Wormholes, Best Trick in Beating Resistance, and Perfectionism

Wormholes
And here’s where the concept of Wormholes comes in. Wormholes, as I define them, are these little breaks of opportunity in my great wall of resistance. They’re the moments when I feel like maybe, if the circumstances were just right, I might possibly be talked into:
• Giving up bananas (they are SO not local)
• Organizing my office
• Writing a new song
• Doing more than just my one sun salutation in the morning
• Doing more than just 2 miles in my morning run
• Doing whatever totally heinous chore has been on my To Do list since two years ago Christmas (Today it’s finding a new stylus for our aged turntable; last week it was filling out copyright forms to register the songs on our new CD)

Now, if I take advantage of these miraculous wormholes, the impossible not only can happen, but usually does with remarkable ease, especially if I have a little grace and humility about it. I resist playing the guitar until I stop telling myself I’m supposed to be playing the guitar. Then, usually, I want to play it. I go through phases with it, and today I know that about myself. Some years I practice diligently, with love and great enthusiasm and creativity. Other years, I coast along. Even though I have made my living as a singer-songwriter who plays the guitar, I know I will never be a virtuoso. What I have done is evolved my own style, and today it’s good enough for me. And I got that style from a certain amount of “just doing it,” as a certain shoe company would say. Just showing up and gritting my teeth and pushing that Sloth to play scales and figure out songs. On the most wonderful days, actual enthusiasm would appear in the middle of a practice session, and I know there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than just joyfully banging away at my guitar.

Best Trick Beating Resistance
“Play till you feel like resting. Then rest till you feel like playing.”––Martha Beck

When I have a lot to do and I don’t feel like doing anything, I make a deal with myself. I say, “Okay, then: do nothing. But really do nothing.”
Doing nothing involves reclining on my couch and staring into space. I do not get to talk on the phone, read, check my email, or sleep. On the other hand, I do not have to meditate, count my breaths or practice any kind of spiritual discipline whatever. All I do is space out. Somehow, this always relaxes and refreshes me, and before too long, my spinning mind has a million things it wants my body to do. I jump up and start accomplishing all the tasks I was fixing to resist.

Perfectionism is the Enemy
So when I look back on my “goals” list, my IAP sees all the things I haven’t done and won’t ever do. (Not going to be the next Beatles. I am clear on that. Don’t think Harvard Div’s in my future either, but that’s another story.) My IAP can sometimes be quite disappointed. But the truth is, I played the guitar well enough to make a career that has sustained me emotionally and financially and artistically for the past 22 years. Instead of becoming the next Beatles, I have this fantastic patchwork life: a manageable, wonderful music career, and a life as a freelance teacher of writing, music and life. I get to write books, go to my kids’ assemblies, and have date night with my husband once a week.
Like the person who really wanted to be a gardener in Ogunquit, the Real Me chooses the life I have made over the life I thought I should have when I was 22. This life, as they say, is right-sized. But I am also glad I gave it my all and “went for it.”

From How to Be an Adult: A Musician’s Guide to Navigating Your Twenties, by Nerissa Nields, Mercy House 2013

Time, Resistance and Priorities–From How to Be an Adult

This chapter starts with what I consider some important skills to develop when moving from the carefree, fake-cheese eating world of adolescence to the kale omelet world of Adulthood. These skills are:
1. An ability to know who you are, so you know what you like, so you know what you want, so you know what you need, so you know what you must do.
2. An ability to work with the currency of Time
3. An ability to deal with the related issue of inner resistance, otherwise known as DPI (Desire to Procrastinate Indefinitely)
Now, some of you soon-to-be-adults will have no need for the chapters that follow, and if that be the case, skip ahead to the practical sections on exercise, food and sleep, and knock yourselves out. Your problems (if you have any) may have more to do with sitting back and relaxing rather than kicking your own butt, which may be sore from all the lunges and squats you’ve done over the years. There’s a section just for you a little later on. It’s called “Eight Cheap Forms of Therapy.” For the rest of us who know a little something about sitting in front of the TV for five days straight eating nothing but microwave popcorn and diet Shasta, read on.

Know Thyself

Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that.
––Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Everyone seems to know that Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Very well. What most people ignore is that the character who says this oft-quoted line is the big blowhard and hypocrite and oh, by the way, spy, Polonius. In the context of the scene within the play Hamlet, what he really means by this bit of wisdom adopted by the New Age, is, “Make sure whatever you do, you look appropriate and protect your interests.” Still, there’s a reason the New Agers (and many Hallmarky-type cards and refrigerator magnets) have sold this quote. It’s valuable advice. Even so, because as a teenager I really hated Polonius, I prefer Socrates’s “Know Thyself,” which is more succinct.

How do you know who you are, anyway? Until you do, you can’t really do much. You just kind of whirl around in circles, following whatever is the most sparkly (or safe) person, situation, trend, idea, diatribe, religion. You get your idea of self (usually) from your family of origin, or perhaps from your social group at school or elsewhere. But what if they are all saying things that don’t ring true to you?

Get out of the house, and get out of town. Or at least, begin to question: what feels unharmonious to you about the messages you’re getting from these people? Are they walking their talk? More importantly, are you? When you listen to that core set of values deep inside yourself, does it match how you are behaving on the outside? When your inside matches your outside, we call this “integrity.” Look for others with this quality. Get to know them. These people are the real deal. As Gandhi says, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Figuring out who you are and what you like and what you want and what you need is a lifelong pursuit. Some get clarity earlier than others; you might already have a very good idea of who you are and what you do best and what you like and what you want and (sometimes hardest of all) what you need. If you know these things about yourself already, use your knowledge to be—to paraphrase Dr. Seuss–– the Youest You you can possibly be. If you don’t, take some time to find out. It does take that most valuable resource: time. I first took this kind of time the summer I turned fourteen and was leaving the school I’d attended for seven years to move on to high school. I lay in my bed every morning, thinking, “who am I really?” And by the end of the summer I’d made some important discoveries. First, that (like my heroes, John Lennon and Bob Dylan) I was an artist, and therefore (necessarily) different from everyone else. And second, that therefore I didn’t need to worry about “fitting in” anymore. Eventually everyone would catch on that I was hip, but for now, I could march to the proverbial beat of a different drummer. With these empowering discoveries, I had a huge surge of energy and creativity. I began writing songs; I spoke out about what I believed; I started to wear a lot of red and purple, and also strange hippie garb from the Salvation Army. “I have found myself!” I announced audaciously to anyone who cared to listen. (I really impressed my mom, but my sisters told me later that they were horribly embarrassed for me.)

And indeed, I had found myself. But then “myself” changed, and I realized I looked terrible in red and that I wasn’t really a hippie. We discover ourselves like the layers of the onion. It’s an ever-evolving process. We have to keep asking ourselves what we really love, and make sure we are not swayed by the opinions of others. If all our friends were suddenly abducted on a spaceship and we were left with a totally different crowd, would we adopt the new crowd’s preferences and predilections? Would we stay true to what we loved now that we are a part of the (now Martian) crowd? Or are we secretly glad our old buddies have moved onward and upward? In fact, you might want to listen carefully to those outside your strongest spheres of influence. If you are a diehard Christian, read the Koran. If you are a lifelong Democrat, read Atlas Shrugged. If you grew up listening only to classical music, try some hip-hop. Don’t let others define you. Make up your own mind. See for yourself.

Play a game of “What Do You Like Better?” Oatmeal or chocolate chip? Red or blue? Liberty or Justice? Urban or Rural? When in the day is your energy strongest? What makes you lose your temper? Which is harder for you: anger or sadness? Which is harder for you: your own feelings or the feelings of others? Do you really like jazz? Big drooly dogs? Ernest Hemingway? Short hair? Sci-Fi? Downhill skiing? Or do you just wish you were that kind of person?

To some of you who have strong, healthy egos these questions might seem ridiculous. But I must confess that when I was in my teens I “put on” a lot of likes, dislikes and opinions that were not quite true to who I really was—and I certainly believed I had a healthy ego, and I came across to my friends as a leader. Looking back, here are some of my “should likes.”

• Camping
• Rush (the band)
• Charles Dickens’ novels
• Soccer
• Lord of the Rings

And some “should not likes.”
• Tiny cuddly dogs
• Peter Paul & Mary
• Makeup
• Woody Allen (I know I’m supposed to hate him, but…)
• iPhones
• Starbucks

Some of these are things I realized as a young girl. I should definitely not like:
• To play with dolls
• To like fairy tales
• To wear pink
• To watch The Brady Bunch
• To re-read the Little House books when I was in 7th grade

And so I did these things in secret. I “put on” being a tomboy instead.

Even as I write this, I am cringing. I don’t want anyone to know some of my true likes and dislikes. But one of my favorite parts of Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful Happiness Project is her First Commandment (to “Be Gretchen.”) This reminds me of the Hindu observation that God dwells within us as us. Those quirks we can’t stand about ourselves––they are divinely wrought. And our work is not to eradicate them but to learn to love them.

The older I get, the more permission I give myself to love what I really love. Our twenties are a time when we start to put down the masks and stop trying on different personae. By the time you hit thirty, you should be well on your way in a lifelong game of Hot/Cold (“Warmer….warmer…hot! Hot! Hot! You’ve found it!”).

“Why try to be a Pekingese if you are a Greyhound?” Listen to the still small voice within. Get to know it. Take it out on dates. Write to it. Talk to it, but also listen. See if it has any better ideas. Some people have an Inner Child. (More on this coming up.) In addition to my Inner Child, I seem to have been gifted with an Inner Sneering Older Brother, whom I probably acquired from reading too much Creem Magazine when I was a teen. Some of my work today involves standing up to that Inner Sneering Older Brother (ISOB) and singing, “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow!” or some similar drippy 80s ballad. (ISOBs hate 80s ballads, 100% of the time.)

Now is the time to do something wild and crazy. Join the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or teach English abroad. Move to New York City or Los Angeles and live the life of a starving artist. Move to Bhutan and become a monk or nun. Go to Europe and be the founder of a political movement. Start a rock band like I did and travel around the country. Or, if you know you are going to end up being an artist, take a few years to do something totally different. (One of my friends from college became a cop. He’s now a writer. What amazing material he got during those years!) You will never be this unencumbered and free again! And your back will never enjoy sleeping on other people’s floors as much as it does now! Seize your moment!

This of course assumes you have your college loan situation under control. Mindful of paying off the bills, do so—in the most adventurous way possible within your comfort zone. And use your weekends for exploration. Take a weekend to be alone. Go on a Vision Quest. In Native American tradition, youths are sent away with no food (usually) to spend a period of time communing with their spirit guide. At the end of this period, they come back to the tribe clear on what direction their future will take.
Can you find a way to do something similar? I am only asking because, adult though (I think) I am, I wish I could say that I have done a Vision Quest. Everything about it terrifies me: the wilderness, the fasting, the insects, the boredom. That’s why I think it might be necessary. Next edition, I hope to report back.

One more thing about my crazy vision quest idea: it is worth noting that in every ancient tradition on every continent the young males went through some kind of initiation rite (the young females did not because they were usually impregnated at that point and/or breastfeeding, and believe me, motherhood is a pretty thorough initiation rite in and of itself). The point is, people have known for millennia the necessity of taking time apart to know oneself so that one can find one’s place in the community, make choices that are true and right and not end up like Zelig, the famous Woody Allen character who, chameleon-like, became whoever the people he encountered wanted him to be. Too many of us fail to buck peer pressure even when we’re well beyond Junior High. “Know thyself” is an ongoing project; the work of a lifetime.

To buy the book, go here! Sale this week: ebook=$2.99!

Also, which cover do you like most? This?

Or this?

How to Be an Adult Cheat Sheet: 20 Suggestions

Cheat Sheet: What I Know About Being an Adult
1. Work hard, be disciplined, have courage to change the things you can, tie your camel, etc.
2. Trust God (the Universe, your Inner Light, Krishna, Jesus, Allah, Gaia, etc.), relax, accept the things you cannot change. Also, take regular days off, a.k.a. a Sabbath.
3. Follow Your Bliss.
4. Bloom where you are planted.
5. Make and maintain friendships. Be loyal. Be kind. Show up when you say you are going to.
6. Don’t cling to friends or lovers. There are other fish in the sea.
7. Pay your taxes joyfully. If you can’t do this, read One Day in the
Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Or read an article about Darfur, Iran or
Saudi Arabia. Freedom is not just another word for nothing left to
lose.
8. Be your own best friend, or as Anne Lamott says, become militantly and maternally on your own side. God dwells within us as us.
9. Minimize crap in your life, be it substandard food, entertainment, gadgetry or experiences.
10. Be honest.
11. Question your thoughts and stories.
12. Forgive your enemies.
13. Forgive yourself.
14. Cultivate your own garden.
15. Reach for the stars.
16. All the terrible things that happen to you will be extremely helpful if you get through them and then use your experience to help another person. My friends and I call this “going through the fire.” At some point in your life, you will go through the fire, after which you will never be the same again.
17. Don’t gossip, try not to criticize, because it will make you sick, and try not to complain because it will zap your energy.
18. Practice gratitude. This is The Secret of the universe, so you may as well join in.
19. Don’t postpone joy. Or put another way: when you find a chance to feel really great without using a substance, abusing a person or doing anything clearly illegal and immoral, don’t hesitate. Jump in. Splash around and live, for God’s sake! Or, to quote the rabbi, “If you’re going to eat pork, relish it and let the grease drip over your fingers.”
20. Exercise daily.

How to Be an Adult Introduction, Part Three: Missing Owner’s Manual

There Is Always Someone Who Can Help, So Ask
Beware: this is a spiritual lesson as well as a practical one. There is always someone out there who can help you. If he or she doesn’t respond to your call for help right away, keep calling. Eventually someone will, and in the meantime, you will have made lots of connections. Ask questions. How to Be an Adult Golden Rule: If you want to do something well, find someone who is doing it beautifully (or at least adequately) and ask her how she does it. People love to give advice. They love to feel like they know something you don’t know. You aren’t bothering them. Figure out the channels. And thank God for Google. When we were your age, there was no internet! (At least, not that I nor any of my friends knew about, though of course, Al Gore and people at NASA did.) Today, finding out information is as easy as typing, “How do I change my oil?” into the search box.

And thank God (or whatever you think runs this ship) that we live in a world where we’re supposed to intermingle and get to know each other. Ignorance and abject terror are wonderful prods toward this end.

Speaking of God, I should let you know that I believe in God. I don’t mind at all if you don’t, but you should know this about me, because it informs all of the advice in this series. The older I get, the less confidence I have in the aging, creaky body that used to be able to leap from the top bunk halfway across the room unharmed, and more confidence in 1. the wisdom of those who have gone before me, 2. the wisdom of the ages, 3. what actually works, and 4. what I know resonates in my bones as true. All this fits into my definition of God. So if God talk bugs you, feel free to translate the “G” word to “the Universe” or “Truth” or “The Great Reality” or “Presence” or “Big Cheese” or “Yo Mama” for all I care. Or else—and I give you my permission—just roll your eyes when I bring up God.

Missing Owner’s Manual
But regardless of your spiritual beliefs, you don’t need to suffer the way we did! Because Katryna and I have put everything you need to know into one handy volume, with each book highlighting a different delightful area of adultification. Within these pages, we address: time management (er…consciousness), goal-setting and goal-resistance, mental and physical health, jobs and work life, home, food, money, cars, insurance, getting along with others, voting, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and parenthood.

Even though I probably would have ignored it, I wish I’d had a manual like this back when I was 21. When I went to the bookstore looking for how-to books, they inevitably intimidated me with their length and writing style. Things with numbers threw me for a loop. Some people really do have a knack for navigating their way through the world and finding out how it works as they go—like my friends Jenny, Susan and Giselle. But others of us would much rather spend our time reading The New Yorker or Ann Patchett novels and have someone else figure out the quarterly taxes.

So for those of us who are artists or marchers to the beat of a different drummer, I attempted to create a series that speaks in the language we can understand: the language of poetry, humor, literature—a set of right-brained manuals. There is some concrete practical advice about money and insurance and stuff like that (think of this part of the book as the raisins in the cookie). The cookie part of the book is a series of how-tos in essay form, told through anecdote, in a way that is (I hope) palatable and memorable. A portable older sister, if you will. And like an older sister, it is full of partisan opinions. Other so-called adults will surely take issue with me on many of my claims, especially when I bash consumerism or blow the horn for the environment. I am sure I will annoy you at times; feel free to ignore me when I do. Also like an older sister, I will probably change my mind and do things differently a few years from now; after all, adulthood is not a static state any more than adolescence is. I’ve given you a lot of my own stories and life experiences because it’s the life I know best. When I had scant experience, I asked all my smart friends on your behalf. Thus, it’s the absolute best advice I can give you today. It’s the book I wish I’d been given at my graduation, or better yet, it’s the instructions my Latin diploma should have included, scrawled on the back like the Dead Sea scrolls.

From How to Be an Adult: On Friendships Post-College

There’s a great Bob Dylan song called “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” It’s on his second LP, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and it’s about that early group of friends so many of us had, in our late teens or early 20s.

. . . With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon,
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’till the early hours of the morn.

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were satisfied
Talking and a-jokin’ about the world outside . . .

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again,
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.

When I first heard this song, I was too young to have experienced this kind of deep, communal friendship, though eager to. In college I had just such a group of friends, and listened to this song as an ominous warning. We sang together in a folk band called Tangled Up in Blue (twenty singers and two acoustic guitar players: we were a sort of super-sized Peter, Paul & Mary who were unusually gifted at cracking codes). We met up at coffee shops and the campus vegetarian joint, plotted revolution, vowed to recycle and fight the bourgeois oppressors. We also vowed to keep in touch, and though we see each other at the occasional wedding, we have mostly scattered all over the world: as Bob said, “ . . . the thought never hit/ That the one road we traveled would ever shatter or split.” After I left college, this song reduced me to tears so regularly that I had to skip over it when I played the LP.

Dylan is tapping into what many of us experience when we move from our late teens to our early twenties. The adults over 25 whom I interviewed say they have stayed in touch with at most two or three friends from the first 20 years of life. What’s different about relationships in adulthood is that we are expected to maintain them for longer than a year or two. As children, it’s normal to have a different best friend every year. I maintain that as adults, it’s normal to have a rotating stable of friends too; friendships are often based on your environment, your workplace, your social activities, your common interests. As you grow and evolve and mature, these interests change. So do your friends. That doesn’t mean you don’t work to maintain those friendships that matter to you; but I have also seen many young people suffer from frustration because their college friends aren’t corresponding as consistently as they’d like. They feel let down. They feel they’re the ones who seem to be doing all the communicating. On the other hand, they might find their friend awfully clingy and needy and thus feel guilty if they spend too little time with her; resentful if they spend too much. Sometimes it takes years to figure out a good balance between good friends; to trust that the ebb and flow will just be a part of friendship, and to not freak out if months or even years go by with no communication. Look around and notice all the other friends you have made.

One of the most important things to me, especially in my post-college life, has been maintaining, strengthening, and just enjoying my friendships with the people I love, both near and far. I’m not always very good at it, but when I do make the effort, it almost invariably cheers me up. My friends know who I am (and, as the saying goes, like me anyway); in many cases, they’ve made me who I am. We’ve got history, a shared language of references, jokes, and memories. They are brilliant, funny, kind, and loving, and my time on this earth would be much poorer without them. So I try not to let them go easily. This means that I write to them, call them, send them emails with links to funny websites, but it also means that I don’t get upset when they don’t write back right away, or even for years. I don’t dismiss them or declare the friendship over. I know high tide is going to come again. ––Kate, age 26