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The Care and Feeding of Your Sad Little Panda

I’ve been sort of a droopy little person these past few weeks. Part of it is the time change and the season — such a bummer that it gets so dark so early! — and part of it is moving, the end-of-year pile-up of obligations, work and events, some health/medical stuff and such.

I had been holding up well in all the sturm-und-drang, keeping things organized and humming along….but it’s funny how the smallest thing can derail you, the things you don’t expect and plan for and anticipate. Comcast royally fucked up my moving order and prematurely disconnected the Internet from my old home before I could move into my new address. Yes, a First World Problem, I know, but I work from home via the Internet, so it really messes with my operations. And when I realized the problem was basically a quagmire that would require freaking HOURS to unravel — time I don’t have! — I basically had a full-on meltdown: tears, sobbing, that feeling of wanting to lock myself in a dark room. So much for aspirations of Zen composure! Since then, everything’s kind of set me off, and I have no real sense of equanimity.

Still, you know me, wringing out some kind of insight in a rather shitty situation. Even in all the glory of my meltdown drama, I couldn’t help but observe that part of me is always fighting how I feel, especially when I’m not feeling all puppies-and-rainbows. I grew up being told always to “cheer up” or “think positive” when I was sad; I know my parents meant well, but I internalized this feeling that having “negative” emotions were a BAD THING and a burden to those around me. It’s not just my parents, though; we live in a culture where we absolutely must be fine all the time.

So now, when I feel crappy, I immediately want to rush in and fix it, just because it is so unbearable to feel so crappy. Who wants to feel sad or angry or awkward? No wonder we immediately rush into fixing how we feel, whether it’s shopping, exercise, chocolate, essential oils, your libertine substance of choice or whatever. Sometimes you just need relief, and there are lots of “100 things to do when you hear the sad trombones” types of lists out there that cater to relieving sadness.

Lately though, I find the best thing is to just let myself be sad. Not really wallow or get paralyzed by it, but just acknowledge the full shittiness of the way I feel and let myself sit with it for awhile, letting it work its way through my system. Telling myself: It’s okay to have a grey day, it’s okay to sit in bed for awhile and cry. It’s fine to have a few days of accomplishing nothing, being unproductive, dissatisfied. So that’s what I did — I went about my days and my tasks, but I didn’t force myself to cheer up, be positive, exercise to get my endorphins up, or whatever. I just did soothing things, slept a lot, felt blue and stayed quiet. And then, after awhile, the sad-panda feeling passed and I woke up feeling…right. Like I’d honored myself and my need to be sad. And was left with a nice open space inside of me, filled with a genuine peace and quiet.

That’s life, what the Buddhists call dukkha, or just the discomforts and dissatisfactions that come from everyday existence. Just kind of let myself be quiet instead of throwing myself into the busyness of solving or fixing things. It’s a little scary and uncomfortable, but it passes through you so much faster than immediately going for that psychic Band-aid. And then after a few hours, or a few days, it just kinds of mists away.

That’s one of the gifts of the constant ebb and flow of existence: if life is impermanent, then as much as we’re told that we can’t grasp onto the things in life we want to stay, the things that frustrate us don’t last forever as well. There’s always motion in emotions.

Of course, sometimes you just need cheering up: you need that silly comedy, that retail therapy, that panacea. But every now and then, maybe sometimes it’s fine to just let yourself be absolutely truthful to yourself and just be sad — and see what lessons, thoughts and realizations bubble up from that.

Tags: emotions, sad pandas, sadness,
Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on December 10th, 2014 | No Comments »

Love Letters to Old Homes

home sweet home

It’s finally happening: by the end of this month, I’ll be in a new home. I’ll have packed up my cozy little one-bedroom, thrown out or given away old clothes, books and other possessions and carted everything to a new duplex closer to downtown.

It’s all very exciting, coinciding with big changes in my life: the shedding of an old home coincides with expansions of heart and soul and love, all that juicy good stuff. And at the same time: oy vey, so much overwhelming emotion at the same time! On the day I signed the lease, I remember feeling excited and happy. And then I got home, stood in my bedroom and suddenly my face got hot and pressured and I wanted to bawl like crazy. I hadn’t even moved out yet, and already I missed my old home so much. God, I’m such a Cancer, I thought to myself.

Astro-musings aside, I do feel a strong attachment to spaces, and when it come to major transitions like moving, I am a big-ass baby. The physical process drives me crazy, but it’s nothing compared to the emotional process underlying it. What puzzles people is that my current apartment isn’t amazing by any objective sense of the word — it would never end in Design Sponge or whatever decor porn floats your boat. There’s ugly carpeting, it’s old in a “non-vintage” way, and there are no bougie-charming details. It gets way too hot in the summer and for some.odd reason, only one window in each room opens.

And yet I loved it. I loved the light in the morning; after years of dark NYC apartments, I loved waking up to bright, even morning sunshine, which gave the apartment a nice glow even when it was cloudy out. It was small, but quick to warm or cool so it was actually pretty energy-efficient. It was in a convenient location, about five minutes from various family members. And closets! I had plenty of them!

But the love I bore for the place had very little to do with a list of features: it had to do with the way it made me feel, and the shell of warmth, safety and comfort it gave me to feel like myself fully. That’s the great gift of a home: it’s truly where you feel like you can be yourself, where you can embody yourself with the art on your walls, the books on your shelves, the food in your pantry. It’s where you dream and soothe and burrow and nourish and nurture.

home sweet home

Being a longtime New Yorker and accustomed to using a space as a crashpad, I had never felt this before…and now I’m so loathe to disturb and distress that. I never cared so much about the places I lived when I was in NYC, just as long as they weren’t expensive, were located in a convenient location and not far from a subway. I had my domestic “things” — I always made sure I loved my bed — but overall I knew my presence in a home was always going to be temporary and provisional. Now that I know how much energy and wholeness you draw from a home, sometimes I wonder how different my life would’ve been in NYC if I had had a true refuge and sanctuary to rest and regroup from my adventures — would I have made different decisions? Would I have fought harder to stay? I don’t know.

Of course I know my new place will feel lovely and wonderful once I invest time, love and energy; I know homemaking in the deepest sense of the word is a process that can only take place over time. Time gives the space for emotions, history and memories to invest a home with its emotional warmth and (hopefully) happiness. Until then, I can only feel a little sad and melancholy, feeling nostalgia and affection for a place I haven’t quite left yet.

home sweet home

Tags: , moving, sanctuary
Posted by Kat Asharya in Pieces of Life on November 18th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

On Auditioning New Beliefs

Beliefs are funny things to me. When I was younger, beliefs were like flags on the moon, poles in the sand, ways to stake out your self in the world: I believe this, therefore I am. You can believe in God; you can believe in karma; you can believe in divine retribution, feminism, positive thinking, social justice, attachment parenting, crystal healing, astrology, creationism. Sometimes you inherit beliefs; sometimes you come to adopt them. But they form part of your identity.

As I get older, though, I find part of the process of growing up and (hopefully) wiser is unearthing the beliefs you didn’t even realize you have, those unconscious yet deeply rooted mental assumptions that help you interpret the world. A lot of these hidden beliefs — at least in my experience — satellite themselves around areas like sex, love and money — you know, those chthonic, shadowy areas where compulsions and contradictions lodge themselves. Which, of course, makes them even more fascinating to me, these areas being so taboo and shrouded in a kind of dark silence in our culture. The areas hold beliefs like: Men will hurt me. I can’t trust women. If they really get to know me, they’ll think I’m a fraud. Being rich makes me a terrible person. I don’t deserve this money, this happiness, this stability. I can’t trust anyone. People let me down. People suck. Happiness is an illusion, or for chumps.

Often these are beliefs we would never voice or agree with consciously, but when you look at the pattern of behavior — especially behavior or decisions you can’t understand with yourself, and you have to craft the most convoluted explanations to justify them to yourself and your friends — you realize these unconscious beliefs are what’s guiding your behavior.

It takes a lot of work to even see these beliefs, much less root them out and then change them. You could say it’s the work of a lifetime, really, and I’m sure people spend hours of reflection and therapy to do it, especially when you’re working with really intense areas of life and psyche. I think part of the process of getting wiser is realizing these kind of beliefs are more elastic and pliable than you think — though softening them can be brutally hard work.

But beliefs and assumptions underlie less loaded areas of life, and it’s a little more fun to play with them here. Like beliefs about something like fashion: I can’t wear pink; I’m not a prints person; black is for goths; older women can’t wear skirts above the knee; only neutrals can be chic. It’s sort of fun to challenge these periodically, and a pleasure to experiment with expanding your own boundaries — and it’s why half of my underwear drawer is crazy pink-based patterns, which is not something people would often guess about me. But there you go!

Lately I have been thinking over certain assumptions I’ve made about writing in particular, like what a “successful” writing session should look like, or how to write a novel. Some of these are borne by personal experience or given to me by instruction or education, like the idea that “real writers” write everyday, or write in the morning, or write for 2-3 hour blocks of uninterrupted yet caffeinated time. But of course people change and grow all the time, and shouldn’t we test these beliefs every now and then? And even if these beliefs are “true,” wouldn’t your conviction in them be stronger by testing them out again?

So I’ve been experimenting with new things in terms of writing that go against my ingrained beliefs on the craft. The first step: look at my behavior and try to root out what beliefs were motivating them. Like, some days I would scrap writing for myself altogether because I didn’t have a “quality block” of time for it…which only made me feel guilty deep down for skipping the day. Sure, a block would be ideal, w=but who often leads an ideal life, day in and day out? So I decided to challenge that recently, and audition the belief that “20 minutes is enough.” The result is, well, more writing and less guilt.

Another writing belief of mine to challenge a novel had to be drafted in a certain way. People assume novels are written chronically, and for the most part, I’ve been taught to write that way, even in draft form. But lately I’ve been working on just major scenes and turning points first, and it feels more fun and energetic. Words are flowing, characters are developing, worlds are building, and the result is just a lot more pleasure, not to mention a lot less time sitting there staring at the screen, wondering how I was going to get myself to the next interesting part.

And finally, I’m challenging my own internal notion that my creativity/writing energy is limited. I labored under the idea that there was only so much I could write a day, and if I wrote too much and too widely, I’d burn out. This belief affected me in that it created weird resentments and guilts: I’d feel angsty because I had to write so much for my job and couldn’t focus on my fiction. Or I’d feel weird about blogging when I felt like I should work on my novel, or vice versa.

Of course, there are only so many hours. But time, though related, is different from energy. But what if I played around with the idea that there’s more than enough energy for the novelizing, blogging and work-related writing. So I decided to fuck it all and write everything when I felt like it, and just pretend like I would never burn out as a writer.

I do find that writing begats more writing — especially if I don’t limit it to just a block of 2-3 hours of supposed quality time and feel good about writing in snatches here and there. Quality creative time isn’t related to duration, but the ability to focus and imagine vividly and clearly, so 20 minutes of clear focus is better than an hour of unfocused time. And part of creating that unimpeded focused yet keen mindset is, ironically, removing the weirdly outdated, subconscious emotional and mental noise that unchallenged beliefs and assumptions give you.

Deep down, I think that’s when you know a belief — no matter where in life — is no longer serving you — when it’s blocking you with guilt, unhappiness, resentment and fear. That’s when you know it’s time to play around with something else better. I can do that with writing or fashion fairly easily — and of course, it’s the work of a lifetime in other areas of life. But worth it, I think, because who doesn’t want to be free of guilt, resentment and other emotional headless horsemen?

Tags: beliefs, ,
Posted by Kat Asharya in Creativity + Writing, Soul + Wisdom on October 31st, 2014 | No Comments »

Six Semi-Related Thoughts on Reading, Writing, Thinking, Wisdom vs. Information and Other Random Topics

From street kitten to literary felineSometimes when you’re blocked as a blogger, the key is to simply blog. Maybe not publish, but just write and see what happens. Sometimes I’m convinced blocks happen because you want to write about subjects you perhaps don’t often write about in a particular space. But something — self-judgment, overwhelm, lack of confidence, low energy, life — gets in the way. And when you don’t obey your inner prime directive, well, nothing comes out — everything gets blocked.

(It reminds me of a useful metaphor I once read somewhere self-help-ish, about how both positive and negative emotions come out of the same “faucet,” and trying to repress the icky stuff and not deal with it also blocks the good stuff as well. Maybe there’s a writing/creative corollary as well?)

So anyway: one of these things I’d like to write more about is writing itself, but the idea of shaping a mass of thoughts into a cohesive long-form piece of writing kind of sucks the energy out of me right now. Let’s just lower the bar a little and present a “related list,” no? This is just a “state of the union” kind of things I have been mulling over about writing, publishing and creativity in general.

+ Sometimes I really miss writing more critically/whatever-y/essaylike about stuff like music, movies, books and all that. Sometimes I do that a little, here, but it doesn’t feel quite right for this space and I’m tired to trying to figure out a way to make everything fit. Sometimes I think of starting a new Web “thing” — because I LOVE to start new things, it’s a cardinal sign astrology thing, maybe — but then I think, “Does the Internet really need another opinionated person clogging up bandwidth with whatever?”

+ This of course is tied to my general Internet/online/social media exhaustion to begin with. I feel bad, but I don’t read blogs as much as I used to. I don’t really check into Facebook. (Sorry to people whose birthdays I missed on there, I’m terrible at FB!) I feel like all I get from the Internet is information, bits and pieces that just drift through my life and easily drift out of it, like an early winter snowstorm, replaced by the latest meme or byte — and it doesn’t feel like real knowledge or wisdom anymore. I don’t have a real, sustained engagement or relationship with it. I think about that a lot, sometimes — what kind of intellect is possible if you do all your thinking, writing and researching via the Internet?

+ I do think a lot about how something starts as information, becomes knowledge and perhaps transitions into genuine wisdom and discernment: a kind of life cycle of intelligence, perhaps, and I do think about how the medium and audience and “market” (ugh at that word) affects that process. And when you write a blog or website, what role you/it plays in that process. Which is to say, sometimes I wonder if writing a blog in general is a futile thing if I genuinely want to contribute in some way to something quality in this realm.

+ I also think about making a zine again. Like a real zine. I made one as a special giftie for peeps who bought my , and it was fun to make something that I knew would literally exist in material reality. I do so much writing for the Internet, both professionally and personally, that it is a fascinating exercise to write something that you know will only exist outside the electronic ether. And perhaps I am nostalgic for the time when I wrote a “perzine” and felt that wide-open expanse of possibility within that format — you could write on anything, in whatever format, and while the audience wasn’t as wide, they were more engaged perhaps. Or maybe that’s just me flattering myself, I don’t know, or I’m projecting my own type of engagement upon different media. (On a basic level, I tend to remember books and ideas better when I read them on paper.) Anyway: sometimes I think it would be fun to do a zine again, to create a physical object full of writing. I sort of miss photocopying, too, collating, stapling, mailing…

+ I have been writing a lot of short stories recently, but fall means novel-writing, so I’m gearing up for that soon. I stumbled upon the first act of a novel I started a few years ago, read it and realized, “Wow, this idea is fascinating and, above all, kind of that sustainable tension between fun and challenging.” Reading it was like reading something someone else wrote — I’d forgotten I’d written it, in a strange way. Which is in some way the most delicious sensation you can have as a writer, when words you wrote are somehow outside of yourself and you’re like, “Dang, who write this? Me?!” Of course, you can have that feeling in both a good and bad way, and often both at the same time.

+ I really do think people underestimate and misunderstand the role of “fun” and play when it comes to writing, especially long-term projects. This was an insight I came to late during my MFA program, and I really wish I had learned it much earlier on — I would’ve saved myself a lot of time, money and heartache, perhaps. I could write and make very serious, weighty, dramatic stories in a short format — a short film, a short screenplay, a short story. I could experiment with dense, intellectual ideas, both in form and subject, in short formats. But when it came to longer work, I found writing that intensely sad, fragmented post-colonial family saga, for instance, to be a horribly awful experience, both for me to write and perhaps for others to read. The material colored my existence, made me sad and pessimistic and writing became a chore in a way it normally is not for me.

Sometimes I believe that how you feel about the process of writing is just as important as how you feel about what you write about — and how you feel as you write it, perhaps. (I’m convinced that feelings about self, life, whatever seep into writing in this effable way, which sometimes makes it hard for me to finish work these days by lauded, “good” writers I’m convinced are total douchebag assholes, simply because the ineffable asshole vibes somehow waft off the page.) Anyway, I wish someone had told me early in my MFA program, “Sure, experiment with that crazy intense story for a few shorts, but when you buckle down to making real sustained work, write something you enjoy on some level.” But of course, I think this is different for everyone. There are some people who create as a kind of catharsis, a therapy, an outlet for pain and trauma and simple suffering of mere human existence, and they need to write crazy, intense stuff to get something out and God bless them for that. I think those writers are so compelling and dazzling in their honesty and courage. I guess I don’t write from that space, though: my demons are small fry, really. I write because it’s fun for me, because I like being transported, and I like the potential companionship that a good story provides. But it’s nice to know the space you’re coming from.

+ Anyway, writing about writing gets tiresome after while, so I’m going to wrap this up and get home and make some soup and tea. Because sometimes there is nothing better than soup and tea after a nice intense writing session, after all.

Tags: , Internet, reading, ,
Posted by Kat Asharya in Creativity + Writing on October 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

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