Tuesday, September 30, 2014


It seems to take me an inordinately long time to ramp up to the fall schedule. Why this should be, I don't know; I have fewer kids around now, and the ones that I have are (with one exception) self-transporting. To me this clearly says Motivation Issue. But that's boring. I mean, what mom of many doesn't have Motivation Issues?

And then I had to do some new things -- things new to me -- and suddenly I found myself "in the flow" as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say. It's as if my emotional metabolism ramped up by a factor of two or three.

I guess the thing about "new" is that it can fill up your rut to overflowing, lifting you out.

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That's not the only option, of course. When your rut is overflowing you can always dig it deeper, to accommodate the additional stuff coming in. Not advisable, in my opinion. But people do it.

Sometimes what's familiar (even if it hurts you) is preferred to changing (which is scary). When Big Guy was little I called this "hugging your pet porcupine". A pet porcupine rarely makes you feel better, though.

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Ruts are usually caused by routine: activities, when overdone; thought patterns, when left unchecked; ways of interacting with others that cause failure to thrive.

One of the things I do to keep myself from falling into self-created ruts is to ping my bubble frequently. You know which bubble I mean: the one I create by surrounding myself with like-minded people who suit my tastes and reinforce everything that's most palatable and familiar and non-threatening. I have to fight that bubble pretty actively, much more so now that we inhabit the internet as much as the tangible world.

I do think bubbles lead to ruts, because (assuming the inside surface of a bubble is iridescent, like the outside) they reflect an image of ourselves, slightly warped, back to us. And once the world is all about me... that's a major rut.

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My mother broke her knee yesterday. She fell in a parking lot, which is not the same as falling into a rut. So that's unrelated to the rest of this, except it is pulling on my heart, so I wrote it here. She has been looking forward to a trip to the small town in Illinois where she grew up, looking forward to seeing childhood friends. It's doubtful that will happen now. I am hopeful it will happen later, after the surgery and physical therapy and recovery. I am hopeful that she is not in too much pain. I am hopeful this will not be too great a strain on my father. If you are a praying person, please add Joan and Steve to your prayer list.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I went to hear Twyla Tharp speak last week. I came away thinking, "That woman is fearless."

I'm sure she's not. She's driven, which is a different thing. When you're driven toward a goal, things that might otherwise feel like sinkholes are easier to see as the bumps in the road they really are. Whatever Twyla Tharp's fears are, she can drive through most of them. And whatever Twyla Tharp's fears are, they seem invisible to me because they aren't the same as mine. We're driven by (and to) different things.

Then again, I think she probably drives faster. And harder.

As the lecture broke up and I was walking toward the door, a student behind me commented to a friend, "It's interesting how differently people of that generation think. We feel our way through, spending time pondering all the possibilities. She sees her goal and just goes toward it."

I doubt that's a generational thing. That's a meet-a-creative-genius thing. Still, the how-I-feel-about-it aspect of life does get overemphasized today. During the Q&A someone asked, "How do you work through the times when you need down time?"

Twyla blinked, as if trying to comprehend this, then said briskly, "I am always working. If I get up and don't feel like working, I work anyway. Because, you know, I might feel like working the next day, and that's what you do if you want to stay in shape."

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Last week I chatted with a woman from my building on the subway. I am not sure exactly what we were talking about. Life, in a general way.

At one point I mentioned that I'd read that a lot of people don't like to rent to actors, because of the perception that their income is unstable. Yet actors are really, really good at scrambling for jobs, and they know how to patchwork a subsistence together. This gives them a huge advantage in times of economic insecurity. You'd probably be better off renting to a resourceful actor than to a middle manager in a big firm, because if the middle manager loses his or her job, it's a crisis. The salaried person often doesn't know how to cope with not having a regular paycheck.

So the question is: does security=steady paycheck? Or does security=ability to scramble and pay the rent if you lose your job?

Is it what you already have that makes you safe... or your resilience and adaptability?

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The discussion of security led to other things, and at one point my interlocutor paused and said, as if to herself, "I think I have a lower tolerance for discomfort than other people."

Her voice held regret; she clearly felt she'd missed out on important things because she'd moved away from difficulties too quickly. The A Train was not the place for a discussion about how tolerance for discomfort is something one builds rather than carries in one's DNA -- it's work.

But I can think of two things that provide the motivation to do the hard work of overcoming fears:

1) You become so sick-to-death of the limitations your fears impose that you're willing to put in the effort to change, or

2) You are so passionate about something that you plow through the rough stuff because it lies in the way of progress.

Generally speaking, passion for something bigger that yourself is the more compelling path. Just sayin'.

But it's still work.