Thursday, October 30, 2008

Physiological Change II: Maturity

Maybe physiology isn't the right word for it, so much as 'maturity', but since the jury's out on what percentage of maturity comes from genes and what percent comes from the environment, I'll just call it what I want for now.

I was thinking about how slowly I grew up and how being way behind my peers in maturity caused certain kinds of change to be inconceivable. I mean, in high school - right up to my junior year, at least - I still thought it was perfectly acceptable to stalk a guy junior-high-style. Sitting at the park outside his house on weekends, having a picnic. Going to band early to creepily stand around, listening to him practice. Faking a photoshoot for art class just to have an excuse to take a picture of him. And, faced with him, straight out, asking me who I have a crush on? Lying. Lying right to his face, because the concept of telling a boy that I liked him, at the age of sixteen even, was flat-out unimaginable.

This was clearly behind the curve for my age group. Everyone else had already figured out the concept of subtlety, that always having an excuse to be near someone, no matter how valid or proveable the excuse may be, still suggests to that person that something weird is going on, because that person isn't an idiot.

Everyone else had also already figured out that crushes were not the be-all-end-all of life and that it was okay to air them out in the open - that it was a risk worth taking.

I had not figured this out. I didn't figure it out until college. And as much as I sat around in high school, writing emo entries in my diary 'whyyy doesn't anybody lovvvve me... what can i dooo about it... i've tried eeeverything...' I couldn't change then - couldn't dooo anything about it - because I couldn't see the source of the problem. I had no other viewpoint to compare myself to.

I mean, I was the girl whose application essay for admittance into fucking Reed College was about an experience I had watching people smoke pot and feeling like it was wrong and weird. Reed College! Pot was wrong and weird! It was really dramatic, too, like that Coke can bong had altered my life in an intractable way. I didn't know my audience, obviously.

It's like when I was too old to admit here and was listening to the song 'With a Little Help From My Friends', when the line 'I get high with a little help from my friends' came up. I asked my mom, "Do they mean... drugs?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Wait, the Beatles did drugs??" I gasped.

My mom had to leave the room to keep from openly laughing at me. I was a true graduate of D.A.R.E. I mean, it and all its misinformation totally worked on me. I actually couldn't distinguish between heroin and marijuana for awhile - I would mix it up and call them 'maroin' and 'herijuana'. That's what D.A.R.E. taught; all drugs are equally evil and terrible. And I didn't have the comparative capacity yet to learn to distinguish them myself. Not until I was seventeen.

A few times I tried to write short stories about crime, or life on the street, or abusive parents, even though I had roughly the same understanding of these topics as I did of drugs. I thought they were really deep and hard hitting, that I could write from any point of view I chose and understand everything about it. It took until college to realize that fallacy.

But I couldn't know that I needed to be more educated until I was actually more educated enough to know that. Or until my brain had grown enough to encompass that. Either way.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Physiological Change: Habits, Time, and Climate

I haven't examined physiological barriers to psychological change yet, and I don't intend to, in depth, until I either know what I'm talking about or can convincingly fake it. But the continual trouble I've had waking up at 5:30AM has me wondering.

I can go to bed early, arrange to wake up to a relaxing, unstressful massage, turn on the lights immediately, and cement a routine all I want, but after a year and a half of having to wake up at 5:30 for work, it's still almost impossible. My body has not adjusted. Which I find odd, having lived halfway around the world which, if my body were really unable to adjust to a different rhythm, would've had me going to sleep at what felt like 8AM and waking up at what felt like 5PM. For six months. With no sign of it feeling natural. But it did feel natural there, after only a few days. I had to exert no effort to adjust. Here, with my 5:30AM alarm, I can exert all the effort in the world but it doesn't catch for some reason.

The book I'm reading has a section about how our systems are the most depressed (relaxed, not sad) between the hours of 4 and 6 AM and there's nothing much we can do about it. However, it doesn't make clear whether it's because of the local light-dark cycle or it's something that becomes ingrained in our bodies from the time zone we're born in. From my experience and a good dose of common sense, I'm guessing it's the former.

Here's another example. Right up until I went to Indonesia, I had pretty bad skin. Medicated scrubs did not help, eating less greasy food did not help, washing my face all the time did not help. Again, despite all efforts to change and erect a new habit, the habit, while duly erected, did not produce anything in the form of any physiological evidence of change. The only thing that ended the ten year Reign of Acne was changing climates. Only once I was enmeshed in 85+ degree air holding 85+ per cent humidity, and my pores started pouring constantly, rivering everything bad out 24/7, did my skin clear up, and, amazingly, has stayed basically that way since.

Both of these examples are painfully obvious, so painfully obvious that I feel stupid including them in a blog entry The reason for the psychological change failing is that it's powerless against the larger forces of biology.

It's slightly discouraging to think that, for all the problems we face, any one of them might have some kind of hidden monstrosity of a biological blockade that prevents us from getting anywhere with it, even if we try our hardest.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Accidental Change

I was looking for the old high school diary entry that I was going to reference, but it became long and involved and impossible, so I thought, screw it, just move, just act.

On Saturday Patrick had a laser tag birthday party. The words 'laser tag' still instill an old knee-jerk jolt of dread in me because of the last time I tried to play, which was in high school, I think. I made it through the vest-fitting stage, barely, shaking with panic at how everything was blacklit and the actual playing stage looked darker. How I didn't know whether I'd be startled every time someone shot me and my vest vibrated. How I didn't know what the sound of the lasers would be like, whether it would be too loud. And when they released us into the arena, it turned out to be a maze. A dark, windy, smoky, strobe-light-filled maze, and there was no way, just no chance at all, that I was going into it.

That high school experience ended in my sitting down outside the arena and regretting every second of my not joining in the fun while simultaneously feeling that it was impossible - impossible! - that I would now or ever be able to do something as scary as enter a smoky, stroby, maze with dark corners and suddenly firing guns. And the contrast between then (only 8 years ago at the most) and the experience Saturday shocked the hell out of me when I sat down to think about it later.

All I felt Saturday was a vague sense of anticipation, not more than leftover neural firings from high school. When they released us into the maze I ran straight into it and started playing, and all I thought was, this is so cool, this is so cool. But not even in a, 'this is so cool, I'm so glad I can do these sorts of things now since I never could before' kind of way... just in an in-the-moment kind of way.

So none of this occurred to me until later... but later it occurred to me in the form of a ton of bricks:

I spent a lot of high school wondering when I would just... spontaneously change. When my chemistry would shift and I would stop feeling sick and anxious all the time, or when I would be able to do the normal things that normal people did and react normally, instead of inevitably ending up far removed from it and on my way to some 'safe' place somewhere. I didn't really consider that in order to change I would have to take action. I just figured a doctor would eventually find the right medicine, give it to me, and I'd suddenly be better, be normal, without having to lift a finger.

Turned out I was right.

Well, sort of. Turned out I didn't need medicine, unless you count time as medicine, which I guess it is, especially when it's carrying you further from high school (and I say that as someone who liked high school, you know, as much as I could for someone who couldn't do a lot of normal, non-scary things). I did need to thrust myself into new situations over which I had no control, no safety net. But once I was there, I didn't have to do anything. I just had to live and suffer and live and suffer and watch my worst fears come true and blossom into no big deal.

And it happened so slowly that I didn't even notice it happening. I emerged on the other side of it not even knowing that I had travelled through a tunnel, and not even knowing that I should be falling on my knees and giving thanks every time I walked into a classroom and sat in the middle, or had a sleepover with a friend, or performed in a concert, or ran whooping into a laser tag arena.

It's the most personal evidence that I have of a sea change washing up slowly. I don't know what lessons to take from it since if I tried to replicate it, I know I couldn't. All I know is I changed my surroundings, I took away my safety net, I made it impossible for myself to escape, and it just happened. It would be a long leap from this to saying that it would happen like that every time. I wouldn't feel comfortable making that leap.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Choice and Change V: Regret

Seems like every post ends here, doesn't it? I'm writing and writing, and come to regret, and stop, uncertainly. Mostly it's because I feel every thread leads here, that it might be the most important bottom line I have, and I'm scared to screw it up. Scared to regret screwing it up later, one might say.

I had to return my library book o' fame, so there will be no quotes from it here. If you're sick of the regurgitation, I guess that's good news.)

The question is, would I post what I feared was a terribly written post on regret if I knew that I were going to die tomorrow? Probably not, if I hadn't written it yet - I'd want to spend my last hours doing other things, other insanely fun things with terrible consequences that I would never do otherwise (more on that later). But if I had written it? Still, probably not. I wouldn't want people to remember me by a last, stupid, journal entry, instead of a more well-written earlier one.

I'm not sure whether to call that a form of anticipated regret or not. I would think that I'm rational enough to know that I can't feel regret when I'm dead, but the reasoning goes the same way as it would go if I assumed I would be alive: 'don't post this. it's silly. people will laugh. you'll regret exposing your thoughts so early on in the process instead of waiting for them to mature.' It's still the same: not doing anything feels better, somehow, than doing something stupid, even though doing something stupid might be a more fun thing to do in the moment and nothing else but the moment matters because, hell, you're about to be dead.

It may seem obvious to state, but the people who are going to worry more about regret are the ones who know that they tend to fixate on the past. I am one of those people. I do the if-onlies all the time, and project onto my future self the if-onlies that she will project back onto me.

Seems like clouds of over-worrying and all sorts of fluffy, substanceless shit like the above totally obscure any sort of action at all, even though experience has shown me (and statistics have shown others) that people are more likely to regret what they haven't done than what they have. Knowing this (and I do think we know it consciously), there's got to be some other reason we refuse to take action, that we are frightened to take action. Fear of failure, of course, but if we were thinking straight we'd realize that failure is imminent with inaction.

We are not thinking straight. Something is preventing our thinking straight. I guess what I'm in the market for, is what that something is. I thought I was heading towards regret, but I guess I'm not, or maybe that something is tied in with regret, inexorably - that something is hidden within regret that makes us unable to predict what we'll actually regret, even as we logically see it, have empirical evidence for it, have personal experience with it, and talk about it with authority.

I touched on that briefly in the last Choice and Change installment - that we are terrible predictors of what we'll want in the future. Perhaps we are even worse predictors of what we'll regret in the future. But we blindly try to predict it anyway. And the more we're wrong, the more we see we're wrong, the more scared we are of regret, because we see that regret happens despite our best efforts to avoid it. And the scared we are of it, the more wrong decisions we make in order to avoid it. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, but more than that, because it builds as it grows, like a snowball. It snowballs. You know, to be succinct about it and all.

People do emerge unscathed from the frost though, and I have a feeling it has to do with that something, which is either perfect foresight (unlikely) or the ability to just not give a fuck what their future self thinks about anything.

In other news, I dreamed that I was driving towards Santa Monica from the Malibu, and I was going home, but it was a sixties urban sprawl, or a seventies, and it was getting bombed. We had to lay in the crevices of gutters atop buildings to survive. Not past or future perhaps, but another way an alternate universe could have gone.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dreams, or Time Travel

As I was falling asleep the other night I had a fleeting thought about dreams right before I started dreaming and I thought, what a prescient time to think about dreams, but what a terrible time to remember those thoughts.

But what occurred to me was something like that what we were dreaming about was ourselves in past lives or future lives, or both mixed together. Not necessarily real past or future lives, but how we imagined those lives might be. So dreaming was time travel, in a way, or at least the illusion (hallucination) of time travel.

That's always been in the back of my mind because I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how my life would look from my younger self's perspective. Like, I probably think about it at least once every day. My younger self would certainly have a different opinion on my current self's surroundings - her boyfriend, her job, her looks, the bike she rides, the friends she has, the place she lives, the things she spends her time doing - than does my current self, who is relatively bored, or at least jaded, by it all.

But when I imagine my younger self's reaction to my current self, I'm only looking at a span of two decades at most, and usually less (because my four year old self would not have an opinion other than to want to go home and play the piano). When I look at dreams I imagine it's centuries, sometimes millenia, in the case of those really weird ones where you can breathe underwater, or tidal waves deposit you on deserted beaches, or you can fly effortlessly, or the air is made of smoke.

The feeling I get in dreams is so unlike anything I ever feel when I'm awake. It's an almost proprietary mix of wonder and familiarity. I'm basically unflappable and react calmly to any bizarre situation that's thrown at me, while still maintaining that what-the-fuck feeling you'd expect from being immersed in unpredictable weirdness. Half of me doesn't know what's going on, but the other half already knows how to react according to whatever dream laws of physics apply.

But the familiarity is almost a deja-vu kind of familiarity, which never fails to make me remember dreams as 'that time I time-traveled to the past', or to even think, when I wake up, 'oh... I'm back here...' as if I were somewhere way, way ahead of right now.

Like I had changed so much that what I left behind felt like a dream. I had changed so much that what I changed into felt like a dream.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Habitual Rituals

Over the long weekend, I was on a trip with my dad through Arches National Park, UT and Mesa Verde, CO. Being me, what I took most strongly away from the trip wasn't the way standing under the arches made me feel like I'd stumbled upon a world turned inside out, or one made of Play-Doh, or how the cliff dwellings looked like pueblo legos from far away on the other side of the canyon, or even how climbing a 32 foot ladder hanging onto the side of a sheer drop didn't scare me at all. It was my dad's reminder of a senseless ritual I used to require as a child.

I'm not sure whether to call this a habit or a ritual. Washing hands is a habit, washing them 3 times is a ritual, right. 'Ritual', I think, implies an extra layer of meaning given to an action, right? Washing hands once is for simply getting hands clean; washing them 3 times implies that the person has an obsession with cleanliness or maybe just an obsessive personality. Eating fish on Fridays might just be because you got used to the taste, but eating it on Fridays to follow a religious edict implies that eating fish carries a spiritual meaning on top of the nutrition/taste.

So I guess mine was a ritual. Every night before bed, I would recite mechanically to my parents, 'Good night, see you in the morning, sweet dreams, good night.' And they would have to recite it back. They had to say it in that order. They also had to say it last. And if either of those things happened wrong, I wouldn't be able to go to sleep. I would lay awake worrying about nameless things. Like maybe I would die in the night knowing my parents didn't say goodnight to me, and that when they came in and discovered me dead, they'd feel badly for not wishing me a good night. Something like that, although I'm sure I didn't put it into any sort of well-formed thought.

While my dad and I were on vacation, he still said, every night - tongue-in-cheek maybe, but still mechanically - 'Good night, see you in the morning, sweet dreams, good night.' Then when I was silent, he'd say, 'Say it! Say it!' just like I used to.

But on no night did he not say it. I sort of wondered if he had to, if it was a knee-jerk thing. I've grown out of it - it hasn't occurred to me in years - but I've changed my entire environment, left my house, left my parents, gone to sleep bidding goodnight to different people. He's still in the house where I grew up.

This makes me wonder: if I still lived at home and my parents were still together, as they were for the majority of my childhood, would I have never been forced to break out? Would I still be totally obsessive about this insane ritual, and others: like making my mom taste my seafood before I ate it to make sure it wasn't rotten; like having to finish walking up stairs with my right foot; like not being able to turn in a circle without then turning the other way; like always eating my food collatedly (peas, potatoes, steak, peas, potatoes..)? I stopped all that in college because it didn't occur to me to perform these things when in a completely alien environment. Within the context of the dorm, they were, if not impossible, totally out of place.

I'm sure a ritual can be broken while keeping its surroundings constant. But I'm sure it's easier if everything changes and becomes strange and new, and starts to require attention to every crazy detail.