June 2016 archive

Marshmallows

marshmellowFor the past month, since we became a single (read: tiny) income family building a new business, newly married, and watching all our money fly away, I’ve received the same message almost every single day: change your thoughts, change your life. It’s come in the form of other blogs, newsletters, podcasts, random Facebook posts, prayer group, tv shows, movies, random people in the grocery store…the message has been persistent. And consistent…ly annoying the shit out of me.
I’m woo-woo. I’m a spiritual-thinker. Unless, of course, it’s me that is going through a poop-storm. Then, most of my woo-woo goes bye-bye and I get depressed and terrified. This experience has been no different, interspersed with plenty of joy and laughter and encouraging moments. But the woo-woo hasn’t really served me well lately, hence I’ve ignored the obvious sign that it’s fairly important for me to change my thinking.

Then today…science. Science gave me the message again, only this time, in a SCIENCY way. And I heard it differently.

Remember the Marshmallow Test? Created by psychologist Walter Mischel, a few marshmallows were set on a table in front of a young person (maybe 4 or 5 years) in an empty room. The children were told if they waited to eat the marshmallows until the adult came back into the room, they’d get EXTRA marshmallows. The study was repeated hundreds of times, all in an effort to correlate the delay of gratification with success: if you can control yourself, you’ll be successful in life. The kids that waited would go to college, the ones that gobbled up the marshmallows would not.
But ironically, this was not at all what Mr. Mischel expected people to take from the study. Because the study itself is rarely explained in its entirety…
No, Mr. Mischel had another set of children in the experiment. This set of kids were the entire POINT of his studies, but were usually left out of the anecdotal evidence. These children were also sat in a room, with a table, and lots of marshmallows. They were also told to wait until the adult came back into the room before eating the marshmallows. BUT. Before the adult left, he or she would make a suggestion, such as, “You can just pretend the marshmallows aren’t there until I get back. You can pretend they’re just a picture.”
Guess what? Not only did the number of children who delay gratification increase, the length of time they COULD delay gratification tripled, from 5 minutes to 15 minutes.

Why?

Because Mr. Mischel changed the way the children could choose to interpret the situation. There was an option besides, “This sucks and I’m going to have to white-knuckle this ish.” He taught them to re-frame it. Those aren’t marshmallows. Those are just pictures of marshmallows. “It showed the many ways people can change what they become and what they think. They aren’t defined by their own biographies…” Mr. Mischel explained. We humans are actually very flexible because we have these awesome things called brains that allows us to CHOOSE the thoughts we have (with the exception of mental illness).

But that’s not the moral that our culture drew. Our culture, and then the media for decades, defined it as, “The destiny of your future is in a marshmallow.” Your future is based on the cards you are dealt, the bad things that happen to you, how lucky you happen to get…
When in reality, Mr. Mischel wants us to get that our future is based on what we choose to think.

Which brings me back to the woo-woo…

The self-control Mr. Mischel was testing was not whether or not you could control your actions, but whether or not you could control your thoughts…
I have to change my thoughts. I am the only one in control of that. I am the only one with control of the things my brain thinks. And for being such a control freak, I’m totally dropping the ball when it comes to controlling my own thinks.
New goal: think 5 good things a day and reverse any negative/scary/anxiety-ridden thoughts into good ones, even if I don’t even believe myself. I’ve tried a bunch of other ways to control this situation, and none of them have worked…

“It’s not simply that life does things to us…we in turn do things to it.”
-Walter Mischel

Time to try doing things to life.

Orlando

I was in yearbook club after school when I was in sixth grade. The woman who led yearbook club was a math teacher, but she wasn’t my math teacher. I think that’s why I loved yearbook club so much: I got to be with a cool teacher I really liked, one who was young and hip, but not one who taught me geometry.

On one particular day in club, a day we’d been studying the presidents, someone brought up a conversation about presidents being killed. We were talking, at 11 and 12 years old, about what it would be like if our president was shot. Suddenly our yearbook club teacher looked up from her desk and asked, “Who was shot?” Only half-paying attention, I wondered if she thought perhaps our current president or someone else we knew was recently murdered and we were casually discussing it.
“President John F. Kennedy,” one of my girlfriends responded.
“Oh,” she said. “Good.”

I wanted to believe she meant, “Oh good, we’re not talking about something current…” But that’s not what she meant. She meant, “Oh good, I didn’t like his politics anyway. One less political representative I don’t agree with out of the way.”

“Good?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t understand…” she said to me, moving on to hand us a layout or something.

I vividly remember feeling shocked. How could someone say they’re GLAD someone else was shot?! Maybe…no, certainly…I was naive. But maybe I still am. I cannot believe that anyone would be glad that anyone else has died.
That was the first experience I ever had truly hearing hate. Not, “I hate cleaning my room” hate. True, passionate, I’m-glad-he’s-dead hate. In that case, it was a matter of Democrats and Republicans. This weekend, it was a matter of gay and straight. But truly, the sentiment was the same: us and them.

Last night, as almost a “Fuck you, we’re still going to sing”, I attended a Tony Awards viewing party with all my friends. (As many of you know, I was a theatre actress for many years.) I watched with a full heart a room full of new, old, young, seasoned, black, white, Japanese, Jewish, gay, straight, scantily clad and WHAT ARE YOU WEARING actors honoring each other. This is the community I grew up in. This is probably what made me so naive. I never saw another way to be except to accept those around me, just as they were.
Perhaps theatre is different. Many of us turned to theatre because we had a burning passion we couldn’t survive without stoking. We didn’t care if we were Drama Club Nerds or mocked by our peers. Truly, we didn’t. And never once did we look at each other and feel disdain for anything anyone else was. We learned early on that it didn’t matter if we got the lead, a part in the chorus, or if we were working backstage. Because the picture was bigger. We were working together to create something new; each person integral to the movement of the whole.

Sunday morning hit me the same way that yearbook club teacher did: how could you think that? I will never, ever, never understand that there truly are people in the world that don’t see the bigger thing we’re creating. They miss the fact that each of us is integral, that we were each chosen to be here to play our part. And that it literally does not matter if you’ve just won your second Tony award or if you’ve just written your 900th blog post that only your friends and family will read. There is no score, there is no separation. There is no hate.

I have no idea what happened to the yearbook club teacher. I stopped going to club and moved on to seventh grade without saying goodbye to her. I wasn’t mad at her. I was scared of her, scared of how easily she celebrated hate. I don’t care if you support gun control, Trump or Clinton, I don’t care who you choose to sleep with and whether or not you agree with anybody else. I don’t hate you, and I won’t ever hate you. I won’t wish you dead and I won’t celebrate the bad things that happen to you. I just won’t. I may not love you, or even like you very much. But I refuse to spend even a second of my life emulating the man that shot 50 people for being different from him.

I hope you don’t either, in any sense, any capacity, ever find yourself hating people for being different from you.

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Thank You – A Stream-of-Consciousness Rant

I am a good person. I am. I’ll say it out loud without a shred of modesty. I care about people, I give, I receive, I contribute, I honor, I serve. I laugh at jokes that aren’t funny.
I’m also a person. A human one. Which is why I’m looking around on a daily basis asking, “WTF? Bad things should NOT happen to me or the people I love because I AM A GOOD HUMAN PERSON.”
I didn’t get the job. After Bear lost his job, my interviewers cited my lack of experience as it relates to the position, which to me means that I haven’t worked outside the home in almost 6 years, so I’m lookin’ like a risk… That job, while still a few months off, would have offered us such stability. It would have been a beacon. “Just hold on until August.” We would have had a mantra. At the very least…a mantra.
It is so damn easy to lose your faith when God doesn’t give you what you want when you want it. I mean…I pray. I meditate. So…why can’t I haaaaaave it?
Why do we have to be staring down our rising debt and our withering savings after FINALLY getting to a place where we were financially stable after buying our first (and, god-willing, last) home?
Why did we have to get married (and pay for it) in the middle of this gaping hole in income?
Why does starting our own business cost so much freaking money?!

I’ll be totally honest…I’m feeling pretty blame-y. There have been people and things we welcomed into our lives that have hurt us, literally stolen from us, and changed what should have been a beautiful time to a terrifying (for me) time. And I’m mad at those people and things. I BLAME them.
And, of course, that’s stupid. Blaming anyone or anything is a complete waste of time. So, starting now, I’m trying something different.

gee-thanksI’m going to try to start saying, “Thank you.”

Yes, yes, thank you for our house and our health and our love and our children, etc. etc. etc. But bigger, deeper, crappier…thank you for this experience.
Thank you for this stupid, I hate this, this sucks experience. Thank you for pushing us out in a boat towards the open sea and letting us drift so far from shore that we don’t even know when we might get home. Thank you for trusting us with this giant unknown.

I’m trying to give myself some space to be with the fear of the unknown. I’m trying not to run away from it with my constant need to work and move and do. (I’m failing a lot of the time.) I’m trying to go for a walk with the unknown so that I can be reminded that it wont actually kill me.

I’m sill fairly certain it’s going to kill me.

But still. Thank you for the experience. Thank you for what it’s here to teach me.
And please speed up the lesson. I am tired and I reeeeeeally want my husband to feel appreciated at work and my children to know that yes, we can go out to dinner instead of eating in again.
No, no. No, seriously. Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity. I am truly grateful.
(And stop it.)

I recognize that life’s big disappointments are just sign posts showing us a better way. I’ve had HUGE disappointments in my life, but they’ve all led me to the greatest love I’ve ever known. The pain and the fear are here to show us a different way. Right? Because if happiness and joy were the catalysts for ANY kind of reasonable and worthy change, we’d definitely choose those. But they aren’t. We stop touching the flame when it burns. We stop moving in certain direction when we’re scared.

Thank you for moving us. Thank you for using the fear and the disappointment to show us something better. We will find it, the “something better”, if we just keep moving. Or maybe if we stop moving. “Be still and know?”
I have no idea.
I mean, that’s just the truth.
I really have no idea…