Tuesday, February 28, 2012

same (face) book, different page

ok, this is an off-the-cuff post.

normally i would be at yoga right now namaste-ing this current angst away, but i'm not because as i was about to leave, my stomach suddenly got sour and i had to use the bathroom. the rest is personal.

one pepogest capsule later (i love that stuff) i'm feeling a bit better, but not enough to do six sun salutes nonstop. i'd likely be doing another kind salute if i went. some bug is going around school, so it's just as well.

i'm pontificating today about perspectives. and how we all have them. and how mine is different than yours and yours is different from his and his different from hers and hers is different than yours... i hope you know where this is going.

if not, here goes: you are in your head and there's usually room for just one of you. it is nigh impossible for you to be in my head. i can barely be in my own head sometimes. it would be inane, on a phantasmagorical level to suggest that even my appreciation of breeze, a flower, a sound or a song is the same as yours.

so what do we do? we remember: i am me, and you are you and despite coo-coo-ca-joo and all that we aren't always all together. in more ways than one (one being that i'm not always all together: i have bad days and good days and bad minutes and good minutes), we are not all together because we are our own bunches of DNA and chemicals and hormones and memories with legs and eyes and all the rest. plus, The Beatles were stoned when they wrote that, so i don't give it much credence.

so in this mass me-dia age of e-Bathos, e-Sympathy and e-Angst we have a wonderful engine: facebook, to add yet another layer of confusion and misunderstandings and the occasional lack of perspective.

o facebook! that facebook of our times! it has become something like a locker room, a school bathroom, a bar bathroom, a utility closet, a waiting room, a front hall, a back hall, a just around the corner and i'll be there in a sec place ... even if you're with another person on that facebook place, you're not in the same place. ya dig?

where is this going? well, nowhere i suppose if you don't understand what i'm saying. bear with me.

regarding facebook, users have an unstated cosmically wrong so-called mutual (800 million mutual) understanding that posits thus: "we all know what you mean." when in reality i suggest this: "no, we don't all know what you mean. in fact, some of us have no clue what you mean." a posting from me could mean something vastly different to someone else.

say i post "i love ice cream!" on my wall. that's pretty innocuous, right? ha. one of my fb friends sees this and it makes her sad. she used to love ice cream, but she wrote a poem about her love of ice cream in high school that her teacher said was rubbish and horrid and that ice cream is what killed her teacher's lover when he slipped on a melting ice cream cone on the sidewalk of a busy street under a construction scaffolding canopy that couldn't stop a steinway grand piano from smashing on him when a mover had a heart attack and lost his grip on the rope and pulley that was holding it up. he had a heart attack because he hadn't taken his medication for the past few days because he was so overwhelmed that his daughter didn't get into Julliard and she was writing more sad, poetic stuff that her teacher didn't like.

woo-woo... how'd i do that? well, it all did itself. that was fun, wasn't it? i had a F Scott moment there. thanks, FSF! must be the pepogest. 

c'mon... back to Right Now... that's right, here we go: so the friend who wrote the supposed bad poetry instantly sees the "i love ice cream" post and says something offensive to the innocent ice cream lover. and everything goes pear-shaped. feelings are hurt, people are considered insensitive, other people get involved and the ice cream eater gets depressed and eats a whole gallon (eight pints) of chunky monkey, which requires some pepogest.

i'm writing about this because in my own experiences with facebook, i've had the following situation: it was my birthday. a mutual friend posted on my wall, "happy birthday, hope you're having a great day! i miss you, i'm so busy with school, we need to go out!" or something equally benign and sincere.

a mutual friend posted as a comment to that friend's stand-alone, unsolicited happy birthday greeting, "oh xfriend name would go here but it won't 'cause this is realx you'll be done in no time! you're almost there. i'm so proud of you ... i've still got another 2 years to go! hang in there, blah blah blah."  (blah blah blah mine)

this mutual excited-for-our-friend's-almost-being-done-with-school fb friend, whom i actually know in "real life" (remember that?) and whom i suspect strongly meant no disrespect to me whatsoever, did NOT say "hey molly, i'm gonna make a follow-up comment to a mutual friend who posted a birthday greeting on your wall but i won't say happy birthday to you or even acknowledge that it's your wall, i'll just be like a random insect and splat myself on your 45 mph windshield," because she didn't need to. i know this person and she is . . .  wait for it . . . unique. she is herself. and that's allowed. she is a good person with a heart of blood, connective tissues, muscle and arteries (i'm not gonna say "gold" because it's not gold - now don't go thinking i mean something bad because it's not gold -- no one has a heart of gold, get over y'selves). she is also terrifically distracted, completely overwhelmed and i needn't say more, but i will, she's wholly in her own head.

so what did i do? i acknowledged her in-her-own-headness and because i possess an active id and had my birthday ego on, i took the high road: i blocked her ability to post or comment or anything on my wall for about 3 months. nyah.  i didn't want to deal with the randomness. that's my choice. i know that my saying something about how my feelings were hurt woulda absolutely gone in one ear and out the other. this is not to suggest that she would ignore me, it's to suggest that she'd simply not be there with me; she doesn't have the bandwidth. that's cool; that's what the privacy settings are all about.

another blessedly wonderful friend and i have a phrase about behaviors like that -- facebook behaviors that comment on a remark with content that has nothing whatsoever to do with the original point as "i like candy." she knows who she is and she makes me laugh, and sing, and cry and hyperventilate at the randomness of life. i hope she's reading. we've been known to write "i like candy" on our own walls per comments that have nothing to do with the original thread. are we perfect? heck no. but are we paying attention? yep. i believe our use of "i like candy" is our common acknowledgement that other people are just doing their thang.

i think, or i like to think that we all know this about life -- that not everyone's on the same page and yet it can irk us when it happens. why? because those people aren't in our heads and for me, i have the gall, honesty and complete arrogance to say that it bugs me. it's about being seen and heard: a deeply primitive core need we all have. God save the person who doesn't hear or see another person (code: me). it's that lack of perspective: the act of reading the same book, but being on a different page that we all experience.

rather than being angry that someone doesn't get our joke, or see our pain, or live in our shoes we could do a whole lot better by celebrating our uniqueness and allowing that person the wonderful gift of not having our cares in their world. does it make that person a bad friend? an evil force? unsympathetic? uncaring?

heck no. it makes us and that person human. what's more? four gold stars and smiley face stickers for us for giving everyone, ourselves included, the few steps back to be OK with the perspective that we lack perspective. that's better than nothing.

just sayin.'

you know the phrase, "put me out of my misery"? i've adapted it to "put me out of their misery." it works too and it's not selfish, it's simply choosing yourself.

thank you.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Yosemite Sammin’ over Fragal Ratzen Switsrigribin Science

I have attempted to give up swearing and sarcasm, two of my most favorite and go-to incongruent messaging techniques, for the season of Lent.  Over the years, I have developed an affinity for my favorite antagonist, Looney Tunes' famous, red-haired, rootin-tootinest, six-gun shootin'est, Hessian with Aggressionist Yosemite Sam and his amazing ability not to swear but get it all out anyway.  

I pay homage to Sam's dialect tonight . . . 

On January 12, Thing 2 was assigned (along with all his classmates) the frutstikriken science packet for tomorrow night’s (February 28) science and math expo at school.

He turned in his packet, which announced his project: “Effect of a Slope on an Object” the title of which I find utterly untenable. Being a writer, I absolutely resent the passive voice. Why can’t it be blistrikriken called “How a Slope Effects Objects” or “Things that Roll Down a Slope” or “Here’s What Happens to a Marble on Mini Playground Slide”?

Passive voice notwithstanding, the last yours truly heard about this kwazteriken project was January 13th.

On the walk to school this morning in the mid-winter sunlight and beneath the barren Snow White-scary trees, I witnessed other children ambling along with their massive tri-fold cardboard science presentations.  Some couldn’t see around the edges of their projects, some presentations were perched atop younger siblings’ strollers and others still were shuttled by their devoted mothers.  

We didn’t verstigrobitz have one.

“Looks like everyone has something to bring in to school today; lots of kids in your grade, too and older kids too…” (I knew what it was, but I REFUSED, frammit, to utter the drastifregitz words “Science Project.”)

“Uh, yeah. I decided not to do one. I don’t have to; so I chose not to,” Thing 2 confidently declared.

Crickets.  Do not grind teeth. Do not grind teeth.

Then Thing 3 (who is 8) said, in his best Commissioner Gordon voice, “Hey, Dono, it looks like you don’t have a science project.  The Expo is tomorrow, where’s your work?” Nothing gets past Thing 3.  I mean, nothing.  The kid is sharp as a laser-guided, diamond-studded titanium tack.  He built the Lego set of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” for seven hours nonstop on Boxing Day, I thought we were going to have to hook him up to an IV for sustenance. 

Again, Thing 2 said, “It’s cool; I don’t need to bring one in.”

Crickets from me, who has taken on the name, "Mominator" today. 

The most recently I’ve heard about this project was about 45 seconds ago after I stomped my feet up the stairs in utter arghnitshaquin disgust about the entire grazifrakin situation.

Why? Because all of a sudden, Thing 2 grew a brastinagitz conscience.  “My teacher’s gonna be mad uh-uh-uh at me… I mean, *sniffle snarf* she is already. I … uh uh uh … I uh uh uh, she’s *gaspy sniffle* alreadddddydisAPPOINtedddddd.”

Well shatifrakin cry me a dritsagribin river.

He’s down there now, in the playroom doing his project.  The Spouse is helping him.  I refused.  What I couldn’t believe is that I caught just a little guff for helping Thing 1 when he needed assistance with a project a few years ago and I quickly growled, “I helped him because all he tristawrakin needed was fritzerbrickin assistance in coloring the pictures he drew that would go along with the quistanitzin content he created and assembled for his project.  He was almost fisterikrigen finished.  And he’d been strizerwrikin working on it for at least a week…”

I was left to myself.

It’s twikstribrikin quiet in here.

Thank you.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Law of Diminishing Returns

Everyone who has a goal exerts an effort toward achieving that goal.  Typical of overachievers (or hardheads), they press on even more.  As a culture, we are told that with greater effort, tenacity and perseverance results will come abundantly.  “Work is its own greatest reward.”

The Law of Diminishing Returns states otherwise.  The law states that with increased and sustained effort toward a goal, the return will actually decline.  We see this in athletics: overtraining can result in strained ligaments, torn muscles, increased irritability, disrupted sleep and joint pain.  Run too hard too often and too long and you’re not gonna be running much at all very soon. 

Consider my beloved yoga. I recently read that too much yoga-inspired meditating can slow the metabolism and counteract any muscle building the work can impart.  Obviously taking a pose beyond what our bodies can withstand can cause injury and clearly issues with inversions (headstands, backbends and similar poses) can royally mess up the spine.  Would you rather unwind or unravel?

The Law of Diminishing Returns reigns in personal relationships and dynamics: stalkers go to prison.  

All too often, all that pushing, working, believing, and wishing will be the undoing of the effort. Tenacity sometimes can kick your own ass.

Take Thing 2 for example. This evening, he wanted to go outside after dinner to play and we said no because it was too cold, too dark and very windy outside. As I type, I can hear the winds, they are gusting at about 35 mph.  Our neighborhood has a lot of old trees with brittle branches and that is that.  We have learned over the years to head him off at the pass: to offer the reasons and conditions for our decision before he has a chance to whine, “But whhhhy?” I said no.  Not two minutes later, he asks again, but in this way, “So you don’t want me to go out after dinner?” And we both said no.

Thing 2: “I’m asking DAD. So DAD, you don’t want me to go out after dinner?”

Dad:  [I love this]: “What did your mother say?”

Thing 2: “I’m asking you. Can-I-go-out-side-af-ter-din-ner?”

Dad: “Again, I ask you, what did your mother say? She said ‘no,’ right?”

Thing 2: “Yes, but I want to know what you say, Dad.”

Dad: “If your mother says ‘no’ then I say ‘no’ and that’s it.”

. . . . . . . . . . Kiss of death:

Thing 2: “Guuuuh … huff.  But I waaaaant toooooooo…”

Dad: “You’re about to lose playing outside tomorrow.  Now sit down and eat.

That is a prime example of the Law of Diminishing Returns.

For all of us, Thing 2 included, our id (the wah-wah baby in us) is the voice that says go ahead, keep trying harder, ask again, ask louder, get what you want, go faster, push again.  We like that voice because we want to be rewarded with bigger, better, stronger, faster, richer, smarter -- because why? Because we know best.  We know that our goal is the best goal.  Oh, and because when you get what you want, you’ll be a different, a stand-out; you’ll be NOTICED.

Bobby Brady tried it when he wanted to be taller: he used the backyard swing set to stretch himself so he’d grow a couple inches to impress a girl.  It didn’t work.

So if we have the id, what about the other voice? The super ego, the rational one, the one that says, “give it time and it will work out.”  “Don’t overdo, you might get overdone.”  In most first-world nations we push that annoying, nasaly, Felix Unger voice off the nearest cliff.  Surely our super ego or even our intuition can’t be right.  Intuition? That’s so … Fiji and woo-woo.  In our world of watching a movie on our phones while waiting in line at a store or paying a premium to block access to WiFi at hotels and resorts, acting with our intuitive intelligence doesn’t always fly.  If there’s no app for that, we don’t want it. Go Go GO!


Quite often tenacity works and it’s great: you study hard and you get a good grade.  You work long hours and your boss gives you a raise.  You watch what you eat, exercise with care and you lose weight and gain energy.  You show kindness and patience to a new friend and you are rewarded with a solid relationship.  It’s good.

How can our tenacity kick our asses? Well, when we push the boundaries sometimes. Duh. No, I mean if we involve other people, tenacity can backfire. For example: What about the partner, the child, the friend who continually implores an addict to change his or her behavior?  It’s at moments like this when tenacity has become our enemy. 

Consider the popular phrase, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It dovetails beautifully for someone who loves someone else so much that he or she loses his or her self in their beloved’s problems: the partner nags, pushes, reads, researches, hides, distracts, connives, plans, schemes, dreams and wishes, tries again and never gives up thinking or hoping that things will change.  And guess what?  The addict does almost exactly the same thing, but just in the opposite direction: hides, schemes, lies, steals, distracts and dreams that things will stay the same but that the other person will change. 

I was in a strained and significant relationship where I wanted to thank someone for something.  I didn’t want to let that person think that I didn’t appreciate their efforts despite any challenges in the relationship. I was in a good place emotionally and so I started to write a letter of gratitude and appreciation and unfortunately, it morphed into a place where I apologized for any strain I had placed on things but my apology wasn’t perfect.  I couldn’t look away from the bright and shiny trophy that I felt we both deserved if we owned our parts in the challenges.  It was at this point that things went a little pear-shaped but they reformed before the end of the letter.  The letter was never sent because I realized that it wasn’t pure and isolated.  Despite the fact that I’d printed the letter, folded it, put it in an envelope, addressed it, sealed it and put a stamp on it and walked it to my outgoing mailbox, I realized several hours later that I wasn’t ready to send it.  Even with all of my best intentions, and all those letter-closing actions I knew I had created a back-handed compliment and I had twisted and contorted my way around the communication to sincerely thank the person but also suggest, “by the way, you’re welcome for my putting up with all your manipulative crap…” which wasn’t altogether fair.

So I told my therapist about that attempt.  She said it was a noble idea but she was glad I pulled the letter out of the mailbox.  She knows I’m a word freak and that I shroud my emotions under my intellect, it’s a protective mechanism.  She gave me homework.  She said, “Instead of sending that letter of gratitude to your person, I want you to come up with an appreciation of yourself.  I want you to thank yourself.”

I said, “You want me to thank myself?! Well THANK YOU!” and I sprang up from my seat on the couch, grabbed her box of tissues and beaned her with it.  Gave her a shiner.  Then she called security and had me arrested. 

No, actually we didn’t do that.  I sat on the couch and festered.  I didn’t like this assignment because after mostly being on the couch for a few years, I knew that where we she was taking me was not Dairy Queen.  It was going to be a mahogany-paneled library in my mind where great thinkers thought in leather chairs and considered great things.  I had to do some work.  “Ok, I’ll thank myself.  This is not as easy as it sounds, y’know.” And you know what she said? She said, “I know. Good.”

So naturally, it had to be something major. I was lost.  After a couple days of head-scratching, I went to the most sagacious place I knew: Facebook. I posted my status, “If you were going to thank yourself for something, what would it be?” and I got some answers that were good, but not right for me.  They were lovely reasons, but they were extrinsic.  I needed to go deep, down the sidelines and turn to receive a great pass and take it in for a home run.  (I don’t watch much hockey.)

After the Facbook consult, I continued on.  I didn’t forget about the assignment and I stayed on task, driven to distraction and the only word I could come up with, for myself when I considered all of my life and the story I had created in it was “TENACITY.”  I laughed at the irony of how I’d finally arrived at it.  I never gave up.

So all chest-puffy and feathers fluffed I marched in to my therapist's office about a week later and plopped on the couch. 

“I know why I’d thank myself.  I figured it out.  It took me a while, but I did it and it makes perfect sense and it’s the most appropriate and good reason: I thank myself for my tenacity.  For never giving up.  For always swinging and putting in the good effort and for always believing things could happen and get better and that good times were just around the corner.  I love that about myself.  And that tenacity has made me a good mom and a good friend and a good person.”

My therapist has this cute mouth that reminds me of a turtle: right at the center of the upper lip she has a delicate dip and she has a sincere smile.  Her smile did not belie her plan:  she had me.  And up went an eyebrow and down went the pen on to her notepad and as clear as the sky on a crisp fall day, she said, “Great. Tenacity is a noble quality and it has been good to your children and your friends and your family and the PTA and community, but has it really been good to YOU?”

My head tilted, my eyes locked and drilled, my neck unrolled and I said,  “Urruh?” I felt I looked like my (incredibly gorgeous and talented) dog when he’s watching a squirrel on our front stoop through our storm door and he Can’t! Reach! The! Squirrel!  “Urruh? Of course tenacity has been good to me.  Pish posh.  I’m there!  I did it.  I thanked myself! Tenacity is good; you agreed. Right? I mean, since when is optimism and perseverance a bad thing? Since when is commitment and never throwing in the towel . . .  and never quitting . . . and believing a . . . better day is  . . . just around . . . the . . . cor---  ner. . . a bad . . . idea?  Oh  . . . . . . . . . . shit.” 

And from across the coffee table, my therapist scribbled, scribbled, scritched, scratched, nodded, nodded, “mm-hmm”-d and nodded …  “And so when has tenacity been unkind to you?” she asked from her notepad.

“It’s been unkind to me and a foolish idea when the goal is out of my control.  It’s a bad idea when it’s clearly not gonna happen.  It’s a bad idea when the other factors don’t align; when the other person is out to lunch, when the other players are on a different field, playing a different sport, or are on the . . .   worse: playing for the opposite team.”


That is when tenacity is bad. That is when the law of diminishing returns becomes your best friend: when you realize that what you’ve been doing, pushing, believing, pursuing, idealizing, praying for and dreaming about is simply never going to happen. 

Does that mean your goal, your ideal is absurd? Not in a vacuum, no.  Say you have a situation that is truly wrong: a friend who is unfaithful to its spouse.  You disagree with the infidelity; you lecture, you listen, you engage, you debate, you defend and you hold your ground: that infidelity is wrong.  The thing here isn’t whether your goal of honorable behavior is bad or good (it’s good). The thing is that your tenacity, your moxie will be your undoing.  Your friend might not give a patoot if you are right or wrong; afterall, the id and its drives motivate that person and your id and probably super ego are what are motivating you to fight for truth and justice.  But it’s a waste of your time because it’s not your battle.

So while tenacity is great, sometimes giving up is better.  Hanging on to wishes, ideals, goals, hopes and dreams that you can never realize for someone or something else is effort, energy and time you will never get back.  And that, sports fans, is a bummer.

So be tenacious about yourself by paying attention to the Law of Diminishing Returns, for it comes down always at the right time and its judgment is flawless. Having my tenacity turned on its head is the most liberating thing that could have ever happened to me.

Thank you. 

ps - i wrote this in Word, that's why my I's are capitalized. a'hem.  :o}

Thursday, February 16, 2012

the eccentric aunt

every large family has a beloved stand-out, a favorite. a person who laughs the loudest, wears the biggest hats, dons the most colorful clothes and knows all the famous show tunes. the larger the family, the greater the sharing of this individual, or rather the greater the sharing by this individual of his or her exhibitionism.

i'm irish and i'm guessing my parents would've had more kids if biology allowed but there are just the three kids in my immediate family (or as the shrinks call it, "my family of origin"). i've got at least 20 cousins. want a funky ancestry story? i've got one: my great grandfather's (tony) first wife (sarah) died around 40 of typhus after returning from a trip to ireland. she left behind four daughters, one of whom was my grandmother (she lived 'til her almost 90s) and tony. after sarah died, tony sent word back to ireland and married delia, sarah's niece, who then became my grandmother's her stepmother. yes, you read right. this was the early 1900s: my great-grandfather married his late wife's (my great-grandmother's) niece and they went on to have at least six kids. so my mom's uncle is also her 2nd cousin once removed? and his daughter, my cousin whom i consider to be like a sister to me is my aunt-cousin. it's ok. you don't have to care any more about that.

that story and all its trappings should satisfy the requirement for at least one eccentric aunt in the entire clan, right?

so given the 'beloved stand-out' definition from above, in all my family's bloodlines, we indeed have the aunt, a woman who is the oldest and who is a grandmother, thus making her the reigning Grande Damme or more accurately in this case, the femme du festive, the eccentric woman all the cousins enjoy. "elder stateswoman" doesn't apply because in this particular scheme, our person has never really been a conformist; you wouldn't go to her to settle a disagreement. her  irish heritage dictates that we don't settle disagreements, we deny them. just go to bed; it will all be ok in the morning.

judging by the numbers in my family and the fact that my great-step-grandmother-aunt had at least four more girls, one of whom had at least four daughters you'd think that the odds of that the stand-out eccentric aunt could be one of maybe six to eight living women . . .

and that the odds would be that i'd get to enjoy an eccentric aunt.

well, no. this eccentric aunt for the cousins is my mother, whom i love and whom my cousins and her step-uncle & aunt -cousins love and admire. there's a difference: you can love someone without admiring them. when you love someone, you just do and you allow them to be who they are even if you wish it were different. one of my favorite current writers, nora ephron, wrote a story in the 10/11/10 New Yorker and in it, she had this wondrous clip about her own aging parents, flaws and all, "Still, it made me sad. You always think that a bolt of lightning is going to strike and your parents will magically change into the people you wish they were or back into the people they used to be. But they're never going to. And even though you know they're never going to, you still hope they will."

so i waver between admire and love. when you admire someone, you sorta really dig that person and you want to be like that person or at that you least get that person. my lot is no different from other women i know: they love their moms, but they don't want to be just like their moms.

as we've grown older my cousins have come to love and adore my mother's unpredictable, larger-than-life, "Auntie Mame" ways and vagaries. give her a ukelele and she's off to find a raccoon coat and a large feathered hat for the boat races. show her a piano and she'll figure out how to play almost any Gershwin tune by ear. i, in return found myself gravitating to my aunt's solid natures, their gentle humor, their reliable less-showy dispositions and the fact they always served a vegetable with dinner.

my mother has aged considerably in just the past few years and has several health concerns and this makes me sad. she hasn't been up to the summer house in canada since 2010 and her travels with my dad are restricted by her medical requirements. just when i'm on the brink of appreciating her for the gifts she shares with my cousin-world and just when i'm ready to accept her for who she is and denounce my übercoolness, her health rapidly declines. it's complicated; the whole damn scene is complicated, but this dynamic is especially complicated and it hurts.

an important family event is on the horizon in a few weeks and i'm hopeful my mom will be able to travel to it, but i'm also curdling up inside because knowing her, she may able to travel to it and then she'll sing. like i said, it's complicated. but it needn't be and it's up to me.

in households all over the world, when teenagers are sulking in their rooms, listening to loud obnoxious music, boasting questionable hairstyles and wearing clothes that announce their "up yours" sentiment, i too was in one where the styles were different, the attitude was unique and the music was imported, obnoxious, loud and sounded like cars crashing into wailing firetrucks or simply whaling ships crashing into the moon.

"omigawdwouldyouturnoffthatgodforsakencaterwauling?!" STOMP STOMP STOMP . . .  "itsoundslikesomeoneisinmortalpain!" BANG BANG BANG! "ohjeeezusjustturnitoff!" . . . "ican'ttakeit--it'shorriblenoise;thosepeoplearehurtingeachother!" . . . "please!fortheloveofpete... i'llcleanmyroom,i'llwalkthedog!"

that's right. "i'll clean my room, i'll walk the dog!"

the loud, cacophonous, injurious, scream/singing "music" was always someathingaloudandinainitaliano and the performer: the famous operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso. if it wasn't Caruso it was Gershwin's Porgy & Bess or the unbearable (let's remember, i'm the kid here) Judy Garland singing the soundtrack from "Meet Me In St. Louis." and that chick had a daughter.

on any given saturday morning in my big victorian home with wooden walls, wooden floors, 8' high windows and plaster ceilings (get it, acoustics) the radios were coordinated for an in-home, "this one goes to eleven," volume-beyond-the-safe-point broadcast of "Mobil Oil Presents: Live from the Met," the free weekly classical music concert. during these concerts, any self-respecting screeching, howling, vibrato-abusing tenors, sopranos, baritones or whatever were amplified and would take our windows, mirrors, picture frames, buffet cabinets, martini glasses and measuring cups to the verge of universal shattering. this went on for years.

i wonder if my parents wanted to inspire us to run away when we were in elementary school.

it was never The Rolling Stones or The Cars or geez, The Four Tops or The Spinners or Neil Diamond. top-40 tunes or music performed by people who were still alive was seldom heard outside us kids' bedroom doors. i used to listen to ABBA's "Dancing Queen" or The Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" on my Raggedy Anne record player until the grooves cut through the vinyl. it dawns on me now that hearing all my parents' incredibly annoying music at extra-strength decibels turned me into a song-repeater / abuser. if i like a song, i latch on, baby until it is flat, panting, begging for a drink and translated into 40 languages: "you're done being played when I say you're done!" i also suspect it's why i have been known to routinely dismiss a catchy song based solely on the lyrics. Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" might be great to dance to, but wtf is going on as far as those lyrics are concerned?

so my mom is the eccentric auntie. if she makes it to this important event i sincerely hope she will summon the strength to belt out her favorite, "It Had to Be You" from her little wheelchair. i pledge i will not run and hide under a table with my hands covering my ears. but if she gets a ukelele, you'll find me in the coat-check closet ransacking it for any raccoon coat i can find. and then i'll bring it to her.

thank you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

choosing yourself

in the natural evolution of a relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship, a business relationship or neighbor or even something personally inconsequential as, say, a vendor there are inevitable conflicts.

those conflicts can be simple: confusion or a hurt feeling over a misunderstanding. the solutions are easier and they can be usually fixed in what i heard today with some galpals, "20 seconds of discomfort."

or they can be complex: an inability to endorse or turn a blind eye to a repetitive toxic behavior. which require more than 20 seconds. in those complex situations we must choose health and choosing health usually means choosing ourselves and usually choosing ourselves means lifelong changes, if we pay attention.   

a spiritual teacher whose pen name is a.h. almaas left USC at berkeley during his physics PhD program to (woo-woo alert): follow his interest in the truth of human nature and the true nature of reality. this interest parlayed into a theory called the "Diamond Approach" under which many of his teachings are collected in book form. in one of his books (and they're really good by the way), he has a chapter on "Compassion" and in it, he discusses that compassion for others requires we have compassion for ourselves first and that means literally that we choose ourselves over them. 

HUH? in our world of BFFs and "brothers from another mothers," nothing could be harder for us. we have been programmed to believe that no problem is insurmountable as long as you have friends to lift you up. if we pick ourselves first aren't we uncaring narcissists? 

i get that.  

almaas later explained that compassion for others often means we have to separate from them in their times of need because they have to do things alone, on their own steam. and it doesn't have to be forever, but it could . . . they might hate us for it, but that's the way it has to go.  because if they come out of it: they did so by themselves.

but i get that more. especially when the person you're having an issue with is bugging the shit out of you. it's like the oxygen mask on an airplane in the event of a cabin pressure change: put your own on first. 

i read further and it explained that when you choose yourself, you choose health and when you choose health you will need to spend a lot of time being alone. you will need to be alone even if you are surrounded by health sympathizers because your changes have to be yours or they won't work. and you will absolutely need to be alone if you're surrounded by those interested in keeping things status quo because they will do all they can to prevent change. 

the point of this was: even though you might have friends who see things similarly to the way you do, it doesn't mean the you will ever really intersect because your path has to be your own. it's akin to toddlers in parallel play: they get along because they don't play with each other, but rather they play alongside each other. it's always OK to go along for the ride, as long as you like the same music...

when i read these theories i was on that bus. i knew i wanted health. but health doesn't always come easily. and it did mean i was going to spend some time alone. and boy, it was tough.

i had a years-long relationship with a friend that was mutually enriching until it wasn't anymore. during the journey of our lives some unhealthy behaviors on her part became prominent, upsetting the scales and they grew increasingly toxic for me as time went on.  i would say to her, "what is going to happen to us when we are healthy? will we still be friends? what if one of us gets there first or wants it more than the other?" she answered, "i have always been afraid that you will leave me." and i said to her, "me too."

the scales of our friendship had tipped in an unrecoverable way. she verbally obsessed over her problems for several months to the extent that my marriage, family and personal life were affected; her problems wove their way into my dreams leaving me drained in the morning. she siphoned my time with other friends and witnessed their company with narrow eyes. she needed help in a way i wasn't a) able to provide, and b) interested in effecting. at that point, the damage had been done and we'd been around the block so many times about her stuff that my sneakers had lost their tread. with aging parents on one side and my 3 Things on the other, i had my own concerns but we had no time to talk about those.

i was tired of her repeated complaints, her token assurances of getting help, her lack of true progress and the fact that i felt she simply wanted to bitchandmoan. but that's not fair of me because she truly felt trapped and i think she was. she even asked me, "aren't you tired of hearing about this all the time?!" and i said, "yes, i am."

but i allowed further late night phone calls. i allowed her intrusive and impulsive behavior. i permitted her irrational claims that i was a better parent than she was and that her kids liked being with me more and i all-but endorsed her crying sessions as she would drive with the kids in the car. when i found out she was driving, i would tell her i was hanging up.

i had become my mom in a way: logging hours on the phone, listening to the continual sadness that a distressed friend was incapable of seeing her way through. i love my mom, but that was a pastime i was happy to avoid.    

i talked about it to a mutual friend who was closer to me in health. she gave me anecdotal advice that was also in the form of a friendly warning of our relationship's risk after i complained again about the other one: "my mom has a group of female friends and they've been together for decades. when things like this arise in their circle, they refer to an old native american women's custom," she said.

"the custom operates within a circle of multigenerational women and young girls. much like a 'red tent' during biblical times, but it was different in that it had nothing to do with their menstrual cycles," she added.

"phew!" i phewed, fearful that we were about to embark on opening a red tent in our neighborhood.

she went on to continue, "this circle was a lot like our playgroups: daily banter, shared child-rearing and the like was the norm, but it was tribal. certainly, complaining or discussing the woes of the women was allowed, encouraged even.  but when the time came for someone in the circle to who was feeling woeful enough to bring her problems to the elderwomen's council, the rule was that this woman would agree to perform the terms outlined in the elders' solution for her.  consider this: the council took these problems seriously because they usually were; i mean, to get to that level it had to be heavy duty because you were agreeing to their terms or you risked ostracism -- that was the deal: if you ask their advice and you didn't follow it or you continued to upset the circle's harmony with your bitchingandmoaning after the council offered its solution, you were out of the circle. sorta our version of put up or shut up." this friend is a gem to me: witty, wicked smaht and charming.

"what would happen if the woman did follow the advice but the problems continued?" i asked, utterly enraptured in this custom. i dug it and yet i knew that this teaching was a shot across my bow.

"if that happened, then the female council of elders would convene with the council of male elders and all shit would hit the fan -- everyone who was involved would have to comply or be ousted. these tribes faced serious threats and if you didn't follow all procedures, you put everyone at risk, so obedience in all consults was golden."


"the point is that the council of these elder women would discuss the issues. these were wise women," she explained, "and they would take days to think of solutions. all solutions were discussed together and shared with the whole circle so that the requestor could get support and also so the other women could hold her to the solution," she continued.

"so if the person with the grievance didn't follow the advice, she was out? forever?" i asked, bracing a little for a well-intentioned hiss.

"yes but only if she continued to complain, because if she stopped complaining that meant the advice was followed and the problem was solved. if you went to them, you were at DefCon 2. if you defied the instructions you agreed to follow, you were out. the circle chose themselves. they ousted you and chose the health of the custom, the integrity of the traditions and the protection of the innocent women over the continued bullshit that was tipping the scales of the tribe. not choosing the solution was like a slap in the face to the elders."

it seemed like it was the native american version of "Intervention"; a television show about substance abuse addicts and the harm their addictions cause their loved ones.

so i asked her if her mom's group of friends followed those same policies and she said, "yup. there are people who want attention and there are people who want help; they might look the same, but the loud ones are usually the punted ones because when you're really working, you don't talk."

hearing that reminded me of the time i was in labor for Thing 1; my OB walked by my room several times and would shake his head in laughter and say in his cameroon accent, "mommy, you not ready, lady. that bebe is not ready. you talking too much. too much laughing, lady. you not working yet. gonna be a long night, mommy..."

so i got the message. i risked losing a healthy friend by keeping a sick one. i synthesized the message for my own purposes, i acted on it and i separated from my troubled friend. it was hard, we were like sisters. but our relationship was terribly unhealthy and codependent: we gave each other jobs that perpetuated the cycle. she wouldn't get help because i would listen and i would listen because it made me feel smart and helpful.

my own therapist told me i was an obstacle to her recovery. ouch. i was also in my own way.

so i chose myself. i knew i had to. i simply couldn't continue on her roller coaster any longer. we were both tapped out. we said our peace, love, happiness and kumbaya and moved on. she's better and so am i.

we had other mutual friends and yeah, it was awkward. but the thing is, and here's what i had a real hard time getting people to understand: i didn't reject my friend. i chose me. people want to cheer for the underdog so in some situations, the one who's still talking seems like the underdog.

what was important for me to understand was that when we have these conflicts of opinions or ideas, both people can feel judged by the other. i was "bad" for rejecting her; and she was "bad" for abusing the friendship. the truth was we were both feeling pretty low.

in the final analysis, when things aren't working the way they used to, instead of trying harder in an unhealthy pattern, we need to pull up our big-people pants and make real changes, which can mean we spend some time alone.

we need to choose ourselves.

thank you. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Words: A Perfect Apology: its Intention, its Motivation and its Two Sides

The subject of this post is something I've been intending to write about for a while.  

I have a brother who is part of a pastor team of a church.  He and I had a disagreement one day.  I was not in the wrong.  A few days of silence passed between us.  When the moment came for his apology he made it and it was full and complementary. 

By "full and complementary" I mean that if the incident were over breaking something dear to me, it would have been like this: "I am sorry I broke your little trinket that means so much to you."  But it was about something else entirely (because my children have broken  all my meaningful trinkets) and the matter between me and my brother escapes me but it was a matter of the heart, my most precious trinket. 

While his apology was sincere, it came with a "; but," and was followed by a string of words that denuded the power of the actual apology which brought us back to square 1.25.

That "but" can be huge.  Using "but" is the equivalent of an apology no-fly zone. "But" in an apology is three letters that immediately put the brakes on a meaningful moment and put the blame on the offended for being, what, a human for having a reaction.  Using "but" puts a condition on the Intention as well as a flashing neon question mark on the Motivation for the apology.  

Indulge me as I digress into a little visual etymology: the "U" in "but" reminds me of the valley of discord and isolation that using the "but" in an apology creates.  I love both my brothers deeply and while I sensed where things were going again with this brother, I blew it off.  We are all flawed human beings, "sinners," as his vocation plainly and searingly puts it.  People jump to "but" in times like these as a default word, to explain themselves and that's perfectly understandable.  However, it's easy to handle that part, simply say: "I'm sorry I did XYZ and I'd like to explain myself." 

Several hours later, he reached out to me and said, "That wasn't a perfect apology."

I said, "Huh? We're good; you apologized." I didn't want to go into it again.  He disagreed.  But in a good way this time.  

So we talked about Intention: he went on to say that the inclusion of "but" in his apology took away the power of his apology from a 10 to a 5.  I thought more of a 2.  He joked that including "but" is passive aggressive and is akin to saying, "I'm sorry you're so sensitive."  We laughed and agreed; it was true.  We laugh about behaviors like that, peoples' defense mechanisms, all the time; mostly with the irony of full-on reflective personal experience after the joke to say, "ha ha ha... yeah... wow... so um... you thirsty?"  

Because we are sibling word nerds we discussed the Motivation for this particular apology and while we were at it, for all apologies.  What are the Motivations: to make the "vic" (the offended) feel better or to make the "perp" (the offender) feel better?  If the Motivation is to honor the vic and is pure and sincere by truly expressing regret for what happened, there is no need or room (for that matter) for "but."  If the Motivation is to make the perp feel better, that "but" is a natural by-product, a condition on the apology and so the damage is somewhat doubled and the vic is hosed.  The vic has two choices at that point, turn the other cheek as Jesus suggested or start another disagreement out of ... pride. (Eeww.)  At that point, who's the bigger, y'know: jerk?

We joked about the other trap: being the pride-less gracious acceptor.  Can we be gracious enough in the spirit of a perfect apology to say, "Apology accepted.  Thank you.  Would you like some chocolate?"  Without (brace yourself) saying, "you should'na XYZ ..." Rrrrr.

We discussed the matter from a linguistic point of view -- something we often get deeply into because we love to write and because we're Irish words come naturally to us (and to my cousins and some dear friends as well, blah blah, get on with it).  I said the use of the actual word "sorry" to me is a sore point and here's why: I would usually associate the internal meaning of "sorry" into the second use referenced below: 

sorry |ˈsärē; ˈsô-|
adjective ( -rier -riest )
[ predic. ] feeling distress, esp. through sympathy with someone else's misfortune : I was sorry to hear about what happened to your family.
• ( sorry for) filled with compassion for : he couldn't help feeling sorry for her when he heard how she'd been treated.
• feeling regret or penitence : he said he was sorry he had upset me | I'm sorry if I was a bit brusque.
• used as an expression of apology : sorry—I was trying not to make a noise.
• used as a polite request that someone should repeat something that one has failed to hear or understand : Sorry? In case I what?

adjective ( -rier , -riest) [ attrib. ] in a poor or pitiful state or condition : he looks a sorry sight with his broken jaw.
unpleasant and regrettable, esp. on account of incompetence or misbehavior : we feel so ashamed that we keep quiet about the whole sorry business. 

I literally would take the meaning of "I'm sorry" to mean that I *AM* -personally- in a poor or pitiful condition: IN MY ENTIRETY; not just at that moment.  Heavy, I know.  So I have issues with the word.  

If you know me in the real world, you will know that when people say that phrase around me -- even perfect strangers! -- I will appreciably say, "Oh, don't say 'sorry'; say 'excuse me' or 'I made a mistake.'" And some people if the time warrants will look at me quizzically and I'll say, "because you're not in a pitiful condition, you just made a mistake. I like to say 'I apologize' instead." And then they run away and call security because the crazy lady won't go away. Sorry... (see?)

The reasons for my association with the word is a subject of another post. But suffice it to say, I didn't come up with it on my own; I wasn't born sorry.  I learned it from my therapist (yeah, that guy who created that messed up group therapy  [which I've recently come to appreciate, thanks to an insightful friend, as a massive ego stroke for himself: poor guy had to drive 5 hours in each direction four times a year to feel needed]). We agreed that while there are two definitions of "sorry," my internal baggage with it required that I use another word altogether, "apologize":  

apologize |əˈpäləˌjīz|
verb [ intrans. ]
express regret for something that one has done wrong : I must apologize for disturbing you like this | we apologize to him for our error.
ORIGIN late 16th cent. (in the sense [make a defensive argument, offer a justification] ): from Greek apologizesthai ‘give an account,’ from apologos (see apologue ). In English the verb has always been used as if it were a direct derivative of apology. 

I like "apologize" much better.  Three reasons: a) because I'm a word freak; b) the inclusion of  'express'; and c) it's a verb. It's an actual action, thus it resonated.  It was and is perfect.

I realize now, after all that therapy that I'm not in a poor state or pitiful condition.  And so when I say "I'm sorry," I'm cool with it. 

The point of all this is that when you apologize, don't say 'but.'  If you have to say 'but' you need time. It's perfectly acceptable to say "I regret the direction this has taken and I'm almost ready to apologize perfectly for it but I need some time." Which then creates:   

An examination into the second side of an apology. 

When we apologize we mean to regret, to take back what we did that hurt the other person.  

This is convoluted, so take your time: 

But in my examinations (most recently as 12 hours ago after an extremely ironic turn of events between myself and a  dear friend), I have come to realize that in order to apologize fully I must appreciate and examine that pain that spurred my doing or saying something I regret that deserves an apology.  (I don't want to spend all day examining my navel, so these things can happen relatively quickly because I'm such a pro now.)

Here 'tis: People don't just lash out for no reason. We'd like to think we do, but no, we don't.  Almost always, the lashing is a defense mechanism to protect something so deep, so feral and primitive we likely don't understand it. It's why that dad shot his kid's laptop.  This dad, and me last night, and likely my brother, felt intense pain that represented something else.  The dear friend who offended me last night had no clue.  Until I lashed out.  I was eloquent, I was concise, I was deliberate and defensive and I said stuff that wasn't germane but nasty.  I was all those things my English major pedigree engendered.  And I was wrong.  Not wrong to feel the way I did, because judging our feelings is another peace deathtrap, but wrong to lash out.  Wrong to not sit and examine why I felt the way I did at the comment that created the feelings.  

That's the second side of a perfect apology and I have to thank that dear friend because if she hadn't said what she did, this post would not be as robust nor would I have a full appreciation of The Work I still have yet to perform on myself.  I'm cool with it; in fact I think I've performed most of The Work, but now the hard part: self-awareness.  Self awareness to me is like applying your knowledge, that dreaded "Show Your Work!" edict in math class.  That "oh yeah? prove it" when you say you can do 30 military style push-ups in less than a minute without stopping. 

Thank you dear friend.  

The reason for the discourse on second side of apologies in this post (you're probably saying, "Ugh! you mean there's MORE?!" but this is where you come in, dear reader) is my dear friend's innocent suggestion that I use the capitalized form of the pronoun 'i' in my blog posts.  

Amazingly, this suggestion was made on the heels of her recant of an imperfect apology to which I replied "thank you" and that I planned on writing about perfect apologies. Her suggestion had nothing to do with her apology, so it felt like a slap. And it riled in me a constrained fury of depth from a primitive place inside me that if I hadn't recently done a grueling workout, I would've either elected to do it or had gone deeply inside with that anger and turned it into a micro depression.  Instead, I was highly agitated and distracted by the incident. 

Her suggestion is warranted under the aegis that if I decide to parlay this blog into something professional One Day (emphasis mine) that it would behoove me, in that regard, to y'know... dress it up (mine too).  Proper punctuation is easier to read and it allows the words to flow as readers are familiar with it.  She's absolutely right in that argument.  

But that's not the intention of this "Grass Oil" blog.  It's named after a phrase Thing 3 made when he was 5.  So to me, that means it isn't supposed to be professional; it's more of a chronicle for my kids as they grow up, to know how things were in our family when they were younger and a playground-slide trip into their mom's head.  I suggested to her that anyone who turns to their personal blog as something to showcase their writing skills for a potential career in writing would be akin to pissing into a headwind. I stand by that as these personal blogs are often rife with errors, personal observations and seeming inside jokes. 

Another motivation for writing this blog is that I also have a morbid fear that I could be taken from My 3 Things' lives early and so I wanted to leave something personal for them (lessons, observations that can help shed a little light on their own behaviors) rather than, say, a scarf.  I did knit blankets for them. Or that the language part of my brain will deteriorate from a flesh-eating virus and my ability to write will be . . . um, disabled.  (That was not eloquent.)

But maybe my dear friend is correct? I'd actually considered it a while ago and I don't wince when saying so.

Maybe I would like someone with influence and money bags to see my writing.  Maybe I would like to be asked to represent someone professionally.  It would be nice for that person to know I can adhere to Chicago or AP style and basic grammar rules and that I'm not some defiant and militant ee cummings adherent.  But then there's the little kid in me that says, "up yours. this is my zone, my place. my rules. go find your own. i don't tell you how to write."   

So then it comes back to me as a matter of motivation. I have to think about whether or not I'm afraid of success and its ugly twin: fear of failure.      

So here I am: using proper case with the letter 'i' as pronoun. I am using proper sentence and punctuation structure. I am double-spacing after periods. I am writing tight cohesive sentences (no more meaty run-ons).  I am not abusing m-dashes or ellipses.  (i am bored to tears.)

Snidely Whiplash moment: Maybe this post would be my sample writing for a prospective employer, book or literary agent.  'Cause Lawd knows, I gots The Gift.  But do I have the confidence?  Am I ready? If you've been following me since last January, you may recall that my Creating This Blog was and is a huge step for me. 

So I ask of you, dear reader, what say you about the capital 'i' as pronoun?  Would consistent and proper use make it easier for you?  If enough of you say it does, say the word and I'll change it.  (Instead of "change it" I was going to say "be healed"  -- from a refrain at Mass, which also seems apropos, it being Sunday an' all ...) 

btw, something's wacky with the fonts and formatting today, I apologize. 

thank you. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

letting it rip: a rant on incongruent messaging

i'm in a mood today and i've been in this mood actually for a bit longer than a day. it's not a bad mood; in fact, the more i think about it, i realize it's not a mood at all. it's more of a perspective. i'm a little all over the map on this subject, but it all works out in the end.

bear with me: about five years ago i used to go to this group therapy once every 3 months or so with a former therapist who (after moving south) would venture north to invite his northern virginia clients to participate in what he called "process group therapy." this group of his was anything but random because three of the participants (myself included) had known each other quite well outside of group for years. we'd been "surface dwellers" (a term my husband coined about people who hang out, but don't *really* know each other for one reason or another) together as parents and friends for a while. how'd they find out about this therapist? yours truly. yeah... i know. i have a big mouth.

anyway, i have a friend who is a family therapist and when i told her i was in this group together with two other friends she just about flipped. i didn't know why she'd flipped until she explained, "that's really unprofessional; there will clearly be breaches in the 'sequester' rule," -- the rule now more colloquially known as 'what happens in vegas stays in vegas' rule -- because the three of us saw one another on a near-daily basis. my therapist friend was right; while we didn't abuse the confidentiality of the agreement, we didn't respect it either. in our defense, most of the commentary we made was supportive and encouraging of our fellow groupers who were clearly in a lot more trouble than at least i was.

in retrospect, it seems as though this old therapist (yes, i have a new one, a female this time) formed the group as an experiment. i also felt exploited by him (i'm blessed or cursed with a strong personality and i'm more resilient than some of the other members of the group) because i'm tougher and candid. after the 4th weekend-long session, i quit going. i didn't tell anyone (didn't know i was supposed to!) in the group but i told him (apparently i broke some unspoken rule that if one wanted to leave one had to present its case to the group which would talk that person out of leaving -- i'm guessing). the reasons i quit were mine alone but i thought they were pretty good ones: NO ONE CHANGED in the least and i really didn't understand the point of the sessions after a while, it just seemed like an expensive bitchfest and a comparison of who should feel more sorry for whom.

look, this was not cheap: it was $450 a weekend for basically 10 hours of therapy. each time we gathered, i took away some tools with me. unfortunately some of them were: "i thank god i'm not that guy" or "wow, remind me to pay my taxes on time..." or better ones like, "i will kiss all my babies goodnight tonight and no (more) yelling at bedtime..." or "i'm pretty frickin high-intensity... maybe i should bring it down a notch or 12..." and my personal favorite: "black & white thinking is bad." and that's true... that was the best thing i learned all through the process: that black & white thinking is harmful to not only the thinker, but to the target of the thinking and the target of the intention. i had a acquired and developed a taste for black & white as a kid. when you're surrounded by chaos, the things you know are absolutes become your friends, trust me. anything the slightest bit nebulous was rejected right away.

so i began to think, what was the point in being with these people if there was no improvement and the same patterns kept repeating themselves and the same behaviors were manifesting and repeating the same outcomes...? right? their thinking didn't line up with their actions; their words didn't mesh with their actions. it was incongruent. if you want to get better, then stop doing the same stuff and expecting different results. stop repeating yourself. stop drinking if you're drinking too much; stop eating if you want to lose weight; tell the truth if you lie all the time; cut back on your commitments if you disappoint people by blowing them off; if you yell at your kids all the time and want to stop then get help; if you gamble and want to stop then go to gamblers anonymous; start exercising if you feel weak, breathless, out of shape... just y'know, do it. 1+1=2; 1+0=1. progress.

easier said than done, i know. but if things don't improve, then i have a right, as then a person in that group, and now as a person on this planet who has to listen to the complaints to sorta y'know, walk away or posit the "why are you here? just to bitchandmoan?" question. i don't know. if you don't like the way your life is going and you are reasonably able to attend to it, insofar as attending a weekend group therapy with a therapist and others then... y'know, start doing the do...

ok...i'll get more to the point of all this, but one more thing (and we're getting closer, you just don't know it yet): i've always been about candor, change and self-accountability and doing what i can with the love i have for myself and others to get my shit together, pull myself up, dust myself off and start on something new and that also means leaving people be if that's what it takes for me to continue to put myself first and maybe for them to get what they need.

some of those people in group therapy, for whatever reason -- clinical, metabolic, mental, physical, whatever as i'm not judging -- simply could not move on. some of them had RIDICULOUS attachments to the therapist also (so there's that: to me, a good therapist really should work him/herself out of a job, that means you're getting better... but not this guy -- he had some of these clients for like, 20 years... and then there's the resistance on the client side: if i get better, i won't get to see my therapist anymore... so there's no growth for either person as far as i'm concerned). one of the groupers was totally attached in a creepy almost cult-like fashion: she actually moved to where he lived after he left NoVa so she could be closer to him... and he allowed it... once i heard that, of course a flag went up -- who's enabling/codependent on who here? -- and that freaked me out. i would say my clock to leave started ticking when she sheepishly but yet in an oddly territorial way announced she followed him to his new state (north carolina, not consciousness, obvi). nothing was the same for me after that.

and before you get all whatever on me, yes, i realize there are really good therapists and it sucks to have to begin a relationship with a new therapist, but y'know, therapists die too; you deal. in fact i now remember saying that to her, that he'd die one day, when she told us she followed him and she looked at me with flames in her eyes. she sank back in her chair -- her body said, "yes" but her eyes said, "NO! NOT HIM! HE WILL NEVER DIE!!!"

as for my co-surface dwellers, we all have our stuff (and you do too, you can't deny it), and i wish them well but i barely stay in contact with one them and the other one and i don't speak at all anymore out of mutual agreement. so, the moral from this semi-digression: if you have surface dwelly relationships with friends and you share the same therapist and you are invited to group therapy by the same therapist: DON'T GO. sometimes TMI is TMFI. i mean, c'mon... we have to see these people again. that's the beauty of a proper group therapy assemblage: you never really see those people again. in fact i think they import participants from iowa, virginia, georgia, north carolina, oregon, tennessee, florida (always florida), new york, maine and bolivia. if your state is taken you have to find a new group.    

ok, my point: i've thought a lot over the past few months about a concept i first learned in that group therapy about 5 years ago. the concept was called "Incongruent Messaging" and it has everything to do with where i was going earlier when i talked about walking the walk and doing the Work to get better and not just bitchandmoan. incongruent messaging is about the inner dialogue you have with yourself in comparison to your outwardly stated message. believe it or not, the two don't always mesh.

so i was called out in group one time for my own incongruent messaging and i thought the person who called me on it was like, freakin' stupid. but she was right. i was caught shaking my head, winking my eye and smiling when i said really intense and personal things. like how vanna white would turn the massive illuminated letter tiles on wheel of fortune ('cept for the head-shaking). i was actually recounting a vivid personal memory of a deeply unpleasant moment in my childhood (c'mon... you had at least one two, that time you didn't get the pony for your birthday or something) and i winked and smiled as i talked about it while also shaking my head.

i won't go into details, it's none of your business. but the fact remains that:

i guess i'm not as strong (in retrospect) as i thought i was... i felt like they'd found my flaw and were going to kill me for it. i was asked, like at a witch trial, why i did that. "WHY DID YOU WINK AND SMILE WHEN YOU TOLD US THAT STORY?!" i was asked, "YOU SHOOK YOUR HEAD TOO! ARE YOU LYING?!" and "DO YOU THINK THIS IS A JOKE?!" and i was sorta freaked out by that reaction; i mean, i didn't get it. i didn't think the severity of the "crime" met with the reaction from the judges. i probably looked behind myself for someone else telling the same type of story because i certainly didn't think it was ME they were castigating...

it was me.

and then the spotlight was mine. shit. so i sat and took it; they were totally right. i shook, smiled and winked. i realized much later, because i simply had no answer -- i mean, i just learned about my behavior -- that the reason i did those things was because i had such a hard time reliving / re-experiencing the emotional weight of the memory and the sadness i felt at both the active recollection in 2007 and the revival of the physical memory from the 1970s. i surmised that i smiled, as i often did as a child in the face of difficult emotional moments, to ease the pain of those around me and to hopefully ease the pain i was feeling myself. and also to appear tough, strong and capable so i wouldn't get in trouble for crying or showing sadness. and probably, as years went by, to wash off the pain and pretend it didn't exist. it's heavy just saying that right now in 2012.

as such, incongruent messaging is a big deal to me. i learned that we can be survivors and perpetrators of incongruent messaging: did you have someone ever smile at you (even a peer as a child) as that person dismissed / reprimanded you? "You're in big trouble, mister..." or not smiling when you as a child or your kids come through the door but saying "Hey! You're home!" i remember someone saying to me, "if you want your children to feel valued and loved, smile when you talk to them in a pleasant way and be serious when you speak to them in a serious way..." have you ever walked into a room when no one smiled at you but said they were glad you were there? sucks doesn't it? (or you can pretend to be tougher than you are and say, "no, that's their problem.") you know they don't probably mean they're glad you're there (or they're not glad they're there) and yet you stay. why? because you don't want to hurt their feelings... or because you need to be there because it's important to you. but if you tell me it didn't matter to you and yet you tell me about the experience, you're lying, because if it didn't really matter to you, you wouldn't bother talking about it.

sarcasm (one of my personal favorites actually, but i try very hard to use less of it nor apply it to people) is a perfect example of incongruent messaging.

children don't get sarcasm. they BELIEVE YOU when you say "nice shoes" but don't mean it, or "good job" on a test or game but don't mean it. or "take your time" when you're in a rush and don't mean it. kids actually don't have a cognitive appreciation for sarcasm until they are about 13 (based on my own personal experiences). at 11 they think they get it, but they don't and it's really hurtful to them when they realize your insincerity. yes, i'm guilty of that. i've said to Things 1 and 2 some pretty sarcastic things and then wondered what they were thinking when they followed through.  how about this one, "gimme a hug!" when you are in the other room or walking away or "i'm so glad to see you!" when your back is turned. guilty.

or how about false apologies, "I'm sorry you're a jerk." is one example.

what about when you think you're being congruent and well intentioned? usually incongruent messages like these go unregistered because they're so common, but we're still committing them. for example: the shaking of the head (negative) when you *think* you're saying something positive, "i would love to help you." often with the words is your internal message "it's no bother to me" and that's where the head shaking comes in when it should be a nod/positive. i did that to a dear friend last fall and i laughed with her at my folly and apologized. she didn't notice it, but because it'd been on my mind for a while (clearly) i'd tried to be more mindful of it. i still do it every once in a while, but now i call myself out on it and literally say, "wait; i didn't mean to shake my head. i was saying inside that it's not a bother at all..." do they look at me like i have three heads? sometimes, but i feel better that i'm being more sincere and sometimes we actually talk about the unintentional incongruent message.

"it was absolutely incredible; it was so beautiful." accompanied by a head shake when the internal message could be "i've never (negative / head shake) seen anything like it; and (negative / head shake)  i may never see it again..." i do that one all the time -- for instance when my husband took me to The Phillips Collection for the "Impressionists by the Sea" exhibition, i was awe-struck when i encountered by surprise Renoir's "By the Seashore"  and i simply stopped breathing. i shook my head, slack-jawed, in humble awe of the grace of the painting and the feeling of grace it gave me. in that museum there were pieces by Miro, Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Turner... you name it and they were inspired. so when i finally got myself together, i said, "it's stunning. the most amazing thing i've ever seen... it's so big!" (and it was!) but i was shaking my head. dan thought i hated it. until i said i loved it.

incongruent messaging is ALL over the media; you'll see presidents nod when they shouldn't and shake their heads when they're speaking pridefully about something truly good -- i've come to believe that it's not intentional and we're so used to it that we don't notice it, but it's there. we're just "asleep" when we do it. it's all over my favorite guilty pleasure, "The Real Housewives of ____." those ladies have NO clue about the hidden messages they're not saying. i see it all over "Mad Men" and i'm sure i'd see it in church if i went to mass. but that's for another posting...

the point i'm trying to make, as i shake my head at the dysfunction of incongruent messaging but should be nodding in agreement, is that it goes back to mindfulness and intention and that all-too familiar subject i bore my friends to tears with, motivation: if we are mindful in what we are saying, then we will be intent on choosing the appropriately corresponding head motion or body language and our motivation will mesh with our messaging. 

motivation: do we mean to be true or to be false? mean what you say and watch how it works for you. do we follow through on our intention? are we mindful in our commitment?

pay attention to what you say and how you nod or shake, i swear, you'll see yourself doing it. if you can line up your inner dialog to mesh with the words coming out of your mouth, your actions will flow freely and you will be on your way to getting things done and getting out of your own way.

thank you.