Friday, 18 March 2016

How a pair of pink trainers helped me deal with ontology

When I was working for Cambridge, I could not envisage working for myself (although oddly you are like a barrister and you do work largely for yourself). I had a monolithic and binary view of working/not working, being/not being. I existed through my achievements.

As things went wrong and went on, though, I went through a long (l-o-n-g – a positively Proustian) process of change. 

Over time, I have stopped working overtime. I’ve completely revised the way I see myself as a working person. I now think of myself as a Working Mother, and give both terms equal weight, because they have equal weight in my mind and life. 

I don’t apologise any more for existing, being a woman, being a mother, underachieving, trying to balance, and I don't judge myself for failing to be all things to all people.

Stopping justifying myself is the single hardest thing I have ever achieved – far harder than the Phd and two births and relocating to and from Australia, and changing careers at least three times. Those things were bloody painful, but they weren't hard like changing yourself is hard.

The thing that's been my lifeline has turned out to be not literature, as most would have predicted for me, but exercise. Everyone's lifeline is different, and I could also never have predicted that boogeying and running in the mud were what was going to help me achieve homeostasis.

Weirdly it's because I have started running again, after a thirty-year hiatus, and accepted that I can only run slowly at my age, that I am now able to approach the way I do things completely differently. It’s been a revelation to me, trying Park Run.

Another discovery is that it wasn't working for myself that meant the most to me. It was learning that happiness does exist if you give it a chance. Despite all my arguments against it, and all the disasters that are surely still to come in my life, as everyone I know ages, and Trump becomes President of the biggest army in the world... happiness exists. Hope persists.

Having a burst of 'healthy eating' coaching a few years ago gave me a powerful nudge forward. One thing it revealed to me had nothing to do with eating. Or rather, eating was my rather crap solution to a problem I seemed unable to work out any other way.

I did not break problems down into manageable, sequenced parts, and I never visualised achieving a goal.

How on earth I managed to get through school, university and the first half of my life without doing these things is beyond me. But let that pass: I know now (cue sounds of my poor mother grinding her teeth in frustration as she silently screams, 'But I told you that all the time!').

It seems a little prosaic to call it an 'epiphany'. Perhaps an app-iphany would be closer to the mark. I started to use things like... Excel spreadsheets to help me log my writing progress. I sort of released my inner nerd, instead of pretending I didn’t have one. I'm currently in love with Trello.com.

I came to realise that I had hyper-developed my Critical Thinking skills, but that I’d allowed my Problem-Solving skills to wither away. 

I worked out that critical thinking was linked to my creative, analytical, comedic and sexual drive, and to my personal taste in things like art, clothes, films, books, furniture, food etc. But without any problem-solving stuff going on, the critical thinking skills had become monstrous, and were eating me up. The result was that I thought I hated what I loved.

I needed to relearn (if I had ever known) how to work slowly, how to break things into sequences – I once saw how children with autism are helped through patient, persistent Applied Behaviour Analysis at TreeHouse School in Muswell Hill, and it blew my mind. 

I needed consciously to use 'if X, then Y' logic, and binary logic, in my dealings with external reality, not because my critical thinking was wrong per se, but because without any balancing mathematical or logical thinking, it was becoming magical, catastrophising, absolutist, avoidant, hypervigilant. It wasn't 'thought' any longer; it was mindstuff overflowing and leaking into my behaviour, like the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I now know that Descartes, locked alone in a room, and deciding that Cogito ergo sum, is wrong. 

A Proustian would say I exist in multiple, simultaneous, instantaneous and longitudinal, retrospectively recalled and revised, hopefully forward-projected relational networks across time, and therefore I am. The Proustian would be technically correct, but probably not a busy working mother. 

A Buddhist would say I am. Nice, like it. Difficult to pull off. Trying to get there. Still too embodied. 

These days I like to wear a pair of pink trainers on my journey to work. I take with me a pair of black, high-heeled shoes, which I designed myself, with naughty red velvet slashes down the side, on the 'Shoes of Prey' website. That's another thing to thank my husband for – Christmas generosity. The pink trainers express my grounded, bodily self. They take me there step by step. They are my problem-solvers. The Shoes of Prey express my critical thinking: up high, slightly painful, pretty and exciting, but a little bit dangerous. Together they bring me flow.

I no longer overthink and therefore I am.

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