad is more Midwestern than he’d like to admit). I don’t want to spend my Thanksgiving in a fragmented way across different parts of my family - my dad at one aunt and uncles, my mom and brother and I at another.
I just talked to my mom on the phone a few minutes ago, and she begged me to come home. She assured me that everything was going to be okay and that people were looking forward to my visit. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a gathering of people who choose to come together in celebration. Warmth. Gratitude. Love. I wish that I felt those things waited for me back “home.” I suppose I have a 6 hour drive ahead of me to figure out where I will find some in the next few days.
Goodbye to Love - The Carpenters
A year or so ago, I told myself that I would never sing this song again. The Secret instructed me to purge negative thoughts, negative songs, negative people from my life because they would only attract that valence.
Yet, this song has long been one of my favorites. I was always drawn to the melodramatic self-pity and frustration (“I’ll say goodbye to love, no one ever cared if I should live or die. / Time and time again, the chance for love has passed me by”) juxtaposed by layered harmonies and a killer guitar solo at the end that say to the world, “I’m fine! No, really!” I would sing Goodbye to Love in the shower when I knew that my roommates weren’t home, catharting my own hopelessness to an aquatic audience of metaphorical tears I could not cry in the open with family and friends who looped a chorus of “You are amazing. / You will find someone someday. / He will come along.”
I shared this song with one of my past failures, M. We argued, as we often did with fiery passion, about the message of the song. I insisted on suicide-inducing despair, he said he thought it was a song of hope. But…there are no tomorrows for this heart of mine!…Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend! I chalked it up to his eccentricity and naiveté.
Recently things clicked for me: loneliness is a fact of life, and I would rather make friends with loneliness than be in a less-than-awesome situation. When Karen says “Goodbye to Love,” she is saying goodbye to something that she hasn’t truly known, though she’s tried so hard to find: “All the years of useless search have finally reached an end.” An ideal that may never be found. The song is not a resignation, but an acceptance of our existential isolation with faith (and yes, hope!) that there will come a time of relief - just not now:“Surely time will lose these bitter memories and I’ll find that there is someone to believe in and to live for, something I could live for.”
And so, like Karen Carpenter, I am embracing loneliness and saying goodbye to “Love,” whatever the hell I thought that was. Instead of searching or waiting, I will accept and recognize all the love that already exists in my life. I will continue to practice the art of loving, giving without fear of not receiving it in return.
- Attended three hours of training at my practicum site on the topics of childhood sexual abuse and complex trauma.
- Ate half of a Chipotle burrito bowl with a bag of chips.
- Failed at paying attention in my Hierarchical Linear Modeling statistics class because I was so burned out from three hours of training on childhood abuse. And because it’s Hierarchical Linear Modeling.
- Saw a client and (I think) helped him clarify what he wants to do with his life.
- Decided to reward my students who came to class on a rainy day by offering an extra credit group discussion activity on the relationship between multicultural counseling competencies and issues with ethics. (MAN, IT FEELS GOOD TO HAVE POWER.)
- Lectured/taught/liberated/molded young minds.
- Ate the rest of my burrito bowl and chips that I left in my car. While I was parked in my car.
- Sat through another two hours of training about male survivors of sexual assault and rape.
- Considered stopping by a bar on the way home. Decided against it because, oh right, it’s not healthy to numb yourself from life with drugs and alcohol.
- Wondered (wondering) whether I feel nauseous because of a) the puppy chow that someone brought to the training, b) the sour cream and guac from my Chipotle burrito bowl had gone bad in the five hours it was sitting in my car, c) the fact that I sat through FIVE HOURS of training about people being abused, d) I can’t help but think about my own fucked up family and childhood, or e) all of the above.
Three Approaches to Psychotherapy: Part 3, Albert Ellis with Gloria
(For the impatient, you can skip to 13:00. That’s the part that gets me.)
Today, I showed my class this third installment in the classic “Gloria videos,” a series featuring actual therapeutic encounters between a woman named Gloria and three founders of major theories of psychotherapy. This particular video features Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy-a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (the other two feature Carl Rogers/Person-Centered Therapy and Fritz Perls/Gestalt Therapy). Ellis’s style can come across as grating at first*, but try to get past that and watch for the “irrational” thoughts and logic that he exposes in his work with Gloria (the “irrationality” of our cognitions is a cornerstone of REBT).
Even though I have seen the videos at least four times (both as a student and as an instructor), I continue to find them fascinating. I used to watch them and marvel simply at the art of therapy, the way in which each therapist brings out different parts of Gloria with their distinct styles. But this time around, I watched them with a newfound appreciation for the universal challenges that Gloria is struggling with. Perhaps I watch these videos now with different eyes because I am much closer in age and life experience to Gloria, who is a newly-single and spunky 30-year-old woman. Gloria represents quite the liberal woman for 1967, yet many of her issues hold relevance today. Struggling to balance the desire to find meaningful, loving relationships with one’s sexual needs and desires. Creating a sense of self-worth that is independent of the approval of others. Searching for self-acceptance and recognizing that there will be people who accept us too, “stinky parts” and all.
*Ellis had a distinct personal therapeutic style. For those who are turned off by this, take comfort that there is a WIDE variety of styles and approaches. Popular portrayals of therapy depict the experience quite inaccurately.
Once and Never Again*, The Long Blondes
The Long Blondes’ album Someone to Drive You Home came out in 2006, the year of the last breaths of my relationship with J. He sent me this album with a note that said, “I think you’ll like this.” Of course, he was right. He always was about those things. After all, what good does it do to date someone for eight years if you cannot predict what kind of music your partner will like.
At the time J gave it to me, the circumstances of the situation made me into a jerk, as often happens when one wants out, and the other has a hard time accepting that reality. Ugh, another gesture of love! I listened to it once and then not again for three more years. It was an act of rebellion against my history of relying on men to introduce me to music, from the Dave Matthews phase thanks to a high school crush to Iron & Wine via my college crush who was into Asian girls (but not me) to my dad’s oldies to basically everything else I listened to thanks to J. I resented owing so much of my identity to others, namely men. (In hindsight, perhaps that was the ultimate reason I broke things off with J).
Even now, I have trouble letting a guy into my life through music. Several have come and gone, leaving behind songs and albums that act as vestiges of the ambivalence inherent in every foregone relationship. The emotional connections cut too deep. (After a particularly abrupt and painful breakup, I couldn’t listen to Bjork for almost a year because of our shared affinity for that awesomely crazy lady).
Back to the Long Blondes. I’m finally able to listen to the album and appreciate its feminist power, its danceworthiness, the way that it taps into the part of me that wishes I were talented enough, riot grrrl enough to lead an all-female rock band. I am glad I waited years to revisit the album, knowing that I like it because I like it. Not because my musically savvy boyfriend likes them and thinks I would like them. Don’t get me wrong. There’s something very special about having someone know you so intimately that they can reliably predict what music you’ll like, what food you’ll order, whether or not you’ll cry at a movie. But at this point in my life, I find it stifling at the same time. I want to figure out myself, for myself. I know that it’s not a terminal process, but I don’t feel that I’m totally there with my self-integrity. I’m close. Or maybe I’m just scared. Who knows. Send a music recommendation my way, and we’ll see.
*I originally posted “Giddy Stratospheres”, but this song seems much more fitting.