goals/intentions


I watched a training video for recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder in psychopathology yesterday. Part of it was a Vietnam veteran describing his stress cues—he had to monitor and manage his stress level carefully so that he wouldn’t become scary or dangerous to those around him. He said something like “If I find myself scanning the bushes for gooks, or deciding which person in the room I would need to kill first, if it came down to it, I know that I need to lower my stress level.” The man’s story was moving and I cried quietly throughout it, but at that moment I was surprised to find myself a little jealous of him. My thought was “It must be nice to have such obvious stress cues.” It wouldn’t be nice at all, of course, but the sneakiness of my stress cues does make it difficult to manage my stress, which is a big part of my ongoing project to master being kind to myself. I was inspired to come up with a list of stress cues that I could try monitoring, to see if it’s helpful. Here it is so far:

I can feel tension in my solar plexus and between my shoulder blades

I am craving sweets

I am having trouble with focus or motivation

I am grinding my teeth, usually along with a drum beat in my head

I am biting my lip or picking at my skin

I am in the grip of an unpleasant emotion

I am experiencing intrusive thoughts

My writing or typing gets sloppy

I am easily frustrated

I am feeling jumpy

Sitting up straight seems out of the question

March 24, 2009

Dear Nathen Lester:

It is our pleasure to inform you that the Couples and Family Therapy admissions committee has recommended to the Graduate School that you be admitted to the Fall, 2009 class. Your credentials, letters of recommendation and response to our interview questions suggest to us that you can excel in the CFT program.

…..

Once again, congratulations on your acceptance into our program. I am happy to talk with you at any time prior to your enrollment next fall. We look forward to working with you!

Sincerely,

Jeff Todahl, Ph.D., LMFT (KY)

CFT Program Director

I am stuffed full of three giant, thick, crusty whole wheat and buttermilk pancakes, made from a recipe in the little zine, The House of Plenty Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Good Eating from Damian and Maya’s Joshua Tree Kitchen, by my sister in law, Maya, AKA Flavorgirl. They were, as promised, the best pancakes I have ever tasted, and I consider myself a pancake connoisseur.

Over New Years, I revisited my goals for the year and, deciding they were still pretty solid, made no changes. Here is my first addition: This year I will make at least one of each item in Maya’s cookbook. I’m excited to begin. I need a little food-shakeup. I love the food that I make, but I’ve been making it all for a long time. I can’t think of a better place to start. Maya is an excellent, creative cook. Funny, too: “As you may have noticed I almost never use regular sugar. But in this recipe, it works best. You can, of course, use sucanat if you are even more die-hard than me, but somehow I doubt that you are.” And she’s right, possibly unless you are, or are related to, Nicole Martin.

One of my intentions this year is to work on three elements of my dancing: musicality, vocabulary, and style. By vocabulary I mean working vocabulary, and by that I mean how much I can remember and use when I’m out on the dance floor. I’ve spent the last several years developing my lead, which in the partner-dancing world is like your accent. My dancing is a lot like my Spanish: My accent is great but my vocabulary is like a three-year-old’s. I don’t mean to denigrate myself by saying that; being able to lead well is really important. Maybe it’s more like being able to make specific sounds clearly and intentionally than like an accent. This may be taking the dancing-as-language metaphor too far, but I think learning to social dance is a lot like learning a language.

Anyway, I’ve just started learning some choreography with my friend and teacher, Karly, thinking it’s the best way to increase my working vocabulary. (This is her, upside-down, dancing with Russ, a guy from Portland.) Swing dancing is almost always improvised, so I’ve learned very little choreography and I’ve found it quite challenging when I have tried it, remembering what to do next, and it’s reminded me of how I feel on the dance floor, racking my brain for something interesting to do. I imagine that learning this choreography will help my musicality and style, as well. It’s a dance by two of my favorite swing dancers, Todd Yannacone and Naomi Uyama. They are improvising, not doing choreography, but what they do is so musical! The song (a great one, by Duke Ellington) is moderately fast but they look relaxed and they hit the quirky little rhythmic phrases in such an effortlessly cool way, like the hit at :45, and the bu-bu-bum-bum at :55. I also like how they flow between Lindy (the circular stuff), Charlseton (the kicky stuff), tandem Charleston (the back-to-front kicky stuff), jazz steps, and just screwing around. And I love how much fun they look like they are having. They obviously know and really like the song and like dancing with each other. Here it is:

Sing everyday: This is I did, minus maybe ten days. It was one or two songs a day, usually. This was enough to keep up my singing voice, but not enough to improve it, as I had hoped.

Dance everyday: This I did as well, minus a few sick days. I put the number of minutes I danced on my daily graphing-my-life/training chart, which shows that I danced an average of 54.41 minutes a day. My dancing really improved. I went to two Balboa camps, two Lindy Hop camps (“camps” are weekend-long dance marathons with classes all day and dances all night), one Lindy exchange (like a camp without the classes), took tap dancing classes all year, took a series class for Soul Motion, taught by Grace Llewellyn, and worked for hours at home on Balboa, Charleston, Melbourne Shuffle, clown walk, and just boogying.

Meditate every day: I think I might have missed once or twice. I kept track but lost my excitement for number crunching after analyzing my dance time. It looks like I averaged between 15 and 20 minutes. Meditation is not nearly as enjoyable as dancing for me but I’m glad to have sat every day. The benefits seem to come from regular practice.

Make a fourth Abandon Ship record: This I did not do. Abandon Ship is the band I have with two of my brothers, Damian and Gabriel. I did write arrangements for a couple of Damian’s new (and really good) songs and I wrote a bridge for another. I also spent a couple weeks in Joshua Tree this summer, writing and recording three more songs with him. It’s an ongoing project.

Continue to master being kind to myself: This is a project I started two years ago, with the help of my friend, Taber. It’s definitely worth a blog entry of its own, but simply put, I realized that there was a way that I am habitually not on my own side, and I began to practice continually realigning myself toward compassion and kindness for myself. It’s a major shift in my tectonic plates, as Taber says. This project is going really well.

Walk slowly: This has been great. This has been my favorite. I noticed that I walk as if I’m in a hurry, even if there’s no reason to hurry. I’d like to think I was emulating my fast-walking Grandpa Bob, but I think I just kept myself so busy for so long that I forgot about strolling. Walking slowly is wonderful. I love it.

Have a flexible back and hips: I did downward dog and plow poses plus a few other physical therapy exercises most nights between my birthday and the end of June. I improved my back and hip flexibility noticeably, though not as much as I’d hoped. I also stopped wearing a backpack after more than 15 years of schlepping, which I think helped. I started getting comments from friends that my posture had improved. Then I traveled all summer, basically camping in somewhat hectic circumstances: helping friends move and working at Not Back to School Camp, mostly. Traveling makes a nice, relaxing evening stretching routine a challenge. Anyway, I still have some of the flexibility I gained but I can’t say that I have a flexible back or hips right now. I’m not even sure that I could have said that in June, actually.

Overall I think I did well this year, both in setting good goals and in following through. I like the simplicity of the list. It’s got a nice compact aesthetic. I’m both inspired and daunted by my list for this coming year but it’s not as nice to look at.

Add new knowledge to the field of social psychology

Break my habit of scratching and picking my skin, including biting my lip

Celibacy

Dance every day, working on 1) musicality 2) vocabulary 3) style

Finish bachelor’s degree

Get accepted into a couples and family therapy graduate program

Maintain this blog

Meditate every day

Produce a record with David Waingarten

Record an EP with my band, Abandon Ship

See healthcare provider each month until all my body concerns are resolved

Set up a slick system of musical collaboration over the internet and use it regularly

Shift my schedule three hours earlier for at least one term: In bed by 11 pm

Sing out every day

Take African dance classes

Write at least one song per month

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