Saturday Morning Musing

There’s a lot to be said for doing new things. Almost every bit of life advice will include something along the lines of “expand your horizons” or “step outside of your comfort zone.” It is possible to grow if you stay focused on what you’re already good at or interested in, but you can’t really grow in new ways if you never push yourself in a new direction. If you want to meet new people, learn new things, and participate in new experiences, doing new things is your best bet.

There’s also a lot to be said for doing the same things. Only by constant practice can you even approach mastering something. You can’t really master the violin by playing the saxophone. Sure, playing other stringed instruments and listening to music will definitely help your understanding as a whole, but you’ve got to stay at least somewhat close to your chosen instrument if you want to master it. You need discipline and repetition if you want to find the peak of your abilities. If you want the highest level of recognition, mastery over your chosen field, and to transcend your limits, you need to stick to more or less the same thing.

That being said, doing nothing but new things isn’t going to let you really gain experience or enjoy something because you wouldn’t stick with it long enough to really experience it. Doing nothing but the same exact thing is stifling and will only hold you back because small variations and exploring new parts of the same concept or practice is what will eventually achieve a higher level of skill. A mixture of repetition in your new experiences allows you to really experience them on a deeper level and trying new things in your repetition lets you feel out the edges of your ability so you can focus on surpassing them. The key to both is to mix in a little bit of the other.

At least, that’s been my experience. Doing something new is great, but only by doing it a couple of times can I really get a feel for it. It’s like when you buy a new album and enjoy a few of the tracks at first, but grow to enjoy different ones (or more of them) as you listen to the album a few more times. As you listen to the individual songs multiple times, your understanding of the song grows and you notice things that you missed initially. If you only stick to doing the same thing, though, you blind yourself to what might be out there. If you only listen to the same album or the same artist, you’re going to miss out on the rest of the genre you’ve been enjoying.

The first time you do something, you’re so caught up in the newness of the experience that you don’t really have the opportunity to appreciate it. The second time, it is still very new, but you start to notice things beneath the surface. Every time after, you find something new you missed before or get another chance to appreciate something you might have only noticed in passing the first time. If you keep doing it, though, you start to lose appreciation for something you enjoyed. Whatever hidden things intrigued you so much initially become boring and plain. You stop looking for something new in the experience because you think you’ve found it all.

Right now, as I try to get my life back in order after its relatively recent upheaval, I find myself seesawing wildly from one side of the equation to the other. I want to lose myself in something new, to experience something so wholly new that I don’t have any ability to analyze it or to do anything but open myself to the experience, but I also want to lose myself in the comfortable repetition of familiar things that don’t require my participation. I want either nothing but new things or nothing but old things. I want to be able to ignore all thoughts of all the things in my life that have been repetitions of new things and new aspects of old things because they’re tied up with a lot of complex emotions that I can only feel right now. I can’t do anything to them but experience them and wait for them to pass. For someone who wants to be able to control every aspect of their life, it can be a little hard to swallow the fact that there isn’t always something proactive I can do about what I’m feeling.

So I anxiously pick it at in the back of my mind and I wait. Impatiently. Unfortunately, reclaiming my life for myself is easier said than done and it requires a good deal more repetition of new experiences that I anticipated. It is interesting to see just how much of my life changed over the past year. To see how much of it feels like it no longer belongs to me alone. How often I feel as if something important is missing as I do things that I never imagined would belong to anyone but me.

Most of my relationships before this one where in college and the one that wasn’t in college was immediately after college. I didn’t have a life the same way I do now, with little routines, habits, and a set of things I kind of just assume will be a part of my daily life. Back then, everything was fluid, apt to change, and exciting. Now, I struggle to find meaning in the routines and to find purpose in pushing myself out of my comfort zone. People entering and exiting my life felt so natural back then and I never did anything long enough to feel like it belonged to me or to anyone else. Now, I feel like there’s a giant hole in my life and no one has even left it, not really. We’re just different now and that little, enormous shift was enough to throw the orbit of my life out of balance.

I guess I don’t really know what I want my life to be. I don’t want it to be a series of days where I repeat everything in new ways until I achieve mastery of whatever I’m working on. I don’t think I want it to be casual repetition of a string of new things, either. I want to say it should be a mixture of both things, but that feels like a cop-out as I write this. I feel like there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for how I feel, hovering just on the edge of my ability to voice it, but I can’t quite get it to take the one last step I need to be able to put it to words.

I feel like being able to finally understand that thought, to be able to put it precisely to words, would answer a lot of the questions I’ve been asking myself for the past couple years. I don’t think it will solve my problems or fix anything, but I feel like it’s the key to figuring out how to solve some of my problems and fix some of the things that feel broken. Maybe, after enough new experiences and enough honing my craft, I’ll find the right thought and the right expression. Maybe.

Doing New Things is Scary

I’m not very good at doing new things. By which I mean that I generally do not engage in activities or experiences that are new to me, not that I lack a certain basic competency when it comes to performing tasks or participating in experiences that I have never done before. I’m actually pretty good at picking things up and running with them. Quick learning is a skill I’ve spent my life developing and is part of why I like writing new and different things.

Despite being confident that I can muddle through any new experience, I tend to avoid them these days. I started this unfortunate habit because I was so incredibly busy with work, writing, trying to live a more healthy life, and focusing on growing the relationships I was establishing in what still felt like a new city. Nowadays, I still use that excuse but I mostly avoid them because of fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of losing something important to me that is never clearly defined and never makes sense if I actually dig into it. I don’t do open mic poetry nights because I’m afraid of sharing often very emotion poetry in a setting where I actually have to look at the people hearing my poem. I can post a poem online and use the internet as a barrier to keep me insulated from any reactions to it, but I can’t do that in a setting that sometimes even encourages people to interact after hearing a poem. I dislike crying in public. Not because I think crying is bad, but as an artifact of my issues showing emotion. I don’t even like being frustrated, sad, or angry in front of other people.

I actually quite enjoy a good cry. Pop in Les Mis or something on the warmer side and I’ll watch it just for the bit that makes me cry. Feels nice, you know? Refreshing. But generally not in public and as a result of a poem of my own that I just read to a bunch of mostly strangers. I just bared my soul and am now displaying how emotional that was for me. Even though I know they’d be a bunch of people I’d probably never seen again, even the thought of possibly doing this is making me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. Sure, you could argue that being open and emotionally vulnerable with a group of people makes them no longer strangers. You could also argue that being secure in my own emotions and experiences means there’s nothing a bunch of strangers could do to harm me or manipulate me using the emotions I just shared. I’d probably agree with you on both counts. That doesn’t make it any easier to do. And that’s just the emotional outcomes of sharing my work. What if someone hates it and starts heckling me or gives really terrible “feedback” because all they want to do is feel superior to other people? I don’t know if any of my poetry is good and I’ve never really tried to build my confidence in it the way I’ve built my confidence in my prose writing, so sticking my neck out feels especially fraught.

I used open mic poetry reading as an example (mostly because the one friend who read yesterday’s post and messaged me to let me know that it was, in fact, the one post she’s read since I started doing reflection pieces is the one who was always encouraging me to go to an open mic night), but I feel like it does a good job of illustrating just how complicated I’ll make anything new in order to avoid it. Which isn’t to say I’m wrong or that anything I brought up about going to an open mic night isn’t a legitimate consideration. Everything I’ve written about why I am disinclined to reading my poetry in front of people is true and a part of any decision I make. The big difference is I’m willing to just push past all of that consideration for things I’m more familiar with.

A D&D or Pathfinder encounters night at the local game shop? Not comfortable role-playing in a group because gamer communities at local game shops can be super tightly-knit and not the most-welcoming to new people. A book club focused around science fiction and fantasy books for people in their 20s and 30s? I don’t want to get into arguments with people about book analysis or have to defend myself if I dislike a book that everyone else liked. A local writers group to support each other as we work on our NaNoWriMo pieces? I don’t want the pressure of having strangers read my prose as I’m still working out the details of the story, nor do I want to get stuck with a group that isn’t interested in improving so much as just patting each other on the back for being a writer.

I can do it for literally anything. I actually DO it for pretty much everything. I supply my own reasons not to go or tell myself that I need to psyche myself up before I commit to doing anything like that. Then I never psyche myself up, make sure to keep the conversations with whatever friend suggested it to topics further away from “what should I do with my free time,” and eventually forget about it. At least, that’s what I did for a couple years.

Now, I’m trying to be open to doing more things. Trying new stuff. My girlfriend likes to go out and do things, like go to parties or attend performances by local artists at breweries. So I put the excuses aside, focus on the simple acts of getting there and getting back, and wind up having a good time. So far, I’ve been to more parties and local events since I started seeing her than in the almost four years I lived around Madison, WI before I met her. I even joined a Monday night D&D group with only two people I sorta knew from the foam fighting thing I do on Thursdays. I went to a performance by a small local musician she knows because one of her other friends was reading poetry from a poetry dissertation and had such a wonderful time that I’m actually considering workshopping some poetry with my beta readers to get some pieces together for an open mic night.

After writing that last sentence, I had to go take a break from writing this post to breathe deeply and think about something else. I’m still coping with stress and anxiety by ignoring it and busying myself, but there are times when no amount of addressing the anxiety is going to help and all you can do is plunge ahead despite it. This is one of those times. I don’t know when I’ll do it because I’m still nervous to the point of almost puking at the thought of getting up in front of people to read some of the poems I’ve posted here, but I’m at least thinking about it. And distracting myself with thoughts of presentation and what kind of business cards I could make to refer people to this blog for more poetry and some fiction as well. I don’t do advertisements on my blog because this isn’t about making money, but it still feels really nice to get views.

The old cliche about bravery is that “being brave” means feeling scared but doing whatever it is anyway. I don’t know if I’d want to go so far as to claim I’m being brave, but I definitely don’t want to feel as stagnant as I did a year ago and I don’t want to let fear rule my life. Which means doing new things, growing as a person, and eventually getting up in front of an audience to say something I feel is important to me. That is, after all, the point of writing stuff on this blog.

 

New Year, Same Goals

I’ve had a lot of big-picture goals that haven’t changed in a rather long time. Lose weight so I can have fewer excuses to give myself a hard time. Finish a novel through the editing phase and find an agent (or decide on a self-publishing method). Figure out where I want to be, physically and emotionally, by deciding who to surround myself with and how to manage my mental health issue. I’ll admit that the last one has changed a bit over the past year, at least in the way I express it.

I haven’t achieved any of those goals, though I’m pretty sure I could argue that I’m well on my way toward the last one, but I have made progress toward all of them. Mentally speaking, I’m much better off today than I was a year ago, even after the mentally exhausting bombardment of horrible stuff going on in the world. I’m more prepared and ready to continue working on my goals. Like update this blog every day.

Resolutions are great, and all, but it’s so easy to set them up as pass/fail instead of recognizing that a lot of the biggest goals are made of a lot of failures. Progress is better than giving up.

To be completely honest, I had a poem I was going to post that was going to be perfect to post almost late on the first day of the year, but I’m way too tired to finish it and it’s taken me half an hour to write this much. So I’ll post that soon. After I’ve gotten some sleep and stuff. I hope you had a great New Year and enjoyed what was hopefully a suggestion to decide to make progress rather than just acheieve your goals.