dornröschen

I grew up with fairy tales and have always had a fascination with them. When I was a kid, I watched the classic Disney movies based on them and read anthologies of fairy tales over and over. I recently started reading more about them to understand their cultural significance more.

We’ve heard of Grimms’ collected tales being much more gruesome than our sanitized current versions, but I just learned how certain aspects were actually toned down in subsequent editions after their first collection. The violence stayed, but certain disturbing elements got cut out. The most interesting one to me is the changing of evil mothers to wicked stepmothers. It seems this was changed to preserve the idealized view that mothers will always care and look out for their children. So if a mother figure is cruel to you, she must not be your real mother.

I noticed a curious thing when I just read the original Sleeping Beauty. Several curious things that have been sort of transmogrified to fit into more acceptable ideas of good and evil, or fate, or men and women.

First, when the king holds a celebration for the birth of the princess, he invites tons of people, and it specifically mentions that he didn’t just invite family, friends, and acquaintances but also the wise women of the area. There were 13 wise women, but the castle only had 12 golden plates to serve their food on, so they only invited 12. The thirteenth that was not invited was just the same as the others. She was left out for an arbitrary and pretty ridiculous reason—it wasn’t because she was evil. This obviously contrasts with a character like Maleficient, whose being left out of the party is absolutely personal.

In the original story, the thirteenth wise women still shows up, but it is quite briefly, and only to pronounce the curse on the baby that she will die from pricking her finger on a spindle when she is fifteen (not on her birthday, just “in her fifteenth year”). Then she leaves. 11 wise women have already given blessings, so the twelfth gives one that softens the curse by saying she will not die but will sleep for 100 years. No mention of an enchanted sleep being broken by “true love’s kiss” or anything.

This brings me to the second feature of the original, regarding the prince. When the princess pricks her finger, it is on her fifteenth birthday, and she is alone, wandering through the castle. She finds a little chamber with a rusty key in the lock where an old woman is spinning. When she tries to spin too, that’s when she pricks her finger.

OK, slight other idea to mention: the misguidedness  of the parents. Immediately after the curse is pronounced, when the princess is still a baby, the king orders all of the spinning wheels to be burned. Which…doesn’t address that she’s not supposed to prick her finger until she is 15. Do all of the people in the kingdom just not use spindles thereafter? Do they make them again after burning the ones that existed at the time of the curse? Obviously there’s one available. And why not just tell the princess that once she turns 15 to stay away from spindles? Why was she all alone the day she turned 15, or in other words, the day that started the year wherein the curse was able to come true? Oh, yeah, I dealt with that curse thing 15 years ago, thinks the king. I burned the spindles. I don’t ever use a spindle, so I don’t know how they work or who needs to use them and I don’t need to worry about anything when my daughter is actually 15, so I’ll just leave her alone and also somehow never tell her about the curse. Wonderful, sounds good.

Also, the princess just happens upon a winding staircase in her castle and a door with a rusty key and there’s a woman alone in a tower spinning? Was that just normal in the castle? You find a person who might belong there and might be a servant or might not and might just be an old lady in a tower? I don’t care how big my house is, if I find an old lady shut up in a room I didn’t know existed, I’m not just going to be like, “Hi, ma’am. What are you doing? Can I help?” I guess she’s just used to finding random servants places she didn’t know they would be. I guess I’m also overthinking this.

Back to the prince. Thorny branches grow around the castle, wherein everyone from the princess to the flies on the wall is asleep. Any prince who tries to get through to see the girl with the famed beauty dies because he gets caught in the thorns. The prince who actually gets through does so because it just so happens to be the day 100 years later when the sleep will end. There is nothing special about this prince and there is nothing fateful about him. It is a complete coincidence that he chose this day to try to get in the castle.

So when he kisses the princess and she wakes up, it is just one of those weird coincidences. He does something, and something happens, but it would have happened anyway, meaning it didn’t happen as a result of his action.

I think of the prince like someone who tries to walk into a grocery store and doesn’t know what automatic doors are. He waves his arms around and the doors open and he thinks he’s a wizard because he made the doors move on their own. That is how much comparable power he has.  He is doing nothing more difficult than walking into a grocery store.

The end of the story wraps up by saying that everybody wakes up, the prince and princess get married, and then they live happily ever after. How exactly did that even happen? Did the prince convince everyone that his kiss broke the spell? Did the parents just forget that the sleep was going to last 100 years? Were they ok with the marriage because he had showed up so I guess he’s as good as any prince? Did they find themselves bewildered, trying to live 100 years in the future? Did they realize their daughter was now 115 and was marrying a guy about 100 years younger? Who knows.  They just got married, don’t question it.

The modern version of this tale leaves out every oversight by the king (not inviting one woman from a group of 13 because he couldn’t be bothered to get another plate or just use another set?*) and instead paints the woman who makes the curse as just a different sort of person—a monster, a witch, evil. Only an evil person would be upset. Also, of course a prince who marries this enchanted princess must have earned it with his superior strength and courage and also true love. He deserved it, and it wasn’t just a coincidence that he ended up in the tower when the spell broke.

Everything is meant to be, and there are two types of people: evil and good. The end.

*Oh, wonderful, 12 golden plates for the 12 wise women!

Sir, there are actually 13 wise women.

Oh, ok, we’ll just invite 12 then.

We can use a different set…?

No, no, I want my daughter to have gifts, but 12 is plenty. She doesn’t need 13. Just invite 12 of them.

[after the curse debacle]

King: Oh yes, that is why I didn’t invite that woman. Because she is evil and I knew she would do something absurd like curse a baby. That’s why she wasn’t invited.

“follow your dreams”

“Follow your dreams” is bullshit. It sets you up for failure. Dreams are too far off and every effort you make will pale in comparison to the eventual place you want to be. Every single effort except the step when you actually reach it will technically be “I haven’t achieved it yet.” It’s too far in the distance to aim for. Just look at what’s directly in front of you. Make short term, achievable goals.

My whole life I have made “dreams” without any intermediary steps. I never learned how to actually set goals. I never learned what defined a goal in the idea of setting goals. I needed to be realistic with my time frame, but the only one I had was “as soon as possible.”

I’m not sure what the idea of setting an intention means exactly when it is used in a spiritual way, but I think it might be similar to what I have imagined “setting goals” as. You can decide where you want to end up eventually. But then you need to learn how long that will take and what steps you need to take. Then you break those steps down and down and down until they can be done with one action. You need to write some step-by-step instructions for yourself. You can’t assemble an IKEA bookshelf by just staring at the directions.

A main example this related to was my intention to get back in shape, which I have had for at least five years. I used to be in great shape: I exercised often (dancing) and had a lot of strength, flexibility, and endurance. But I stopped dancing as frequently, and then all together. I became more and more sedentary.

Whenever I’ve “tried” to get back in shape (that’s a dream, not a goal at this point), I focus on a step that’s maybe number 10 out of 100. I jump to it too quickly and it doesn’t work. I either can’t maintain it, or I hurt myself, necessitating rest and returning to being sedentary. It’s because I wasn’t looking at the immediate next step right in front of me, just the next actual step, not the signpost 10 feet in front of me. I see now it didn’t make sense to expect to immediately jump to what I tried to.

Saying to simply “follow your dreams” and never explaining how to effectively set goals sets people up to feel like failures. It is the opposite of not being able to see the forest for the trees. This is seeing the forest as a single mass instead of the individual trees. It is looking with blurry vision.

I imagine a rope bridge and first looking to the other side to see how far I have to go but then walking across looking down because there are missing planks.

 

 

 

“waste not, want not”

Up until now, I have had a deeply-rooted fear of wasting. The concept of waste was vague enough to encompass a great many things, like so many concepts upon which fears are based.

My fear of wasting behaved like other fears too, in that if I tried to challenge the fear just by thinking through what it actually meant and what it actually included, some sort of Thought-Stopping Platitude would pop up, often with a good dose of shame, and that would stop the thinking in its tracks.

Habits based on the fear negatively affected my life, but when I tried to think through these habits and think about perhaps stopping them, then the Fear of Waste would pop up and would send me running away from it, sure that Wasting was obviously inferior to practicing these habits I had.

I have been what is called a pack rat. I have heard this term again and again, but it’s usually said quite nonchalantly. “Oh, he never throws anything away. He’s a pack rat.” “Pack rat” seems defensible. Some people don’t throw things away often, and some people do. That’s just life.

What is the difference between a pack rat and a hoarder, though? Where is the line crossed? A hoarder to one person is a pack rat to another. Have I been a hoarder? My house has not looked like the ones on the reality shows where an intervention is performed. But my habit—compulsively keeping things I do not use—is based on fear. It is not healthy. I don’t care what the term is to describe it and if some people are OK with it or what. I don’t like it. Any compulsion based on fear is going to negatively impact your life.

Living with collections of useless items that filled me with shame when I saw them (shame of not making use of them, not shame of keeping them) and filled me with shame when I thought about getting rid of them seemed preferable to the alternative, Wasting. Anything seemed preferable to this. I disliked the clutter, I disliked having things I didn’t use, but I didn’t seriously examine the reason I kept these things. All the focus was on why don’t I use these things more? Why can’t I use what I have? instead of on Why do I keep these things?

If I feel shame looking at a collection of objects every time I pass them, or in other words, if my shame is triggered by some visual cue, then actually getting rid of them will remove the shame.

Do you know what else getting rid of them does? It faces the fear. It puts it through its paces. It is an experiment. Fear, your hypothesis is that if I donate objects that I bought or otherwise acquired and then never used, then I will continue to feel shame after they are gone because I wasted them. I will under no circumstances feel better, is that right? That is your hypothesis, Fear. It can only be a hypothesis because it has never been tested.

I have tested this and have seen that the Fear’s hypothesis was completely incorrect. I felt better because I actually acknowledged the truth. Keeping objects around is based on an excuse I tell myself: I will use this someday. Getting rid of them knocks that down and admits: I will never use this (again).

If you have kept something for a good amount of time and had opportunities to use it but didn’t, you are not going to ever use it. If you keep seeing an object and keep telling yourself that you will use it but then continue to never touch it even when you have the opportunity to use it, you will not use it.

This triggers the fear though, because then the logical next step is to just get rid of the objects, and that means you are Wasting.

Wasting is a character flaw. Wasting is ingratitude and an entitled disregard for the value₁ of things. Wasting₂ is wrong.

  1. If you paid for an object, then that money is gone whether you use it or not. You do not get the money back if you use it a certain number of times.
  2. How do you avoid wasting anything? Do you have to use it until it breaks or is otherwise unusable? Does that not count either, though? Should you keep repairing or mending it until it becomes literal trash? What counts as trash? People through away things that other people would use. What counts as trash? What counts as waste? These terms are so murky and undefinable that you will always fall into them as long as you are basing your actions on fear.

I used to have an elevated opinion of things that lasted longer. There was an obvious inferiority to me for things that were only temporary. But I have realized that many, many things get their value from being temporary. Flowers have their seasons, and they would not be as admired if they bloomed the whole year.

I embroider, and it is easiest to make french knots with a long amount of thread. Most of the thread doesn’t actually become the knot, though. I have tried to use less thread and the knots are very arduous to make. Some thread is just used to make the thread that stays on the project easier to finangle. That thread is not wasted just because it is not part of the project.

I could buy 100 little packs of thread and use half it it in the actual french knots and half of it to form the french knots and then throw away. If I stuck to my fear of wasting, though, I might only use one pack and then give up because it was too hard to make the knots while also scrimping on the thread. Then 99 packs would be wasted. There would be no project at all. That is Waste, to me. Not using half for a purpose, albeit a temporary one.

Some things have temporary purposes. Their value is not determined by length of time used. Some things have the purpose of remaining strong over time. Their value is longevity. But these are different things.

I thought I would feel even more shame if I got rid of objects I have kept around for years and years, afraid of wasting them. Often I have kept things that I did use for a good amount of time but that I stopped using. I actually feel so much better with empty spaces where heaps of unused objects used to be. It is better this way. The fear was wrong.

CAndle

Several times, I’ve found that if I’m disappointed with how some sort of creative work has turned out, if I put it away and take it out again later, I like it more. Here are some photos I took awhile ago that I thought were pretty mediocre at the time but that I like now.

A Candle For A Dark World

The shadowy figure of a lit candlestick.

 

Sun and Moon

(In An Ocean Of Stars)

A lit candlestick with its based submerged in a bathtub, next to a small floating tealight.

 

The Moon’s Orbit

Sun and moon: A candlestick, barely submerged in water next to a small tea light floating on the water.

 

Daisy Dream

A daisy submerged underwater. The whole frame has a yellow tinge and there are shadows around the petals as well as some bubbles.

the comments section

I am mad that I have ever let the comments section of any post on the internet bother me at all. I am mad that I ever let some dumbass random anonymous people’s comments get me mad.

I used to, in an attempt to be fair and believe in fellow humans more, try to give any sort of opinion some consideration. I didn’t want to dismiss anyone’s opinion automatically. Now I see that that was being far too nice—inaccurately nice, frustratingly nice. I applied my own preferences and feelings to others: I don’t routinely just announce my opinions to people I’ve just met or in comment sections. So I suppose I was assuming that if someone did do those things, like express an opinion to a new acquaintance or make a comment on an article, that they were doing so with the same weight, consideration, and thinking that I would. In other words, these comments couldn’t be just some brain vomit that someone puked up to reassure themselves that their views are already correct without even considering an opposing one.

Boy, was I wrong. So, so very wrong.

Now I want a DUMB stamp. Now more often I just label people’s opinions as DUMB and move on. I’m so analytical and logical that I do have to stop myself from overanalyzing some people’s opinions and arguments. I start going down a rabbit hole of ridiculous and absurd thoughts that don’t even deserve to be seriously analyzed. It’s as if I’m still trying to somehow find a kernel of wisdom buried in a big pile of nonsense. I’ll start rantalyzing (my new portmanteau for the way I express confusion as I try to analyze someone’s poorly reasoned argument) and say, “But what are they saying? That ____? That’s the implication of that. Do they not see that? Or are they just somehow contradicting that and not acknowledging it? OR? OR? OR?” and my boyfriend will just say, “I think you’re overthinking this.” And I’ll realize I’m trying to analyze something as if it had the validity of a piece of art or other such serious expression, when it took the amount of skill and planning as a finger painting.

But seriously, that is a good comparison. Sometimes (often), I analyze the equivalent of a finger painting as if it were an oil painting worked on for many months. I’m just not going to find any substance or depth and I’m just going to go round and round spinning my analysis wheels thinking of abstract hypothetical interpretations. I don’t need to seriously consider every finger painting. I can just see it for what it is.

A belief in the importance of validation has become more and more eroded in my mind, and I’m happy. I used to think that any sort of act was only valid/valuable/important if other people both noticed and approved. It really doesn’t make much sense when you break it down. It contradicts other beliefs I have, such as that truth isn’t decided by popular vote, and that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, it does indeed make a sound.

What just set of this frenzy of thought on this subject was a brief article I just read and the comments in response. I liked the article and thought it had good points that were sound. I thought it was good the author wrote the article and it helped me crystalize some things I’d been thinking about.

Then I scrolled down to the comments and this old, nagging frustration erupted. All of the visible comments (you could click to see more) did one of these things:

*Missed the point

*Weren’t in response to actual points contained in the article

*Were one sentence that should be contained in a larger paragraph of explanation but treated as if it spoke for itself and was a pithy statement of truth

*A paraphrase of “I was right already before I read this and now that I’ve read it I’d just like to reassert my correct opinion without beginning to dream of considering another even though my opinion doesn’t really tie into the subject at hand”

I was mad at this apparent injustice. It was honestly a pretty straightforward article that I didn’t think was making very controversial points. But, oh dear, it did tie into women and expectations of them and that ties into lots and lots of opinions. It’s like certain people pop into the space with their hand cupped around their ear, saying “Women?! Did I hear someone say women?! I have an opinion on that!!!” I was just like, is no one even reading this article? This is unfair. You’re not even actually addressing anything she’s saying.

And then I realized, DUMB. An article is not a “success” only if enough people see it and agree with it. She put her thoughts out there, I liked it. It’s nice that she wrote it. You can’t wait to write articles until you know they’ll be well received. The important thing is making your thoughts known, not being approved of.

I thought about a common critique of professional critics, by the people they criticize. A writer, for example, will scoff at a book critic panning his work because the book critic isn’t actually publishing a book and so shouldn’t judge someone else. Well, I don’t think that holds a lot of weight, and I’m sure that author also criticizes people’s performance in professions he doesn’t have experience in. It happens all the time. It’s really often a way to sidestep the actual arguments the book critic is making by instead just saying that nothing they say has any validity. Would it have validity, in the author’s eyes, if it was praise for the book? Probably. So, a book critic is apparently knowledgeable enough to know when a book is good, but not bad. Which doesn’t make sense.

But these anonymous internet commenters are actually, I think, the true example of this criticism. They are so often people who do not need any courage or serious thought to post their opinions and only do so to nitpick and tear apart writing that they didn’t even closely read. They usually have at most a name, often just a username. Often no picture. And they’re commenting on an article with the author’s real name and picture, with links to other articles they’ve written. The author is in fact putting themselves out there and writing an opinion and expanded analysis. Commenters with no real name, photo, or credentials who think they’re so smart that they barely have to read the article to judge it look pretty pitiful in comparison.

In real life we don’t consider everyone’s opinions equally. If you’re walking down the street, you will respond differently when a friend versus a stranger talks to you. If you’re in line to get coffee and you strike up a conversation with someone in front of you in line who is in the same field, you would obviously consider any opinion or advice they have more than the person behind you with no background or experience with your work. A fellow graphic designer recommending a new stylus is going to be more trustworthy than an insurance salesman behind you who advises you to “use more blue.”

On the internet, we often don’t see who these people writing comments are. We don’t know what knowledge or background they have. We usually don’t even know their ages. There are 12-year-olds who dispense marriage advice online and claim that they’re in their 30s, married to a beautiful wife. You just can’t trust a comment indiscriminately.

So now I’m seeing that these comments are just a reflection of the people making the comment, not the author. These are “drive-by” opinions, the equivalent of a stranger driving next to you and yelling out an opinion and driving off. I’ve been taking them way too seriously and have felt the vicarious injustice on behalf of authors who produce work that gets these strange comments in response. I’m more OK with it now.

happy potential

I grew up clinging to two contradictory goals and have only recently been able to shake their hold on me. I know plenty of other people who had these goals, and I see how demoralizing it is to strive to accomplish such a paradox.

The two goals were these:

1) Make very few or no mistakes

2) Be perfect at everything

I grew up surrounded by people who emphasized that our ultimate goal should be perfection and that we should continually be improving ourselves every day.

My reaction now: perfection is impossible and overrated.

An obsession with perfection wasn’t the only problem though, because that second goal, in combination with the first, was where it really got thorny. The people I learned from would acknowledge the possibility of making amends and being forgiven for mistakes, but pretty much as lip service in combination with stressing but try as hard as you can not to make mistakes.

The contradiction is that to get better at anything, making mistakes is NECESSARY. You can’t ever get better at anything unless you start with flaws—otherwise there is nothing to get better at. The only other option would be to start out doing something perfectly, which we know is just not reasonable.

I have seen the frustration and agonizing self-criticism that grows from making your life’s work trying to accomplish those two goals. It is fighting a losing battle.

I once heard a quote, read earnestly, used to support these goals. It was something like “The strength of the wind is appreciated by the man who stands up to it, not who is blown down by it.” And everyone nodded in agreement and it seemed like a nice thought that the truly strong ones will not be blown down but will always stand up to the wind. But the problem is, that’s not the end of the story.

It’s not “One man remains standing, the other falls down, the end.” The other one who is blown down can get up and then learn how not to be blown down again. And then when a bigger gust comes, maybe he stays standing but the other guy then falls down. The fact is, you can’t prevent being “blown down” by “the wind.” The best you can do is get back up when it blows you down and withstand it better the next time.

Maybe you get blown down again and again, but each time you learn a different technique to resist. And meanwhile, maybe that guy that stood up to the wind at first gets blown down and stays down, because he had the attitude that falling down once means irredeemable failure.

That little idea about the wind is just one of many little pat platitudes and ideas that are seemingly inspiring but actually quite damaging. The truth is, to grow you need to make mistakes, and if you never make mistakes, then you never grow. Maybe this sounds obvious or simplistic, but I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve met who would argue with it.

A friend once was talking to a coworker and said, “Well, that’s what life is about: doing your best to learn from your mistakes.” The coworker simply answered, “No, life is about obedience.” If you have time to listen, I have plenty of similar anecdotes. This is a pervasive belief.

This ties into how uncomfortable some people are to hear (constructive) criticism. They think that it is indescribably worse to have to correct a mistake than to never make one. It seems like the end of the world to admit that they made a mistake, so they refuse to believe it.

I used to be one of those people, because I tied making mistakes to being worthless. I hated hearing any criticism because I thought it meant I was worthless; so I lived in denial and refused to believe I had any serious flaws or areas in need of improvement.I stayed stuck in a lot of harmful, toxic thought patterns for years and years because of this.

I am finally seeing the happy potential that lies in mistakes. Recently, I snapped at a friend and said something really rude. Afterward, I realized how mistaken I was, and at first I was petrified to apologize. I felt such overwhelming shame. But when I did, I was actually quite gratefully amazed at how forgiving and understanding the friend was. They actually related to me and told me about similar things they had done. It actually strengthened our relationship! Imagine that, Past Me! I said something really rude and addressing it made it better than it would have been without the mistake! Imagine that! Sometimes mistakes lead you somewhere you didn’t expect or want to go but that turns out to be better than your plan.

The swingset

I have a clear memory of “delivering justice” to a playground bully when I was in Kindergarten or first grade. It stands out so clearly, and I believe it’s a foundational moment in the development of my personality and behavior.

There was a swing set, which I loved. Swinging was maybe my favorite part of the playground. I think I loved the freedom of flying through the air while being secure and tethered.

Which superpower would you like to have? Flight or invisibility? Back then, I would have answered immediately, Flight. Now I unhesitatingly choose invisibility. Something changed between then and now. I want to rediscover that thirst for flight.

On the swing set, some kids were swinging. All the seats were taken, so I had to wait my turn. Another kid didn’t want to wait and came up behind one of the ones on a swing and started pushing them, harder and harder. The kid on the swing was yelling, “Stop! Stop!” They were going too high or too fast. They didn’t want to be pushed, they wanted to pump their legs themselves. It was too much for them, so they jumped off and ran away. The kid who had pushed them gleefully claimed the vacated swing. They had forced the other kid off, and now it was their turn to swing.

I was angry. That was so unfair. That was so mean. That bully shouldn’t have done that. He should have waited his turn and not ruined the other kid’s enjoyment. Why did he have to push the other one off? It was so unnecessary. He could’ve just waited. So, I wanted to show him justice, or “give him a taste of his own medicine.”

I marched over to where this bully was swinging away, and I started pushing his back hard, so he went higher and faster than expected. I kept relentlessly pushing and saying, “How do you like that? How do you like that?” My dad, who was supervising me (this was before school started, not recess), angrily yelled my name from across the playground and shook his head. I immediately stopped. I walked away.

He didn’t understand the situation. All he saw was me pushing the other kid angrily. Did he know why I was doing it? No, and we didn’t ever discuss it. It was unimportant to him—it was just a short moment. I’m not saying that I was justified in pushing the kid. I just wish we could have discussed it, and my feelings behind it, and when it’s appropriate to confront people.

I was trying to defend the other kid who had been pushed off the swings, not just hurting someone out of the blue. I was five or six and didn’t know to discuss it. I just learned that you don’t confront people, and you don’t fight back. I thought in very black and white ways. I took all of those thoughts and feelings—anger at injustice, wanting to show someone first-hand how they hurt someone else, wanting to make someone understand, wanting to confront someone, wanting to tell them they were wrong—and just attached a label to them collectively: No. Don’t.

Even Though

I now have a favorite subordinating conjunction, which is a new experience, as I’ve never had one before. This one has an emotional component to it. The conjunction is even though.

I realized recently that I have frequent negative fantasies—extended nightmarish scenes that play out in my head. I mean fantasy as an unreal vision, not some sort of dream or wish fulfillment. I realized today they are triggered by being in public places alone. They usually entail me somehow insulting or otherwise angering someone and a simple situation escalating into some sort of violence or other dramatic event. They are the opposite of “that happened” stories, invented tales people share on the internet that feature them as some sort of hero who receives literal applause from surrounding people. They encounter some sort of evil stock character and respond with some sort of witty comeback/mic drop statement and walk off satisfied and eager to regale strangers on the internet with their story. Mine are the opposite because they end badly and involve me messing up somehow.

I think I have these fearful visions because I am very affected by negative interactions with strangers; they really trouble me and shake me and cause me to dwell the rest of the day on them.

I was in a public place just after a tutoring session where I helped a student with grammar. We had talked about subordinating conjunctions. A main piece of advice I give students about grammar is first to find the main subject(s)/verb(s) in a sentence, because then identifying the other parts is easier. Subordinating conjunctions precede a subject and verb that, without the conjunction, could stand alone as a complete sentence. The coordinating conjunction (that, while, because, when, even though) tells you that the following statement is dependent on another one to make sense. “I don’t like marzipan” is a complete sentence and can stand on its own, but if I added ‘since’ and said, “Since I don’t like marzipan,” you’d know there was some other significant information coming.

Since I don’t like marzipan: Dependent clause

I bought some chocolate: Independent clause

Since I was in a public place alone [that’s a subordinate clause], I started imagining an awful situation subconsciously like I usually do (it was only then that I really thought about what triggers these imaginings, and I realized the “alone in a public place” feature).

I thought about how one of the things I’m working on is not to dwell on negative/uncomfortable experiences by moving on and not taking them personally. I really want to be able to bounce back instead of letting a negative interaction color the rest of my day. I thought about how if that nightmare I envisioned really did happen, I would want to be able to just shrug it off and go on with my day.

So, that’s when I realized,

I want negative encounters to be part of a dependent clause, not the independent clause.

I want the negative encounters to begin with even though and lead to the independent clause

“I was able to refocus and laugh it off.”

Even though that person got in my face and told me I was an idiot

Even though I said the wrong thing and embarrassed myself

Even though the person scared me when they yelled at me

Before now, all of those clauses have not included even though and were the only thought.

That person got in my face and told me I was an idiot! The End.

I said the wrong thing and embarrassed myself! The End.

The person scared me when they yelled at me! The End.

But now I want to add even though and finish on a stronger note.

Once I was walking down the street and stopped to take a picture of a house. I like different architectural features, paint colors, etc. so sometimes I take pictures. The house had a Now Leasing! Sign in front but no one was around. Once I took the picture with my phone, an irate woman came out of the house and roughly asked if I had taken a picture of the house. I mumbled my way out of it and walked on, but it affected me so much that I went home and wrote a Facebook note about it called Eeeeeeek! And shared it.

“An angry woman yelled at me for taking a picture of the house and startled me” used to be the whole story. But now I’m going to try and slap on my new favorite subordinating conjunction and work on moving on.

post script

I wrote this post last week and am just going to publish it now. Today I had an experience where I used this new frame of mind, and it helped me a lot! I was in a movie theatre and, during the previews, I started talking in what I thought was a whisper to my boyfriend only to have someone down the row loudly shush me. I had been speaking at normal volume. I was at first quite, quite mortified and trembled on the edge of devolving into intense shame. But I used my new subordinating conjunction and got past it!

Even though I annoyed some fellow movie goers, I can move on and not dwell on this mistake. I can learn to be more aware of the volume of my voice. Even though I made this mistake, it does not affect my worth. The people who shushed me will probably quickly forget about the incident.

real and perceived judgement

I get bogged down by others’ expectations of me, real or perceived. In fact, the perceived (i.e. false) expectations weigh more heavily on me because they’re what I actually believe. As I’ve written about previously, any sort of judgement of myself ties into my worth as a person. So the stakes are high: it’s not just a specific skill or ability that’s being judged, it’s my self worth.

I feel some of this judgement (actually from myself, perceived from others) about foreign languages. Languages are one of my main hobbies/passions/interests; it is a double-edged sword, because although I get a lot of enjoyment and excitement out of them, I also keenly feel so much discouragement brought on by judgement of my ability. I get overwhelmed mainly by what I “should” know.

There is a difference between my idea of what I “should” know regarding German and Spanish vs. French and Japanese. German I should know because I’ve been studying it for many, many years. Spanish I should know because I have been surrounded by it for many, many years and have had opportunities to learn from native speakers. So, I’m much harder on myself when I lack knowledge about these two languages. Contrast that with French and Japanese. I only took French for two years, and that was over a decade ago. I think I can still speak it reasonably well though, especially considering that I haven’t really studied it formally since. I have been taking Japanese classes for almost a year, and I can’t speak very much at all. But there’s no reason I should be able to speak better—I haven’t been surrounded by Japanese speakers or in any situation where it would be obviously useful.

So, according to the context, I speak French and Japanese relatively well. Relatively well for what’s expected, that is. But who exactly is even expecting it? Mainly me.

I used to go to German meetups frequently. It’s fun for me to practice languages and learn new things. But some of the habits of the other participants directly aggravated these insecurities for me, so I haven’t gone lately. The main habit I’m referring to is starting with small talk about how you learned the language and how long you’ve been studying it. AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAHAHAGHGHGHA.

I realize not everyone would hear my answer and think, “I expect her to speak flawlessly then!” But somehow that’s what my mind assumes. [There is a lot of divide for me between what I understand intellectually and what I feel emotionally. I often realize a perception is incorrect, but I still keenly feel it and it distresses me.]

I don’t ever want to say the actual number of years. I especially don’t want to say that I have a degree in it! So I have usually said something noncommittal like, “I don’t know exactly, because it has been off and on.”

I don’t like adding the context of how many years, and I think it’s actually a fairly useless question to ask! I get that it’s an applicable question for everyone at such a meetup, so people gravitate toward it like other small talk questions. But everyone’s context is so different! Someone could have studied German for five years, but it was every day and intensely, while someone else spoke for 30 minutes once a week in German for five years. That’s why I say it’s useless, because it’s not enough information. I just get the feeling (and I admit I could be completely wrong) that people often ask because they’re trying to figure out how long it takes to get to different proficiency levels. It’s not that they’re judging you to condemn you—it’s more like “They speak better than me, and since they have studied German for two years longer, I can expect to get to that level in two years.”

I would say that these meetups could be more enjoyable if there were no useless small talk questions, but I’d rather learn to be more resilient to those questions. I’d rather not care if someone analyzes my ability based on number of years I’ve studied it. I’d rather not care if they think that I am hopelessly incompetent.

I would say I’d rather just focus on myself and how I enjoy speaking languages, but the truth is that a lot (most?) of the judgement actually comes from myself. Whether the fellow participants are actually looking down on me or not, I think that they are, and that affects me. I think resiliency to judgment comes from lessening the judgment from myself first. I want to be more compassionate towards myself.

 

A drawing of four men in wigs (lawyers or judges) at a bench. From Ballads of the Bench and Bar; or, Idle Lays of the Parliament House, 1882.

unpopular opinions masquerading as acceptable outrage

With emotionally fraught issues like politics and religion, people, I have noticed, often skirt around the crux of their opinions and disguise their frustration as being about something more general and less controversial. For example, a controversial law passed after receiving a majority vote in a popular election. This law was later overturned as being unconstitutional. I heard people who had voted for the law saying they were outraged that the will of the people had been ignored. Being frustrated about the failure of democracy seems generally acceptable; however, that really wasn’t the crux of their frustration: it was that this specific law which they had voted for had been overturned. Since the law was controversial, it was not socially acceptable to voice support for it, especially after it had been declared unconstitutional.

The people (apparently) upset about the will of the people being ignored had never to my knowledge ever brought up this issue before. This wasn’t some pet issue of theirs they were passionate about. They weren’t outspoken about the necessity of elections and voting. They had been vocal about voting for this specific law though. I would guess that had the circumstances been reversed and the law had been voted down, the supporters of it would not be outraged at all should a court have declared the election somehow unconstitutional and ruled that the law should still go into effect. If these voters had gotten their way in the end, they wouldn’t be outraged about the will of the people being ignored. The issue was never the general idea of democracy—it was this specific law.

The main example of this phenomenon (disguising a specific controversial opinion as a more acceptable, general opinion) I am currently seeing is with the issue of freedom of speech. When public figures voice controversial opinions and receive backlash, people who share those specific opinions complain that such negative consequences infringe on freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is not the issue—it is the specific opinions that receive backlash. These people who are apparently so concerned with freedom of speech do not consistently defend the right—they often want public figures with different opinions from their own to just keep quiet, and they complain about protests against their own beliefs.

A specific example: the leader of a business voiced some controversial opinions and as a result, the business was boycotted. Customers who had actually agreed with the leader then fought back by visiting the business en masse on a particular day. Someone I know posted a picture of a long line at the business with the caption “Defending freedom of speech.” But this wasn’t about freedom of speech—it was this specific opinion. I would bet if a business leader voiced an opinion different from this person’s, they would totally support a boycott of that business.

This leads me to my next concern. Not only are people disguising their support for controversial views as a general concern for free speech, they are also using the term free speech for a different, incorrect idea.

Freedom of speech is a constitutional right. Since it is constitutional, it is concerned with the government and legal system. You have the freedom to voice your opinions, no matter how controversial. You will not be punished by the government for them. You will not be imprisoned. You are not prevented from saying what you want.

What freedom of speech is not is the entitlement to an audience and protection from any negative feedback. But this seems to be how many people are using the term. If someone says something and another person disagrees or picks apart the argument, the first person or their supporters will often shout, “Free speech!” Yes, free speech: the first person had the freedom to say what they wanted to say. But those other people also have the right to disagree. They too have freedom of speech, and they can use it to disagree!

There are so many platforms people have to speak: they can stand on a soapbox on a street corner, write a letter to the local newspaper, print their own newsletter, make a blog, post on a forum. Often though people are confusing freedom of speech to the right to a captive audience, or an audience of specific people. There are so many places to voice your opinions, but is not guaranteed that anyone will agree or even listen. You have the freedom to speak, but others have the freedom to ignore you.

Discussion questions

1. Have you seen this phenomenon at work?

2. How would you define freedom of speech?

3. What is a misunderstood/misused term you have noticed?