:: WHY WE BE ::

Boo to false, self-imposed limits, we say. These champion oracles want to live enthusiastically. Follow our trip through projects that challenge, frustrate, and/or scare us. In the end (which is really the middle) we want to live like big bright free and authentically awesome people.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

let go of the nut, monkey girl. (Amy)

Charles and I went out to dinner the other night with a couple we're friends with, who I deeply like. First of all, let me just note how much I hope Melissa turns out like their 16 year old girl: grounded, likes being with her family, majorly averse to all the wacky things teenagers can be drawn to like moths to flame, smart, literate, musically inclined, and a soccer star on top of it all. And she's not one of those teenagers who acts like their iphones are way more important than human interaction; she knows how to have conversations with adults and puts her social skills to good use.

She most likely turned out like this on the account of the fact Lisa (this lovely 16 year old's mom) has a nice, laid back outlook on life. For instance, after each visit, Lisa always leaves me some awesome little nugget of wisdom from her brain I can easily incorporate into my own life outlook. Nuggets like: “She's only 2. Those people will just have to get over it.” (Said after I worried out loud Melissa was bugging other people at a restaurant we were at). And: “People can be such buttheads!” (Shared over a glass of wine, talking about the psychologically traumatizing Tiger Mom approach and why are people so judge-y and psychotic in general anyway?)

Last week during after dinner drinks, she gave me this one: “Some people just need to let go of the nut.” She was telling me about this experiment some behavioral scientists once conducted with some monkeys. They put a piece of candy, banana, nut, or whatever monkeys find very tasty, in a cage. So the monkey comes up, puts its hand in the cage to get the nut. As soon as its hand is around the nut, the monkey is suddenly trapped in the cage and can’t move. But the behavioral scientists (who are just infamously devious about these kinds of things) set up the cage so that if the monkey would just let go of the nut, it would instantly be able to free itself. Freedom or a nut? A nut or freedom? What’s a trapped monkey to DO, everybody??

You can probably guess: not too many monkeys ever tried just letting go. They just hung out there, stuck to a cage, tightly clutching this nut they couldn't even get to their mouths, trapped for hours or at least until one of the kinder scientists played God and released them.

This was a deeply educational anecdote for me, because it’s exactly how I feel about my world so many days out of any given week: At various moments throughout each day, I am little more than a monkey with her hand stuck in a cage, clinging desperately to a nut I can't even get into my mouth. I need to tape this to the wall next to my desk at work, onto my bathroom mirror: Amy, just let go of the nut.

In her last post, Patresa talked about moving on to some other COFFEE projects she’s been eyeing, and I’m so grateful she did this, because she unknowingly gave me permission to let go of a nut (thanks, P-licious!). I think I’m ready to call it a day with one of my projects and branch out into another scary area (or 3).

I'm going to continue my first COFFEE project of training for my scary April D-Day 5K (which I am announcing here that I have officially registered for—woo! me...plus, and, also: there is no turning back now).

But my other project (which originally started as health nut/vegan eating and somehow casually evolved into a “How About I Just Focus on Cooking in Ways No One Gets Food Poisoning & I Don’t Burn Down My House?” project) has been feeling kind of done. Unless Jamie Oliver personally calls me to invite me to his house for a one-on-one cooking lesson, I think I’ve gotten about as far as I can possibly go on my own with the cooking project. I still don’t really enjoy the act of cooking, except on occasional weekend nights when I’m in the mood and there’s a nice bottle of Chianti next to me (I don’t really drink Chianti; I just like sticking that word into conversation whenever possible because of that one line in that one Hannibal Lecter movie). But I have a handle on it now, and some good solid recipes to turn to when in doubt. And nobody's choked or vomited on any of my cooking...yet. And my oven can't even believe how much use it's been getting since, say, November. Ish.

So I’ll continue training for a 5K, and channeling less sofa slug, more gym rat. But I'm saying adios to Cooking School 101.

Onto something new: All through this COFFEE project, I’ve been thinking, "What REALLY scares me?" Wendy called someone she hadn’t talked to in a really long time, and risked weird feelings and rejection. Patresa got up and sang in front of a bunch of strangers, and risked warbling like a goat and having people throw drinks at her. They both did these things, and they made it out alive. Totally, totally alive. Nobody hung up on anyone, sang like a goat, or threw drinks. Which made me ask myself: what have you REALLY been risking with this safe little cooking/run a 5K health nut project you gave yourself? Not much, is what I say.

So here’s the thing: I write. I write essays of a personal nature, a few short stories once in awhile, and the occasional incredibly ridiculous poem (with sappy rhymes and bad iambic pentameter and everything). I have a couple of finished (as finished as they'll ever be, because I could still pick over them like a dog gnawing on a bone) stories I wrote about 4 years ago I could send somewhere (except that these are currently floating around on a flash drive in my house somewhere and it’s been so long I really don’t even know if I can even find them). And occasionally I’ll be somewhere and find myself suddenly consumed to jot down the first page or two to a story that never gets to go anywhere because I never finish it. And even if I did finish it, it still wouldn’t get to go anywhere because I’m too afraid to send it to anyone.

I think I sit on these things because rejection is difficult for me. (Like it's so easy for everyone else, right? Patience, people, patience. I'm totally absorbed in my own egoic psychoses right now--we'll have to deal with yours later.) I’m the type of person who likes to build little walls of protection around myself so that no one makes my already fragile ego even more fragile. If I even smell the possibility of rejection, I run the other way. Writing is full of this, particularly when you send your stuff to a stranger (who has no reason to be nice to you) and ask them to deem it worthy. It feels like begging to me, like I’m 7 years old and we’ve just lined up in PE class to be picked for volleyball teams. And I know, I know: such is the Writing Life—it’s like World War II battle wounds or rites of passage tattoos, these collections of rejection letters. But I have thin skin, skin so thin it’s bizarrely transparent. Writing and sending pieces of my ego out for judgment would be an immensely risky and scary thing for me. So I decided this needs to be the next COFFEE project: Not only writing, but actually SENDING it to places to be eye rolled over or picked at or just spit upon, and learning to not take any of that personally. Building thicker skin is something I’ve been aware of needing to work on for years (and years and years) (seriously, since I was about 5).

Another project I’m still hashing out the specifics to in my head is a social project. The riskiness of this project is three-fold:

(1) Please be aware that I suck at the following: being in charge of stuff, paying attention to all the details, looking at the Big Picture, generally being organized, patience with people over the age of 8, dealing with a lot of different personalities all in one space.

(2) I wouldn’t call myself highly introverted, but I’m definitely not the most gregarious in some social situations, particularly when large-ish numbers of people in a group are involved and/or small talk must be made with veritable strangers. Sometimes I'm actually gripped with this tiny little insistent hand around my throat, squeezing and squeezing, going: Ask this person a question to get a small conversation started, you idiot. Ask a question. What? I don't know! ANY question, just pick one! ....You're not asking! There's too much silence!!!! Why are we just standing here, twiddling our thumbs?! Ask a question! Say something!! SAY something!!!!! And then I basically just paralyze myself and people may think I'm being unfriendly or, hopefully, impersonating a deaf mute.

Have I ever mentioned how I really admire people who naturally know how to talk to strangers, and are always ready with questions that make the other person feel valued and keep getting-to-know-you/small talk going?

(3) In addition to all the above, I like to recharge by doing solitary activities. I get pretty annoyed when I have to recharge my batteries in a group. For example, once I tried getting in shape by joining this program called "Team Fitness" at my gym and promptly became disgruntled and furious every time I had to show up. I paid about $500 to join the group, and I was grouchy and resentful the whole time, and basically the opposite of motivated. The entire 12 weeks. Like, people in the group would go (nicely but sort of also accusingly because we were to keep each other accountable and well-motivated): "So where were YOU on Tuesday, Ms. Always 10 Minutes Late??" And I’d be all snarly, “Get away from me, suckface.” Except I would only be snarly like that in my head, because in reality I'm psychotically non-confrontational; what actually happened was I just refused to make eye contact and mumbled something unintelligible about a headache, and then did a half-assed workout with them, angry the whole 90 minutes, not even trying to hide the fact I was looking at the wall clock every 10 minutes.

But now, even though I work out fairly inconsistently and don’t have a trained professional mapping my progress or making sure I’m doing the exercises right, I’m so much happier when I'm at the gym. I may not be really pushing myself, or even working out as long as I could, but I'm by myself and I don't have to make a bunch of brain draining small talk with people I only see 3 times a week under sweaty conditions. Ditto that on shopping, walking, reading, napping, going to the movies, and driving.

Here's the twist behind why I told you all that: You know what I really wish I had? A good social group. I do already have one of these—well, two, actually if I can count COFFEE. And I have a group of really nice women I get together with for dinner every so often and once a year there is some type of travel package involved. It’s a great group, and very diverse (I’m the crunchy liberal/wacky spiritualist of the bunch in case you were wondering). But the problem is they all live up in North Georgia which is about a 45 minute drive from me, and so I’ve had this idea in my head to start a more local kind of social group, one that does all kinds of things in the area I live in: from coffee outings to dinners to book clubs to walks in the parks to play dates to artsy outings to concerts.

Aren’t I odd? That I prefer solitude so much yet feel a deep need to connect? It’s the same when it comes to Melissa—she goes along with me to a lot of things, which is fine because I really enjoy being around her, and I often tell her how much I can’t wait for her to be old enough so I can take her to all kinds of cool places besides our usual errand-running outings. But man! I cannot even begin to describe the kind of sheer, unmitigated joy I get when I'm given a chance to do something (shopping, reading, napping, etc) by myself every now and then. Which is why I feel like such an odd bird when I think about this push-pull/go, no, stay, no, go! aspect of my personality. I’m fairly certain my friend Carol would tell me this is solely due to my being a Pisces.

Another aspect of risk with creating this social group thing involves my deep-seated fear of rejection: What if nobody signs up for my fun group? What if people sign up for my fun group and then decide it, and me, aren’t that fun? What if there’s drama in my fun group? I'll have to end it; I can't stand drama. What if somebody psycho joins us? Psychos are such killjoys. What if everybody loves me and my fun group a lot, but then I get disorganized and it kind of falls by the wayside and then people send me disapproving, judgmental emails? What if I end up with a lot of clingy, emotionally high maintenance types? I think I would rather stick my head into a barrel of agitated scorpions.

So, so many what ifs, so, so many risks.

So this is where I'm at currently:

1. Keep on keepin' on with the 5k/workout project stuff.

2. New project: put my brain on a 12.0 incline/6.0 treadmill pace and start writing again and actually sending what I produce to someone human…for skin thickening experience, and

3. New project: start fleshing out my social group idea.


Wendy said...

Let go of the nut. I love this analogy. I'm gonna use that from now on. Particularly because I have that tendency too, to hold onto the nut for dear life when it's the thing that's sinking me.

I totally get the thing where you talk about sending in your writings for the validation of some stranger and the feeling of desperation and vulnerability in that process. Oh man, I am so familiar with that feeling. And yes, this is a scary endeavor. So for that - congrats on pursuing that animal!!
This is really exciting and I love the way you write - so personal, so humble, so easy and enjoyable to read and yet so enviably thoughtful and clever (a really difficult combo to master, IMO!).
As for your thin skin... I remember once, like 10 years ago, Patresa told me that my skin was so transparent you could see the veins underneath and how that was so consistent with my soul and emotions and ME. I wasn't particularly thrilled to be compared to a spring roll ;-), but I got her point and have learned that being that way definitely can make the journey difficult, but it also empowers you with sensitivity and insight that is a rare gift. So remember that. I can definitely see that in you.

And the social group. That is also a scary project and so again, congrats on pursuing that. These are the things that are worthwhile. And I'm sure you'll get a good crowd because who wouldn't want to come hang out with Amy? She's a rock star.

Anonymous said...

Amy- We don't know each other, I know Patresa from high school and started following the COFFEE blog when it started. Every time you write I always have an understanding of what you are going through.

Letting go of the nut is such great words of wisdom! I think I'll write them and tape them in every room of the house!

OK, but the really reason I am writing is that I consider myself a fairly shy person... at least not out going but after being a mom for a bit realized that I needed to start a group for moms. Luckily my church supported me and we worked with the MOPs organization to get things going. But I know that as a mom the most important thing for me to keep going is time alone...anyway, I led the group for 2 years then passed on leadership to others for 2 more years before we then had to stop meeting because there was no one else to lead it. So, I have started a group, led it, LOVED it and then let it go.

I think the hardest thing will be defining what your group will be about. Really sitting down and coming up with the purpose of your group is a great place to start. And then pray that people who need what your group will offer will show up. And they will!

Wish I live closer, I'd be there! :) Good luck!


Tanner May (Tanya) said...

Amy Amy Amy! Yes! Letting go of the nut. I-should-do-that-daily. Thank you. Really, hear that, digest it, and pat yourself on the back for sharing that. Tomorrow, I am going to be more aware of all the nuts I plan to let go. This is great!

I also loved your term "psychotically non-confrontational." I think we all have a bit of that (a lot of that), and some people could use a little more. I also think it's great you ditched the group things and are now on Amy time. I don't know why really, but I think anything that makes you happier has just gotta be better. :)

AND I LOVE LOVE LOVE your writing. Anyone who said anything negative nelly about it obviously would be a dummy. There. Nuff said about that. Well, except, also that you have an amazing way with words and are highly HIGHLY entertaining. You could write in great detail about feces and urine, and I'm sure I would be thinking "Amy is so funny and cool!"

Anyway, wish I lived closer. I'd be your first registrant for any social activity. Rock on Sister COFFEE Amy. Good luck with the fleshing of ideas!!!

Steph said...

Well, Miss Amy, I would join your group in a heartbeat. Just as it is with your writing, social group organizing requires putting yourself out there, taking a risk, chancing rejection, but also daring to touch greatness in an epic and real way. Good luck with this group. I think you're going to learn so much about yourself and meet some amazing people!!! Keep us posted on the skin-thickening activity... it's GROWTH, baby, GROWTH!
I haven't read any of your formal writing (although I would VERY MUCH like to!!!!!! Hint, hint... nudge, POKE!!!!!!), but I find your COFFEE posts to be insightful, real, hilarious, engaging, and so enjoyable to read. I realize we can't all hit every ball out of the park, but I also believe on a gut level that at some point the right person is going to read something of yours and it's going to... just CLICK. I KNOW THIS. And we'll all be talking about how we used to blog with you when... just like P and Wendy and Tawni....... :) I know this. So keep writing and keep putting it out there! GO FOR IT!
Finally, letting go of the NUT. Such a simple concept yet so painfully difficult in application. I can think of at least three nuts right now that I KNOW, like truly KNOW, I need to let go of... and yet, here I sit, making a list of excuses as to why I can't or shouldn't. What the heck???? Guess that makes me a real monkey, and I don't particularly like monkeys or want to be one. Hmmm... you've challenged me... Thank you??? No, I think I mean that with a period: Thank you. Well, maybe I WILL eventually mean that with a period.... Hmmmm.... dang it!
In any case, Amy, I think your new COFFEE goals are worthy and wonderful! Kick their tails, girl. YOU CAN!

amy said...

Dear fellow COFFEE-ites Wendy, Ann (hi, Ann!),Tanya,and Stephany: I just want to say thank you for your sweet comments, and let you know they made me laugh, gave me hope, and really (really) made me smile!

It's why I heart this place so. :-)

Katie said...

Amy, we WERE twins parted at birth. I know this is so because as I read your post, I was reading faster and faster so I could comment on all the ways this was EXACTLY LIKE ME. The nut thing? Totally. I will chew on something until it shreds and falls apart, and people look at me weird and say things like "that was over. I don't know why you're still thinking about it." And give me withering looks for being a weirdo. Obsessive? Maybe.

The rejection thing? Oh lordy be. I periodically have to give presentations for work. Some long, some short. Some to a dozen people and some to hundreds. Without fail, even when the audience are people who see me in a positive light already, I will sweat so much that I have to bring a second shirt. And here's the thing - it's not the public speaking part. It's the worry that someone will come up after my presentation and challenge me on something I've said. To avoid that I will check, recheck and source the crap out of everything I say, and then sound like a pompous blowhard because I preface everything with "well, the study from 1998 indicates that...." all in an effort to avoid confrontation, disagreement and yes, rejection. It's often exhausting.

But the part that got all my nerves a jangling was the social stuff. I know exactly, EXACTLY what you are saying about the push pull, I wanna join, get away from me, but why didn't they invite me, oh god, they invited me complex. My batteries have never been recharged by being with other people, with the exception of a few close friends. I think that's why I am SO drained when I come home from work. I spend all day talking with adults using every skill of persuasion I own, using my non-confrontational personality to avoid telling them things that will make them offended and explaining behavior as if it is another language, which for some it is. I like social contact when I want it, I like it when I can observe and I like it when I can leave whenever I want to. But I never just like it. Have you ever read the book "The Introvert Advantage"? I found it when I met Axel, because amazingly, I married someone just like me and he had already bought it. Well, socially we are alike, anyway. I doubt I will ever like mustard as much as he does. We are never happier than when we can sleep or work in the garden or read a book on a Saturday afternoon instead of seeking out other people. The book, in part, helped me understand why this is so.

And your group - I often wish, I WISH that I lived in a less isolated area... well, that's not true, because if I lived where a lot of other people lived I would probably become a hermit. Because here's the thing. My town is full of people. People my age. People I see out on walks and with their dogs and at high school football games we can hear from our backyard. We have been here for four years and I don't know any of them. Not a one, other than our neighbor Steve who lets our dogs out once in a while if we're gonna be late, and whose cats we feed if he's on vacation. That's it. There are probably walking groups and jogging groups and coffee groups, I just don't know about any of them because I get most of my local information from the library bulletin board. Part of that push-pull, I think.

Anyway, I identify totally with your desire for a group, and if I was in your area, I would sign up for it in a second, and never take it personally if you were late because I am perpetually late also. So much so, in fact, that my friends will ask for my ETA in "real time" or "Katie-time."

Amy, thank you, thank you for your witty observational skills, and your ability to put into words the things that cause us so much angst. Well done, friend.

amy said...

Katie: YES! I'm going to order us a DNA mapping kit as soon as possible, to double check we are not somehow related. :-)

patresa said...

organizing a social group! ahhhhh! SCARY! but cool! you know, i bet you're actually quite good at it. so... GO FOR IT! let go of the nut, and do it!

love that: "let go of the nut." awesome. i can think of at least 10 nuts i'm holding onto. (that's just fun to say.)

and i'm glad you feel permission to move on. absolutely! especially because it entails writing! i've read your stuff, amy, and you are a talented writer with much to say. get on it!

5K. yep, you can absolutely do that. of course!

you're on your way!

T-Free said...

LOVE the monkey study. My husband and I will actually reference that study from time to time because it is just so true. Sometimes we have to stop being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn and just let go of the nut.

“'How About I Just Focus on Cooking in Ways No One Gets Food Poisoning & I Don’t Burn Down My House?' project" made me laugh, then your penchant for Chianti made me laugh, and then it kept happening. You are such a talented and entertaining writer, Amy! I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised by all of the positive feedback you get from sending "pieces of your ego" out for judgment. :)

I do the "Say something! SAY SOMETHING!" inner chant in social one-on-one situations too. I don't even like to talk on the phone for the same reason. I can't take the pressure. I mean, I CAN, but it stresses me out, which completely invalidates the whole point to socializing, right? It's supposed to be fun, not terrifying.

Team Fitness sounds really yucky. I am all about the solitary workouts, be they DVDs at home or lifting weights at the gym. And when I used to run, I rarely took people up on offers of running together. The alone time is the best part of working out. I like the places my brain goes when I'm alone.

"Aren’t I odd? That I prefer solitude so much yet feel a deep need to connect?"

Same here, sister. We like our alone time, yes, but no woman is an island. The internet works beautifully for me that way, because I can form what I consider to be real, lasting friendships with cool people from all over the world, but I still get to have the daily peace and silent time I need to stay grounded. It's such a win-win. Yay for the internet!

I have always been friends with guys more often in real life, partly because I played in bands with them for years, partly because I am such a tomboy and don't like a lot of the things many girls like, but partly because guys are often so much more easygoing and mellow about friendship. I can't deal with clinging, high-maintenance people, which in my younger experience, was always the way the girls around me had to "do" friendship. Like if we didn't talk every day, they decided I was mad at them. Or if we went to a bar together, and I tried to talk to the other people around us, I was "ignoring them" and we were suddenly back in high school, having a fight about it. I have no patience for the drama. I am as opposed to conflict as is humanly possible, and have the exact same reaction you describe to it, where I don't say anything on the outside, but seethe inside. But now that I'm older, and a momma, I wonder if maybe older women would be cooler as "real life" friends. Maybe the problem was that when I tried to have female friends, before I gave up, I was still in my twenties, and the girls I was trying to be friends with were just young twenty-somethings who hadn't yet figured out that friends don't have to call each other every day and hang out constantly to be pals. (Basically that high school was over.) I have one real life female friend right now, and we occasionally do lunch. And she is as cool as can be. She has a child and a life, so there's never any pressure. Perfect!

Anyhow... I babble. And I look very forward to reading about your next steps toward 5k goodness, sending out your writings, and developing a social group of real-live-not-psycho-people.

Go Amy!! xoxoxoxo.

only a movie said...

I generally prefer my solitude, but have several great great girlfriends that I treasure. We plan small get togethers that involve travel, but never go anywhere due to children getting in the way of Fun in general.

If I weren't so far away, you know I'd want to be part of your social group in a heartbeat. We could talk about teaching and spiritualism and make fun of right wing nutjobs, but then find something nice to say about the right wing nutjobs because it's not very spiritually responsible to be making fun of folks. What? We would. And would have a blast.