Archive | December, 2010

Living in the now isn’t as easy as it looks

21 Dec

Google living in the now and you’ll find a slew of new-age sounding websites, one of which is actually named Radical Happiness, featuring spiritual teacher Gina Lake, author of several “books of awakening,” including

Living in the Now,

Embracing the Now,

(and in case you have anxiety about the now),

What About Now?

I’m not interested in such jarring happiness today, but thank you.

Less likely to recommend a raw food diet is Psychology Today who gives you six steps to the art of Now. I skimmed the article and it gives good advice but while I dabble in obsessing, I’m pretty good at savoring a moment. Actually, I might oversavor. But that’s another post.

I moved onto this UK Guardian article which claims we are happiest when we are present in the moment, not distracted, not daydreaming. According to a  study in the journal Science, we occupy nearly half of our time focusing on something else other than the current thing we are doing.

Except when we’re having sex. Then we give the task 90% of our attention. So even on the road to orgasm, 10% of the time we still get distracted by something else shinier.

And who told me this? Science. And you should believe science because they get paid just to be educated. That ALMOST makes me want to study science. I opted to pay for an education in words and marry science instead. So far it’s working out. As long as I live in THE NOW. Which I’m good at 90% of time.

My brain is a swirling journey of thoughts: sometimes they dart back and forth so quickly that it makes me dizzy; sometimes they meander through a field with some frolicking thrown in, and sometimes they jolt me awake like shock therapy. There is rarely a time when I’m not thinking something. Specifically overanalyzing something.

How it went. What it meant. What I should have said, done, thought; how I should have breathed, uttered, sighed, blinked, fidgeted differently.

This has been a detriment to parts of my life and something I reluctantly admit to having in common with Elizabeth Gilbert. I was finally making peace with this until I went to link to her website. She uses Comic Sans, and italic Comic Sans at that. How am I supposed to take her seriously now? I was so close, Liz, to being on your side. I still have a love/hate relationship with her memoir. Full disclosure: I ate and prayed with Gilbert, but didn’t get around to finishing the love portion, though do plan to this month. It’s only fair.

While I’ve been on the road to recovery from overanalysis for a couple of years now, I still struggle to live in the now as much as I’d like to.  I worry for example when the now will be over. And when it is, how will I adapt? What will I do when the euphoria ends? I’m often so busy preparing myself for the waning of happiness that I forget to consider it might be here to stay. Not every second. Not every day. But for the rest of my life.

Aaron and I get along extremely well. Too well, I feared. I kept waiting for that time when the dream would die. Then we read in The Five Love Languages that the honeymoon period lasts for two years. So we have exactly one year and eight months before we look at each other in disgust and dream of a better life.

Until then I’m pretty sure you hate us.

When we moved from Virginia to Florida, Aaron bought us matching “Virginia is for Lovers” aprons. As if that wasn’t barf-worthy enough, I baked a flippin’ pie.

My first pie: strawberry rhubarb. I don't even recognize myself here: Imposter!

I realize our circumstances are different : we moved 900 miles away from everyone we know. So at first, quite literally, we had only each other. So it was easier to be this gross.

I know plenty of women who define themselves by their food; however, I am not one of them.  I’m competent in the kitchen but if that’s all we’re measuring me by then better-than-average casserole it is!

But humility aside, that pie was damn good.

To keep things in perspective, here is something else that happened once we got married. This was Aaron on our wedding day:

And this was Aaron three months AFTER our wedding:

Do you think he’s trying to tell me something?

Someone’s been embracing too much of the now.

The very day this photo was taken we both got haircuts and Aaron shaved his beard for the first time since the wedding.

Hello, Michael Keaton's doppelganger

Shorter on the sides (Miami style)

The point of all these photos is to show what can happen when you go too far with this idea of “living in the now.”

If you take Aaron’s example, you could become a bear from the 70’s. If you take my example though, living in the now can stress you out. Right now I’m unsettled; I enjoy my new job but it’s tough making a new world for myself after being so deeply entrenched in my old one. If I fixate on the uncertainty of even whether or not I’ll have a job next year, I’ll never get past this. I have to both live in the now (and make it better, bit by bit), and look forward as to not drown in the disassociation one feels after being uprooted from a warm cocoon and thrown into an ice bath. It keeps getting warmer here, but when it’s still chilly I have to imagine the warmth; if I fixate on what happens in the imperfect moments, I’ll never survive.

And you know what Science has to say about survival of the fittest.

Calling all you clingy, dependent types

5 Dec

The institution of marriage has been making headlines lately and being a newlywed, I noticed. National Public Radio reported a sociologist’s findings that marriage was now a matter of economics. It cited stats gleaned from the 2010 Census that 45 percent of 25-34 year olds are married. In 2000, it was 55 percent; in the 1960’s, 80 percent.

TIME reported on the state of modern marriage and found that while it may be on the decline overall, rates have remained fairly steady among educated people. The article goes on to explain the socioeconomic factors that might keep wedding bliss in the gaze of the erudite-on-paper. They cite more exposure to conflict-resolution skills and degree holders’ access to  jobs with flexible schedules, the argument being that a sick kid throws more of a wrench into the lives of shift workers than those who can go in late or leave early without threat of losing of an income. The more wrenches thrown into a marriage, the more stress, and the more stress, the more difficult it becomes to stay positive, etc. And according to Psychology Today, positive illusions are among the strongest predictors in relationship happiness.

Then there was this reader comment at the end of the TIME article:

“[M]arriage is for the clingy dependent [types] who need marriage as a reassurance that their life has meaning.”

Bitter, party of one, right?

Except maybe it’s true.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I had to fight my initial reaction because I wouldn’t describe myself as clingy or dependent. Sure I’ve been both of those things before. Who hasn’t?

Okay, so you haven’t. Congratulations on being an emotional island.

But I don’t feel like those are boxes I have to check on a personality inventory. I’ve never been financially dependent on anyone other than my parents and that ended once I left college. For six years, I lived alone in a house I (still) own, and ever since I could remember, I’ve been comfortable being by myself–solitude brings clarity and  peace that I cherish.

Many months before meeting my husband, I ended a way too long term relationship after realizing we were living separate lives under the guise of being together. I was doing my thing and he was doing his. Sometimes we hung out.

This does not a relationship make.

It wasn’t a bad relationship, just the wrong one. While we have some great memories, it turned out we were happier doing our own things; we just removed the pressure to involve each other. And I think we’d both agree we’re much more fulfilled as a result.

You learn a thing or ten from living so independently while pretending to be in a partnership. The whole time you’re proclaiming to love your independence, what you secretly want is a partner, an extra set of (unresentful) hands in the world. And that means depending on another human being. Regularly.

We’re talking about more than finances too. TIME cites a Pew Research Study in which love wins out over money (and babies):

“Far more married adults say that love (93%), making a lifelong commitment (87%) and companionship (81%) are very important reasons to get married than say the same about having children (59%) or financial stability (31%). Unmarried adults order these items the same way.”

I teach English and journalism to ninth and tenth graders. My husband researches honeybees and termites. Clearly neither of us married for money. We married for the companionship, the security, and oh yeah, love.

And because of our love (and mutual respect), we do on occasion cling to one another for support and more importantly, perspective. You see, being truly independent means you live inside your own head too much, which makes you kind of selfish. I hate to admit that but it’s true. And I’ve been a cardinal offender.

Independent woman, that’s me!

Introspective woman, that’s way too much of me.

Introspection is considered to be a characteristic indicative of intelligence. Hamlet is heralded as one of Shakespeare’s smartest characters on account of all his introspecting. Of course when I first learned this I took it to mean that I was mad intelligent: Look at me self-analyzing! If only everyone else could be this self-aware. Then I remembered how much of a whiner Hamlet actually is:

“O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” (2.2.550)

Just because he knows he’s a coward doesn’t erase the “poor me” tone. Sure, he’s got a lot on his plate. That whole “my uncle killed my father and is now sleeping with my mother” thing would propel most to the fetal position, but all those soliloquies, while full of beautifully crafted language, aren’t getting rid of killer King Claudius any faster. And Hamlet knows it:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (3.1.56).

Cue play within play, more introspection, and the death of all characters. This turned out to be a depressing example.

My point is that while it’s great to know thyself, it’s important to turn all that insight into action. My husband won’t let me give into insecurity for too long, he won’t let me fixate on financial matters like not having sold my house, and he’s always there to remind me of my assets. He’s also there to make sure I’m doing something positive to change my outlook. This alternative perspective keeps me from sulking and  propels me to change the things that are blocking my happiness.

Let’s face it: we all get insecure, we all feel lost at times, and we all think tomorrow is going to be as bad as today. My husband says to me something that I used to think was too simplified: “Tomorrow will be different.” But it usually is.

So do I find more meaning in life being married? Yes. Did I feel that my life was meaningless before I got married? Absolutely not. I don’t shape my identity around my husband nor does he mine, but we both chose to enter a partnership that strengthens us. Many people can bring out the worst in you, but my husband brings out the best in me: why wouldn’t I sign up for a lifetime of that?