A whole lotta stuff.

A whole lotta stuff has happened since the last time I blogged. Here’s a short list:

  1. I finished my PhD! Woo! (I don’t get the title for a few months, but done, bitches!)
  2. Trump won the election.
  3. One of my best friends from Conservatory died.
  4. I decided to start a consulting business.
  5. Family emergency
  6. Had a graduation party
  7. Health junk involving a round of steroids. Blah.

On their own, any one of these things would cause some major turmoil in my life. All together – I’m surprised my brains aren’t leaking out of my ears.

The Election
The election knocked me on my ass. It was less than a week before my defense. Like many others, I was filled with shock, terror, and confusion that we elected a narcissistic, xenophobic, utterly unqualified racist to one of the most powerful positions in the world. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I had celebrated the election for the historic nomination of a female candidate and spent a lot of time on Pantsuit Nation reading the stories of people also celebrating. Then the celebrating was over. I’m going to have a lot more to say about it in future posts, so I’ll leave it there.

Finishing the PhD
Finishing my PhD was GLORIOUS. The last 3.5 years have been grueling. It felt like I put on this backpack. It had a few rocks in it. Every semester, more rocks. Dissertation? ALL THE ROCKS. I have so much more energy/brainpower/resilience now than I had three weeks ago. The constant gnawing away of my self-esteem and confidence is gone. Glory be. With it, goes the intense level of paranoia I had about being able to make something of myself (and enough money to make my student loan payments) after graduation. Still nervous, but not hopeless.

A dear friend who had moved overseas died from complications due to cancer. Death sucks. I can never fully grasp it. I can only say that it leaves a gaping hole in my heart where the cold wind gets in. She was beloved by many and there was no one like her.

Starting a business
So this is super scary for me. In the aftermath of the election my existing plan (pick up more adjunct work, work on getting a full time position at the community college which would be flooded with funding after Hillary was elected) didn’t really look viable any more. But in the aftermath, issues of hate speech and cyberbullying are very urgent and I realized that I have tangible skills and knowledge that can help with policy building around aggressive speech for schools, government, and corporations with social media components. Now I just have to get past my fear and come up with a short term and long term plan. Yikes. I will continue to teach and look for teaching work, but I believe getting my hands into the policy muck is more important right now for our society. Good experience will make it easier for me to find good teaching work as well.

I have some initially volunteer stuff in the works that I think will become crucial to shaping my career trajectory. It’s at the nexus of political activism, online community, and developing language to help heal historical divisions that have derailed social-political movements in the past. This is BIG stuff. I hope I can make a difference.

Family Emergency
My dad had a minor heart attack and a major surgery (quad bypass). This is the closest I’ve come to losing a parent and it was pretty crazy. I’m grateful he’s recovering well, and trying to be supportive from my perch in Austin.

I probably blogged about this before, but I have low level chronic asthma that balloons into major events when certain pollens are around or I get a virus. I had to have my first steroid shot in over six months the day before my Dad’s surgery. So adding a giant dose of stimulants to my adrenaline rush was extra fun. I slept about 5 hours in two days.

Grad party
This was a nice house party just to say hi to all the people I’ve blown off for three years and to thank the ones that have helped me get through. I was high on sleep deprivation, steroids, and adrenaline. It was fun, but for the mentioned reasons, surreal. Great to see my people, though.

So yeah, roller coaster much? Lil’ bit. Now I’m crashing from the steroids, but starting to sleep more. Still not really centered enough to do some of the healing work I need to process the trauma. But very excited about the work I’m starting to engage in. Also excited for the holidays, and for our trip to California in Jan for graduation and Disneyland.

Hold your love ones close. Don’t take the times of peace for granted. That’s what I learned from the last 30 days.





Everything falls away

This year had been a gradual stripping away of the things that keep my identity intact. Of the things that keep me stable. My health. Most of my social life. Hobbies and interests outside blatant escapism (PokemonGo). Cooking. Dancing. Eating regularly or with any balance. Sleep. Exercise. Yoga. Money. To a great degree, happiness.

The process of trying to birth this damned document has stripped my resilience, my energy, and what flexibility I originally possessed. The extremes of feeling are exhausting. It feels now like when I was at the bitter end of a long relationship, my health failing from the prolonged stress, and I somehow had to find the strength to pick up and leave in order to save my own life.

Funny thing – I like my dissertation. I think it’s actually pretty great.

This time I don’t want to walk away. I want to come out the other side. But every setback crushes me harder. I feel as if my personality has been reduced its best and worst aspects. The rest is dust.

I’m super sensitive. I take things personally -even more than usual. But I am tenacious as fuck. I have a core of rage that screams NO. NOT THIS TIME. I am deeply insecure, yet I know without a doubt that I have something of value to contribute as a teacher and researcher, and I just want to fucking get on with it. I cry all the time. Nothing bounces off me anymore.

FYI, this is not a great state to be in while sorting through critical feedback of my first in depth research study.

Teaching is my calling. Other than loving and being loved by my husband and daughter, nothing makes me more fulfilled than creating a learning environment and watching my students grow. I even love my failures as a teacher, because they mean I can get better.

I think differently and I usually have the courage to build new things from my thoughts. This is the point of academia, contrary to much of what is demonstrated therein.

But every time I think I’ve turned the corner, something else lays me flat. I’ve survived months of chronic asthma and steroid withdrawal, crippling anxiety and depression, a painful and terrifying breast biopsy, and the reduction of my life to this pinpoint of pain that I keep thinking is almost over, and then isn’t. If it wasn’t for the mundane reality of parenthood, I’d be in deep trouble by now. You can get Adderall on the street, but you can’t fuck with that shit when you have a kid. The worst I can do is drink too much coffee and then feel like an ass for being jittery and grouchy.

I submitted my proposal in mid January, and expected to be finished months ago. Now I’m looking down the barrel of another semester if my committee doesn’t let me through, which means I’m looking at either being ABD after 3.5 years of busting my ass, or burying my family under more debt than we can take on (and I’m already responsible for far more than half our debt because of my schooling).

This semester my students told me, in class, how I’d changed their lives and how unique I was as a teacher. It was a flash of light in this darkness.  Ironically, my raw state allowed their love and appreciate to penetrate. I didn’t have any energy left to resist.

I am thankful for having a family I love enough to hang on to some of my health and sanity for.

The one thing I am grateful for out of the batshit insanity that has been this process is humility. Humility makes me a better teacher and a better person. I am less quick to judge others, or at least to believe in my judgements. I look for people’s truth instead of the reasons why they’re wrong and I’m right. I being to realize the depths of how bad things can suck, and how much more they might be sucking for someone else, and that makes me less judgy and dismissive.

I appreciate small kindnesses. Austin is full of these. In the midst of this freakshow election, I love my city more than ever.

I keep imagining what it will be like when this is over, and then something else happens that makes it seem like it will be ripped from me, along with the 100k or so I paid to get here. No bueno.

Think kind hopeful thoughts for me. I need all I can get.

And now for something completely different. Sort of. The psychology of Pokemon Go.

sillynamesPokemon Go. It has consumed my every waking hour. Well, the ones that aren’t spent feeding people, on hygene, playing other video games, working on my dissertation, and eating pancakes. I love pancakes.

And look! It’s not password protected! My dissertation is coming along apace. I hope it continues to do so. So many variables, but I have written all the chapters and now have to do a bunch of editing, smooshing together of sections, APA fixing, and appendixes and such. Still, written! Woo!

So, Pokemon Go. First I downloaded it because I was curious and another friend had just started. Then I got super obsessed. Then I joined the Facebook Groups for Austin and found out how obsessed one could truly be (in the absence of kids who prevent you from abandoning them around midnight to troll for pokes at the Texas capitol which is THE BOMB for pokemon go. Ahem.)

Several of my mom-friends are obsessed as well. Oddly, less dudes, though some of them (my husband) are getting into it. My daughter even got her grandfather addicted.

birdheadSo “addicted” implies negative stuff. And there are plenty of risks, as corporate news has already exploited. Obsession, car accidents, walking off cliffs, blah blah blah. I’m going to explore it from a first person phenomenological (what I experience it as) perspective.

  1. Obsession. Like any online interest, it can make me a little jumpy and neurotic. Too much time spent projecting my consciousness into cyberspace has a tendency to feed on itself. Once I get into the cycle, I have a hard time getting out. I have a particular problem with this in the evening when I should be winding down. Luckily there’s not much pokemon activity in my neighborhood, so I don’t spend much time with it after dark.
    1. Flip side – My husband has been riding his bike all over the neighborhood and has gotten significantly fitter. I don’t ride bikes, but I’ve been doing a lot more walking. Carrot; meet stick. (in the form of fictional critters made of ones and zeros. Weird.)
  2. Lowering of inhibitions. Yes, I surreptitiously load up on pokeballs  at pokestopsin my car, if traffic isn’t too fast (never on the highway) or the road is empty. I usually pull over if I need to catch some rare poke critter. I predict that cops all over the country are going to figure this out very soon and start issuing tons of (probably well-deserved) tickets for people fiddling with their phones while driving. The hands free laws in Texas are less enforced than elsewhere, but I doubt municipalities will resist this potential cash cow.
    1. The flip side of lowered inhibitions: I HATE being outside in the summer. H A T E . It’s so flipping hot, bright, and humid. Bugs. Mosquitoes. Ants that bite. This August, we got tons of rain, so the temps are about 10-15 degrees lower than usual. I’ve spent a ton of time doing stuff outside alone, with the husband, with the kid, or with friends that involve me moving around, sweating, and not really caring because I’m having fun.
  3. Acquisitiveness. While I’m no neurologist, I know that my brain likes it when I buy, am gifted, or find stuff. In the short term, new stuff=happy. Pokemon Go allows you to “win”, find, and buy stuff which can build into more stuff. It really gets to that wanty place in the brain. Is this good or bad? As always, it depends. If it gets me and my family out of our rut and out and about doing new things (which it has), I’m going to put this on the positive side. However:
    1. Flip side – you can make in app purchases. It is very easy to rationalize using hard cash to buy fake money to buy fake stuff. I fell into this trap in another game and after I came to my senses, I vowed that I would not do any more wanty in-app purchases. (Only the ones that add functionality to a utility type app, and only then with some serious consideration.) It’s essentially gambling, in the sense that you spend some money on items like lures or incense (short term things that attract extra pokemon to your location), and you may or may not get any pokemon of “value” out of it. Other purchases can speed up your rate of egg hatching-the only way to get out-of-region critters. So this is potentially and endless suckhole for money if you have a hard time controlling those impulses. Beware.
  4. Relational stuff. Yes, you can become sucked in and ignore your relationships blah blah blah. While I have been known to snap at my kid for not catching all the pokestops while I’m driving (whoops), in general this has created some new friendships for me and some new activities for my family. It’s pretty fun to have something we’re all interested in. My husband and I have very different interests, and the ones we have in common (sci fi and superhero movies, innovative restaurants for example) aren’t age appropriate or interesting for the kid. So we’ve been doing way more stuff as a family, which I call a win. I have a couple of friendships that were more casual that have moved on to the “hanging out together” phase because of the game. We’ve also started to solidify some family friendships in the same way.
  5. Health. I’ve mostly covered this, but from a personal standpoint, being outside is really good for my body and my psyche. I was cooped up inside for most of the spring, because pollen counts were high and I was plagued with chronic asthma. Every time I would spend a few hours outside doing something fun, it would get worse. It sucked. In spite of being in the midst of the shitshow that is the end of the dissertation process, I’m feeling more energetic and balanced. My husband, who needs to keep his weight low to keep pressure off one messed up and one fake hip, has lost 15 pounds from tooling around on his bike at all hours. The kid is mega-stressed from the first few weeks of school, but dragging her around to pokemon-heavy parks has really helped her unwind. My social life has expanded. I’m going to go with WIN.

I take pictures of real things while I’m pokemon hunting! And I look at them with my real eyes!

So there you have it. My experience of Pokemon Go, while fraught with the usual risks of video game play (minus the social media trolling and sedentary effects), has been pretty fun and generally good for my overall mental and physical health. The media, as usual, is painting as entirely binary. It’s not. Nothing is. But if you decide to start playing, let me know. The next release is supposed to include trading!

Surfing the Waves: When Corporations are Trolls

Okay, so now that I’ve looked a bit at how the onslaught of triggery clickbait is beginning to damage my calm, and I’ve looked at my own role in participating, how about them internets then? When did they get so clickbaity and why?

Facebook. Facebook. Facebook.

It used to be not-profitable. Then they added targeted ads. Fine. I occasionally click them, realizing with a mild malaise that they must have some access to my browsing history. Ick. Still, easily filtered as long as it’s not for diet products or plastic surgery or Trump swag.

But then came what seems to be the major dominance of news outlets in the feed. It used to be if I “liked” a news source (HuffPost women, for example), I would occasionally articles in my feed. Then they started to repeat. Then they started to clog the crap out of my feed. And then they got more and more clickbaity. “Ten reasons to wear a fatkini.” “Should you get married?” “What women over 30 need to know.” Then I started following more social justice groups. Repro rights. BOPO. LGBT rights. Political candidates. Feminist magazines.

And while I love my social justice, they are old-school when it comes to spamming. They seem to thing “more is better.” Email, snail mail, texts, and tons of posts. But people can filter repitition. It’s harder to filter clickbait, especially if it’s scary. Our brains gravitate towards scary as a means of self-protection. Advertisers are hip to this–have been since Freud’s nephew invented psychological marketing in the aughts of the 20th century.

My Facebook feed became a veritable clusterfuck of informing, emphatic, repetitive, and often disturbing content. This content is often also propagated by my friends who generally share my beliefs*. (This is a whole other topic. If I have a friend or relative that has beliefs I find offensive, I’ll “unfollow” rather than “unfriend” them. This means my view of the interwebs is even more myopic. Except for my research which doesn’t filter ANYTHING so there’s that.)

No matter how many times I click on “less of this” there doesn’t seem to be less of that. If I don’t see it, one of my friends may post it and my outrage/anxiety/helpessness will be reactivated. We used to use Facebook to connect. Sometimes just on the surface (dinner pics!) and sometimes on a much deeper, more meaningful level. This discourse has been pushed to the margins of my feed by often worthy, but exhausting content. I’m exhausted.

It’s all about the money.

I’m not a scholar on this. I’m sure there are some well-researched think pieces that I haven’t read. But it’s pretty obvious that the foundering news industry has taken to the internet like nutria to the Louisiana swamps. And like nutria, they’ve changed it fundamentally. That’s probably why so many people gravitate to Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media less littered by advertising and paid placement.

We became used to “free” services and forgot how we, the users, are totally paying for our free services by having less and less control over the content.

Beyond that, I think that the sensationalism of the press and its ability to cherry pick content for likely audiences, is causing some major distortion in how we view our worlds. Again, not the expert. I try to do my research on stuff that is social media propagated, rather than corporate-created. But I can’t ignore that the corporations have a huge amount of control over what we see and subsequently react to. While super cool bloggers like Lindy West and Jes Baker write awesomly for Huffpost and The Guardian, they write on topics that have become very controversial (which I think is good – visibility=good) and the corporate media takes advantage of this for their own, often less than savory reasons.

Again, not a bullish attitude for a bullish researcher, but there it is. The internet was gloriously free of major structural power for about a decade. That seems to have passed. I have to watch commercials for a 3 minute clip of The Daily Show. Pinterest, my guilty  pleasure, is littered with “targeted ads” and “suggestions.” Their algorithms suck, btw. A tatted up middle-aged female person with a bunch of BOPO and recipe pins does not want ads for “the five worst foods for your waistline” or “summer body” programs. Fuck off.

Instagram is still pretty minimal. The ads are high-end and easy to avoid. Wonder how long that will last?

I don’t pretend to know the nutria-press business model. I suspect it’s built on a pyramid of something worth very little. As we’ve known for many a year, clicks do not = sales. Sales = sales. Also, internet inhabitants are pretty good at abandoning one cluttered, increasingly useless ship for a more helpful one. Facebook has so far bucked this trend, but sooner or later it will die and go to that social media outlet in the sky some obscure server somewhere.

I don’t have the answer. I realized recently, after wading into the comment fray on a Huffpost video that bugged me, that I was totally suckered. The video, a radical feminist think-piece (I use that word with some trepidation) was designed to piss EVERYONE off. So I got lots of likes, some “go you” comments, and some incoherent but virulent attacks. Blah. And I said to myself, “You know, self, you walked right into that one.” But I could also say, “Well, self, that makes you human because that video was designed to suck you in. You have not yet reached enlightenment.”

*I propagate the crap out of my political/social beliefs, but I generally relegate them to my blog  FB Page so the more conservative of my peeps are not spammed into oblivion by my stuff. My main FB feed is for general musing, kid pics, kid humor, whining, and mostly benign stuff. This is a personal decision. It may or may not make me a good FB citizen. It doesn’t really help my mental tidy all that much since I’m still reading all that stuff. Re-posting may be a way of expelling the attendant emotions. That would be interesting research. Nerd.

Surfing the Waves: You Are Beginning to Damage My Calm

My life has been hella stressful lately. School, money, health – you name it. It’s been a high stress year. One thing I haven’t been tracking until recently is the effect of my interenet use on my stress level. It sneaks up on me. I have this inner dialogue that goes something like this:

Me 1: Wow, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety after browsing Facebook on my phone for ten minutes. Trump. Reproductive rights. Natural disasters. Maybe I need a break.

Me 2: What do you mean? Do you want to be ill-informed? Do you want to willfully choose to ignore the pain of others? That makes you selfish.

Me 1: I guess you’re right. Maybe I’ll try to thin back some of the political stuff I follow in my feed to see if that helps.

Me 2: Wimp.

Me 1: Well, that’s a little better, I guess. Still pretty hard to avoid triggering stuff. Everyone propogages this stuff constantly. And I like to be informed. And who can resist a “Top 5” list or a “You won’t believe…” headline. Apparently not me. And then when I click on something mildly click-baity I end up on a page with horrible brain-burning click bait that hurts my brain.

Me 2: Yeah that’s really annoying.

Me 1: Totally

Me 1: Okay, now that my external stressors are REALLY HIGH,  browsing the internet, checking my email (which I do obsessively), Instagram, the “helpful” news feed on my Iphone can instantly trigger the shit out of me. I feel like I’m waiting for “the shoe to drop” – a typical anxiety thing – and the internet provides an endless supply of shoes. Interspersed with funny stuff, cute stuff, and friend stuff. So I gravitate towards it to 1) confirm my anxiety and keep it going, and 2) to connect with other people.

Me 2: Wimp? Maybe not. Maybe we need a fricking break. Does that makes us weak?

Me 1: Who freaking cares?

Me 2: Good point.

So I did that thing. I spent three ish days with minimal internet. It got progressively harder. I’m back to checking my email several times a day and cautiously checking FB to see if anyone has said anything to me or tagged me (they have). Balance is certainly going to be key. Discoveries:

  1. Accidentally swipe right on your iPhone and prepare to be bombarded with “Texas woman shoots two daughters”. Fuck. Me. No wonder I’m so triggered all the time. Because I’m reading this crap all. The. Time. I have to figure out how to turn off the news feed.
  2. The Weather.com app is also less fun than I realized. “Hundreds dead in horrible painful awful flood!” With video! Flashy ads for fictitious loans. Maybe I need to go back to the more benign apple weather app.
  3. My anxiety is WAY lower when I’m not constantly bombarding it with crap. And checking my email to see if there’s any bad news. And checking the weather, sadly.
  4. I’m making an effort to reconnect with paper books. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of the ones I can read digitally for free (library) but I have tons of non-fiction that I can peruse at my leisure. That’s been good.
  5. I’ve also started keeping a written journal, which is weird because my handwriting is TERRIBLE. Unless I write really slow. So I’m writing really slow. And drawing pictures.
  6. Analog is not so bad. I think I started to slip today because I felt lonely. Because I’m alone a lot of the time. I can just feel it when I’m not bombarded with low level social input.

I give you, the weather. Or something.

This comes at an odd time, since I’m doing a positive psychology for the internet kind of thing for my dissertation and major research area. Still, I think maybe I needed more of the big picture. I’ve started reading Turkel’s Alone Together. I assumed that she was an older person with that “get off my lawn” approach to the internet. Not so much. She is more of a baby boomer, but she’s been tracking online culture since the 70s and she’s a psychoanalyst, so kind of up my alley. She makes some good points. This disembodied, scattered feeling can subsume a sense of connection to the physical world. And we are physical beings. I think perhaps there is a time for diving into the dynamic, challenging, pluralistic online world, and a time to retreat, reflect, and exist as a physical being. I think we ignore the online world at our peril, but we also ignore the physical world, which is highly impacted by the online world, at our peril.

More to come.