Wednesday, March 31, 2021

My 18 to 25

I will now cover specifics reiterating that I was already mostly formed, but did get reinforcement during my period of emerging adulthood. Some of it will sound familiar.

To recap, childhood had left me feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and then identified that issue as fatness, as well as reinforcing that no one wanted to hear about my problems. 

It also gave me great consolation in good books and good friends, and looking forward to a future where I could create my own happier family by getting married.

Early adolescence threw a wrench into that by showing me that boys could not like me, so how could I get married? Except that if what was wrong with me was my fatness then I just needed to lose weight and then my life and I would be perfect. Since I was still imperfect, I got very restless and kept trying to change things, besides multiple failed attempts to lose weight.

(I don't really sound that different from a lot of girls there, I know.)

As I was sensitive to pain, but couldn't believe that my own merited any attention, I focused a lot on helpfulness, which I tried to have compensate for everything that was wrong with me, including the fat. 

(I know I am saying "fat" a lot, but it played an outsized role in my self-image. There is no way of clarifying that won't sound like a pun.)

Just one year short of adulthood, my father disowned me, leaving me with a real hangup about driving and possibly some concentration issues.

My turning 18 was quickly followed by some disillusionment about how being smart and helpful was not going to get me any scholarships. I hadn't been doing it in the right way. That's a cultural capital issue, but I didn't understand that at the time.

I'd had this idea once that I would skip fall term of my freshman year of college to explore Europe via trains and hostels. Yeah, I did start college late, but I was just working retail so I could afford to go. 

I'd earned 51 college credits in high school, though there were some duplication issues. I ended up working summer and fall and attending winter and spring terms (while also working) for my first two years at the University of Oregon. In between that, I reconciled with my father.

Toward the end of my second year in college I was inspired to go on a mission. I finished spring term, then worked through January, and then went into the Missionary Training Center at the start of February.

When I came back (22 1/2) I started working to go back to school, but my father had been out of work for a while. He took a temporary job in another state, but there were some accumulated issues. My first paycheck went to pay part of the mortgage and replace some dining room chairs that were falling apart. I remember this feeling very disappointing. Maybe adulthood was not all it was cracked up to be.

I made it back to Eugene for Spring term. Then after having gone 18 months with no income and being old enough that parental income didn't count against me, I finally qualified for a student loan that meant I was able to attend fall term for the first time in my life. I finally got to go to football games! Because remember, I could understand football now, after I took the football coaching class.

While I was at that first fall term, my father left my mother. I remember her calling me crying shortly before I left for the homecoming game.

I wanted to run back home and comfort everyone, but everyone agreed that was the wrong thing to do. It was hard, though.

I had also gotten an opportunity to try out for the Jeopardy! College Championship. That was a few weeks after my father left. A couple of days before my father left, one of my dorm's Resident Advisors (we had two RAs) disappeared mountain climbing. We were still waiting for news when it was time to leave, but he was already dead. They didn't find the bodies until spring.

I remember looking out the plane window, and there was so much pain everywhere; I just wanted to get away, for fun. It felt like it had been a long time. I talked my mother and younger sisters into going to Disneyland for spring break. I let them set it up. 

That actually got a little stressful, because PCC's spring break was the week before U of O's. I was up all night before the flight typing up my final paper for my History of China class, and mailed it from the airport. However, then I had an extra week of vacation. 

That started the tradition of my sisters and I going to Disneyland together. They had to try with friends once to find out that I was more fun. That should have been so obvious, but they hadn't gotten the same disillusionment with friendship that I'd gotten. (Other thing that happened in there.)

I graduated, got a job, and started helping to take care of things. I learned a bit about how unfair employment law can be, but the job market was still good then, and I was doing all right. When I was 25 I landed at Intel, where I spent the next 11 years of my life in one capacity or another. Not long after that, I wrote my first novel. After multiple rejections, I didn't try writing anything commercial again for a while.

A little after that we started having more trouble with my father, but I would periodically smooth things over, and I had already learned some ways in which to not be like him, even if I had not yet recognized his impact on my self-image. I didn't get disowned again until I was 33.

I periodically went on dates, without specifically dating anyone, but of course I was still fat so that was to be expected. I did enjoy my gym membership and I felt good working out regularly; it just had no effect on my size.

Ultimately, I still didn't really trust anyone to like me.

I was putting others' needs before my own, and sometimes I would get frustrated with that, but I was generally okay. There was a lot to do, and I was mostly happy with it. 

The first real crisis -- and my next depression -- did not happen until I was 31, with the next happening at 36. Later the year 41 was pretty eventful, and something major did happen at 46, but I had never previously noticed a 5-year cycle. I mean, other things have happened that could have felt like crises, but didn't, so maybe it's just a matter of losing equanimity and then needing to re-gain it.

And this last phase is still ongoing, but we'll get to that.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Trauma in emerging adulthood

I mentioned in an earlier post wondering about the time period between 18 years old (the cut off for Adverse Childhood Experiences) and 25 years old (when your brain should finish maturing).

It turns out that the difference between a 17 year old and an 18 year old is mostly societal. There is additional growth and experience that happens all along until full brain maturity, but that is mostly what society allows and expects.

That changes. People in their mid-teens might already be working in previous times. There are concerns about millennials now because they have not hit the same milestones as previous generations at their ages, like marriage, parenthood, steady jobs, and home purchases. Different people blame different aspects, including the parents of millennials. 

If there are ways in which it is harder to feel like financial security is possible, so that increasing responsibility seems like a bad idea, that is going to affect many groups, and is worth looking at. Now, while much of the stability that existed before 2020 has evaporated... there's a lot to be looked at, though that is not the purpose of today's post.

I am mainly interested in the time period -- sometimes referred to as emerging adulthood -- because of two things that happened a long time ago.

One of them was Nancy Kerrigan getting clubbed in an effort to damage her Olympic hopes, which was in itself an effort to boost the chances of Tonya Harding.

(I have always believed she was hit in the knee, but Wikipedia says it was her lower right thigh. My guess is that the knee was intended, but missed, as a knee injury would have been much more devastating.)

The attack happened while I was on my mission, so I didn't really get the news at the time. I may have heard something, but my memories of it are something that happened later, probably relating to the legal proceedings. I remember people looking down on Kerrigan, criticizing her behavior after the attack and endlessly repeating two things she said that made her look nasty.

I might not even have remembered that, except that not long after -- when I was back home -- a friend of mine got hit by a car as he was boarding a bus. He had a full recovery, but his injuries were severe. 

There were emotional injuries too. He'd always had a pretty sunny disposition, but it took him a while to get over some bitterness. It is very possible that some of that was physical pain, but I strongly felt that it was mainly his sense of safety being taken away. 

He didn't have a car, so he rode the bus everywhere. I relate to that. It had been a safe and reliable form of transportation, and then suddenly it was all disrupted. It wasn't his fault or Tri-Met's fault, but one stranger who was being careless meant that all of that didn't matter. 

I remember it making me think of Nancy Kerrigan, and how much of a violation it must have seemed. She would have had so many skating practice sessions; finishing up and leaving practice would be so routine that you don't even think about it. Suddenly there is pain and doubts about your future and it would take a while to get over that. Maybe it would have been harder for being personal in her case.

What I decided at the time (so late 1994 or early 1995) is that when bad things happen to an adult, where you are pretty set in your ways, it throws you for a loop but you can recover. If it happens to a child -- still figuring out how the world works -- then there is a lot more danger in terms of how they will mature.

Kerrigan was 24 when it happened. I think my friend was 23. They survived, but they were not their best selves for a bit. I don't blame them.

It bothered me then that people were so quick to hold everything against Kerrigan, because, you know, if you have sympathy for her, that would mean she was milking it, I guess. Therefore, it is Harding who gets the movie where she is played by Margot Robbie.

Otherwise, without exploring that much further right now, it seems to me that society does an awful lot to maintain the ability of various people to inflict trauma while putting obstacles to healing in the path of traumatized people. 

If for some young adults, something that happens is the way they learn that life isn't fair, there are others who have always known, and don't have the option of not knowing.

And if we are ever going to address that, now as we try and recover from a global pandemic and a Trump presidency that is not a complete outlier in terms of global turns toward fascism and authoritarianism... 

I don't know when there is going to be a better time.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Let's hear it for dissociation!

Let's give dissociation a hand.

Yes, you should be hearing that to the tune of Deniece Williams.

Dissociation is a broad term for a break in how your mind handles information. I will mainly be referring to gaps in memory but that can also mean feelings of disconnection to creating new identities for handling trauma.

One of the surprising things for me this time has been the things that I don't remember. Obviously it makes sense that I focus on things that I remember, and on things that seem important, but noticing holes this time has been a little disturbing.

At the same time -- and this has mainly come through reading, rather than noticing it for myself -- I have learned to see the value in not always remembering everything.

It is not just that I read these books at all, but I believe that it was helpful that I read them so close together. There was synergy in doing that, which is even more impressive when you consider how much of that was dependent on how long it took for other library users to get through with them. 

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence -- From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Lewis Herman, 1992.

Rebuilding Shattered Lives: Treating Complex PTSD and Dissociative Disorders by James A. Chu, 1998.

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope, 1999.

First of all, let me only recommend Dr. Herman's -- the first -- book. Dr. Chu's book is really focused on treatment. Besides being very academic, I suspect it could be discouraging to patients as they read about ways in which they can be difficult. 

Then I found the yoga one very irritating. This philosophy will not work for me; I just want to be more bendy. 

And yet I learned things from all three of them. 

(My other note is that I sometimes say "disassociation". It kind of sounds more natural to me, but it is not standard use and I shouldn't be pushing for an extra syllable.)

Cope (appropriately named, at least) wrote about a balance between awareness and equanimity. As you increase your awareness of various things -- whether about the universe or your past or your motivations, hypothetically -- it can be a lot. You may need time to catch up before you learn more.

I don't believe he even mentioned that in the context of dissociation; that part was more about how sometimes you will feel like you need to rest, and you should listen to that instead of pushing on. However, because I was also reading about dissociation, and seeing how I would gain different insights at different times, it made sense. 

Previously I had thought of that strictly in terms of having more knowledge and experience, as if deeper intellectual capacity was the only need for deeper insight. It can also make sense that sometimes what you need most is more resilience, or more time away cushioning the blows, or a better support network.

The other thing that really hit hard was (I believe from Dr. Chu) that children will sometimes see themselves as "bad" because it is easier than accepting a parent as "bad". I don't know how much dissociation can protect your self-image, but there is a big wound that comes from not being able to rely on a parent. 

Most of the Adverse Childhood Experiences relate to a lack of parental support and stability. Your brain might try and protect you from that.

The other thing that was reassuring was from Dr. Herman, in the section of the book talking about groups, where it mentioned that recovering the memories does not tend to be an issue, once you are ready.

It came up in that section because often having a safe place to talk about it, and some reassurance that you were not the only one -- that there was not something exceptionally bad about you -- appears to be very helpful.

I mention this because I know that at least a few readers have things that they don't remember, and I hope it is comforting. 

I also mention it because I need to say that writing all of this out takes a toll on me. That I only blog about it for a few days each week helps, but also, if sometimes there are posts like this that are more detached and less personal, I do it to lay groundwork, but also for the rest.

I may at some point need more of a rest, where I write about movies for a week or I simply don't write at all for a week. I want to keep pushing through, but there could be snags, and I don't know. I am just putting that out there. 

But also, this is kind of a quiet week. I am going to write about something more observational tomorrow, and then about a time period that was not too heavy.

And I hope it will be educational.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Review retrospective: Black women rock!

In 2015, at least 170 of the daily songs were by Black women, plus one agender person.

It started because people kept mentioning various Black women artists. I noticed it more after I started doing music reviews. I had been taking notes, and I decided that February would be all songs by Black women. 

It was not merely that I had more than 28 days worth of notes, but also that the notes kept jogging other memories. Then when I would track one note or memory down I would find other things. 

For example, I remembered girl groups from the 60s. The Supremes were the most famous, but I remembered others; was I forgetting some? It wasn't so much that as that there were so many I had never heard of. I ended up including songs by 19 girl groups. Well, one of them had a man in the video who seemed to be a part of the group, but it didn't seem right to leave them out.

It was also more complicated than I thought. I tried to go in a kind of chronological order, but many of these women have had exceedingly long and varied careers. 

One example of that is Cissy Houston. I have always been told that Whitney Houston's mother was a gospel singer. Well, the Sweet Inspirations were the most religious of the girl groups, but I wanted a solo song too, and the first one I found sounded like disco to me. I'm not saying that she hasn't sung any gospel, but defining her as a gospel singer seems to overlook a lot.

2015 was probably the exact right year to do this. Selma started its wide theatrical release on January 9th (I wrote at least six posts on the movie alone) and then The Wiz Live! aired on December 3rd.

Ledisi was in my notes, but she was also in Selma. That alone would have made me review her (and did). 

Despite my attempts to cover everyone, I had not thought of nor posted a song from Stephanie Mills. Then people were talking about her because of The Wiz Live! in which she played Auntie Em, but also because she had played Dorothy in the original stage version, from whence she got her signature song, "Home". 

I had only seen the movie version, with Diana Ross, but then once I looked her up, she also had a Grammy winning hit single, "Never Knew Love Like This Before" from 1981. 

Yes, I'd heard that before. It had been a while and I had forgotten it, and I had never known her name, but yes, there was something familiar again.

The theme of that whole process really was that there is always more. There is more to remember, more to learn, and with so much variety there will be more that you love.

This was probably also the listening project that inspired the most reviews, though I will eventually review more of the Greatest Guitar and Emo bands. 

Regardless, just from going through and trying to give more Black women the song of the day, I ended up reviewing (in order) Ledisi, Leona Lewis, Fefe Dobson, Joan Armatrading, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Solange, Noname, Melba Liston, and Mary J. Blige

And even though it wasn't part of that, I did get around to reviewing Stephanie Mills.

And at the time I still did not know that Terrie Odabi, or Angélique Kidjo, or Lady A existed. If I were to do another big focus on celebrating Black women in song, I would have to include them now.

There are still artists that I should listen to more. I really should make a play list.

As it is, my greatest regret of that original post capturing the songs -- which has been an invaluable reference -- was the name: Musical Black Girls. I was kind of thinking about Black Girl Magic, and I remember thinking that "women" was better but that some of them were pretty young, and also sometimes it feels weird stating outright that you are making a distinction by race (though less so for me in 2021 than in 2015). And of course, a lot of the songs weren't rock... I worry too much.

It was still a good effort and I feel good about it.

Songs for the week:

“Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis -- I initially got most excited by her Christmas song, "One More Sleep", but this is good too.

“Drop The Pilot” by Joan Armatrading -- It was a fight with "Down to Zero" but this won.

“Throw It Away” by Abbey Lincoln -- This song has a lot of versions, but I think hers is the best.

“The Day I Found Myself” by Honey Cone -- I had not heard this one before, and it is pretty great.

“Everything” by Fefe Dobson -- I listened to my old favorites this time around, and realized I had forgotten this.

“Pieces of Me” by Ledisi -- So many years later, this is still such a beautiful song, with so much heart.

“I Decided” by Solange -- She had three songs that I absolutely had to use after reviewing her, but this is my favorite, and I think the most fun, with many of her other videos being exquisitely serious.

Related posts:

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/07/musical-black-girls.html

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Laying groundwork when you don't even know

I have mentioned some frustration with writing about my experiences when I was 6 and 14 and 17, because they were so familiar. That has not been the case with the mission stuff (21-22).

Perhaps because it is so new, it feels like the most illuminating. Those events were not as formative, but they help me understand the rest better. 

I suspect it is because they were not formative that I was not thinking of them on my own, but it is very helpful that they came up. How did that happen?

Back in 2015 I was going over some things, and I wrote out a list of Things to Do. One of them was transcribing my mission journal. 

I don't remember when I started feeling like I wanted to do that. I seem to remember it not having any particular logic. For some of the goals, I knew why they seemed like good ideas, or had an idea of what they might help and how.

It took a while to get there. I didn't actually get started until 2017. I made some progress, getting a few months in and adding copious footnotes.

Then my hard drive crashed.

I had hoped for a while that I could recover the data, but that isn't going to happen.

I have wondered whether I could just read the rest, or start typing from where I left off, so still going through the complete transcribing process, though not coming away with a full transcription. 

I am going to have to start over and complete it. I am not doing that now. 

It appears I have more things to learn. Therefore, at the end of this blogging series I will not yet be a perfect and perfectly emotionally healthy person. That is really disappointing.

I still believe that the amount I did brought up enough older memories that I got what I needed for this time around. That's pretty good.

It came from listening, once again reinforcing that I am not on my own in this. I am being guided.

I had thought this past week that maybe I could look some things up and get my memory jogged, but I wasn't finding the right places. 

I did find some more on that Christmas and being scolded by the elders, so at least here is an anecdote.

From the journal, I was short one hour on study, and my companions were short two hours each. I am pretty sure that happened because we'd had to leave early one day, thus getting up early, which made it reasonable to nap in the afternoon. Except back then, once I was up I was up, so I think I studied and made up one hour while they napped.

At the time, a normal day involved one hour of companion study, an hour of gospel study that included thirty minutes of reading in the Book of Mormon, and one hour of language study if you were not speaking your native language.

None of us were even missing a full day.

The elders - on the other hand - had not made their goal of teaching five lessons for the week. I think they got some push back on that, and that made them feel more need to put us in our place, except we refused to go in. That is from the journal, like even then I wrote that I thought they were just making a big deal about us because they had been chastised.

And yet, for all the times when criticism has brought me down, this couldn't. Those missing hours had all gone into spreading Christmas cheer, and we had been exhilarated with the things we were doing. I was riding on a high from that, and I had no regrets.

I still ultimately don't. 

I knew I was supposed to go on a mission. I have no regrets that I went. 

It would have been nice to not have this unexamined void of paternal approval and trust in my lovability, but did I want a completely different family? Who knows how I would have turned out then?

I am still ultimately happy with the life I have led. 

I do want to be better for what comes next.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Ditched

Coming home from a mission is an adjustment. For eighteen months, I was always with at least one companion, and all I did was church stuff. Sure, you do laundry and buy groceries. We flipped and spun our mattresses every few months. Most of what we did, though? Overwhelmingly religious.

For the first five months back I attended both my home ward and the singles ward. Six hours of church was comparatively nothing. Then, with the schedule change for the new year, the two wards overlapped. I ended up choosing the singles ward, where I stayed for many years.

Obviously, the thing that was closest to being a sister missionary was visiting teaching. You have a companion for that, with whom you deliver a spiritual message and pray. I had always done my visiting teaching before, but right then it probably meant more to me.

I got a companion with whom I clicked instantly. As much as I loved my old friends, after I changed course in high school we were not quite as close. I had become more of a loner. After eighteen months of never being alone, finding a good friend was huge.

Looking back, I can see that there were some inequities in the relationship. I did care-taking for her that was not reciprocated. Once when a lesson was going to be very emotional for her -- hitting on past trauma -- I went outside with her. We talked through the class period and she felt better. 

Another time we were going with a big group to see a movie; and then she heard that it would be inappropriate so was fretting. (It was The Brady Bunch Movie. I went to see it later. It was fine.) That night we did a temple session instead, and she was relieved. I would have liked to do the big group thing, but that's what friends are for.

(I also alerted her to a creepy guy sneaking up behind her with mistletoe at the Christmas party. She was so grateful; but he held a grudge.)

I don't remember her doing similar things for me, but she gave me rides; that was huge for me. It was enough for me to feel liked, and that I could rely on her for fun, social stuff.

Then I couldn't.

It started with another group activity: a hay ride at Sauvie Island. There were three or four of us going together, but I think she was the one that made us late. We missed the hay ride. Then she ditched us.

When the wagon came back we started talking to people. One guy had driven by himself, in his sports car.

He had been pursuing her before. She did not like him originally, but this was where he started winning her over. He offered to take her home via Old Germantown Road, which would be so romantic. We couldn't stand in the way of that.

Off she went. 

My night consisted of riding out to Sauvie Island and then back, in the dark, with my friend for only half of the trip. I should have stayed home.

That was October. A month before, several of us had gone out to dinner for her birthday. As my birthday (January) approached, I really thought we would do something similar. About a week before, she mentioned that she would be going out with him that night. 

I thought she was planning something for me. She hadn't even remembered me.

That night, on her way to her date, she stopped by with a care package. It was bath stuff, which is so generic and so not me. 

She did feel bad, but the guilt didn't change that now that she had a guy, she didn't need me anymore. I know she would not have wanted to see it in those terms, but if there wasn't room for a friend and a boyfriend (who did become a husband), what other way was there to see it?

Apparently this is a common event, but it was a first for me. One thing about being a loner who manages her socialization through activities is that the coming and going of individuals is just part of the flow. I had been coming out of that. This was a major disruption, and I went right back in.

After that, I tended to focus my socialization more on where I was needed. Did people need help with something? Is this a person who needs someone to talk to? Will this person skip the event if someone else isn't going with them?

I don't want to give the impression that I only hung out with people as service projects. It is more accurate to say that there could have been times and people that I really wanted to hang out with but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Pre-pandemic, I had been working on that more. I was trying to make myself socialize more and to override the worrying about it. 

I know it is possible for people to enjoy spending time with me. Likely, even. It is still hard to feel it. 

It gets harder once most people have significant others and children, plus now we are older and get tired more easily. Is that rejection or being busy? My self-esteem has a hard time differentiating.

Of course, a lot of that is that old worry that people have thought of me as annoying or will remember me as annoying. I get a lot of warm welcomes, but those foundational beliefs that get in there don't get out easily.

I am good at liking people and at loving them. Those are two different skills (though it is the greatest thing when they overlap). I have found people who feel it and respond to it and that is all great. 

I still have a hard time believing people will reciprocate.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Results of my mission

From yesterday's post, yes, I think I picked up some of my comfort with nonconformity on my mission. 

I'm not even that wild -- most of the things I do are very average and traditional -- but just because something is traditional is not enough of a reason. If tradition is the only reason, then forget it.

I think that was a good change. 

Otherwise, I mainly became more me. 

I learned more about the immigrant/refugee experience, and prejudice, but I already had a tendency to care about that, and I definitely had much more to learn. 

The thing that started in college with the possum, where I started learning that it was okay to show vulnerabilities and flaws? My mission reinforced that, but it wasn't new.

A tendency to focus on the needs of others over my own (but also with sincere caring)? Already present.

There were two things that were new.

I now consider that dark spell on my mission to have been an episode of depression. I did not identify it as such at the time. Back in 1994 -- despite depression already existing -- I don't remember encountering anything that could have guided me on that.

I did not deal with it productively.

Without knowing what I needed, I did ask for help. We wrote weekly letters to the president. I had told him what was happening, but I had not heard back. The feeling of being ignored did make it worse.

Something happened with the car. Right before that I think I spilled something on my skirt, so I changed my skirt and left the apartment key in that pocket. Because of the car thing my companion didn't have her key. So the Assistants to the President gave us a ride back to our apartment, where I discovered that I didn't have the key, so we were locked out of the apartment.

I broke down on the door step.

However, it was not a coincidence that the APs had given us a ride and walked us to our door. They had been tasked with checking on me; they just didn't mention it before then. 

Them mentioning it earlier might have been helpful, but I was so good at maintaining function they probably didn't see an opening. Apparently what I really needed was a dead car battery, a wet skirt, and enough things going wrong so that I had to let all my defenses down. 

Gratefully received (with the gratitude coming later).

We talked about it. It did help knowing that I had in fact been heard. I still didn't know what to do with it. I remember writing out a list of good things about me. It felt unconvincing, but nonetheless, I did get better. 

Remembering a President Hinckley talk, I suppose you would say I forgot myself and got to work. There is a point to that, but there is also a point to actually healing, which could be preferable. What I did instead was shove it all back inside again, but after the breakdown I was able to, and it got me through.

Here is what I have learned from my other bouts of depression: the genesis seems to be prolonged evidence that I am not enough, and cannot be enough.

When I was going through my normal over-functioning with unhealed trauma, there was periodic emotional spillover. I would get frustrated with all that was asked and accepted of me, and the lack of support and appreciation, but if I was still succeeding at taking care of everybody and could believe that I could keep it going, I could manage. I might have an outburst, but then I would rein it in and be back to normal.

That was pretty much how I entered the mission field, and how I came out of it.

Maybe my real problem had been that I hadn't had any real outbursts, keeping them all inside because contention is bad. It is much easier to yell at your family as a regular child and sibling than to yell at companions as a missionary. 

Perhaps this is why it was more common to be passive-aggressive. Obviously the preference would be that we could talk meaningfully and productively about when we were hurting each other or judging each other. Realistically, I am not sure any of us knew how to do that, or had built up comfort with doing it. Many much older people struggle with it and we were mostly kids.

However, this is where we get to the other change, and it was a bad one.

Whereas previously I was mainly insecure about the ability of boys to like me (and we are getting to the point where they will need to be called men, no matter how immature), I now had serious doubts about whether even women could like me and want to spend time with me. My worry of never finding romantic love had expanded to include all types of affection.

As much as companion issues contributed, something after my mission really reinforced that and drove it home.

Monday, March 22, 2021

100% obedient

Disclaimer: This is going to be the most overtly religious of these posts. I am religious. 

If it sometimes seems like I am not, that may be due to frequent frustration with other religious people. It frustrates me when they say things that are wrong, but there is a special frustration when it is something where I feel like I should agree, but kind of don't.

Obedience is stressed a lot to missionaries, and there is a logic to that. These are primarily young people, far from home, and there is a lot of safety that comes from following the rules and procedures that are there for a reason.

It is also possible to become kind of weird about it. 

For example, maybe it feels like obedience that you use your language as much as you can. However, as you increase the amount of Cantonese that you speak between the two of you, and that extra companion who is studying Lao becomes more quiet and withdrawn as she is more excluded, are there potentially some other important violations?

Truthfully, I do not generally think in terms of obedience. When I think in terms of doing what you know to be right, I think of that more in terms of integrity, and then paying attention to others' needs and trying to serve them feels like more of a matter of compassion. Obedience fits in there, but other things are more important to me, without me ever being particularly disobedient. (Though I am not perfect; perhaps more focus on obedience is what I am missing.)

Regardless, in the mission field, obedience is not just the key to your safety, but also to your success. That is why missionaries will get these ideas about being "100% obedient", because then we will get baptisms. 

The philosophical problem with this is the same one the Pharisees had: it is too easy to decide that the key to that is adding rules upon rules, like having to be out the door rather than merely being working once your day starts.

The practical problem for that mission at that time is that there had kind of been too many baptisms already. 

"Too many" sounds like they shouldn't have been baptized, and I don't exactly think that. It's more complicated.

Years before we got there, some missionaries in the area who did not speak Lao or Cambodian or Hmong nonetheless found people who spoke those languages who were willing to listen. They had children translate and they baptized a lot of people with really fast growth. 

On an average Sunday, less than ten percent of our members would be in church.

I have heard very cynical stories about people coming out of the font with requests for furniture. That may have happened, but I don't think it was only that. I have taught people and felt the Spirit there. It is a very easy thing in that moment to feel that this is true and good and that you want to be a part of it.

It is not as easy to maintain that feeling. It is not as easy to break patterns especially when there is strong social enforcement of those patterns. Therefore, when you are teaching people who have not been baptized yet, and you talk to them about attending church and giving up smoking and drinking, they probably know a lot of baptized members who have stopped going to church and restarted smoking and drinking (if they had ever actually stopped, which is not guaranteed).

We'd had some baptisms. People we'd taught and with whom we'd shared great experiences did not always keep going to church. Some did, but there is a lot that goes into it. Transportation was huge. I get why some churches buy buses, but that's not our way.

At times we tried various ways of increasing our contacts so we could teach more people and have more baptism. This mainly ended up with us meeting a lot of people who weren't Lao, where even if they were interested we had to refer them to other missionaries.

That's why my companions were standing outside the door; they thought that would get us to more baptisms. I thought that using our time more effectively would be more likely to get us there. In theory, there were people out there who would be glad to be baptized, if we just found the right ones and taught them effectively.

Concurrent with coming out of my depression was a moment of clarity, and my focus shifted to member work.

Those temporary conversions were not fake; they had felt something and could feel it again. We started focusing on reading The Book of Mormon with different member families, and helping them set goals for that.

I am grateful to Sister M for going along with it. It was counter to our training, except for the part about being guided by inspiration. Probably one thing that helped was that in Modesto we had taught some younger people who did not have parental permission to be baptized. In helping them find ways to keep the fire alive until they were adults, we had some experience with that.

Also, yes, there is effort involved in receiving the Holy Ghost, but we often saw that with the people we talked to --  especially children who were baptized with their families and then the whole family stopped going -- that they still remembered things and responded to them. 

We wanted to harness that, so we started setting up visits and talking to members, and finding out who could read and who needed scriptures. It was a really wonderful time.

We never got chastised for it. Even though it would have made sense for Sister M to train the first incoming sister, we were able to stay together until it was time for me to go home.

Shortly before that, there was a possibility of me being transferred to Merced. That area was picking up. Word was that there would definitely be baptisms there, I found that I didn't want to go. I was where I needed to be, doing what I needed to do, and I wanted to continue with that.

I don't regret that at all, and I did not consider myself disobedient or a rebel. 

I may be a little more skeptical than most of doing things the way they have always been done.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Review retrospective: Bands 101 - 200, 2014

The first 100 bands -- especially with all the concerts -- was exhilarating. The second 100 was more about continuing strong.

Concerts played a role again, but one of those was a wishful thinking fulfillment. 

Dave Hause was going to play a free set at Music Millennium. I really wanted to see him, but there was a conflicting family activity. We took Mom to the Evergreen Aviation Museum, and I can't regret that. They've had trouble staying open, and at that time she was still able to enjoy it, which was not going to last.

I wrote a review for Dave Hause's music anyway; it was my hope that somehow it would guarantee that he would come. That may sound silly.

He was my 85th band, and my 82nd review (sometimes I would double bands up for different reasons). Just a few months later he came to the Hawthorne Lounge, and I got to write up that show for my 117th review.

That was a bit of a trend for that year. I also wrote reviews for Torche, Alkaline Trio, and Lit, hoping to bring them my way. I have not seen Lit live yet, and the Alkaline Trio show was kind of a bad experience, but nonetheless Torche came and that was a great show!

Also, it is nice to remember being optimistic and thinking the world was full of possibilities.

I had quite a few bands from New Jersey, US and Manchester, England, but also I reviewed quite a few bands from Portland and Seattle, and that was good. As much as there clearly were "scenes" that appealed to me, I didn't want to forget home.

If there was not an obvious musical theme, the theme of my life was writing, and lots of it. 

I had been wanting to do a month where I wrote one different 6-page screenplay every day. I finally did it in October 2014. I even did it on a day when I worked a full day and went to a concert (Lemonheads and Psychedelic Furs). 

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2014/10/one-month-186-pages.html

Perhaps the theme was that I had established my writing rhythms. I had gone through the comic book writing, and the screenplay inspired by that first concert, while also blogging regularly; I could do it all.

It is amazing to remember that was once me, and that theoretically could be me again.

A lot of that writing was about music. Over the summer I had done some series on music videos. There was quite a bit of writing about comic books too, and libraries, but I had gotten the hang of writing about music and I was doing it all the time.

(Drum week wasn't going to happen until the next year, but I might have been thinking about it.)

One thing that has been coming up as I choose songs for the week is what to do with those bands whom I like more than usual, but who have not been a big enough influence where doing a whole post and week makes sense. That is especially the case with Dave Hause and with New London Fire. 

Of course, I have given them songs of the day many times, but more than that, in addition to remembering to periodically go back and visit the bands you absolutely love, revisit the bands you really like as well. Maybe you like them only because of good music, and not that they wrote the soundtrack for an important part of your life, or got you through a hard time. That's okay; good music is worth a lot.

I am taking notes for after the retrospective is done, but probably I should revisit any of those bands that are still going for it after all these years. 

It is terrible to see how many kept it going for a decade or so, but then couldn't make it through the pandemic.

Daily songs:

“Feet on Fire “ by Slow Readers Club -- Best video concept.

“Half Awake” by We Are Forever -- They kind of border on boy band for sound, but I like them anyway.

“Pray for Tucson” by Dave Hause -- I have no connections to Tucson, but this hits me really hard this year.

“Write It Off” by Fox & Cats -- Good energy. They had a stripped down sound but really elevated it.

“Under the Mushroom Cloud” by Birds in the Airport -- This is almost a novelty EP, because he is usually collaborating with other musicians in totally different veins, but it is so brilliant,

“Away From Here” by High Pressure Flash -- The album cover doesn't match the sound, but I do like this song.

“Here I Am” by New London Fire -- Out of many good songs, this is the one that most represents me now.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

How it comes together

I have had three episodes of depression in my life. This was the first one.

Before that, once or twice a year everything that I was tamping down would spill over and I would be crying and angry for a few days. Then, having gotten some of it out of my system, I could go back to functioning normally. I was completely aware that the things that I was sad and angry about were things that were always there, but sometimes I had a temporary loss of the ability to handle it. 

This was different. Instead of an overflow of emotions coming out it from inside, it was at least a perception of outside judgment crushing me down. I was still able to pull myself together to go to appointments and teach; those were good distractions from the darkness inside but the respite was only temporary. Possibly it being so new made it feel more hopeless. I definitely did not know what to do.

I didn't associate it with the incidents in the previous post; that literally only happened this year when I was looking at some other stuff. Once I had the thought it made sense, but up until then it had all been a mystery.

The information in the previous posts matters for a lot of reasons. You can hurt people without meaning to. You might only mean to bug them a little when you end up devastating them. That is one reason kindness is so important.

Yes, my father kind of was trying to devastate me when he disowned me the first time, but -- and it took me a long time to understand this -- that was on him, not me. Understanding when it is you and when it is someone else and when it is partly both is a big part of healing.

I looked competent (which was mostly true) and confident (somewhat less true). I was also the person who'd had a sense of something being wrong about me that predates my earliest memories, but with many memories of that sentiment being reinforced.

I would sometimes be caught of guard by this wave of nausea, and a feeling that there was something disgusting about me or around me, that I couldn't trace or explain. Upon returning to college I would take a class on the French novel, and Sartre's La Nausée was in there. It didn't explain my problems, and his understanding of it was different from mine, even now, but it was interesting to know that it wasn't just me.

I did mention it to one of my companions. She said it probably wasn't anything to worry about -- just Satan -- and it didn't happen that often. Regardless, none of my companions knew how deep some of the hurt inside me was. I didn't know myself, how could they? The most common feedback I got during that part of my life was that I was like a rock. People would feel all this strength emanating from me. That was true, but I was also vulnerable.

Similarly, I did not know about Sister M's previous trauma, or that things in Modesto were reminding her of it. I am not sure that finding out sooner would have kept me from that one correction, because it seemed pretty harmless. She was on a trajectory where things were going to spill over anyway, though in some ways it might have gone down differently. Honestly, things could have been worse.

There are a lot of things that are hard about being a missionary; they aren't reasons not to go. (They might be reasons to have some experience with real life and jobs and to get out of the bubble before you go.) So, that two consecutive young missionaries found me lacking... it's not really their fault that they were wrong. (But they were indisputably wrong. I stand by that.)

For Sister W, the color thing was pretty stupid, but for someone who valued being cute and bubbly so much, it may have been a burden being fat (which she was). Maybe another fat sister who was well-liked and cheerful and appeared confident seemed like a threat. She could have been a mean girl in school (sadly, her church membership does not guarantee that she wasn't). She may have had disappointed feelings about not being married. There was still some stigma that sister missionaries were girls who couldn't get married. 

Mind you, I am not criticizing her for being fat, and I have a lot of sympathy for it messing with someone's head. I am against being mean because of it. With that said, I feel so much better having been a little mean about her. I realize I have known a lot of people like her, and I could be fine never thinking about her again, but I am glad that I posted about her sucking first. It appears to be part of the healing openly acknowledging that in this way, she sucked. Sue me!

That just leaves that early experience at the MTC, and then those two sisters waiting outside the door while I stubbornly tried to ensure that we could have a productive day. Those are the "100% obedience" cases. There are some specific things I need to get into there, but that will be next week.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Withering and wilting away

Despite some struggles, I think the first nine months of my mission really built me up, and then the second half kind of tore me down.

There was one really bubbly sister, Sister W, that was pretty popular. I liked her. I helped arrange a birthday surprise for her. I was surprised to find out that she had a problem with me. 

It turns out that she was really into Taylor Hartman's The Color Code, a personality test from 1989 where she had discovered that she was a fun-motivated Yellow. She had assessed that I was a power-motivated Red. Yellows don't get along with Reds; we harsh their mellows.

As this was coming out, one of the my companions, Sister S, said she saw some Yellow in me too, and Sister W was like "I don't see that."

Shockingly rude, if you think about it, but shortly after this was Sisters' Conference and the mission president's wife had chosen "What Color Are You?" for the theme. That felt pretty crummy. I can't imagine Sister H writing me off by a color; the point was supposed to be about finding your strengths. I still did not get anything out of it.

In general, though, my companions liked me, and I liked them. We worked well together, especially during that first half of my mission.

It started with obedience again.

We were wasting a lot of time finding people not at home, sometimes even when we had appointments. This was in Modesto. In Fresno there were some concentrated areas where even if you missed one family you could probably find someone else nearby to talk to. I felt that if our first few minutes after study were phone calls to confirm appointments or ask if we could visit, we would be doing better. 

My companions (there were two at the time) wanted to focus on being 100% obedient. That to them meant leaving the apartment on the dot after study and prep time. They apparently felt my phone calls were bringing them down, so they would stand outside the door waiting for me, with my recalcitrance therefore not affecting their obedience.

I did have some hard feelings about that, but what came after that was worse. 

There were three of us at a time because new sisters were being brought in one at a time while other sisters were going home. Remember, on average there were only four Lao sisters at a time.

Sister De had entered the field just before me, so she did the training of Sister M and Sister Da. I got both of them right after her.

I should backtrack and say that my trainer had a weird relationship with her trainer. I only know because I was my trainer's final companion before going home, so I was with her while she fretted about going home and tried to find a dress she liked for it. Her trainer came out to visit and gave my trainer one of her dresses and then everything was okay... it just seemed overly dependent. Anyway, it is possible that idealizing your trainer is common.

Both Sister M and Sister Da adored Sister De. They thought she was perfect, and exactly the way they should be. When I was their next companion, I was a poor substitute. 

This is not saying that I didn't think Sister De was a good missionary, but me being different didn't make me a bad one. Frankly, I found her kind of annoying; she's the type who prays for so long that your knees start to hurt, and missionaries pray so many times a day. 

I was not created in her image.

I also remember being kind of great when Sister M was stressing over passing off teaching the discussion in Lao. We were scrubbing the baptismal font for our service, and it was easy to talk about baptism and commitments anyway, and I started asking her leading questions in Lao and it turned out that she was perfectly capable of teaching that discussion.

There was something else that did not go well.

Without meaning to, I corrected her about something the exact same way that my trainer had corrected me. It did bruise me at the time, but I'd recovered. I did not know that she'd had a problem with it right away; that came out later. Because other things were coming up for her, and I already was not Sister De, she started really working against me. 

She complained about everything I did, even when some of those things were corrections of previous complaints. One night we were driving and she turned the heat all the way up in the car. It couldn't have been comfortable for her either, but spite is funny that way. When I tried to talk about it, she threw up her hands in frustration like she could not believe how exasperating I was. Yes, she meant to be hurtful.

I had to threaten to call the president; we could not accomplish anything good like this. She divulged the thing I had done, and I apologized. There were also things that had nothing to do with me, and she got some counseling for those. We worked things out and became very close. She helped me get through the depression when it hit. However, I swallowed a lot of insults while I was trying to find a way to help her, and they built up inside. Maybe I could have brought them up later, but our peace still felt fragile, so I shoved it down.

Then I got transferred down to Sister Da, who never learned to love me. 

Her bonding with Sister De was more mutual, where in addition to her trainer becoming her ideal, they were clearly going to be friends forever., like my MTC companions. It was wonderful for them. 

At some point there, a black cloud dropped over me. I could make myself function to go to discussions and do duties, but I was miserable. I had accumulated so many snubs by then, my sense of worthlessness had developed an unbearable heft.

Enough people had decided I was wrong and bad that I was ready to agree.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Blooming in the middle of a big agricultural area

Going on my mission - even early on - really brought out my competence and caring for others.

While doing my shopping for Christmas 1992, I also bought birthday presents for everyone for 1993, wrapped them, and left them where they would be ready. My family knew that.

What they did not know was that I had also bought Christmas presents for 1993 and hid them with the Christmas decorations, and birthday presents for 1994, which I had hidden in strategic places in my room. I had notes. My family was surprised and impressed.

(Unfortunately, my mother stumbled across the '94 birthday present for my sister-in-law and was confused and curious so she opened it, for which my SIL never forgave her.)

At the missionary training center, my odd status meant that I knew the entire Lao and Cantonese classes, and quickly cared for both.

There was one elder who wasn't getting a lot of mail; I not only sent him some letters, but I might have written to his family encouraging them to write. That may sound interfering, but he appreciated it.

I would get little craft ideas for inspirational things, and then make them for everyone in both classes. It wasn't that different from planning treats for basketball players.

Later, since we were having a Christmas day zone service project, I spearheaded getting simple Christmas stockings for every missionary in the zone. I had church kids help.

I do remember occasionally slapping down foolish remarks pretty forcefully. Still, I was good at liking people and wanting to be there for them. So whether it was teaching a confused elder how to iron (why did no one teach him that before?) or giving a really moving Sunday school lesson on Joseph Smith, there was a lot that was gratifying and came easily.

I remember feeling like I would be able to use all of myself -- talents, interests, everything -- on my mission. There was a place for everything.

It did take me a while to figure out how to study Lao effectively; it was so different from other languages I had studied. I think a lot of that was the different alphabet. Eventually, I started writing things out and writing out translations, and that worked.

When necessary, I could speak above my level. It happened translating, and talking to investigators. I spent a lot of time in flow. 

So many times it was just so easy to know exactly what someone needed or what I needed to do. That included sometimes knowing that I needed to exercise faith, so literally knowing one time that I needed to spend my last few dollars on flowers for one woman who was having a hard time, and that money would come, and it did. Twice. I guess both checks would have gotten there anyway, but it meant more because of the faith.

I remember knowing exactly what I needed to do so I could translate. Once we were missing the directions to get to an appointment, and I just navigated by the Spirit, and we got there.

Many times I was also asked to do things I didn't think I could do, and then I did. After just a month in the field I was asked to rehearse the Relief Society sisters with a song for the stake talent show. I was not familiar with the song, and I had never led music practice, but somehow it worked out. 

I was better at music than I should have been there. With my low voice, when three of us were supposed to do a musical number I should not have been the one the other two were taking their pitch from, but they didn't feel comfortable and I just did it. I once wrote a song and sang it as a solo, a capella, for a district meeting, and it was fine. 

It turned out that I was exceedingly brave, and confident, sometimes. Maybe it was more my pragmatism than anything else.

We had some elders who took an initial request to occasionally borrow our car and suddenly wanted it all the time. When we needed to confront them, I was the one who was newest. I didn't think I should be the spokesperson. The other sisters agreed, and then clammed up. So I handled it.

When in the process of doing a lot of service Christmas week, we had missed a few study hours -- having been perfect for studying every other week -- our district leader tried to shame us. I handled that too. He knew exactly what we thought of that.

That was one thing I thought worked well, though others might disagree: I was in no way impaired by concern over what elders would think. They were mostly nice and good people -- I didn't have problems with them -- but for all of the insecurity and issues I'd had with the opposite sex in school, it was not a problem in the mission field. My problems were with sisters.

Hold that thought. 

Otherwise, there were a few people I had a harder time loving and I felt some guilt about that. 

There were occasional problems with my not being able to drive.

The San Joaquin Valley was a great big bowl collecting dust and pollen that triggered allergies. I never felt the regular allergy symptoms, but apparently the allergens hung around in my lungs until every few months they got infected. The first time my lungs got hyper-inflated so that every breath I took was extremely painful, and I didn't know why. It was scary.

But yeah, mainly my problems were with the sisters, and we will deal with that tomorrow. Before that, I need to share something I did that hurt someone, without intending to. It can be so easy.

Sister N was getting transferred up to be my companion. I was thrilled to be getting her because I liked her, and Elder F assumed that meant she was a good missionary. I said that was not the point, I just liked her. 

Later that night, after we were both in bed, she called out to me. I could hear she was crying, asking if I thought she was not a good missionary. 

That hadn't been it at all! There are lots of good missionaries, but there are some you enjoy more than others. It is better with someone you can enjoy. Anyone who had been paired with Sister L should have known that! 

We got it straightened out, but I have to assume that the things that injured me were not intended to do so. 

Except for Sister M, but only temporarily. And Sister W. She meant it.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Precursors at the Training Center

We have now reached the time where I talk about formative experiences while I was on my mission.

I feel like I will need to start every post with a disclaimer, but perhaps I can only say it once: I absolutely knew then that I should go on a mission, and I still know that it was right to go. That there were painful things isn't even surprising. 

To be fair, I have pangs as I disclose some things about my family too. People are complex and feelings are real, and we will spend time on that.

Obviously, the way some things hit me had a lot to do with whom I already was.

I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah on February 3rd, 1993, left around April 3rd for the California Fresno Mission, Laotian-speaking, and then returned home on August 3rd, 1994. Obviously it's been a while, and and a lot has changed.

The Fresno mission had missionaries who spoke English, Spanish, Cambodian, and Hmong, as well as Lao. For the Asian languages, none of the relevant countries had missionaries, so any missionaries speaking those languages would be working with refugee populations. The day I went home, one of the Cambodian elders from my mission flew to LAX then PDX with me, where he met three other missionaries and they were going to Cambodia to open it up there. (There had been some service missionaries already.)

The point of that (besides that maybe you will find it interesting) is that there were never that many missionaries speaking any of those languages, and in fact only Fresno had Lao sisters. It would have been only four at a time, but there was an older sister who spoke Chinese and Thai, which is close to Lao, and they had her work with us. You don't change companions much and most importantly, only one Lao sister would go through the Missionary Training Center at a time. This meant that I was the only girl in my class, and that my companions were in the next room learning Cantonese to serve in Hong Kong.

I could easily have had issues fitting in anyway. I was politically liberal from a part-member family, and they were sometimes shocked by jokes I would make. Also, one was kind of passive aggressive when she had problems with me. I started being able to figure out what was bugging her when it was bugging her, but it was kind of frustrating.

More to the point, they just clicked instantly with each other. One was the other's maid of honor later. 

One of their agreements was that on Prep Day we should do the earliest possible temple session, and then we had the rest of the day for laundry and letters. I am just going to tell you that most of the rest of the day for them was napping, which you could argue was not efficient, but that was a minor nuisance.

There was a bad experience that wasn't really their fault. They both tried out for the choir, and made it. The choir director at the time was weird about people not being able to observe practice. Normally if your companion is in but you aren't, there is someone else with that issue and you can pair up with them. I guess I thought I would find someone or that just quietly staying in the room wouldn't be a big deal. I didn't and it was, and I found myself out in the hall, without a companion.

That was a big deal; companions are how we stay out of trouble. So there I was, newly a missionary, and breaking rules because I hadn't prepared, or because I was in a stupid threesome, or maybe just me always somehow being wrong, still and again.

I sat down on the floor and started crying.

Some staff (one was Mary Ellen Edmunds who ran the Relief Society meetings, and whom I adore) discovered me. Without berating me for being unaccompanied, everyone tried really hard to be helpful, but I couldn't talk. I tried, and no words came out. They eventually let me be, which was the kindest thing overall.

That was the first time that happened to me. It doesn't happen often. With some of the issues I have had asking for help, occasional mutism makes sense. Usually I can say other things, even if I can't say what I need. That was more the case for the next time.

My companions and I mostly got along, but often the things that they were talking about were about Cantonese or Hong Kong or things from class, and I was just peripheral. One day I heard them say to each other how important it was to really focus on only speaking Cantonese as much as possible. I remember suddenly feeling cold.

I know to them it felt like obedience and necessity, so I didn't protest. They really did increase their Cantonese speaking. Incidentally, I still know about 20 words in Cantonese after all this time. Impressive perhaps, but it didn't get me far. I started feeling more and more left out, and more and more deeply sad.

You know, we often don't credit men for being very sensitive, and there are reasons for that, but those seven 19 year old guys in my class noticed that I was hurting, and they insisted on me telling them. They related to that need to practice language, but they also didn't want to see me so isolated.

The district leader, Elder Taufer, talked to one of the counselors in our branch presidency, and he came and talked to the three of us. He said that the need for me to be a part of things overrode the need to practice their language when they were around me. He promised that their learning would be blessed, and that they wouldn't fall behind by considering me.

It was only two months out of eighteen, but a lot of what happened during the other sixteen months had similarities. And I still survived.

I did get banged up a little.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Review retrospective: Gin Blossoms

I am only giving one week to the Gin Blossoms, even though I gave two to The All-American Rejects. That is partly because of some of the other posts that I have already written, and also partly because I have not written a book or screenplay inspired by the Gin Blossoms at this time.

Regardless, this post will involve some comparisons with the two, as examples of different ways of relating to bands. 

In many ways my relationship with the Gin Blossoms is similar to my relationship with The All-American Rejects: their music touches me emotionally, I loved them instantly, and suddenly as I started finding new music it was there from old favorites as well. Their "Don't Change For Me" holds a similar place for me as AAR's "I Wanna".

The differences are largely a matter of time. I initially fell for the Gin Blossoms much sooner; "Hey Jealousy" came out in 1992, versus "Swing, Swing" in 2002 (though "I Wanna" is two years older than "Don't Change For Me"). 

Also, the Gin Blossoms are older. They are on average about ten years older than me, and the Rejects are about ten years younger. The younger ones are closer to the bulk of the bands I review, though there are no hard and fast rules.

One aspect of this is that the Gin Blossoms pass through life stages ahead of me, and so I sometimes will find a song waiting for me. I knew it was there, but it didn't feel the same way, and then I catch up. 

That is not always an age-related phenomenon, but it is something that I feel with the Gin Blossoms, and something that has grown.

In addition, there has been more direct and networked connection with Gin Blossoms. I have reviewed some bands because of recommendations from Mike Kennerty, and he is the one Reject I have spoken to. 

On the other hand, the Gin Blossoms are the reason that I have reviewed The Odds, The Paul & John, and Marshall Crenshaw. That is without even getting into anyone's side projects, like Jesse Valenzuela solo or Honeygirl for Scott Johnson, or opening bands at shows. They are why I listened to Gas Giants and Northey Valenzuela (no reviews for them at this time, but there are also no regrets).

There has been a surprising amount of Twitter following out of that. People who have been professional musicians for years have followed me and I have been in on conversations -- joking and serious -- with them. 

That's kind of a trip, but it started with a concert where not only did I finally get to see the band play, but I had close encounters with each of them. I'm not saying all of them would recognize me, and certainly not that we are best friends, but there is nonetheless a sense of connection and trust.

One of the things I appreciate most is them bringing Scott Hessel, who started as a touring drummer, into the band. A lot of bands have a hard time with that. Sometimes I get it, but sometimes it is beautiful to see that affirmation of confidence and trust.

(Yes, I am more aware of this because of Richie Ramone. Yes, I still wish nothing but good things for Phil Rhodes.)

I'm glad they're still around. I hope that's true for a long time to come.

Songs for the week:

"Don't Change For Me" -- This is the opener to their 2010 album, No Chocolate Cake. It sprang out and me right away and filled me with hope and goodwill.

"Lost Horizons" -- I associate this one strongly with the trip to go see them in early 2013, and I am so glad I did.

"29" --  I've been past 29 for a long time, but the sentiments still work.

"Forever Is This Night" -- One of their most recent. This is a band that has endured, so often their songs combine optimism with weariness. I relate.

"Til I Hear It From You" -- Probably their most famous, and definitely aching, but what I really love is the way the rhythm dominates on the bridge.

"Not Only Numb" -- Again, this is a band that has endured, but they don't define themselves solely by the things that have hurt.

"Miss Disarray" -- Because sometimes I am a hard-to-pin-down mess.

"Hey Jealousy" -- Not the first song that caught my attention, but the one that cemented that this was a band for me.



Related posts:

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2013/01/concert-review-gin-blossoms.html

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-gin-blossoms-and-i.html 

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2014/01/creating-set-list.html 

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2019/08/album-review-mixed-reality-by-gin.html

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Deconstructing music writing: Mumford & Sons

"Louise, people in this country aren't interested in details. They don't even trust details. The only thing they trust is headlines." -- Senator Kevin Keeley, The Birdcage

Lately I have been seeing a lot of reactions that are missing the point spectacularly. That's actually something I am going to be exploring more in the Sunday blog. 

For this blog, it makes more sense to start the mission stuff Monday. Since I discovered a not particularly well-written but still interesting article that seems pertinent, today just might be a great day to practice some critical thinking.

Critical thinking often involves reading beyond headlines.

"How Mumford & Sons became the most annoying band in rock, by Ed Power, through Yahoo! Life but from The Telegraph:

https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/mumford-sons-became-most-annoying-115922410.html

The first thing to consider is how much we want to take from the byline, and honestly that should be limited. I can think of some wonderful, concise, erudite pieces that I have read through multiple papers and sites, and there is not one of those sources that has not also published some crap that was overly biased or poorly researched or both. 

Paying attention to author names can be more helpful over time. Certainly, various writers have patterns, but it is also really common for them to have regular beats. As new topics of interest come up, you will need to expand your pool.

Do pay attention when you are reading to who is writing and for whom, but don't get too hung up on it.

My skepticism with this article started in the first sentence, when he says that the band's most recent album "choked out at Number 2". While hitting Number 1 is obviously preferred, lots of albums never get as far as 2. That makes "choked out" seems prejudicial. To be fair, calling them the "most annoying" is prejudicial too.

A desire to be colorful comes through the entire article. Some flair and style is wanted, especially for a lifestyle/entertainment piece, but I feel like it gets over done here, with too much insertion of the author. Therefore, I will now be kind of skeptical of things written by Ed Power (though not just for style), but also, I have been pretty skeptical of Yahoo! for a while. 

(I am afraid I get various English papers mixed up, but I am thinking that The Telegraph is probably not the best one.)

What I will say about this writing style is that the article length could probably be reduced by 35% without any loss of clarity, and that the extra does not significantly add to the entertainment value. 

(Regular readers may have their own thoughts about my tangents, I know.)

At the end of the third paragraph we finally get some context, that banjo player Winston Marshall has created some controversy by praising Andy Ngo's recent book.

This is where context is really helpful. If you already know who Andy Ngo is, it makes more sense. Ngo has built his career on lying about Antifa (and milkshake ingredients), inflating injuries, and being the token person of color for fascist groups that technically focus more on sexism, but you know you don't have to scratch down very far to find the racism. I mean, white nationalism doesn't automatically have to be racist, right? (That was sarcasm.)

Ngo has some history with Portland, so he is going to stick out a little more for me, but why would a banjo player in a twee pub-sounding band care about Ngo or his "brave" book?

The context given and the link to Jordan Peterson is probably the strongest part of the writing for this article, and yet it misses the landing when there is a chance to stick it. 

Yes, Power tells you that three of the band members were photographed with Jordan Peterson three years ago, and tells you that Peterson has controversial views. He then moves on to pointing out how hatred of Mumford & Sons is similar to hatred of Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, then adds more colorful similes about how the annoyance caused by this band is deeper.

It would have been more to the point to note that the specific controversy with Peterson relates to his decrying of political correctness, especially with its threat to masculinity. Peterson believes that single men tend to become violent, therefore a society that doesn't push monogamy on women (thus giving women too much choice and freedom) is attempting to feminize men. The backlash to that is how you get Donald Trump!

(Yes, I am paraphrasing, but not as much as you'd hope.)

That someone who likes Jordan Peterson would also praise the writer who sympathizes with the Proud Boys is super logical, and might be a thread worth following. 

Instead, there are several lines of text about other bands that also got popular, and how interviewing two of the "Sons" was a bad experience for Power, and disrespectful to him. The most important thing that he points out is that the band members are "posh", but it takes him a while to get back to that.

That was actually the most interesting part. I had read that they came from money; I had not realized how much money. Two things with that:

1. The reason I knew was a Twitter conversation that mentioned how when the band was first starting out they kept not taking off, where you would have expected them to go away; then things worked out and they hit it big. They could do that because of deep pockets. There is a whole conversation to be had on whether we want all of our art and entertainment to come from the children of wealthy parents.

2. It makes a lot of sense when wealthy British people sympathize with patriarchy. I bet you can think of some examples.

The other part that gets interesting is a quote from Marshall on whether he would perform for Trump. Marshall gave a long-winded, twisting non-answer about being irritated with everything being political. (So he'd want to, but political correctness would get in his way is the only reasonable conclusion.)

That does correlate with point 2, but it seems to be part of the same conversation where Marshall defends Peterson, saying he is perceived as right-wing, but it's not true, and Marshall doesn't care about the politics; it's the psychology.

That is partly true; Peterson himself says he is not right-wing, but a classic British liberal. It is also true that you can be mostly liberal but also still classically sexist and misogynist (also racist), however, using psychology to justify that is inherently political.

Some more fluff follows about observing a concert, which I think tells us that Power feels the Mumford spell, though does not want to admit it. Finally, we have this conclusion:

"So yes, by all means, criticise Mumford & Sons for their politics and their outfits. But perhaps we should stop short of telling people what sort of music they are or are not allowed to like."

It did not take all of that to get there. I am not sure that was ever the problem.

Also, Power objects to the use of "Irish" in one criticism, but not to the use of the R-word. I assume the objection is that Mumford & Sons is not Irish (though they are kind of trying to sound Irish, I think), and maybe Brits don't care about that word, but it felt like an additional missed point.

My take:

Most importantly, quoting that British spelling of "criticize" is really bugging me. 

About the band, a while ago there was this chart of "old-timey" bands, rating groups like The Lumineers and Punch Brothers on their old-timeyness. I found it very amusing and am disappointed that it is no longer up.

I had previously only heard one song of the band. Having listened to them for this post, I now know it was "Little Lion Man". I would have thought of them as old-timey, but I see now that the others were all based in the US. This is a different flavor; maybe our retro outfits didn't make a dent over there. I have no idea.

Regardless, I think there is a sense of the old fashioned instruments and waistcoats being a little precious. If they get moderately famous maybe people think it's charming, but perhaps getting super-famous does bring on hate, when it feels like you have stepped outside of your station. The British hate that.

Are they the most annoying? I would have to be more plugged in to know. However, if their wealthy backgrounds make it easy for them to ignore social issues and think they are better than they are, would that make them insufferable? Indeed.

But all I have to do is not listen to them, which is easy. If I were a paid music writer, I might not be able to escape it, and I might even have annoying interactions with band members (that would be so much more annoying if I then started tapping my feet at a show).

So some sympathy for Ed Power, but I think you should do better as a writer, even if Yahoo! and The Telegraph are fine with you as is.

ETA: Check out https://preparedspork.blogspot.com as we address "cancel culture"!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Entering adulthood single

As I re-examine my past, I am starting to see that I was more attractive than I realized.

By this, I don't mean simply that pictures from then don't look as bad to me now. That is a thing, but had been for a long time. Even in grade school I remember being puzzled by how much I hated my school pictures each year, but then when they were last year's pictures they didn't seem so bad. 

No, in addition to that, I have to acknowledge that the boys that I liked generally liked being with me. I found many reasons to explain that away.

I should do a post bragging on that. I may later. There is stuff coming up where it will fit better.

One sister has recently expressed some admiration that I hung out with various hot boys. I did, but to do that I basically neutered myself. That was what I learned from first grade: if a boy knows you like him, it's gross. Having since learned that I was starting out at "gross", liking boys had to be completely off the table if I was going to even be able to exist in the presence of half the population of the school.

I definitely was fat, though not as fat as I mentally pictured myself.

It is pretty accurate that a lot of people -- especially male people -- will write you off for being fat. 

And yet, fat people do date and get married and some get around in ways that I would not have based on my religious upbringing, but nonetheless there are a lot of options out there. I am not sure which ones were open to me.

Did I need to say something to make that happen or signal something? If there were rules, I did not know them.

I don't have as many regrets here as I could, because looking back so much of dating and crushes was stupid, and so many of my friends had bad, stressful, humiliating experiences. I am not sure I would have enjoyed that. 

However, those friends also have significant others and children. I believe I could have enjoyed that, though I also worry that I would have been too messed up inside to have not messed all of that up very badly.

I would have a very had time forgiving myself for having children as badly screwed up as I was. I am not sure that I would have been able to prevent it. 

That is as dark as I get, right there. If I had gotten what I wanted, how much pain would I have caused? How much would I have regretted it?

The more pertinent question is probably whether I could have healed faster. I don't even mean healing all the way, but could I have gotten well enough soon enough to get married and have kids and for it to be a good thing? 

Even if the answer is yes, I fought healing pretty hard.

My main frustration now is that a lot of what I lost was due to things that were not true, and truths that I did not recognize. I don't want that to ever happen again. This may be part of my bent toward over-analyzing everything, but I would rather know. I would rather get it right the first time, and not keep trying to figure it out years later. 

This may be too ambitious. 

One of the most disappointing books from the Long Reading List was Kevin Renner's In Search of Fatherhood: A Mother Lode of Wisdom from the World of Daughterhood. In the interview I read, he said that if any woman would tell him about her relationship with her father, he could predict her current relationship. 

There was nothing in the book to back that up. There were women who'd had great fathers so no one measured up, and women with bad fathers who found good husbands, plus many good and bad current relationships that seemed like reflections of their foundational relationships. 

There are lots of possibilities. 

I think it is fair to say that when you feel like your father is always dissatisfied with you, and also he does not treat your mother well, that is not great for a girl. I don't think it's great for a boy either. 

But I do not believe we have to be trapped by it.

Which is not to say that finding one's way out of the trap is easy.

My big brag is that I have never been attracted to guys who reminded me of my father. Suck on that, Freud! (Yes, I get the irony.)

However, I have found myself trying to win approval from cold and narcissistic men, thinking that if I was good enough, I could make them respect me. 

Also, I recently read something about someone who had similar problems with her father. While she was acting out in ways I never have, some of her thought processes felt a bit close for comfort. 

It's a process, and this might be the area where I have made the least tangible progress.

Still here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Things that helped me on the way

I have mentioned feeling irritation as I start recapping events, because it feels like I have already written about them so many times. That is true, but it is also true that I am finding things this time around that I didn't find before. 

I never thought about how I used to recognize cars and remember details about them, and that it only stopped after the traumatic event that related directly to cars. I wrote something about maybe not concentrating well, and then remembered how my grades improved after my father and I reconciled that first time. Previously I'd attributed it to a normal cycle for a gifted child who had a hard time learning and maintaining good study habits. That could be a logical explanation. Maybe.

It is disconcerting to look back and notice things that may show a worse impact and more harm, especially when the material is -- I thought -- very familiar. It probably is safer to notice those things now.

Ultimately, I have survived. There are a lot of different factors in that. These posts have been mostly about the things that hurt and their impact, and we are approaching a point where it will be more about the healing. First, I want to dedicate at least one post to some of the things that helped. 

My faith helped a lot. That includes my specific religion.

There was great protection from both the Word of Wisdom and chastity, because between my tendency toward addiction, demonstrated family tendency toward alcoholism, and the combination of my desire for romance and my poor self-esteem... there was just a minefield of potential tragic decisions there. 

I am grateful for that, but not nearly as much as I am grateful for the relationship that I built with God, and prayer, and the meaning that I have seen in life, and the guidance I have felt through the Holy Ghost. That has been a source of strength and joy and something that has pulled me back from the abyss many times. 

Even as a 14 year old girl with a lot of pain, I knew that it helped. 

I also believe that gave me my sense of morality and ethics, where I have generally made choices that I didn't have to regret in terms of how I treated people. Of course, if some of that also made it easy to be self-effacing when I needed to shore myself up, society does that too; that is probably why religion so frequently does it.

I was also super smart.

Yes, that is a factor in the over analysis and the ability to pull helpful things from books (though I believe inspiration plays a large part in that), but also, there was a limit to how much other things could get to me when there was always something interesting to learn. When I was lonely, there were books, and as technology makes finding more obscure material ever easier, that has also been a repeated source of joy.

I am finding it harder to maintain my previous belief that I am probably neurotypical. I am not sure that it matters at this point, but if so, it probably helped me more than it hurt. It may also have led to another thing...

My socialization was spotty.

A lot of people that I met when young weren't that nice. I generally chose to be alone instead of dealing with them. Okay, "choosing" implies that I knew that people who were mean to you were not always doing it to get you to leave, but I might have still chosen solitude. 

Now, there was probably a downside to this, in that sometimes I miss nuances to social conventions and there are skills I don't have. At the same time, I have never had a "frenemy", and I think I am better off that way. 

The people I bonded with have been good people, for the most part, and I still like them. I know people who have been hurt by friends. Nope, that's what family is for; make good friends!

You may notice that all of those core helps have potential down sides built in. Yes, that happens, but I still feel that it worked out overall. I still like myself, which is radical and revolutionary even when it should be elementary.

My dear readers, so many of you have expressed ways in which my experiences resonate with you, despite varying degrees of severity. You may have room for a lot of healing.

What I want to impress upon you is that there are reasons that you have made it to here too. I can imagine some of you possibly (with self-deprecating humor) declaring that what got you hear was denial. 

That may be at least partially true, but there is some level of fortitude or concentration that worked. Sometimes the primary difference between a weakness and a strength is application. And time.

I hope you will notice the things that are good about you, and be glad about them. If you need some help, maybe I can over-analyze it for you.

Mostly, I want you to know that I wish you well, and I have faith that it is possible.

Monday, March 08, 2021

The first cracks in the picture

I stated previously that I believe that what happened at 14 was the last major part of my formation, so that what happened at 17 and a few things after were just reinforcement.

Assuming that is correct, it makes sense that some of the initial steps in healing happened not long after that. I had some changes in perception.

The first one I really remember happened during my second year of college. I was on my way back to the dorm one night, and I saw a possum (I've decided the "o" in front is pointless) heading into the bushes. I started peeking around trying to get a better look at it, because I love animals and I think seeing them is cool. I didn't see it though, so I gave up and went up the steps to the door.

While I was unlocking the door, I heard an exclamation behind me. Apparently the possum had started following me up the steps, someone else saw it and exclaimed, and that sent the possum running off.

(They are very shy creatures, generally harmless, and good for pest control. Please do not hurt possums if you see them. However, I had been checking it out, and perhaps it was returning the favor.)

Anyway, this girl was really excited and said she had never seen anything like that. 

I punctured her balloon and said, really condescendingly, "Oh, they're pretty common around here."

So obnoxious, and it was rotten of me; if she had come along any earlier she would have seen me just as excited about seeing a possum. 

I went and talked it over with my roommate, Claudia. She asked me why I did it.

I think I did it because I was caught off guard and embarrassed that I hadn't noticed the possum behind me when I had just been looking for it, and because being vulnerable felt terribly dangerous. I did that automatically, but then I was left feeling worse. Not only had I made a stranger feel bad, but I had done it by being dishonest. 

That was the year that I realized that I needed to go on a mission, and it was while I was a missionary that I really started to get a feeling for how annoying it is when you won't admit that you are mistaken, or that someone else knew more, or really any time when you try and establish your superiority.

Given my paranoia about being annoying, you would think I would try to avoid that.

I also learned that it can be worse than annoying. I had at least one circumstance where someone insecure was feeling terrible because I seemed to be so unflappable when she was feeling so anxious. It actually caused her pain.

I do not want to hurt people.

As I started learning to show vulnerability and admit weaknesses, the shocking thing was that no one ever moved in for the kill. My father's refusal to ever admit any wrong had been received by me very seriously; there was a terrible danger in doing so.

I may have already sensed in some ways that it kept him from growth. I surely saw that it damaged relationships, but for a long time I still accepted that worldview, with all of the fear that it carried.

Turns out it was fine all along. 

As stressful as it was, I can't rule out that my time of not speaking to my father was helpful, in that no matter how defective I felt, I still knew he was good in this. 

By the same token, I also know that not dealing with him now is better for me, even if those were steps that I took reluctantly. If he hadn't made some choices for me, and if protecting Mom hadn't been a more important priority, I don't know that I would have gotten to the place where I decided I didn't even want to try. 

Now I can see that as good for me.

That is not without push back. Several people have warned me -- mostly with good intentions -- about the regrets I will have for this lost time, especially when he dies. That does not take into account the regrets that I might feel over the knots in my stomach, and the stress and exhaustion and the hits to the self-esteem that come with dealing with him, and of which I have accumulated quite a store. I'm sure there will be weird feelings when he dies, but there are plenty of bad feelings now, and damage, and wistfulness about what having a different father would be like.

Eventually the decision came down to my belief that maintaining a relationship would harm me while not doing him any good. If it could do him good, I would take the harm. If it didn't harm, we would still be in touch. 

And if he needed my help, I would step in anyway, even though it probably would do harm, but not as much harm as it would have done back then, because I have grown.

My growth started with seeing the ways he was wrong.