Crutches And Traps

I make a lot of decisions based on whether or not they could be viewed as weakness. I will avoid something simply because it would be admitting defeat, even if it’s helpful. “Help” in itself is suspect. Help means you can’t do it by yourself. It means you’re weak. Incapable. Pathetic.

I always want to be able to “just do” something. Power through, conquer by sheer force of will. If I’m strong enough, it will be uncomplicated. It’s simple if you’re not weak and don’t need help and don’t have emotions. Or at least, the wimpy ones. I should be able to flex some giant muscle and make it happen. And if it’s difficult for me, if I have to work for it, if I have to spend any time being puzzled or sorting it out, then I wasn’t good at it. I’m stupid, it beat me, I lost.

This always showed up pretty clearly in school. In Spanish years 1 and 2 I was at the head of the class. I knew all the answers, I had that knack for it. But in year 3 I started to struggle. As in, I had to study for more than half an hour a week. It took some effort, I had to put some work in. So, I gave up. Somebody else had the answer before me and it was over. It wasn’t my thing anymore, not now that I’d failed at it.

This is all part of how Dad raised us. Either you “are” something or you’re not. Either you’ll have some breakthrough moment where your God-given talent shines through everything, including the FACT that everyone is out to get you and “keep you down”, or you won’t. And since he loved us, he was sure that we would have that moment. So we weren’t told to work hard at our dreams, we weren’t told to go to college and have plans, we weren’t told to think ahead or analyze anything, we were told that we were “talented” and we would “make it”.

For my sister this has manifested in a total aversion to anything concrete. I’m sure it’s also partly her actual personality, but she is an artist in a classical sense. Math means nothing to her. She sees the worlds in pictures and ideals. I had to compare flavors to colors in order to help her learn how to cook. “Red will always go with green if you want contrast, but if you want something close to your base color you have to go with purple or orange, right? So, if you have some potatoes and carrots, you just have to know whether onion or jalapenos are the green of this equation, and you can learn that by experimentation.” This mindframe works for her, as she is actually very good at bringing her visions to life. But that’s just luck. And she still wishes she could be more “normal” sometimes, i.e. have some things in her brained nailed down a bit more.

For me, because I am not naturally artistic and I was singled out to have to be the “tough” one (he reinforced this by hitting me about ten times more often than either of my siblings) it has turned into an obsession with the concrete. It has become the perfectionism I’ve been talking about. It is classic “all or nothing” thinking. It’s ALL (I am perfectly successful at this thing in such a way that the perfection thereof cannot possibly be questioned) or NOTHING (I suck, I’m not meant to do this, and I am giving up now).

Whenever I try to start any project, at the outset I figure out how I will measure it. I can’t just say “I want to write a screenplay”. I have to decide exactly how long I will spend working on it each day, or dictate how many plot points I must articulate per week, and when I do this I tell myself that these goals will keep me on track. But it’s a trap. The second I have a system of goals set up is the second I know that I will break it at some point, that I will slip up and fail, and that means FAIL. And that will be the end of it. And right then, right at the beginning, is when I start looking forward to giving up. Going back to that quiet, hidden time when I wasn’t disappointing anyone. If nothing is expected from you, you can’t let anyone down, and that is the lure of being a self-loathing lazy sadsack fatass.

When I set out to lose weight I do the same thing. I measure everything, I resolve to write everything down, I plan to do X, Y, and Z every day and track everything in a graph. I tell myself that it’s fun, and I certainly do love me some graphs. But really these things are all crutches, for the same reason playing the victim is a crutch to some. The blame falls elsewhere. Because I know, deep down, that all these measurements are setting me up for failure. But I refuse to acknowledge that, because that would be admitting defeat. I’m not supposed to be susceptible to that. Nothing and nobody is supposed to be able to set me up for jack shit, I’m supposed to just be able to power through this. So I do the same thing over and over, waiting for my shining moment of talent or Fate.

This post is my confession to this mania, and a promise to try and stop it. As always, I not fell but LEAPED off the wagon on my “90 Day Chris Powell Challenge To Self”. I set up these lofty goals (I never give myself easy goals, and you can guess why – because anyone can succeed at easy stuff and that’s not the same as being perfect and strong) and then after the first tiny slipup, it all falls apart.

So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: I’m going to lay aside my crutches and open my eyes to the painful truth that I can fall into a hole just like anyone. We all have different traps, because we have different blind spots and different types of places we go walking alone. Since these differences exist, I assume that means that they are under our control. If you have THOSE traps and I have THESE traps then we both should be able to figure them out because they’re keyed to us, right? Well… maybe. Maybe that, in the abstract, is true. But I think an analogy is appropriate here. When the Bible talks about traps of a sinful nature, it never says “hey, stop being tempted”. It says don’t sin. It never says “put all your effort into figuring out why you in particular are tempted by these specific things and then cut it out”, it says don’t sin. It never says those things because the truth is, there will always be new traps even if you get rid of your old ones. That’s Satan, and that’s life. That’s why Grace is necessary – you could give me 1,000 years and I’d still never be perfect. So God doesn’t ask the impossible, he asks us to try and then covers for the rest of it.

Back to the literal thing I’m trying to get at. I realized that if I just WANTED to lose weight (which I do) and then was simply let loose in a world that is basically good with things in my life basically under my control and without any glaring encumbrances, I bet I would just go about my business and do the things necessary to get what I want, because that’s how we humans do. We see a shirt, we check our pockets for some dough and go get some if we need to, and then we buy the shirt. We don’t whip out pen and paper and draw a to-scale map of the neighborhood and make a list of exactly what bills we need to find in the cookie jar. And we certainly don’t beat ourselves up if we get distracted and also buy some gum or if there’s pocket lint stuck to the money we hand over.

I’m not starting again right now. I’m not starting anything. I’m not measuring anything, and I’m not planning anything. I’m not whipping out pen and paper and I don’t have an endgame. Tomorrow when I open the fridge I’ll probably go for the veggies over the mini cheesecakes because I feel better when I eat healthy and it makes my clothes fit just a little better. And if I get bored I can go for a jog, or write, or anything else that would bring me closer to some stuff I want.

And of course, if I do run into a tough tactical situation, I will ask “What would Michael Westen do?” :-D

(Family Business)

In this episode of Burn Notice, Michael’s brother Nate bites off more than he can chew and has to be bailed out. He thought he could go “talk to” these guys, but they were international arms dealers and he was lucky to walk away with a face.

The client is a mousy dude who accepted bribes of basketball tickets not knowing they would one day ask him to do some highly illegal stuff. Now that he’s in too deep, he wants out, but “out” means “dead” unless Michael can figure out a way to take them down without involving him.

So Michael puts on his Classic Spy hat and goes to make friends with the boss’s less intellectually gifted son. This is not something you can pull off without some preparation. “You ever meet someone and it just seems to click instantly? You like the same things, share the same opinions. It seems like you’ve known them all your life. It could be fate… or it could be that you have a listening device planted under the dashboard of your car.” In the movies spies are slick and off-the-cuff, but really it’s all about the groundwork. (she said with the authority of someone who knows anything about real spies.)

After the son, Ari, is sufficiently enamored of Michael (as well as Ari’s girlfriend Debbie, who CREEPS ME OUT) he (Michael, as “Steve Remington”) attempts to make a deal with Ari. He has some top-notch C-4 but no distributor. It’s good stuff, he just needs someone to sell it. Ari bites, not just because the deal seems straightforward and win-win, but because Mr. Remington has given him another, more subtle offer: trust me, and I will help you show your father that you are someone to be taken seriously. Because Ari’s secret that he doesn’t want Mr. Remington to know is that he is very intimidated by his father. Michael knows that, and plays to that fear, and that resentment, and that aspiration.

Back when Michael was just running around with Sam doing basic recon on their operation, the father, Eli, spotted one of them. He sent his two sons over to check it out. Sam decided to waltz right out and play the Drunken Angry Ex-Employee Who Used To Work At This Warehouse, i.e. a totally harmless random dude, and the two sons chuckled and walked away. But while Michael thought he was on his own and didn’t anticipate Sam’s move, he tried and failed to find a hiding spot. He thought he would have to confront them, and he said: “Fighting is something you want to avoid. Once you fight someone, he knows your face. You kind of blow your cover when you hit a guy with a piece of rebar. But when you have no choice, rebar it is.”

Interesting. There’s this guy at work, and we’ll call him Andy. He’s a homeowner (I manage a condominium complex) of about 10 units. He rents them out, tends to favor frail, old, or stupid women as tenants, thinks he knows everything, constantly tells my maintenance guy what to do and how, and actively undermines me with vendors and anyone else who’ll listen. My boss hates him, my maintenance guy hates him, every single member of the Board hates him. I kinda wish he’d lose an ear to a freakishly large pelican. He’s the most-recognized disease at the complex.

But here’s the thing: he’s not without his own followers. He’s not stupid, he’s just incredibly self-centered and arrogant. He knows SOMETHING about construction, so he thinks he knows EVERYTHING. But there are some people who live there who also think he knows everything, or at least that he knows best. He’s got a few people wrapped around his finger, and while any one of these people is not particularly intimidating, when banded together – all off on their own little well-poisoning missions under his coordination – they’re actually quite a problem.

How can I take his ass down? I know that’s what the Board wants, and they’ve gotten to the point now where they’re going to “take some action”. But they’re going about it all wrong. They’re sending him this pissant letter… I don’t even know where to begin… they think they’re giving him a warning that they’re about to really start cracking down, man! but this letter is like “little girl whine; you’re a jerk; half-accusation; stop it!” It’s like being slapped with a wet noodle.

Worse than the inefficacy of the letter itself according to its own goals is the fact that those goals behind it are the wrong ones. They’ve all been fighting each other for ten years. They know everyone else’s moves and everybody thinks they have something they can sue everybody else over. And there is very little action the Board can legally take against a homeowner. The courts will favor him, despite his general assholery… but I’m Michael Westen, and I don’t need a court.

I will keep you updated on this mission. For now let’s just say that Andy doesn’t see me coming (because he thinks my IQ is 12) so I can take Michael’s advice here. Let the other frustrated old men keep pecking at him and each other. I’ll be doing some recon…

NSV #2!

Today life got in the way of my diet’s timing. I’m supposed to eat every three hours, you see. You know what I would have done, say, a year ago? I would have gotten all flustered and frustrated, I would have felt as guilty and hated myself as much as if I had eaten an entire lasagna instead of just eating what I was supposed to eat but 45 minutes late, and then I probably would have given up and actually eaten an entire lasagna.

So what did I do? I just shrugged and came up with an inpromptu Plan B. I’ll just see if I’m hungry at 330 and if not, I’ll eat at 415, no biggie. Then life happened AGAIN and I couldn’t eat till almost 5. Now it’s either eat too few calories or stay up too late to get all my meals in. Another potential catastrophe!

So what did I do? Well, what would Michael Westen do??? So a plan got derailed, so what? Did the situation change? Did my skills set change? Did my GOAL change? No. A tiny detail changed. So I just kept on with a little tweak, just like Michael would have done, and I did NOT flip out and hate myself or even get worked up at all. Mindful food choices, not emotional breakdowns. VICTORY!

90 Day Chris Powell Challenge To Self!

You may remember me whining a while ago about not having any structure to my life. I promised I would post the schedule I came up with today. Well, my last post was SO long, I’m going to skip the schedule posting and just tell you that I did make it. I have it, I’m just not going to bore you with it.

On to more interesting matters! Today is Day One of my 90 Day Chris Powell Challenge To Self! I’ll be writing about this off and on for 90 days but here’s an introduction: Chris Powell, the trainer on the show “Extreme Weight Loss” (a.k.a. “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition”) wrote a book called “Choose More, Lose More For Life” and I have now read it. And am now doing it. For 90 days… which conveniently coincides with when my in-laws are coming for a visit. They are really, really judge-y so I’m not expecting any praise, more like an interrogation on why it took so long and/or why I was fat in the first place, but it’s nifty to have a marker at the end so this will do.

Chris emphasizes the importance of keeping the promises you make you yourself. That really speaks to me, as I have never kept the promises I make to myself. So it will be weird/hard/new to do so, but it will surely be an improvement!

That’s all for now. My body is reacting badly to suddenly having no massive influx of simple sugars and lard so I’m tired. :-)

(Old Friends)

This week’s episode had a lot of Shirtless Michael. Let’s all just take a moment to appreciate this… mmmmmmmmmm… *sigh*

Okay, so, he was doing stuff other than being shirtless… oh right!

Michael happens to spot a Czech assassin he knows by the name of Jan in a bar, just staring at him. (Wouldn’t you??) So rather than get into it with this guy he picks a fight with a random drunk dude, insulted his moobs and whatnot, and surreptitiously beats Jan all over the face with a bent-up piece of cutlery – all while pretending to be drunk. So that was awesome.

Then his mom calls with a bogus complaint about the disposal and it turns out, she wanted him to come over to see his brother Nate. Who introduces himself by tackling Michael and getting his ass flip-whooped. Turns out he’s like the family idiot, always gambling away money he owes to shady and dangerous people. Michael doesn’t trust him, and Maddie makes out like that’s so horrible of him, but really it’s not. If you have never known anyone with an addiction, here’s what you need to know: it changes them. Michael wasn’t in the wrong to not trust his brother. Nate had let go of his integrity and Michael was the only one who still wanted to hold him accountable.

Nate had accepted a job assuming Michael would help, which of course Michael always does (and that’s Michael’s addiction, in a way.) An old friend from high school has a daughter (Jenna) who ran off with some “model scout” and now he can’t find her. So Nate and Michael team up, one to get some cash and one to make sure his brother doesn’t get killed being an idiot.

Meanwhile Jan still wants to make Michael’s delicious pectorals go all cold and lifeless. Fiona tracks him to his hotel and Michael pulls an adorable short cover as some guy who doesn’t want to wake his wife to get into Jan’s room. This is after we see him take of his shirt, of course, and have Fiona tickle his nipples, which she apparently considered mission-critical  (wouldn’t you??) Then there’s a knife fight, and that’s always good, you know, good exercise. I love the look on his face when he goes “Fighting is often about tactical retreats – like running away from TWO knives”. LOL but I digress. Both keep breathing and Jenna is still about to be whored out like the bag of cough drops your grandma always has.

So Michael, Fiona, and Sam come up with a kidnapping plan. They’ll just snatch Jenna as they bring her to the airport for her first “gig”. But just before Michael left to join them, his mom tells him that Nate went to his apartment to get his half of the money (from the job they haven’t even finished yet.) Did I mention that Michael had booby-trapped his door? No of course I didn’t mention it, and I could easily go back up and type in a mention of it, but “did I mention” is one of those phrases we all use and don’t analyze… but again, I digress. Michael had booby-trapped his front door. So he goes over to stop Nate from breaking in, and that’s when Jan puts a bullet in his shoulder. So now Michael (shirtless again!) is getting surgery from a hairless ape and has missed the kidnapping altogether.

As Jenna’s dad gets more and more panicky (and stupid) they decide to try again – this time, instead of kidnapping Jenna, they’ll just kidnap one of the two brothers who run this operation. They front as fashion gurus, which is why Jenna thought she was about to become a model. Anyway THAT plan goes swimmingly, and while Michael and Nate are demanding that the other brother give back all the money to their victims, one of my favorite quotes happens: “I’m not a pimp!” and Michael says, “You say tomato, I say pimp.” HA!

Later Michael sprinkled some peanuts on Jan’s hot dog (having discovered the allergy with the help of Fiona) and held Jan’s epi pen to get him to talk. Nobody bothered the chocking man and the interrogator, because as you can surely predict, the hot dog joint was completely deserted. But again, I digress… Jan didn’t know anything so Michael let him live. Then the next morning he gets another mysterious note from “old friends” and learns that Jan was probably murdered last night, and is definitely dead. This while being shirtless again… shirtless with pajama bottoms… but I digress… but I don’t care… aaaaaaaaaaah….

Anyway, you should know, if I go on and on about the particulars of the episode that’s because I either can’t draw a parallel for me right now or I don’t like the one I have drawn. Today it’s the latter. Addiction sucks, and unfortunately I understand both Nate’s and Michael’s perspectives. I kindof have both of them in my head. I have broken so many promises to myself, I just don’t trust me anymore. And I want to hold myself accountable, but I’M the addict, and I also want to continue hiding and giving up and running away and lying and spiraling. But this blog isn’t “What Would Nate Westen Do?”, and it shouldn’t be. Nate sucks. I feel for him, I really do, and I’m calling myself out right now every time I do it to him, but the truth is he sucks. We suck. We need to learn from Michael.

So step one is admitting you have a problem, right? Ok, I have a problem. I eat my emotions and then I hide the evidence. I lie about how I’m doing on a regular basis. I lie to myself all the time, and as a result even when I mean well I don’t believe. And if you believe you can’t do something, you will never do it. There is more going on inside you than just your actions when you attempt to do something. Your mind has a million thoughts a day and your body and your hormones and your emotions all remember stuff, habits are powerful. If you don’t believe you can do what you say you want to do, then you won’t be able to, because all of you – the physical bits and the unseen bits – have already given up, whether you go through the motions or not. You will not get there.

I need to pay way more attention to the promises I’m making, because I need to start keeping them. I need to make promises mindfully, and ones that I CAN keep. And then eventually I will have a shred of faith in myself again. Because this is what happens when I don’t: I gained another 4 pounds this week. That’s only 3 below where I started. That’s 1 pound per week loss if you average it out, and that is HALF of what I need to be doing. Besides all that, it was a GAIN. That is unacceptable… except that it’s pretty much the only thing I ever accept from myself. I didn’t really believe anything else would happen when I started this blog. This was all just another episode of Crap Notice. “A self-loathing lazy sadsack fatass gets burned by her own stupid habits. Dumped in Federal Way, will she be able to find out who did this to her? You’ll never guess the ending… IT WAS HER! THE MAIN CHARACTER WAS THE CULPRIT ALL ALONG!” Yeah nobody’s watching that.

I want to change. I have been changing. I will continue to change. But today needed to be about confessing. I sucked ass this week, but here’s the upside: part of what brought me around to this smear of honesty was a book I picked up a couple days ago: “Choose More, Lose More For Life” by Chris Powell. This post is long enough already so I’ll just say this for now: this guy is… it’s surreal. All the other guru’s books I have don’t really do anything to me. This guy does. It’s like I can see him in my head, like I can predict exactly what he would say to me. He would believe in me. If he met me, he would say that I can do this and that he doesn’t doubt it, and he would continue to believe it on days like this when I feel like a piece of shit. And as dorky as it is to say, that has been as helpful as if he really was standing here saying it.

Anyways… I promise you that the next post will be happier, and shorter. But I won’t forget this one.

My name is Amber Elizabeth. I used to be a self-loathing lazy sadsack fatass.

Simplicity

I have struggled for a long time with the idea of a schedule. A routine, a plan for daily living. The idea is abhorrent to me. It seems like a prison sentence, like life and spontaneity will be snuffed out and I shall never be happy again. It has taken years for me to accept that this is a false impression of the thing. Sure, some people are like that, but it’s not the only way to go. I don’t want THAT, but I can still have a schedule. A routine, a plan so that I know if I do the things I’ve laid out at the times I’ve decided, eventually goals will be achieved. Is this the only way to get stuff done? No. Is the way I’ve been trying to get stuff done also perfectly fine? Yes. But have I actually gotten anything done? No. So it’s time to try something new.

I think what made me decide to give it a shot is the idea of simplicity. In a pros and cons list for Routine, on one side you have the risk of turning into a dead-eyed robot, and on the other side you have the idea of simplicity. If I already thought about it at length and know that I don’t have to do everything today, I only have to do some of it, because tomorrow I’ll do some of the other things and so on, then today becomes fairly simple. Because what happens now is that I do nothing for large stretches of time and then in a fit of self-punishment I attempt to do everything in one fell swoop. And when I’m doing nothing, do you think I feel free and unburdened? No, I feel guilty and shameful. “Woohoo, I’m watching Friends instead of cleaning the kitchen! What a wretch I am.”

Hopefully soon I will get either a promotion of sorts or a shift over to something else or even just some added responsibilities, anyway I asked for full time hours and the boss said he’d try to work it out. That means that I won’t have Tuesdays and Thursdays to sit on my butt and daydream. I will have to be even more productive than I am now! Now is hard enough! And I usually do the insanity thing, where you repeat an action to infinity hoping for a different result. “Oh, eating whatever I want 90% of the time and then trying to “fast” or walk 12 miles a day the other 10% doesn’t make me lose weight? OK, well what about THIS time?” So instead, I will change things up. I’ve tried being “free” and “winging it”. If I don’t like schedules, I can always go back to that. Whatever happens in the next few weeks, I know I will learn something, and that is something.

I promise a report: my plan, my proposed routine, my schedule. I will not make it in haste. (I’ve done hasty plans before and abandoned them in less than 12 hours.) I will turn in the report in 1 week. It will not include a meal plan, but that will be next. I want to separate them. Anyway, wish me luck. I’m about to enter the land of freaky soccer moms and thin-lipped business executives with giant planners and a constant need to check their watches.

- TOP SECRET – ASPIRATIONS REPORT

Due to the inadequacy of my father’s idea of what I should be, it has been rejected for consideration as a whole. Parts of it may be picked up, assuming they undergo the same rigorous screening process any other idea goes through to prevent negative influences on my actual outcome. What follows is a list of items that I would like to see in myself.

  • I want to get home and do things, not get home and collapse in a puddle of real or imagine lethargy.
  • I want to learn more about the Bible. I want to write articles and have a reputation for being knowledgeable and helpful.
  • I want to be healthy. I want to wear a size with one digit.
  • I want to be strong. I want to be able to run 10K’s, do one-handed pushups, and go all Michael Westen on somebody if I need to. (i.e. if you hear me say “I just got mugged!” it will be followed by, “He’ll be in the hospital for 6 to 8 weeks.”)
  • I want to be pretty. I want to have clear skin and white teeth and shiny hair. I can’t do much about certain things, but I can at least be healthy and taken care of. And maybe wear makeup, ever.
  • I want to have cool clothes. Not cool because they’re trendy, cool because I like them. I want to wear stuff that is “me”. (Currently I wear whatever old rumpled tent smelled best that morning.)
  • I want to have a clean home. I don’t want to be Martha Stewart, but I don’t want to notice any odors when I walk through my kitchen either. And maybe I could hang a poster or something.
  • I want to know stuff. I want to regularly read books that are not fictional.
  • I want to write screenplays. I want that to be my job. Or at least a hobby I sometimes get paid for. If I have to have a day job, I want to not hate it. Many factors go into this… I want to control what I can.
  • I want to act like a healthy person. I don’t want to be thin because I go on a harsh diet every fourth week, I want to know how to make good choices on a daily basis.
  • I do want to be tough. Not because Dad wanted it, but because I do. I think it’s fun.

I should totally do all these. :)