Friday, March 15, 2019

Learned Behaviour

I wake up and realize that- for me, anyway- Spring Break has truly begun. It's just Friday, but my work week tends to be front-loaded, and Friday/Saturday are my days. I snuggle down in my bed and relax. My apartment tends to be under-heated, but in the perfect pair of Alpaca socks (and the space kitty onesie), I am cozy and warm. 

Most days I would cruise Instagram for a while, but since I've mostly abandoned Facebook, that "while" has been creeping up and up. Recently I realized that I was often on there for over an hour a day. An hour a day! Not acceptable. Even my YouTube hero Casey Neistat has recently said he spends too much time scrolling through social media on his phone. If he can cut back, anyone can. So now I  pay attention to the warning on the app that tells me when I've been on there for fifteen minutes... and when that fifteen minutes hits, I stop. No ifs, ands, or buts. Less time on social media is one of my Big Goals this year, so making this change is necessary. I'm learning, slowly, to make changes so I'm less addicted to social media. It's amazing how quickly I don't miss it. A few days are usually enough. Always scary how fast you can get re-addicted, though. 

Instead of mindlessly phone-scrolling, I read a friend's blog. She hasn't been writing as often, so it's a delight to see that she's back... and in Spain, no less. A playwright by trade, she has a wonderful knack of painting a scene with some well-chosen words. I decide to update my own, with some ideas that have been floating around in my head for a while now.

But first: le Francais. Another change. My mother and I sat down in January and plotted out a summer trip to Europe. Not only plotted, but put down some $$$ on plane tickets and AirBnBs. Paris, Bruges, Berlin, and Prague await! We are determined to be able to order food in German and French. (Flemish and Czech? Well, I'm determined to know "please" and "thank" you in those two.) So as I write this blog I'm also doing French lessons on Duolingo, where a happy owl dances delightedly whenever I finish a lesson. My mother has embraced German with a passion, but I find French more fun, since thanks to my Canadian education I already know some. 

More changes: the goals I put on my bedroom wall on post-it notes wave in their colourful way as I get out of bed. Since it was the first  time I'd ever done anything like this, I made the mistake of putting a lot of long-term goals up there, but not as many short-term ones. So, lofty goals like stop using paper cups, write a song a month, and write the first draft of your play will likely be up there on the wall for the whole year. It does not escape my attention that fitness goals (do a bike challenge; do yoga every day for a month) and writing goals (make notes for future playwrite songs for future play) are getting accomplished a lot faster than theatre or music goals. Form a new band? The current one hasn't accomplished much yet this year. Get headshots? Too expensive. Theatre is once again on the back burner as I immerse myself in music teaching. 

Good thing I didn't walk away from it, as I was tempted to do this winter. High on the success of Fiddler on the Roof, plus two other large productions, I pictured a successful return to freelancing, with no more teaching. Ha. I chafed against teaching life the first few weeks I was back, missing the applause, missing the camaraderie of my cast-mates, missing the easy routine: Show up and try to be excellent, every day. Okay. In teaching, the routine is more like, Show up and try not to murder anyone. Or, Try not to expose the gaping holes in your knowledge. 

I love it though. Teaching. I learn to love it more every year and it's hard-won love, which makes it more special. It's never easy but sometimes now it feels wholly right, in the way that performing does. 

Back to the Goals. When one gets accomplished, I peel the post-it note off my bedroom wall, fold it up, and stick in in a big jar, along with other post-it notes which have particularly happy or important moments written on them. The idea is that at the end of 2019 I will have a jar full of wonderful goals and happy moments to read about. That jar sits next to a much smaller tin which is slowly filling with money. Another new thing: all twonies and loonies are put in the tin, which has Croissant Fund written on it. By the time the Europe trip rolls around I hope to have several hundred dollars in coins, which will buy me delicious French pastries. I am learning new behaviour around money, at this advanced age. I am learning to make do with a little less now, in order to have a little more later. 

One of the reasons I gave up on Facebook: almost no one's story ever changes. You can take a break for months and when you come back, everyone is still posting the exact same thing. I am trying to change my story a little bit, with goals and French lessons and saving money. Some things are harder to change than others:
I will stop eating all sugar
I will drink nothing but green smoothies for breakfast
I will stop eating croissants and bread until Europe
I will exercise every other day
I will do yoga and try not to outgrow any of my clothes. 
Still some work to do here, obviously.  

Sometimes our stories change drastically for sad reasons: death, divorce. Sometimes we make decisions that change the course of our lives, like one of my favourite bloggers recently did. Our stories don't have to change at all. But getting stuck in a rut is so easy: we blame having kids, we blame being poor, we blame our jobs, and we never change. And that's lame, quite honestly. 

Recently I was in a music class of kids with autism, and as always, we asked a check-in question. What do you like to learn? we asked, and a hulking teenaged boy answered I like to learn about social skills, and my heart just melted. People with autism often struggle to learn social cues and behaviour that neurotypical people take for granted. This guy has identified a challenge and he's out there learning about it. I love that. It drives me crazy when people say I hate parties. I'm socially awkward. I'm shy. Adulting is hard.* 
You know what you can do? Learn. Practice. Change your story, little by little. Go to parties. Learn to make polite conversation. Practice. Call a friend instead of watching Netflix for hours. Practice. This is learned behaviour. If people with autism can do it, so can you/I.

*These are all things I have said, by the way. 

It's now 10:45am. I am still in bed. On the plus side: I wrote, I stayed off social media. On the minus side: I am still in bed. I will get up soon, and I will probably not have a green smoothie for breakfast. I will think about what parts of my story I want to change and hopefully I'll keep practicing and saving money and staying off Facebook/Instagram and doing yoga and I'll immerse myself in the daily business of not getting into a rut.