Never in the History of Calming Down …

First things first, this is funny! It’s funny because there’s truth in it, and based on how widely it was shared, it must be truth a lot of us can recognise!

I can’t read this without vivid memories of past arguments with girlfriends. While I was trying to figure out what was wrong and what I could do about it, she was this confusing, upsetting ball of emotions. I would get overwhelmed and frustrated (and eventually angry) because I didn’t really have any emotional tools to engage with her in a way which got me what I wanted (to understand what was wrong and what needed to be done about it).

Even now after too many relationships, a career as a manager, a whole lot of spiritual work and plenty of time to reflect and practice; Tink can generate emotion faster than I can process it. She can go from happy, to upset, to angry, to crying and back to calm much faster than I can keep up. By the time she’s calm again, I’m still figuring out what made her angry, what she needs, how I feel about that, what I need and how to talk about it.

As long as we both remember this, it mostly works out. I hold her hand while she’s doing her thing, then she holds mine as I’m doing my thing, and then we work together to figure it out. For “extra credit”, sometimes we repeat this cycle a few times in the process of figuring it out. :-)

Over longer periods this pattern can be more complicated. Early in our relationship, we (but especially Tink) went through a really tough patch. Because Tink could process emotion so much faster than me, by the time she needed to talk again, I was still only part way through processing our previous conversation. After a few months, my emotional bucket was constantly full and I started to get frustrated, and then angry when she tried to talk to me. I didn’t have room for any new emotion until I’d had a chance to process what was already in my bucket. Interestingly it was my anger which provided the clues I needed to figure it out.

Anger has been one of the big learnings in my life. The most important thing I have learned about my anger comes from Karla McLaren (summarised and interpreted by me, read the link if you want her version!):

I get angry when one of my boundaries is threatened.
With the anger comes the energy I need to take action.
If I use this energy to repair the boundary, my anger will go away.

Once I realised I was angry and had a chance to consider why I was feeling unsafe, I understood that my bucket was full and I needed a break to emotionally catch up. The hardest part was that I had to talk to Tink about this. At a time when she needed the most support, I had to tell her that actually, I couldn’t be there for everything. I felt like a failure and that I was betraying her trust. I had to ask anyway,“I understand that you need to talk and I want to be here to support you, but right now I’m really overwhelmed and need a break. Could you sometimes talk to a friend instead of me?”

None of this was as easy, as simple or as obvious as it sounds now. In fact, it was pretty messy, but we had the conversation and found a way that worked well enough for both of us. We got through the hard time.

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to where I started. Calming down.

In retrospect I understand that all those times when I was asking people to calm down, what I was trying to say was “please slow down, I can’t keep up”.

Learning to ask people important to me to calm down, in a way which is useful for both of us, has been a forty-two-year adventure.

Five Years

In December 2009 I quit my job at Weta Digital and headed off into the unknown. It was amazing. I spent a few months travelling aimlessly, a year studying yoga, a year living on permaculture farms, a year living on intentional communities and a year and half making a new home with Tink on her 12 acres on the Kāpiti Coast.

Today, today I signed a contract to go back to Weta Digital to help wrap up the hobbitses. So starting on Wednesday, and through to the end of October, I’ll be in town a lot more than I have been recently. The end of a movie isn’t the best time to plan a social life, but perhaps I’ll get to spend some more time with Wellington friends than I have in the last couple of years?

I am slightly embarrassed to announce this a week after Reece’s lovely video did the rounds, however financial reality has (finally) set in. My hope is that a short stint back in Miramar will get us through the quiet December/January period, pay off our credit cards and then life can go back to “normal” in 2015.

We’ve got plans for next year, and I’m looking forward to it!

A Realistic Calendar for New Zealand

If you are new to New Zealand perhaps this calendar will help prepare you for the local progression of seasons. :-)

I originally made this calendar specifically for Wellington, but it seems that much of New Zealand identifies with it so I renamed it.

Building a Cabin from a Shipping Container

People are talking about building tiny houses and cabins out of containers a lot recently. I built a cabin from a shipping container in 2012 to use as my primary (tiny) home. I only got it to fairly basic standards (basically an insulated box with two sets of doors) before the community I was living in collapsed and I moved out and sold it.

I’ve written my thoughts up for a couple of friends but have been meaning to do a better write up for ages. Here are the basic lessons I learned:

  • Containers aren’t a particularly cheap way to build, but they are really fast. I got mine to it’s finished state with less than a weeks work (of about 1.5 people).
  • It’s not particularly hard, but work with a builder if you can, they are amazingly fast.
  • If you’re planning on living in it for the long haul, pay the extra for a hi-cube which gives you an extra 30cm of vertical space.
  • There’s no way to know what the container was used to transport and some of them are used to transport seriously toxic shit.
  • If you care about potential toxicity sandblast the steel walls and either cut out the plywood flour (not a very pleasant job) or investigate epoxy encapsulation of the floor.
  • Containers are surprisingly expensive to move.

Overall I wouldn’t do it again unless for some reason I needed something fast and wanted to be able to sell it off fairly easily later. The research I did on toxicity didn’t leave me feeling comfortable, but I may be precious.

If I was going to build something like this again I would do it differently:

  • If I wanted cheap I’d build with cob, earthbag or maybe straw bale.
  • If I wanted super portable, I’d kit out a bus (extra annoying since I’m tall, but possible).
  • If I wanted comfortable but easy to transport I’d get a yurt.
  • If I wanted a transportable living space in or near a city I’d get a boat.

My analysis is that containers fall in the worst gaps of all of those. They aren’t particularly cheap, they aren’t particularly easy or cheap to move and they are potentially toxic.

One awesome thing you can do with containers is cantilever them. I have two designs that I’d love to build that would be super easy with containers … but over all I think it will be better to do it another way.

YMMV.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

During the last couple of years of my marriage I understood that the only chance I had to save my marriage was to learn to use language more effectively. I began experimenting, initially subconsciously, with how I could express myself in ways which weren't destructive to the fragile remnants of our relationship. It was an ultimately doomed process but one that taught me a lot about the power of language. I learned a lot about why things went wrong, but never quite made sense of why things sometimes “went right”.

A couple of years later I was introduced to Marshall Rosenberg's “Nonviolent Communication”. As I watched the workshop videos and later read this book, I felt as if I had been slapped by the inevitable. Here, laid out simply and clearly was exactly what I had been trying to teach myself. I'd been on the right path but had only taken baby steps towards my desired goal. To see the ideas I'd been fumbling with expressed so clearly was shocking. To see them demonstrated so effectively in a workshop setting, and having exactly the effect I'd hoped for, was extraordinary.

There was another piece of learning for me in this, Marshall's concept of empathy. In the time following my separation I talked fairly openly about my experience, however I was always extremely frustrated by the interactions. Most people were sympathetic, some wanted to assure me I'd done everything I could and a few wanted to tell me what I'd done wrong. Yet all of these conversations left me oddly untouched. I was talking about something extremely important to me, and for some reason the responses I was getting felt empty and meaningless.

It was incredibly frustrating. I knew I had to talk about it, I knew I was hurt from the experience and I suspected that talking (and time) were the only things which were going to help. Yet none of the talking seemed to mean anything. The most meaningful thing I learned was simply that I was not alone. Lots of friends had a divorce in their past. Even more had struggled with the drinking habits of a partner or relative. But this understanding didn't help resolve anything in me.

Empathy in the context of Nonviolent Communication is the idea that simply being aware and present with another person can be healing. As I was listening to Marshall talk about and demonstrate empathy, suddenly I knew what it was that I'd been looking for in all those interactions. I didn't need anybody to tell me that I'd done the right thing, or the wrong thing. I didn't need anybody to tell me that it was going to get better in time. I just needed somebody who could listen and understand. Somebody to share the experience of what I was going through. As I began to understand this need in myself, I also started to understand that when people came to me I offered advice, sympathy and criticism. How rarely I provided this sort of empathy for others shocked me.

Reading this book, and watching his workshop videos, was a profound experience for me. I can't recommend this book enough to anybody who is struggling with a relationship and wants to learn to use their language more effectively.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

During the last couple of years of my marriage I understood that the only chance I had to save my marriage was to learn to use language more effectively. I began experimenting, initially subconsciously, with how I could express myself in ways which weren't destructive to the fragile remnants of our relationship. It was an ultimately doomed process but one that taught me a lot about the power of language. I learned a lot about why things went wrong, but never quite made sense of why things sometimes “went right”.

A couple of years later I was introduced to Marshall Rosenberg's “Nonviolent Communication”. As I watched the workshop videos and later read this book, I felt as if I had been slapped by the inevitable. Here, laid out simply and clearly was exactly what I had been trying to teach myself. I'd been on the right path but had only taken baby steps towards my desired goal. To see the ideas I'd been fumbling with expressed so clearly was shocking. To see them demonstrated so effectively in a workshop setting, and having exactly the effect I'd hoped for, was extraordinary.

There was another piece of learning for me in this, Marshall's concept of empathy. In the time following my separation I talked fairly openly about my experience, however I was always extremely frustrated by the interactions. Most people were sympathetic, some wanted to assure me I'd done everything I could and a few wanted to tell me what I'd done wrong. Yet all of these conversations left me oddly untouched. I was talking about something extremely important to me, and for some reason the responses I was getting felt empty and meaningless.

It was incredibly frustrating. I knew I had to talk about it, I knew I was hurt from the experience and I suspected that talking (and time) were the only things which were going to help. Yet none of the talking seemed to mean anything. The most meaningful thing I learned was simply that I was not alone. Lots of friends had a divorce in their past. Even more had struggled with the drinking habits of a partner or relative. But this understanding didn't help resolve anything in me.

Empathy in the context of Nonviolent Communication is the idea that simply being aware and present with another person can be healing. As I was listening to Marshall talk about and demonstrate empathy, suddenly I knew what it was that I'd been looking for in all those interactions. I didn't need anybody to tell me that I'd done the right thing, or the wrong thing. I didn't need anybody to tell me that it was going to get better in time. I just needed somebody who could listen and understand. Somebody to share the experience of what I was going through. As I began to understand this need in myself, I also started to understand that when people came to me I offered advice, sympathy and criticism. How rarely I provided this sort of empathy for others shocked me.

Reading this book, and watching his workshop videos, was a profound experience for me. I can't recommend this book enough to anybody who is struggling with a relationship and wants to learn to use their language more effectively.


2014 by adam shand. sharing is an act of love, please share.