Category: Finding a path

Who is Jenny Goodguts?

Jenny Goodguts saved my life.

Jenny Goodguts, a doctor’s appointment, and a lucky New Hampshire quarter (face up!). Saved my life may be a touch of overstatement, but I can tell you with full confidence that they brought me back to life.

There is nothing Jenny told me that I hadn’t been told before. Who can ever explain why we are finally able to do something that seemed impossible or hopelessly unappealing at one time?

Here’s what I can tell you. I was reading the book SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal (more about this in future posts). Jane, a game developer, has researched the psychology and neuroscience of games for over 15 years. She had a traumatic brain injury and created a game to help herself recover. Her game worked so well at boosting resilience (etc.) that she shared it with others recovering from similar injuries and then even more widely. Her TED talk on SuperBetter has been viewed millions of times.

One element in the SuperBetter approach is to adopt a secret identity. Choosing a heroic nickname can help bring out your challenge-facing attributes (such as determination), while also helping you to connect with your sense of humor and take things a bit less seriously.

But I couldn’t think of one. I know Vera Voce was a possibility at one point. I felt a bit stuck.

Please remember, at the time I was reading SuperBetter I was nursing an addiction to iPad games that I was desperate to stop playing. I would read a chapter. Feel excited. And then the next day I would play the game. Read a chapter. Know this time I was going to really stop playing. Massage my aching shoulder/hand. Next day play the game. Repeat.

Then I went to the doctor. She had results from some lab work that involved my toilet, a small collection dish, and some spatulas. The results were not excellent. Basically my insides are populated almost exclusively by E. coli bacteria and almost nothing else. I’ve been working to protect biodiversity in nature for 20 years and there’s none left in my own body. I didn’t like this. I also didn’t like a couple of things she said about markers for cancer and so I bought the pills she prescribed (all over-the-counter stuff) and came home.

I looked in my kitchen cabinet at the other supplements she had suggested five months prior. The ones that I had taken occasionally on a random morning if Mercury was in retrograde or the wind was right. I knew it was important, if I wanted my body to work, if I wanted to stop being tired and depressed, if I wanted to be able to do good work in the world, take care of my family, enjoy my life, stop playing those freaking games, I knew I needed to buckle down and take care of myself.

So of course I took one of every single supplement that she had recommended from November through March and then went on with my day. I went to the grocery store and bought kefir and sauerkraut. I went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning, and there she was. Sitting right next to my bed. Jenny Goodguts knew exactly what I should do. She told me to make an excel spreadsheet (I’m pretty good at that). The spreadsheet was divided into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were checkboxes at the appropriate times for all of the actions required to rebuild my gut flora. I made the spreadsheet as directed, taped it to my kitchen wall, and within a week my skin felt different. My skin looked different. I was eating sauerkraut every freaking day.

But I was still playing the game. About a week after meeting Jenny, I found a 2000 New Hampshire quarter face up outside of a Trader Joe’s. Once again, Jenny to the rescue! She knew, as we all do, that one cent equals one lucky day, 25 cents equals 25 lucky days. Face up, of course. I’m not sure if face down is half the number of days or just nothing, that’s never been clear to me. But 25 days of luck! Well, you don’t just squander that. Jenny had me tape the quarter to a piece of paper, write 25 empty spaces underneath, and tape the paper on the kitchen wall, right next to the excel spreadsheet. Each morning I would check off one space and she challenged me: You cannot play the game during your 25 days of luck or else no luck!

I did not play the game for 25 days. Oh buddy was I tempted. I would walk to the former scene of the crime (the corner in the kitchen with the 3-second warning before detection) and I would crave that dopamine/seratonin hit. I would want something to distract me from myself, from the decisions I can’t make, the work I’m not doing, the work I am doing, some of the monotony of my current life situation (laundry and dishes, anyone?). But the quarter was staring right at me from that very corner. And it worked.

Were the 25 days lucky?

For me, a 25-day (and continuing) game-free streak was all the luck I needed. I also developed this blog, from scratch, and figured out how to send posts via email, something I had been wanting to learn for over two years. I got my first non-spam blog comment from a reader I don’t know. I found out that the caffeine in kombucha was responsible for my insomnia, rather than all of my good ideas keeping me awake all night. I learned about some great local places for adopting a dog. I talked to more people. I asked more questions. I reached out. I tried things. Other things happened and I might not even know yet if they are good luck.

The cool thing about the quarter experiment was living in a way that encouraged good luck to happen. When you think you are possibly in a lucky streak, and you want to make the most of it, you get off your butt and do stuff. And it turns out that is more satisfying than planting wheat on your farm to make into a loaf of bread because you need two loaves to make a hamburger.

Dear readers, please rest assured that Jenny’s primary mission is not balancing gut flora. Though she can definitely come up with some pretty convincing arguments for why this is important to saving the wider world. Jenny works for good and she’s got guts (and she, incidentally, does have a full complement of healthy microbes). As soon as I met her, I connected with the name and it gives me energy so there you have the full explanation of where she came from!

I have been wanting to make challenges and secret missions for myself and my friends for over a year (or maybe a decade, or four). I’m not a super hero. I often have trouble making decisions, I often have trouble following through with (all my ‘good’) ideas, I have trouble eating enough veggies even though I KNOW it makes my life so much better all around. I just ate chocolate for lunch.

But if I sit down and have a few minutes of quiet and ask Jenny what to do, she mostly knows. She is definitely a results, not reasons, gal (more on this later). She can make a list and say: if you do this, if you stick with it, if you have a spreadsheet, or some stickers, you will get to the other side, you will learn, your life will be more in line with your heart, and you will feel good. And if you get other people onboard, well, watch out! It’s still partially a serotonin/dopamine thing, but the good kind.

So this blog is the story of my (ongoing) adventures with Jenny Goodguts including multiple excel spreadsheets, quests, missions, banks, bicycle helmets, a songwriting teacher named Karl, resistance, and more than likely some stickers. Stay tuned for the first mission — basic training!

SuperBetter website
Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life (TED talk)
Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world (TED talk)
SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully

Not holding out for a hero

Not holding out for a hero

I have an addiction and a theme song and only one can prevail.

Right now, it’s the addiction. I’ve been playing Farmville 2, or Tropic Escape, or now Hay Day, on my iPad since early October 2016. I can put it away for a few days and then somehow the iPad is in its sneaky little spot, hidden from all view except mine, and I’m checking my crops, making a mango daiquiri or chicken feed. When no one is looking, I’ll take a quick nip, make sure I’ve planted a new row of cotton, heartbeat racing as I hear feet coming down the stairs. Quickly close out the game, press the button so the screen goes blank, and move towards the sink so it will look like I was washing dishes the whole time (but I’m not sure anyone is really fooled).

My hand hurts. I have a repetitive strain injury from playing. Those crops can’t harvest themselves and how will I know what happens when I unlock the wharf unless I make it to level 35? Oh, all that happens is now I get a new kind of stars for making apple pie? Maybe level 40 will blow my mind, let’s wait and see. I steadfastly refuse to pay a cent to play, so all I invest is time. With time, you can achieve the same things as someone who is willing to spend $1.99 for 100 keys/gems. So, I put in the time and play “for free”.

I started playing in October 2016, at a time when life was a bit too much for me to manage and I was having trouble dealing with my thoughts. I didn’t intentionally start playing to ease myself through an overwhelming life episode, I just happened to be introduced to the game at a time when total escape from reality for periods of time was welcome and seemed helpful to my continued baseline functioning.

Then THE ELECTION happened and I didn’t know what to do with myself or which way was up. My addiction had fertile ground in which to build from one game, initially, to a new game, then to a third game, and then all three at once.

But what, you may be wondering, about the theme song?? Well, when I’m not addicted to repetitive world-building games with very little skill or thought required where I don’t even engage in the social aspects (though I did accept a friend request from Ferma Maria, so now I’m crossing linguistic borders to build agrarian allies, a stranger who sometimes purchases my extra carrots), I like to make up games to play in real life. Challenges for myself and my family. If we earn 20 stars we can get ice cream, here are the criteria, GO! I’m that kid whose parents used sticker charts to get me to brush my teeth and I just never stopped wanting those shiny gold stars.

Ah, but here’s the rub: for a large portion of my life, I was not in the driver’s seat with respect to the aforementioned stars. I have spent almost 40 years grasping for stars that others were willing to award me for doing whatever they deemed worthy. If there was a gold star to be had, I was IN. Just tell me the criteria.

Approaching 40, I had a revelation and decided that I am through getting my stars from other people. I am going to spend my days, months, years, decades (whatever I am granted) figuring out what I think has value and doggedly pursuing those stars.

Just prior to my descent into virtual pastoralism, I was starting to think about transforming myself into a superhero. That is, outlining missions for myself, accomplishing them, and giving myself a badge. A real, physical badge (not an icon) that I put somewhere and the wall of badges grows and grows.

Why a superhero? Well, when I think about Jennifer (that’s me) never ever giving another cent to those jerks at *insert Big Bank name here* (my mother has counseled me that there’s no need to single out one particular financial institution — so for now, to keep her blood pressure in check, I will omit particulars), well, I’m motivated but it never seems to take priority (forget about the game for the time being, I’m talking about my normal, non-addicted, just getting through life with all of the to-dos of a middle class, American self). But if I imagine that nefarious bandit “The Usurer” and think of myself in a battle of wits and skill with this ne’er-do-well, magically I get more energy. I feel possibility and excitement.

One morning, while thinking about becoming a superhero / finally summoning up the energy/time/focus/resources/guts/willpower to do the things that I want to do to live in the world as I imagine it can be, I was driving my kids somewhere and letting them choose songs to listen to. When it was my son’s turn he chose Come With Me Now by the Kongos and it immediately became my superhero theme song. I can’t help but believe that any morning where I get out of bed, put on my sweatpants and the shirt from the day before as long as it smells ok (my usual uniform as a stay-at-home/working mom), and listen to that song, I just think that would be a day for fighting crime, even if that crime is the amount of junk in my basement.

When I hear that song I want to DO SOMETHING. And by something I don’t mean write a report, tweet a hashtag, or redecorate a room in the house. Break some sh*t. For good. Or at least go on a binge and unsubscribe from a bunch of catalogs.

I want to stop mindlessly and passively supporting bad guys. I want to do more to find and help the good guys. I want to develop my super powers, have a super cool hideout (with appropriate super hero gear and secret weapons) where I go to make my plans.

While I sit (or usually stand, hidden in the corner of the kitchen where I have a three second warning before being caught in the act) building my farms, I often wish to myself that I was spending that time building something real. In my real life. In the real world. And here’s the thing: there are a billion things I could do today to take care of the world, my community, my family, and myself and also make life nicer all around. Some of the things are tiny and some are huge but even a huge thing is made up of lots and lots of tiny things. There are so many possibilities for taking action and making change. I love writing. I love trying new things. I love writing about trying new things. I love games. I love making up games for myself and for other people. I love thinking about how things could work and solving problems.

So here’s what I propose as a means of breaking my addiction and moving in the direction of superhero, an aspiration that is questionably ever reached by a mere mortal without a secret underground lair and lacking multiple, or even a single, millions of dollars or an advanced degree in physics: I will begin my quest and share it in this blog.

I will publish, at least once a week, and share my missions and their criteria and then report on my success, including sharing the badge that I have/have not earned. If anyone reading along is interested, he/she can earn the same badges along with me or at whatever speed he/she is capable/interested in. I’ll share quest-related essays, links to inspiring sites, songs I’m writing and other amateur artwork, info from books I’m reading, heck maybe I’ll even put in a podcast or two one day.

I retain the right to change any/all terminology as something catchy occurs to me. I retain the right to change the entire game at any point. I retain the right to disappear and never write again if I become overwhelmed. But I will try to come back if that happens.

We make the world and we make culture. And no matter who is in the White House, there is a lot an individual can do to not empower bad guys and to support good guys. There is so much possibility and so much to be hopeful about. And so much that is utterly terrifying. So today I’m going to walk away from my iPad and, like Princess Poppy in Trolls, I’m going to choose hope. But just like Princess Poppy, I can’t do it alone. You can help me by letting me know that you are reading this, that any of it makes sense to you, that you sometimes wish you could be a superhero too. If you’d like to follow along with me and my adventures, you can ask to be added to the email list to receive updates. Stay tuned, my next post will answer the question on everyone’s mind… Just who IS Jenny Goodguts?