19 August 2010

My, how things change

Our child bounded into the room after her first day of school and announced, Mom, today I learned how they took these groups of people, Group One and Group Two, and before a test, they told everyone in Group One, "You're really smart," and in Group Two they told everyone, "If you work really hard, you can do well on this test." Guess who did better? Group Two did! Everyone in Group One said, "I don't have to try so hard," and they didn't do as well on the test as the Group Two people.

I was delighted. I had heard the same thing, I told her. I had just read about the same study. And if she learned just that fact in school today, that was pretty good, I thought.

I didn't say this then but this study, which I read about in Daniel Pink's book Drive, felt like the nail in the coffin of the "self-esteem movement," really a giant social experiment perpetrated on youth back in the big-haired/tight-pantsed end of the millenium.

My co-self-defense instructor, Raquel, who went to Stanford, knew this when we coached the tween and teen girls at their yells and self-defense moves back then. Raquel probably knew it from being coached on the sports field, an experience I completely missed the value of at the time. (Nor would my parents have tolerated the costs -- social or financial -- of joining a team in our nonconformist family. It is still a marvel to me that my father was on a football team -- I have never known him as a team player. You should have seen my parents' faces when I begged for the money for a cheerleading outfit so I could try out for the cheerleading team. (In retrospect: Way to separate the haves from the haves-not, junior high football cheerleading squad!) I gave up on that fantasy within a day or two, and now you know something about the kinds of short-lived passions that have fallen by the wayside along with the long-lived ones I have nurtured.)

Raquel in those classes was able to find the vein of toughness in those girls quickly, in a way that I had no idea how to do, given my own dysfunctional background and social conditioning. Despite having recently completed a ten-week self-defense class and having just trained to teach self defense with the Stanford teaching/training group, I still knew so little about being strong, still lugged around plenty of the dysfunctional, codependent (another 1990s watchword that has fallen from favor) behavior that had compelled me to seek out self-defense training. I needed to find some ease in the world and to some extent I did.

Writing this is making me want to get out my training materials and make a class for local kids and families. Put all that training to use. It has helped me so many times, in so many ways, not just in deflecting unwanted attentions but also in sorting out what has something to do with me and what doesn't.

At the same time, I confess I've felt just a wee bit fired up about the coming change of season. Back-to-school time always affects me this way. September and February are the months when I have to take care to not take on too many projects. "So much depends upon the weather." It's weird because it feels great: All systems feel like they are firing and I am coming up with all kinds of fine ideas (a baking at altitude app, and a cookbook app to sell as a school fundraiser are the latest ones), but they are ideas that I would have trouble carrying out if there were three of me, given all the projects I'm already juggling at this moment. I had a good summer, organizationally speaking, but am not quite managing everything on my own personal list, like the household stuff. I haven't cleaned my daughter's desk or emptied out that one closet, or washed the windows (and I am wondering why? because these projects are no fun).

The best thing I did today was to take my research-fried brain to my writer's group meeting and announce I couldn't complete the task I had taken on, that I was the wrong person for the job. I was seeing too many options, and finding no effective ways to weed out what wasn't appropriate, and the task was overloading my circuitry. Before I had said much, one of the group said, "Do you need to not do this? It seems like you might be a little frazzled by it." I looked at her, felt a wash of relief but held back tears. "Thank you for hearing me," I said and then I couldn't help spilling a few of those tears. Later I said, "I feel like I am always coming to this group begging for understanding!" Another group member gave me a generous hug and said, "That you can have, in abundance!" And suddenly it's Oooeeee, I see abundance everywhere!

So I came home and instead of diving back into the intellectual puzzle that is Cloud Atlas I read the first pages of two other books I like so far (Jodi Picoult's House Rules and a collection of the kind of confessional essays I am a sucker for called The Bitch in the House. I'm trying to slow myself down, but still get a lot done. Make sense? I know. I'm not sure it does to me, either.

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