The Labor of Learning to Set Limits

Oh, Outlander‘s finale was grand indeed, but it was so . . . final. I thought I would follow it with at least one thorough blog response, but it proved too overwhelming to face fully, and the sorrow of finality echoed forward. Besides these, another emotional factor had already begun to influence my viewing prior to the last episode of the season–increasing disappointment with the essence of how Starz has adapted the central story relationship of Jamie and Claire. All together, these zapped my motivation even to start sorting.

My disappointment helped me realize that the other thing I needed to do was take a break from “obsessenaching,” which, for the uninitiated means fanatically obsessing like, with, or about Sassenach*, aka Claire Fraser/Caitriona Balfe/Jamie Fraser/Sam Heughan and the whole Outlander lot. I could see my life was straying farther and farther from any semblance of balance. I was having a series of dreams invaded by actor Sam Heughan.

Now, the only reason I feel comfortable enough to admit this, despite finding it rather embarrassing, is that my obsession has made me privy to the obvious fact that many, many other fans’ obsessions with Sam (as must be the case with most handsome stars of the large and small screens) are far more serious and crippling to those people. I am happily married after all and do not hang my self-esteem on whether or not a celebrity re-tweets or responds to my comment. Undoubtedly, dignity and cool would fail me were I actually to meet said celebrity, but never mind.

Although, like many women of retirement age–of which I am not yet technically one for decades to come (hopefully)–I have more “free” time than most people, I have yet to earn the privilege of actual retirement. Based on where I have indulged my pleasures, I’ve come to see: It is this privilege that allows so many Outlander fans of 20+ or 2 years’ duration to indulge their fanaticism.

In my compromised youth, I still recognize the imperative of making life count for something. But without religion, robust health, paid profession, or penchant for routine, I figure some kind of inner drive needs to take the role of holding oblivion at bay for an independent-minded yet provided-for married woman approaching middle age without children. I believe one can really save only herself.

I did take a break of sorts. I put away my Outlander images collection. I stopped re-watching season 2 episodes. I stopped using Twitter altogether, let alone allowing notifications of Sam’s and Caitriona’s latest tweets. I was helped in this by the need to reduce the use of my phone while it showed signs of dying.

But with a new phone came renewed vigor and curiosity about technological capacities, i.e., gadget toys, and soon, I was right back in it. I justified this by the notion that I wouldn’t want to be out of the loop right before our big trip to Scotland. Still to happen, that trip in itself is a direct outgrowth of my Outlander obsession. I have no small hope of bumping into the cast and crew during season 3 filming this fall. I continue to “interact,” i.e., tweet, with the likes of the show’s consultants, producers and other reps. I receive regular notifications of tweets from slightly more than a few of them.

A married couple who are friends of mine just returned from their own Scotland trip, and I made sure to ask them all about it. I have scoured the travel guides, in print and online, compiled details on the sights selected for our itinerary, and delegated GPS setup to the hubby. We’ve bought street maps, new clothes, new shoes, RFID-blocking wallets, international driver’s licenses, travel insurance, theater tickets, steam train tickets, sightseeing passes, a detachable Bluetooth keyboard for my tablet, and a new rain coat for me. I downloaded 30 some apps for use before and during the trip, including the UK Highway Code, a bus tracker, weather apps, general news and sightseeing apps, one for each hotel and other vendor we’re using, and Scotland tourism apps. I’ve been planning our trip since May, and there are a slew of tasks still on our list, but it’s finally almost here.

I am excited, to be sure, but also worried that I won’t have the physical strength and energy to tackle even half of the itinerary I’ve tentatively planned for us. I tried to be realistic and arrange alternatives for things to do each day, but at least one day will be a real doozy with a full-day Outlander tour followed by an evening play, and we’re going largely DIY with all this, including renting a car for most of the trip. I also worry that my poor track record with packing sensibly will plague this voyage, too.

Still, I’ve never prepared so well, for so long, and so . . . obsessively for travel as I have for travel to and around Scotland. The excursion will be the single longest vacation my husband and I have ever taken. We’ll likely get through it somehow, but I do hope the experience proves to be worth all the time, money, and work invested in it. Who knows when the chance will come again?

The good news for balance is that I continue to think about it and make efforts at routine productivity. I still tutor weekly, and I’m still writing, in spite of my unplanned hiatus from this blog of late. I’ve been working on a novel since the July Camp NaNo (see my previous post about Packing for Camp), and now that fall approaches, I anticipate pursuing it through November, the official National Novel Writing Month I’ve participated in for the past five years.

[Note on the future of this blog: I’ve refrained from going into details about it here, or doing much posting at all, for fear of disrupting my momentum. But I must admit that it doesn’t take much to do that, and more often than not, blogging about my writing projects has injected new life into them rather than shut them down. So, I guess, besides tales from the trip, I can feel confident in having more to write about at Philosofishal going forward.]

There are other positive signs of balance to acknowledge as well. I have carried the bulk of responsibility for planning our Scotland trip over time, but I haven’t neglected all household management in the mix. I’m in the process of reassessing my autoimmune conditions treatment plan, I’ve begun a new financial investment project for us, and I’ve started walking regularly, mostly for the trip but also to combat high triglycerides, excessive computer sitting, and chronic pain. More goals are also brewing.

Perhaps I’ve been more balanced and productive than I give myself credit for. My limitations have not been as limiting as I believed. It’s just that some health challenges have a special, enduring talent for disappointing long-held expectations. So it has been for me, and so follows the need to keep adjusting those expectations, embrace joy where I can, and continue to set reasonable limits, especially on my propensity to obsess.

Setting limits for oneself is about awareness, love, and the will both to refrain and to reach for better. The good that comes from setting good limits can shatter perceived limitations. What once seemed impossible becomes not only possible but proven. Making wise limit setting a habit then means acknowledging that proof and using it to fuel future action.

Know_Your_Limitations_Then_Defy

Easier said than done.

To make it doable, I think I’ll work to visualize myself going through something like a par course or speed dating session with my various tasks and projects. (Picturing actual juggling just intimidates me.) No one can go, go, go forever; we all need rest after running the course. For me, though, the emphasis is different because chronic health issues make restfulness from sleep a fantasy and daily rest rather void. For me, maintaining and strengthening balance largely means remembering to change the status quo: to get up, move from one foot to the other, keep moving, take a brief rest, and repeat the cycle.

Learning to prioritize and set limits on the consumption of time, while it imposes its own limits, is my greatest challenge and experiment.


  • For more about the term “sassenach,” see:

Outlander | Speak Outlander Lesson 1: Sassenach (video featuring Sam Heughan, lead actor, and Adhamh O Broin, Gaelic Consultant for the show) | STARZ (2013)

Dictionary.com definition of “sassenach”

“Scots Word of the Season: Sassenach” by Maggie Scott | The Bottle Imp (date not specified)

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Five-Phrase Friday (32): Remember This

A daily e-newsletter I’m receiving inspired my second post of phrases for National Poetry Month. Of breaking lines and cracking art projects, I sing with the chorus (the featured poet’s piece), and of the need to be gentle with oneself and one’s art, lest either one break and crumble.

The Cuyahoga County Public Library’s program “Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry” each day presents a short poem and a poetry writing prompt at readwritepoetry.org. Today’s (April 8) featured poem is Maggie Anderson’s “The Thing You Must Remember.”

The portion that especially caught my notice emphasizes the delicate work of art making and, in a sense, the perils of a perfectionist approach to art, as that drive is grounded in fear of not being enough. (The arts and perfectionism are recurring themes of my blog.)

The passage also happens to speak directly to a major theme of the novel I’m writing for Camp NaNoWriMo this month about a young teacher’s obsessive efforts to combat bullying among her students. What a fine synchronicity of events and ideas!

With this sample of verse, I altered the format to make my usual handy grouping of five lines. My unsanctioned re-formatting raises the question of the mechanics of how to read a poem and how you can arrange the lines while writing one. I address these questions with some analysis below the excerpt.

Note: Ellipses for omitted text, brackets adding text for clarity, and slash lines signalling the end of a line as originally formatted–these are all my marks.

So here are lines 8-13 of the single-stanza, 16-line poem “The Thing You Must Remember” by Maggie Anderson, from Cold Comfort. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986.

. . . When the [clay] dog’s back / stiffened, then cracked
to white shards / in the kiln, you learned
how the beautiful / suffers from too much attention,
how clumsy / a single vision can grow, and fragile
with trying too hard. . . .

The same excerpt with the poet’s original breaks of selected lines 8-13:

. . . When the dog’s back
stiffened, then cracked to white shards
in the kiln, you learned how the beautiful
suffers from too much attention, how clumsy
a single vision can grow, and fragile
with trying too hard. . . .

A poem of this general form–containing relatively equal-length lines whose endings do not rhyme (free verse) and bearing punctuation at the middles and ends of lines–is meant to be read fluidly across the line breaks. It uses punctuated pauses (commas) and stops (periods) as if it were prose, as do most poems, even if those pauses and stops happen to correspond with line endings.

This “continuation of the sense of a phrase beyond the end of a line of verse” is called enjambment. The online Encyclopaedia Britannica has a helpful entry on this concept with an example to illustrate it clearly.

When we read the above poem aloud, then, we pause not after “back” (l. 8) but after “stiffened” (l. 9), and not after “shards” (l. 9) but after “kiln” (l. 10), and so forth.

Hearing the reading under such conditions, one might think this is not a poem at all, but other characteristics, such as length, word choice, point of view, and often style of voice while reading, all help signal to listeners that they are indeed hearing a poem.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud, but when line breaks don’t match pauses and stops, that doesn’t mean the break choices have no use or purpose. The visual effect can also be part of the package.

Aligning these phrases as Anderson does brings words with similar sounds (with techniques like internal rhyme, assonance, consonance) and similar appearances closer together. For instance, notice the internal rhyme of “back” with “cracked” and the consonant combination “nd” sound at the end of “stiffened” and “learned” (consonance).

Both visually and aurally, the pattern of short “i” rhyming words (assonance) lining up with each other is clearer than it would be if the commas and line endings corresponded; the cascade of the words “stiffened, in, kiln, single, vision, with, trying” all comes down the left side of the stanza in a delicate, suggestive bombardment.

The effect of certain sounds on a reader can vary, but for me, lots of short “i” words all stacked up like that suggests a sense of claustrophobia, being hemmed in and flattened like the very letter “i,” an application of pressure mirroring what happens to the clay figurine that “suffers from too much attention.” Think “squish” or “pinch.”

With this interpretation at least, form and meaning reinforce each other, and you notice these aspects more with free verse because there is no end rhyme to distract you from them. Similarly, any alliteration, repeated consonant sounds at the beginnings of words, is barely noticeable in the poem. Consonance describes matching consonant sounds at the ends of words.

Attention away from the ends, we are free to focus on the middle.

So now, you may start to see how poetic form and presentation can work together to encourage readers to take time, take it all in, and notice the clever or beautiful little convergences and connections–of word with word and word with meaning and meaning with meaning.

Once this happens, the overall message of the poem can more readily penetrate and resonate.

Check your favorite poems for enjambment, seeing how the arrangement of parts adds to the whole, and how these intentional choices of the poet communicate meaning and art.

And remember this: Treat your artwork and yourself gently, with a sense of trust and calm, so that both of you may remain whole and beautiful.

All the little clay puppies thank you for your kindness and mercy.

Image_dog_clay_black_figurine


Image credit: clay figurine from etsy.com via duckduckgo.com search.

 

Five-Phrase Fridays 2015

ICYMI: Here’s a round-up of all 19 Five-Phrase Fridays I posted in 2015. I’ll be adding the list to my blog’s Five-Phrase Fridays menu tab for reader convenience as well. Enjoy!

  1. Five-Phrase Friday (1) – hints of politics in poetry
  2. Five-Phrase Friday (2) – snippets (tippets?) of Emily Dickinson
  3. Five-Phrase Friday (3) – terms of endearment for my dog
  4. Five-Phrase Friday (4) – compound modifiers in action
  5. Five-Phrase Friday (5) – 1980s comedic cinema
  6. Five-Phrase Friday (6) – favorite Apples to Apples matchups
  7. Five-Phrase Friday (7) – funny, punny small-town slogans
  8. Five-Phrase Friday (8) – select lines from cherished poems
  9. Five-Phrase Friday (9) – Shakespeare-style insults
  10. Five-Phrase Friday (10) – Outlander‘s Frasers & Mackenzies
  11. Five-Phrase Friday (11) – Halloweenish rock band names
  12. Five-Phrase Friday (12) – phonetics of bird calls
  13. Five-Phrase Friday (13) – Emily Dickinson reprise
  14. Five-Phrase Friday (14) – depiction of a cycle of terrorism
  15. Five-Phrase Friday (15) – blessings I’m thankful for
  16. Five-Phrase Friday (16) – first and last lines from my NaNoWriMo novels
  17. Five-Phrase Friday (17) – best songs from a beloved Christmas album
  18. Five-Phrase Friday (18) – books on perfectionism (we shall overcome . . .)
  19. Five-Phrase Friday (19) – five pop culture lists of five great things

Five-Phrase Friday (18): Perfect Reads?

On the 18th–perfect! What a fitting time to renew this message–when we’re trying so hard to do what we ought for the holidays, find some enjoyment in their midst, temper our expectations of the latest release by the Star Wars franchise (The Force Awakens opens in theaters today, as if you didn’t know), and prepare to make New Year’s resolutions.

Five biblio-antidotes to perfectionism. . . . Yes, I just made that word up on purpose so you would consciously check your perfectionism from the outset.

Looking for a last-minute holiday gift, or is it not yet last-minute for you, you procrastinating perfectionist?

Consider a book, film, podcast, course, or program about understanding, overcoming, recovering from, and/or channelling perfectionism. A gift for someone else or for yourself to offset making all those cookies, crafts, decorations, family photos, shopping trips, greeting cards, plans for seasonal outings, band concerts, dance recitals, Nativity plays, online purchases, sweaters for your dog, gift wrappings, countdowns to the day you’ll get a break from the madness, and silent vows never to put yourself through all this stress ever again, even if it means your kids go without Christmas.

This week, I offer five book titles toward that end (reducing stress, not excising Christmas)—two I’ve read and recommend, three I’m discovering along with you. I just looked on Amazon and chose some that spoke to me through their titles, a range of publication dates, and, of course, their high ratings coupled with a significant sample of reviews (conformity mixed with perfectionism, I know, but bear with me).

  1. Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride (1988) by Marion Woodman – I read this as a teen; it’s from a Jungian psychology series.
  2. The Artist’s Way (1992) by Julia Cameron – One of my favorite books overall. See the list of links below to my related posts.
  3. Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control (2010) by Pavel G. Somov PhD – The grammar reference alone makes me happy.
  4. Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist: Learning to Be Free (2013) by Amanda Jenkins – a testimonial approach to self-help
  5. Positively Perfect: How to Love and Utilize Your Perfectionist Qualities (2015) by Claudia Svartefoss – Don’t hate perfectionism; it’s counter-productive.

There are also many books for kids on the subject of needing, wanting, and seeking to be perfect, and the reasons behind those impulses.

Feel free to let me know what you think of any of the above books. I’ll probably add 3, 4, and 5 to my Goodreads.com to-read list.

I know that a conspicuous irony of promoting self-reflection regarding one’s perfectionism is that the perfectionist often already over-thinks things and can be too self-absorbed. If this is you, don’t beat yourself up! (That’s perfectionist behavior, after all.) Don’t see this list as a scolding or criticism. It’s an act of loving permission I give you to be imperfect by leading you to ways to learn how to do that—and, ultimately, be happier.

If you’re thinking, “Happiness—who cares? I want to be famous/rich/brilliant/impeccable/phenomenal/[fill in your perfectionist goal or label here],” realize that you’ve become one of those greedy little pan-dimensional mouse-beings from the film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (based on the books by Douglas Adams), and you might just be about to steal someone else’s . . . er, property (no spoilers), to serve your own power-hungry aims.

That’s mean.

Don’t be mean. Don’t try to be perfect. Strive instead to be your truest self—in all your imperfect glory.

Then again, perhaps only the mindful person is likely to read my blog in the first place, and you’ve already gone down this introspective road.

Maybe I’m only preaching to the choir, but it’s based on hard lessons from lived experience. I’m in a position to share some wisdom on this, and I do so with compassion for fellow sufferers of psychological wounds that are self-inflicted but with external triggers.

Here are some of my other posts–several inspired by other bloggers–on the subject of perfectionism, particularly as it relates to art and writing:

  1. Play-Write: A Response to “On Treating Writing As a Form of Play” March 24, 2015
  2. Reflection on “Abandoning Perfection,” March 23, 2015 (direct response)
  3. On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection, March 18, 2015
  4. On Process: Verse Writing, Part II: Developing an Idea, Trying a New Form, March 11, 2015
  5. Is Writing a Single Bad Sentence a Signal of Bad Writing?, February 26, 2015 (direct response)
  6. Thoughts on “How to Be a Confident Writer,” January 29, 2015 (direct response)
  7. Classic Learning, January 28, 2015
  8. RE: Re-re-re-revision, January 19, 2015 (direct response)
  9. On “Writing Without Hope” by Jennifer Lynn Krohn, January 1, 2015 (direct response)
  10. Practice makes . . . , January 16, 2014

I encourage you (and me) to re-define what success looks like for you, to appreciate more of what you already have, to forgive yourself and others, and to move beyond what holds you back from joy and peace.

Happy–if not perfect–Holidays.

Portrait of the Statue as a Young Girl

Portrait of the Statue as a Young Girl.

Today is a great day to read online, to relish and remember the best of what we live and read.

Today, thanks to The Green Study‘s weekly Wednesday introduction of blogs this month, I found this eloquent, lyrical, penetrating slice into a life I can almost see and touch, and definitely learn from.

Today brings a model for engaging memoir. The power of Alice’s work buds from the hard, simple truths of memory in the face of disputed details and denied facts and events. That power grows with the writer’s courageous, slow unsticking of another corner of the bandage over still-healing wounds.

Today is a day to meet new people. Evocative, thought provoking, and inspiring, “Portrait of the Statue as a Young Girl” stands alone beautifully but also serves as just the most recent in a series of posts for the author’s ongoing memory project, of which I’ll be reading more.

Read it. Today.

8 Postcards of Generally Positive Gratitude

I Miss You When I Blink

Lately, there seems to be a lot of fussing about how some entertainer/artist/creative person didn’t give everybody exactly what they wanted 100% of the time.

Sigh.

There’s a thing where people seem to think, well, if you put yourself (or your work) in the public eye, you should be prepared never to make a mistake or do anything that’s less than pure genius ever again. And that’s a bit much. It’s not really fair, you know?

I’m not saying we don’t all have a right to discuss people’s missteps and examine what we could all learn from them, or that we shouldn’t criticize stuff we don’t like. We do, and we should, and I will — OH YES, MATT DAMON’S PONYTAIL, I WILL — but it sure would be nice if we could also remember that all these things we pick apart are made by real people. It peeves me when I see…

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