Over the last many years, I've filled my mind with noise. Podcasts, music, and video games have filled my home; while outside, I've constantly worn earbuds and listened to podcasts. I've felt that this constant noise has stifled my creativity, so for the last few months, as I've noted before, I've tried to leave the earbuds at home and tried to make life a little more quiet. Perhaps this has been effective: I've written a few drafts and read more chapters of books than I have as of late. My techniques have been a little bit effective in helping rebuild a little creativity, even if I'm not at the point where I can complete a project.
Nonetheless, the practice has also highlighted the reason I was filling my brain with noise in the first place: when a person lives alone, their mind has a lot of time to fold in on itself. I have spent the last nine years with constant kid-noise in my life; for the last 10 months, my kids haven't lived with me, and my home is often unbearably silent. I imagine I was filling my brain with podcasts and whatnot to compensate for the silence, to avoid reflecting on my loneliness and sense of failure.
I've read articles that highlight how difficult it is for adult men to build new friendships, so I've been trying to do deliberate things to develop new adult friendships. That's been one of the main reasons I've been involved with community theatre, for example: it's an easy way to work with fellow adults on a creative project. In less organized circles, I've met a few other musicians and tried to get connected a little better with co-workers. I've tried to be deliberate about building new relationships, and even tried to reconnect with a few older relationships. So far so good.
There's an odd surprise though: worthwhile people reach out to me and say, "Let's hang out," but they then don't invite me out to anything. This first seemed strange to me, but now that I think of it I imagine they're in the same boat, waiting for someone to invite them out. What a mess.
And this is where I have to battle my own sense of self-worth. It's very hard to invite people out to hang out when I barely feel like I'm worth anything, when the negative self-talk hits heavy the moment I pick up the phone. I don't want to hang out if I can't provide some positivity to someone's life, and since I see myself through such a negative lens, I can easily talk myself out of meeting up. It's ridiculous; it's a classic self-destructive cycle.
Because I know that I can be a positive person; I know people don't see me as negatively as I see myself; I know people have their own stuff going on, likely much more confusing and traumatizing than my own issues.
Last night, as I was packing up my setup at the restaurant in Harrison, I wound-up talking with someone and trying to explain something in my life, and I realized I was articulating myself poorly, that I was getting defensive. And the person I was talking to said it very simply: "Being an adult is complicated." And it was just enough of a reminder to me that I don't need to be quite so frustrated with my own lot.
So what's my next step, then? Well, I think I need to grab the bull by the horns and invite people out to hang out for a bit, even if it's only for an hour, even if I feel like I have nothing to say. Clearly none of the other lonely-ish men I know are going to take that initiative, so I need to do it a bit myself. For years, I had excuses of different sorts, but I don't think they wash anymore. I'm a separated man and my life is complicated and weird, but that doesn't mean I'm not worth hanging out with, it doesn't mean I need to be so ashamed of myself.
To go back to my original point, I still have lots I need to do: I'm still floundering at work, still having trouble memorizing my lines for the play, still have children who live a 12 hours' drive away, but perhaps I need to start, when I pick up the phone to turn on a podcast, calling someone to say "hello" instead. I need to prioritize real voices, with back-and-forth conversations, instead of the one-way conversation of talk radio.
And perhaps, if I get myself dealing with real people on a regular basis again, I might be able to feel good enough about myself to handle the silence again, to be alone with myself, to not want to fill my brain with the noise of forgetting.
At a staff meeting, administration admonished us to make our online presence less searchable. "Use a pseudonym," I paraphrase, "because we've heard some terrible stories about things people have done to teachers online. It might not even be you; it might be something somebody else tags you in."
For a moment, I considered it. I thought, Yeah, my online presence isn't meaningful enough to me for me to care about. I could pseudonym.
Then I realized just how beyond help I am for that.
I don't want to be anonymous. I have no interest in being anonymous online. I may not go as far as @elibosnick does in using my real name, but the vast majority of my online names are "jeffnords" or a variant of it. I have many reasons for this.
Facebook is still a special case. If there was any place to use a pseudonym, it would be for my personal Facebook profile. Although I've eased up on my personal Facebook ban and I've started paying a little more attention to the Facebook community, clicking "likes" and making comments here and there, I haven't done a purge for a while and I might, one of these nights, delete my recent activity on the site again. Facebook still straddles the public and private spheres in ways I'm not comfortable with. It still creates circles of "friends" that don't seem to mean much in real life. And it seems to be, by the nature of its interactions, cause the most trouble for people. So I'll continue to treat it with the utmost caution.
Perhaps, if and when I apply to work in administration myself, I'll reconsider. Perhaps some of my vulnerable rants and posts will seem childish and unprofessional. Then I might change my tack.
But for now, Jeffrey Nordstrom is my online identity and that's fine. I've traded away my privacy (see below) and I'm banking that it will work out for me in the long run.
I haven't really done any planning for the coming school year. I filled my summer with distractions: work, visiting Vancouver Island, and attempts to rest and relax. In spare moments, I couldn't seem to develop the get-to-it-ive-ness needed to really start planning for something as cognitively taxing as the coming school year. So I didn't.
But I'm here now.
Today we had a Professional Day presentation from somebody with a pretty good handle on the ins and outs of the new BC Curriculum. I'm hoping it rekindles a little of my enjoyment of teaching and helps me feel a little more like my work has a lasting effect on people. I miss that feeling.
A few years into my teaching, it felt pretty natural, like it was an extension of myself. I felt like I could come to the school and navigate it naturally, and it didn't seem to drain my resources too much. I could come to the school in the evening or afternoon and focus on my work and enjoy it, and I genuinely felt like I was getting stuff done.
The last few years, however, haven't felt that way. Admittedly, I've been very distracted: separation, drama, and fatigue can make it difficult to focus on work. Come to think of it, my inability to internalize my practice coincides with my inability to write or finish writing a song. Perhaps I'm just in a drained-creativity mode, whether in career or leisure.
But I hope that acting on some of my more progressive desires will help me make teaching a more real part of my life, not just a job. Perhaps building an effective in-class curriculum will help me get get my head back in the game.
I've been trying to do a few other phone-related things to get my head back in a good place. I deleted Pokemon Go from my phone; it seemed to have served its purpose in getting me to get outside even when I didn't want to. And although I still think I'd enjoy it, I don't miss it. I turned off my data so I'd be less likely to check my phone constantly. I also have decided to stop listening to podcasts when I go for walks; this lets my mind wander a little and helps me to keep from constantly filling my mind with talk.
In the meantime, here I am. Starting my 10th or 11th school year, a veteran of sorts who still doesn't feel like he knows what he's doing, who still expects the "Fraud Police" to come to the door and kick him out onto the street. But chances are, things will work out. It will. It will.
Things will work out.
I've struggled with negative self-talk for my entire life. I tend to curse myself under my breath and, on a daily basis, tell myself oodles of BS about my own incompetence and lack of value. It's an ugly habit that I've been trying to unwind from for years, particularly when I first started working through Mind Over Mood in 2009. But the negative self-talk persists—when I'm out for a walk, when I try to make sense of my past, when I realize I should have said something else, when I realize I should have been more thoughtful, when I can't figure out why I'm feeling what I'm feeling.
Some might say I need to make a new story for myself, a new narrative. And within the last few months, a couple of my go-to content creators have made a couple lovely bits to reflect just such an idea.
I've written about The School/Book of Life before, but this week's video hit home, not only because of the references to Macbeth, but for its practical advice for new narrative-building.
My favorite part of this episode is:
Not all the disasters were wasted anyway. Maybe we spent a decade not quite knowing what we wanted to do with ourselves professionally. Maybe we went through a succession of failed relationships that left us confused and hurt a lot of people. But these experiences weren’t meaningless because they were necessary to later development and maturity. We needed the career crisis to understand our working identities; we had to fail at love to fathom our hearts. No one gets anywhere important in one go. We can forgive ourselves the horrors of our first drafts.
This "Art of Charm Toolbox" episode focuses on "Narrative Building" as a means to build charisma and a positive self-image.
My favorite part of this episode is summarized here:
Think of your narrative — your hero’s journey, as illustrated by mythologist Joseph Campbell — as a riff on the narratives that brought you where you are today and not a carbon copy of those existing narratives. To know yourself, you need to tell your own story.
So what story to tell though? To be honest, I don't know.
Here are the basics though:
No one wants to read a boring life story, including myself. I don't want to write a self-narrative that bores me to tears.
So what story do I need to narrate?
I recently took this blog offline and made my tweets private because I applied to a fancy-dancy job last month and had an interview for it last Monday. I didn't get the position, but I'm a little relieved. I know how to play it better for next time and I can spend some time building my leadership resume.
I'd got myself all dolled-up—haircut and new shirt and pants—and that was kind-of fun. A little jarring after growing that beard, but I wanted to put my all into it. And now that it's done, I can get back to blogging and make my tweets public again.
However, of course, it makes me also wonder if I'm entirely mis-aiming my life right now. Especially when I listen to interviews like this one:
Like, I finished a leadership degree, but do I really want to lead people? And if I do, do I really want to lead a school? Have I totally chosen the wrong approach to this?
Or, as the cliche might read, am I living my truth, my authentic self?
The truth is, I don't know.
Really, perhaps I'm expecting too much of myself. Perhaps I expect too much of a personal connection to what I do. Perhaps good enough is good enough.
The other day a friend called me an "anxious overachiever."
Perhaps that's my very own personal syndrome, no?
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