Willful Vulnerability

I was fighting futility last night, and exhausted, and feeling very downtrodden. Grappling with mild (ha!) panic about adjunct cuts (the most recent, and the forthcoming). Trying to figure out the path ahead. Trying to figure out how to dust off resilience and replenish my strength to move forward; the past two years have been a constant reminder that strong enough rarely feels strong enough. Trying to be open because I think it’s important for academics to be transparent about what we’re going through, to tear down some of the imposter-syndrome perceptions that we have that other people always have it together and that they aren’t struggling or scared or tired.
I’m reminded of a talk I once saw Will Cheng give at an AMS session, before his beautiful book Just Vibrations came out. He urged scholars to practice what he called “willful vulnerability,” and that phrase has resonated with me ever since. It does us no good to feign strength in front of one another. A field can be a community rather than a competition–at least, it should be, for the sake of scholarship. So we should be open, sharing not only our triumphs and publications, but also finding a way to talk about when it’s not so easy to pursue the thing we love most.
Sleeping on these feelings often helps, though it’s ok if it doesn’t. In my case, I woke up ill from the stress, had to go to the doctor and get antibiotics, and was initially very frustrated with my body for letting me down instead of letting me jump right into the work of moving on from bad news. It felt like just one more thing in the way of feeling safe or secure.
Yet, despite the slow morning, I had a number of restorative moments that started bringing me back to myself, so that I can plan ahead with intention and clarity. The heavy rain this afternoon was beautiful. I finished a powerful arrangement of Let it Be for a memorial service this weekend. I answered emails, I had a long talk with my advisor. I graded student discussion posts, I slowly and deliberately practiced my scales on viola. In other words, I simply kept going as I always do.
I leaned on a good friend in the midst of my turmoil yesterday, to avoid being so fragile and alone in my apartment with my thoughts. She let me come over to her house, watch silly PBS cooking shows, and drink a cup of tea to get my bearings again. Today, we were talking via text about some of the things ahead, and she told me a story about how she attended mass a few weeks ago in the midst of some of her own uncertainties about the future. This was one of the readings:

1 Kings 19:11-13 New King James Version (NKJV)

God’s Revelation to Elijah

11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Initially, it seemed sort of obtuse, but she wrote via text (quoted with her permission):
My interpretation is that we should listen to the smallest voice to guide us. For me, faith and hope are always the tiniest voices, often drowned out by anxiety and fear. I’m not sure if it’s helpful to you, but it spoke to me recently.
It was helpful to me. I’ve been reflecting on it all day. I wanted to post it in case others might find that perspective helpful. Whether or not that tiny voice is faith, or hope, or even just trust in yourself and your own abilities–what a small revolution. To choose that voice over others that may be negative, that may be trying to convince you that you are without value, that you’re not strong enough. That voice is loud, and it’s a liar. I needed to be reminded to listen elsewhere in my heart.

Back to School with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 82 Commandments

There’s something about August that always gets my productivity in high gear. Sure, there’s the back to school vibe, but I think it also has something to do with how difficult this month can be, financially, for folks in academia. I’m sure a lot of other adjuncts suffer this plight–if you teach a summer course, the last paycheck shows up end up July, but I won’t get my first Autumn paycheck until the end of September. So I always feel like I’m scrambling for gigs and extra freelance work to try to make up the difference.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about the good thing that comes out of turning up my hustle. I’ve finished something like five new string quartet arrangements this week, turned in three freelance editing jobs, played two gigs, updated my C.V., accepted an invitation to join the planning committee for the best weekend of the year, submitted a job application, polished an abstract for a conference (that’s not due until October 1st!), completed some research for a couple upcoming projects, cleaned out my email inbox…

Oh, and I found a favorite lip balm that I had misplaced, found about half of my Halloween costume at thrift stores (I like to start early), discovered a favorite new recipe (I’ve been putting it on salads, on rice and beans, and marinading chicken and tofu in it), found La Croix super cheap at Costco (as well as stocking up on vegetable stock, rice, black beans, and coffee) and bought the softest robe at Target with some of my gig money earned over the weekend–$14 well spent if you ask me (definitely going to make a ritual of putting it on for my morning coffee and writing sessions). The universe is really looking out for me this month.

Anyway, in case you’re in search of a little August inspiration, I thought I’d toss out something I came across a while ago, but haven’t posted about. I found these on a post on Dangerous Minds, mostly likely shared by a friend on social media at some point. There’s some neat ideas to ponder here. I’ve bolded and italicized my particular favorites, and those that are making me think right now (and I really need to listen to #7, there. I have a half-finished Marie Kondo-clean out of my closet, and I ought to finish bagging up clothes and send them on to a new life).

1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.
2. Always finish what you have begun.
3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.
4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.
5. Develop your generosity ‒ but secretly.
6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.
7. Organize what you have disorganized.
8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.
9. Stop defining yourself.
10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.
11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.
12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.
13. Make work plans and accomplish them.
14. Do not take up too much space.
15. Make no useless movements or sounds.
16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.
17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.
18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.
19. Share fairly.
20. Do not seduce.
21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.
22. Do not speak of your personal problems.
23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.
24. Do not establish useless friendships.
25. Do not follow fashions.
26. Do not sell yourself.
27. Respect contracts you have signed.
28. Be on time.
29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.
30. Say no more than necessary.
31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.
32. Never threaten anyone.
33. Keep your promises.
34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.
35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.
36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.
37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.
38. Help others to help themselves.
39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.
40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.
41. Transform your pride into dignity.
42. Transform your anger into creativity.
43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.
44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.
45. Transform your hate into charity.
46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.
47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.
48. Do not complain.
49. Develop your imagination.
50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.
51. Pay for services performed for you.
52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.
53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.
54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.
55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.
56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.
57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.
58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.
59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.
60. Do not keep useless objects.
61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.
62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.
63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.
64. Never define yourself by what you possess.
65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.
66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.
67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.
68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated. (could have used this advice back in June with the shingles diagnosis!)
69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.
70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.
71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.
72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.
73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.
74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.
75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.
76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.
77. Live on money you have earned.
78. Never brag about amorous adventures.
79. Never glorify your weaknesses.
80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.
81. Obtain things in order to share them.
82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.

There are a few I don’t totally agree with (#25 & #54, because it’s fun; #31, because some of us don’t have the luxury and privilege not to be cognizant of the money coming in for our work; #35, only because I think this is imposter syndrome breeding ground–instead, focus inward on how to improve; #56, because I believe some student loans can be worth it to change your life, if you are prudent about them; #61, because that’s sort of the best part of academic work–trying on new ideas and perspectives; #70, because I can carry them constantly with me as part of the fabric of my own resilience; and #80, because I think that’s a beautiful reason to spend time with somebody).

I will be thinking on these for a while, maybe even writing some posts about the ones that struck me. Which ones resonate with you?