Saturday, December 24, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I don't think anyone would be surprised to know that one of the most noticeable reactions I've had to this Meander I've followed is to second guess my own blog and my writing and my purpose and my abilities and my future as a blogger and my weight and my clothing choices and my professionalism and . . .and . . .and . . .
And my next most noticeable thought is, "Does it really matter? and Does anyone really care? Do I really care? Am I making a big deal of something that is not really all that important? What is my purpose in this blog?" That's the question, really.
So, here's a few answers. No, it doesn't really matter. No, no one really cares all that much. And no, I don't care. Well, okay, yes, I do care. A little bit. And sometimes I care a lot. Yes, I am making a big deal of something that, in the whole scheme of things - Occupy Wall Street, the death of North Korea's leader, the Sailor's upcoming deployment (and after some discussion, my oldest son's blog name is now the Naval Officer, since he worked damn hard to earn that title), the Scholar's appointment with a rheumatologist tomorrow, the travails of daily crises and the pain and trauma of large crises that my clients are working so hard to bear - isn't that important at all, from this perspective.
But the purpose of the blog . . . that feels really important. One of the things that I second guess myself about is the gravity and density of the writing here. I've been reading some great blogs that are short, sweet or not so sweet, and to the point - Divatology, Geogypsy, Telling Dad, Whiskey and the Morning After - all worth checking out. But I came across this little nugget of wisdom in Jeff Goins' blog; "The more you focus on a particular topic, the more specialized you become and the more you attract an engaged audience." So I'm going with that. I am a fairly grave and dense person. I'm a depth psychologist. Not that you have to be grave and dense to be a depth psychologist. But that is the kind that I happen to be. No sense trying to be someone I'm not. And no sense in trying to write something that isn't true for me. I guess rather than a particular topic, I am specializing in a particular experience.
It is when I bring my most authentic self to the keyboard and to the blank page that something magic happens. I think that's true of most writers. Goins also urges the blogger to remember that this public medium isn't just a place for the writer to stand front and center and glory in the attention that may or may not come her way. The blogger must be faithful and attentive to the readers that may or may not come her way. So true. But I really don't know how to most honor the reader unless I've started by honoring the writer.
I have realized as I've wandered down some strange, busy roads these last few days in Blogland that I'm not especially interested in becoming a famous blogger like The Bloggess or Erika Napoletano or Zen Habits. That much attention scares me to death. What I am interested in is good conversation. I like smart blogs. I like blogs with interesting, new, quirky ideas. I like blogs that have some weight to them.
I have also realized that I am not interested in making things easy for people. I haven't really known this about myself until recently. I don't want to compromise my gravity and density for others' comfort. Does this sound mean? I don't intend for it to be a thoughtless, "screw you" kind of statement. What I mean is, I think it's okay for us to work sometimes. I'm reading the German and French phenomenologists and, believe me, they had no interest in making life easy for their readers! But I enjoy the challenge. I have to slow down. I have to reflect. I have to engage with the text. I have to be present. This is the kind of experience I hope to provide for those people who find their way over here. Then we can wander around together in this dense, gravity-laden life we're living and maybe not feel quite so alone.
That's my hope anyway. Maybe we can hold hands while we walk. That might make things a bit easier.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Okay, yes. We ate spaghetti maybe once a month, with leftover meals of spaghetti for a few days. But we did not eat it for 18 years. And yes, I tried to make sure that I didn't throw food out. I wasn't always successful, but you can make a good pot of Stone Soup with leftover this and leftover that. Of course, then you have to eat the leftover soup of leftovers.
And yes, I did indeed make peanut butter pasta. It was a Thai recipe. I had never fixed Thai food before, and the recipe did call for peanut butter. But maybe Adams Natural Peanut Butter isn't the way to go. I'm not sure because I never did try to make Thai food after that. We were all a bit traumatized.
I only made it the one time, but the meal lives on in infamy. Mostly because Steve had just finished lecturing the kids that they needed to eat what was given to them without complaining and they needed to eat all they were given. So when I served the peanut butter pasta, Steve had to literally eat his words. He gagged on them a bit. The peanut butter pasta wasn't that bad, but it wasn't all that good either. (Pay attention, guys, this is the only time I will ever admit this.)
Peanut butter pasta was the meal I will never live down. Green chicken and almond casserole is the meal my mother-in-law never lived down.
Mom passed on almost 4 years ago, a wonderful woman who, no matter what people said or did, would just comment with marvel in her voice, "People are so interesting!" She'd listen to the story of her green chicken and almond casserole with equanimity and very little defensiveness. Unlike my responses to my Thai fiasco, she would, in fact, just laugh along with everyone else. (I could really take some lessons from my mother-in-law!)
The casserole got green because the recipe called for almonds, so Mom used leftover cookie-making almonds dyed with green food coloring. When they went into the casserole, the rest of the dish turned green as well. When the family sat down to dinner, there it was - a pile of green chicken and some moist bright green substance. This became Mom's meal of infamy.
According to her three children, in addition to the green chicken casserole, the only other thing Mom ever made was tagliarini (which we Southerners, evidently, pronounce "tag-larni.") Mom would put up a tiny bit of a fuss when this accusation was leveled at her. And I know for a fact that the almost 30 years I knew Mom, she never fixed tagliarini. Mom's tagliarini was my spaghetti.
But poor me! I grew up eating only my stepmom's hot dog and baked bean casserole with crushed saltines sprinkled and browned on top. Which would have been fine, except that she always put dried onion flakes in it, which I hated. This beans and weenie casserole routine was occasionally broken with a meal of Hamburger Helper or pigs in a blanket made with Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls and Kraft American Singles. Somehow I made it to adulthood with a healthy heart after eating hot dogs in some form or fashion or sodium-laden Hamburger Helper every night of my childhood.
I look forward to the day when my grandson tells his girlfriend and friends he was forced fed every day of his poor poor childhood and how he grew up healthy and hardy despite a lifetime of spaghetti, or tagliarini, or green chicken casserole, or beans and weenies with crushed saltines. And I'm sure someone in the room will say, "Well, let me tell you about the time that your Mimsy served us poor, poor people peanut butter pasta!"
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.
Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: “Yes, but I love myself.”
A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. ~ Stephen Crane, from "The Open Boat."
When I was teaching high school, a student came across this extraordinary passage while studying for the GED exam. She didn't understand it, and so we sat and unpacked it, phrase by phrase. I asked her if she had ever gone out on a clear night during the dark of the moon and stood under the night sky looking up at the stars. No, she said, she'd never done this before. I was teaching in an urban school, smack in the middle of downtown Seattle, so I suppose I wasn't surprised. But I was sad she'd never had this humbling, age-old experience.
When my grandson was very young, one of the first words he learned to say was "star." He was fascinated with the night sky. Now almost five years old, he still is. I often wonder if children, newly arrived on this planet, are not only fascinated with the night sky but also look at it with longing, as if homesick. My grandson told me just a few days ago with much authority that the moon was made of "green glowing cheese! and ROCKS, of course!" Of course, I said, how perfectly obvious.
The stars we wish upon and the moon made of cheese, or the lights of planes flying through a black sky, or the lights of houses and cities breaking the dark plains of America as one flies over on a cross-country flight - I feel small and humble when I gaze upon these things. The world feels immense, and I feel insignificant. A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation.
This insignificance is oddly reassuring. It relativizes me, my ego, my daily dramas and crises that I feel are so extraordinarily urgent. It relativizes my busy-ness, my self-important tasks that keep me on the treadmill, nose to the grind. When I look at a star's light that started its journey across the universe four, five, ten, or more years before this moment in time, I'm stunned at the immensity of time and space. My own smallness is correlative to the inifinitude of our universe and all the other universes beyond that. I know the pathos of my situation.
Pathos is a complex emotional experience. It is more than suffering. It's not really suffering at all. It's the emotions that arise when we recognize the capacity of the human heart to suffer. To know and recognize the capacity to suffer opens the heart to compassion and empathy. I stand on my deck, tilt my head back as far as I can, let my eyes rest on the high cold stars in the winter night sky, and I feel a connection with every person on the planet who stands under this same sky. Who is born. Who does daily life, plugging along as best as one can. Who knows so much of what I know about living. And dying. I feel connected by the strands of light coming from a distant star dancing out there in Alpha Centauri.
I feel like this every winter as we make our way to the Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is turned away from the sun, and the planet teeters in liminal space, the apex of the longest darkness and the turning back to light. I feel small, filled with humility, not so full of myself, no longer too big for my britches. I remember again my humanity. One in a sea of. It's exhausting carrying the weight of a demanding ego. It's good to lay that burden down every now and then. To simply be a person, stripped down to what is basic and necessary. Because then I recognize again who my truest self is, greet her again like an old friend, and I have great compassion for that small person filled with humility.
There's a great couple of lines in Thornton Wilder's moving masterpiece Our Town that also relativizes our place here on this blue planet:
Rebecca: I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.
George: What's funny about that?
Rebecca: But listen, it's not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God - that's what it said on the envelope.
I think of that ever expanding spatial concentric circle that defines each of our places in the Universe, and ultimately, in the Mind of God. Or whatever Higher Power you believe in and kneel down before. Even if it is the Mind of Reason and Law. Somewhere we are both the center of it all and just a tiny speck of dust, floating in a ray of sunshine in someone's empty parlor room. Like Horton's discovery of the small planet of Whoville on a speck of dust.
A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. Winter's Solstice is almost here, and these are the things I think about. Some would say that my thoughts are depressing, pathetic. Depressing, no. But pathetic, yes, as in full of pathos. Full recognition that my smallest self is connected to the large heart of the world's humanity. I take great comfort in that in some of my darkest moments, and certainly in this darkest time of the year.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
Saturday, October 8, 2011
I want to tell two stories to get to the answer:
STORY ONE: AN EXPERIENTIAL EXERCISE
When I was in my graduate counseling psych program, my cohort participated in a cultural diversity exercise that has haunted me for almost a decade now. About a dozen volunteers sat in a fish bowl arrangement and randomly chose a sticky note with a few words written on it - presented face down so they had no idea what they were choosing - and placed the label to their foreheads without seeing which label they chose. As the volunteers in this exercise sat in their circle, they were to interact with one another only through the label. That is, they were to disregard the whole person sitting in front of them, the person they had chatted with at lunch, the person who was a mother or a brother or a teacher or who took on a thousand other roles in his or her life, and to parcel out the one thing that defined them at this time, leaving the rest of their human experience outside the fishbowl.
The scenario they were given was something like this: The group must choose the ten most important things that will allow them to survive indefinitely on a wilderness trip they are preparing to take. As they planned, they were to interact with one another solely on the pieces of paper stuck on their foreheads. These notes were directives such as: agree with everything I say; ignore me; respond to my statements only with questions; laugh at everything I say; argue with everything I say. It was one of the most painful experiences I've witnessed.
Sitting outside the fishbowl looking in, I saw the pain come over the person with "ignore me" written across the forehead. My classmate figured out early on what the label said and withdrew into a reinforced silence. The person who had "agree with everything I say" also figured out early on what the label said and took full advantage of it, suggesting outrageous items to include on the list for the group's survival. The person would say, "Let's take an elephant from the zoo!"
"Yes! Yes! That's a great idea!" the group enthusiastically responded. Later, the person with whom everybody agreed said this brought up old narcissistic pain, old ways of being in the world he thought were left behind long ago.
This exercise has stayed with me all of these years because I watched people I knew and loved become people I couldn't recognize. All because there was a label on their foreheads that told the world how they were to be treated. It opened my eyes to this phenomena in my everyday life.
STORY TWO: A FACEBOOK NUISANCE
I have had more than a few conversations in the last few months regarding the number of Facebook postings I put on my wall. Some have said they have to ignore most of them. A few others have said they hide my postings at times because it just gets to be too much. Evidently sometimes, when I'm really cooking, I'll post enough articles, images, pages, and videos to take up a person's entire Newsfeed page.
These links run a gamut of issues I am passionate about. The top contenders at the moment are: women's reproductive rights, the privatization of public education, LGBQTTTIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/questioning, transsexual, transvestite, transgender, intersexual, asexual) rights, and global movements. Right now, my newsfeed is streaming links from all over the globe regarding Occupy Wall Street.
Evidently, I'm a Facebook nuisance. When I asked my husband (I must come up with my Blogger name for this man) if he had seen my posting about the delicious gluten free pizza I was making for myself these days (he's been in China for the last 5 weeks), he said he reads the first two postings I put up and then moves on. Says he doesn't have hours to spend on FB reading my posts. Even my husband thinks I'm a FB nuisance.
BUT HERE'S THE THING . . . (AND TO TIE THE TWO STORIES TOGETHER)
What is happening in the world today is big. It's really big. Conversations are happening between human beings and not just between governments these days because of tools such as Facebook. I have friends all over the world, wherever social media is allowed, with whom I can establish warm, loving relationships. There are humor and pathos. There are jokes, rants, and questions. We are all just people trying to figure it out. And the socio-political realm is reflecting these new relationships. Things are getting all shook up. Chaos reigns.
Here are some wise words from a friend in India, who watches global movements with a keen eye:
If we want to break free from oppressive politics and hegemony, we should first start with just that - speech. It is the most fundamental act towards empowerment.
In an age when we are told what to say, speaking up about what we think is a revolutionary act.
Talking, speaking, debating, and disagreeing are at the core of a process of reinventing identities that form a community able to govern itself. . . . We need to ask questions. And we need to seek answers. . . .
Our voice will join us in the shared grief of our loss, empower us with the ability to empathize with those who are different from us but are like us in their pain and unite us towards the shared goals of freedom, liberty and self government.
We have a great opportunity here to reinvent democracy as consensus of the people, by the people, for the people. Each one, having their say, is the first step.
We must not fear failure, we must fear silence.
How can I keep silent when our right to speak out is at stake?
I sat silent in the experiential exercise as I watched people I loved work in painful divisiveness and as all-too-human tendencies overtook their better judgment and the workings of the cerebral cortex. No law said I had to sit in silent acceptance. I had so many choices I could have made. I could have moved to my friend who sat still and silent through the ignorance of others, laid my hand on the shoulder of one who was alone, let that person know there would always be a loving presence. I could have moved across from my friend who was swept up in narcissistic power, eyes meeting eyes, filled with love for the heartful person I knew lived within him, so my friend could recognize that heartful person within himself. I could have said to the professor, "There is more to our humanity than this exercise. We get your point. We can be ruled by labels, preconceptions, fear, and power. But we can also be ruled by our passion, our voices, our courage, and our hearts."
This is what I attempt to do with my global news filtering through my Newsfeed. Nuisance or not. It is my voice in the world, loud and strong.
Lao Tzu said, "Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest with those who are honest, and be also honest with those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained." Thus, I would add, we relate to the flawed, vulnerable, grace-filled human being within each of us
"γνῶθι σεαυτόν." "Know thyself." It's that simple. Know that each of us has to pull our pants on one leg at a time, has to shit and piss just like the other guy, needs water and air and sustenance to survive, came into this world as a helpless wailing infant hungry for our mother's breast, laughs, cries, breathes, sleeps, and dreams like every single human being who's ever lived on this planet since . . . well, since time began. Each of us occupies our humanity every day, for better or for worse. Despite all the labels slapped on our foreheads. Despite all of our loneliness and all of our greedy power mongering. We are humankind. It's that simple.
So many, "yeah, buts . . . " to come back at this statement. But, really. It is that simple. Know thyself as human.
Friday, September 30, 2011
I thought today I would try to lighten things up a bit. But I am finding this is impossible for me to do. I guess this blog is destined to be full of weighty, serious, nonfunny topics. Note: I didn't write "nonhumorous" because my hope is that sometimes I'll have some humor pop up here and there. But unfortunately (or fortunately?) I just don't do funny. (I posted as my FB status the other day, just to show you that I do have a sense of humor, "Okay, I admit it. I love Will Ferrell and the movie Burlesque. What can I say. Psyche is compensatory." See how I had to add that little depth psychology lesson in at the end? It's integral to who I am and how I communicate. The post was a little humorous, though. And I try not to apologize for who I was born to be. Bad form.)
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I stopped in my tracks. As a therapist, I am trained to be aware of process as well as content. No longer was the focus on the original posting which we were debating or the ulterior motive of my FB friend who posted it. My focus was now on the process in which this stranger and I were engaging. My fellow debater's accusation brought up an interesting point–Must everything political point the finger at someone or something? Must every political article, video, posting, conversation, piece of information be polarizing? Have we ever been able to talk about politics in this country so that we remain friends at the end of the day? What are we trying to achieve when we talk politics?
One of the first social rules I learned as a young person was the directive "Never talk politics or religion." How interesting! The two things that affect our lives most deeply–our faith and our communal life–are not considered topics safe enough to talk about in civil company. Why?
The etymology of the word "politics" is quite innocuous. It comes from the Greek polītikos, from polītēs, citizen, from polis, city. A political person, then, is a citizen, a resident of the city. Why, then, do we either avoid the topic warily or enter into the fray with both fists raised?
I suspect it is because "the personal is political," as Carol Hanisch wrote in 1969. Our personal lives are intimately tied into the life of the politic. Hannah Arendt wrote, "No civilization would ever have been possible without a framework of stability, to provide the wherein for the flux of change. Foremost among the stabilizing factors, more enduring than customs, manners and traditions, are the legal systems that regulate our life in the world and our daily affairs with each other."
So when we talk about politics, we are talking about the underlying rules, laws, policies, and systems that allow us to live out our best lives, the lives we most desire for ourselves. Or vice versa. We are railing against systems that prevent us from doing so. This seems to be the crux of the matter–the denial of desire, the lack of liberty to live our lives as we see fit. Of course, throw in the tension between the individual and the collective, and there's a grand mêlée. Freud looked closely at this essential question in Civilization and Its Discontents of how one manages to follow the path of the individual spirit while at the same time conforming to the expectations and necessary laws of society. This is an essential question because this is the dynamic that is present in almost every aspect of our lives these days, and was present, I believe, in my Facebook exchange.
The person with whom I debated is a stranger to me, and, after this interaction, he will most likely remain a stranger. I can be rather stubborn in my views. One of which, paradoxically, is–remain flexible in one's views, thus giving some breathing space for dialogue. This person seemed to be rather entrenched in his political views and unwilling to step into the breathing space to see what else might be there, as did I. My second political view I refuse to relinquish is in regards to one of our purposes here on this planet: We are to learn how to live quality lives in community and to assure that this is available to everyone. All of us. Every single human being on this planet. Not a soul left standing outside the gates while the rest of us sit at the banquet table. (Note–my religious views intersect with my political views here.) I don't know if this is the right stance to take or not, but I can't not take it. I feel it is my individual, community, social, human, yes, political obligation to advocate and work for social justice for the global community.
It is a conundrum to say the least. I want to be able to create a safe place for the person with whom I am in dialogue (see The Guest House: A Love Story posting below), which requires compromise and flexibility. I am unwilling to negotiate this belief. Yet this belief that I am unwilling to compromise is one that works toward the safe dialogical space. It is an either/or dichotomy which I'm uncertain how to resolve, though my Facebook friend who hosted the debate thread ended the discussion by engaging in the commenter's process, not his content. In a personal aside to me, she called this Trickster energy–engaging by not engaging. This is also used in aikido, a way to engage by redirecting the attack rather than opposing it head-on. I like that. It is a skill I intend to foster because my inflexibility about the need for flexibility shut down the dialogue between the stranger and me.
Some of the answers may be found here–Fluidity. Non-violence. Compassion. Agreeing to disagree. Breathing space. Authentic dialogue. Acknowledgement of the other's/Other's worldview. And love.
Love. It seems almost too simple, a simplistic solution to a complicated, sometimes violent, issue. I remind us, however, that love is one of the most powerful forces on earth. One of our greatest prophets died because of it. We should not underestimate its strength. In that vein, I end with this lovely quotation by Kelly Oliver:
Saturday, September 24, 2011
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Every morning when I make my tea and toast for breakfast, there are stories ~ in my mugs, the honey I put into the tea, and the apricot jam I favor for my toast. It's a simple breakfast, but it's my favorite meal of the day when I can remember the stories. Memories, really.