Unless You Were Abused

A few years back, my company brought in one of those motivational speakers. Everyone seemed to find his words profound, like motivational speakers are aiming for, but I really only remember one phrase from the whole thing: “Unless you were abused, this will be true for you.”

And he’d repeat it whenever he talked about habits. That qualifier – unless you were abused. It was the first time I’d heard a motivational speaker acknowledge that an abused person’s mind doesn’t work the same way as everyone else’s. As he talked, I realized he wasn’t describing me in his lecture.

And that was a light bulb moment. I just don’t fit in the same categories as the live studio audience. My path was so far off the beaten one I’m not sure I’m in the same time zone. And as for these speakers, and self-help books, and internet wisdom? One size certainly does not fit all.

“Normal people don’t live like this,” my mother would chastise, usually as she forced us to clean the house for hours, ending past midnight.  Normal people were the specter, the boogeyman, these indefinable “others” I could never live up to who were constantly judging me for that failure. She’d quite literally been telling me I wasn’t like other people since I was old enough to listen. But here this guy was, pointing out the obvious: if I’m not normal, all the stuff that works for normal people shouldn’t work for me. He wasn’t pitying, he wasn’t defining me by the horrible things I’d experienced. Just a disclaimer, “Unless you’ve been abused.”

I shouldn’t expect I can simply find a beaten path and walk it, because I won’t. I’ve been through too much. I can’t help but check the path for dangers that don’t even occur to “normal people.” I’ve developed a different skill set for life; of course I require a different set of tools to work with. But I can still get the job done. I just need to find the things that work for me instead of my mother’s “normal people.”

Could I lose weight by cutting out all the carbs and sugar from my diet? No, because my weight problem stems from the fact I often went without food as a child. I get irritable and panicky at the thought of denying myself any kind of food. Should I establish small routines over a long time to ease myself into better behaviors? Not really, because my circumstances changed so often when I was young I learned to drop habits at a moment’s notice. I still have to remind myself to shower and brush my teeth; they’re not habitual for me.

My mother’s rants about “normal people” always seemed to imply they were better than me. They aren’t. They’re just different. Now when I read those self-help books, or run across life hack articles on the internet, I mutter my own disclaimer.

“This works!” the headlines proclaim.

Unless you’ve been abused, I say.

Failure is Fun

I’m terrible at softball – and that’s just how I like it.

I play on a softball team in a local league. It’s their fault, really. I warned them before I joined I couldn’t catch, throw or run. They said, “You’re in!” So I play, and every week I prove I am not only slow, but lack any semblance of hand-eye coordination. Our losing streak is unparalleled.

I like it. Being the worst player on the worst team in the league is good for me. Sure, I could get obsessive about my failure and actually practice or some such nonsense, but that defeats the purpose. You see, I’m a perfectionist.

Every day I find myself muttering how terrible I am over some minor percieved imperfection. Little things, like forgetting the proper syntax for an SQL query or sending an email without the attachment I referenced in the message. If someone actually mentions I made a mistake? I’ll spend days berating my own stupidity.

I come by it honestly. My mother never felt my achievements were worth recognising if I wasn’t the best. Not just the best in my class, or my best effort, but the best EVER ANYWHERE. If I was struggling? I had no right to complain unless my situation was the WORST EVER. I spent my life getting the message: if I’m not perfect, perfectly good or perfectly bad, I don’t matter.

It’s bullshit, of course. My work has value, even if I had to look up the syntaxt for an Insert statement or resend an email with a correction. But softball is different than that. In softball, I can fail. Gloriously, epically fail. Be horrible and make mistakes and let the team down every time. And my self esteem doesn’t ride on the outcome of the game.

I get to enjoy just being there. I do something, I do it badly, and I laugh. Being terrible at softball is helping me learn how to fail. I put myself out there, show off my failure to the world, and I survive it. Heck, there aren’t even any cosequences! Ok, there are a few bruises when I get hit with a ball I didn’t catch, but I don’t even notice most of the time. And maybe, just maybe, I can carry some of that failure back to the rest of my life.

Maybe I can learn not to let my self esteem ride on being the best EVER, which I’ll never be. Maybe I can learn to let my work be gloriously imperfect, rather than mediocre-ly perfect. Maybe I can practice and get better at softball.

Or maybe not.

Silly Things That Make My Life Easier

Money can’t buy happiness, they say, but it sure can make life more convenient. I’ve been marveling recently at just how much little things, even inexpensive things, can relieve stress and bring comfort. In the past I’ve had to carefully weigh my purchases to make sure they are worth it – and none of these things would have stood up to that scrutiny. But now that I have that thing I always thought was a myth – disposable income – I found these things probably would have been worth the money if I’d know how much they would help.

Keypad Door Locks

OK, I admit this seems silly, until the day you’re climbing through a window because you locked your keys in the house.  And then you realize if you could climb in a window, nothing is stopping anyone else from doing it but basic human decency and the fact that no criminals have cased the house recently. Now my doors are always open to me and locked for everyone else. I can walk the dog at 5AM in my bathrobe. I can forget my keys somewhere and still be able to get inside to deal with the consequences of my forgetfulness in private. Plus, I can always give out the code in an emergency and reset it after the emergency is taken care of. Silly, I know. But as God is my witness, I will never be locked out of my house again!

Amazon Alexa

Yes, I have my very own, in-home wiretap! Yes, I do like it, but for one thing and one thing only: shopping lists. Forget all that other crap, Alexa revolutionizes shopping lists. First, you can add things by voice as you notice you need them. No finding paper, wondering where a communal list might be, pens running out of ink. in other words, I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to add it to the list. Second, I can access it from anywhere, so if I go straight to the store from work, the list is there. If my husband goes to the store, it is there. If I make a rather inconvenient discovery we need toilet paper after he walks out the door, I can shout “Alexa, add toilet paper to my shopping list” and it’ll get to him. though perhaps calling it ‘in time’ is a bit of a stretch in that scenario. Oh, and I think it tells jokes or something. Don’t care. I can add those to my shopping list.

Kitchen Tongs

I labored most of my life with spatulas, chasing bacon around the frying pan, never realizing there was a better way. For meats and veggies, tongs work so much better. I get a better grip, food doesn’t slide up and over the side of the pan, it lands where you want it to go when you flip it over. I didn’t even know I was so frustrated with my spatula until I heard the tip on a cooking show. Tongs. Worth every single penny.

Exercise Ball

This may be more specific to me, but I replaced my desk chair at work with an exercise ball. I hated my desk chair. Since I have a lower back injury, by the end of the day my back ached like hell from the pressure. Now I sit on an exercise ball. Yes, it takes a little getting used to. No, it doesn’t stop me from slouching. I just learned how to slouch a different way. No, I have never fallen off the ball. Well, I’ve never fallen off at work. I fell off at home once, but I was being lazy and reached too far behind me to get something off a shelf. My back doesn’t hurt at the end of the day. Best of all, when I’m feeling restless, I bounce. Makes the work day so much funner! BOUNCE!


Forgot one – a Secure Password Manager Program

I use Dashlane, but there are quite a few on the market. OMG. I never realized how many online sites I had logins for, until I had a list. Dashlane also saves them automatically and lets me click to log in to any URL from their interface. It also syncs passwords across my devices, so I can access them from anywhere. Secure password manager. It’s worth it.

Superpowers and Super Heists

I like heist shows. My favorite is Leverage – a fun ensemble show that could be tagged “Robin Hood Meets Ocean’s 11.” There’s only one problem with with Leverage, and other heist shows in general: there’s no way those plans would work.

I remember the first time this became glaringly obvious to me. Some friends and I were watching McGyver. It was the 90s, and I’ll admit I was totally into the grunge thing. Flannel, garage band tee shirts and combat boots. I wore combat boots because Doc Martins were just not in my price range. My friends did, too. Well, in this particular episode McGyver used his foot to pry off a combat boot and fling it with his toes to move a lever and stop the machine about to kill him.

In unison, the entire room looked down at our feet, back at the TV and said, “No.” You see, if you’ve ever worn real combat boots you know that combat boots are designed specifically so you can’t just wiggle out of a fully-tied pair. Soldiers wouldn’t be able to walk for miles over rough terrain if it were that easy. Even assuming it was possible, somehow, you’d never be able to accurately hurl one 10 feet across a field with your toes and hit a lever, then have the lever move enough to stop the machine.

And the more shows I watch, the more obvious it becomes. Now, in real life, there’s good reasons not to show a heist that actually WOULD work. No need to encourage people to break the law. And the audience needs to see how it’s done, making it so completely obvious what’s happening it’s hard to believe the mark is missing it. So I had to find a way to suspend my disbelief in the face of my knowledge it could never, would never work.

I did: Superpowers.

With Leverage, I simply decided every member of the team had superpowers. That’s how the hacker could do all the things I knew couldn’t be done (as well as being equally good at all kinds of hacking, which isn’t realistic), the thief could steal things using complicated rigs from places that would have motion and heat sensors to detect her presence, a hitter could not only take a lot of hits with no permanent damage but also miraculously avoid gunfire, the grifter make incredibly obvious plays with bad accents while maintaining a bevy of fake identities that don’t backfire on her, and a mastermind who always has multiple backup plans and one of them always works. Superpowers. They are kind of like my own band of X-Men, but bad guys with a heart of gold.

The writing lesson for me, here, is that sometimes you have to veer from the strictly possible to the entertaining. I think we writers all have a bit of the Mary Sue wish fulfillment in us – we want our characters to smarter, faster, clever-er. You know, us, but better. But since we also don’t want to advertise our flaws, we don’t make it hard enough for the characters to do what needs to be done. That’s where the sage advice about learning to torture your characters comes in. And we really don’t want some pedantic reader to tear apart our clever plot by saying it simply couldn’t be done that way because they are an expert on some specific topic that you got wrong.

But maybe there’s another way. Maybe, we need to give our characters a touch of superpower. That way we can make the obstacles more complicated, harder, and just a touch impossible. Since your Mary Sue has a superpower, she can survive a jump that you’d never make. She can Rain-Man on a particular topic to figure out a convoluted puzzle. She can manage, somehow, to pry off that fully-tied combat boot and fling it across the room and hit a lever. If upon reflection it’s too much, you can always fix it in editing. But perhaps if you “go big” from the beginning, you can start with a plot that’s heart-pumping exciting rather than try to amp up one that’s drab but realistic.

Or I can always imagine your character has superpowers.

“Little Girls Don’t Like Star Wars”

In all this time of #metoo, women are asking what’s really changed? I say a lot. I’ve noticed the difference in my own lifetime. How?

Star Wars, of course.

“Little girls don’t like Star Wars.” – Everyone when I was 9.

And I was confused, because I was a little girl and I loved Star Wars. I had all the action figures (literally; I counted them.) I had Star Wars bed sheets. I mailed in cereal box tips for an exclusive Emperor Palpatine figure. But everywhere I heard the mantra, “Little girls don’t like Star Wars. ” I once begged for an AT-AT walker after the boy down the street wouldn’t let me play with his, because Star Wars is for boys.

Then they stopped making Star Wars toys after Return of the Jedi and it seemed the galaxy far, far away had faded away. I still loved Star Wars as I combed garage sales for other people’s discarded, dog – chewed figures. I soon became a woman, but the mantra remained.

And then a miracle happened: new Star Wars movies. Adventure; excitement; a girl Jedi does crave these things! And that’s when I first noticed it. It wasn’t much – a pink Star Wars tee shirt. Just the words in that iconic font printed on the front, but it was obviously meant for a girl. It wasn’t branded with the lone female character, either. This was just a plain Star Wars tee shirt. FOR A GIRL.

My friend’s daughters liked Star Wars.

Later, Disney bought Lucasfilm and there would be new movies again. Soon the stores were flooded with Star Wars toys. But this time, the stuff wasn’t limited to pink tee shirts and Leia dolls. Heck, it wasn’t limited to little girls! I could buy purses and shoes and womanly Star Wars things. The first time I saw a store full of Star Wars stuff for me, I cried in the aisle.

I know how far we’ve come because np one says “Little girls don’t like Star Wars” anymore. When I read an article about Millenials destroying something, I smile. Because all they are destroying is the preconceived notions of those people who told me little girls don’t like Star Wars. Now they buy her a lightsaber for Christmas.

Because little girls can like whatever they damned well please.

Veggies, I’m Coming For You

Diet, week 2. Veggies, I’m coming for you!

Week 1 went well. I drank much water. Can’t say as I really noticed all that much of a difference, except in TMI ways that aren’t really pertinent to the goal. And of course, since I told myself I was going to do this in easy stages, I find myself wanting to run out and do weeks 1-4 at once, go to the gym, take up jogging, and all manner of “good for me” things.

This is how it begins.

I’m amped up, ready to make ALL THE CHANGES. The enthusiasm feels good! I can do anything! But enthusiasm is a lie. Because eventually it fades, and soon the daily trip to the gym doesn’t feel good anymore, it feels like a just another item on the to-do list. Then, instead of wanting to go, I dread having to go. I’m tired, and hungry and bored (so bored) and no one will notice if I skip just this once. Or twice. Or month. Or…six.

Traditional diets are the same. Figuring out what to eat is work. Denying myself that sweet, sweet milkshake I want so badly becomes negative reinforcement. The milkshake is bad, I say to myself.  I shouldn’t drink it. Then it isn’t a big leap to “I’m bad for wanting it.” Of course I want it! Sugar lights up the pleasure centers of the brain. Calling myself a monster for wanting, or occasionally consuming, high-calorie treats isn’t going to make that craving go away. All it’s going to do is convince me there’s no point anymore, since I’m a horrible person who might as well be fat, since no one really cares about me anyhow.

OK, maybe that last  bit is just me. Thanks, Mom.

So I’m having to throttle myself down. This isn’t an exciting new adventure! This is the new normal. More water, boolean veggie test. Had to catch myself this morning – I made eggs for breakfast and had to figure out the vegetable I had on hand that would go with them. Cucumbers in vinegar. Not quite pickles, they’d only been splashed with vinegar instead of truly pickled, but there was half a cup of them. Threw in a sliced pear sprinkled with cinnamon for a sugary kick.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I’m kind of having fun scouring the internet for new recipes. Especially since I have to be gluten-free now, I got into a rut. I found out what was safe to eat and stuck to it, but that kind of made eating boring. Same old stuff for breakfast, same old restaurants for lunch where I ordered the same old dishes. Comfort carbs at home, since I couldn’t easily get them elsewhere. Yawn. I’m shaking myself out of the ennui of food allergies. I think that’s probably a good thing.

No weigh-in. I’m actively stopping myself from stepping on a scale. If I focus too much on the weight, I’ll obsess over the diet and I’ll rush into making ALL THE CHANGES. Nope, nothing to see here. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along. At least until week 5, anyway.

And veggies, I’m coming for you.