Right Speech and Door-Slamming

A wooden door to a crumbling, sunny building.
Photo by mhobl via Creative Commons on Flickr.

There’s a concept in Buddhism called “right speech.” It involves being truthful, while minimizing the pain your words cause others. There’s good info on this and other Buddhist ethical concepts here.

The flip side of “right speech” is “right listening.” Here, Beth Roth discusses how she and her teenage son have negotiated their increasingly difficult communication.

In the Buddhist view, speech can be ethical or unethical. “Right speech” is supposed to share truth, be timed appropriately, and be given with a warm intention. This can be hard when we’re telling someone about something they’ve done that upsets us.

I struggle with letting small annoyances or minorly hurt feelings accumulate, and then blowing up at someone when the pressure has built up too much. This isn’t healthy, and I’m working on finding better ways to express when I’m feeling frustrated, or when something that someone said or did isn’t sitting right with me.

Otherwise, these feelings fester. It’s like carrying a slow-burning acid-filled coal deep in my gut. Eventually it’s going to turn into hot bile and spew out.

My cousin, who like me is a Myers-Briggs INFJ, says that those with our personality type are prone to “door-slamming.” We’re mostly serene, let a lot of stuff slide that we don’t like—and then, when someone crosses a line with us, that’s it. Friendship over.

I’m not proud of that tendency, but I do see it in myself.

A teacher I was working with recently has elements of his instructional style that I take issue with. After several months of being aware of this, I finally broached the subject. The conversation went badly—we were both upset, and I didn’t feel that he heard what I was saying.

It’s unclear if I’ll return to his class, even though there was much in it to enjoy and value. At this point, I don’t feel trust or comfort with him, so I’ll probably never go back. I door-slammed.

Do you ever slam doors? When it is effective and healthy, and when it is not?

Can “right speech” (and “right listening”) help prevent door-slamming?

Strength, Part 1: Hard Versus Strong

A woman stands with a man flexing his arms behind her, so that it looks like his arms are growing out of her shoulders.
by vaibhav ahuja via Creative Commons on Flickr.

On a series I just watched, the main character’s mom criticizes her adult daughter’s cold way of speaking to her family. “You’re very hard,” the mom says. “You think it’s strength. It’s not the same thing.”

In our culture, we often use hard and strong interchangeably. For men, being able to get an erection (“get hard”) is equated with being a real man—with strength. We describe people with strong muscles using metaphors from machinery and car racing: someone is “torqued” or “ripped,” and their belly is a “six-pack” (all imagery relating to hard objects, from a race car to beer cans).

So what’s the difference between hard and strong, emotionally speaking?

If you’re genuinely a hard person, you don’t care for others, or even register when your words or actions cause them pain. You shield your own wounds by numbing yourself. You build walls that keep you safe, and keep others away.

Strength, on the other hand, involves vulnerability. The researcher Brené Brown has made the study of vulnerability her life’s work. The Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön describes enlightenment as the slow, repetitive process of taking our armor off.

What can we do when we feel the world hardening us?

How can we keep taking off our armor, when others carry such sharp and stealthy weapons?

No answers here, people. Just stuff I’m thinking over, in these days of a terrifying presidential race, when nothing’s true unless you tag it with the correct emoji, and the air is thick with the ferric odor of irony.*

Over the next few posts, I’m going to be sorting through some ideas about the various ways people can be strong. Chime in if you have ideas. We all need all the help we can get.

*I shoplifted those last 5 words from the Stephen King novel The Dark Half.

Which Way to Go?

Two paths in a wood diverge around a tree.

Photo by Carsten Tolkmit via Creative Commons on Flickr.

I’m deciding whether or not to keep this website going.

Over the last six months, I’ve been posting rarely. I like what I’ve written, but it’s been feeling like a chore.

Several factors are contributing to this.

I’m not thinking so much these days about being childfree/childless/not having kids. It’s still a big part of who I am, but I’m also seeing routes to becoming a parent someday (whether as a stepmom, or through fostering/adoption).

This may not happen. I enjoy my independence.

But I don’t want to define myself by what I don’t have, and am not. And as I continue to date and meet new men, I don’t want them coming here and making assumptions about where our future together could go.

Also, my mind is busy with a variety of new subjects. I’ve started taking graduate business courses, and am becoming fascinated by the power of capitalism to create and solve problems.

I’ve joined a laughter club, and somehow am now a co-leader.

I’m still deeply involved in a codependent love-hate relationship with Boston.

There’s a lot going on.

More and more, this blog is feeling like a box, built to contain something I’d rather set free.

I don’t believe in leaving websites up gathering dust. But it makes me sad to trash it!

What should I do? Some options:

Rename the site and revise the “About” so it doesn’t have a childfree focus.

Leave it up as an archive.

Hit the Delete key and move on.


Photo credit: Carsten Tolkmit via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Beauties of Bushwick


Every time I go to New York City, I stay in a different neighborhood. (Thank goodness for airbnb, which brings the price on this way down.)

Last weekend I stayed in Bushwick, a part of Brooklyn I’d never seen. Walking from the M train to my host’s apartment, I was initially uncomfortable. I saw boarded-up windows, dog poop on the sidewalk, graffiti tags everywhere.

But as I settled in, I saw a lot to like. Bushwick is up-and-coming (translation: hipsters are invading), but it’s not smoothed-over or yuppified. Brooklyn spikiness is in full effect.

The people I talked to were friendly and self-assured. A little girl skimmed past me on her skateboard and gave me a big grin.

I had an amazing meal at a great bar, Central Station. If I lived here, this would be my local.

And I’ve never seen better wall art in New York. The lines between graffiti, mural, and commissioned wall painting were sometimes unclear, but all over Bushwick, faces and colors sprout from the brick and concrete.


You can see my full album of Bushwick photos here on Flickr, where they’re under a Creative Commons license.

What are some of your favorite parts of Brooklyn and NYC?

Ms. Fix-It


Image by Kristin Breneman via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Today I installed two smoke detectors in my apartment.

It took three hours to install the first one, fifteen minutes for the second.

Lots of things are like that. The first time is awkward, confusing, unfamiliar. But once you’ve done it–you can do it again, effortlessly, a million times.

There was some stress involved in this process. The dog didn’t like it. She was alarmed at the sight of me using power tools.

And I had to make a trip to the hardware store to get extra anchors and screws.

It all turned out great. I have now used a drill! And I met a neighbor because I lacked the correct size drill bit.

So empowering to fix something myself.

On Becoming an Expert

I just gave two hour-long presentations at the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society. This year the good folks of ACES gathered in Pittsburgh.

This was my second time attending the conference, and my first as a presenter. Getting ready took up a surprising amount of time and mental energy. Emotional energy, too.

I’m not used to thinking of myself as an authority–certainly not a national authority–on any topic. But apparently, I am. I talked about stress reduction techniques for editors, and about editing language on disability and mental health.

Both talks went well. It was thrilling to get up in front of a supportive, like-minded crowd.

Anya Weber presenting at the 2015 ACES conference.

Presenting on stress reduction techniques at the ACES conference. Photo by Megan Huber.

ACES members come from journalism, book publishing, corporate, nonprofit, and beyond–but we’re all editors. More than once during the conference, attendees said to me, “These are my people.” It’s a joy to be surrounded by those who nerd out on similar topics.

If you have the chance to give a talk on any subject, take it! We all have so much knowledge to share. From the inside, we’re aware of the gaps in what we know. But even if we can impart one shiny fragment of knowledge to someone in our field, it’s worth the time and effort.

Editors, join ACES and come to the conference in Portland (Oregon) next year!

Meal plan

Image by Conrad Olson via Creative Commons.

I’m changing how I eat–again.

Over the years I’ve gone from being an omnivore, to a vegetarian, to an omnivore, to what my nutritionist described as “vegan plus beef.” And back to being an omnivore.

I have ambivalent feelings about humans eating other animals. But factory farming just nauseates me, and our country is backwards in its food-safety system–especially with regards to poultry and pork.

What to eat is a deep and fundamental decision. As one (vegan) friend put it, “Eating is more intimate than sex. You put food in your body–and it becomes you.”

So, I’m going back to a mode of eating I’ve enjoyed in the past: mostly vegetarian, plus some seafood. Not much dairy. Trying to minimize the sugar consumption too (a huge challenge for me).

I’ve had low vitamin B12 and iron levels before, so we’ll see if lack of red meat causes issues. But I feel relieved having made this call.

If you’ve cut down on meat, or gone vegetarian or vegan, what’s the experience been like for you?

Who’s Your Babadook?

Image by swxxii, via Creative Commons.

When a movie haunts me months after I’ve seen it, I try to figure out why. One of the films from last year that I just can’t stop thinking about is the low-budget Australian horror film The Babadook.

I kind of freaked out when I saw this movie at one of my favorite theaters in Boston. I was enthralled throughout, but afterwards felt so disturbed, so alienated, that I made a quick and ungraceful exit from the friends I’d seen it with and almost literally ran away.

The movie isn’t very gory, though there are a few violent moments. It’s terrifying because of its psychological accuracy, and because of the powerful anchoring performance by Essie Davis.

Here’s an interview with her about the international reaction to the film.

The story is about a single mom, Amelia, and her young son, Samuel, who has behavioral problems (i.e., acts like a right little monster). They find a creepy picture book in their apartment about a creature called the Babadook, which preys on children. And Samuel becomes convinced that the Babadook has invaded their house.

This plot taps into primal fears–some of which, as a non-parent, I can only skate along the surface of. Wanting to protect your child is hardwired into mothers, and I can barely imagine what it must feel like to have your offspring be threatened.

What the movie’s really brave about is that Amelia also bears a deep resentment toward her son. Samuel is a difficult and infuriating little boy, and the Babadook is a manifestation of Amelia’s own rage. So her life-and-death struggle with the monster is really a struggle with herself.

This is all deeply freaky–William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, said that it’s the scariest movie he’s ever seen. But I was still struggling to find out why it tipped me over the edge like that.

I’ve struggled in the past with obsessive-compulsive thoughts, and some of them involved a fear that I was going to harm others. These thoughts are now gone from my life, due to some awesome therapy and a great book about obsessive-compulsive disorder: Brain Lock.

But this movie, with its themes of harming those you most love, tickled those old terrors back to life. The only antidote was to rush home and watch Masters of Sex until I felt reassured of my own sanity.

Anyway, if you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen The Babadook yet–what are you waiting for? It’s terrific. But it will also freak. You. Out. You’ve been warned!

Life Lessons from a GPS

bighulaImage courtesy of Jim Clark via Creative Commons on Flickr.

You know how, when you’re using a GPS to get step-by-step driving directions, and you mess up and go off route, it says in a really snotty tone, “Recalculating” or “Rerouting”?

I always used to hate this snideness. It felt like the GPS, in its robotic soul, knew more than I did, and was flaunting that fact. “You’re not even smart enough to follow directions,” was the clear implication.

But lately, I’ve come to see “Rerouting” as a useful mantra. When my life takes an unexpected detour, when there’s new construction keeping me from my goal, or when I mess up badly–I try to process what happened, and then tell myself, “Recalculating.”

The beauty of “rerouting”/“recalculating” is that it leaves the past behind cleanly. The GPS doesn’t obsess about the route that was. It doesn’t brood about how dumb it was (or I was) to miss that crucial exit.

It starts over, from where it’s at. Remaps everything. And goes from there.

GPS, you are my Zen master!


When I moved to Boston 14 years ago, all my possessions fit in my dad’s car. Yesterday, I moved an apartment’s worth of objects into storage. This feels weird.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about owning things. On the one hand, it would be wonderful to just have a suitcase of items to my name. On the other hand, I like having a comfortable, well-decorated home.

After a year in my first Boston apartment, there was this bizarre period when I moved four times in 16 months. This was disruptive and annoying, but also helped me keep my stuff to a minimum.

Then I started staying longer in the apartments I lived in–two years here, three years there. Most recently, I lived by myself in a one-bedroom apartment for four years. The longer I stayed, the more stuff I accumulated.

I’m a million miles from being a hoarder. But I own furniture now. I own artwork. I own random items like a hot-air popcorn popper.

So when I moved this week into a new roommate arrangement, I put almost all of my stuff into storage. Seeing your home packed into boxes is always weird, but seeing all my worldly possessions loaded into a storage unit was especially emotional and disorienting.

When I was looking at that storage unit, packed up to its mesh ceiling, it was like all the emotions of my life were boxed up and shrink-wrapped, put on ice until I need them again.

My heart feels like my arms do after hefting heavy boxes: lighter, relieved, and aching.