A Spider Carried from the Bathtub to Outside

new mexico sunset over meadows

In June, when I began conceptualizing taking this leap of faith, I had a visual metaphor occur to me. From June to October, I often said to others that I felt like a spider in the bathtub. The bathtub of my career wasn’t right for me. It didn’t meet my needs. But the walls were slippery, and it was hard to climb out. Beyond that, all I’d ever known was a bathtub.

While I struggled to come up with the right keyword to search for jobs, and to imagine a different career path, I could only envision more of the same. My little spider-self had only known bathtubs, so bathtubs were all that was imaginable. I actually started evaluating positions and potential careers by whether they were “bathtubs” or not at some point.

My little spider-self could sort of envision a potted plant. If I could climb up the slippery tub wall to get into a potted plant, that would be more comfortable. It would meet a few more of my needs. But, the universe, the cosmos, the divine that I’m having faith in when I take a leap of faith – that ineffable force doesn’t want me to live in its potted plants. It wants to scoop me up in its giant hands and carry me outside.

One of the reasons why I took this leap – into the unknown without much of a net – was because I couldn’t even imagine “outside.” There was no way for my little spider-brain to conceptualize something it had never seen. I had never experienced “outside” in the way that I knew the universe wanted me to do. I realized that in order for me to discover what it was I wanted to do once I got outside, I literally had to go outside first to see it. There was no way for me to think my way through it. This was an experience first, think and strategize later sort of situation.

What it’s like Outside… so far

It’s only been two weeks since I made it out the door. Outside is definitely expansive and big, and full of possibilities. It’s really no more or less scary than the bathtub – the bathtub was a spider rodeo for the household cats, after all. I don’t feel tenuous or unsafe.

What I’m doing right now is following and feeling into my energy and enthusiasm. Where do I feel excited, inspired, energized? That’s the stuff I’m doing. Whether it’s a home improvement project or sitting at a computer for hours writing, I’m experiencing “outside” as best I can, to imagine my way into the next right step.

Even with the fact that I’m living out of savings, my stress levels are the lowest they have been in decades. I’m more self-regulated, calmer, and less anxious than I’ve been in a very long time. This is very encouraging. It’s ok that it’s cheaper to cook dried beans from scratch, because I also have the time available to do that extra work. I’m moving slowly through life, at my own pace, and it’s pretty delicious.

I’ve got a little bit of structure, some daily to-do’s, to keep myself supported, grounded, and even-keel while I’m in this transitional time. My experience of these kinds of time outside of Full-Time work in the past shows me that I can be prone to isolation and depression without an office to show up to. So, I’ve got some measures in place to prevent that element from creeping in.

I don’t know where this experience is headed. I get little hints, little synchronicities, nudges from the universe that whisper “keep going!” and I listen to those. But we will see how it all plays out in time.


Autumn 2022 in New Mexico

If you know me, you know I tend toward having “deep talks” with everyone. No fluffy small talk for me, if I can help it. It shouldn’t surprise you that I have had a series of deep conversations with my acupuncturist while she’s working on my arthritis pain.

Most recently, we were talking about the current change in seasons, from Summer to Fall, here in northern New Mexico. We talked about how I’m in a Summer to Fall seasonal shift in my work and career right now. We talked about the Chinese medicine behind the seasons, and what the Chinese elements had to say about moving from Summer to Autumn.

We also talked about my river tattoo, which serves as a reminder that I can’t rush the river – that I have to let things unfold naturally in their own time. As much as I want to skip the current step and rush ahead in my life’s path, it’s futile. It’s less stressful, and more powerful, to simply be in the season where I find myself, and savor it.

In Chinese medicine, Autumn is a season associated with the element of Metal, and with the organs and meridians of Lungs and Large Intestine. The main activity is letting go.

The ways that Large Intestines are implicated with releasing that which we do not need, and transforming that which we do, those digestive metaphors are pretty obvious. But I’ve been concentrating my attention instead on the Lung elements of letting go. The exhale.

Exhales as Actual Lung Activities

I don’t remember where I learned that the diaphragm functions by contracting to cause an exhalation. The inhale is created by the empty space created in the lungs, the air rushes in to fill a vacuum. Of course, we can consciously use the diaphragm to inhale without exhaling first, but when we aren’t thinking about it – the exhale is the active part of the breath, not the inhale.

You hear plenty of people – from spiritual leaders to home organizers – talking about letting go of the old to make room for the new, and the new will “rush on in” after you truly release the old…. That’s the breath cycle. That’s precisely how our lungs work.

On top of that, I’ve been working very hard to self-regulate my nervous system. I spend conscious time trying to get out of stress mode, to deactivate the sympathetic nervous system and its Flight-Flight-Freeze-Fawn responses. I spend time thinking about how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system for Rest-and-Digest activities. One of the ways I’ve learned to do this is a biofeedback trick of extending the length of the exhale longer than that of the inhale. If you’re familiar with “box breathing” – think of it as a trapezoid instead of a perfect square. I hold-inhale-hold for the same counts but extend the exhale to be 1-2 counts longer than the other three parts of the breath cycle.

The exhale is the part that switches nervous system responses. The exhale – the part the diaphragm actually controls – is the part of the breath that allows us to relax. We think of this with a heavy sigh or a deep audible sigh. Those are relaxing. I’m just talking about the science behind what we already intuitively know about our bodies.

My Personal Autumn

There is a part of me that has a hard time letting it be an Autumn in my life. As much as I love leaf-peeping, apple cider, and cozy sweaters, I struggle with the slowness of the process of change. That adrenalized go-go-go part of my personality is impatient to start the next adventure. Ready to leap all the way into Spring if she can make the jump (she can’t).

While I am grateful for my inner Type-A Achiever, and I appreciate her ambition and drive, I’m trying to get out of the habit of her way of being. It’s not good for my body or my mental health. I want to slow down. While I know she’s inside me champing with impatience and ready to GET GOING, I know that a lot of her motivation is anxiety. A lot of what fuels her is discomfort with the unknown.

I want my inner Achiever to see that I’m still safe even when I don’t know what’s next. I want her to see that I’m still safe even when I’m not-doing, and not-going. I want her to see that contentment and peace are not scary. She is the reason I learned to breathe with longer exhales. Because the idea of sitting still and watching a fire in the fireplace for hours freaks her out a little bit. For the whole past year, I’ve been consciously trying to transform my Type A personality into a Type B way of being.

By taking a leave of absence from work (which really demands and rewards the Achiever and activates her whether I want it or not), and by slowing down and exhaling this fall, I’m making a major move toward this new way of life. I will still be a high-achieving person because it’s who I intrinsically am in many ways. I just don’t want to do it at the expense of my health and well-being anymore.

I’ve turned in my 2-week notice. I’ve finished my dissertation. It’s time to let go of both the work and achievements, as well as the pieces of my identity associated with being an SEO professional, a manager, a grad student. In the new year, I’ll be a Ph. D. and will have found, created, or discovered a new career path.

My Type A Achiever already wants to set goals for that person, envision her life, and start laying the groundwork for her future success. While that’s a lovely sentiment, it’s impossible. How can I set goals for a person I know nothing about? I do not know who I will be.

Exhales and Autumnal Metaphors

My challenge is to enjoy the last of the wildflowers before the grass turns bronze and golden. My challenge is to allow the leaves to change, to let them glow yellow on the tops of the cottonwoods and aspens before they finally fall to the ground to create compost. My challenge is to be patient with that process inside myself, and just exhale.

My Type A wants to shake the trees and speed up the purge with the hope that Spring will happen earlier. My Achiever – instead of simply enjoying the slim harvest from my little vegetable garden – wants to build a hothouse for the winter. Instead, I am pointing her at finishing projects. Getting out into the world those things that are on the cusp of completion. Exhaling in a different way. Leaves of paper falling onto the desks of editors rather than from the trees.

Autumn – both in reality and in my psyche – is a liminal space. I let myself acknowledge and feel the discomfort of being in a hallway – a place between places. Liminality is inherently uncomfortable. That’s why humans have for millennia created rituals to speed up our passage through that time of life. I have great practice in liminality. Living in a hotel for 2 months in 2021 gave me the skills to traverse that.

Autumn is a slow, natural process of letting go. Exhaling to invite the inhale.

I am hoping that perhaps this practice will help me get ready for Winter. Winter, which in the box-breath is the hold before the inhale. The stillness, composting, transformation, and quiet of the darkness.

How to Write Great Content for SEO

The current wisdom is that we should be writing content for our website’s visitors, and not for search engines. That great content is great, no matter what we do for SEO.  I agree with that – for the most part.

The point that that particular wisdom is missing is that search best practices, by and large, are a checklist of how to write articles that are great for web users.

Search Engine Best Practices Are Meant for Web Users

Where best practices are concerned, they are talking about making content user-friendly, meeting user intent, answering a question completely, and having the design of the site be so intuitive it doesn’t cause friction in the user’s understanding.

The title of this page is wrapped in an “H1” HTML tag, which should be used to signify the title of a page.  The bold subheading above is wrapped in “H2” which says that’s a section break, subheading, and less important than the title.  Were you, the reader, at all confused by this use of H1s and H2s on this page?  Nopity nope. In fact, it made perfect sense to you.

I tend to type in short bursts of sentences and paragraph break more often than I would in fiction or academic prose.  That’s really common for web writing, because we are using a different visual medium, and internet users tend to skim.  In fact, they skim a lot. They will jump to bold words and bullet points!

How People Really Read the Web:

  • Skim titles, things in bold
  • Read the first few sentences of the first paragraph
  • (Or the TL;DR if there is one)
  • Jump to pulled out quotes, photo captions and bulleted lists
  • If they are really interested, they might go back and read the whole thing
  • … but probably not.

Writing your content to get the maximum depth of understanding based upon people’s web skimming tactics is a great way to ensure you’ve covered all of the topics you need to cover.  Oh, and before I forget to mention it, all of these things are also on that list of best practices that your SEO person gave you.

Don’t Be Intimidated By the Word Jumble Game, Please

Google has read everyone’s content, and they have graded all the papers. They know which content includes all of the details necessary to show a complete answer to a user query.  That’s their job.

If we want to compete, then, we need to also use all of the pieces of a complete answer to a question.   Tactically, an SEO whiz can tell what words, phrases and questions should be included in an article by gazing at Search Engine Result pages, the pages of top-ranking competitors, and by brainstorming all of the things we need to know about a topic.  They then hand a list of words to a writer.

This is like the writing exercise in school where you have to fit those words into a page. It’s a creative challenge, not a constraint.  Synonyms are our friends, and we don’t need every one of them jammed on a single page.

What the word jumble does is allows us to ensure – checklist style – that we’ve answered all of the facets of the questions that people have about a topic.

But What about Keywords?

You know how we call it “rolling down the window” in the car, but we’re talking about pushing a little button. Or the meaninglessness of the “save” icon to a kid who has never seen a 3 1/2″ floppy diskette?  What about the phone receiver icon that we press on our smart phones to pick up or “hang up” a call?  Those symbolic anachronisms are about as relevant to modern SEO as the word “keyword”.

Yes, we still research volume of queries to specific topics, and make prioritization and decisions based on that.  But we don’t use a single keyword or phrase to be the end-all-be-all for the questions that web users have about a topic.  Often, you’ll here “topic” or “semantically related” ideas being bandied about in the SEO world way more than keywords.

The problem is that everyone knows that word, and just like the save icon being a relevant symbol for an obsolete technology, the word lives on.

It’s a Tool – Like a Checklist – Not a Formula

An obsolete SEO joke:

An SEO walks into a bar, tavern, pub, drinking establishment …

A more current SEO joke:

Q: How many SEOs does it take to change a lightbulb. 

A: Well,  it depends. 

Search is holistic, fluid, and really specific to each site’s industry, goals and visitors. Much of SEO is about finesse and improvisation.  The problem comes in when people still mistake it as being formulaic.  “Put this keyword here, and here, then synonym 1 goes here.”   I find that people who want to reduce search to always-do and always-don’t sorts of rules end up being frustrated by the job.  It’s always about trade-offs.

So how do you write great content for SEO?

Well, it depends. What are your visitors asking questions about?

The Princess and the Pea: My Sensory Diet Does Not Include Peas

Last week, I got accepted to pursue graduate studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute. I start in the fall. One of the things that I’ll do in my Mythological Studies program is the archetypal analysis of fairy tales.  As I’ve also been seeing a Jungian analyst, and I’ve been a geek about these things for years, I’m not shy to say I’ve been playing with a fairy tale that’s bubbled up in my personal life.

With the psoriatic arthritis, I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I tend to lay under electric blankets on top of heaps of memory foam.  It doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination to understand why this reminded me of the story of the Princess and the Pea.

First, here’s the most common rendition of the tale:

The Princess and the Pea


Hans Christian Andersen


Once upon a time Image result for princess and the peathere was a prince who wanted to marry a princess; but she would have to be a real princess. He traveled all over the world to find one, but nowhere could he get what he wanted. There were princesses enough, but it was difficult to find out whether they were real ones. There was always something about them that was not as it should be. So he came home again and was sad, for he would have liked very much to have a real princess.

One evening a terrible storm came on; there was thunder and lightning, and the rain poured down in torrents. Suddenly a knocking was heard at the city gate, and the old king went to open it.

It was a princess standing out there in front of the gate. But, good gracious! what a sight the rain and the wind had made her look. The water ran down from her hair and clothes; it ran down into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. And yet she said that she was a real princess.

“Well, we’ll soon find that out,” thought the old queen. But she said nothing, went into the bed-room, took all the bedding off the bedstead, and laid a pea on the bottom; then she took twenty mattresses and laid them on the pea, and then twenty eider-down beds on top of the mattresses.

On this the princess had to lie all night. In the morning she was asked how she had slept.

“Oh, very badly!” said she. “I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!”

Now they knew that she was a real princess because she had felt the pea right through the twenty mattresses and the twenty eider-down beds.

Nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that.

So the prince took her for his wife, for now he knew that he had a real princess; and the pea was put in the museum, where it may still be seen, if no one has stolen it.

There, that is a true story.

The copy from the reader’s digest anthology my grandmother gave me for the Christmas of 1982 – the set that still bear my Garfield the cat bookplates and careful cursive – says “a true princess” rather than a real princess in the tale. Otherwise, the details are all identical, right down to the numbers of mattresses and eiderdowns, and the single pea.

Other Versions, In Other Cultures

Marie-Louise von Franz says in The Interpretation of Fairy Tales that “Fairy Tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes.”  They are stories of the soul’s journey toward wholeness – toward individuation.

If that’s true, then the archetypes themselves should carry across cultures. They should be the realities of human experience, and not just isolated to one frame of reference or language.

I found this link to be the most useful – Listing the Danish story above along with the Italian “Most Sensitive Woman” and the Indian story “The Three Delicate Wives of King Virtue-Banner.” More on that in a bit.

Other Interpretations

Of course, I’m not the only person to read this fairy tale with the psyche in mind.

My Brief Attempt to Analyse

In the first paragraph of the story, the thing that is missing is a “real” princess.  None of the princesses are real enough.  The story begins with the prince and his search.  (This is why I don’t mesh with MaggieAnn’s idea as the princess as protagonist.)  The prince – the masculine or the conscious ego – knows that he’s missing the feminine / unconscious and he goes to seek her out.   He meets many princesses — aspects of the feminine – but none of them are quite right.

Perhaps this is because none of them are his.  To me, this sounds like the process of projecting the subconscious onto people around us – they look and act like what we want, but until we accept that aspect of ourselves, they aren’t quite right. The thing that he doesn’t have is an accurate way to measure their “rightness.” He knows the other princesses are wrong, but he can’t articulate what right is.

It’s interesting, because this is articulated in the Italian “Most Sensitive Woman”. The prince goes out to seek his wife, but only will accept “the most sensitive woman in the world.” He uses this measure to judge each of the women he comes upon.

Without explanation of why she’s in a torrential downpour without protection or entourage, the princess arrives and knocks at the gate. It’s a terrifying thunderstorm.   I’ve written about the process of ego-death, and the fear that that stirs. It often comes with chest-beating and sobbing. It often comes with tears.

The water runs down her hair and down her clothes and into her shoes and out the heels. It’s interesting that the imagery of the cold water traces her entire figure. In a lot of symbolic interpretations, water has the same impact as a mirror – allowing the self to be seen. Perhaps this is a glimpse of the prince’s shadow self outlined in the door in the dark of the night.

The old king – perhaps a representation of wisdom – opens the gate to admit the girl.  The old queen – the wily subconscious intuition – devises a test.  This is the subconscious knowing how to prove itself to the prince without a doubt.

There is only one trial, only one test. The sodden girl must sleep upon the most luxurious pile of mattresses ever described… where they hide a single dried pea.

I’ve been thinking about the pea. A pea is a food. It’s not ever meant to be eaten just one at a time. It even grows in pods. So something that is meant to nourish – and something that is meant to be taken in a large group – is placed in a place meant to annoy, irritate and test the princess. It’s out of place, to be sure, but a very innocent and small item. In the “sensitive woman” story, it’s a jasmine petal that falls on the woman’s foot and injures her.  In the Indian delicate wives tale, it’s jasmine petals, moonlight and the sound of a mortar and pestle several rooms away.  None of these are things that any typical person would see as problematic.

In the morning, the princess is black and blue from having spent the night atop her luxurious trap of a bed. The Queen – subconscious intuition – has provided an accurate measure of the sensitivity that only a true princess could possess.  The Prince happily marries this woman, because she’s clearly the right one, just as the prince agrees that the woman whose foot has been injured by a petal is the right one for him.  In both cases, the truly aristocratic and worthy measure was sensitivity.

At it’s most basic, I think the whole thing can be summed up that the prince needed to get in touch with his sensitive side.  Of course, that’s a bit of an oversimplification.  What he needed to get in touch with was the sensitive parts of himself that he had previously rejected. (What if the girl in the rain had been among the scores he had already sent away?)  He needed to have an accurate measure and understanding of that sensitivity, and he had to understand how it was valuable to him.

I’m sure I’m projecting a lot onto this – as I said, this is the story that is living in my psyche right now. There’s still something to be said about making sensitivity conscious.

A Sensitive (Sensory) Subject

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

sensitive (adj.) late 14c., in reference to the body or its parts, “having the function of sensation;” also (early 15c.) “pertaining to the faculty of the soul that receives and analyzes sensory information;” from Old French sensitif “capable of feeling” (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin sensitivus “capable of sensation,” from Latin sensus, past participle of sentire “feel perceive” (see sense (n.)).
Meaning “easily affected” (with reference to mental feelings) first recorded 1816; meaning “having intense physical sensation” is from 1849. Original meaning is preserved in sensitive plant (1630s), which is “mechanically irritable in a higher degree than almost any other plant” [Century Dictionary].

One of the things I’ve mentioned is that I’m learning to embrace my sensitivity.  I’ve written about the experience of overstimulation, and I’ve even mentioned this story before in prior blog posts. I’m definitely more mechanically irritable than a lot of people I know, even if I’m not a plant.

While I knew that I processed things differently, it never occurred to me that there were ways to work with my nature instead of against it until very recently.  I came home and collapsed in an exhausted heap for years after having a too-stimulating work day.  I was in a near-constant state of overwhelm.  My body’s extreme stress reaction was as much to the modern “open workspace” office layout as it was to the actual workday stress.

As I learn more about “sensory diets” – ways to adjust sensory input to enhance focus and improve performance along with daily tasks and routines – it’s incredibly useful.  There are three categories of sensory inputs: Organizing, Calming, and Alerting.

In terms of my life before the arthritis, I would say that I most valued the Organizing function. This included housework, clearing visual clutter, heavy workouts, fidgeting with stress balls, and weighted blankets. A deep massage would fall under this category.  I did often feel scattered by the world around me, so the organizing inputs were necessary – but I may have given them too much priority. Now, in my new world, I use these to transition between one part of my day and the next, or to recover from unexpected interruptions.

Since the arthritis, I long for and cling to the Calming activities and inputs. Warmth. Cushioning. Softness. Sweetness. Good smells, Long, rhythmic, easy music. Dim light. No surprises. Nothing unexpected.  One of the things my therapist and I have discussed is that I’m less reliant upon sugar as a source of solace when I have other calming sensory inputs.   These were needs I saw as “too sensitive” and “lazy” and a “waste of time.”  Because I judged them so poorly, I didn’t value them or make time to prioritize them.  Now, I probably weight my day more with these than anything else. Aromatherapy for my office, my memory-foam-float naps, and lots of time petting spoiled cats.

I have habitually avoided Alerting inputs for the last several years. A pea under my mattress would be alerting.  This includes unexpected sounds, loud sounds, bright lights, interruptions, strong flavors, coolness or coldness, crunchy food.  This includes unexpected touches – which I tend to reflexively wince away from.  My old office was chalk-full of these suckers. Now, because I am structuring my day mindfully, I use these for the times when I actually need to be made a little more alert!   For example, right before I start working for the morning, I walk barefoot in the dew in my back yard and toss the ball for the dog.  It’s cold! And wet! Boy, am I awake!

So, yeah, I really don’t like peas. Not including them in my plan. But more than that, I’m noticing that the calming activities have been in my own shadow for a long time, and I’m embracing them.

Story Structure: East v West (Yin v Yang?)

I’ve been thinking about endings a lot lately. About twists, and how to end a story in a way that satisfies me, and satisfies my readers. I’ve been reworking and rewriting the ending of Salvaged, and I really wanted to get it right – not just in terms of the story, but in terms of the story’s structure.    I was not convinced – until much deliberation was undergone – that I absolutely positively HAD to end the book with a big fight scene. I held this internal argument that much of the character’s arc is internal, and her “long dark night of the soul” was perhaps enough.  It wasn’t. I wrote the fight scene. But not until after I did a lot of research on the subject.

East v West Story structures

What I found, when I started digging around for the structural bits about plot writing was that there are really only two major schools of thought about this.  Most of the Western story-tellers will act as if the Western escalating-tension arc is the only way to write a story.  I could go on a little feminist rant that ends with “down with the patriarchy!” but I think you get the idea.

There is more than one way to satisfy the needs of a moving forward plot and a twist at the end of a book.

Eastern “Haiku” Story structure

The technical term which I will not repeat is called Kishōtenketsu story structure.  The linked post does a good job of explaining the structure in terms of plot, but honestly, it’s exactly the same thing I’d learned about how to structure haiku. Two related lines, one unrelated line that makes no sense, final line that resolves the conflict in understanding between two and makes the whole thing feel complete.

I really want to try to write a story in this form. It’s common among Anime and Manga, of course, but less common in works that originate in the US.  I also think it’s more Yin, less confrontational, and possibly perplexing to an average reader.  I desperately want to dig into this arc. I just need to find the right story for it.

Alas, Salvaged is not that story.

Western “Male-ejaculatory arc”

Let’s talk about the narrative arc that is more common (and often touted as the only way to move plot forward) the standard rising-conflict 3 or 5 act arc (this outstanding piece is full of swearing and brilliant).    I felt like I learned more about this story structure from watching the film Gravity, than I have reading a thousand how-to articles.  Of course, there are dozens of fantastic examples of this structure, because it’s the predominant form of storytelling.

It requires there to be conflict – like actual trouble and problems and bashing in of skulls. There has to be a “winner” and a “loser”.  It is combative, war-like and sometimes violent.  Contrast this with the Haiku version that creates tension in the reader’s mind by introducing a non-sequitor element.

Art mirrors life mirrors art.

Metaphors we live by

This reminds me of the book Metaphors We Live By and the fact that English words and metaphors for argument are equally warlike and combative.  There are winners and losers of all spoken confrontations and debates in the ways that the English language wraps around the concept.

I really want to explore some stories where the nature of the thing is not war, but perplexity. That the resolution is not one of winning and losing but of understanding and clarity.  I think it might be a lovely brainspace to explore….