In Which I Become Unquantifiable

Drawing of fitness band and smartphone with statistics on it.

I’ve boxed it up. After four years of consistent and unwavering usage, I have taken off my Fitbit, unlikely to ever be used again. The level of self-awareness from this device has now reached the point of diminishing returns. It just became a habitual accessory with curious bits of information that I ignored.

I recently deleted my Goodreads account, despite having filled lists with hundreds of books. I never wrote public reviews, felt guilty using a reductionist rating system, and wondered why I was advertising a solitary habit that I had done all my life without fanfare.

One by one, I began to look at all the ways in which I was tracking and quantifying my life. Counting calories, making lists, tracking exercise, inventories, writing journal entries. I’ve done these things one way or another since I was 13, keeping a running list of flaws and excesses and not quite getting things right. It is a lifestyle geared towards being better – until the time, energy, and devices become a replacement for a life. It’s a sterile proof of life. Would you know me by my steps, my carbohydrate intake, my reading peccadilloes? Does the nebulous, contradictory shape of my being need data for definition?

Orange and red rays of streaming data.

Perhaps menopause, and all its accompanying mood swings, seismic corporeal changes, and the catching of breath before entering the final third of my life (if I am lucky) has sent me off the deep end. I do not wish to live in a data-driven world, dragging cookies with me from one internet site to the next, ads popping up to tell me just what a screw-up I really am or that despite how messed up the world is, I should be buying this device and make sure I’m getting apps that tell me that I will never, ever be good enough.

It’s frightening to leave my life up to me. Ever since I cut heel holes into leg warmers and wore collarless sweatshirts to do Jane Fonda’s ab blasters, I’ve expected services, apps, people, books to give me the magic answer that will make me good enough. I am capitalism’s most perfect mark. Got a problem? We know you do. Buy this. Listen to the guru. Download this app. Purchase these magic beans.

I’d been staring out of the window watching the birds and squirrels in the yard when my phone beeped to tell me it’s time to meditate. Wasn’t I just doing that? Perhaps if I just let myself be, I’ll be drawn inexorably to what I need. I can listen to myself or make Pavlovian choices, dropping down into a sitting pose on a beep. App deleted.

If I sound strident, I am. It’s uncomfortable – this unregulated, un-tracked being I now inhabit. At 53, I see where I have robbed myself – of joy, of adventure, of passion – in an effort to be good enough. My life feels like a succession of apologies and renovations. At times, when I thought I was reinventing myself, I was just swapping out new tracking methods, different-colored charts, but really it was the same old plan. Stop being me.

In 1982, “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene was on the charts. We used to snicker at the song, saying things like Well, I’ve been to me and it wasn’t that great. Jokes as a cry for therapy. I did therapy too. But I was so concerned that the therapist would think I was a nutjob, that I processed and packaged my feelings. When I told her I was going to stop therapy, she felt satisfied with my progress. I am, when push comes to shove, a skilled liar. Mostly to myself.

Megaphone with words on it like feedback, opinion, and view.

So how does one unravel self from a world eager to define it for you? How does one stop speaking the language of critique and review and feedback? How does one disentangle what it means to be human from what it means to be a citizen, consumer, a content regurgitator?

As part of an MFA program, I am required to do workshops. I hate workshops, but not for the reasons one might assume. Feedback is nominally useful, because most workshop feedback is organized around a disparate group of readers who don’t the writer’s intent. It’s a messy process and less useful than one might imagine. I decided to no longer read with a critic’s eye and it has changed how I approach the work of others. I approach it with curiosity – what is the writer trying to do? How can I help them do that?

Keyboard with shopping cart key.

This shift in my approach is bleeding over into other areas in my life. Approach with curiosity. The adjustment period is awkward. You can’t miss how people talk or write – all the pronouncements, opinions, critiques about everything. Were we always like this? How have we been trained to see and point out the flaws in the most minor things? I heard the phrase deficit advertising to explain how we are convinced to buy, buy, buy through the calculated strategy of making us feel as if we are not enough. We are vicious critics of ourselves. That’s a problem, but there is probably an app for that.

Is the absence of planning, tracking, and logging in, a plan in and of itself? Perhaps. It feels more like scraping away the distractions to see what is there. Who am I without data? Who am I without the automatic longing for something else and the ongoing, constant data feedback from my life? Does this body still have good bones?

So here I am, a nebulous, unfocused, undefined being. I do not know if I have maintained a good carb-fat-protein ratio. I have not met any personal goals today. I’m not sure how many books I have read this month. Or if REM sleep comprised enough of my night. I do not know how many steps I have walked today. I just know that I am moving in a different direction.

Administrative Note: I have not included a recording of this post and will not for the foreseeable future. I wanted this blog to be more accessible and to provide other options for those people, of which I am one, who get way too much screen time. The problem is, I’m not very good at creating recordings. After trying a lot of different configurations for a duct-taped sort of studio and using free recording software, it still takes an inordinate amount of time and effort. It stops me from writing here, because of the work it will entail. I’m not famous or in great demand or even paid for this. When I am any of those things, I will find someone who knows what they are doing and they can record it. Until that time, I’m going back to the basics of writing.

A Writing Retreat in The Green Study

The Green Study will return on April 1, 2018.

I’ve made some progress over the last couple of months on both my novel and some essay writing, and I’ve reached that point where I need to do a final push to meet internal and external deadlines. I’ll leave you with some thoughts before I head into Michelle’s Writing Month (MeWriMo).

On Vulnerability and Writing

When I wrote about book reviews earlier this month, I began to think about the nature of being a writer in today’s world. If I’m deep into writing, I have no armor. I find after spending a lot of time writing, even going to the grocery store feels like an assault on the senses. I’m exposed. A hermit crab without a shell. I wince at the overhead speakers and all the beeping noises of the register. People seem too loud, the lights too bright.

canstockphoto17784854I have to harden up a bit again, develop a wind break against the sensory onslaught. And this is only to physical sensation. What about those writers who read a review of something they’d published, something they’d poured themselves into, only to be eviscerated by a careless reviewer? The Amazon hit piece: This sucked. I want my money back.

Writers talk about not reading their reviews and I used to wonder if it was an issue of ego, but now I think it’s necessary protectionism. Reviews serve no purpose for writers. The work is done. Writing to audience specifications will not create better art.

International Relations

I’ve noticed a lot of readers from countries where English is not the main language. With all the available tools we have to translate, I would encourage you to engage, practice your English here or write in your first language, and maybe we can learn a little more about your language and country. You are welcome here at The Green Study.

canstockphoto7037830I just started studying Chinese, but also have some German, Spanish, French, and Russian under my belt. I spend a little time each day studying, using apps like Duolingo and Memrise. Lately, too, I’ve been using Quizlet to improve my geography knowledge. There is something about learning location and language that brings the world closer to home. And it’s excellent exercise for the brain.

At a time when our U.S. leaders seek to sow discontent, we must free our minds and open our hearts. The U.S. is shedding experienced and knowledgeable diplomats, so we must step up to the plate. We must reach out, talk to each other, make connections, learn languages, read internationally, and not allow our leaders to define our relationship with the rest of the world.

Microresolution Update

It works. It really works. Back in December, I did a post series on resolutions with┬áthe intent of doing monthly updates. I’m a little late, but I’m sure no one is losing any sleep over it. I ran into trouble when I kept picking the wrong resolutions. I kept modifying until I finally hit on a couple more that worked. The results, like the resolutions, are small, but have shifted me more towards my personal goals than not.

canstockphoto8037195Writing: I have written every single day now for almost three months. As soon as I log into my computer, a blank Word doc comes up, and I am writing. My current resolution is a nightly habit of planning the next day’s writing. I don’t always follow through on the list, but I’ve given myself a map and travel with it as far as I can. As long as I’m still moving, that’s progress.

Fitness: I’ve mixed up my workouts and avoided my usual pitfall, which is to progressively add more weight and distance and time until I burn out for weeks on end or get injured. Whatever I do is fine, as long as I do something. The sun is out today and the sidewalks have finally melted off – it’s a walk for sure.

Nutrition: Forcing myself to eat only at the kitchen table has completely changed how I approach mealtimes and snacks. It is now a ritual and not a dash-and-grab. In the words of Caroline Arnold: small move, big change.

canstockphoto11693411My latest microresolution is eating food that requires me to slow down. Soup or salad and fruit for lunch. Unless I slurp cold soup with a straw, it’s a slow meal. And the time it takes to peel and eat an orange is meditative. I can feel my relationship with food changing, becoming the pleasure it should be.

Lifestyle: For the last couple of months, I made the resolution to always log off my computer by 7pm. This has improved a lot of small, meaningful things for me. I have more conversations with my family, I read more, and when I’m ready to go to bed, I sleep.

What is the most significant thing about taking a long time to make small changes, is that it changes the narrative from one of failed resolutions to that of incremental victories. This has given me a sense of optimism about my ability to make change and the confidence I’d lost in the repeated failures of bigger goals.

I still get a little impatient, but after seeing how consistent I am able to be when I whittle down to the smallest resolution, I’m going to keep at it. Five new habits in three months? That’s 20 new, positive habits a year. Where will I be then? I’m kind of excited to find out.

Gratitude

canstockphoto4839212Thank you to the many readers and commenters who have connected with me here. The blog is now six years old. It has learned to walk, wipe its own butt, and doesn’t drool quite as much – with only an occasional temper tantrum. It would have languished long ago if not for the people who read it and those who take the time to share their thoughts and perspectives. Thank you!

Have a great month of March and I look forward to reconnecting in April!