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Memores acti prudentes futuri


She said it was all make believe
but I thought she said maple leaves
A few words
"When we describe the Moon as dead, we are describing the deadness in ourselves. When we find space so hideously void, we are describing our own unbearable emptiness."
―D.H. Lawrence

"Is the meaning of life defined by its duration? Or does life have a purpose so large that it doesn't have to be prolonged at any cost to preserve its meaning?"

"Living is not good, but living well. The wise man, therefore, lives as well as he should, not as long as he can... He will always think of life in terms of quality not quantity... Dying early or late is of no relevance, dying well or ill is... even if it is true that while there is life there is hope, life is not to be bought at any cost."
―Seneca

"People will tell you nothing matters, the whole world's about to end soon anyway. Those people are looking at life the wrong way. I mean, things don't need to last forever to be perfect."
―Daydream Nation

"All Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories― if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death."
―The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes

"The road now stretched across open country, and it occurred to me - not by way of protest, not as a symbol, or anything like that, but merely as a novel experience - that since I had disregarded all laws of humanity, I might as well disregard the rules of traffic. So I crossed to the left side of the highway and checked the feeling, and the feeling was good. It was a pleasant diaphragmal melting, with elements of diffused tactility, all this enhanced by the thought that nothing could be nearer to the elimination of basic physical laws than deliberately driving on the wrong site of the road."
― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
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Progress recap
Monday, August 7, 2017
Alright, so in the last entry I said I might write about things I automatically do now that I think contribute to me having better interpersonal interactions. I'm actually gonna do it! Sometimes I say I'm going to write about something and then I don't revisit it until much later, but there's still a bit of inspiration lingering in me, so I'll speak more on this subject. I think this is more geared at friendships/interactions with the same people over time than at one-shot interactions with strangers, but hey, you never know what might come in handy.

Just a disclaimer: I've put basically no thought into how I might organize this, but I guess maybe a list would make things nice and readable? I thought about doing contrast examples using an old conversation where I had some kind of communication problem, but I don't know where I'd have to look to dig something like that up, or if I even have anything saved. Also, this isn't a how-to guide, it's just what I've found helpful for me, moving from the person I was to the person I am and the person I want to be.

Kind of wish I had been more careful to document changes as they were happening, as I think a lot of these were not as gradual transformations the way you might expect. In a number of cases I just decided that something I was doing wasn't what I wanted to be doing, so I changed it. Sort of like... how I went pescetarian. If I really believe in something then I just do it cold turkey, no long transition. I mean, yeah, stuff takes practice to get right, but generally I made some kind of conscious decision to change and just charged on from there. I think most of these are going to sound kind of obvious and cliché, because they get passed around a lot, but from what I can tell, often people don't do the work of defining the concepts for themselves and putting them into practice.

So, in no particular order, here are the things I can think of off the top of my head; they sort of blend together in some areas, so there might be repetition:

1. Constructing an outline of the conversation in my head (or trying to).

I don't have a great short term memory for conversations, and it's helpful to me to try and pick out the major points when I'm talking to someone so that I can keep track of what we're talking about and what we've covered already. Admittedly this is something that contributes more to debates, as there's usually some central theme in the argument that I need to hold onto in order to see where all the details fit in. I used to get pretty lost in arguments, and it was easy to feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed makes it easier to react emotionally and unnecessarily home in on statements that are more peripheral to the conversation than central to it, which distracts from the topic at hand and overall isn't productive. This is just something that helps me focus.

2. Giving people the benefit of the doubt.

I try to assume that people have good intentions and would not randomly do something to hurt me or others. A few years ago it was very easy for me to take someone's bad day personally and get highly anxious that they were angry with me in particular if they were short with me. Similarly, if someone didn't talk to me for awhile, I might think they didn't like me anymore or something was wrong with our friendship. Nowadays I often tell myself that if a friend isn't talking to me, the more likely scenario is that they're busy, and it's fine for people to be busy. This has helped reduce some of the friction between me and Kyle, I think. I used to feel extremely neglected when he didn't respond to me, but I'm more able to let it go now, and I recognize that he's got a lot going on in his life that keeps him from chatting with me as much as I might like. AT THE SAME TIME, I don't excuse bad behavior if it repeatedly shows up and that person has been made aware of it. People still have personal responsibility, and even if they're stressed out or life has been kicking them when they're down, that doesn't mean it's fine for them to treat me or other people without care or respect. I am forgiving when people don't know, but if they do know, then they should be acknowledging their behavior at the very least, and preferably doing something to improve.

3. Not immediately attributing people's actions to their character.

I mentioned the fundamental attribution error before, and this is related to that. Basically, I look for signs that someone's environment is affecting them before I assume things about their personality/character. This is another way of giving people the benefit of the doubt. I tend to assume that people will be fairly reasonable and not be dicks unprovoked if their needs are being met and they're not under too much stress. Whether or not that comes off as naive to some, it's helped me feel more compassionate towards people than I used to be (i.e. in high school), and has also helped to reduce my feelings of irritation, anger, and cynicism. It's a lot easier to live in a world where people seem like they're basically good and just making some mistakes or bad decisions than in a world where people are bad and they suck.

4. Taking a step back.

I think this ties in to cultivating more patience overall, in some way. A couple of my absolute favorite classes in community college were the astronomy classes I took, because they were held in the planetarium and we got to watch these really cool simulations of space. There were some that showed the scale of the galaxy, and zoomed out from Earth to show the other planets, and then the sun, and then other stars that were even bigger, and so on. I find it calming to think about this from time to time, because it reminds me that no matter how big something feels in the moment, in the grand scheme of things, everything that happens in my life is very small against the scale of the universe. I don't need to stubbornly hold onto positions in an argument I probably won't even remember in a couple weeks. I don't need to hold grudges (although I still do, sometimes; I'm not perfect, haha). This helps me feel less anxious about screwing up in social settings, too. Nobody's gonna remember it, and really, my whole life isn't even a blink in the timeline of existence. Also related to this but not quite the same thing: Trying to look at things from outside my own perspective. Taking a step back from myself to imagine how things look to the person I'm talking to (and not just some strawman version of the person I'm talking to, but actually them) helps me maintain some balance.

5. Not making assumptions about what things mean.

Pretty straightforward, although this is one of the things I think about a lot. After Kyle and I had our falling out following our breakup in 2010, I was thrown into a panic that we'd been misunderstanding each other all the time and any connection I'd felt with him had been a lie. That feeling still comes back from time to time, so I try my best to make sure I'm on the same page with people instead of assuming that we have the same definitions for things. Do I feel awkward and anxious asking for clarification so much? Yeah, sure, although significantly less than I used to. I find that people usually appreciate my efforts to understand them, though, except in certain cases where they get annoyed and just say "you know what I mean." Not everybody uses words and phrases in the same way, and I would rather be cautious and ask what someone means (either by putting things in my own words and checking for confirmation that I'm right or asking them to elaborate) and risk some embarrassment or redundancy than potentially run into miscommunication. I end up saying "How so?", "What do you mean?", "Sometimes I feel/think ___ in this situation, is it like that?" and so on a lot.

6. Expressing appreciation and positive observations.

Surprise surprise, people aren't gonna know how I feel unless I tell them. Anyway, I don't know how much of a problem this is for other people, but I wasn't really raised to compliment, and I've had to learn how to tell people positive things. I wasn't raised with a lot of praise or validation, so those are things I've been figuring out how to navigate as an adult. More than one of my exes has told me that I didn't appreciate them enough, and I credit those relationships with showing me that it was something I really needed to show more. I've been trying to increase my gratitude and appreciation for my life in general, and naturally that includes telling people when I appreciate something they say or do. Even though it's still excessively hard for me to tell people that I think highly of them in person (I get extremely anxious and choke up in person), I'm trying to make more positive comments (e.g. "Thank you for listening," "I thought it was really insightful when you said ___"). Especially trying to do this unprompted, as that is a scarier situation to do it in, and I have this sort of exposure-therapy mindset where the scary things are the most important ones to do, because after that, everything else will seem easy.

7. Giving context and definitions for things to reduce confusion.

In Lit classes one of the things the teachers frequently told us was to write for an audience that knew nothing about the subject we were discussing. I've tried to take this to heart for conversations too, because I think it's nicer that way. So for example, if I'm talking to a new person and I mention someone I know, I might say "I was talking to Kyle (my best male friend)" as opposed to "I was talking to Kyle," or worse, "I was talking to my friend," because... well... knowing some background details helps flesh things out a bit, and then the other person doesn't have to ask who Kyle is if they don't know. There are some people who regularly vent to me without actually telling me who any of the other people they're referencing are, and that makes it hard to follow the ongoing narrative of their lives if I have no idea who all the characters in their story are. I will sometimes just say "my friend" if who they are really has no relevance to the story, or if I'm talking to someone I'll probably never talk to again, but otherwise I try to make it more clear. When I catch myself, I also try to explain what assumptions I have going into something.

8. Checking in with the other person.

Knowing how the other person is feeling and where they're at makes it SOOOOOO much easier to have a smooth interaction. I don't mean that I say "how are you feeling?" every ten minutes or anything, but if anything seems off or they said something weird, then I try to ask what's on their mind. Basically, I don't know how they're doing unless I ask, and I don't want to assume. Checking in also helps set the ground for how I interpret their words.

9. Addressing problems as soon as possible.

If I can, I think it's better to address a problem as soon as it happens, but sometimes that's not the best approach, because if there's been an argument or a miscommunication of some kind, people (including me) might need a moment to calm down. Letting things go without addressing them just paves the way for buildup of resentment though, and stuff like that is toxic for relationships. Plus, it just feels good to resolve things!

10. Not taking things personally.

I previously posted a picture I used to have as my desktop background, of Borb saying "it's not about u." Basically, I just keep in mind that not everything that's said has to directly pertain to me, and I don't assume that things are related to me unless they're explicitly laid out that way. This one makes a world of difference in not feeling offended by things! It also helps with my shyness/social anxiety, because it's a lot harder to feel scared of interactions if it doesn't feel like people are actually focused on me. Subnormality did a really good job of illustrating this concept (first two panels). The world doesn't revolve around me. I am not a main character in most people's stories, and I don't have the relevance of one to them. More often than not, people are not thinking about me or directing their attention toward me, and knowing that helps take off some of the pressure to do things "right" all the time. I find it safer to assume people probably aren't thinking about me unless they say otherwise.

11. Being mindful of my own reactions, thoughts, and feelings.

I find it funny that this can be summed up in a sentence when it's such an immense undertaking and has taken me years upon years to get better at. When I was a teenager, I used to think "well, if I get PMS anger then I'll just notice that I'm angry and realize it's PMS and it won't affect me, how hard can that be?" As it turns out though, it's really damn hard to notice how you're feeling and how it's affecting you when you're enveloped in emotion. Noticing physiological signs is helpful to me. If my heart rate goes up, or I feel warmer than usual, or my body is tense, that can be a clue that I'm angry. I have some sense of what my baseline emotional state is like when I'm calm, so I try to check myself against that... Like, "would I normally get so worked up over this?" I also try to think about my reactions after an interaction has concluded, to analyze what happened and what I think I did well and what I could do better. As a teenager I fought a lot with my mom, but things are much more... chill now. There are definitely still situations that could turn into fights, but now I am more aware of when I'm starting to get riled up, and I can calm myself down instead of letting it escalate. In one of the interactions I had with her recently, she wasn't letting me finish what I was saying and was making negative character assumptions about me (i.e. I'm tactless and say socially inappropriate things), and this would have infuriated me as a teenager but I wouldn't have known why. In this instance, I noticed that I was starting to get irritated, but I asked her if she would let me finish telling her what happened, and afterwards she admitted that I hadn't actually acted the way she thought I had, and had patched up the situation I was talking about successfully. My mom has her flaws, but she's willing to admit fault if you can talk to her calmly and not get drawn into her emotional and irrational jumping-to-conclusions style of communication.

12. Staying aware of signs of miscommunication.

Do I suddenly feel angry? Does the other person suddenly seem angry? I'm using "angry" as a placeholder emotion for negative emotions here. If it seems like the tone of the conversation has suddenly changed, or I feel like I'm lost, then I pay attention to that and try to talk to the other person about it, or I wait and hold my emotions in abeyance, proceeding as if I were naturally feeling calm, to see where things are headed. This has saved me a lot of times when I've had a knee-jerk reaction but haven't known for sure what someone was saying until I asked for clarification.

13. Looking for patterns over time instead of drawing conclusions based on one incident.

I feel like this is kind of self-explanatory, but that might be overly assumptive of me, and like everything, it's easier in theory than in practice. Suspending judgement until a definitive pattern emerges can be hard, since so much of the time we make automatic judgements about things. There are very few conclusions you can for sure make based on a single instance of something (e.g. murdering someone once makes you a murderer; raping someone once makes you a rapist). A person stealing once doesn't make them a thief, and a person donating to charity once doesn't make them altruistic. Context matters. When I was younger I was less willing to wait things out and see how people acted over time, and I completely cut a few people out of my life because of some individual interaction I didn't like. While I wasn't obligated to keep talking to them or anything, I think my actions weren't particularly reasonable, and it's not something I would do now.

14. Taking people seriously, but not always literally.

I totally stole the wording for this one from a Donna Orange quote from a class lecture this past school year. Maybe it's from growing up in a generally pretty safe environment, but I'm pretty trusting, and in some cases gullible. Less gullible than I used to be, I hope, but I'm sure there are still traces of it. That aside, a lot of people explain events from their point of view. No duh, right? The problem is that I used to take their word as the absolute truth. It's not that people are trying to bend the truth or lie, but everyone interprets things differently, and that's something I have to keep in mind. There isn't necessarily an objective truth, either, but some things will be closer to "what actually happened" than others. In a previous period of my life I might get upset at people for telling me a story in a way other than it "actually happened" and feel like they were intentionally lying to me, but as I've mellowed out it's become more evident to me that people aren't trying to deceive me. The way people tell their stories might not align with objective facts, but it does tell you about them and their feelings, and that part of it is something to take seriously. When we were kids, my brother would constantly accuse me of doing things to trip him up or mess with him, such as spitting in his soup. I never once spat in his soup, and I repeatedly told him so, but that didn't make him stop the accusations. Looking back, I wonder more what made him so paranoid that he thought I would be trying to sabotage him all the time. How did he perceive me? What unspoken beliefs did he have that were influencing him to think I was out to get him? There was a lot of information in those interactions that I didn't know how to read yet.

---

Oof, this has taken me like three hours to write. Normally when I'm writing posts I'm kind of distracted and I just let it sit for several hours while I do other things, writing a sentence here and there, but I've actually been writing for three hours. Hoo boy. I'm sure there are other things I forgot or haven't elaborated enough, but this monster of a post is already over 3000 words and I think that's enough for now. If only writing academic papers was this easy, haha.
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