More Than Ships Passing In the Night

Month: May, 2014

Different can be good.

This will hopefully be my last post for awhile on the topic of conflicts and differences in relationships. I’ve developed a kind of dread toward writing these posts because I feel so intimidated by the subject and so unqualified to be sharing my thoughts about it. I mean, who am I to talk? My personal experiences don’t go much beyond what NOT to do. I still have yet to put any of this into consistent practice. I guess that’s why I feel that I have to write about this. Writing helps me process what I’m learning, which hopefully means I’ll do better at remembering what I’ve learned the next time I find myself in an applicable situation.

The last article I wanted to share is about differences in relationships. It focuses specifically on marriages, but I believe that these principles can be applied to significant or serious relationships in general.

Personality Differences Can Build Up Marriage

The article is a good (and short!) read, and it gives many examples of how couples made up of two very different people can work together and use their differences to their advantage. What I really liked was that the article’s point was not about how “opposites attract” but rather about how differences are inevitable and all types of people can have good relationships (again with not dating a clone of yourself).

“Every marriage is made of two people with different personality traits, and any combination of personalities can form a successful relationship.”

The article also does not mitigate the challenges that differences bring to a relationship. It does not try to convince the reader that because differences are good, they are necessarily easy. But it does support the idea of taking a positive approach to differences rather than viewing them as a threat to the relationship. The approach here is about using your differences to collaboratively build a stronger relationship. If your partner was just like you, then it is possible that the relationship would actually be imbalanced because you would both bring the same strengths and traits to the relationship, rather than balancing each other out. It’s a generalized point, for sure, but it’s food for thought.

“Olson and Deal suggest that couples “work with their differences rather than attempting to change or criticize the other person.” Look for the positive in having someone who’s not like you, even if the differences create a challenge.”

What I like about this next part is that the article never says “the more couples differ, the more advisable it is that they break up or the more unlikely it is that they will succeed.” The article’s solution is more challenging and definitely requires more commitment and more effort, but it is nevertheless a viable alternative: learn to communicate effectively.

“The more couples differ in this area, the more they ‘need to communicate openly with each other about their goals, roles and expectations.'”

The article acknowledges the risks inherent to certain types of personality differences, but again, it offers solutions that protect the relationship and the individuals in the relationship, rather than advocating the method of throwing in the towel:

‘”Guard against allowing the highly organized individual to function more like a parent and less like a partner.'”

And also:

 “The dominant personality should work to develop listening skills and to encourage their spouse to speak their mind. The more passive personality needs ‘to develop their ability to honestly express both positive and negative opinions and feelings.'”

Notice the use of the word “develop” in the above reference. People do not enter into relationships with perfect relational skills. You learn how to be in a relationship by being in a relationship. It’s possible that nothing brings out the worst in a person as effectively as one’s significant other: after all, relationships “pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives” and we can use that as an opportunity to grow and to learn how to love better and how to be better people, or we can run from it. But if you choose to stay in the relationship and embrace the process, difficult as it might be sometimes, that choice in itself signals that you are already growing. It is a lifelong process but it is well worth the effort if both you and your partner are committed to working together at improving your relationship and not letting conflicts or differences get the best of you.

At least, that’s what I hear.

To sum up:

“Whether your differences are minimal or great you can use them to add strength and spice to your marriage. Olson and Deal explain that healthy marriages happen when you recognize your similarities and differences ‘and create solutions that allow you to work with each other rather than against each other.'”

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Understanding vs. Agreeing: why disagreement can be so upsetting

Empathy. It is a concept that is often misunderstood (empathy vs. sympathy) and too often underrated. I touched on it yesterday and today’s article is the perfect follow-up to that post. This article focuses on the difference between understanding your partner’s viewpoint and agreeing with your partner’s viewpoint – and why it is so important for us to feel understood.

In Relationships, Understanding—Not Agreement—Is Key, Why?

I will admit, when I first started reading the article, I was skeptical for about the first four paragraphs. It sounded very relativistic and seemed to be advocating a “what’s true for you may not be true for me” approach. As someone who believes in absolute truth and who believes that relativism by definition is self-invalidating, I felt like the article was drawing on pop psychology and “feel-good” strategies that I did not necessarily condone.

But then I got to the following paragraph-

“But what’s key to grasp here is that as long as you’re not actively refuting (or grimacing at) your partner’s rival point of view, you’re simply admitting to them that you don’t—or can’t—think and feel as they do. In refusing to argue over something that the two of you can’t possibly agree on, you’re acting in a way that protects the all-important friendship and rapport between you.”

-and I was inevitably intrigued. From that point on, in my opinion, the article just got better. It shed new light on the concept of differences by offering a more practical perspective:

“Candidly discussing your differences—which are unavoidable (if only because, potentially, there are just so many things to differ on!)—hardly needs to compromise your connection. In fact, if you’re only willing to talk about what’s consensual between the two of you, you’ll end up with a pretty superficial, and frankly dishonest, relationship.”

Myth 1: differences are a bad sign in a relationship. Myth 2: compatibility is defined by what you have in common. But the article goes even further to dissect the dilemma of differences, getting to the heart of why differences between us and our partner can seem, on the surface, like a potential warning sign:

“It’s therefore essential to keep in mind that in any close relationship, disagreements are inevitable—and that this really isn’t such a bad thing. What makes such dissent so frequently cause distress in you and your partner is that, subliminally, each of you may feel emotionally threatened by it. It’s almost as though your partner’s differing with your position implies their disapproval of you.”

We misinterpret differences as disapproval. The reason why we arrive at this conclusion is because differences can lead to disagreements which can make us feel like our partner disapproves of us. We are so sensitive to this because disapproval is similar to rejection, and the last person we want to be rejected by is our significant other.

“Disagreements can be experienced as mini-rejections. Which is why they’re apt to be argued about repeatedly—and mindlessly. And when such conflicts become heated, and each of you has regressed to the point that you absolutely have to be right, neither of you may feel you have the “luxury” of validating the other’s viewpoint.”

And that is why the steps that we talked about yesterday, while seeming so simple and straightforward, are actually so challenging to put into practice – and so important. It also offers additional insight into why couples argue about the same things over and over again.

Notice how the article describes the dangerous downward spiral that can then occur:

“If your now antagonist/partner refuses to confirm the subjective legitimacy of your viewpoint, you’re probably, deep down, going to experience a more general sense of alienation from—or even abandonment by—them. And in such a disorganized state of mind and emotion, you’ll likely be compelled to mitigate such upsetting feelings by categorically dismissing—or totally invalidating—their perspective.”

When we withhold empathy from our partner by not making an effort to understand their point of view in a conflict, their viewpoint of us can actually change to the extreme of seeing us as their antagonist – their enemy! When disagreements are mishandled, this is the frightening result which can occur. The “nothings” that provoke conflict among couples can lead to situations where two people who love and care for each other find themselves pitted against one another. This is the antithesis of creating a stable, secure relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

“It’s so crucial that both of you make the effort to genuinely appreciate—and open-heartedly accept—the other’s position. That way a conflict in your viewpoint hardly need lead to a conflict in your relationship.”

The real enemy is when you let your differences destroy your relationship by giving into petty disagreements that undermine your sense of stability and trust. Fixating on the point of conflict rather than on your partner as a whole person will almost inevitably end in one of you rejecting the other. It’s the 80/20 rule on multiple different levels. If I may make a generalization here: in your average relationship, 80% of it will be “good” and 20% will be “bad.” You and your partner will be 80% “similar” and 20% “different.” Things may not always be good (or easy), but they won’t always be bad (or difficult), either. It is up to you whether you will learn how to weather the rough times when they come, or let the storm tear you apart. Where there are two people, there are inevitably differences and disagreements. But where there are two people, there is also the potential for understanding, connection, and community.

Fights happen

I haven’t forgotten that I said I was doing a mini-series on conflict and differences in relationships. But I couldn’t resist taking a little detour to blog about the lengths to which I will go in order to acquire a (free) travel mug. Anyway, enough shenanigans for now, and it’s back to serious business. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Here is the first article that inspired my latest Relationships Awareness rant:

“What Couples Really Fight About”

The answer? Spoiler alert: nothing.

“Now hold on just a hot second there, Miss Kattiewampus!” you might say. “Last time, you said that conflict was a normal part of relationships and now you’re saying couples don’t fight at all?”

Actually, no. What I’m saying (or really, what the article is saying and I’m agreeing with) is that couples usually fight about things that aren’t really important. The fighting itself is not necessarily the issue. However, these “nothing” conflicts – rather than signaling an exit sign for one or both parties in the relationship – can actually be great signposts for uncovering deeper issues that need to be addressed. Furthermore, and I cannot say this enough – the defining point is in how you as a couple handle the conflict, not the presence of the conflict itself.

“The difference between couples who make it and couples who break up is simple: the couples who make it “repair” the relationship after they’ve hurt each other. The couples that don’t repair those hurts end up with festering wounds that grow bigger by the day, the month and the year until they finally break the couple apart. Repair is absolutely crucial in any kind of relationship, particularly intimate relationships. “

Reparation instead of destruction. How does it happen?

Interestingly enough, it does not begin with an apology. A lot of times, when I know that I’ve hurt someone, I want to apologize and lay the issue to rest as soon as possible. While the spirit of wanting to mend things is important, the article raises a valid point on the importance of truly understanding how we have hurt the other person.

“Apologies only work if the person who is apologizing understands the pain that they have caused the other. The way that they can understand that pain is to hear their partner describe it.”

This is where the importance of honest communication comes in, and the necessity of establishing an environment where both partners feel safe to communicate openly with each other. The article lays out a step-by-step analysis of how to get to an apology. It starts with each person having a chance to express how the conflict made them feel and how their perceptions contributed to their feelings. This is not about making a defense, presenting the facts for one’s case as though the other person is on trial. It is a subjective expression of how you felt and what your perceptions were. The most essential element here is honesty, not who is right or wrong.

The next step in the process is more challenging: it is how you respond to your partner’s expression of their feelings and perceptions toward the conflict. It requires more than just a surface level acknowledgment, and it requires stepping outside of your own feelings and perceptions in an effort not just to acknowledge but to actually understand your partner’s point of view. This is empathy. It is difficult and it can be scary. For me, as someone who is predisposed to being a highly perceptive but very sensitive know-it-all, I easily assume that my feelings and perceptions are the correct response to the situation. Trying to set aside my point of view and not just hear someone else’s point of view but actually understand and accept it as an equally valid reaction… well, it’s not something that comes easily. But in relationships, I would suggest that being understood by your partner is perhaps more important than having your partner agree with you on everything. According to the article, empathy can be summed up in a simple (but honest) response:

“‘I get it. I understand why you felt the way you felt.'”

The next step might be even more challenging. This is the part where you take responsibility for the ways in which you contributed to the conflict. It doesn’t have to be dramatic and it doesn’t have to be extreme. But it nevertheless is a crucial element in conflict resolution. I really appreciated what the article had to say about our responsibility in relation to someone else’s feelings:

“According to some pop psychology, it’s often said that you shouldn’t make yourself responsible for somebody else’s feelings and that whoever has the feelings is totally responsible for them. However this is not necessarily true — many neuroscience studies have shown that one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person. So, in fact, we are responsible for creating feelings in each other, and it is good to take responsibility for that — both for the good and the bad.”

When you have hurt someone, you cannot “absolve” yourself of responsibility with the excuse that you cannot control how they respond to you. Our words and actions have the power to damage and the power to heal other people. This responsibility should not be taken lightly.

It is only after both partners have had a chance to express their feelings and perceptions, to show empathy toward each other, and to admit their responsibility in the conflict, that an apology truly becomes possible:

“Most of the time that apology will work because the other person now feels that their feelings and their perspective on what happened have been acknowledged, and they feel validated by the other partner. Then, when that other partner also apologizes because they too feel that their feelings and point of view have been validated, it is much easier for them both to accept the apology that allows forgiveness. That allows reconciliation, and then they can move on.”

There is one more step in the process, however: setting up preventative measures for the future. While it is true that many conflicts will be recurring and that often the same topic will come up as a point of conflict over and over again, it is still important to discuss with your partner how to better handle the situation in the future when something triggers a potential conflict.

“The last step is for each partner to give a suggestion for one thing that they themselves can do differently and one thing the other person might be able to do differently next time. They each do that in order to not only repair what has just happened but to talk about ways to avoid the same thing happening again in the future.”

All of this is about processing the conflict together. The importance of this approach is two-fold: 1) the couple is working through the conflict together rather than withdrawing from each other to “figure things out” on their own time, and 2) the issues are being addressed with direct honesty, rather than swept under the rug to fester and cause even more damage later on down the road. It is so simple in theory, and yet so difficult in the moment. But processing a conflict together can make the difference between repairing a relationship or destroying it.

“The reason that we hold onto “regrettable incidents,” and the reason they become festering wounds in our memory and in our relationships is that we haven’t processed them successfully. When we haven’t processed them, we remember them forever. They continue to fester like an abscess under the skin. However if we process it in the way that we’ve described above, we can let it go.The key throughout the entire process is to be honest, tell your perspective and listen to your partner’s perspective. When we’ve done that the small hurts no longer fester and threaten our relationship. We no longer need to hold on to it. It is processed. It is done.”

Spelunking: I’ve hit a new low

During my senior year in college, I acquired a black CamelBak water bottle. It had been sitting on the ledge of the campus fountain for quite some time, unclaimed, and I wanted a CamelBak water bottle, so I appropriated it. I took extensive precautions to disinfect it, washing it thoroughly, scouring it with various cleaning solutions, cleaning it with vinegar, soaking it in boiling water, the whole works. I’ve been using that water bottle for three years now with no adverse side effects (to my knowledge, anyway, haha).

I have a mild weakness for coffee mugs. The year after I graduated, when I was still working at the university, I participated in a Step Challenge for staff members that basically involved wearing a pedometer all semester and keeping a log of how many steps I walked each day. The university had a step goal that everyone was working toward collectively. If we as a university achieved that goal, all participants were eligible to receive either half a day off or a travel mug from the university coffee shop. I worked 20 hour weeks at the time, so the half-day incentive was meaningless to me. But the travel mug was the perfect motivator.

We met our step goal, the semester ended, and I moved back home. I was so determined to get that travel mug that I actually sent an e-mail to the woman in HR who was coordinating the step challenge. I’m pretty sure she thought I was weird, but in the end, they gave me my mug, and my roommate, who was still working at the university at that time, picked it up for me and brought it up to the Bay Area. For the record, I have gotten a ton of use out of that mug, so it was definitely worth the persistence.

photo 2 (2)

“Not just your daily grind”

Fast-forward to yesterday morning. We had started the morning exams and reconvened once they were going. My co-workers were talking about some orphaned water bottles in one of the exam rooms because one of my co-workers likes to collect abandoned water bottles. Our boss starts telling us about a travel mug that she put in her office recycle bin this morning because she had never used it and didn’t want it. So I asked if I could have it. Actually, what I asked was more like, “So… if I go to your recycle bin and take the mug out and keep it for myself, will that complicate our relationship?”

She said no.

I texted my other co-worker, who was in the main office, to make sure that the mug was rescued before the recycle bin got emptied:

Me: There’s a coffee mug in [Boss]’s recycle bin. Can you get it out for me? [Boss] said I could have it. 😀

Co-worker: It’s crazy moldy

Me: Whaaaaaaaat. She said it had never been used lol

Co-worker: Well there appears to be an old tea bag in the bottom

Me: Is it salvageable? I’m not afraid of disinfecting it, haha

Co-worker: Yeah totally

Me: Awesome

No shame, right? None whatsoever. Eventually, we made our way back over to the main office and I went to collect my mug.

It was definitely not a travel mug.

It definitely had an old tea bag at the bottom.

It was definitely not the mug that my boss had described.

I went into my boss’s office to investigate, but the recycle bin was empty. However, the janitor was still in the building and her cart with the big recycle bin and trash bag was parked just outside of our office. Did I mention that I have no shame? So what happened next shouldn’t surprise you. I untied the bag of recyclables and started digging through it. Not just surface level inspection – actually searching down into the depths of this bag.

And there it was!

The unused mug. Just as my boss had described it. Mine for the taking.

photo 1 (2)

This just happened

I retrieved it triumphantly from the bag, and looked sheepishly at my co-worker: “I think I’ve just hit a new low.”

Co-worker: “It’s possible.”

And now, a game! Pictured below is the “care instructions” sheet that was inside the mug. I’ve found three typos so far. Can you spot them? Can you find any others? Ready, set, go!

photo 3 (2)

 

“We’re just too…different.” DIRTY PIRATE LIES

On facebook, I’ve “liked” the page of this non-profit organization called Healthy Relationships California. I love it because I randomly get articles from them in my news feed about how to have healthier relationships. The articles can be hit and miss, granted, but they do often post a lot of insightful ones. So much so, that I’ve started printing out the ones that I like (I know, so NOT green) and keeping them in a binder. It’s the researcher in me – I like compiling information on a subject. Someday this will be useful. I hope.

Anyway.

I’m trying to get braver about writing posts about relationships. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel very unqualified and therefore nervous that readers will raise an eyebrow of skepticism at me for venturing to share my thoughts. But I’m also really passionate about this topic because I think, in some ways, relationships are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. So, in my efforts to process my own views and beliefs about relationships, and what I’m learning through the articles I read, I have found it personally helpful to write these posts and share these articles.

So, now that I’ve prefaced it to death, today’s topic is about conflicts and differences in relationships. For some reason, these issues are often identified as red flags in a relationship. But the truth is, conflict is a normal factor in all relationships and – brace yourself for this one – everyone is different. Such an avant-garde notion, right? But seriously, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the obvious: unless you are dating a clone of yourself, your partner is fundamentally different from you.

I’ll give you a moment to recover, because I know that revelation must have been shocking.

…And we’re back!

Relationships have a cyclical element to them. You go through phases of growth, phases of deepened closeness, phases of contented happiness, phases of “meh”, and – get this – phases of conflict. Over and over and over again. Which means that you don’t fight about something, resolve it, and then never fight about it again. In fact, some would say that you will always fight about the same things in your relationship – what changes over time is how you handle those trigger subjects.

And even then, it’s not a straight line of growth. You take two steps forward, you take a step back. You successfully navigate a difficult time with honest communication and grace toward each other, and then the next time around you backslide into childish tactics. The key is recognizing when you’ve messed up, acknowledging it, and continuing to move forward with the intent to do better next time. And recognizing that your partner is in the same boat, which means you choose not to capsize the boat when they mess up, in the understanding that they also are on a path of growth and want to do better next time as well.

I don’t really feel like I’m saying anything profound or radical here, but it’s amazing how often relationships go under because one or both parties interpret growth as “changing myself into someone who isn’t me” or because they mistake the cyclical nature of the relationship (and the proclivity of both people to mess up or regress) for “going in circles.”

To want a relationship that is free of conflict and differences is to have unrealistic expectations of your partner and of relationships in general. There is not room for honesty or intimacy or (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) growth in a relationship where conflict is avoided and differences discouraged. Instead, this leads to sweeping issues under the rug, stifling one’s opinions for fear of rejection, and overlooking signs that the relationship is in trouble until it is too late.

Whether you are single or in a relationship, the reality is that, over time, you will grow and change. If you are in a relationship and you are determined not to change because you don’t feel that you should have to alter yourself to accommodate someone else, you bring a destructive attitude of resistance and stagnation into the relationship. Furthermore, this distorted perspective of change can translate into an unwillingness to embrace growth. With this mindset, it then becomes easy to dismiss the relationship on the grounds that you and your partner are just “too different,” when perhaps the only real difference is rooted in the unrealistic expectations that you have imposed on your partner, or your unwillingness to work with them to improve your relationship together. Ironically, the motives of which you accused your partner become your motives for rejecting them: “I do not accept the things about you which make you different from me and I shouldn’t have to change myself for this relationship, therefore the problem must be you.”

In that environment, there is no safety, no security, no acceptance. Conflicts are scary because there is no assurance that your partner will be able to separate their view of you from their view of the conflict. Differences are seen as a threat rather than an asset to the relationship. This negative approach to differences further discourages honest communication. The trust factor in the relationship suffers because there is no predictability or certainty about what to expect.

So… my introduction kind of turned into its own post, but I still really want to share the articles that led me to go on this rant in the first place. I guess that means it’s time for another topical series! I’ll share the first article tomorrow and sound off some more about these issues of conflict and differences in relationships.

Disclaimer: I absolutely recognize that there are extreme circumstances in which conflict and differences are unhealthy and even dangerous. Please understand that I’m not at all advocating that people remain in relationships that are physically, emotionally, or psychologically threatening. However, I do believe that even in “normal” relationships that are basically functional and healthy, there can still be unhealthy and unhelpful patterns that develop. My focus is on learning to identify those patterns, increasing our awareness of them, and addressing those behaviors before they get out of control.

 

Yeah, so, about those classes…

So, you may remember that back in February, I posted about a new development involving the Child Studies classes I was taking this semester. Then, last week, I posted about grad school. It’s moments like this, when I realize that I’ve shared two relatively contradictory posts, that I feel the need to clarify.

My semester did not play out exactly as I had envisioned. I started out with 5 classes. Within the first week, I dropped 1. Within the first few weeks, I dropped a second, late-start class. I decided that 3 classes plus working almost 30 hours a week plus directing a choir plus plus having a long-distance relationship plus having a social life plus sleeping was already keeping me busy enough.

Then, I got really tired and really stressed out. It was vaguely reminiscent of this one time in college when I took 9 classes in one semester on the heels of a draining month of opera. At that time, I pretty much alienated my poor roommates because I was in such a horrible mood all of the time, I often had thoughts like “I can’t remember the last time I actually felt happy,” and I tried to drop out of school. Only this time around, it was more along the lines of putting a lot of unnecessary strain on my relationship, realizing not quite soon enough that the medication for my depression & anxiety had stopped being effective, being on the receiving end of a break-up, and wondering if I would ever feel truly happy again. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the classes for the break-up. But the timing was unfortunate. And I wish I had made better decisions going into the semester about how much I took on, especially since I know from past experiences how stress really does bring out the worst in me.

I had already decided earlier in the semester that I wasn’t going to pursue a career in early childhood education. My classes had given me even more respect and admiration for childcare workers, but they had also shown me just how much work those wonderful people do. They are never off the clock, basically. I knew I wasn’t passionate enough about working in childcare to have that necessary level of dedication.  Because of the upheaval in April, I was having a really difficult time finding the motivation to finish out the semester. I ended up dropping a third class (the first “W” to grace my transcript). In the meantime, I found a grad program in an area that I am passionate about and feel good about moving forward with pursuing that.

I still have to finish what I started, so I am clawing my way toward the end of the semester with a week and half of classes left and then finals. The purpose of this semester was to be a time of exploration to see if this was a field I was interested in. While I wasn’t expecting the life overhaul that happened in the process, I can safely say that I feel confident about my decision not to go into the field of childcare. So, I guess, in that sense, the exploration was effective.

For the record, though, I don’t ever recommend taking 9 classes at one time. And if you want to explore something, take 1 class to start with. Seriously.

Live blog: inside the exam room

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. Today also marks the start of the spring exam season for the law students where I work. Read: three weeks of heightened stress, emotions, and miscommunication in our office as we are responsible for administering the exams. Read: three weeks of me being the on-call proctor when the student proctors fail to show up.

This afternoon is a classic example: I found out this morning that I would be proctoring an exam as soon as I got into work at 1 pm today. The exam is for three LLM students (the LLM program is for international law students). It’s 4.5 hours long. It actually started before I got here. So, I’m in this room until 5 pm. It’s going to be pretty exciting – definitely the stuff of live blogs.

2:09 pm: let’s recap. Since I took over, here are the things that have happened.

  • At 1:15, I informed the students they could start the written portion of the exam.
  • Texted my co-worker about the stale cookies he was eating in the main office
  • Read “The Happiness Project”
  • Checked my e-mail
  • Checked facebook
  • Checked my blog
  • Ate the pizza that a co-worker brought up to me
  • Started reading The Pioneer Woman’s blog
  • Started writing this
  • Worried about whether or not my typing was distracting to the students
  • Told a student what time it was so she could sign out to use the restroom
  • Gave a student a pen so he could sign out to use the restroom
  • Watched the clock
  • Contemplated my existence
  • Questioned my existence
  • Ate some more pizza
  • Felt self-conscious about eating pizza, especially since my chair squeaks every time I lean over to take a bite

2:16 pm: finished writing the above list of bullet points

2:21 pm: I’m debating whether my duties as a proctor require me to actually be awake the entire time, or just a physical presence.

2:22 pm: I can’t believe it’s only been a minute since I last wrote something

2:42 pm: just crunched awkwardly loud on my pizza crust. I’m very suave like that.

2:54 pm: DRAMA. One of the students wanted to get his copy of the Constitution out of his bag. It’s an open book test, but they still have to leave their bags at the front of the room. I told him I would need to ask first (read: texting my boss). Student goes back to work on test. Eventually signals to me that he does not need it after all. Meanwhile, boss replies with a negative. I just love being the middle man.

3:09 pm: background context: the students type their tests into an online program called SofTest. One of the students raises her hand because she wants to move onto the next question but the program won’t let her. So, I explain that, with the way the test is configured, they type all of their answers into the box for Question 1. Just call me Tech Support.

3:27 pm: one of the students is leafing through his notes, one page at a time. Loudly. Why.

4:04 pm: my lips are really chapped.

4:06 pm: chapstick is awesome.

4:18 pm: I looked up and saw that one of the students had her head down on the desk, cradled in her hands. Oh dear. Another student noisily crumpled up a piece of paper.

4:23 pm: proctoring gives me too much time to think.

4:27 pm: it looked like one of the students was flipping off no one in particular. Turns out she was just counting on her fingers.

4:28 pm: did I mention that it’s freezing in here?

4:37 pm: the students are alternating between glancing at the clock, staring intensely at their computer screens, and flipping violently through their books/notes as if the secrets of the universe are contained in there.

4:39 pm: over gmail chat, my co-worker is trying to explain snapchat to me. The whole concept sounds like a terrible idea.

4:43 pm: 12 minutes until I give the 5 minute warning. I get very stressed out during the final stretch – I’m afraid I’ll become completely distracted and forget to notice when they have 5 minutes left.

4:44 pm: I’ve made accidental eye contact with one of the students so many times over the past few hours. Awkward. Although in my defense, I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on them.

4:50 pm: 5 MINUTES UNTIL THE 5 MINUTE WARNING.

4:53 pm: tech support is here to help upload the tests.

4:55 pm: “You have 5 minutes left.”

4:59 pm: “You have 1 minute left.”

5:00 pm: This is the script that I have to read to officially end the exam:

“The exam is now over. Please stop typing immediately and remain seated. No talking while exams are still out. On the top bar of your screen, click ‘Exit Exam’. Click on ‘Close Exam’. On the yellow window, click the ‘Exit’ button. Your answer file will automatically upload once you establish an internet connection. Once uploaded, you will get a message on your screen. If you experience any upload issues please raise your hand immediately. Put your exam materials in the envelope in the order listed on the board. Ensure that your 4-digit blind grading ID is on everything. If you accidentally take any portion of this exam out of this room with you, professors are free not to accept it and may give you a zero for that portion of the test. Please bring your envelopes to the front of the room now.”

Fun, right???

No inspiration today

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This is how I feel about writing a new post right now.

Hope: a sneak-peek into my anticipated future

I’m not really the sort of person who likes to publicly share about things before they are certainties, so I’ll admit that I have some mixed feelings about this post. But my excitement is winning out over the caution of knowing that my plans could change, that there are no guarantees this new direction will actually pan out for me.

For those of you who have been with me from the beginning of this blog, you already know that the question of grad school has been a recurring theme for me. I’ve been chasing the idea of grad school for awhile now, without really getting anywhere because I could not find the program that was “just right.”

Until a few weeks ago, that is.

In one of my random moments of browsing grad programs for music on the interwebs, I found THIS. And as I scrolled through the list, I found a program that I had never heard of before, except in my dreams of “If I could design the perfect graduate program for myself, this would be it.”

Music and Human Learning.

It’s not Musicology. It’s not Music Education. It’s not Music History & Literature. It’s not Music Theory. It’s not Music Therapy.

IT’S SORT OF LIKE ALL OF THEM COMBINED.

OHMYGOSHI’MSOEXCITEDICANNOTHANDLEIT.

In all of my searching for the “perfect” program, I have never come across one that seemed like such a good fit, that elicited such a strong response of interest and enthusiasm in me.

The Master of Music in Music and Human Learning has two different track options and I’m trying to decide which one is the “better fit” for my academic style. There is the 36 hour one, which means taking more classes, or the 30 hour one, which means writing a thesis. I want to take more classes AND write a thesis!

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The proof of how confident I feel about this being the next step is two-fold: 1) the idea of relocating to Austin, Texas for a few years strangely does not bother me and actually sounds really exciting (if you have ever heard me talk about my attachment to California, then you will immediately understand the significance of this statement), 2) for the past three days, I’ve been reading the graduate handbook for the Butler School of Music. I’m currently on page 45 (“Master’s Recitals, Theses, and Reports”) out of 94 pages. Just call me Hermione Granger! But seriously, I’m a nerd but I’m not nerdy enough to read through an entire graduate handbook for a program unless I’m legitimately interested, beyond just a casual in-passing curiosity. I’m hooked (UNINTENTIONAL PUN! MORE PROOF!). Perhaps a third reason I could mention is that I now have no interest in applying anywhere else. Before, I had a few schools in mind but no strong leaning one way or another, and the draw for several of the schools was the prestige of the school itself, rather than true interest in their specific program. But with the Music and Human Learning program at UT Austin, I feel like I don’t even have any say in the matter. There is just a really strong sense that this is what I’m supposed to do next.

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The graduate handbook

I’m figuring out my game plan now. The idea is to apply for Fall 2015 admission. This is going to be the summer of the GRE, with the goal of taking it early in the fall so I can submit my scores before the December 1 application deadline. In the next few weeks, I’m going to start contacting some of my undergrad music instructors for letters of recommendation (hopefully they’ll remember me well enough to write a letter of recommendation!) Starting now, I have a little bit less than a year and a half to prepare for the music history and music theory diagnostic exams, which are part of the entrance requirements if I am accepted. I wonder if my community college would let me audit some of their music history and music theory classes to help the review process?

Side tangent: can someone please offer some clarity regarding the following picture?

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What kind of pronoun is “ze”? I’m really confused about this.

I feel excited, inspired, motivated, ready to do this. Before, when I would consider grad school, it was “Well, maybe this… maybe that… oops, the application deadline is three weeks away.” But this time around, I feel like I discovered this program at just the right time to start working toward it. In contrast to the previous dilemma of wondering what the rest of my life is supposed to look like, I feel like I have a goal to work toward now, even if it’s just for the next few years. It often seems like God reveals his plans for us in stages, and it feels like he is showing me the steps toward the next stage of my life. I could be wrong. I’m very conscious of the old adage, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the future,” or however it goes. But I also believe that God wants us to actively pursue the passions and gifts that he has given us, and he will open or close doors accordingly. When I think about pursuing this program, I feel excited about it, but I feel something even stronger and more significant than just excitement: I feel hope.

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Hook ’em, Horns!

 

On Suffering

At the beginning of April, a co-worker who knew I was going through a rough time shared this article with me – “What Suffering Does” by David Brooks, from the New York Times. At the time, I read through it and I honestly can’t remember what I thought of the article because the past 29 days have pretty much been one big emotional nightmare blur. But yesterday, I found the article and re-read it and really appreciated what it had to say about the nature and purpose of suffering, especially in contrast to happiness. Since these are two preoccupying themes in my life right now – I am suffering; I want to be happy – I feel like this post complements my recent post on “The Happiness Project.” From David Brooks’ article, I learned four important truths about suffering.

1. I cannot control my suffering

Just as I had no control over the break-up that launched me into this place of suffering, I also have no control over the feelings of suffering that I experience in response. I can’t just say, “Well, it’s been a month. I guess I should stop feeling sad now” and magically do so. I cannot control the way I feel when I wake up in the morning, or the unexpected moments throughout the day when the tears find me, or the memories come flooding in. I cannot control when, in response to my pain and anxiety and confusion, my entire core physically tenses up so that even breathing becomes difficult.

“Suffering gives people a more accurate sense of their own limitations, what they can control and cannot control. When people are thrust down into these deeper zones, they are forced to confront the fact they can’t determine what goes on there. Try as they might, they just can’t tell themselves to stop feeling pain, or to stop missing the one who has died or gone.”

But while I cannot control the ways in which my suffering manifests itself, the next truth reveals what I can control.

2. I can control how I respond to my suffering

I cannot choose not to suffer, but I can choose how I deal with the suffering that I experience. This does not make the pain go away, nor does it make the process or the experience easier. But it transforms how I view my role in the process, and where I focus my energy as I work through this.

“It’s at this point that people in the midst of difficulty begin to feel a call. They are not masters of the situation, but neither are they helpless. They can’t determine the course of their pain, but they can participate in responding to it. They often feel an overwhelming moral responsibility to respond well to it.”

So, how does one respond to suffering? How do you make sense of losses that are so unexpected and so incongruous with what you thought you knew? To be honest, I don’t understand how anyone works through suffering without some sort of faith in God. I don’t think I would be able to be open to the following two truths if I didn’t, on some fundamental level, believe that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

3. Suffering creates the opportunity for redemption

“The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense. It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.”

It’s not about tricking yourself into thinking that the loss wasn’t bad, or even convincing yourself that it was “for the best.” Regardless of whether that is actually the case or not, the right response to a loss isn’t a 180 degree shift in perspective. It is the recognition that, yes, this loss is bad and the only way to really deal with it is to respond so that good comes out of it. The loss itself is not good. But the response to that loss is the determining factor.

4. Suffering creates the opportunity for deeper love and greater vulnerability

A friend recently offered me this insight: “Let yourself grieve. And realize that new happy may not look the same as old happy.” This fits perfectly with what the article says about the recovery process that follows suffering.

“Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different. They crash through the logic of individual utility and behave paradoxically. Instead of recoiling from the sorts of loving commitments that almost always involve suffering, they throw themselves more deeply into them. Even while experiencing the worst and most lacerating consequences, some people double down on vulnerability. They hurl themselves deeper and gratefully into their art, loved ones and commitments.”

These words are not intended to be a quick fix. They are not a mandate for those who are suffering: “Oh, you’re in pain? Go channel your pain into something productive and you’ll feel better.” They are simply a reminder that one of the redemptive elements of suffering is that it forces us into a state of deep vulnerability, during which we have the capacity to respond by allowing that vulnerability to influence the ways in which we contribute to the world and how we love those around us.