I was about to start this review by talking about a thing I realized in therapy recently, until I read my review from last year and could see that I was talking about it back then too. Here it is anyway.
Recently (aka over the last year or two), I’ve realized that my default solution to every personal challenge in life has been to craft a better mask. I think of masks as personality constructs that we can put on and use as an identity accessory that helps us fit in, avoid discomfort, reduce insecurity, get things done, etc. Perhaps you are familiar with these masks I speak of? Hmmm… 🤔
I can pinpoint specific moments in my childhood where the experience of being my whole, authentic, undefended self was super confusing and painful. Because it was just the way I was, and I hadn’t explicitly chosen to be that way, the feedback seemed to be telling me that I was doing something wrong… that I should be different than I was by default. And so I, like many, took this idea to heart without a second thought. Done. Having this handy tool to redirect confusion and pain into various scripts, programs, and performances was LIFE-CHANGING. Perhaps even life-saving, in some ways. It felt that way at least. The feedback slowly improved. I could, it turns out, belong / fit in / feel accepted by others if I crafted these masks right. Success!
Masks create protective distance between the soft gooey feelings that bubble up in me (may I also add that they arrive without a friendly hello much less an instruction manual for what I’m supposed to do with them) and the crisp and impatient demands of the external world (chop chop!). I cower in the middle trying to mediate this tense and awkward relationship, and over time as the masks have piled up I have tended to side more and more with the external world. Because soft gooey feelings are illegible, and weird, and uncomfortable, and did I say gooey? And there are all kinds of complicated emotions wrapped up in them that bust out like the Kool-Aid Man at the least convenient times.
I mean, I changed my name. Twice. What better way to mask than to sever ties from our own name? I’ve often had this strong desire for a clean slate. To be free of all the gooey blobbity blop of the unresolved, unintelligible past. Every time I’ve moved or started a new job or met a new person I’ve tried to do so with a cleaner, crisper, more relatable mask. Even these annual reviews in a way are subtle attempts to refine my collection of masks to be more legible and accepted in the world. 🤯
Underneath this drive has been this deep-seated belief that there was something truly awful lurking in the gooey, illegible, monstrous void that had been last seen causing all kinds of confusion and pain during various glimpses of my childhood.
It wasn’t until a pandemic, a divorce, job burnout, health issues, heartbreak, and basically a collapse of my industrial masking system complex occurred that I took a step beyond talk therapy, beyond somatic therapy, and sought out some ✨psychedelic-assisted therapy✨. It was an hour or so into my first ketamine + MDMA journey that I was asked “So, why don’t you just come clean and tell me what is so secretly awful about your most inner self.”
HORROR UPON HORRORS! But, to my surprise… I was not only able to entertain the question, but to also find the answer under all the defenses, and to share it. The answer was not unlike this passage in The Little Prince.
“Why are you drinking? “ the little prince asked.
“In order to forget” replied the drunkard.
“To forget what?” enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
“To forget that I am ashamed” the drunkard confessed, hanging his head.
“Ashamed of what?” asked the little prince who wanted to help him.
“Ashamed of drinking!” concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.
And the little prince went away, puzzled.
“Grown-ups really are very, very odd”, he said to himself as he continued his journey.
The most awful secret about me™ is that I’m hiding under a pile of masks, and use masks to hide this awful secret from everyone. Dun dun dunnnnnn. And this is a runaway feedback loop creating an infinite hall of scripts, programs, and strategies to hide the fact that I’m hiding. Enter: mask tower of cards collapse.
An aside: In my research, exploration, and discussion of this dynamic with others, I’ve learned a lot about autism and masking, and autistic burnout, which all sounds very similar to what I’m describing. I actually don’t know if I’m autistic or not, but maybe? 🤷♂️ It’s safe to say that I’m certainly a bit… neurodiverse. Let’s go with that for now. That said, I feel like this phenomenon probably happens to all kinds of people, basically anyone that gets wind of this snazzy masking tool early on and then leans on it hard for a couple decades.
SO THAT HAPPPENED
And then what? Well, it’s been a process of de-masking. I think this is what I was actually talking about in my annual review 2 years ago where my word was reconstellate, which I defined as:
Reconstellate: v. the potentially foolish act of dismantling various constellations (not only of stars but also of identity and worldview) in order to create space for new constellations to be formed.
The idea of dismantling all of these mental constructs that we have never questioned and using those pieces to create new constellations that feel more grounded, authentic, whole… hmmmm… 🤔.
At the time I wasn’t even sure what would happen when all of these lovingly crafted masks were dismantled. Is there anybody under there anymore? Or has that tiny blip of a human soul been snuffed out and now it’s just animatronic dancing masks all the way down?
For a while there, this was a genuine question that I continued to explore with an array of therapeutic options. Spoiler alert: turns out I was still there. And I was still gooey and illegible. But… and this is the realization about mask life that I was not prepared to discover… the gooey feelings-y awkward part of myself is actually way more alive and healthy and delighted about basically everything than mask life has been.
🍎 In mask life everything is enjoyed through narrative progress, plot, cause-and-effect, earning status, paying debt, acquiring success, credit, and riches. It fits well with school, career, relationship goals, family goals, politics, sports, games, heroic quests, and battles between good and evil.
🍊 In gooey life, on the other hand, everything is enjoyed through simply having the pleasure of being alive and having this shared moment to participate in the wild chaotic dance of life with everyone else.
And the flavor of enjoyment in the first case vs the second case is akin to reading an ancient text about enjoyment written 5,000 years ago vs directly experiencing it in the moment.
These posts usually have some structure to them but I’m kind of winging it this time and hopping wherever I feel like hopping. That’s the CHALANT way (which we will get to next). We live in a world where it’s futile to try to keep anyone’s attention for more than half a tweet anyway, so in a way this frees us to be as long-winded and windy as I wish. Hi. Do you need a glass of water? A bathroom break or stretch? Wanna take 5 and come back to this? I’ll put on some chill hold music.
WHOLE AND BROKEN AT THE SAME TIME
After dismantling masks and constellations and realizing that being alive is gooey and doesn’t have to be legible to myself, much less others, what does one do? There is no script or program available for the task of living without scripts and programs. Thar’s the rub! My word of the year last year was blagenflorble (now breaking into truly illegible territory) which I defined as it relates to a blagenflorble heart:
A blagenflorble heart isn’t concerned with repairing itself after every heartbreak. That is an ultimately futile task. Instead, a blagenflorble heart is about expanding the awareness of our hearts to allow ourselves to be both whole and broken at the same time. It’s about shifting from a mindset of feeling only one emotion at a time (and laboring to repair it each time it is hurt), to allowing all of the emotions to co-exist simultaneously, and being able to zoom in on each of them without negating the others.
When I let go of making sense of my feelings to myself and others, I can just have all of them at once. Ah… what sweet and simple relief that is! Masks try to make things make sense for others, so they require us to create stories and explanations and justifications for how we’re feeling. The sad irony is that this prevents us from just feeling the feelings that we’re having, and listening to what they are trying to tell us! Turns out: THAT’S A PROBLEM. And it creates all kinds of other second-order feelings and stories about where they came from, whether they’re justified, whether you’re allowed to have them, etc. Fuck all that! As a good friend said in a blissful moment of direct honest kindness, “Own your fucking feelings, BUSTER.”
Instead of being a hyper-vigilant feelings manager, routing feelings to stories and judging them from an external perspective to see if they are “worth sharing”, I began to see feelings as messages from different parts of my self and I rolled out the red carpet and invited each one, one at a time, to a long late night chat in our pajamas with tea and mint and chip ice cream.
TLDR: IT WAS A LOT.
One of the strange side effects of doing this is that I’ve gotten access to a bunch of my forgotten or dismissed memories from various moments in life. Times where something strange or confusing happened that made me feel shame or guilt or fear or confusion of some kind, along with a voice in my head saying, “You shouldn’t feel that, you’re doing something wrong. Just fix it!” And little moments like when my father, probably having some stressful moment of his own, dismissed some expression of emotion with “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I don’t remember it being said particularly harshly — and I 100% know that words like that have come out of my mouth at my kids many a time — but, for whatever reason, these words STUCK. And early on as I was inviting these feelings forward, I would hear a voice say, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” And this voice had a deep authority that I never questioned. But, now, given that I’m in my mid-40s and not my mid-0s and have a bit more patience with internal discomfort, I began to respond with “But that’s exactly what I will be doing, thank you.” And that little part of myself that felt confused about whether I was doing something wrong would feel a bit of relief, and the feelings these parts have carried for 30 or 40 years can finally be felt and integrated and listened to for the messages they had originally intended to carry. There may have been some tears involved. Perhaps maybe even some ugly crying. But, also: messages received! They were good messages. The messages weren’t about revealing some deeply awful secret about my irredeemable flaws, but quite the opposite… they were just confused questions that needed a hug and to be seen and accepted. 😭
With a blagenflorble heart, I now feel like there’s never a reason to reject a feeling or dismiss an authentic part of myself (or of anyone else!) because it doesn’t feel appropriate or relevant enough. It’s actually quite refreshing for most people, I’ve found, to not have to dance around our shadows and projections constantly. Even if things are a bit more messy in the moment (there’s no script or role to play as a blagenflorble heart) you save 10x or 100x that messiness in the future when you realize that you don’t actually want 90% or 99% of the things you’ve committed to, and could have expressed and addressed this much earlier. Echos of mask burnout are all I need to jolt me back into myself.
THIS YEAR’S WORD: CHALANT! ☄️
This word came to me in a dream. I was standing on a balcony or something, looking out over a mountain range that was almost comically stark and foreboding. And in the dream I SCREAMED at the top of my dream lungs, “CHALAAAAAAAANT!” Like a scream that I pulled up from the center of the Earth, with an intensity that felt like pure cosmic life energy. And as I yelled this word the mountain transformed into a lush, vibrant, fecund, verdant, ridiculous expression of aliveness. It was a cool dream.
Yes, it is also a play on the word nonchalant, which is the opposite of the energy in this dream. CHALANT! is not cool, or casual, or unaffected. CHALANT! is that kind of over-the-top, coming-in-hot, perhaps easy to mistake as overly earnest or awkward, doesn’t always land right, but which is grounded and connected and aware of the dignity and value in everything and everyone. It’s kinda sweaty and gross and awkward but also deeply real. 😅
It is what it is.
I am what I am.
You are what you are.
We are what we are.
No more masks?
For a bit?
One of the most CHALANT! things I’ve done for a while now is maintain a public list of values and beliefs on the internet, along with a list of all changes that I’ve made to it over the last 17 years.
I review it every year at the same time that I write this review (around my birthday) and as I was doing this today I noticed that number 15 in my list of “Values I try to live by” I found this:
15. I value not feeling sorry for myself and avoiding competitive suffering.
When I saw it, I *gasped*. I completely forgot that it was there. Especially since, as you read above, this voice telling me not to feel sorry for myself is one that I’ve been having a heated banter with this year after recovering that old memory. I had to go back into the changelog to verify this, but yes, this has been in the list from the very first list I made in 2007. Number 3! The hit single slot of my list of personal commandments album.
I know why it was there. I have a whole internal story about the ails of competitive suffering, but it’s really tough for me to look at this “Commandment” now and not associate it with my own self-abandonment. So, I’m gonna take these complicated feelings, invite them to a pj party, and figure out how I can respectfully retire that value from my list.
(5 minutes later…)
Okay, sorted. I already have another value on the list that I think more accurately reflects my belief around how I would like to relate to my own feelings and the difficult feelings that other people experience, and it’s in the #1 slot:
1. I value myself, all people, all conscious/living things, as they are, and believe we should participate in the world in a way that lives up to the dignity in each of us.
Including letting me feel sorry for myself sometimes. Definitely. And including seeing the suffering in others with compassion instead of projecting some form of subversive neediness onto them.
Dang. That was kind of messed up.
Looking at the rest of the list, I’m also giving the side-eye 😒 to number 10, even though it was originally one of my favorite ones.
10. I value not dilly-dallying if something needs to be done.
I think 90% of the reason I like this one is because I just like the word dilly-dally. It’s a great word! But… this idea of not dilly-dallying when something “needs” to be done has a bit of that same self-abandonment vibe to it, which now that I’m out of that phase it’s very easy to spot them. So, gotta toss this one in the value bin too. 🥁
After declaring this in last year’s review: “Pet status: none, nope, not getting a pet, don’t try to talk me into it”, I woke up one morning after a difficult all-day therapy session (which did include some psychedelics, but I feel weird continuing to drop this little detail without context — oh well!) and decided I needed a cat. Only later was I told that I’m not supposed to make any big life decisions immediately after these experiences. Sorry not sorry. Pancake is the best.
I’m also making a very quirky, earnest, complicated, opinionated clock that doesn’t use any mental concepts and shows accurate time using only things you can see in the sky, wherever in the world you are.
It’s a fun side project that I work on when my brain can’t do anything else. Every detail is a rabbit hole of nerdy details that I will gladly talk your ear off about next time we’re getting a drink somewhere. My dream is to iterate on this until it feels right to be made into a real clock that I can hang on my wall. Might take a few more years though. The time conspiracy isn’t going anywhere in the meantime.
My tarot collection organized by card and my spreadsheets for classifying them by symbols and characters is certainly a little CHALANT.
CHALANT IN THE WORLD
Since embracing CHALANT I also seem to notice it more out in the world. Here are a few things that have reminded me of the CHALANT vibe recently.
The thing about CHALANT! that I want to take to heart this year is that I want to practice always connecting first with my own feelings and the creative / authentic / caring energy that comes from them. Only then, with that energy, and boundaries to maintain it, will I engage with the external world and its crisp and impatient demands.
By the time I get to the end of these kinds of realizations / promises to myself, they always end up feeling a bit like “duh, of course you should do that, dummy!” But now I know that these kinds of small shifts, while obvious, are tricky to actually integrate and maintain in real life. And part of being CHALANT is about being okay (excited even!) with making a big deal about something that might seem like a small deal when articulated to myself or other people.
So, in a nutshell, CHALANT is about:
- Stop polishing masks to better hide my true, natural, default self
- Being okay with being feelings-y, gooey, unintelligible, inconsistent, and illegible in order to be real
- Caring a lot about small things regardless of whether or not it’s cool or important or interesting to care about those things
- Processing in public (I started doing this with my Ideas I’m Mulling file)
- Yelling at mountains and making them come to life
Thanks for reading all of this! I’d love to hear any reactions or thoughts that sparked for you on this topic.
PAST YEARS IN REVIEW
Here are the previous 16 with high-level notes about what happened in those years:
- 46: A Blagenflorble Heart (2022)
- 45: Year of Reconstellation (2021: pandemic year 2 of ?)
- 44: Year of the Amateur (2020: pandemic starts, Kellianne and I separated)
- 43: All in & with the flow (2019: my book was published)
- 42: Dig deeper (2018: started at Patreon, left Patreon)
- 41: Seek endarkenment (2017)
- 40: Mind the loops (2016: Louie was born, started at Slack)
- 39: Make wiggle room (2015)
- 38: Cultivate quality time (2014)
- 37: More kiloslogs (2013: moved to SF, started at Twitter)
- 36: Talk it out (2012)
- 35: Love the struggle (2011: Health Month became Habit Labs)
- 34: Cultivating the core (2010: Niko was born, created 750 Words and Health Month)
- 33: Frugal to the max (2009)
- 32: No problem (2008: got married, financial markets crashed)
- 31: Double down (2007: changed my name, opened McLeod Residence)
- 30: Higher highs and lower lows (2006)
OTHER BITS AND BOBS
- Age: 47
- Weight: 180lbs
- Book of beliefs / Codex Vitae removed a few stale values I no longer live by, added some weird beliefs to the consciousness section
- Ideas I’m Mulling is a new segment of my codex that is all about tracking ideas that I keep coming back to even though I don’t know exactly where they’re going yet
- Life in Weeks updated with getting Pancake and starting my job at Medium 👋
- Employment status: At Medium (aka here), maintaining 750 Words
- Relationship status: divorced, single
- Living status: 50% custody of Niko and Louie, living in 2-bedroom apartment in South Berkeley
- Mental health status: feeling CHALANT! and overall feeling happy, energized, fulfilled, ready for whatever’s gonna happen next
- Pet status: Pancake 😍
- Financial status: employment has saved my savings account… for now
- Reading now: The Myth of Normal, Gabor Mate (highly recommend!)
- Listening to now: Japanese Breakfast, Janelle Monáe
- Watching: Silo, Ted Lasso, The Shrinking, can’t really rally for Succession’s last season
- Wordle status: still playing, but now trying to only get 3s and 6s (basically having to throw my 4th and 5th guesses if I can’t get it in 3. It’s fun! I have 15 2s, 105 3s, 79 4s, 21 5s, 85 6s and have broken my streak many times.