Category Archives: On My Mind

Hints

I have just done a rare thing, which is why it bears mention: I have just made a second cup of coffee.

This is strange for me. My coffee drinking habits are pretty simple – a cup in the morning. Maybe a cup in the afternoon on the weekends if I’m reading or writing in a café, or if I’m meeting a friend. There were some mornings at my previous school where a coffee connoisseur department mate would offer me a cup and, depending on the status of my first cup, I might accept. He really did make delicious coffee. I’ve been on enough school trips to know that I’m just fine without it, but I so enjoy the ritual of a cup of coffee in the morning. And I just made a second.

I’m thinking.

I’m thinking about loss, about learning, and about where I might be getting things wrong even while I’m trying hard (maybe this is the problem) to do everything right.

I’m thinking about a colleague-turned-friend, and I’m wondering if that’s where I got it wrong. Maybe we remained colleagues. Maybe that’s where it ended. Maybe “keep in touch and don’t be a stranger” fell short of genuine. Or maybe not. Maybe life has gotten in the way, maybe there’s a long to-do list full of weightier priorities, maybe no one is counting weeks except me because it’s my world that has changed.

Or maybe I just can’t take a damn hint. There’s that possibility, too. Maybe I went wrong somewhere and unresponsiveness is a tap on the shoulder. I haven’t ruled that out.

This leads me to once upon a time, over four years ago now, when I was (according to me, at least) abundantly explicit about a specific set of choices. And I know someone who was clearly shocked when I proceeded to do exactly as I had said. Maybe I hadn’t been as clear as I thought, or maybe actions and words were misaligned, or maybe I was that clear. Maybe I did do the right things, and maybe the message just wasn’t received by someone who didn’t want to receive it.

The mind and heart must remain open if we’re going to understand what others have to say, even if we don’t like it.

The brain is protective. It hides us from things we don’t like, especially those that threaten our self-esteem. It makes extensive use of quick, intuitive thinking (System 1, for fans of Tversky and Kahneman) to get us through most situations. We get into trouble when a specific set of circumstances actually requires slower, more rational thought than our brains, wired for efficiency and avoidant of hard work, are willing to give it.

So I made another cup of coffee. I am trying to slow down and think. (We could address the irony of this substance – a stimulant – as a means of slowing down to think, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

The danger of thinking, in this case, is overthinking. Am I thinking too much when the best way to be is to just be and let life unfold? Am I thinking too much because I don’t want to get this wrong, because I don’t want to feel sad, because I don’t want to be in the position of wondering how, with the information I had, I could have understood differently? Maybe. I haven’t ruled it out.

In some ways, impulsivity has been beaten out of me. This could be an effect of age or experience, and is likely a combination of age and experience (they are, after all, positively correlated). But my sister has long cautioned me against my tendency towards over-caution and in this sense, I think she’s right. Numerous inspirational quotes spring to mind here but a simple question suffices: “What do you have to lose?”.

If being who I am raises eyebrows, I’m not going to gain anything by being someone else. If trying, with the best of intentions, to be honest about that is objectionable, at least I’ve given it a chance. It’s hard to be someone else; I’ve tried.

With the coffee almost done, I can report that I’ve concluded nothing. But I can also rest assured (at least, according to my brain that is designed to protect me) that I have acted in the best ways that I could. And if that’s not good enough, or if that’s not preferable in the given context, there is nothing else I would have honestly done. To act differently would have been a lie. It is possible I made a mistake, or two or twenty, but that happens. That is bound to happen. Mistakes come from trying and while I might not like the result, at least I have tried.

Weimar, Germany – August 2021

A Little Shy

I recently told a friend, in the context of a wider conversation, that on a scale of “none” to “I’m the most awesome person ever”, my self-esteem is probably around a 6. I don’t know if that’s actually true. I don’t know what a self-esteem of 6 means. I teach DP Psychology and Theory of Knowledge and I can tell you all about the many problems with rating scales. Hopefully, so can my students.

The point I was trying to make is that self-confidence is not my strong suit. I am, as I have written before, shy. It takes effort to introduce myself to new people and I am so nervous before doing it. More than once, when unsure of whether or not I should say hello to someone I vaguely know, I have intentionally walked more slowly than normal when getting off the bus behind them. True story.

That I am shy sometimes surprises people. Get me in a space where I’m comfortable and you’d never know. I hardly know because that’s when I stop being shy. Meet me in a time or place where I know one other person in a huge room and I’m no longer shy, even if that one other person is nowhere to be seen.

At a PD course on social-emotional learning a number of years ago, I realized that I am best described as an extroverted introvert. I like time alone. I like the quiet. I am content out in the world by myself. When anxious, scared, upset, or stressed, I find equanimity when I have the space to pull myself together without anyone else interfering. But I also love people. I love my friends and my family. I love parties and groups and conversations. My happiest memories, with very few exceptions, are with others. But sometimes, others are a bit too much and then I need a break to reset. An extroverted introvert.

Sometimes I play a game that I call, “If I were Mary”. Mary is a real person, the second friend I made in high school, and a friend to this day. The most outgoing person I know. She always has a million people to see, things to do, places to go, and an astonishing ability to say “yes” to everything. Just the thought of being Mary makes me want to curl up into a hole and wait until it’s over, but sometimes she inspires a game. “If I were Mary” I’d say hello to this person. “If I were Mary” I’d go to this party. “If I were Mary” I would have stopped thinking about it and done it already.

I’m not Mary, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend and do the things I think Mary would do. (Obviously I have grossly oversimplified this very real, complex person for the sake of example. Just go with it.) I think this is something I first practiced doing theatre in high school. It is not me, it is the character. How would the character respond, reply, react? I have embodied characters for the stage and played them in the real world. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend.

The times when I worry are the times when I realize I am spending too much time alone, whether out in the world or not. Too much time with just what is going on in my head – my own thoughts, my own ideas, my own musings. There’s a reason I seek out people who I can talk with.

This is why I think I often do better with a buddy, a partner, a person. I haven’t yet sat with my neighbours outside in the courtyard. I haven’t yet gone to the weekly meet-up at the climbing gym. I haven’t yet ridden my bike to the next town (though in fairness, I only got it two days ago). I am braver when I am pulled outside of my own head, and then I can be comfortably left to my own devices.

And yet, this is true to what I know of the experience of adjustment. This is not new. What is new is the place, which means a new adjustment. A new adventure. It is this adventure to be embraced, not an adventure that only exists in my mind. It is this adventure that I will come to know, and this story that I will be able to tell.

All of this is part of the story.

Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk. – Antonio Machado

Weimar, Germany – July 2021

Night Thoughts by Day

I think that to write is to come to an understanding.

I think that, I think that.

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must express.

Does a feeling need a name to be known?


Sleeping has been a challenge for a while now, but last night’s experience was particularly interesting. I was part of a conversation that included two people who I know, only one of whom was making any sense. I remained alert for quite some time after awakening and mulled over what had been said, but it trickled away from me as fast as I recognized the nonsense that was happening. And then I remained alert thinking about the strangeness of these people having a conversation, and I noticed a feeling of something lost.


I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand others.

I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand themselves.

Can we understand others without understanding the self?

And can we understand the self separately from understanding others?


I am far calmer lying awake at 3am than 11pm.

At 11pm, my eyes are active. It takes effort to put the book down, effort that my occasionally rational brain insists upon because it’s late. It’s 11pm, after all, and I haven’t been sleeping.

At 3am, my eyes are tired. My brain spins but my eyes are tired and at least I’ve slept until then, which is comforting. I need to stop the thoughts from dancing but at least my eyes are closed and that feels good.


At 3am, I go back to:

How am I feeling about the move?

Aside from feeling defeated by the question, I’m terrified.

I was a different person the last time I moved, and that was in a different lifetime.

How am I supposed to be feeling?

At 11pm, I am alert enough to avoid the subject.


During a very dark period of my life, I used to record my thoughts in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I used to turn on the songs that made me cry and play them over and over. I’d mouth the words until they became part of me and then I’d cry and be able to rest.

This is not that time.

But I am aware of how the patterns of behaviour that I developed out of necessity at that time have imprinted themselves on how I cope with challenges.

Adaptation is critical to human survival, and I wonder if I have become habituated to the sort of aimlessness I am experiencing now. This is not the right word, and far from an accurate characterization of my time and even my personal reflections of my time, but it is an accurate word to describe this feeling. It is a strange world when the reality and the feeling do not match.

Something is different this time, this move, this change. I cannot blame the pandemic, for blame is cause-effect, right-wrong, black-white. And the world is shades upon shades of gray and purple and green and blue and and and.

But I can acknowledge that coping throughout the pandemic has necessitated adaptation.


I wonder about our claims to significance.

Do we know at the time that a thought, a conversation, a shared glance, an observation will become signficant?

Or is significance developed through, over, across time? And then, is it the act or event itself or our memory and interpretation of it that becomes significant?

And does it matter?


I remember what it means to be excited and intellectually, I am. But my body does not have those feelings. The first inkling I had of what my body had lost was the moment when a friend reminded me, “This is an adventure.” As I write the word, I cannot keep from smiling.

Adventure.

My body knows what it is to have an adventure.

My mind knows what it is to live an adventure.


Does a feeling need a name to be known?

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must not be afraid of looking.