Sunday, September 15, 2013

Adulthood is a Lie

The title of this blog might give it away, but honestly it's how I'm getting through life: I'm really just faking it. I make it up as I go along and hope things turn out okay!

I recently started helping out with leading the Youth Group at my church. (They want someone younger - and not anyone's parent - to be a "role model" for the kids. And they picked me. I think it's crazy, too.) I'm not sure when, but at some point I really think we might have to have a discussion about being a Grown-up and how it never actually really happens. Like, I pay my bills on time, yes, and have a functionally clean apartment (not spotless, but it'll do). Technically, I am an adult. But… I don't feel like it.

No one tells you when you're a kid that Adulthood isn't some magical state where you always know exactly what to do, exactly when to do it, and all your problems can be easily solved. (I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought of it this way; I'd hit some magic "adult" age like 20 or 25 and have everything figured out, life would always make sense, I'd have all the answers. I'm pretty sure I felt like I had more of the answers at 16 than I do now.) You just assume that you'll get through school, get a job, and you'll be an Adult who can be totally responsible and do Adult things and solve everyone's problems. (In retrospect, that was a silly expectation, considering the number of times I thought adults were doing a pretty shitty job of running things. But of course, I'd be a Real Adult and never have those problems!) And then you achieve one goal, but no, you're not really an Adult yet, you don't have a Big Kid job, you're still in school. And then you finish grad school and know that you'll be an Adult when you've got an apartment of your own. Except Real Adults have apartments that are nicely furnished and decorated, and you've only got half the curtains up on one set of windows (true story), so you clearly don't count yet. And you don't really have responsibility for any living things yet (certainly not children, as that would be terrifying, but not even a dog, just a snake, and that doesn't really count because they're so low-maintenance) so clearly you're not a Real Adult. And some days you don't do your dishes, and you haven't vacuumed in ages so there is hair everywhere, and sometimes you don't even shower (let's not even talk about the chocolate explosion that you still haven't cleaned off your car seat), and Real Adults wouldn't have the sorts of problems with motivation that you have. They might have lists a mile long of all the things they want to do (like make a cool header for their blog, or finish hanging the curtains in their living room, or actually clean their apartment, or alter some clothes they picked up at the thrift store two years ago) except they actually do them.

Except that's wrong. Because (alright, I could be wrong about this too) I think we all just spend our lives kind of blindly groping our way toward our next goal, pretending like we're super-productive Real Adults who can Do It All and Have It All and still get enough sleep. (And some of us will actually admit to pretending.) I, for one, would just like to acknowledge that I'm a Real Person, just a silly little human who makes mistakes and doesn't know everything and is just trying to get through my life and maybe improve myself a little bit, if I'm lucky that day. I'm getting better at forgiving myself for not living up to my own ridiculous expectations; I am me and if sometimes that means the only thing I accomplish in a day is making a lunch to take to work then that is enough, I am enough, and I can try again tomorrow to be a better version of me, but if I don't succeed tomorrow I can try again the next day and all the days after that.

 So I think we should start telling kids that growing up never really ends. You never really become a Real Adult because we think of Real Adults as capable of doing All the Things! And no one can ever do that. (Certainly not me.) And if we can admit that to ourselves, and forgive ourselves for that, then maybe we can admit that about other people and forgive them and end up living in a kinder, gentler world. Which would be nice.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Evo Psych: the worst?

My plans for the day had included going to a football scrimmage with friends. Unfortunately, I woke up with a cold so I'm spending the day on the couch instead. So I'm writing a blog post, which hopefully doesn't sound too delirious!

Just to warn you in advance, I have Opinions on evolutionary psychology. Mainly that it is, by and large, a bunch of bull. Sorry I'm not sorry, but humans are influenced way too much by culture to make most of the conclusions that EvoPsych papers try to make. So that's my disclaimer. I'm skeptical from the start of papers that try to draw conclusions about biological gender differences between humans, and when you try to account for those differences by saying, "Because evolution!" I usually just roll my eyes.

A few days ago a coworker posted a link on Facebook to this article, "Why Don't Men Understand Women? Altered Neural Networks for Reading the Language of Male and Female Eyes." I was intrigued, because of my aforementioned skepticism about gender-based science, so I clicked through to read the article. (Side note: I really do appreciate open-access journals!)

First, I noticed they have a really limited sample of subjects. Only men. All of whom were single. And right-handed. Hardly a representative sample of a population. They did describe some interesting phenomena regarding these men's ability to recognize gender and emotion just from looking at eyes, and what sort of brain activity occurs during those tasks. But that's all they did - describe phenomena observed in a particular subset of a particular gender. What sort of differences might be found if comparing single men and married men? Straight men and gay men? Cis- and transgender men? Or (imagine!) men and women (of various categories)?

My major issue with this paper came up when I read their discussion, which included this: "From an evolutionary point of view, accurate interpretations of other men’s rather than women’s thoughts and intentions, especially threatening cues... may have been a factor contributing to survival in ancient times. As men were more involved in hunting and territory fights, it would have been important for them to be able to predict and foresee the intentions and actions of their male rivals." I kind of wish this was like Wikipedia so I could flag this with a little [citation needed]. Based on my (admittedly limited) knowledge of modern hunter-gatherer tribes (who are typically raised as the best example we have of early, pre-agricultural human society), there's not much in the way of defending territory that goes on. And I'm pretty sure hunting would actually involve more cooperative communication - running down antelope and other large game isn't what I would call a solo activity.

See, human behavior is... complicated. It isn't a result of simple cause-effect relationships. It's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, culturey-naturey... stuff. (H/t to Steven Moffat for writing "Blink") Which is to say, untangling which behaviors are largely "natural" and biologically based from those that are mostly influenced by culture is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. On top of that, to make conclusions about gender differences, it would help to actually compare the genders. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is where all the really interesting questions arise (and maybe, if you're lucky, get a bit of an answer). Do women's reactions parallel those of men - are they better at identifying a) members of their own gender and b) the emotions of their own gender? Or are they the opposite - are women also better at identifying men and men's emotions? Once you know that, you can actually start making guesses about why you got those results. Perhaps there is some biological basis to emotional recognition, such that it's easier within your own gender. Or perhaps there are cultural factors at work - men and women might tend to have more friends of their own gender and thus more experience interpreting emotions of their own gender. Maybe men and women both get more practice empathizing with men because the majority of authority figures in business and protagonists in media are male. The "default hero" figure is generally male; media focused on female protagonists is often marketed mostly or exclusively to females (see: every "chick-flick" and romantic comedy, Disney princess movies), while media focused on male protagonists is viewed as accessible to men and women.

Even if you want to limit your sample to men, you could try throwing in a little variety by including married men (or left-handers?). Again, once you expand your sample you can actually make comparisons and try to draw conclusions somewhat legitimately. Alright, realistically, you'll probably only generate more questions with no answers. But at least you'll have something actually interesting to discuss! Are married men better at reading women's emotions than single men? Is that a causal relationship (men who are better at understanding women are more likely to get married) or a result (being married gives men more practice at interpreting women's emotions)? Or are all men, regardless of marital status, better at reading men's emotions than women's emotions?

As is, this paper does nothing more than describe particular neurological phenomena related to emotion recognition by men. Once you actually compare different samples (e.g., men vs. women, single vs. married), you can start to make some valuable, legitimate conclusions about how modern human behavior works. Not necessarily about how humans evolved. Making evolutionary conclusions requires actually demonstrating selective pressures and how they impact trait expression, which this paper very obviously does not do. (And, all things considered, most human studies can't hope to do, which is why EvoPsych is a bunch of malarkey.)

In conclusion: Science - you're doing it poorly.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Adults: they take care of stuff

One thing I do know about being an adult is that it involves being responsible. Lots of days, I feel like I don't really have my life together, so how can I possibly qualify as a grown-up? Then I remind myself that a) many people - including people much older than me - don't have their lives "together" in terms of knowing what their ideal career is and b) I do my best to behave responsibly by paying my bills on time and keeping my apartment relatively clean and trying not to run my car into the ground and caring for my plants and pet.

One of my coworkers (who is 26 or 27) will be taking guardianship of her 12-year-old cousin in a couple weeks because of a bad family situation. The boy's mom died recently, and his father has been... acting out, for lack of a better word - staying out all night, forgetting to buy food, forgetting to take his son to school, dating inappropriate women (inappropriate in that the ladies don't call him out on his BS in not caring for his kid). She's a little freaked out. At the same time, she knows it'll be better for him than living with his father right now. And she's planning to take a new job that will let her work "normal" 9-5 hours. She'll be missed by us (I'll definitely miss her!), but this job is better for her career-wise, and certainly better for someone who has a pre-teen kid.

So, while I would be more terrified than my coworker at suddenly finding myself taking care of a human child, it has helped me realize that, in the essential things, I'm doing a pretty good job at being a real adult. I recognize when things depend on me, and I get things done in an appropriate time to take care of stuff. It's a reassuring thought that, should a crisis suddenly arise, I have the skills and coping mechanisms (and a pretty great social support network to call on!) to deal with it. So I guess I actually am a fully-functional adult? Such a weird thought.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Growing-up 2: Escape from Suburbia

Boring things you have to do when you move out of your parents' house (again):
  • Go grocery shopping
  • Do all your own dishes
  • Do your own laundry
  • Pay your own bills
  • Be in school Nevermind, that's done! (Thank goodness!!)
  • Cook meals for yourself, or else you really will be taking PB&J sandwiches to work every day

Basically, there are a few perks to living at home. Especially when your parents are really awesome and actually save leftovers for you to take to work. But… there are also

Awesome things you can do when you live alone:
  • Pee with the door open
  • Leave dirty dishes in the sink because the only one getting mad at you will be… you
  • Procrastinate from doing the dishes by writing blog entries
  • Clean at 1 am
  • Cook at 1 am
  • Make crafts at 1 am
  • Have dance parties at 1 am
  • Basically, do whatever you want at whatever time you want
  • Fill the fridge and pantry with only your own food
  • Get dressed in the living room while watching TV (you can't judge me because a: it's the warmest room and it's still winter and b: I do what I want!)

What's that you say? Have I already completed one of my New Year's Resolutions? Yes, in fact, I have!

Technically, I'm doing okay on the second resolution, as well, since in February I decided I wanted to try and cut high fructose corn syrup out of my diet as much as possible. My goal for March is to actually get legitimately unpacked, I think. I moved into my apartment over a month ago, and I still have boxes of stuff sitting around. It's a problem! Also, I need to improve my organization, which will help with getting unpacked. Two birds, one stone. That's how I do.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Happy New Year! SET SOME GOALS!!"

Dear 2013,

I'm glad you got here (yay for not dying in the Mayan apocalypse that was never going to happen anyway!), but… Are resolutions really necessary? It just feels like a lot of pressure. And I think I've had enough of feeling pressured to finish a certain thing in a certain amount of time for quite awhile. (Grad school was more than enough pressure for me, thanks!)

I mean, I've already got some goals. My ultimate goal for a while now has been to finish 50 books in one year, but I've failed at that pretty spectacularly over the past couple years thanks to being in school - so I'm being kind and just setting myself a goal of 35 books for this year.

Okay, so that is just one goal.

I do definitely want to move into my own apartment. Aha! A resolution: get own apartment! (Fingers crossed I can get that one checked off before the end of January. I will be a goal-reaching machine! Or at least get to feel like a total resolution champ.)

I think I'm pretty okay fitness-wise. I work out regularly, and I've been doing really well at that for the past several years. I don't see that situation changing for any reason, so I can't do the "normal" resolution to be more active. I refuse on principle to resolve to lose weight (because I think that puts the focus on the wrong aspect of health) (and only in very small part because I don't want to have to buy a new wardrobe if my clothes get too big). I suppose I could resolve to "eat healthier" than I do… but I'm flat-out unwilling to give up baked goods, I see no reason to give up gluten when I'm not allergic to it (it's a pet-peeve of mine anyway that people who aren't even sensitive to it suddenly think that gluten is the devil and they have to give it up for no medical reason), and I love dairy and meat too much to really give those up either (vegetarianism just wouldn't work well for me, and veganism is right out). So those stereotypical resolutions don't really fit.

I would like to get more crafting done. But again, I don't want to put more pressure on myself than I feel is necessary, and achieving my one resolution should help in that department anyway since it'll be easier for me to access all my supplies and tools all the time.

I really, really want a dog of my own. But I am responsible enough not to get one before I have my own place (since my parents dog is the absolute sweetest with people but is often fearful of (and thus aggressive toward) other dogs), and even after I have my own place I'll need to take some time to establish what sort of routines I'll have there and decide if I actually have the time and energy (not to mention money!) to devote to a dog. So I'm not going to resolve to get a dog, when that might turn out to be a bad idea for me and the absolute worst idea for the dog. (How adult of me to know my limits!)

So my New Year's resolution/goal list looks like this:
  • RESOLUTION: get own apartment
  • GOAL: read 35 books (although 50 would be supreme)
  • GOAL: do more crafting (so unquantifiable! Which is exactly how they tell you NOT to set goals. Oh, well.)

I have thought of two more possible goals: Visit friends in DC, and visit friends in Boston. Both of these are things I would love to do this year, and I have tentative plans forming already. But, as with the dog goal, life could have other opportunities and obstacles that could preclude either or both of these visits. If the trips happen, they'll be amazing. If I end up not being able to go, it will be disappointing, but not the end of the world. (I feel so gosh-darned adult, taking time to actually consider the implications of my goals and how I'll feel about not reaching them!)

Do I fail at New Year's if I've only got one real resolution? I hope not!




(I'm awesome.)

I should resolve that, at the beginning of every month, I will evaluate my current resolutions/goals, as well as contemplating whether there are additional resolutions/goals I could add to the list, either for the month or the rest of the year. (Do I think I could make lunch plans with several old friends? Could I try something to help manage my shyness? Should I do something really brave every week?) Two resolutions ain't too shabby!

I guess, overall, I can just be satisfied with the fact that 2012 was a pretty good year - certainly better than 2011 was for me - with plenty of ups to offset the downs, and then do my best to make 2013 better!

Cheers to you, 2013! Let's make this a good one!

Yours with hope,

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Books of 2012

    I managed to finish 28 books in 2012. (I think the max I've read in one year - at least since I've been keeping track of them - has been 39. And that was one of the years I spent my summer in a place with sporadic internet access, so I fell back on my first love to pass the time.) Some of them (particularly the more YA-type novels) I read as part of a personal effort to try and actually read every book on my shelf, a goal made more difficult when I can't always remember whether I've read something or not! I've included notes on some books, which you might or might not be interested in. The 28 books were:

    1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, finished 1/9/2012
      • Part of my quasi-annual reread. It was just as good as always!
    1. Troubling a Star by Madeleine L'Engle, finished 1/23/2012
      • Because it was on my shelf and I didn't remember reading it. On finishing, I definitely had read it before. But I enjoyed the reread anyway.
    1. Switcheroo by Olivia Goldsmith, finished 2/11/2012 
      • Not that I only read romance novels for the sex, but when I read something that has clearly been marketed as a romance novel and there turns out to be no sex scene, it's kind of disappointing. This book was kind of like a PG-13 movie - you get some kissing, but then it fades to black, so you're aware that sex has (probably) happened but you're not explicitly (Heh, see what I did there?) informed.
    1. Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium by Carl Sagan, finished 2/25/2012
    1. Peter Pan by J. M. Barry, finished 3/6/2012
    1. True North by Kathryn Lasky, finished 3/10/2012
    1. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle, finished 3/16/2012
    1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, finished 3/19/2012
      • A pre-movie reread.
    1. Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich, finished 3/27/2012
      • Infinitely superior to Switcheroo! Actually, probably the best of the romance novels I read this year. There was a halfway decent plot with interesting characters, good writing, and, yes, actual sex scenes.
    1. The Night Life of the Gods by Thorne Smith, finished 4/30/2012
      • I remember being… not so impressed with this one. Maybe I'd have liked it more if I read it when it was initially published back in the 1920s.
    1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, finished 5/23/2012
      • I've really grown to like Austen (and other more character-driven novels). It gives me hope that I'll enjoy J. K. Rowling's new novel when I get around to obtaining and reading it!
    1. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle, finished 5/25/2012
    1. The Moon by Night by Madeleine L'Engle, finished 6/4/2012
    1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, finished 6/20/2012
    1. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, finished 6/24/2012
      • Read as part of a book club with some other grad students (until they gave up for the summer, and I finished it). Some sound ideas, overall, and definitely a useful book to keep around for reference! I should probably dig it out to help myself with writing blog posts and telling stories...
    1. Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James, finished 7/1/2012
    2. Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James, finished 7/12/2012
      • The infamous Fifty Shades series! Honestly, the "thrill" kind of wears off… well, even before you finish the first book. Those stories about these novels being slightly modified Twilight fanfiction? Pretty darn believable - and, let's be real, I've seen fanfiction with better writing, and that's all free. There is a slight possibility I got so bored with the series because I have issues with Bella Ana's character - many of her decisions just made me want to scream with frustration. Funny (relevant, I promise!) story: I picked up Twilight at Target once and got roughly 10 pages in before I had to put it down because I was so disgusted with Bella as a character. (I regularly read teen-directed books, and she reached unprecedented levels of angst and self-pity almost immediately. It was unbearable.) So, yeah, it's possible I would have enjoyed this more if it weren't (allegedly) based on characters I already couldn't stand reading about (or even watching in movies).
    1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling, finished 7/20/2012
      • For the read-along guided by the "Alohomora" podcast. If you're a total Potter-head like me, you should check them out!
    1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, finished 7/23/2012
    2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, finished 8/6/2012
      • Both of these were rereads, because I have problems not finishing a series once I've started it.
    1. Five Stories by Willa Cather, finished 8/18/2012
      • "The Enchanted Bluff," "Tom Outland's Story," "Neighbor Rosicky" - my favorite!, "The Best Years," and "Paul's Case"
    1. Winged Pharoah by Joan Grant, finished 11/7/2012
      • An interesting and thought-provoking read! Perhaps it's sacrilegious, but I regularly reevaluate my ideas regarding faith and religion based on secular media. This book definitely inspired some reflection!
    1. Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts, finished 11/10/2012
      • The facts I found most interesting were the ones that were obviously outdated - the book was published in the late 1980s.
    1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, finished 11/25/2012
      • So good! My mom and her neighbor are both hooked on these books, and I'm afraid they may have made a new convert in me.
    1. Taggerung by Brian Jacques, finished 12/1/2012
      • Stolen from my sister's bookshelf - after the "tidying" of my book boxes into a few stacks in one corner, such that they are incredibly difficult to access. I hadn't realized how much I missed Redwall until I (re?)read this!
    1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling, finished 12/6/2012
      • To go along with "Alohomora." Now my problem is that, as they move on to PoA, my copy is buried in the previously mentioned pile of boxes. I don't know which box it's in, and I'm not sure I have the wherewithal to go searching!
    1. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, finished 12/19/2012
      • Another of those character-driven British novels! Parts of it dragged a bit, but the story overall was a good one, if a bit tragic.
    1. Eragon by Christopher Paolini, finished 12/20/2012
      • Also stolen from my sister's shelf. Perhaps I'm too harsh in my judgement, but I was… less than impressed. I doubt I'll bother reading the other books in the series. This one just seemed to drag on f-o-r--e--v---e---r. Maybe I was overly influenced by some criticism I read/heard of when the book was first published, but it (like Fifty Shades) did in some cases just seem like poorly-adapted fanfiction of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Seriously, "urgals" versus "orcs." Are we really fooling anyone there?) Plus, did I mention that it seemed to drag? I could not believe how long it took me to read. I suppose it could be from the "world-building" necessary in this kind of epic fantasy. And world-building is all well and good! But it generally requires an ability to, y'know, build worlds. Preferably without making your book feel tedious. It feels kind of wrong to say it, but I just didn't care about the characters or what happened to them, either. I'll admit, I'm idly curious about what happens in the next books, but not curious enough to actually put myself through the torture of reading them.

    So, that was what I managed to get finished in 2012! I'm currently working on a couple more books stolen from my sister's shelf - The Neverending Story and Undead and Unemployed. Hopefully I'll be moving into my own place soon - which means I'll once again have access to my books and can really work on getting them read!

    I usually set a goal for myself as far as how many books I'd like to read in the next year. Considering I don't have to worry about grad school anymore (school in general is a tremendous drain on reading-for-pleasure time!), I'll be ambitious and set a goal of 35 books. Books I'd like to read include The Casual Vacancy and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. And probably a reread of Let's Pretend this Never Happened, because it's so damn hilarious! (And recommendations are always accepted!)