Physiology

[I’m feeling sentimental, so here’s a little something that I wrote four years ago shortly after I met my husband, KJ. Free time and internet connectivity are both sparse right now, so I won’t be writing anything new for a couple more weeks.]


We are just chemistry, the Wilderness First Responder instructor said repeatedly. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out; the blood becomes acidic and basic, its pH signaling the brain to monitor the drive to breathe. Oxygen transported by hemoglobin, exchanged through narrow capillaries to perfuse the organs. The vital signs are a window to the critical systems. They tell us the status of the respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems, the processes necessary to sustain life… 

If a patient has no pulse after a sudden trauma or fall, we are not required to begin CPR. This means the aorta has been ripped from the heart, its one-and-a-half-inch diameter emptying the body’s entire volume of blood into the interstitial body cavity in seconds. Death is instantaneous… 

The body is built to protect itself. The organs most susceptible to bleeding are protected by the ribcage—lungs, heart, liver, spleen. But there are exceptions: a little lobe of the liver hangs down below the ribs unprotected, where a sharp jab or well-placed blow can cause fatal internal bleeding… 

The first time we kissed, I felt KJ’s heart pounding rapidly in his chest. I was aware of the adrenaline surging through his sympathetic nervous system. My heart was pounding too, but his was more exposed, an offer of vulnerability, and it calmed me. I rested my head against his shoulder and watched the buttons on his shirt dance like puppets on the strings of his heartbeat, a rhythm so intense that it echoed through me.

The next night I lay in his arms, his cardiac muscle thumping gently below my ear at 70 or 80 beats per minute. It gave me immeasurable comfort, this pulse of life, a glimpse into his critical systems. I wanted to disappear into the curve of his sternum, my hand captured there between his hand and his heart. His fingertips stroked my shoulder as our feet touched gently, sending sparks to my limbic system. The tender lobe of my liver felt more and more exposed.

We are just chemistry. What are these rivers flowing through me, painting a strange and beautiful landscape? They take my breath away, altering my respiration unconsciously. When I think of KJ, my blood becomes acidic from too little carbon dioxide. I don’t realize it until my brain kicks in automatically to correct my breathing.

Exciting, but scary. To hand myself to someone, the unguarded lobe of my liver at his mercy. How can he not be scared? How can he open his heart to me, that tender juncture of smooth cardiac muscle and aorta so easily broken and spilled? Be gentle, I want to say. I am tender through and through.

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An atheist mom

Apparently, a lot of people who don’t know better think my husband and I are Mormon. I can see where they might get that impression: we got married and had a child quickly, and at a relatively young age compared to our college-educated peers. I’m a stay-at-home-mom. My husband wears glasses and unstylish button-down shirts. I don’t drink caffeinated beverages.

If you’re one of the readers who clicked over to INTP Mom from my old blogs, Leaving Eden and Peaceful Atheist, you might know me as a former evangelical Christian who became an atheist while attending a renowned Christian college. A lot of people ask me if I’m still an atheist. I am, but atheism takes up surprisingly little residence in my mind now. I rarely read or talk about atheism or religion anymore. I would happily discuss it if asked but I don’t feel the need to initiate conversations about it.

My husband KJ is an agnostic and skeptic who never dabbled in religion. For him there was never a God, never the promise of eternal life, never a divine plan for his life. All of these things were once central aspects of my life, and when I became an atheist, I had to deal with the absence of them. KJ and I have very similar philosophies about life, morality, and values. For him, skepticism has simply always been the obvious, common sense way to live. That’s why, even though our beliefs about God and the supernatural are the same, he calls himself agnostic while I call myself an atheist.

Atheism is simultaneously very important and very unimportant in my life. I don’t think about it, but it affects every area of my life. Here’s a little bit of what being an atheist looks like for me:

Because there is no divine plan, I know that I am responsible for what happens in my life. I don’t expect things to be accomplished in my life unless I accomplish them. I don’t make decisions lightly because I know there is no such thing as fate. I know that there are direct consequences for all of my decisions and actions (and all of my indecisions and inactions), from my career choices to the amount of polyunsaturated fat in my diet.

Because there is no God to sin against, I know that the only forgiveness I need for my transgressions is from the people affected by them. I spend my time and energy on trying to do better instead of lingering over my unworthiness.

Because there is no afterlife, I know that the time I have with my family is limited. I savor every moment with them and I never miss an opportunity to give my husband or daughter a kiss.

Because there is no God, my husband and I know we are our child’s best supporters, advocates, and protectors. We do everything we can to keep her healthy and safe. We make sure she gets all her vaccinations on time, save and plan for her future, and keep up with the latest developments in pediatrics and child safety. We make every parenting decision consciously because we know that the molding of her character depends on our guidance, not divine guidance.

Eventually I would like to blog more about atheism, especially as it pertains to parenting. So far it hasn’t been a subject of focus because my daughter is so young and other concerns have taken precedence. If there are any specific topics you would like me to blog about, let me know.

Why I blog

 

In a nutshell, here’s why I started this blog: INTPs are very rare (1-3% of the population). INTP women are even more rare. INTP women who are married or have found their life partner are even more rare. (I suspect that, due to our unique characteristics, INTPs have the lowest rates of coupling among all the Myers-Briggs types.) And INTP women who have or want to have children are even more rare.

When I became a mom, I quickly realized that in the vast world of mom blogs, there was not one that spoke to me. I was tired of reading about boring mom crap like crafts and diaper bags and accepting your post-baby body. On the other hand, there also weren’t any parenting voices in the INTP world. All of the INTP blogs I’d read were written from a solitary place, and those that wrote about relationships were usually not about living in a fulfilling marriage and raising a family.

Being a stay-at-home mom and an INTP seems like an oxymoron because the worlds are so far apart that they don’t really have anything in common. So I’m here to write about mom stuff that INTPs care about, and INTP stuff through the lens of being a mom (and wife).

Going forward, my goal is to publish at least one post a week. I plan to blog about all of my various interests (science, art, hiking, books, Myers-Briggs, general philosophizing) as well as marriage and motherhood– anything that catches my mind as an INTP mom that I think someone else might be interested in.

I’ll write about things in my personal life as long as they might be interesting to other people or allow me to address universal topics. But you will never see gratuitous baby updates because I know that nobody outside of our family cares how many teeth AJ has, how she eats sandwiches, or what her favorite bath toy is. (If you do happen to care about that stuff, we have a separate blog for baby updates. Email me for the link if you’re interested.) Here are some other things you will never read about on my blog: crafting, anything DIY, fashion, baby gear and clothing, recipes, etc.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think, and if there’s anything else you’d like to see me blog about.

Hunkering

I am currently in a state of limbo waiting for things to change over which I have no control. I’m in a holding pattern, unable to make progress. I feel like all I’m doing is converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.

This metaphysical hunkering feels similar to the hunkering I did during a three-month NOLS expedition in the Alaska wilderness in 2008. We spent a lot of time hunkering in our tents on that expedition. Sometimes because of weather, like the three soggy days spent camped by the side of a gravel road waiting for the rain to stop and the river to subside so we could wade across. On other occasions we hunkered while waiting for food or rescue.

Our first hunker was spent next to a makeshift runway we had built in a humid valley, waiting for the clouds to lift so a small plane could land with our rations. We had already been without food for two days, having been unable to get to the site where we had planned to meet the plane for our re-ration. Instead we bushwhacked through a dense forest and traversed a raging river to find a spot where a plane might be able to land, and cut down small trees to make a runway.

I hunkered here.
I hunkered here.

Continue reading “Hunkering”

Thinking en plein air

Before I met my husband, I spent most of my time alone, absorbed in thought. My life was simple, peaceful, and quiet, if sometimes lonely. Throughout my days, no matter what I was doing, unrelated thoughts simmered in my mind. Thinking was my main activity and favorite pastime, and I had the luxury of spending hours every day in uninterrupted thought. I weaved long braids of thought over the course of days or weeks, collecting slivers of ideas from past and present experiences, things I’d learned, things my senses perceived on daily walks and hikes, and vague notions from my dreams. Past experiences continued to unravel in my mind for days or weeks or years, until their full meaning became clear. I could steep in a collection of ideas for days at a time, until it softened and a theme emerged.

My life was a series of themes, each spinning off variations of thoughts. Some became blog subjects, personal writings, or other projects. Each theme and train of thought changed me in some way as it became part of my inner landscape, and faded to a conclusion just as a new theme arose, organically.

For the first year after I met my husband, I thought mostly of him, our love, our future, and our life together. Even so, I was still able to produce long webs of thought. I did a lot of writing, mostly for or about him. Those thoughts were mostly feeling, aroused by an intense romance that was spiritual in fervor.

At some point, as our life together became more real than imagined, my thoughts about the future left the ecstatic realm and entered the mundane. We began to spend most of our time talking and thinking about things like financial planning, car maintenance, home buying, car seat safety, and baby poop. The thoughts that simmer constantly in my mind now are purely practical rather than philosophical. I have no mind left for extracurricular thinking.

Since becoming a mom, I’m lucky if I can continue one train of thought for 15 minutes without being interrupted. My mind is never still enough to fan thoughts into flame. Being a mom of an almost-toddler requires me to be constantly vigilant. When I’m with my daughter, and even when I’m not, I’m always thinking: Is she safe? Is she getting into trouble? Is she hungry? Does she have to poop? Whenever I germinate a thought that seems worthy of weeks of contemplation, my attention is called elsewhere and within five minutes I’ve forgotten it entirely.

I miss the way I used to think. I miss my INTP-ness. I want to get reacquainted with my mind and luxuriate in thought again. If I weren’t breastfeeding, I think it would be refreshing to my spirit to spend a whole day away from my daughter in uninterrupted thought. It would be even better than a day of uninterrupted sleep.

Oh, but I would miss my daughter so much. I would want to shelve my thinking just so I could kiss her chubby cheeks and tickle her and watch her crawl around talking to her toys.

5 things I wish I’d done before having kids

After my list of 10 things I’m glad I did before kids, I could only think of five things for this list, so I think I did pretty well in making the most of my pre-baby life and not having regrets. The only thing on this list that I beat myself up over is #2, because that should have been easy to accomplish, so I really have no excuse for not having done it.

1.    Live in a foreign country

I love the feeling of getting to know a new place and seeing it slowly become home. I’ve always wanted to live somewhere completely different and be immersed in a new language or accent, surroundings, culture, and way of life, to see the foreign become familiar. This is something I wish I had done when I was single, with nothing to keep me from attaching fully to a new place.

2.    Go skinny dipping

My husband and I had this on our To Do list for two years and it never happened. I don’t know why, but skinny dipping symbolized freedom to me. Also, it seemed like something that could only be properly done in Alaska, where beautiful lakes are often secluded. But it turns out that Alaska is a hard place to go skinny dipping, with hypothermia and mosquitos, etc. Now we’re parents and I don’t know when we’ll ever be able to get away by ourselves to a place where it’s possible.

3.    Do a long wilderness expedition with my husband

We’ve done plenty of long trips on our own and short trips together, but never a long trip together. To spend a month or more living and traveling with someone in the wilderness is an accelerated form of intimacy that would beat any honeymoon hands down. And living in the wilderness forces you to confront every personal deficiency and interpersonal conflict in ways that are much better than therapy. It would have been great to do this as a prelude to having kids—but who has the time? Hubby and I have dreams of thru-hiking the CDT someday after we’re retired.

4.    Make lasting friendships

As an INTP, finding people to be friends with and forming fulfilling relationships is probably the hardest thing for me to do. Also, I suck at keeping in touch and maintaining friends, and I really regret not doing more to hold onto the good friendships I’ve made over the years. It’s exponentially harder to make friends as an INTP mom. I’ve met and socialized with a lot of moms, but none yet who I have much more in common with besides being a mom. I’ve never met another INTP mom or even another NT mom. On the other hand, it’s also hard to meet childless friends when I’m always toting around a baby.

5.    Finish graduate school

Because obviously that proved to be impossible after I became a mom.

Living frugally

I’ve mentioned before that my husband is extremely un-materialistic and fiscally responsible. One of his hobbies is personal finance, and I call it a hobby because his idea of a really relaxing activity at the end of a long day is creating financial spreadsheets. I find this utterly adorable, and I’m thankful for his skills in this area because I don’t have them.

Hubby introduced me to the Mr. Money Mustache blog, which has inspired me to take on the mantle of financial responsibility. Mr. Money Mustache is a badass who retired at age 30, solely by living far below his means and saving the majority of his (not outrageous) income. Hubby and I have taken on the goal of early retirement through frugality, though our goals also include being able to pay for college for our daughter and future children.

The “Mustachian” way won me over with two revelations. The first is hedonic adaptation, the principle that material things don’t bring lasting happiness because we very quickly adapt to them. Each new purchase or elevation in lifestyle quickly becomes the new baseline, so there is no real difference in happiness, and the more you have, the more you want. The goal of being frugal is recognizing that you can be just as happy no matter how much money you spend and how much stuff you have. It’s not about buying or having less, it’s about training yourself to want less.

The second is the principle that money equals time. I now think about each unnecessary purchase I might make as being paid for not in dollars, but in the time that my husband or I have to spend apart from our family in order to pay for it. Money can equal time, or it can equal things, and the exchange rate for things is not favorable. Our ultimate goal is to end up with more time than things, by retiring while we are young and healthy enough to spend time doing what we love.

Being frugal also allows us to lead a more balanced life now. If we can live far below our means while saving aggressively, we don’t have to work for the highest bidder at the expense of our family life. We can choose jobs that allow us to spend more time with our family but have lower pay. (Being a stay-at-home-mom falls into this category.) You can always turn time into money and money into things, but not the other way around.