Non-serious Social Incongruity

It’s clearly my drug of choice. Let me explain.

This morning, in the wee hours after a good night’s post-impeachment rest, I watched a man turn a large rusty nail into a tiny, perfect sword (fit for a sturdy mouse warrior) and learned of the sea shanty craze on TikTok. I even sang along. However, a fellow Tweeter pondered the appeal? Why sea shanties? Why now?

I’d like to add “non-serious social incongruity” (aka “amusement”) to the list of reasons for this sudden popularity (see that link above): “easy to learn,” “easy to sing,” and “unifying, survivalist songs.” These songs are historical throwbacks and have little to do with most people’s modern lives, hence the social incongruity. The very oddness of this unlikely trend also adds to its appeal. Sea shanties are nerdy. They blend well with my already long list of special, consuming interests (many of which are represented in this blog). (Personally sea shanties also remind me of a happier time, the years when my young children and I would attend the annual performances of The California Revels in Oakland, CA.)

Amusement as a Positive Emotion

A couple of years ago I took Barbara Fredrickson’s positive psychology course on Coursera. My main take-away was her idea of creating “positivity portfolios” as a way to provide quick hits of positive emotions throughout the day. I realized that no matter how low I go, amusement and interest can always provide me with a way up and out. I began to assemble an online file of things that make me grin: memes, cat video links, websites, and so on. I have plenty of books but most are interesting not amusing (I need collections of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons). I don’t always remember to do it, but this practice of intentionally dosing myself with amusement and interest has served me well through most of this pandemic.

However this last week since the Jan. 6 white supremacist insurrection attempt, I should have tempered my hypervigilant doom-scrolling with dose of snarky commentary from the webpages of The Gallery of Regrettable Food. My attempt at similar humor: “Cooking with 7-Up?” –epic neo-nazi fails never tasted so good! Here boys, drown your post-sedition sorrows with a frosty glass of lemon-lime soda. It’s in your gelatin salad too! Just like mother used to make!”

Screen shot of page from the Gallery of Regrettable Food: http://lileks.com/institute/gallery/sevenup2/4.html

Now I don’t mean to imply a link between 7Up (currently owned by Keurig Dr Pepper) and white supremacists and neo-nazis. I’m using the above recipe example purely for vintage cuisine humor. However it’s interesting to look at the company’s 2020 political donations to federal represenatives and senators. An examination of the 2020 Keurig Dr Pepper PAC donations reveals only one donation to a congressperson who ended up voting on Jan. 6th to contest the 2020 federal election results (Yourish, Buchanan & Lu, “The 147 Republicans Who Voted to Overturn Election Results,” N.Y. Times, Jan. 7, 2021). That was Represenatative Richard Hudson (R/NC) for $1,000. Five of the seventeen representatives who received 2020 donations from the Keurig Dr Pepper PAC voted against the 2021 impeachment: Van Taylor (R/TX) for $8,000; Vickey Hartzler (R/MO) for $5,000; Dan Krenshaw (R/TX) for $2,000; Ron Estes (R/TX) for $2,000; and again, Richard Hudson (R/NC) (mentioned above). (OpenSecrets.org is the source of the above campaign donation information.) So, could be worse…

And here I find I’ve spiraled over to “interest” as another positive emotion, which means I could easily do a prolonged dive into the weasel burrow of political campaign donations and the food corporations responsible for regrettable recipes. I suppose I’d better get into the main purpose of this blog: how to make skillful use of positive emotions.

Positivity Portfolio – A Way to Keep Sane in These Pandemic Times

I mentioned Fredrickson’s “positivity portfolios” earlier. The idea is simple. Collect things that trigger and nourish the following emotions. Put the collection(s) in a place where you can find them. Access them as often as you need to remember that something about this life is actually good. In fact, it’s a good practice to do this several times a day.


Table of positive emotions based on the Positive Psycholoogy course taught by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.

As I look back on life since mid-March, I’ve experienced positive emotions mostly through amusement, interest, and inspiration (the latter mostly through my novel-writing). Love hurts too much since I’m entirely alone except for my cats and haven’t seen my children or friends in all this time. I make an effort to cultivate serenity via meditation and devotional practices, but serenity is not as emotionally powerful as amusement, interest, and inspiration. I experience gratitude but often it feels intellectual–not quite enough to distract me emotionally from my plight (and the plight of everyone else in this world). We are, after all, living in the midst of multi-facted existential crises and I don’t know about you, but I need strong medicine for prolonged high threat situations.

One of Fredrickson’s articles was critiqued for the maths used by her co-author, M.F. Losada, in Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing (American Psychologist, 2005). Here is her response to that critique). I notice that pleasure/sexual desire/lust are positive emotions that are not included in the above table. As a sexologist, I say it’s important to not deny those sources of positive feeling, but for some of us shutting down might be easier than being in touch with our desires and physical needs. If that’s the case, opening back up again may take some work in a safer post-pandemic world. Fantasies, fandom, erotica (yes, that too!), music, performance, and dance might allow those who have shut down to open back up again.

Speaking of Gratitude

My experience of gratitude as an emotion is less intellectual when I think of what I’ve been lucky enough to access. Aside from long-distance connections with family and friends, here are my personal shout-outs to some of the things that have kept me emotionally nourished in these last several months (in no particular order):

AMUSEMENTINTERESTINSPIRATION
The Untamed series on NetflixThe Untamed The Untamed
Videos of Chinese street dancing performances & swordplay choreographyMy own writing – novel & blogFantasy casting of my characters
Dragula (three seasons)Daniel Foor’s courses thru ancestralmedicine.orgAlso Daniel Foor’s courses
The work of Disasterina & Ave RoseStudy of magic, witchery & sorceryAidan Wachter’s books
My seven catsBooks on pandemics & historyNorse Loki Laufeyjarson
Cat videosReading Covid-19 researchNaNoWriMo.org
Sea shanties on TikTokCreating & teaching hypnosis coursesMovements for social justice & enviromental action
The Gallery of Regrettable FoodGenealogy & ancestor workDreaming, meditation & trancework
Succumbing to geeky fandom without shameCo-hosting a podcastFavorite authors
The local turkey flock in my yardPlotting escape from Lake CountyHow my kids are handling all this
Some ways I access positive emotions.

I hope this blog post helps other people understand how they can engage in conscious cultivation of positive emotions. Please let me know if anything is particularly helpful, using the comments features. Thanks!

☽☆☾

Isolation Consolation

Hey, wow! I’ve just spent 3/4 of 2020 in near total physical isolation and here it is, finally 2021. Is this the year I’ll finally be able to be in proximity to my children? I haven’t seen the eldest since November 2019 and the youngest since March 2020, right before lockdown. In this time, I’ve taken less than ten masked and socially-distanced walks with a neighbor, had three masked and socially-distanced outdoor visits (early on), and have exchanged brief pleasantries with grocery store clerks. I had to call a plumber once, but opened all the windows and made sure he was masked. I’ve also cancelled all in-person doctor appointments since my last dermatology, post-melanoma mole check.

A still from short video, Santaphilia.

If not for my seven cats, social media, and frequent phone calls and zooms with family and friends, I’d be a raving lunatic by now. Seriously. Though I’m an introvert and need plenty of alone time/down time after socializing, I am not made for this extreme deprivation, this near-total lack of actual human contact. How much longer will this last?

Answer: as long as it has to. I have no interest in catching (or transmitting) Covid-19.

The French novelist, Colette, once lived in a Paris apartment where someone had glued thousands of tiny diamond-shaped pieces of colored paper to all the walls. She wrote that she found it best to not think too much about the mental state of the person who had given way to such an obsession. Earlier this morning I found myself on the cold, vinyl-covered floor hand-tinting the recent concrete patch around the hearth, so that it would blend more with the creek stones and aged concrete. That’s not nearly on a par with tiny, diamond-shaped pieces of paper–but who knows what I’ll be painting, gluing, or cultivating as the long months of solitude roll by?

The fabulous Disasterina took herself out of a pandemic funk by creating small demon sculptures, telling stories about them, and planting them in her front yard to the consternation of the neighbors. She also launched a podcast, Tasty Ear Bits. (Go listen!) Meanwhile, her wife, Ave Rose, is launching a museum of mechanical marvels. A good friend of mine just confessed to cutting their own hair on New Year’s Eve while drunk. Another friend got a cat but he can’t think of a name yet. My publisher fled to Mexico. What’ll it be for me? Self-administered stick and poke tattoos? I’ve got some India ink around here somewhere. Images of Terminator II’s Sarah Conner, obsessively working out in captivity, flit through my mind. Nah… I’m too old and my range of motion is going downhill fast. Soft tissue injuries are not on my “2021 bingo card,” as people say.

I did do a thing or two last year. In the spring, I packed up almost all my books as I put my house up for sale. In August I had a buyer, packed some more, and almost moved to Eugene, Oregon–but the buyer pulled out at the last minute. (Argh!). Two days later, the California wildfires started in this and neighboring counties. In September I took the house off the market, anticipating a covid-ridden season, not wanting to endure strangers coughing on mother’s antique sofa. I continued to do long-distance counseling and hypnosis.

In October I finished my first three novels and sent them to the publisher. In November, NaNoWriMo was my favorite obsession for relieving my tension, both pre- and post-election. The first draft of book number four (The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits) is now well underway.

In December I made a short, silly video about Santaphilia, which debuted on Disasterina and Ave Rose’s ‘Tis the Sleazon performance for TSTVHQ.com. Here’s a NSFW (not safe for work) video of the highlights of ‘Tis the Sleazon–and oh joy, they used my piece! I’m beyond honored!

Still from short video, Santaphilia.

More ways to avoid cutting pieces of paper into tiny diamond shapes: My co-host, M. Christian, and I switched our Love’s Outer Limits podcast over to anchor.fm. Here’s our episode interviewing Disasterina and Ave Rose. However, we kind of lost our podcast momentum after Samhain.

And even though I became immersed in the incredible Chinese love story, The Untamed–watching all fifty episodes five times!–I also found time to make new friends and pester the old. (Or was it the other way around?) I reunited with a friend from sixth grade, became closer with the friend who also shares my love of Dragula and The Untamed, and cultivated a special long-distance relationship. I also reviewed a book for a colleague and taught two 15-week, online hypnosis classes to students.

But it was so hard to blog. This was partially due to working more on the novels, and collecting all the information I could about the pandemic, but also from being a member of that select group of people deemed disposable–seniors and disabled people who might as well die from Covid-19 according to the U.S. government (and let’s not forget the BIPOC who are also–always–treated the same way). It’s extremely demoralizing, not to mention dangerous, to live in such a nation. So in spite of the accomplishments I list above, there were many long hours and days when I could only curl up in sadness and worry (and binge watch The Untamed).

As the November elections neared, I couldn’t stop doomscrolling. In the county around me, anti-maskers and Covid deniers made loud, stupid noises–intimidating some members of the county board of supervisors and emboldening a sheriff who refuses to cite businesses who don’t comply with public health regulations. During a rare errand, I had a maskless woman walk into my personal space (less than six feet of social distance) and harangue me for worrying about catching Covid. I could not make her shut up or go away. The…ignorance…and entitlement…is literally breathtaking.

As this blog is mostly about esoteric and spiritual stuff, I guess I’ll mention that the torpor and isolation of pandemic life also took a toll on my daily practices. I often found it hard to muster the necessary focus and interest. Easier to just watch Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan battle zombie “puppets” and evil masterminds while barely admitting their forbidden love. Looking back, I regret letting my daily practices wither–just when I needed them most–and am now trying to get back in the groove. And surprisingly, a new deity has appeared as a possible ally among the folks I already work with and I’m considering reconnecting with another spirit. I’m setting up altars again (after packing things away in anticipation of moving) and I’m dancing more. I badly need to recapture the range of motion, flexibility, and stamina I’ve lost during this long confinement.

I also want to mention the immense comfort and intellectual/spiritual insights offered by Daniel Foor via AncestralMedicine.com. His pandemic series (Bring Out Your Dead and Kindling the Need Fire) as well as his course in Animist Psychology have given me exactly what I needed during this time.

There are so many others–friends and influences–who have been a treasured part of my life during this period. I can’t mention them all. But here’s to my cats–Popoki, Niblet, Freya, Varda, Kia’i, Keola, and Arya–who are the best companions I could have in times both good and bad. It’s so wonderful to be part of a feline “pod.”

Finally, I’ll name my “most truest one,” the deity to whom I am oathed: Loki Laufeyjarson. He has “held the bowl” for me during the worst moments of 2020, and provides much needed inspiration, instruction, and humor as well. Hail!

☆☽☀️☾⭐︎