The Box of a Retail Job

Recently I started a new job in the world of retail on a busy street in Austin. It’s at a store that sells handmade gifts from around the world, and I’m happy that I finally found one.

That being said, most of my readers will know that my story-driven and sometimes overly sensitive brain will easily have a heyday with this type of situation.

For one thing, this is the first time in several years that I’ve had a job that demanded I be at a certain place at certain times all throughout the week. Even my last job that payed great and put me in a leadership role only demanded me to be in a specific spot two days out of the week- the rest was just over the phone, which made getting a few hours off impossible to count on.

One of the things I am most struck by is how nice it is to have a job that I can actually leave at the job. When I come home, I get to spend my time however the heck I want to without having to give a second thought to what happened at work. It’s the first time in many many years that that is the case for me- usually my work comes home with me or is home-based.

But I must say that delving back into the world of retail has my head spinning with critiques and questions about the way we run things in this world.

Right now, when I think of heading to work, it feels like I am heading into a box. A box where they can tell me how long I have to stand and when I get to stop and eat. A box where they tell me what to do and how to do it, and where I have to smile and be a blank slate of joy and service for whoever chooses to walk through the doors to buy things they don’t need in a city where they are trying to pack as much joy and excitement and consumerism into as short of a time as possible. If I didn’t know better, I would assume that all tourists choose Saturday for these endeavors.

I want to make that box into more of a home. Not really a home, but a small room in a home. A room that has a certain purpose that does not have to affect the rest of it. Like a utility closet, or my dad’s wood room in the basement. He would go there to load up wood into the stove and heat the house. It is hard work to do that, but the house stays warm in winter and wood doesn’t have to be burned all over the place.

I can go to this job and put on a smile and make money while also getting to talk to people and find genuine joy inside of me because that is much easier than faking it. I can learn the systems and the cash register and the stories about all of the merchandise. But I have to remember and remind myself that the box of that job does not define me as a person and does not need to impact my opinion of myself even if I do a less than decent job some days.

This new situation also reminds me how little I am able to actually empathize with the people I encounter each day. All throughout the day we are interacting with people who are currently at work. Whether we have to call the telephone company or go to the gas station, we are talking to folks who are at their jobs doing what they do in that small room of their mental house. Sometimes as obvious as it is, I forget this. I forget there are things I can’t empathize with because I have never worked at a telephone company call center or at a gas station. I know what it means to go “to work” but the specific demands on each person in those roles is going to be unique. I don’t know how long they have been standing or sitting or how badly they want to go get a snack.

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks. There are stories and blog posts brewing in my brain but those will have to just wait. Right now, I just want to share my process about this box and how I want to choose to relate to it so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

Do you like your job? Do you remember the last time you changed into a new type of job from the one you previously had and how that affected your mental state?

 

 

Thoughts on Femininity and Axe

Last week I was hit with an immense hatred of the new Axe “Women Just Keep Getting Hotter” commercial. I know that it’s supposed to be funny, but it led to a whole lot of not-funny thoughts in my head. I’m hoping that by writing about it here it can stop boiling my veins when I think about it.

Here is the commercial I’m talking about-

This video really rubs me the wrong way. I know that it’s targeted to men to sell them a product. But when someone makes a sweeping statement about humans or humans that fit into your particular group, you can’t help but take notice. I identify with being a woman. They are talking about me.

Don’t women have enough to deal with without this crap?  How many more reasons do we need to starve ourselves and try to harness our beauty from the wrong direction?

We Will Literally Die To Be That Skinny

The first thing I didn’t like about this commercial was that “hotter” seemed to also indicate “skinnier,” which is nothing new. We get that all the time, unless a commercial is specifically selling something to “curvy” women. But this is not okay. It’s going to happen for years still I’m sure, but at least we can notice how messed up it is.

Eating disorders are more likely to result in death than any other mental illness, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. I remember hearing that when the U.S. media gets more prevalent in other areas of the world, the rate of eating disorders goes up. I’m not sure how true that was or if it’s still true.

I try to be on top of this in my own brain because honestly, the idea that “I’ll be happier if I’m skinnier” comes up in my head more than I’d care to admit. And usually it is rather magical thinking. “As soon as I’m skinnier, I’ll be really confident and a better singer and I’ll have a better stage presence and I’ll have less anxiety” and other such things. With commercials like this, which only broadcast blatantly what other media puts out there more subtly, it’s no secret where my brain gets that notion from.

Being Led the Wrong Way to Happy Town

From the dawn of media’s conception there was money to be made. The weight loss industry is huge, super huge. When I worked unsavory writing jobs, some of what I would be asked to do is write fake testimonials about weight loss products. I have a hard time believing that people would buy half the crap I was supposed to write about, but still, they do. And why?

Feeling happy. We all want to do it. How do we do it? We watch other people sometimes. We are born imitators. We learn language by observing, we learn habits and patterns from observing, we learn how one lives a life by observing. We mix our natural urges and personalities into what we think is going to make us feel good.

So when we see commercials where the skinny smooth and makeup-ed people are the happiest, we might want to starve ourselves and buy some things. And if we were being shown reality, then it would work!

Hunger hurts and I want him so bad, oh it kills. Cuz I know I’m a mess he don’t want to clean up. I’ve got to fold cuz these hands are too shaky to hold. Hunger hurts but starving works, when it costs too much to love. -Fiona Apple

Why Doesn’t It Work?

I don’t know about you, but I have definitely thought that obtaining some thing or being in some place would lead me to feel a certain way. Usually it’s the opposite. If I feel confident or motivated, then it seems that no matter what I’m wearing or doing, those feelings get put to good use when I stay in line with my values and do things that matter to me.

But if I feel desperate or insecure and am craving something to make it go away, the story unfolds differently. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing my cutest outfit or if I pulled out the old make up and put it on- I’m left with the same feeling if not worse. Feelings don’t change by getting stuff or looking a certain way; at least not for long.

Wise Words From a Super Model

This is a video by Cameron Russel. It’s a TED talk and I was rather impressed by it. In it, she talks about the experience of being a model and the way that the image is constructed. Upon seeing the Axe commercial, I must admit that I thought more about the images I was being fed than about the experience of the women filling them. Her words were quite uplifting and sobering.

If you ever are wondering “If I have thinner thighs and shinier hair, will I be happier?” You just need to meet a group of models. Because they have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they are the most physically insecure women probably on the planet.

- Cameron Russell

How to Enjoy Life

Obviously I don’t know the answer to this question..but at least in regard to silly commercials that highlight a specific idea of feminine beauty, I have an idea of where I can start. The most I can do right now is to just simply acknowledge that it’s a specific idea of feminine beauty. That it’s an idea that does not work for everyone and that is not even fully human, in the natural every-day way that most of us experience our humanness.

These pictures are not pictures of me, they are constructions. They are constructions by a group of professionals, by hair stylists and make up artists and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants and pre-production and post-production..and they build this. That’s not me.

- Cameron Russel

I must say that after making this post, I feel better about the whole thing. I feel more grounded and connected to the world, realizing that I’m not alone and that people are always waking up to and sharing the awareness of the massive amounts of garbage we see each day. Someday I feel that even our idea of gender will be truer to the human reality than to the boxes that work well for corporations. Thank you for reading!

Do you ever get thoughts in your head that seem to come from the media you engage in but may not agree with?

Do you spend any time telling the beautiful people around you that you think they are beautiful, even if they don’t think so?
Do you feel beautiful sometimes even if you are not going to be in an Axe commercial?

Going on a Date with the Unplanned

Last night I was supposed to play music at a lovely lounge with a friend. I was going to play for a half hour during his set break and was quite excited. As it turned out, the bar was closed for cleaning and they hadn’t told him.

I was caught off guard, sitting on sixth street with my guitar and a pretty dress in rather sweltering heat. My friend told me there would be an open mic in a few hours at a bar around the corner, so I decided to set up shop there while I figured out what to do.

If you’re ever in Austin and see a girl sipping a beer and furiously writing in a notebook instead of talking to people, probably with a guitar propped on her bar stool, please, do come say hi.

One of the things I began pondering was how sometimes, you just can’t force an unplanned evening. It wouldn’t be the same. Many potential plans started to arise- there was an open mic near my house, an open mic across town, a birthday party. I had to pick. I realized this particular flavor of groundlessness was something to cherish because I never would have been able to fabricate it. Deciding on going to that bar would have been in my consciousness at least an hour in advance so that I could get the right bus.

I began to think about the universe as if it was a person, or at least, a thing with a personality. I was noticing that perhaps part of this personality included a tendency to put me and maybe others in situations where they were groundless. What the incentive would be is beyond me, but perhaps it has something to do with getting us to actually be able to listen. It’s easier to listen and feel for me when I’m not in the middle of a plan.

I decided to stay at the open mic I was already at. It didn’t feel right to do

My songs are for sale at http://jenniferstuart.bandcamp.com/

My songs are for sale at http://jenniferstuart.bandcamp.com/

anything else, almost like there was a current to follow. I would get to the birthday party afterwards, since that was the most sentimentally important thing on the list. It turned out that the showcase act who would have played from 7-8pm did not show up. The gentleman running the event let me play early and ended up giving me about five extra songs, partially because most people hadn’t shown up yet for the open mic and partially (at least I imagine) because the folks at the bar were actually enjoying it. Plus I was wearing a pretty dress.

Many times I have thought that the fabric of our connected reality really does have a personality, and a sense of humor. I have seen it most in the times when I had fewer plans. Last night was a fresh reminder that there are so many options to tap into that unplanned state, and we never get to pick when they happen. We just get to pick how to relate to them and how much appreciation to give them and ourselves during those times.

Sometimes those times are linked with trauma. I don’t think the same appreciation would be possible in those cases. Instead, I think it could be directed at ourselves and our space and our ability to be open to what we need when we need it in those times.

On another note, I opened my Etsy shop. It is called Jenerprise Jems. The world right now to me feels groundless still. I’m following up on job leads and hoping to find something soon, especially if it leaves me time to keep creating necklaces and improving my ability to play music.

I wanted this to be my cover photo for etsy but it's too big.

I wanted this to be my cover photo for etsy but it’s too big.

Have you had any dates with the universe lately where plans didn’t go your way and ended up leading to new connections or inspiration?

Have you thought that the universe has a personality of sorts, and if so, what’s your favorite aspect of it?

If you do think it works that way, how do you account for all of the many terrible things that also happen? Is everything just random, is there a higher power controlling it, is that power simply unable to prevent us from doing horrible things to each other but there to guide us when we are open to it?

Maybe it’s my joblessness catching up and turning me existential..but for now this is what I can think of to write about.

Also, please do look at the sky. Especially if the sun is setting, rising, or absent.

Creativity, Productivity, and Self-Worth

When I was writing more short stories, I tried to “play” with toys like I used to as a child. I thought this would help me get my creativity flowing. It was hard, like something was in the way of the river that used to flow effortlessly.

Sometimes that river still flows. I create a new necklace design, or make a song unlike any others I’ve made so far. It’s a great feeling, one that I’d love to have at the push of a psychological button.

But if there’s one thing I learned from great books like the Happiness Trap and Daring Greatly, it’s that you can’t control or force feelings.

In this post, I will explore a few things in my relationship to creativity that have been prominent in the past week.

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Some of my necklaces. Etsy store coming soon I think!

Here’s one frustrating chain of events that happens regarding necklaces:

1. I start creating from a free creative place. I make some cool macrame design that I’ve never done before.

2. I decide to do that design again, on another necklace.

3. I start making necklaces that all have that design, or some variation thereof.

This happens with more than necklaces. It happens with my songs. I never used to think about how a song would be received when I wrote it, but now I do. If one song is received very well, I am more likely to play it again or to try and find why it went over so well so that I can incorporate that element into other songs.

On some days, the goal-less innocent free-form creativity feels like it’s taking a back seat to the “get-er-done” mentality, connected to the “do things that other people like” mentality. It’s less creative, more productive. Sometimes this is useful, like with necklaces- especially if there is a style that is selling. Then I definitely want to make more of that type, because I’m trying to make that my livelihood. But that mentality does not need to touch my music, and it also isn’t useful to have it around the clock with the jewelery.

So where does it come from? I think I have a feeling about at least part of the story.

Creativity & Pleasing Others & Self-Worth

I think one strong factor in this process is the phenomenon of pleasing others. It’s truly an amazing one. The fact that you can do something creative, sometimes with no intention of even showing another human, and get praise can actually rock your world a little bit.

Suddenly, that reward is part of the process on a visceral level. If you sing a song and someone likes it, even though you didn’t expect them to, that feels good. You just made someone happy for a moment with innocent goal-less creativity. The next time you sing a song, or make a piece of art, part of you may wonder if someone will like it. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they don’t, the something that wasn’t even missing before is now missing. Sometimes it can still feel fun to share, but sometimes, the fun is zapped and you are left confused about where it went.

A couple of times last week, I’d play at an open mic and finish and feel horrible about myself. Full of shame, like I should have never even touched a guitar in my lifetime. People would be saying nice things, but I didn’t believe them. I was expecting a reward to change how I felt, and it didn’t. I realized I had to look at what was going on, or else it was going to be a nasty spiral. Whenever shame is playing a part in what’s going on, I turn to Brene Brown’s work.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about attaching self-worth to what we create. Here’s an excerpt from page 63: ” Because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.”

She explains how sharing your art or project is an essential part of Wholehearted Living. On the next page, she writes “With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different…Yes, it will be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.”

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Playing at the pool party at my apartment complex! You can also hear my new song Supermoon

Her words helped me see the situation more clearly. I was beginning to confuse people liking my work with the joy of creating it. If I’m playing guitar and focused mainly on what others are doing, trying to assess the value of my performance that way, it’s a disaster. One person talking or walking away can be converted in my head to a definite sign that I suck. Really, that’s not what that indicates, and I know that, but in the moment that’s how it feels.

When I play guitar and stay in my body, focused more on feeling present and enjoying the physical sensations of playing, then the person walking away doesn’t bother me. I may not even notice. And because I stayed present and didn’t get obsessed with what others might be thinking, I may actually be able to take a compliment at the end because I didn’t already made up my mind that it was a disaster.

Creating Versus Producing

When I’m trying to use any creative project for an actual income, it’s an interesting line. Creating and producing are two different things. Both are sometimes necessary.

I can produce necklaces very fast when I need to, just like I can produce writing or songs. I can also take my time and create necklaces, writing, and songs. I can wait for that playful part of my brain to chime in, notice the feeling of that, and make the most of it when it arrives. Like I said, I don’t expect to force it to come. I’m sure I can cultivate a friendly relationship with it the more I learn to look it in the eye and not confuse it with its distant relatives, like the people-pleasing impulse.

How about you, do you have an interesting relationship to creativity depending on how much you are relying on it for income?

Do you think it’s easy to zap into free-form creativity with no expectation of a result, or do you always create with an eye on the prize of how it will be received?

Do you show all of your creative projects to others or are there some for just you?

Have you been enjoying this time of year?

 

 

 

Busy Being Humans

An old song of mine that has words related to duality http://jenniferstuart.bandcamp.com/track/let-the-noises-in-2

An old song of mine that has words related to duality http://jenniferstuart.bandcamp.com/track/let-the-noises-in-2

The Buddha pointed out long ago that we do not have a solid self. The denial of this fact can lead to suffering.

I’m noticing that we are expected to feel, often times, one way. Either hurt or happy, sensitive or tough, falling apart or totally together.

I’m noticing that this isn’t true to most of our experience.

If someone gives me criticism, it is one of the most potent times for me to notice that split. On one hand, I may really try to take in what they are saying so that I can fully absorb it. On the other hand, I may be a little hurt in a little kid way. On the third hand, I might be touched and thankful that they actually gave me feedback at all.

But it’s hard to put all of those things into a tidy sentence in the moment, or to wear it as a sensible facial expression.

When you think about how we are presenting ourselves to much of our world right now, via Facebook and texts and twitter and anything else, this idea is even more pronounced. You write a single status update, for every single friend. You send a text with no voice intonation, maybe even to someone you just met who doesn’t know the nuances of your speech patterns. We constantly seem to be in situations where having one thing to say or feeling one way is appropriate, expected, and normal.

This seems simple enough, doesn’t it? I think it’s a nice thing to think about, especially as we listen to other people talk. It’s sometimes useful to remember that every feeling has a whole lot of others that are also there, not always expressed, and not even always incredibly conscious.

My theory is that the more we all are aware of these things, the less we will feel like we are “doing it wrong” when we actually are just being humans, and the expectations apply more easily to robots. And the more we allow for this type of thing in others, the more everyone else gets to feel less isolated themselves.

I just lost my well-loved job. Now is a time of many mixed feelings. Maybe that’s why this topic is on my mind in this way. I spent a lot of the day making jewelry on my living room floor, listening to local music and thinking about the future. I have to figure something out soon, and until then, I’ll sell  necklaces at little markets and spend what I saved as little as possible while I wait for more potential work with the same organization to come back.

But yes, these are interesting times. I hope everyone is well, and I hope that I’ll be writing more often soon, I know it feels so great when I do!

Do you think that you often times feel just one way, or is it usually a mix?

Do you feel like it’s easy to express that mix in a way that people understand?

Do people ever expect you to feel one way when you don’t?