Monday, February 4, 2019

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: A Short Film

FADE IN:

INT. COFFEE SHOP – DAY

A WOMAN in her thirties sits at a table, a half-eaten croissant on a plate next to her. She is staring blankly at the laptop screen in front of her. Sitting next to her is a man in his twenties, leaning on the woman’s shoulder. This is BB.

BB
So, what are you going to write?

(The woman ignores him and places her fingers over the keyboard.)

BB
(poking her arm) Oooh ooh you could suck at screenwriting again!

WOMAN
Ssshhh.

BB
Or you could suck at poetry. You haven’t tried writing a poem in a while.

(BB begins chewing on the Woman’s arm, speaking as he bites her. The woman attempts to type, trying to ignore BB.)

BB
You used to be such a prolific poet. (with a dramatic sigh) Truly. You used to write poetry all the time. Remember the days when you would have at least a dozen drafts of poems on your computer? At any given time? (BB starts poking the woman in addition to biting her.) Can you even really call yourself a poet if you haven’t written a poem in months? How often do you have to write poetry to call yourself a poet?

WOMAN
(pushing BB away) I’m trying to work.

BB
On what?

WOMAN
I’m…writing.

BB
(imitating her) “I’m…uh…writing.” “I’m uh…BIG PAUSE…writing.” Why the big pause, sister?

WOMAN
You’re distracting me.

BB
La la la.

WOMAN
I’m writing an essay.

BB
Oh, like Lena Dunham? She’s an essayist. What are you writing about?

WOMAN
The confusion of dating in your twenties.

BB
Oh. (sympathetically—breaking the bad news) I think Lena Dunham already wrote about that. And kind of…better? Like she was better at it? Than you?

(The Woman sighs)

WOMAN
(almost a rote recitation, a mantra) I don’t have to be Lena Dunham. I can have my own perspective. It doesn’t matter if someone else already wrote about something. The thing that’s unique is my voice.

(BB shrugs and puts his hands in the air, as if to say “your funeral.” The Woman types in silence for a few minutes, while BB attempts to entertain himself. But BB’s attention span is short. He watches the laptop screen, and can’t keep quiet.)

BB
I thought you said this was about dating in your twenties.

WOMAN
It is.

BB
Then why are you writing about being a teenager?

WOMAN
I’m setting things up. You don’t understand what the events in my twenties mean unless you have the teenage stories.

BB
But won’t people not understand the teenage stories unless they have the childhood stories?

(The Woman glares at BB, then glares at her laptop screen. Then she deletes everything. Time to start over.)

BB
Ooh ooh ooh! Get it girl, I love that attitude. You write that play! I just love it. You suck at playwrighting SO BAD, and you just do it anyway. You don’t even give a damn. You just do it. (thoughtfully) You know, it’s funny. You love theatre so much. You’ve dedicated so much of your life to it. It’s so funny that you can’t write a good play. Like, at all. Isn’t that funny? You’ve spent those 10,000 hours gaining all this expertise and you’re still shit at writing plays.

WOMAN
I’m ignoring you.

BB
(snuggling the woman aggressively) That’s okay. I’ll just be here.

(BB distractions gradually build—pulling her hair, licking her face, chewing on her arms, flicking her fingers, trying to close the laptop. BB is a toddler demanding attention. The Woman does her best to ignore BB’s distractions and tries to type, but it becomes increasingly difficult.)

BB
I don’t even know what you’re trying to write, but I can tell you right now, it’s not going to be as good as some of the other stuff you’ve written. But it SHOULD be. You really have no excuse. You should be improving all the time.

WOMAN
Be quiet.

BB
Every thing you write you should be better than the best thing you’ve ever written. That’s how growth happens, right?! What else is a $70,000 graduate degree in writing for? You know how to do this now, so there’s no way you can get away with failing.

WOMAN
Shut up!

BB
Write, girl! You’ve got to be the best! Hey, maybe if you write something good, your parents and teachers and friends will wish they were as good as you are.

(The Woman tries to cover her ears, but BB is prying her hands away so he can keep assaulting her with words)

WOMAN
Shut up!

BB
Keep trying harder. Write. Be the best writer. Be the best and no one will leave you. Your boyfriend doesn’t want to be with a failure. Your bosses don’t want you to suck. If you aren’t good at things, what reason do people have to love you? Be the best and no one will leave you. Be the best and no one will leave you. Be the best and no one will leave you. Be the best and no one will leave you.

(The Woman is reaching her breaking point, and BB’s assault reaches a fever pitch as he repeats:)

BB
Be the best and no one will leave you. Be the best and no one will leave you. Be the best and no one will leave you. Be the best and no one will leave you.

WOMAN
Hey!

(BB is startled out of his monologue. The Woman looks at BB for a long moment. He returns her gaze.)

WOMAN
Hey. We’re going to be okay.

BB
But what if someone leaves you?

(The Woman gives a small smile, then turns back to her laptop. BB makes a few attempts to distract her, but every time he does, the woman gives him a small gesture of affection—a pat, a squeeze, an acknowledgement.)

(And then she keeps typing.)

THE END

Monday, January 21, 2019

Non-synesthesia


SIGHT
My living room light is dimmer than I like. I like a bright room, sunlight streaming onto the carpet in warm columns from the windows. The dim light is hiding the atrocious state of my carpet, though, so perhaps there’s a benefit in that. This carpet is, at a conservative estimate, roughly 30 thousand years old. It hasn’t been professionally cleaned in at least four years. In the summer, goat’s head weed stickers get tracked in on my flip flops—I find them with my bare feet later. In the winter, it’s leaves and snow.

The room as a whole has a warm feeling…greens and yellows. Plants and wood. Art…more art. There’s a lot of art. I’ve made this space my own, and although I’m getting antsy, I love how pleasant it is here, the white sheer curtains billowing from the vents, paint tubes and canvases spread across my work bench.

SOUND
My furnace starts up with a perfect octave. If I plunk it out on my iPhone piano keyboard, my memory tells me that it’s from B1 to B2. I’ll have to leave the app open and verify the next time the furnace comes on. (Update: It's Bb1 to Bb2.) It provides the kind of white noise my brain likes. The non-descript background hum that occupies one lane of my mental highway, so that there’s room to hear the other lanes. I have a hard time sleeping without it.

When the heat is off, I can hear the clock ticking. It’s something I rarely notice, but as soon as I do, it makes me crazy. It’s almost worse because it’s predictable. The clacking of the keys on my laptop keyboard as I type are somehow more soothing.

The walls (and ceilings and floors) of my apartment are thin. Someone just came down the stairs to start a load of laundry. The teenage boys in the apartment above me are yelling about their video games. Other neighbors chat as they come in from the cold outside. We’re only a fourplex, so although I don’t know everyone’s names, we all have an intimate knowledge of one another’s comings and goings.

SMELL
My nose is perpetually stuffy. My deviated septum creates inconvenient…crevices. So I can’t smell much at the moment. If I pay very very close attention, I can smell different parts of myself. The product I put in my hair. The musty smell of the socks I’m wearing. I can smell the dust of the quilt next to me on the couch.

TASTE
I taste water. Maybe a hint of salt at the corners of my lips. I wonder if I have a distinct taste, and just never noticed it because I’ve been tasting it my whole life. I’ll have the ask the next time I kiss.

TOUCH
My knees hurt. They had hurt from being curled under me as I sat cross-legged, but soon they’ll start hurting from being straightened out. I’ll switch back and forth until I get up and move, which will keep them from complaining about stiffness.

My toes are cold, just the way I like them. The rest of me could stand to be warmer, another thing I could remedy by getting up and moving. I had a goal of reaching 10,000 steps today—it’s 8:30 at night and I’m at 4,000. (In my defense, it was a holiday AND a snow day, so I stayed in for most of it.)

My clothing is soft on my skin. I’m getting hungry. I have to pee (as usual). There’s a warmth to my computer, sitting on my lap.

ADDITIONAL SENSES

Balance: Standard. No vertigo.

Acceleration: None. Unless you count the movement of the planet through space, but that's not unique to me personally.

Proprioception: Normal function. I know where all of my limbs currently are.

Pain: See note about my knees.

Sexual Stimulation: Absent (at present--may change based on what happens in the next episode of Game of Thrones).

Time: It feels like roughly 9 o’clock. (I guessed before looking at the clock—it’s 8:43, so I was pretty close!)

Gravity: Standard for my current location in the universe (stationary, on earth, 9.80665 m/s).

Direction/Location: Currently stationary, a few feet off the ground, facing south southeast.

Echolocation: Undeveloped. (Humans can learn to do this! But I don’t know how to do this.)

Electroreception: Undeveloped. (I’m not a wizard.)

Magnetoreception: Maybe this is how I knew I was facing south southeast. (I think it’s more likely that I simply know which way my apartment windows face, though. I’m not a bee, a bird, or a cow. Also see the note about me not being a wizard.)

Hygroreception: It’s dry here.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Hardcore Handicrafts

Okay, so part of this entry is a shameless plug. I just opened an Etsy shop of subversive cross stitches and I want everyone to buy things from it. BUT, I also wanted to talk about the kick-ass history of “craftivism,” and of people (especially women) using traditionally feminine art forms to make their voices heard. Because it’s pretty rad. So here.

Three Awesome Ways That Crafting Has Been Used To Fight “The Man”:

1. Allowing people to take economics (and politics) into their own hands.

During the American Revolution, women often made their own clothes and spun their own yarn, but not necessarily just because it was the 1700s. You could buy clothes and yarn in shops all over America, but here’s the kicker—they were all British imports. By making their own cloths, yarn, and textile goods, women were hitting England where it hurt most…its pocketbook. It was just one more way Americans were declaring their independence.


Mahatma Gandhi used a similar tactic during India’s fight for independence. He encouraged the people of India to spin their own thread, rather than buying it from British imperialists. But for Gandhi, the spinning wheel was also a powerful symbol of claiming power non-violently. The act of spinning itself was meditative, and it was a way to show that the people of India could be self-sufficient. By spinning their own thread, they were both hitting British pocketbooks, and sending the message that Britain wasn’t needed. (This is why India’s flag features a spinning wheel.)

And as the punk rock scene (and then like, a bunch of other scenes) has been showing us for decades, making your own stuff is a way to fight corporate greed. It keeps money in the hands of individuals and small business owners, printing T-shirts in basements and hand-drawing posters. If you disagree with the way that large corporations are run, making your own promotional materials is a pretty rad way to show those large corporations that you don’t need them.

2. Giving people a safe place to gather for political meetings.

Who would suspect a group of women gathered in a parlor, knitting socks and hemming quilt squares? It’s just women’s work. Surely they just talk of hats and recipes, not anything radical like the abolition of slavery! Well, joke’s on you, Patriarchy, because that’s exactly what women did for decades. It was difficult, if not impossible, for a woman in the 1800s to host a meeting of abolitionists in her home. Nor could they easily meet elsewhere, without ruining reputation and having to fight sexism ON TOP of racism.

But women found that when they gathered to spin thread, or quilt, or knit, or crochet, or do embroidery, they were left alone. So they used those opportunities to make plans, discuss activism, and create change.

Eventually, these groups started using their handicrafts to raise money for anti-slavery efforts, and began including poems and images to further their cause.

3. Make powerful political statements.

There are so many awesome examples of this, but here are a few of my favorites.

WOMANHOUSE
In late 1971, two female art teachers got real tired of women not being taken seriously in the art world. So they set up a “room of their own” by renovating a California mansion and inviting a bunch of women artists to create installations and performance pieces highlighting women’s experiences. They took a traditionally female space (“the home”) and filled it with all of this thought-provoking feminist art.

Faith Wilding’s “Crocheted Environment,” which is this fascinating combination of a spiderweb and your grandmother’s comforting pillows.

THE AIDS QUILT
In the mid-1980s, activist Cleve Jones got the idea for a quilt of panels with names of those who had lost their lives to AIDS. The response was immediate and enormous, and in 1987, the finished quilt was displayed on the National Mall in Washington. It was the size of a football field and contained 1,920 panels. It was taken to cities throughout the U.S., where more panels were added as money was raised for AIDS research and care. Today, it contains more than 48,000 panels, and similar quilts have been created all over the world.



PUSSY HATS
I still don’t like talking about the November 2016 election and what it meant. But damn if women didn’t SHOW UP to say something about it a few months later. A couple of women in a crocheting class got to talking about their activism and created the now famous pink pussy hat, versions of which were worn by thousands of women across the country in January of 2017. It’s become a powerful symbol of owning womanhood and refusing to be silenced.




My own lil etsy shop ain’t quite the same as an AIDS quilt or installation piece in a Victorian mansion. But I love feeling connected to all of the folks who’ve come before me, needle and thread in hand, ready to change the world. Athena may be the ancient Greek goddess of weaving and handicrafts, but damn if she ain’t the goddess of war, too.



Further reading
Buzzfeed: History of Craftivism
The Woven Road
Medium: Craft's Long History In Radical Protest Movements
Lithub: Ancient Origins of Feminist Craftivism
Timeline: Craftivism, Art, Women
PBS: Knitting Activism
Time: Craftivism Protest
The Wire: Ghandi and the Spinning Wheel
Womanhouse
Aids Memorial Quilt
Pussy Hat Project

Monday, December 24, 2018

Collaborative escapes

(Today's blog entry is a collaborative short story, written a few paragraphs at a time with Beckah, and then edited together. It is not Christmas-themed, despite the holiday. We used this "random plot generator" and got the following prompt: "A man in his early forties, who can be quite jealous. A young man in his late teens, who is very aggressive. The story begins on a train. A reunion takes place. It's a story about a countdown to disaster.")


The Escape

The train screeched and stuttered as it started. Devin breathed a sigh of relief as he collapsed into a seat. He rotated his arm, trying to work out the soreness in his shoulder. He had had to push past at least a dozen people to get onto this train.

He glanced again at the photo on his phone, still shrugging out the soreness. The photo showed a man in his early forties, gray just beginning to show at his temples. He wasn’t smiling, and there was something in his eyes, a fierce look, that made Devin uneasy. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he’d seen the man before, but couldn’t place him.

Either way, he didn’t have to worry about the man for another three days at least. There’s no way he could have followed him onto the train, and even if the man knew where Devin was going, it would take him at least that long to get there. Devin would figure out his next move in the city.

He leaned his head against the glass and watched everything speeding by. It was hot, the train car stuffy. He reached up and opened the window as wide as it would go, hoping a cool breeze would relieve the stale air. He sighed. He was finally able to take a moment to simply breathe. He had been living looking over one shoulder for so long that now that he had a moment to himself he felt suddenly exhausted. He closed his eyes.

He’d been playing “The Game” for four years. There were only a handful of them who had made it that long. It had been such a rush for the first few months—escaping, finding clues, forging alliances. He’d even betrayed a double agent or two. The pay was better than anything he could have imagined. He’d made a few hundred, even a few thousand dollars, by beta testing games before. Besides, reality sucked. But those were always video games, sitting in a room by himself and then sending an email after he’d played through. When he’d been offered this position, a beta player in the world’s first “real world” video game, for ten times the amount he had ever made, he said yes immediately. It didn’t occur to him that he wouldn’t be able to find a way back out of it.

After the noobs had been weeded out, the puzzles had become exponentially harder. The goals became more challenging. And more and more people dropped out because they got hurt.

And they had been seriously hurt. He was still nursing his shoulder injury, and that had happened nearly two months ago. There had even been some subtle rumors of people dying…brief mentions on forums and chat boards in hidden corners of the internet. But Devin couldn’t bring himself to believe it would ever get that far with him.

Someone brushed past him and sat heavily in the seat opposite. Devin ignored them and kept looking at his phone. But then he heard the quiet click of a pistol being cocked. He looked up.

It was the man from the photo.

Devin tensed up, his grip tightening on his phone. He glanced around, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. This man could shoot him right here, on this train, and no one would even notice.

“It’s about fucking time I found you,” the man said. His eyes held that intensely fierce look from the photo. Devin’s brow furrowed.

“What do you mean? What do you want?”

The man laughed. “What do I want?” He looked down at the ground for a moment. “I want a lot of things. I want to go back in time. I want to win the game. I want to shoot you in the face. I want Juniper to be on my side again.”

Devin frowned. “Who the hell is Juniper?”

The man’s eyes widened. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

Devin had one eye on the pistol in the man’s hand. He shook his head slowly.

“Early in the game,” the man said. “Maybe six months after it had started. An alliance. You, me, Roger, Quinn, and Juniper.”

Devin felt like corners of his memory were being nudged by the names, but he couldn’t recall the events they were attached to. He shrugged at the man.

“You goddamn selfish son of a bitch,” the man said, raising the muzzle of the gun a fraction.
Devin’s fists clenched.

“You know the rules,” Devin barked. “You understand how it works. We’re all trying to win. Anyone else would have done the same to you and me if given the chance.”

“No, they wouldn’t have,” the man said softly. “They didn’t.”

The memories were edging back into his mind, names connected to details. He had never met anyone else in person, of course. They were all just names scattered across the net. It had made sense to make alliances back then, before the stakes were so high that it was a liability to trust anyone else. He remembered that there had been some sort of argument, and Juniper had taken Devin’s side, and the two of them had broken up the larger alliance. Their partnership only lasted a few weeks. Eventually, you’ve got to be on your own if you want to win. This man…

“Marcus,” Devin breathed. “Juniper made her choice.”

“And you made yours,” Marcus said. He was leaned forward in his seat, a spring about to uncoil. Devin’s eyes darted around the train car. It would be a struggle for Devin to escape. He tried to keep his voice calm.

“Juniper struck out on her own soon after…after everything, anyway. And you don’t see me on aiming a pistol at someone because I couldn’t look at my own shortcomings to see how they led me to be alone in all this.”

Marcus’ voice was a manic whisper now.

“I’ve never met a more self-centered, stuck-up kid in my goddamn life. You don’t even remember these people, do you? These people who saved you, protected you? Don’t you care about anyone but yourself, you little shit?!”

Devin held one hand up. “Calm down, man. We can—”

“Fuck you!”

Devin’s other hand raised into the air in a gesture of surrender. But Marcus was still furious. Devin knew he wasn’t going to be able to talk Marcus down from this. He was remembering Marcus’ quick intelligence and even quicker temper. His inability to keep things neutral, his lack of understanding of the importance of winning. How that importance was greater than anything else. s

Devin had been glad to be rid of him. He had been glad to forget him. But now he was forced to face that mistake head on. And he had nothing. He was sore and exhausted, caught on a moving train with someone who obviously wanted to kill him. Was the game really worth all this?

Suddenly the train slowed. Passengers glanced out their windows. They weren’t anywhere near the station—there were only fields and the occasional fence. Marcus turned his gaze towards the open window. There was some buzzy-sounding announcement over a loudspeaker about a delay.

The train jolted violently. The pistol clattered to the floor. Devin leaned forward quickly and scooped it up. He aimed it at Marcus as the train grinded to a full stop.

Marcus’ eyes narrowed.

Devin said nothing. He stood up, the gun aiming at Marcus’ stomach. The crowd on the train were chattering amongst themselves, milling about, speculating about the train’s sudden halt. Devin glanced up toward the open window, the darkness outside, the possibility of escape.

“It doesn’t matter if you shoot me,” Marcus said, his eyes flashing. Devin felt his stomach clench. “There’s nowhere to go. You can’t run from this.”

“There’s always someplace to go,” Devin replied coolly, and pulled the trigger.

The blast lingered in his ears, ringing with deafening clarity as he hoisted himself out of the train window, dropping the gun as he sprinted away into the darkness. He thought he could hear the other passengers shouting, but he didn’t look back. He thought he heard Marcus’ voice, startlingly close, “You can’t run. You can’t keep running.”

Devin didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Today I Love My Life For


Gratitude Journal: Excerpts and Explorations

Monday, January 8, 2018
Today I love my life for successfully flirting a good flirt.

It’s been an ongoing discussion between B and I. “What even is flirting?!” I demand. B has multiple (and very good) examples and explanations, none of which come naturally to me. I use B as my flirtation sounding board. “I have a thing for forearms,” I try. “Whose?” he says. “You’ve got to make it specific.” I’m astounded at the idea of just telling someone that I like their forearms. Just saying it. Outright.

Later that night, we’re sitting next to each other in the theatre, watching the other cast rehearse. I rest my head on his shoulder, in that friendly, cuddly way that we theatre people do. But after a few moments, I sit up and whisper, “You smell too good to sleep on.”

B stifles his laughter, then says, “THAT was a good flirt.” I make him high five me.

***

Thursday, April 12, 2018
Today I love my life for Patrick’s smile when I dropped my pen at rehearsal.

His words onstage are so full of life and it makes my spine hum. When he’s sitting offstage, he has this habit of taking his pencil and running it through his hair, up over his ears, along the sides of his head. A soothing habit.

I’m sitting across the room from him, and take my pencil and run it through my hair. Patrick is right, it does feel good. I look up and we make eye contact. I smile and run the pencil through my hair again. But it gets caught and clatters to the floor. I give him a sheepish look. And Patrick smiles, all the way from his chest to his eyes.

***

Friday, May 18, 2018
Today I love my life for listening to the rain while holding sleeping baby Michael.

Benjamin was almost two when Adele and Daniel moved here. And Nathan is almost two now. I’ve watched both of them learn to run, speak in longer sentences, ask questions that I don’t know how to answer.

But I only have a few short, precious months with Michael. The family will be in Arizona when he says his first words. I’ve been trying not to think about it.

Most of my memories of Michael will be of holding him while he sleeps, in the dim master bedroom, while Adele does the hundreds of other things she’s doing. His snuggled up warmth as we rock in the evening light.

Today, he’s asleep, his head against my chest in his moby wrap. We’re standing in a stranger’s kitchen, while Adele’s clear voice and the tones of her crystal singing bowls ring out from the other room. I’m here to hold the baby so that she can work uninterrupted.

Michael and I walk up and down, up and down the length of this kitchen. Something in his little baby self can tell when I’m not moving, and he stirs if I pause for too long. Outside, the rain comes pouring out of gutters, hits the wooden deck in soothing plunks, runs in rivulets down the windows. But there’s a stillness in it, too. In this moment, everything is still. I don’t have bills to pay or laundry to fold or work projects or auditions or lines to memorize. It’s just me and this rain, and Adele’s music, and this sweet baby boy sleeping with his head against my chest.

***

Saturday, August 4, 2018
Today I love my life for the hummingbird on the wire.

Oma and Opa have had the hummingbird feeder for at least 30 years. The guest shower has a window, chin-height, that looks right out onto it. I’m thinking about the autumn when I lived here, in 2008, when everything was falling apart, and the night when I was brushing my teeth at 2 or 3 in the morning, and some crazy bird sat outside that bathroom window and sang like it was welcoming the dawn. I wrote a poem about it—about that bird not giving a damn if it was the middle of the night and singing despite the darkness.

I glance out the window now, and see, in the morning light, a hummingbird circling the trees outside. And then it pauses in its frenzied flight, and lands neatly on the telephone wire above. Such a tiny thing. Hardly ever still. Its iridescent throat catches the light as it turns. It sits there for a full minute, a warm jewel in the sunlight. I watch it, feeling like everything is holding its breath, until it finally flies away.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Food vs. Fight or Flight


I hate the sound of people smacking their lips when they eat. For the first few months of marriage, I couldn’t eat in the same room as my husband. I couldn’t figure out how to explain how his lips smacking sent me into fits of barely concealed rage. For years, I imagined my sensitivity came from being raised in a home where table manners were strictly observed. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t talk with food in your mouth. Small bites. Elbows off the table, hands above the table. Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right. Cups on the right. Napkins folded neatly in your lap. Smacking lips while eating was a blatant disregard of the decorum that a social contract demanded. Even when my father was losing his hearing, and the sound of smacking lips wouldn’t have been an issue, he continued to eat as if at a state dinner, and we continued to follow his example.

Once, at a restaurant, a friend declared to the group that he hated it when people were overly strict about table manners. People shouldn’t have to try and be neat eaters, worrying about their bite sizes or chewing noises. “Just enjoy your food!” he said. I was instantly filled with horror. I took a deep breath and explained that if you do that and disregard manners, no one else at the table can enjoy THEIR food. It’s not arbitrary politeness. It’s evident of a deep consideration for the comfort of others.

Extended family gatherings are a source of deep stress for me. The elderly wheezes, the open-mouth chewing of in-laws. I eat through gritted teeth. How does one tell an entire family that the way they’re eating is horrifying, that it causes shudders to run up and down my spine, that it is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard? There’s no polite way to correct someone’s chewing without being a snobby asshole. So I just assumed I was a snobby asshole.

And then, years ago, I came across an article detailing a newly discovered neurological disorder. Misophonia. Hatred of sound. Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome. For those with the disease, there seems to be a heightened connection between the auditory system (the part of the brain that controls hearing) and the limbic system (the part of the brain that controls emotion). Sufferers report feelings of intense and immediate anxiety and rage upon hearing the “trigger sounds.” Common triggers include eating and chewing noises, breathing sounds, and repetitive sounds like pencil tapping.

There it was. Validation. I could post this article to social media. I could share it with extended family. I could explain it to friends. I’m not a snobby asshole. I’m a sufferer of a neurological disorder.

But the stupid thing, the really deeply stupid thing, is that no matter how many times I share this article, I will always be in situations where people continue to smack their lips when they eat. I’ll come up with an amusing anecdote about misophonia before a meal, a subtle diplomatic announcement that I will be filled with rage when manners are ignored, not because of strict social upbringing, but because my auditory and limbic systems are closely linked. People nod. “That’s interesting,” they say, as they continue to smack their lips wetly, breathing through their noses, their mouths wide. I can feel the muscles in my jaw tightening.

A friend who shares the disorder once described the feeling as “wanting to crawl out of my skin and stuff that skin down the offending person’s throat.” It’s not just annoyance. The feeling isn’t akin to someone cutting you off in traffic, or posting a political article you disagree with on social media. The feeling is disgust and anger swirled together and multiplied by 100. It’s projectile vomit plus someone stepping on your toes. It’s banging your funny bone in a sewer. It’s stepping on a lego that’s covered in slug slime.

It has nothing to do with WHO is doing the lip-smacking. It isn’t a moral judgment, or an indictment of someone’s upbringing. It’s just an abnormal connection between my frontal lobe and my anterior insular cortex causing a visceral reaction to stimuli.

The good news is that I’ve managed to develop some coping mechanisms. A little cognitive-behavioral therapy here, a little mindfulness there. I’ll leave the room in the most desperate situations. My symptoms tend to fluctuate, depending on general stress levels. But most of the time, when I hear lip-smacking, I feel like I’m eating a food I hate. I can survive it, but everything in my brain and body is shuddering.

So if I ever say something about how you’re eating, it’s not because I’m a snobby asshole. It’s because I want to stay in the room with you, even though my brain is screaming fight-or-flight warnings about chewing noises.




Further Reading:
Science Alert article
Harvard Health Publishing article
Science Daily article
Misophonia Online (resources for sufferers)

Monday, November 12, 2018

1667: What I've Learned from Six Years of NaNoWriMo


(What the hell is NaNoWriMo?! Click here.)

Most of these lessons apply specifically to writers, but there's probably something in here for everyone. I hope so, at least.

First of all, I don't like writing novels. That's an important thing I've learned. I love writing, but I'm not particularly good at writing novels, and also I don't particularly enjoy it. How the hell do people get to be good at writing novels?! I feel like I'm decent at poetry and creative non-fiction because I do it ALL THE TIME. Do novelists just write novels ALL THE TIME?! Anyway, novels are not my strong suit. I'm not a completely horrendous novelist, but I also don't enjoy it enough to practice at this point in my life/writing career. I value NaNoWriMo because I don't think I would have learned that about myself if I hadn't written three full manuscripts, and started three others.

Second of all, that daily word count goal is key. If I fall behind for even one day, I struggle to catch up. Fall behind for two days and I’m doomed. For some, this attitude is disastrous in the event that they fall behind. For me, it motivates me to not fall behind.

Third, 1,667 words are easier to write than 50,000. 50,000 words over 30 days is 1,667 words per day. And that’s totally manageable if you make the time for it. If you can set aside an hour per day, even in increments, you can totally write 1,667 words a day. If that still feels like too many, write 834 words twice a day.

Fourth, you can do hard things. This is a little trite, but the first year that I completed a NaNoWriMo novel, my greatest sense was one of exhausted accomplishment. I wrote a NOVEL. And as clich├ęd as it sounds, it was a good reminder to carry into other areas of my life. Need to build some shelves? You totally can, because you wrote a novel. Not sure how to play this role? You’ll figure it out, because you wrote a novel. Wanna go to grad school? You totally can, because YOU WROTE A NOVEL.

Fifth, there’s a difference between writer’s block and writer’s fatigue. Writer’s fatigue is when you know what to write, and you just don’t feel like writing it. In those times, the best solution is to take a break. Given the need to meet a daily word count, that break may not be longer than a few hours. But take the break and do something different for a minute. Writer’s block is when you don’t know what to write. Or worse yet, you think you could probably come up with something but you can’t hear any inspiration over the sound of your own inner critic.

Sixth, there will always be an inner critic. There will probably be multiple inner critics. These are the voices who scream from the corners that you don’t know what you’re doing and that all your writing is rubbish and that you should probably give up because nothing you write is original or even interesting and it’s definitely not good. Fortunately, those critics are almost always liars. Unfortunately, the best way to shut them up is to do the very thing they’re telling you not to, which is just to write. (If you're looking for some encouragement, I HIGHLY recommend looking through the archive of NaNoWriMo Pep Talks, wherein published writers give advice and encouragement. The pep talks written by John Green and Dave Eggers are two personal favorites.)

Seventh, just write. Write the memoir or the novel or the poem or the screenplay or the stage play or the radio drama or the narrative journalism or all of the above. The point of NaNoWriMo is to write the thing you’ve always been meaning to write but haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s to help you create a disciplined writing habit. It’s to help you get the words onto the page. Because you can take 50,000 words of a terrible novel and make a good novel out of them. (The way to write a good story is to write a bad story and then fix it.) You can’t take 50,000 words of nothing and make them into a good novel.

Eighth, you’re not a garbage human if you decide to resign from NaNoWriMo. This is especially true if you’re working two jobs, performing in one play, rehearsing for another, preparing an audition for a third, spending more than two hours per day commuting, and discovering that you don’t, in fact, enjoy writing novels. If NaNoWriMo isn’t making you a better or more disciplined writer, isn’t helping you meet your goals, and is in fact taking away from your ability to do well at meeting other goals, then you don’t have to do it. You may feel guilty for a day or two, but ultimately, feel much more at home continuing a blog challenge with your sister and writing poetry and the occasional essay. (When I say “you” in this section, I mean myself. I’m talking about myself.)

The last thing I've learned is that if you embark on this month-long folly, setting up a profile on the NaNoWriMo website is actually a really helpful tool. The pep talks and badges and forums are awesome. I highly recommend it. Both setting up a profile and doing NaNoWriMo.

(photo via)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Last night I dreamed that I was dreaming of you...


DREAM JOURNAL, EXCERPTS

Unknown Date
On a cruise ship with elaborate antique rooms. Kept hanging out with Shaun S, which upset Amy Schumer who was there and had a crush on him. Rescued Beckah W.

Unknown Date
We were performing “The Nerd,” but apparently just the highlights—the technical crew needed to end the show early because they had to go to a D&D supply store before it closed. So we just rushed through the scenes, sort of making up transitions, and then it became just weirdly improv-ed scenes that didn’t have anything to do with “The Nerd,” and then it was just a short-form improv show, with Andy K MC-ing from the booth. And it was kind of a bummer because Camilla M came all the way from England to see the show, and it was THAT SHOW that she saw.

December 11, 2017
Dreamed that I fell asleep at work and slept until almost 4, which meant I was late to meet Adele to help with the babies. On my way there I got distracted by a house made out of a giant pumpkin. It was an INCREDIBLE pumpkin house. I had no sense of what time it was.

February 22, 2018
I dreamed that Kacey S added an interpretive zombie dance number to the beginning of “Angels in America” (to symbolize...AIDS...?) and audience response was very poor but I couldn’t figure out how to tell him I thought we should cut it.

February 27, 2018
I was driving somewhere with Jacob C while the moon rose ENORMOUS over in the east. I kept trying to get him to look over at it, but he was too focused on driving. We arrived at a house where a bunch of friends lived together, mostly hiding under blankets. Noah K came over to show us the page of candy buttons he had made as a gift for his friend, the local homeless man. The candy looked like ibuprofen, but we told him it was a very thoughtful gift. A little while later, someone said something to me that I needed to write down, so I scribbled it onto the nearest thing, doodling a little bit as I talked to this person. I suddenly realized with horror that I had drawn all over Noah’s gift, and couldn’t figure out how to tell him that I accidentally ruined it. But it turned out that the homeless man had found and befriended a bear, so he didn’t need a gift to be happy.

February 28, 2018
I had my mom “cover my shift” at work so that I could go to a fancy restaurant for a casting call. After making prolonged eye contact, Robert Downey Jr selected me to play an improv game as part of the audition he was running for his sequel to “The Greatest Showman.” He didn’t give us much instruction, but I soon realized we were playing “Press Conference.” The game went well, and then I dashed off to meet my mom. It turned out that I hadn’t given HER much instruction, so she had stayed at the building until 9 pm, and didn’t lock up or set the alarm. I decided to try and get there ASAP to make sure everything was secure, but someone was borrowing my car, and my scooter was out of gas. So I had to wait until the next morning, and just hoped no one robbed the place. But when I got there, I walked in to find an elderly man sitting at my desk with a gun pointed at me, who said, “No funny business” and then gave me really confusing instructions about what he wanted me to do with the company’s money.

March 31, 2018
Daniel Radcliffe was attending BYU-Idaho, where he got free tuition because he had designed one of the buildings. But he kept tracking mud everywhere on campus, and girls were constantly slipping in it, much to his embarrassment.

April 19, 2018
Dreamed that I woke up to discover 800 unsolicited dick pics from Aaron Woodall.

May 23, 2018
Spent a long time trying to figure out how to work the old metal mechanical lawn mower at the Chapman’s farmhouse in Rexburg, before remembering that they have a riding lawnmower.

September 14, 2018
Helped An Other Theater Company host an “educational matinee” where we invited school kids to the theatre for a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. They all kept talking and coming in to the space before house opened, and when house did open, they kept talking, trying to move seats, and generally being disruptive. This finally culminated in the adults stopping the show at a climactic moment in the first scene, not to discipline the kids, but to complain to us that the theatre was too cold.

October 11, 2018
Had that nightmare where you realize that there's a class you've been enrolled in all semester that you haven't been attending, except this time I was supposed to be TEACHING the class, and I started to concoct an elaborate reason for my absences, which included (but was not limited to) the kidnapping of my sister.



image credit: 
unknown but it's awesome, even though it's visually more serious and mysterious than the contents of this blog entry are

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Oops!


Writing is difficult. It's ok. I get it. You don't have to feel bad! Just do a little better next time....

Your loving sister, Beckah

Monday, September 17, 2018

Anxiety Puzzles


It’s a full two weeks since Episode 31: Anxiety Attacks! of “Mormon and the Methhead” aired, but it’s taken me that long to gather and write my thoughts. (And I felt really good about them, and then I had a session with my therapist that made me think, “Huh, maybe I’m not the best person to be writing about this?!” But then I decided, “Screw it, I’ll share my thoughts anway.”)

If anxiety attacks are a puzzle to be figured out, then I’ll share the box my own anxiety puzzle came in, so you can look at the picture and see if it helps you figure out yours.

Disclaimer: I’ve figured out a lot of my own anxiety puzzle with the guidance of a few good books, several classes on psychology and brain function, lots of internet research, and hours and hours of therapy. But I’m no therapist myself. Take what resonates with you and discard the rest.

Okay.

Some Stuff About Brains: The Physical and The Mental

There are two elements to all emotions: the physical (the things happening in our bodies) and the mental (our thoughts).

The physical elements of anxiety happen to us because our dumb caveman brains are overly enthusiastic about keeping us safe. The oldest and deepest part of our brain has one job: KEEP HUMAN ALIVE. So if it senses a threat, it amps up cortisol and adrenaline, which would normally be super helpful if we actually had to fight, flight, or freeze. Those chemicals strengthen our muscles and heighten our awareness, in case we need to run away or throw a punch or stay still so a predator doesn't see or hear us.

Our brains are filtering through a ton of information from our senses all the time—smells, tastes, colors, microexpressions, movement, etc. In neurotypical brains, all of this information goes into the subconscious and gets sorted into “important” and “not important” information. If it notices that an important thing might be a danger, it sets off those fight/flight/freeze chemicals.

The problem is that our brains aren’t super great at detecting what’s an actual threat and what isn’t. It wants to KEEP HUMAN ALIVE. So sometimes it just “plays it safe,” and gives us that burst of chemicals just in case. And we end up with shortness of breath, muscle tension, increased heart rate, etc. even if we’re not in actual danger.

For people with anxiety, it’s like this: if one time you got food poisoning from a red apple, your brain now automatically assumes that anything red is poisonous. Which is not true, of course, but bless our brains for trying.

Also, this might sound a little “jiggy-woo-woo,” but sometimes we experience anxiety simply because we sense other people are. For example, empaths are people who are highly tuned in to the emotions of others. The scientific explanation is that they subconsciously tend to notice breathing and microexpressions and even the smells of other people, and mirror them. This makes sense—it’s a little gift from evolution. If someone near is us being threatened, it’s helpful for our brains to notice so that we can protect ourselves, too. So if we can’t find the trigger for our own anxiety, it might be because there isn’t one—we’re just picking up on someone else’s. The New Age-y explanation might use words like “frequency” or “vibration.” Some people “pick up” on those frequencies. And sometimes all of this happens in our conscious minds, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Which brings me to the second element of anxiety: our thoughts. These are all the things going on in the conscious mind. Most people have a sort of “inner monologue” going on—it’s like that deep, threat-finding part of the brain is whispering a bunch of warnings to us. But it does it in first person because it’s an asshole. Everyone’s inner monologue is different, and it’s not like hearing voices, but it may say things like, “What if I lose my job? What if no one loves me? He probably doesn’t think I’m funny. She probably thinks I’m a slut. I’m messing up as a parent.”

So if anxiety has both a physical and mental elements, then for most people, the trick to combating anxiety is to interrupt the physical pattern AND interrupt the thought pattern.

Interrupting the Physical Pattern

There are a lot of different ways to help your body calm the hell down. (These are also helpful if you tend to “disassociate” or have the sensation of “leaving your body” in stressful situations.) Here are a few ideas:

1. Breathing.
There are tons of different breathing exercises you can do to help you bring your body back to stasis. A simple one is breathing in through the nose for 3 counts, holding for 3 counts, breathing out of the mouth for 6 counts, holding for 3 counts, and repeating. Or you could simply take a moment and notice your breath. Just pay attention to it, whatever it’s doing.

2. Do something physical.
Give your body some strong sensory information that it has to process. Run your fingers over the teeth of a comb, toss something from one hand to the other, take off your shoes. Stand up and stretch. Dance. Paint.

3. Tune in to your senses.
Take a moment and be still in whatever room you’re in. Then name 3 things you see, 3 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 3 things you smell.

4. Bilateral stimulation.
This is a fancy word for any rhythmic back-and-forth movement between the left and right sides of the body. Walking left, right, left, right. Or tapping your thighs, left, right, left, right. For some reason, this helps calm the nervous system. Therapists use this in a type of treatment called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). When your body is experiencing this left-right stimulation, it’s easier to deal with distressing thoughts.

Interrupting the Mental Pattern

The actual scientific name for this is “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” or CBT. It basically has 2 steps: identifying the malicious thoughts and countering them with different thoughts. (For a great resource on this, I highly recommend The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Changed my life, and I mean that literally.) Identifying thoughts just takes some practice. Countering them is having statements at the ready to keep those thoughts from spiraling. The best counter-statements are positive statements that directly address the malicious thoughts.

You’re basically using your conscious brain to talk back to that inner monologue. For example, here are some common thoughts people have in times of anxiety, and some counter-statements.

Anxiety thought: OMG WHAT THE HELL I’M FREAKING OUT.
Counter statement: This will be over soon. My body is just doing its job.

Anxiety thought: WHAT IF I LOSE MY JOB?!
Counter statement: I will always be able to find work.

Anxiety thought: I’M MESSING UP AS A PARENT.
Counter statement: I’m doing the best I can. My kids will figure things out, just as I figured things out.

Anxiety thought: THIS IS NOT WHO I AM I AM STRONGER THAN THIS.
Counter statement: This is something I am experiencing and it will be okay. There will always be people who love me.

The ultimate counter-statement is “I can handle it.” Because really, at the heart of every single fear we have is the fear “I won’t be able to handle it.” (That bit of wisdom is from another great book with a cheesy title, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.) You can write these things down, post them around your house, keep them in a card in your wallet. The more accessible, the better.

Additional Coping Strategy: Being Zen About It

I’ve been hella into mindfulness lately. The basic idea behind mindfulness is to simply tune in and observe your experience and the world around you, without judgment, without trying to change anything about it. To practice just being in the moment. You can picture your thoughts as cars on a street, and you’re just watching them drive by. You may be tempted to run out and intervene, or get interested in where they’re going, but you can practice just watching them pass by.

And it does take PRACTICE. But there are a bajillion apps and books and audiobooks and websites and classes and resources to help you learn and practice. (I recommend the app Headspace—I’m a big fan.)

I was in a group therapy session once where someone shared the advice to keep your mind and your ass in the same room. It was a pithy way of saying that it’s good to reflect on the past, and it’s good to plan for the future, but sometimes you have to stop and say to yourself, “Hey what room is your ass in?” (A Noodles & Company in Salt Lake City.) “ Okay, now get your mind in the same room.” (Mindfulness exercises ensue.)

Final Thoughts

If you’re having trouble with shame surrounding anxiety, you can think of it as a purely chemical reaction. Just as people with diabetes have bodies that don’t make enough insulin, your body makes too much cortisol and adrenaline. You don’t have control over it, just like people with diabetes don’t have control over how much insulin they produce. Emotions like anxiety aren’t necessarily good or bad. They just are.

For me, sometimes it’s also helpful to think of strong emotions as little kids. Sometimes they tug on our sleeves, ask for our attention, talk to us when we’re trying to do something else. And sometimes, we can turn to them and say, “Hey, I love you. You’re okay. I’m doing something else right now, so you can go play.” And they do. But sometimes they’re like “HEY I’M BLEEDING PLEASE HELP ME.” In those times, you can hit the pause button on whatever you’re doing, and do whatever self-care stuff you gotta do to get yourself back to equilibrium. This isn’t always possible in your circumstances, in which case, you can do a few of the above exercises until you have time to sit down and write or paint or run or do whatever it is you do to cope. (This analogy is also really helpful in difficult conversations, conflicts, or fights. Sometimes you gotta go take care of the emotional children before you can keep talking with a fellow grown up.)

If you want to plug all of this in to Jessa’s video game analogy/metaphor/theory/I-don’t-know-what-to-call-it, here’s how I’ve been thinking of it. Jessa said that our bodies—the avatars we’re using to play this game—have their own artificial intelligence. That’s the part of the brain that’s running the program KEEP HUMAN ALIVE. Which totally makes sense. We can’t play the game if we’re dead. That AI is the thing releasing those anxiety chemicals, and it’s just running its program.

But we, our highest selves, can run programs as well. We can run ADJUST BREATHING or MINDFULNESS or SELF-CARE. It doesn’t change the fact that our overprotective AI is gonna keep running KEEP HUMAN ALIVE. We actually do want it to run that program. But when it interrupts our lives, it’s helpful to have a few programs of our own.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Upon Reflection of 33 Years

What was the best part of this last year? 
Meeting and starting to date Patrick.

What was the hardest part of this last year? 
There was a period of time in January/February that was really hard, for a lot of reasons.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year? 
Continuing to get to know Patrick, theatrical and other acting projects, continuing to learn and grow.

What do you want to work on during this next year? 
Finding greater balance between kindness towards others and kindness towards myself.