Friday, November 11, 2016

Ugly emotions

Yesterday I was commiserating with my neighbor about the election and she said that her friend's daughter is African American and kids were yelling Trump! Trump! at her at school and their other friend is Mexican and got a sign on her car which said Now go home! And this is in Portland, Oregon. What must be happening in other more extreme parts of the country? But as we start to see the increased vocalization of these horrible emotions we have to remember that Trump did not cause them he just outed them. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc have been festering under the surface in every part of America and because we, liberals, did not want to give any credence to these views we did not address them and thus allowed them to fester. Hillary should never have used the word "unredeemable" but in all honesty that is how a lot of us have viewed those with these viewpoints, as not worthy of our attention because nothing could be done to alter their impressions. I, like so many others, just thought that slowly they would be dragged into this century by information and education about these issues. To some extent that has happened. Apparently Trump supporters were largely uneducated, white men. But not all. And we have to now face that these kind of extreme viewpoints need to be specifically addressed. So...I am calling on all my friends and anyone out there to use your profession and skills to find creative, cathartic solutions to addressing these viewpoints. Yes the idea of giving them any airtime is heinous to most of us, but that has not worked! So what are your thoughts and ideas for finding a way to help release and address these emotions in a constructive way? I don't want a kid yelling at his hispanic classmate, but I need him to be able to express his fear that somehow America is being overrun by illegal immigrants. So as a writer and educator I'm starting to talk to others about going into the schools and doing writing projects which allow for a calm, less hurtful expression of these emotions. That's just a start but it is at least that. I would love to hear your creative ideas (in any realm). No suggestion will be too crazy so let them fly!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Call to Hillary Supporters

I woke up early this morning to red nail polish (the official color was "Madam President") drunkenly applied and a bad hang-over, induced by both alcohol and politics. Could it really be true that Donald Trump had won the presidency? Every sloshy cell in my body did not want to believe it. As if his temperament and treatment of minorities was not enough, his crass statements about sexual assault had brought up painful memories for myself and many other women. While Trump's taped words and attitude toward what he was saying had left me feeling shaky and weak, the subsequent out-pouring of words by other assault survivors emboldened me to speak out again about what had happened to me as a child, and in so doing, feel stronger and more empowered. Something good from something bad. It seems that life is not as binary, this or that, black or white, as one can be led to believe. Those concepts of winning and losing, all or nothing, are just that - concepts. We can decide to buy into this form of thinking or we can seek higher wisdom and know that all of life is a process, and that our voices will never be silenced as long as we choose to speak up. So on this day of mourning for our "loss" I want to ask all Hillary supporters to take to heart the words she spoke in her concession speech to "never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it!" Now I'm going to take two aspirin and a lot of water and try to figure out how to keep speaking out for so much of what we Hillary fans have been championing. For at least a little while I've got this red nail polish to remind me.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Mistakes like Sparks

I have this theory (I should pretty much start all my blog posts with these words!) that all of our mistakes are like sparks we constantly let off into the ether. We send an email to the wrong person, forget to call our mother on her birthday, arrive late to lunch with a friend, etc. After a moment of embarrassment on our part each of these "sparks" fades out and we think little of it again. That is unless a spark comes into contact with someone carrying around toxic waste, then, BAM! The person we sent the wrong email to is mad about the content, our mother feels neglected and lashes out, etc These explosions (small or large as they may be) make us feel horrible, like we have done something really wrong. The problem with this is that we have not been taught to judge our mistake by the character of the mistake but by the reaction it engenders. If we are late for lunch and the person says, "No worries! I got to catch up on my texts" we feel fine, like maybe we haven't done anything wrong after all. But if the friend launches into a lecture about how her time and maybe the whole friendship isn't really valuable after all, then we feel that we have really made a big mistake. The action, or mistake, is the same; it is only the reaction that is different. But we judge the size of the mistake on how it has made someone feel. In some ways that seems logical, right? We don't want to go around hurting or upsetting others so we judge the size of our mistakes on its effect on others. But there are several big problems with this thinking. First, it is hard, if not impossible, to judge what action will create a reaction in someone else. I once spent a day cleaning the house before my sister-in-law arrived, only to have her say, "It looks like no one lives here!" I truly think she was disappointed not to see the evidence of our daily lives since she rarely got to be around us. The same is true of mistakes. I can forget to text someone and he is fine with it, but someone else finds it very insulting. . This does not allow for us to control our own moral code, which is possibly quite different from others. Secondly, and perhaps even more significantly, if we don't learn to judge our mistakes by what we personally feel about them then we cannot make up for the big mistakes that may engender little or no reaction. Like I said, most mistakes are sparks, but some are blow torches that we carelessly scorch others with but never know it. Maybe it is a flippant comment or a missed meeting that if we really stopped to think about we would work hard to make up for, but since there was little to no reaction on the part of the recipient, we let it go. Sometimes there is no reaction because the person is afraid of confrontation and sometimes it's because that person does not know how to stick up for him or herself. Somewhere deep inside we know that we need to make amends but we do not, because we have learned to react to our mistakes only if there is a reaction from someone else. This may be why gossip is so insidious: we don't feel that it is wrong because we almost never see any reaction by someone else. So our sense of morality, whether our actions are right or wrong, walks around outside of us and depends on the whims (and baggage) of others. And therefore, our own individual morality, what we value and what we do not, does not evolve. I find that nowadays I take this viewpoint to an extreme but I feel much truer to myself. The other day I found myself mentally berating my husband for forgetting to mail a package to our daughter, only to find out he had tried and the post office was closed. There was no reaction on his part because he was not aware of what I had been thinking, but it felt wrong to me. How often did I need to learn that I rarely had all the facts to be so critical? So to atone for my mistake I gave him an impromptu foot rub. Somehow this atonement made me feel that I was moving forward in my thinking and at the very least gave a little affection to someone to whom I had been unfair (even if just in my mind). But I want to hear from you! What do you think about this theory? And feel free to disagree!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nobody Touches Handrails Anymore

My friend Elizabeth
In a fit of efficiency
Had her three kids play with chicken pox
Roll, hug, wrestle,
With the infected neighbors
To get it over with
All together like

Two weeks later
Not a dot

Which got me thinking...
I run around hugging sick people
Like there was no tomorrow
(they need love too you know)

Never caught a thing from it

So maybe we’re all mixed up
About what makes us sick

“Don’t be caught dead without antibacterial soap!”
But the FDA just found it doesn’t do squat

I’m wondering if maybe these massive immune systems
Of ours
Need something different from what we might think
Sure vitamins and sleep and the like,
But maybe laughter, hugs, kisses, sunshine without sunscreen
Ripe tomatoes
Being barefoot, afternoon sex, the warm fur of animals
Sinking endlessly into one activity where time fades into the horizon
What if eye contact proved to be the greatest deterrent to disease?

The slap in the face of my theory is, perhaps, teachers
I’ve heard they can get sick a lot
Staring into all those puppy dog eyes
Astride the runny noses

But maybe if we told them what gems they are
Gave them lots of massage certificates
And heck what about some more
They wouldn’t get sick at all

I’m just thinking...

But I feel better already.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Frugality and Wonder of Waiting

For most of my life I have been an immediate gratification junky and frankly I would still rather have those new shoes right now instead of next Thursday or two paychecks from now. But several things happened to make me change the way I viewed waiting for what I want. First I read some time ago that the sign of maturity is being able to wait for gratification. Ugh! That sentence has definitely plagued me. Then I saw an article about a study done by Stanford University in which they tested whether preschoolers were able to delay gratification by not munching on the marshmallow (the ultimate toddler tempting treat!) in front of them. Turns out some could but what was really interesting is that later studies showed that those toddlers did better in life, had better life satisfaction. Hmm. Also the researchers found that the trait could be taught later on and that those individuals were also happier than their "give it to me now" counterparts.

But frankly nothing drives a point home like real life experience. So I started to notice what would happen if I resisted my urges- be they of the shopping, munching, or imbibing variety- and I discovered several miraculous things. First many of these "oh so urgent" wants simply disappeared in a very short time and left me with a better feeling than if I had engaged in them. Turns out I didn't really want to spend two hours in a mall for a blouse, eat that greasy donut or drink that third glass of wine. Weird. Because not too long before it had really seemed like that activity was truly required if I was going to be happy and yet there I was happy- nay happier- without it. But what was even weirder was how frequently it turned out that the very thing I would have raced out to acquire came to me later in a much more enjoyable way.

Silly recent example, I am redoing our garden box for winter and needed more dirt. I have been delaying because I am more addicted now to the feeling of wonder I get when things arrive in an effortless and unique way than I ever was to the feeling of acquiring it immediately. Last night our friend Laurent came by because he is moving to France and needs to store stuff in our barn and low and behold he brought with him a bag of dirt. So not only did I not spend the money or effort on buying dirt, I got to have a great exchange with a friend about how nice he was for bringing it to us. Wow. This kind of thing happens over and over and I would truly love to hear others' stories because I know it can't just be us experiencing this.

I think our society has given waiting a really bad name- an expensive name, like Muffy or Biff- because in order to be frugal you need to stock up at Cost Co. on everything you might need, EVER, and be prepared. But what happened to the frugality of waiting? And maybe even doing without. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes an impulse is just so fun and so is the satisfaction of fulfilling it. We want a movie and ice cream and we want it now. Blasty blast. But like anything else- too much of a good thing really isn't better. So I now try to be choosier about what impulses I race off to fulfill and which ones I try to give a little breathing room to.

Just had to write about this- right away! Whew.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The hardest thing to do- Nothing

In the song Highway Cafe of the Damned, the Austin Lounge Lizards (thanks brother Eric for getting me hooked) do a pretty good job of listing vices: "sloth and avarice, fornication, television, whisky, beer and wine." Yesterday my husband and I tried to have as hedonistic a day as one can have with kids around. The impetus for this was the fatigue of several weeks of diehard activities with nary a vacation in sight. Suffice it to say that we had no whiskey or beer, felt no ill will toward anyone, and hey, we had kids around. That said it was truly a lazy, rejuvenating day and an incredible learning experience. The idea was to hang out at home but not do ANYTHING productive- nothing of any real value. We watched Star Trek the movie (as our eleven-year-old daughter has become truly obsessed with Spock), then an episode of the original series, ate whatever we wanted (read Nutella and Mac and Cheese) whenever we wanted it (read continuously), played Farkle (a dice game, rules on the internet- don't blame me when you can't stop), read and napped and sipped wine. I have done these activities before so that wasn't really what was so amazing. What turned out to be enlightening is how hard it is to actually NOT do anything productive for one day. I truly think of myself as someone who can laze around at will, so this came as a big surprise to me. Even my type -A husband seemed to take to the slothfulness better than I did. My mind kept searching all day for the thing I should be doing. Laundry, gardening, dishes, meal prep, writing, e-mails, groceries! It was like a periodic alarm was going off warning me that I was missing something. Now I'm not saying I want to live like that but our "do nothing" day did make me wonder when I had become so focused on doing. My husband who was raised Catholic pointed out that what we were engaging in wasn't so much viceful as honoring a Sabath- actually refraining from work, and catching up on rest. Since I wasn't raised religiously I'm not sure what a Sabath is suppose to impart but I think I like the idea. I see a lot of stressed out, exhaused people in this society so maybe some rest days built into the system might be a good idea. I think I would need to eat less Nutella and perhaps move a little more though. Maybe I'll give it another try next weekend!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Searching in the Dust

In light of our recent Good Housekeeping Article I thought I would elaborate on our purchase-free year in a way that a short article does not permit. Here are a few thoughts on why we undertook this crazy experiment in the first place.

Searching in the Dust

I recently found a Persian story about a quirky sage named Mulla Nasrudin. One day he was kneeling on the ground, carefully inspecting the dust. His vigilance caused a young man who was passing by to stop and ask, “What are you doing?”

“I have lost the key to a great treasure and am trying to find it here,” Mulla replied.

“A great treasure?!” exclaimed the man. “Let me help you search for it.”

A woman passed on her way to market. Seeing two men crawling around in the dust, she asked, “What are you doing?”

The man replied, “We are searching for the key to a great treasure. It has been lost. I am helping this sage find it.”

“A great treasure!” exclaimed the woman. “Let me help you search for the key too.”

A large caravan came along. The head camel driver stopped and, seeing three people crawling around in the dust, inquired, “Why are you crawling on the ground?”

The woman replied, “We are searching for the key to a great treasure. It has been lost, and I am helping this sage and this man find it.”

“A great treasure!” exclaimed the camel driver. Like the others he thought, “Perhaps when it is found we can share it!” He invited everyone in the caravan to help. “Let us all assist you in this important task!”

A large crowd now crawled around in the dust, looking for the key. After a long while of unsuccessful searching, a young boy asked Mulla Nasrudin, “Are you certain that you dropped the key right here?”

Mulla stopped poking in the dust and replied, “No. I lost the key somewhere inside my house.”

The crowd stopped searching, stood up and asked, “Then why are we wasting our time looking for it outside?”

“This is an excellent question!” Mulla replied. “Your insight is clear! It is too dark to look for the key in my house. There is far more light out here.


We, as a family, were also searching in the dust. Or, since we lived in Portland, Oregon – the mud, which on this particular occasion, in December of 2001, was accompanied by freezing rain, of the sideways, in-your-face variety. We had been traipsing around in it for a half hour searching for a Christmas tree.

My husband Tim is nothing if not committed, and he was not about to give up on his annual quest for “the perfect tree.” This was the third U-Cut Christmas tree farm we had scoured that day, and Tim was the only participant who still seemed up for the challenge. Our eldest daughter Jenna (then 9 years old), our middle daughter Sage (then 6), and I were shuffling along pressed together in a penguin like huddle. In desperation, one of us would point to a random tree near us and shout through the onslaught of stabbing precipitation, “Hey, what about this one?” Tim would do his best to pretend he was considering a clearly unsuitable selection and then condemn it with one of the following: too skinny; too short; too dense; not dense enough; too weak (to hold a heavy ornament); not vibrant enough; too crooked at the top (to hold the star); too patchy; and the catch-all criticism: not quite right. Then he would throw us a quick, conciliatory smile and the shuffling would begin again.

Periodically we would come into view of Tim’s father’s black Lincoln, which hummed away on the side of the road awaiting our return. Since the windows were fogged by the beckoning heat, I could only barely make out the forms of the occupants, but I knew the rising tide of desperation was filling the car as well. Tim’s father, who was fighting a nasty cold, sat in the driver’s seat while our ever-active youngest daughter, Laugan, flung herself from the back seat to the front in a tireless stream of three-year-old euphoria. At least someone was having a good time.

I will spare you the details of the expletive I used when we finally arrived at the chosen tree, and of the dirty diaper fiasco that ensued upon our return to the car. Suffice it to say, that at some point in our ardent quest for holiday glory, we had begun looking in the wrong place.

Our ill-fated searching was not, however, limited to the holidays. Like everyone else, we seemed in constant pursuit of the illusive idea of happiness, which increasingly revolved around buying just that right thing: the right curtains, the right clothes, the right CD, the right television set, the right car, etc. If we succeeded, then wouldn’t it follow that we would have just the right life?

While joy and happiness swirled sporadically around our family, our success at procuring it seemed rather haphazard. Even at times, in pursuit of this rightness, the feeling was so terribly wrong that I would wonder how we had arrived at this place. Why was I cursing at Christmas trees? How could a family with the best of intentions go so astray? There must be a better way and I was desperate to find it.

Little did I know that “it” would find me, and soon our family would embark on what would prove to be a truly life-altering experiment: an entire year without purchasing. Over the course of a year, our crazy adventure would reveal the key to a more appealing and valuable treasure than we ever could have purchased.