Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Unbelievable

I feel like I've been too busy to breathe this past month.

The semester has started. (In case that wasn't already obvious.)

I've been trying to keep up with course prep (I'm thinking maybe teaching a totally new course again wasn't the best idea), while also trying to catch up with a bunch of unfinished applications and proposals and submissions.

Oh, and did I mention that I also keep discovering new things to apply for?

Yeah, that too. Gotta stop that.

Long story short, everything everywhere involves writing. Documents followed by documents followed by abstracts followed by cover letters... that kind of thing.

So when I do get a spare minute to exhale, I'm finding that the thought of ... writing... on the blog makes me feel nothing short of queasy.

But at the same time, the thought of not writing on the blog--again--makes me feel terribly guilty.

So today I figured I'd make a virtue of necessity and simply write about how unbelievable it is that I've been away from the blog for a month, after being so diligent for a while, and that maybe issuing that statement would help me get back on track.

I have a possible idea for a blog post later this week, so let's see if I stick with it.

My productivity tracking also fell by the wayside for a bit, because the start of the month was marked by a lot of errand-running and course-setup and things that, while they grease the wheels of the academic machinery and writing, aren't really things that make me feel particularly productive, per se.

But maybe I can combine a renewed commitment to the blog to a renewed effort to track my ... efforts.

I want to believe.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Scramble

The last week (or so) has been all about The Scramble.

Classes start next Tuesday, so... there's that.

I have a deadline of Sept. 1st for an article I plan to submit, and so far, it's going well (knock wood) but of course--OF COURSE--it is going far more slowly that I had planned and hoped.

I'm reminding myself that at least I had the good sense to set aside an article that I've been working on for a while now that is almost done, so that I could work on the one with the hard-and-fast deadline.

Because for a minute or two there, I had been telling myself that I "had" to finish the no-deadline, I-did-this-to-myself article before I could start the "due Sept. 1st" article.

Needless to say, that was just madness. So I set it aside and I'm reassuring myself that, when I finish the Sept. 1st article, the other article will "all but write itself" because I've "had time away" from it.

If believing that is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Like others, I've also been glued to the political news out there, but like others, I really don't want to talk about it. Fingers crossed, that's all I'll say about that.

So in essence, my time has been spent reading and writing, to such an extent that it's been easy to set other things like the blog--and exercise--aside (or at least try to set them aside), in deference to the unspoken terms of The Scramble.

But I'm trying not to, because I don't want to undo all of the good that I've done. There have been lots of new blog posts this summer, after a lengthy hiatus, and this is a good thing.

I've also signed up to do the Million Miles again this year during the month of September--it's to raise money for Alex's Lemonade Stand, a foundation that raises money for childhood cancer research.

If you'd like to donate, my team's page is here: any and all contributions, great or small, are greatly appreciated! 

I set a low mileage goal for myself this year, because I'm staring down the barrel at a busy semester, so didn't know what I'd be able to accomplish. I'm committed to doing at least 100 miles in the month of September, though--anything else will be gravy.

Right now, though, I'm scrambling, because even though I kept the garden quite limited this year, I'm staring at it and realizing that it's probably going to take more time to get that sorted than I actually have available.

I blame the weather. It's been horribly hot and humid, followed by entirely rainy, for so many days, that it becomes difficult to gauge when to do what.

And, looking at the weather forecast, I see that it's predicted to be 90 degrees again on the days that I have to teach next week.

Thanks a lot, Mother N.

Perfect weather for a mad, sweaty scramble.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Day After Vacay

I took about 10 days off and while it's always a bit sad to have to wind down a nice vacation, it's also true (for me at least) that I generally feel refreshed and ready when I return to work.

This vacation was no exception. There was all kinds of fun, including trips to a couple of spots I'd always wanted to see.

We spent a day in Salem, MA, and given all of the witchy-kitschy things there, I'm not sure you'd really want to spend more than a day sight-seeking there, unless you're into the dark arts, in which case (sorry, couldn't resist), there would be a lot more for you to see.

We visited the Jonathan Corwin house (pictured here at the left).

We also visited the House of the Seven Gables (pictured below).

Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace has also been relocated to the property, so we visited that as well.  


We spent some time at the Old Burying Ground and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.

Everyone should visit the latter. It's an important reminder of what happens when hysteria takes over and people lose sight of what they know to be true about their neighbors and the people they've known their entire lives.

We also took a day-trip to a place that I've always wanted to see--The New Bedford Whaling Museum.

(I'm not like the other girls, I know.)

I first heard about the museum when I was writing an article about Moby-Dick--a novel that I've always loved. (See above about not being like the other girls.)

So I've wanted to visit for some time, and luckily for me, my friends were down for it. They admitted afterward that it was interesting because it was unexpected--not something you would already know much about, and something worth learning more about because it is an important part of the history of New England.

We also visited the Mariner's Home, and the Seamen's Bethel, so I also got to see the famous cenotaphs mentioned in Moby Dick and the pulpit shaped like the prow of a ship (that's been added since the production of the 1956 film--Melville imagined the pulpit looked like the front of the ship, but at that time, it didn't).

My friends ate chowder. (I'm allergic to fish, so none for me.) We walked a lot, and then, we got up the next day and walked some more, touring Federal Hill in Providence and having a cannoli.

We went to Matunuck Beach when it was hot and all got a little bit of sunburn because we were having such a nice day.

The next day, because it was still hot, we went to Narragansett and ate gelato. 

We drove go-cart race cars and played air-hockey and miniature golf. We ate more ice cream.

We had a barbecue. When it rained, we went to the movies and we went bowling.  

In short, we had a perfect little vacation... except for the day when I didn't shut the fridge door all the way and came home to find that it was 75 degrees in my fridge... and it wouldn't start up again.

Turns out, that's a function of having a fridge with an auto defrost. We managed to problem-solve and get the thing going again, and I must say, I'm still filled with chilled relief every time I open the fridge and it's cold inside.

I also put my train ticket to Salem in a "safe place."

Never do that.

I eventually found it, but I think my friend thought she was going to have to put a paper bag over my mouth so I wouldn't hyperventilate. I'm a very tidy person, so randomly losing things is sort of my nightmare. (Again, see above about not being like the other girls.)

I'm sorry my vacation had to come to an end, but all in all, it was a great way to recharge my mental batteries and begin getting myself ready for the upcoming semester.

Where did the summer go? How can it be August already?

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Murky Middle

Lately, I've decided that being midway through a writing project is basically like biking (or running, or even walking) in heat, humidity, and a headwind.

When conditions are favorable--when the weather is cool, the humidity is low, and you've got the wind at your back--you can measure how far you've come, realize how far you still have to go, but decide "I can do it!"

You feel good about yourself, because you're tackling a challenge.

Heat, humidity, and a headwind change all of that.

Suddenly, it's as if you're working really hard and going absolutely nowhere. But by the time you're midway through the journey, you realize that you're simply too far along to turn back.

You have to see it through to the end, but the end really is nowhere in sight.

The light at the end of the tunnel? You raced towards what turned out to be a flickering flashlight--and then the batteries died.

A lot of people will say that the start of a project is difficult--"the blank screen!"--while others will argue that the ending is always problematic--"how to wrap it all up?!"

I say, the murky middle is the worst.

In Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics (2017), Joli Jensen devotes a chapter to the topic of "Working with Stalls"-- points in the writing process where the writer "encounter[s] unexpected stasis--a loss of writing momentum" (105).

Isn't that such a nice way of phrasing it? "Unexpected stasis." It sounds so... peaceful.

Jensen attributes such stalls to four types of problems: "writing lulls, psychic resistance, structural problems, and profound loathing" (105).

God knows we've all felt that last one, that's for sure.

In my experience, though, I've often encountered a writing dilemma that lies somewhere between an outright "stall" (although heaven knows I've had those too) and a situation that Jensen calls "finding the lost trail" ("when you've lost track of the path you thought you were on and can't see another route to follow" [86]).

In the experience I've encountered, you're not stalled: you're moving (writing).

And you're not lost. You basically know the path you more or less need to follow, and you're not in a panic, because you realize that there are probably multiple paths you could follow that would get you to your goal.

But in the murky middle, when heat, humidity, and a headwind set in, progress slows measurably.

Although you seem to be getting from point A to point B, you feel like the going is so slow that you begin to wonder if it's a sign that you really should just give up.

This morning, I woke up and knew that I needed to go for a bike ride. I knew it needed to be at least 20 miles, and I knew basically what path I would take and how long the ride would probably be.

And ye gods what a slog that ride turned out to be this morning. The humidity kicked in earlier than expected, and it felt like I was biking through lukewarm soup.

And the headwind, which you'd think would be a nice breezy option on a warm July morning, only made matters worse: it left me pedaling away but feeling as if I was getting absolutely nowhere.

Or getting somewhere so slowly that I might as well not be biking at all.

10 miles into a 20-mile ride, odds are, there's no return strategy that's going to be anything less than 10 more miles.

But on the bike, you can't give up. (This is where the good people who came up with the adage "the only way out is through!" nod and smile knowingly.)

When you're writing, you can. And many writers often do.

In fact, Jensen suggests that they may need to (particularly if they're experiencing a stall due to "profound loathing.")

But I say, keep moving through the murky middle. If you're not completely stalled, you're writing.

And that writing--slow as it may be--may turn out to be just what you needed to get back home. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Conflict

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash
I've been reading a lot lately about "high-conflict personalities" (HCP's).

I can't imagine why. (It's not like I watch the news or anything.)

One of the most prolific writers on the subject of HCP is Bill Eddy. A lawyer, therapist, and founder of The High Conflict Institute, Eddy notes that, although it seems that high-conflict personalities are most likely people with undiagnosed personality disorders--specifically, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, or antisocial personalities--the answer may not be quite so simple.

Yes, a HCP might very well be a result of a personality disorder. But research has also shown that people with high-conflict personalities differ from those who have a diagnosed personality disorder.

Not all people with personality disorders necessarily demonstrate the traits of a high-conflict personality. So it may be that HCP is a particular behavioral subset within personality disorders.

As Eddy notes, people with high-conflict personalities "can be rigid, angry, attacking, criticizing, lying, spreading rumors, manipulative, self-absorbed, attention-getting, self-sabotaging, and sometimes violent."

Someone with borderline personality disorder, for example, might also be a high-conflict personality.

But many individuals with borderline personality disorder are conflict avoidant, so their behavior is not consistently marked by the qualities that Eddy describes.

Similarly, people with narcissistic or histrionic personality disorder may have behaviors that often create conflict, but causing conflict is not their intention and if their needs are being met, they are not necessarily inclined to target someone else and instigate a problem.

In short, they aren't nearly always in conflict, all the time, with absolutely everyone or constantly spoiling for a fight of some sort, as high-conflict personalities seem to be.

Perhaps more importantly, people with diagnosed personality disorders can often, with therapy, gain insight into their behavior and find alternative ways of coping that reduce conflict. Some personality disorders are challenging and a bit resistant to treatment, but there have been advances in using things like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, that have shown a lot of progress in working with people with borderline personality disorder, for example, so there's reason for hope and optimism.

High-conflict personalities, however, are not inclined to seek treatment and seem to function a bit differently. As Gary Direnfeld summarizes, people with high-conflict personalities tend to demonstrate all-or-nothing thinking, an inability to regulate their emotions, a tendency to always blame others for their problems, and "extreme behaviors."

In short, the problem or conflict doesn't exist that they can't escalate and make a lot worse.

This is because high-conflict personalities are always seeking what Eddy refers to as a "Target of Blame."

It is also because those of us who encounter high-conflict personalities tend to respond to them in a way that strikes non-HCP's as helpful and logical.

We try to enlighten them. We point out the inherent problems in their behavior and the bad effect that it is having on us, on the HCPs themselves, and on the world around them.

We ask them why, in the name of all that's holy, they're behaving in the way that they are and explain to them that they seem to be a ... high conflict personality!

If (or when) you do this, you've sealed your fate. You are now on deck to become an HCP's "Target of Blame."

People with a high-conflict personality are defensive to an extreme. As Eddy argues, they appear to be guided by a kind of "MAD-ness," where "MAD" refers to a "Mistaken Assessment of Danger."

Depending on their inclination, they may fear being ignored, abandoned, betrayed, helpless/ dominated, or perceived as inferior. These fears appear to stem from childhood experiences (potentially, traumas) and have nothing to do, really, with the situation at hand.

This fear is what drives their (over-the-top, aggressive) responses to and behaviors toward the people around them.

As a result, as Eddy argues, the issue or conflict at hand is never really "the issue."

The issue is the nature of their (mistaken) fear and the behavior that it provokes.

If you say, "Ya know, you're kinda acting like a jerk...", you become the immediate problem in their eyes. It doesn't matter that yes, indeedy, they are definitely acting like a jerk and you're quite right about that.

You've identified yourself as someone inclined to betray, dominate, abandon, or ignore the HCP. And what you may regard as a helpful (if somewhat pointed or critical) suggestion will be processed as a threat.

And remember, they cannot regulate their own emotions, they lack insight or self-awareness, and they are inclined to respond in "extreme" ways.

So the psychological correctives in place for the rest of us--the fact that we can (and often will) tell ourselves things like, "maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing," or "Man, that pissed me off, but I think I need to calm down," and "I may be overreacting," or "this really isn't worth fighting about"--will not kick in for someone with a high-conflict personality.

Instead, they will behave "BAD-ly," wherein "BAD" refers to "Behavior that is Aggressively Defensive."

You will find yourself caught up in an (emotional, verbal, legal, cyber) maelstrom that is out of all proportion to the situation.

And it will become a conflict that never seems to reach a resolution.

So the goal (obviously) is to spot HCP's before you inadvertently do or say something that makes you a Target of Blame.

In Talking to Crazy, Mark Goulston argues that, if you want a rough-and-ready way of sorting out those among us who might have a serious psychological issue from those of us who are simply struggling, you should get the person to talk to you about a time when things didn't go their way.

Talk to them about something they regretted or circumstances that they found disappointing... and then pay attention to how they respond. Both what they say and how they say it.

Most of us will, when asked about such a situation, acknowledge at some point that, in some way, we bear some responsibility for what happened.

Or we'll indicate that we learned a valuable lesson from it. We'll indicate what we wished we'd done differently. We might even say that the disappointment turned out to be a good thing, in the end.

If the person simply blames others, insists on the general injustice of the world and their own status as victim, assumes no responsibility for what happened, and expresses no real regret for any bad outcomes... step away.

Don't go on that second date.

And bear in mind, their affect may not be angry. They may be inclined to cast it as a "woe is me" situation, but underneath it all, you need to be able to assess frankly whether they showed any sense of self-blame or self-awareness in their retrospective assessment of the situation. If they don't, you should keep your distance. 

If you can't avoid or keep some distance from the person (if, say, s/he is a co-worker or--heaven forbid!!-- a boss), then this post by Sarah Somerset offers some suggestions for moving forward while also protecting yourself.

Whatever you do, don't criticize or try to correct their perspective. Don't call attention to their "high conflict" relationship style or personality.

Instead, Eddy suggests, try to give them an EAR--where "EAR" refers to "Empathy, Attention, and Respect."

Recognize that the HCP's defensiveness, although it constitutes a mistaken assessment of danger, is a response to a very real feeling of fear, and that this is what is causing them to be over-the-top aggressive in their own self-defense.

Don't be dismissive or disrespectful of that fear. Try to imagine what it would be like if you felt that way, and how you would want to be treated in that moment.

At the same time, try to set limits early on. If you can do this in a way that allows the HCP to save face, all the better. The acronym to remember here is "BIFF": be Brief, Informative, Firm, and Friendly.

They can't really "hear" you or take in a lot of information right now because their hyper-defensiveness is (and may always be) clouding their judgment.

If you seem angry or hostile--even if you may very well have good reason to be--it will only escalate their feelings of fear and defensiveness. That's not what you want. (Really, it's not.)

So swallow your pride (if you can) and try to focus on what you do want: a conflict-free situation and life.

This means that if you can't avoid a high-conflict personality, the best you can do is not aggravate them or situate yourself in their cross-hairs. 

Which means that, as Somerset points out, you have to remind yourself not to respond emotionally and to take a step back: "be ready to disengage at any time," "change the subject," and/or "focus on the future."

As Direnfeld points out, you'll have to let go of any need to "set the record straight." At times, you may simply need to accept the fact that a high-conflict personality is not going to be happy with the outcome and that they may blame you for that. 

In such situations, as Eddy points out, the best you can do might simply be to limit the damage done and be at peace with yourself, recognizing that the person with a high-conflict personality isn't "inherently evil" just ... fearful and terribly unhappy.

You can't prevent that unhappiness. But at least you can say that you did your best not to add to it.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Nothing

All week long, I've been waiting for something--an event, an idea, something--to blog about.

And all week long... nothing.

They say "nothing comes from nothing." Hence the title of this post.

So what does a week of nothing involve in my world?

There's a little bit of writing. In particular, an article that seems to be inching its way towards completion. Not as quickly as I'd like (of course), but, as I said, inching.

Maybe millimetering at a couple of points, actually, if we're going to be totally honest here. Okay, just thinking about this is making me mentally hyperventilate, so I'm going to move on to the next bit of nothing.

There's a little bit of reading. I reread Elyn Sak's The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness (2007) during the heat-wave last week. It's still a really good book, in my opinion, and one I'd definitely recommend.

I also read a couple of books by Sarah Manguso: Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir (2009) and The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend (2013). I liked the former a bit better than the latter, but I found both of them to be interesting reading.

There's a little bit of yarn. If we're still trying to find the silver lining to the cloud that was having the credit card number stolen--and I suppose we are and we will be for some time to come--then it seems to be that it makes me highly reluctant to buy anything anymore.

This means that I'm showing much more commitment to finishing the various (okay, many) knitting projects than I've already started than to shopping for yarn so that I can randomly start new ones. This is a good thing.

There's a bit of biking. A couple of weeks ago, my very old sneakers died, so I decided to go out and buy shoes that are made for biking. (No, I'm not going clipless: for reasons that I explain here, I'm inclined to keep biking a recreational, enjoyable sport and thus not attach myself to the bike simply to be able to bike faster.)

I invested in mountain bike shoes, because I want shoes that I can actually walk in, if I need to. I don't bike terribly far, so being able to walk home is a nice option if you run into a problem with the bike itself.

Can I just say that, if you've been biking in regular sneakers and wondering how everyone else is able to go so fast, I'm here to tell you: it's the shoes. The soles are firmer and flatter, so it's like you're pressing down on a solid block, instead of pedaling with the ball of your foot.

Suffice to say, you'll go quite a bit faster when that happens.

There's some attentiveness to the environment. It's "Plastic Free July." If you don't know what that is, I blogged about it last year, and it's really worth doing. Or at least trying to do. Having done it for one month last year, I found that I spent the remainder of the ensuing year being very aware of how much (pointless) plastic is out there, and being mindful of what I can do to reduce my use of it--particularly of single-use plastic.

There's some attention to health. I stumbled on Mark Bittman's VB6 diet plan. It's been around for a while now: the idea is, you eat "vegan before 6 p.m." (hence, "VB6") and then for dinner, you can have what you want (in moderation).

In all honesty, I think I'm somewhat close to doing this already. But I'm also aware that I eat a lot of dairy during the day, so it might not hurt to try to scale back on that. So the plan is to give this basic concept a try--it's always easier to do a food-adjustment during the summer and see if it will "take" well enough for me to be able to maintain it once the more hectic pace of the semester begins.

So that's it for this week. A whole lotta... nothing.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Heated

As I'm sure everyone already knows by now, we've been in the middle of a little heat-wave here on the East Coast and at this point, I think pretty much everyone is looking forward to having it break sometime tomorrow.

I know I am.

I've been feeling a bit under the weather all week, and needless to say, this is not weather that anyone really wants to be ... under.

On the plus side, I'm not in one of the Mid-Atlantic states, where it's (always) hotter than here by the sea. I marvel at the fact that, for most of my life, I spent summers somewhere nowhere near the ocean--always inland, in NY or VT or NJ.

But somehow, I just knew: life is better by the water. And now, I can't fathom being asked to be somewhere where water isn't, especially during the hot summer months.

Winter, of course, can be a bit of a different story, but even then, you've just got to be prepared for a windy damp chill that settles into your very bones.

No prob. That's what knitting is for.

Speaking of which, I've been using the time over the past couple of weeks to catch up on the 2018 Temperature Blanket.

If you're wondering what kind of nut works on a blanket in a July heatwave, let me just take this moment to thank God I was born with the good sense to know enough to make it in 8 x 8 inch COTTON squares. Wool is just not what anyone needs right now.

So here it is, more or less completely up-to-date:


As you can see, the color scheme has changed with the weather--gone are those nice blues, greens, and silver (on the right-hand side of the photo) that marked things like snow and freezing temps and sub-zero windchills.

(I stared longingly at those squares this week: that's where it all began...)

Now, it's all about the yellows and orange and greens with the deep red of soaring summer temps soon to be added to the mix.

(And I'm sure I'll stare longingly at those squares this winter.)

I'm enjoying this project as a way of marking time. This week, I marveled aloud to Smokey (Juno and Freya were asleep in the other room), that it seems like just yesterday I had the Christmas tree up and was cooking a dinner to celebrate the holidays.

The time is just flying...