Friday, November 20, 2015

When feeling bad about yourself is good

I have really good self-esteem. Always have. It's a very useful thing that has served to protect me from some of life's most earnest attempts to crush my soul. Yet even with all this self-confidence floating around, I've still had times when I didn't like myself very much. And you know what? I was right.The times when I've felt the worst about myself have been the times I look back on and go "yep, I was not being a very good version of myself right then". My most frequented corners of the internet are saturated with messages of self-love and self-care, but they're all aimed at people who need them. I don't. I think they're actually bad for me.

When I feel bad about myself, it's usually because I should. It's usually because I'm doing something unhealthy (like not having friends and working in a call center), or I'm so busy and/or stressed that I'm losing track of the things that make me enjoy life and like myself. I feel bad about myself because the person I am right then is not who I want to be. In these cases, the answer is not to coddle myself* or to try and feel better about myself, it's to figure out why I feel bad and deal with the problem.

On the whole, I believe that such constant exposure to the culture of self-care has actually made me weaker, because on some level, I believe the messages I hear. When the internet says 'it's okay if you can't face all that work now', I believe it and take breaks I don't need and don't get things done.

The one tumblr affirmation I really take to heart is this:

I like it because rather than seeming assuring and comforting, it seems accusing. That cat doesn't want to soothe me, it's glaring at me with faint disdain. It's saying "What's the matter with you? You can do this. Pull yourself together." And often enough, that's really the message I need.

(Of course none of this means self-care is bad, unimportant, or people should stop talking about it. It just means I should look at it less.)

*I do not claim that self-care is inherently coddling. I claim that applying self-care practices when they are not needed or helpful is coddling.

Classification and Romance (again)

I'd pretty much given up on romance ever making sense as a concept, but there's been a new round of posts that's got me thinking again. Let me start with computers and work my way back around to romance.

One cool thing that AIs can do is classify things. You stuff in a bunch of things and go "here, classify these", and the AI groups them together into categories. It won't tell you how it's categorizing them, just make groups. This is useful in a variety of ways, categorization being important to learning about the world and all, and one interesting thing you can do with it is feed in data that humans have already classified and compare our categories to the groups the computer comes up with. For example, one study gave English words to an AI and provided example sentences using those words. The AI came up with groupings that matched our categories of 'noun', 'verb', etc. It would also have been interesting if the AI had come up with a different way of categorizing words. Maybe there's some arching commonality between words like "tree", "vertigo", and "conjugate" that we've never noticed.

This idea of categorizing without labeling is a useful one, and between my AI class and my ace blog readings, something coalesced. What if instead of examining my data (feelings, desires, etc.) against other peoples' definitions of romance, I just looked at all my data and tried to group it into meaningful categories, not worrying about what to call them?

When I did that there was a very obvious group of feelings which stood out. If I apply the name 'romance' to that category, it immediately gives me a rich vocabulary for explaining my experiences. I feel romantic love for Hats and Flowers. That awkward period of time with Flowers was awkward because they felt romantically about me, but I hadn't developed romantic feelings for them yet. I've had crushes. This is very useful.

Or rather, part of it is useful. What's useful about labeling my experiences that way isn't actually the label, it's grouping similar experiences together so I can understand them in the context of one another. The label is only useful if I want to talk about it, but I'm not so sure that 'romance' a good label to use for this category. Romance as a term comes with a lot of assumptions, many of which I don't like. It comes back to the same problem I had before: Are these experiences and feelings close enough to what other people mean by 'romance' that I want to describe them using that word?

I'm trying not to care. Whether that category is best labeled romantic or platonic or something else entirely, it's useful for me just to have identified its existence explicitly. I'll probably come back to worry away at it later. No matter how much I try to be content in my grey area, I always come back to the question "what is this relationship?" and my analytical brain can't stop trying to classify things.