Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Bully Pulpit

I was a bullied kid. This lasted into my mid teens. There were a variety of perpetrators. My memories of my life from earlier than age 15 weren't happy ones. I was the bird with broken feathers constantly pecked by the flock.

Despite the fact that today as an adult I have loving relationships, accomplishments as well as the tools to deal with agressive a-holes, sometimes unwanted memories of when I was small and defenseless come up and its just like being that broken bird again.

Recently I had one of these intrusive, unpleasant memories. Even just sitting at my desk I experienced intense sadness and rage. I wanted to be done with be free.

I decided to call on Coach Max to see if she had some tools to help me out. Of course she did but I was left with questions I needed to answer.

After our session I really wanted to understand the "why me" aspect of being a target. I never understood the "mark" I had that attracted bullies. It wasn't an accident after all--my experiences growing up were consistent. Out of all the kids surrounding me why was I the one chased home, who had my things stolen and destroyed or called disturbing, hurtful names (a few of which still trigger me today)?

I understand that I stood out but there was more going on. Until now I never understood the big picture of my situation. So, in the tradition of a true Silicon Valley professional I made a Venn Diagram to figure out why my childhood went the way it did.

I own the fact that I was an oddball. I couldn't choose my clothes or how Mom wanted to do my hair. All my other behaviors...well, they were just part of little me. I was an enthusiastic, picky, sometimes loud, sometime shy, artistic, proto-queer child of an older immigrant mother and career military father--I didn't blend in looks or behavior. And for whatever reason, when the flock landed to pick at my broken feathers no adult took notice or understood that I spent my days completely terrified and depressed.

My mother's approach to the bullying situation was to let me deal with it on my own. "Rise above them" she would say or the other equally helpful "they do it because they like you". I think she thought that if I had to deal with my tormentors I would learn skills to deal with hard situations and eventually flourish.

I'm sorry to say this approach didn't work.

I was stressed out and distracted most of the time--even at home. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to avoid whoever was going to torture me. One of my teachers told my mother she thought I was "special needs" because I was so distracted and out to lunch (that teacher also didn't know Helen Keller was deaf and blind by the way, but I digress).

My life didn't start to turn around until I was put in a private school with a lot of faculty involvement and high standards for student behavior. I went from being a sad odd ball to being a happy, outgoing oddball. I traded frenemies for actual friends and started the business of being a young adult.

Looking back on this situation its easy to say things changed because I got away from bullies. That was part of it but not all of it.

I took a class in influence this year. What I learned from that class is that behaviors flourish because a variety of factors all cooperate to create situations perfect for their those behaviors. Change isn't a single dimension process--it really isn't about the actions one person takes even though that is what we are taught. Even in the common scenario of weight loss we have learned that having self control isn't sufficient to drive lasting change--we aren't a nation of weak willed twinkie addicts. Americans used to be trim and fit. However, over the last 50 years we've created a variety of social conditions that lead to a majority of us being overweight or even obese.

I would suggest that we don't have a problem with some kids being bullies or some kids being picked on. I believe many sectors in our society are dominated by conditions where bullying is natural and easy.

As I look back at my childhood, my problem was that I never got a break from bullying or any hope that it would stop. I couldn't change me (believe me, I tried) and I wasn't going to get "tougher" because I was constantly being worn down. The counter behaviors I developed (aggression, over the top rage, the ability to run and hide) came from a place of insufficient support--running, fighting or raging were the only tools I had access to to deal with the groups of kids who would wait for me so they could abuse me. My energies were directed full time to countering abuse instead of the business of being a kid--playing, experiencing wonder and learning.

With all the discussion in the media about bullying, whether we should intervene, check behavior on bullies and "coddle" the bullied--we are looking at things the wrong way if we think we are just sheltering one poor proto-queer from "kids being kids".

I'm not advocating that we solve every child's problems for them or not give children opportunities to stand up for themselves--however we adults must realize these important skills are not learned in isolation. For every kid who faces off a bully in perceived isolation there are a hundred who never do because they have no safety or shelter.

For myself, looking back at my past I can only wish for the isolated oddballs that they find places of safety to be themselves, build real friendships and see there is a beautiful contrast to the ugly reflection cast back at them by a bullying culture/environment. Children simply do not have the tools to contend with agression unless they have support, safety and the knowledge that their brand of oddball is perfect for who they will be in life.

As for my intermittent sadness and rage, knowing I had my own perfect storm makes me feel less like the broken bird--that things happened. That my life changing and getting better is proof that I wasn't marked for life. I want this for all children--wounded adults as well.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What I've been up to lately

My class with Lisa Sonora Beam has really set me on some interesting explorations career-wise. Not ready to say what about yet but I plan to start making new services available by the end of the year. Its driving me in different directions at work too which is exciting and adding a real boost of cheerfulness to my work days.

The poetry writing as well as working with Lisa and Coach Max has definitely loosened me up. I've started painting again. I purchased a calligraphy brush, a bottle of Ultra Black ink and a roll of paper for making Shojii screens. I've been painting every morning before work and sometimes after work too. Unlike everything else, this pursuit truly has no goal. I don't even have to please myself...I just go for what feels good on the paper.

I remember as a little girl I REALLY wanted to help out with things like painting the fence. Instead of handing me a brush, my dad gave me some sandpaper and a piece of rough sawed redwood plank. He told me I could paint when it was smooth as glass.

(he really didn't want any help painting)

I still wanted to experience the luscious sensation of thickly applying paint with a brush. I just wanted to dip the brush right in the can and start gliding it over the surface of whatever I was working on.

When I got my first set of acrylic paints I couldn't wait to realize an image from my imagination on canvas. I was surprised that the gap between my imagination and the craft of painting was so wide! My first painting was pretty gloppy--bright as well. I had no idea how to mix paint so I used the hues as they came from the tube.

Over time the gap narrowed but I was never able to achieve the realism I craved. There were so many things to balance and adding color applied with something as strange as paint is yet another layer of skill. I wasn't great but I loved to paint and even considered an art major before going for the infinitely more practical Literature degree.

All these musings about art and creativity are because last weekend was the Maker Faire (my favorite event of the year). Its like Gay Pride for geeks and crafty people with less disco but possibly twice as many strobe lights. For a full day I was surrounded by people following their curiosity and ingenuity--sometimes making a profit and sometimes just there to show and tell. Most of the things there had a lot of preparation and polish, some of the exhibits were clearly "works in progress"...not quite ready but ready enough to show off the idea.

What I especially enjoy about the event is the supportiveness I witness around me. This event really is about showing and sharing...not competing or criticizing. I think there is a general understanding that if you have enough guts to bring your project to such a public and well attended event you deserve to be treated with respect and consideration. I've heard plenty of times myself when someone tried to tell me the "right way" to do something. I'd like to see this crowd spared that brand of helpfulness.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Change--it is and isn't a mental game

I was having a conversation with someone who said they had a short term goal they were trying to achieve and they just hadn't got there. They knew all the steps they had to take but just hadn't done them. I listened for a while and said "why are you trying to do this?"

She rattled off a list of very good rational reasons. Her voice was dispassionate as she told me why she wanted to accomplish this goal.

I found myself blurting out "without a compelling reason you aren't going to be able to do this--I'm sorry". I was sorry because I felt I stepped on toes and said too much. The only problem was I felt it was true.

A good rational reason is not a compelling reason. One has to do with the head, the other one with the heart.

Let me tell you a story about myself. I was a binge drinker. I didn't do it all the time and I wasn't a mess with a life coming apart at the seams but I drank to get drunk. I was in denial that it was a problem although over the years I got into some pretty sketchy situations under the influence. Regardless of that I had no plans to change this habit any time soon.

Once after a particularly bad day at work I called Miss Keri and asked her if she wanted to meet me at the pub to have dinner. She said she would meet me after finishing up some things at work. I went to the bar and drank four vodka martinis in quick succession. By the time she showed up I was seriously drunk. Regardless of my state we spent the evening together (obviously she had to drive me) and after several hours I was sober enough to have an actual conversation with her.

She looked at me and without anger she just said "you know, you're really boring when you're like this".

This stopped me cold. I had never thought I was anything BUT hilarious under the influence. Apparently not.

I didn't resolve to do anything but my behavior changed. I stopped drinking to get drunk. I couldn't stand the idea of the person most important to me ever thinking I was boring. It was in direct conflict with my self image of being interesting and entertaining (don't burst my bubble on this ok? I still have this self image).  I also won't say I've been perfect. I still enjoy drinks and I have been drunk--mostly caused by not keeping an eye on my consumption while engaged in long lively conversations. But after 12 years I can count the incidents on one hand.

We know certain changes will help us but we don't FEEL the benefit. We only know it in our heads. When things are difficult, behavior change is usually what gets thrown out because the emotionally compelling factor takes precedent over rational reason.

There are many factors that influence change however the motivation of a genuine emotional connection to whatever state you want to achieve or avoid is key. I suspect that regardless of how good our rational reasons are change will go along only in fits and starts until our hearts find their own illogical reason to do something different.