Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

…..but what do you do when it makes someone else miserable?

How much do you compromise your own ambitions when it conflicts with shared ambitions? 

On the other side of the coin, what do you do if your shared ambitions are stymied by one person’s personal setbacks?  Do you fret and ask that person to focus on your shared goal?  Or do you support that personal goal because, as part of a couple, you should support each other individually in all things?  Do you support that stalled personal goal to the detriment of your shared goal?  For how long? 

Ponderous, man.  Really ponderous.

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The Tao of Inner Peace…

…is one of the books I am currently reading from my Read Your Own Book 2010 Challenge.  I am reading it to distract me from “The Inner Reaches of Outer Space” by Joseph Campbell which is going very very slowly.  I’ve just finished “Saving Fish from Drowning” and three back issues of Time magazine while trying to get away from the dry Campbell book. 

Anyway, like the Campbell book, “The Tao of Inner Peace” by Diane Dreher is a bit dated now – having been written in 1990 and updated in 2000.  It’s got a bunch of self-affirmation in general mumbo jumbo, of the type much parodied by Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live many years ago.

But, all snickering aside, I liked the little line I just read and thought I would share it:

The Tao of Openness

MItch Saunders, marriage and family counselor in Santa Clara, California sees honest relationships as a great way to develop self-acceptance.  The more we share our feelings with others and find they still accept us, the more our self-acceptance grows.  Each moment of openness wears down our defensive walls.

I guess the key there is “and find they still accept us.”  I hope we all have people in our lives who help us increase our levels of self-acceptance.  I do.  And for them, for you, I am thankful.

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Time Fillers

Are my time wasters more or less productive than your time wasters?

And what constitutes a time waster versus worthwhile time filler?

I think of this question as I look forward to reading more books in 2010.  And somehow I feel that at the end of next year, people will look at me more approvingly if I say “I read 50 books this year” rather than if I say “I played Civilization on the Playstation 100 times this year.”  And then I thought – why? 

Even if I read some of my non-fiction books and learn a thing or two about meditating, or the history of China, or the nature of dark space…….what value have I really added to my life?  Or anyone else’s?  Should I have spent that time selling things on eBay to make money?  Or volunteering my time at a shelter?  If I didn’t do something really productive, something that other people consider productive, should I hide my head in the sand?

My sister and I used to have board game marathons when we were kids.  We would pull all the board games out of the closet, play them one by one, and pile them up next to us depending on who won which game.  Pretty fun.  Today, kids play Rock Band together or Wii games, and people tend to tsk tsk if they play too long.  Video games.  How unproductive.  But really, aside from the potential issue of eye strain, why is playing video games all day any less admirable than playing board games?  Was it better when Big Sis and I used our imagination to come up with adventures in the back yard?  In the end, weren’t we just playing around?  Is that good enough?

Some people would just roll their eyes at the whole question.  What’s free time?  Of course, if I have more work I’ll be happy to spend my time doing that.  And if there are ever little munchkins in our house, I won’t have to worry about how my time use is being judged.  I’ll just have to worry about how my parenting skills are being judged.  Ha!  I don’t tend to get bored.  But I do often have spare time during the day.  And you know, that’s how I like it.  I spent my time working 50 to 60 hours a week while volunteering my time, going to book clubs, working out at the gym and trying to organize other gatherings.  Other than constantly feeling like I was neglecting something, I didn’t totally hate that.  But, given the opportunity to slow down a little and to choose to lower (or eliminate) outside obligations, I’m happy to do that for a while.  I have a feeling like will be a little less relaxed this next year.  I’ll probably be happy I had time to smell the roses.

So, if I do choose to keep my time to myself, who’s to say what’s less productive?  Playing around on my computer?  Going to the beach to look for whales?  A few hands of poker?  Why do we tend to look at computer and TV mediums as more mind-numbing than anything else?  Maybe I’ve got 50 smut books lined up to numb my brain this next year.  Or maybe 50 books about computers.  Would that be ok?  Why do people care what other people do with their free time anyway?

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I feel like tonight’s blog is going to be a little rambley.  Buckle up and follow my train of thought!

I love me a good box of See’s Candies nuts and chews.  If you’re going to give me a variety of See’s Candies, might as well make it nuts and chews.  In general, I don’t like solid chocolate.

Isn’t it funny the things our loved ones remember and don’t remember about us?  I think chocolate is a wonderful gift for any occasion.  And I appreciate any gifts from my hubby.  But sometimes I have to laugh because he still sometimes forgets I don’t like solid chocolate.  So, the box of fancy truffles may be the best in the shop, but chances are it will sit on our snack shelf for weeks as I push the pieces around trying to magically turn one into a caramel.  At Halloween, dear Sweetie will eat the mini 3 Musketeers while I happily munch on Snickers and Babe Ruths.  What the heck is nougat anyway? 

Speaking of things our loved ones forget – I joke about the fact that my work is such that most people can’t explain what I do for a living.  Sometimes it makes me feel a little sad to listen to someone try and explain me to someone new.  “She…..uhhhhh…….she works as a…..she does…….well, she’s smart!”  Sometimes it makes me feel a little under-appreciated.  Then, I realize that I can’t properly explain the work of several people that I know.  Mostly people who work in different IT positions.  Several of Sweetie’s friends who are trained engineers but whose job titles no longer contain just (or much) engineering.  And I realize no disrespect is intended of course.  It just goes to show if you don’t really know an industry that well, you can’t keep track of all the jobs within it.  And most people just are not that into California environmental regulations.  No biggie.  I quiz Sweetie every year or so and he has gotten pretty good at providing a quick synopsis of what I actually do. 

Anyway.  Chocolate.  Don’t like solid chocolate.

But a good box of See’s Candies nuts and chews has many choices that I will quickly inhale.  Ohh….sweet butterscotch.  Come to Mama, walnut square.  It used to be that I would pick my way around the box and save my favorite pieces for last.  And that would most likely be the dark butterchew or the scotchmallow.  mmmmm…..

This year, after Christmas I tore open the See’s Candies box from Sweetie’s grandfather.  I poked around a little bit.  And then I went straight for the scotchmallow.  Bit into that chocolate, caramel, marshmallowy goodness and savored it for all of five seconds before devouring the rest of the piece.

I thought to myself – What happened to that good old fashioned restraint and expectation? 

And then I thought – Why did I always save my favorite piece for last anyway?

Did I appreciate it more because I had to wait for it?  No.  Did I feel like I was building some strength of character by withholding my favorite chocolate from myself?  Not really.  Did I want my final impression of that box of chocolates to be the best it could possibly be?  Surely that is not reason enough?

I couldn’t really come up with a good answer.  I still can’t.  If I’m going to appreciate a good scotchmallow, I’m going to appreciate it if it is first out of the box, or last. 

Was that too many two letter words in a row?  It reminds me of one of the placards that my old high school english teacher used to keep on the wall.  Something about 10 two-letter words to live by – “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Sorry – I’m drifting.  I probably need to sleep after last night’s “it’s 5 a.m. and I haven’t slept a wink yet” fiasco.

Sooooooo……why do we do it?  The old phrase “Save the best for last.”  What practical purpose does it serve?  Other than to make your current choice feel better about itself?  What good does it do the chooser?  Do we continue to do it as we get older?  And if we don’t, don’t you think it would make old people less crotchety?  Or is there some law of diminishing returns on choosiness?  Maybe there is a brief period of bliss where we have what we want, then we get a little older and realize we chose all the best goodies and are left with the buttercream with cherries and there’s nothing left to look forward to but yelling at your cat and scaring small children. 

What do you think?  Should we always save the best for last? Or first?

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The Underappreciation of Stoicism

Ahh, the poor stoics of the world. 

They don’t get much attention in comparison to many others.  The whiners of the world complain loudly and bitterly and many people feel bad for them often and annoyed by them on occasion.  The truly depressed cause people to worry about them, sometimes more so when they are quiet and go into retreat mode.  The angerballs have no problem venting and diverting attention to themselves.  Even the chronically happy are duly noted and either praised or scorned.  Loudly.

But the stoics?  The ones who rarely get overly happy and excited during the good times?  The ones whose complaints during bad times are barely a blip on the radar?  Who talks about them?

I think about this as I stay with my mom and remind myself of some of her ways.  Now, it is true that she has never been a patient woman.  When I was a child, I dreaded the annual (yeah – we only did this once a year) trip for new shoes with my mother because unless I miraculously both fit into and loved the first pair of shoes I tried on, I was subject to some vocal complaints and downright huffiness.  And yes, she does have a couple of chronic ailments – her bad feet probably being the most painful for her.  But, put aside her impatience and anything directly related to that and what do I see?  A very stoic woman. 

When I think about her ability to put up with discomfort, I am impressed.  She just doesn’t like to be down for the count.  She will get pneumonia and then try to get back to work as soon as possible until ordered home by the HR watchdogs.  Walk into the living room after her nephew accidently breaks one of the few delicate things she has on display?  She tells him it is ok and proceeds to clean it up.  Live alone after Dad dies?  She tells me she is not lonely and is doing ok (mostly, I think, because Big Sis and her family are so close).  She may mention her foot pain right after she gets home from work after standing on her feet all day, but she doesn’t spend all her time moaning about it. 

OK, so she told me she screamed and cursed pretty loudly when she dislocated her shoulder and had to be driven to the emergency room by my Big Bro.  Cause, hey — dis.located.shoulder! Anything milder than that and barely a peep from her. 

I thought about myself the other day and how I spend about five minutes in the company of my old co-worker and already I’m whining about my lower back pain.  How I can be vocal about the less-than-stellar things going on in my life.  And I think how long and loudly I lament any sickness that causes pain and discomfort.  Goodness know Sweetie probably wants to spike my soup with NyQuil to get me to shut up.  And I wish I could be more like my mom in that regard.  Less with the whining.  More with the moving on.  Less with the worrying and more with the action.   

How many people praise the stoics?  How many check up on them on a regular basis?  How many really appreciate their nature given the amount of energy we expend on the more dramatic people in our lives?   They are the unsung heroes of the friend and family trees.  They shouldn’t have to jump up and down for attention.  And it shouldn’t be so hard for the rest of us to emulate them a little more.  I’m not talking about repressing feelings or tuning out.  I think that I am not talking so much about stoicism as “indifference” but more as the Stoics themselves practised their philosophy.  From Wikipedia (hush, this isn’t a scientific paper, I can cite wikipedia):

Stoicism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium  in the early 3rd century BC. The Stoics considered destructive emotions to be the result of errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of “moral and intellectual perfection,” would not undergo such emotions.  Stoics were concerned with the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is in accord with nature. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and they thought that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved.

That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  Am I missing something?  Maybe a philosopher or historian can enlighten me.  All I know is, I admire my mom greatly.  I just need to remember to tell her more often.

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There are some feelings I consider wasted emotions. 

I suffer from some of these wasted emotions and I don’t mind talking about that.  Worry is probably my biggest wasted emotion.  I’ve wasted time, energy, good relations (temporarily mostly), and lots and lots of sleep worrying about things.  Worry, on occasion may lead to something productive.  If, for example, I manage to write out and complete a to-do list to ease my stress.  Or, if I spend extra time or attention with someone I care about because I am worried about them.  There are many ways that worry can become worthwhile.  But, I freely admit that I’ve spun myself into circles with needless useless wasted worry.

Insecurity is another wasted emotion I am constantly dogged with.  Too often Sweetie bears the brunt of this wasted emotion and it is awful.  Simply awful.  You would think by now that all my insecurities where my husband are concerned would be gone and we wouldn’t be weighed down by it.  But no, it rears its ugly head time and again and I am still trying to learn to discipline my own thoughts to banish insecurity forever.

Thankfully, there is one (what I consider) wasted emotion that I don’t tangle with too often: envy/jealousy.*  Maybe my brain just figured out that I’m wasting enough energy on worry and insecurity.  Or maybe I’m just not wired for jealousy.  (Have they figured out what parts of the brain these emotions come from? I need to finish reading my Destructive Emotions book.)  But throughout much of my life, when I have been handed good news by people I know, I manage to process it through my brain without the filter of jealousy kicking in.  Or maybe – like that lesson I learned the hard way with my sister and talking about people behind their backs – I learned a long time ago that envy can be ruinous not just to me, but to my relationships.  Sitting here writing about it – I distinctly remember a conversation I had with one of my best friends in high school.  She was so happy about something concerning her family and I remember making some biting comment alluding to how much money they had.  I was sort of happy for her but I do believe that my own jealousy made me snarky and mean.  She called me on it.  Literally.  She called me up and told me how much that hurt her (or maybe she passed me a note….I’m forgetting).  I agonized over it because I felt so bad and I knew she was right.  And I think because of my obvious envy – among other things – our friendship took an unrecoverable slide.

It’s interesting how some particularly painful experiences can shape my behavior for years after.

All I know is – I didn’t feel jealous of one of my best friends in high school when she got a boyfriend – something I very much wanted.  I felt like so many stupid young boys didn’t appreciate her enough and was glad that someone finally did.  I didn’t even feel envious of friends who got loads of attention from different guys in college.  Sure, I would feel miserable for myself for being single and feeling so unattractive for so long.  But there was (as far as I remember) no major encore of my high school Snarky Jealousy.  I stopped worrying altogether at the grades my friends were getting when mine nose-dived.  I don’t begrudge my friends material happiness.  And I’ve never stood beside a loved one on her wedding day feeling lonely for myself – I’ve been too dizzyingly happy for her. 

So maybe I’m just over-aware when I see the destructive trail that jealousy leads people on.  As far as wasted energy is concerned.  Sure, I understand a bit of envy here and there.  But it strikes me in particular when people are jealous of their own loved ones.  When that envy swamps what should be a shared joy, I think it is such a tragedy that someone ends up spending more time feeling bad for his/herself than happy for someone else.  What happens when someone is greeted by a loved one with news of new love, happy family, new children, bigger paycheck, job recognition, or some other joy?  Do you feel joy?  Or do you end up feeling sad?  And does that one moment of good news lead to countless moments of feeling loneliness, loss, bitterness, rage, or worry?  And how is someone supposed to feel when they share good news and know that it makes someone else miserable? 

I recently commented on someone else’s blog about how I enjoy getting Christmas letters from people and I don’t understand why some people hate them so much.  People who revile them call them “brag letters” and maybe their hatred comes from constant jealousy.  But my letters are what they are.  The year my uncle died I think I just wrote a long poem.  When my father died I told people my father died.  I wonder if my jealous friends and family members enjoyed that particular letter more than my others.  Who knows.  I hope not.

In any case, I’m left again feeling I don’t have a proper solution.  I just hope that people can learn to separate their own disappointments in life from the joys of others.  Especially from others you claim to like, or love.  We spend so much time concentrating on ourselves.  At the least, we should be able to afford other people sincere happiness when it is due.  They say the word jealous comes from the Low Latin zealous and from the Greek word that meant zeal in a good way – like emulation, ardor, zeal – with a root connoting “to boil, ferment” or “yeast.”  I just keep thinking how the word ends in “lousy,” which is pretty much how it makes you feel.

What if we could learn to turn our negative “jealous” back into positive “ambition?”  If we must feel the pangs of envy for someone else, can we bend it into achievement and use that energy to help us work harder to fulfill our own goals?  At the end of the day, think how bad you feel when you hear insincere congratulations when you yearn for shared joys.  How crappy it is to get criticism instead of praise?  Why do that to someone else?  Even if you don’t express it out loud.  If you want to be selfish at all, spend the energy on yourself and figure out how to get closer to some semblance of that other person’s joy.  Then share some good news and see how people’s faces and voices light up in celebration.  Savor those sincere congratulations.  Sometimes they are hard to come by.

I snagged this picture from HERE, where there are also a few good words about jealousy.

*There are differences in the etymology of these two words.  Maybe I should be focusing on Envy, which seems to have a more negative connotation than jealousy.  For now, I’m sticking with jealousy and I figure you understand the point.

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Living on the Edge

I’m not a downtown kind of girl, I’ve figured out.

I thought about this as I drove down the hill to go grocery shopping the other day.  I hate traffic.  I’m don’t think I’m unusual in this dislike.  Haven’t heard a lot of people lately who mention “Oh, I was stuck in this nice bit of traffic yesterday.  It was quite pleasant.”  The saving grace in that situation is, of course, good music.  If I’ve managed to stow a couple of good CDs in the car, a longer car ride can be quite bearable.  Of course, I’d prefer a long car ride along the coast, or up Haleakala to the Kula Lodge for some nice breakfast.  That sort of thing. 

Speaking of music, here’s a song to keep you company during this blog trip.  I like this:

So, what have I done?  I’ve found a new route to Costco that involves driving about a mile in the opposite direction, then going down the hill, then driving back towards town.  If traffic in town is light, my new route is about the same time.  If traffic in town is heavy, I save myself a bit of time.  But that doesn’t matter to me as much as the bliss of LESS traffic.  I don’t use this route for the grocery store (yet) because it would really be out of the way.  But it’s been so much nicer to drive past sugar cane and empty fields instead of track homes and the mall.

Because, about a mile away from my house, I’d be in the middle of sugar cane fields.  When I look up at the sky at night, I see stars.  I live on the edge of town.  And, as I thought to myself on the way to Costco, I realized that I’ve lived near the edge of towns my whole life.  Granted, most of my life has been spent in relatively small towns.  I think I’ve mentioned that – growing up, even though I technically lived in “town,” the area across from my home was grape fields.   I climbed the tree in my back yard (a lot) and on a clear day, I could see the Sierra mountains.  If I got in my car, I could be in wide open fields in two minutes. 

I went away to college to an Ag school in the middle of ag land.  Not hard to get away to open fields from anywhere in town.  Even when I lived in the dorms, I was close to empty fields.  I lived on the west edge of town.  I lived on the east edge of town (at least, it was the edge of town back then.  There’s a few extra miles of homes to the east nowadays.)  I lived on the south edge of town. 

Even when I made my way to Sacramento, I still managed to find a neighborhood on the edge of town.  Some days, after a bad day at work or a heartbreak of some kind, I would get in my car and seek solace in wide open space.  And that wouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes from my home.  I visit friends who live in Sacramento neighborhoods who are socked in by suburban development.  You get off the freeway and have to drive another 15 to 20 minutes through crowded streets to find their home.  I sometimes think that if I lived in those areas, I would suffocate.  If I were to climb up to the top of my roof (another thing I used to do quite often) and could not see open space in at least one direction, any distress I felt would just be multiplied.  I guess you could call it my “Heidi Syndrome.”  Take the simple country girl and stick her in the middle of a city and she wilts.  She wanes.  She weakens.   I am half Swiss.  I need my alps.

It’s not that I don’t like a good city.  OK, I don’t actually like many cities.  I love San Francisco.  That may be it.  I just need to be able to clear my head in open air.  And since I don’t often know when the need to clear my head will arise, I guess I have this instinctive need to be near open space.  Maybe it stems from my girlhood plans to run away from home.  That plan involved the mountains and my bike.  It was going to be a long ride, but I knew I had to get up to the hills.  I’ve had many recurring dreams over the years that end in me running as hard as I can towards hills and trees for solace.  I don’t know what I will find.  But the search for peace of mind always seems to start there.

I don’t know where our next move takes us.  Right now, Sweetie and my #1 and #2 choices are both fairly small-townish.  It will be easy to be near trees, hills, and open space in both these spots.  Who knows.  We could end up somewhere else.  I could suck it up and thrive in a boxed-in, artificially-lighted, urban home.  I could survive away from the edge.

If I own a helicopter.

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Sweetie and I watched the movie “Into the Wild” a little bit ago.  It got me thinking about a lot of things.  Then, someone commented on an old blog of mine, and it stirred up the thoughts even more.  I wrote this observation:

“I think some people want to be understood. In that case, they may need a good, non-judgmental ear. I have found, in my life, once I stopped focusing so hard on myself and feeling so isolated and incomprehensible, it was ok to let people understand who I really am.”

I felt I wanted to follow up my own thoughts on the movie and expound on these thoughts.  I’m trying to write without rambling for 26 pages.  Let’s see if I can do it.

Spoiler Alert:

If you want to see the movie and want no spoilers whatsoever, you should stop reading.  I don’t think I can write what I want to write without talking about important parts of the movie.  Consider this your spoiler alert.

Basically, this kid leaves home to wander the country for a couple of years with little to no money.  He lives off of odd jobs, the kindness of strangers, and (in the wilds of Alaska) off his own hunting and gathering skills.  This is what the IMDB summary says:

Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.

That sounded intriguing to me.  Of course, that is not the full story.  What you learn while watching the movie is – –  he was estranged from his family and never told them where he was during his travels. He lied to the people he met about his identity and his background.  And ultimately (end-of-movie spoiler here), he dies in the wilderness in Alaska.  Unknown and disputed is how exactly he died – did he eat a poisonous plant or just starve to death?  Also unknown were his motivations at the end – did he go to Alaska to die purposefully, or was he really ready to go back home/into civilization?  How bad was his upbringing?  Don’t know.

This is not a commentary on this kid’s life.  There has been a lot of comments made about his own motivations and behavior.  Was he selfish? Was he arrogant?  I don’t know.  I just watched a movie.  I didn’t know the kid.  What I am commenting on are very universal human behaviors that this movie made me think about. 

I started thinking about things like emotional pain, self-absorption, truth, alienation, and communication.  And I thought of a couple of universal behaviors:

People don’t see what they don’t want to see. 


Too often, people tragically become what they dislike.

This kid said he was looking for truth.  Truth was the highest ideal, the most important thing to him.  His parents had lied to him and that was bad.   But, apparently, truth is all relative.  He wanted truth because his father lied to him.  But what does he do?  He lies.  He lies about his name.  About his family.  About why he ran away from home.  He met people along the way who cared about him and felt somewhat responsible for him (by helping him out).  And he lied to them.  But he never seemed to realize that one particular truth about himself. Or maybe, he saw things in such degrees of gray that his lies were ok. 

His parents inflicted emotional harm on him.  The film never shows him being physically beaten, so let’s just stick with emotional harm.  Which, as most of us know can be as, or more damaging, than physical.  I had a friend who was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder as an adult due to the abuse she suffered from her mother as a child, and it wasn’t physical abuse.  The wounds of the psyche take a long time to heal.  You would think that the children of abusers would be the last people on earth who would abuse another.  But, sadly, human experience shows this is not true.  Some learn to equate abuse with love and, in some warped sense of logic, abuse their own children.  This kid inflicted all sorts of emotional pain on the people around him in the name of “truth.”  Was he being true to himself?  Yes.  But, did he even take the time to acknowledge other people’s pain?  No.  And that is what bugged me.  He didn’t have to stay in Slab City with Jan and Rainey.  He didn’t have to agree to be adopted by Franz  (especially since his parents were still quite alive).  But he didn’t even look hard enough to recognize the pain that his actions caused on these people.  To say “I’m sorry I have to do this for myself, but I do care for you.”  Maybe he did in real life.  But again, I think this behavior is universal.  I was thinking, after I watched, this is universal in young people who are so tuned into their own selves.

He didn’t listen well enough to recognize the pain that Jan was sharing with him about her own son.  I don’t think she was trying to use Chris as a surrogate for her own son.  But, as a young kid who was doing the same thing, would it have killed him to say one encouraging thing to her?  And would it have destroyed him if he had shared his own tale of pain and abuse with others?  Did he just like giving the impression that he was a Zen-like, totally together, relaxed dude to other people? I don’t think so.  I think he honestly felt like his pain was too great and too embarrassing to share.  Though I don’t understand how, in the year 1992, being an illegitimate offspring can be that devastating.  Hello?  Was it 1882?  No.  It was 1992.  Not a nice thing to find out, but not something that would destroy your future in this country.

And that leads to the other universal behavior this kid displayed:

Self-absorption is a black hole

Ultimately, self-absorption can lead to your own destruction, and that is one of the most selfish things a person can do (which is what self-absorption is all about…….I know…..duh).  Does every human have that right to destroy him/herself?  Notwithstanding the will of God, yes (But there is a reason that suicide is classified as a mortal sin. And if you think that isn’t a grave matter for Christians, consider the fact that I may not have survived my teenage years if the idea of that mortal sin didn’t scare the beejeebies out of me.  Which, yes,  goes a long way towards proving Umberto Eco’s point of the church exerting control over its parishioners, but that is a long discussion for another day).

I’m not saying people are not entitled to some self-pitying moments.  Of course that will happen.  I’m not even saying that most people don’t recognize this behavior in themselves.  Including me.  We see it.  We know it.  We are not stupid. 

So, what are some solutions to these problems??  I came up with four ideas (Just ideas.  As the saying goes in Dogma: “It’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier”): 

Experience.  Brain chemistry.  Discipline.  Communication. 

How am I qualified to share this with you? I’m not.  Too bad.  I’m writing anyway.  That’s what we writers do. 

#1. Experience:  I think, the more you experience life and learn about other people’s experiences, the more you can put your own troubles in perspective.  Unfortunately, the only way that can happen is if you live long enough to learn about other people, other places, other experiences.  Whether by choice or not, Chris didn’t have enough time to learn perspective.  And he wasn’t listening enough to the people around him who were trying to offer him some.  But I think most of us, if we look, will find there are people in our lives who can offer perspective.  My father was vital at this for me after I went away to college and learned to appreciate his long, often rambling lectures.

Because, #2.  I think brain chemistry plays a huge part.  Perhaps the biggest part.  My buddy years ago (oops – I moved that story to the end.  Sorry) went through a lot of shit, yes.  But it was shit that other people have been able to get through.  It was stuff he was already in counseling for and was trying to work through.  But, for all his self-discipline and attempts to help himself, I don’t think he could overcome some basic short-circuiting in his brain.  For that, he needed some medical help, and I don’t think it was a cop out for him to submit to it.  Sometimes, those misfires in our brain can overwhelm everything else.  Never underestimate that, or think that you know yourself well enough to know what all the neurons and chemicals in your body are telling each other.  I don’t see it as a weakness.  It is a simple physiological fact of life.

#s 3 and 4.  Discipline and communication. 

I think of the scene in “Moonlight and Valentino” when Sylvie yells at Rebecca”  “Your time of self-absorption is up!!”

Wow.  That was tough.  Did Rebecca have an incredibly tragic reason to be self-absorbed?  Yes.  Was Sylvie correct though?  Probably, yes.  This is not to say that people don’t have reasons to be tragic.  But what was the harsh truth that Sylvie was pointing out?

There comes a time when we need to stop being dominated by those little and big tragedies in our lives.  Not forget them all.  As I pointed out, Tears for Fears has one of the best lines ever in “I believe there are wounds time can’t heal”.  But, the way the movie showed it, this kid could not stop dwelling on the bad things in his family life.  Forget about the fact he said he loved his sister, but then left her alone with the parents he despised. 

I think there comes a point you have to learn how to make friends with your ghosts (I hate to point out another movie reference, but this reminds me of a powerful scene in Uncommon Valor).  It’s easier to deal with your own demons when you learn to recognize that your human existence is not unique in the world.  We have many wonderful things that make each of us special.  We don’t need our tragedies and foibles to define how others see us.  Because, as you also learn as you get older, most people have seen similar things, and it’s not really a big deal.  Not to them anyway.  Wow.  That was a tough one for me at first.  But after the shock, it was the best realization of my life.  I’ve said it before.  Initially, this is a harsh reality.  But once I finally got used to the idea, it offered a refreshing release from my own demons.  I’m not so damaged that anyone would be shocked to know about me!

Unfortunately, just like treatment for substance abuse, working to heal oneself doesn’t succeed until the person in pain recognizes the problems and……seeks help.  Vital point.  For me, it was as simple as learning some basic skills.  I was great for years at recognizing and self-analyzing my own problems.  Was I good at overcoming them?  No.  Not until I learned how to communicate with others.  Not until I learned to stop despising simple things like crying and talking honestly to other people.  Wow.  What a realization.  It was hard to come by.  It was hard to overcome them.  I had to – sometimes still have to – exert a lot of effort and discipline to overcome my old tendencies and to let myself cry (though my husband would be surprised to hear this).  To reach out to other people for help.  To offer up my own open ears and heart to other people.  You would think that would be easy.  Sometimes, it’s the hardest thing in the world.  But, if you are the kind of person who relies on others, as Rebecca relied on Sylvie’s friendship, you owe it to other people to sometimes be a giver instead of a taker. 

Using that logic (back to the movie), did Chris need to snap out of it since he made a decision for himself to be on his own and not rely on anyone else?  Of course he did.  He needed to snap out of it for the sake of his own life, which was promising and which he could have used for many things…..to promote wilderness issues, or to write a book to share the truths he worked so hard to learn.  The movie did make it seem like this is exactly what happened.  That he had an awakening moment.  He dried his tears and he set out to leave the wild.  He was stymied by a raging river and he didn’t know that he needed to walk just a little ways down the river to find a path out.  Then, it was too late. 

And maybe that is the point of the movie.  Figure it out before it is too late.  Or, figure it out in slightly less isolated surroundings. ??  With a telephone and food around.  I wish that kid had the opportunity to take what he learned in the wilderness and leave more than just a few scribblings in book margins and boards and old paper. 

Why do I get so worked up about it?  Maybe because of a bad experience I had years ago being smack dab in the middle of a good friend’s suicide attempt.  I can tell you that brought a lot of esoteric, philosophical, high-falutin’ concepts into stark harsh reality for me.  It was real.  It was scary.  It was something I was completely not qualified to deal with.  And it left me knowing that I never wanted to see someone fall that far over the edge again.  Maybe I get worked up because I have spent so much of my own time working my ass off to try and improve my own emotional outlook.  Or maybe because, cynical old cuss that I am, I just want people to be more happy.  I know I’ve probably set a record for rambling but, of course, writing things out helps me process my own thoughts.  And since I started sharing them a little, I thought I might as well finish the thought.  I can offer no other justification than that.  Thank you for indulging me.  And to paraphrase Saturn, you get a big cookie if you managed to read through this whole thing.

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Why is it that….

ok, explain this one to me – you have a fitted sheet for your bed. This is the one that goes on the bottom that is elasticy and it fits the mattress and doesn’t move around (for you guys who have never made a bed. ha! sorry).

Unless your bed is perfectly square, your mattress – and your fitted sheet – is longer on one side than the other.

So, there you stand….with fresh sheets….ready to make your bed….and you got a fitted sheet in your hand. And you have a mattress. Sheet. Mattress. Four sides. Four corners. You grab a corner of your fitted sheet, you aim for a corner of your mattress. You slip it on. You pull the side to the other corner.

Four corners. Four sides. Two sides lengthwise. Two sides widthwise. Statistically speaking (which I hate doing – having almost flunked upper level stats in college), you have a 50-50 chance of matching up the right corner of your sheet to the correct corner of the bed.

50-50. 50%. A one in two chance of success.

Why is it that, in all my days and years of making a bed – I NEVER MATCH THE RIGHT CORNERS?! Never. Not ever. Even when I stretch the sheet out to gage which is the long side. Even when I reach for the corner of the mattress and think “Uhh ohhh…you’ve made the wrong choice! Abort mission! Re-start! Re-do! Computer, end program!” and I switch corners…..only to be wrong AGAIN. I’m always wrong. Why is that?

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I think that, sometimes, I become too attached to things. Things, such as ideas that I have. And things, such as physical objects. How do I know the second is true?


I have a house-full of “stuff” in Maui, half a room-full of “stuff” at my mom’s, and an entire rented storage container of “stuff” waiting for me (plus one couch that my future MIL (mom-in-law) is holding for me). Yeah….it’s hard for me to let go of stuff.


The Dalai Lama, on his own website, says the following about attachment:


According to Buddhist psychology, most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. The pursuit of the objects of our desire and attachment involves the use of aggression and competitiveness as supposedly efficacious instruments.

 The Dalai Lama talks about attachment quite a bit. I should think about it more myself. I think too much attachment to stuff, including my own brain-full of notions, is sometimes detrimental.


Why do I think about this now? My nephews were playing in my mom’s house tonight before dinner and broke one of Mom’s Hummels. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but my mom is not one of those people that has dozens of Hummels lined up on every inch of flat surface in her house. She only has a small handful, and two of them were from her mother. It was one of those moments where I could see it happening across the room and knew there was no way I could leap across a table, two chairs, and a piano bench in time to stop it.


It was a sad thing. But you know, I think I was more upset about it than Mom was. Maybe because of her typical low-key reaction to things. Maybe because, as she said later, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” And maybe because Mom just doesn’t get as attached to “stuff” as I do.


My nephews were upset also. But what happened was truly an accident, and they weren’t really playing in a manner that is not allowable in the house. It was just an accident. And here’s where a good example came in. My Big Sis handled it like a pro. Which, hey, I think she is. She’s been a mom long enough to know when something bad is an accident versus when she needs to really get to the bottom of what her kids are doing. Despite having something hot on the stove, and having me sitting on the floor lamenting the headless Hummel, she handled the situation calmly and finished making dinner. She knew the boys understood something wrong had happened – there was nothing she could add to that feeling. And she knew nothing had happened out of ill intent. She didn’t lash out at the boys, or even at me for sitting on the floor like a lump. Our mom didn’t lash out at anybody or even ask who was responsible or how it happened. She just said “Well, let’s glue it back together.” And I think both moms were very Dalai-Lama-like tonight by their patience, calm, and compassion. The moment of stunned silence around the broken figurine probably gave my sister enough time to say a prayer to help her. A few extra moments gave me enough time to try and re-engage my oldest nephew who still looked crestfallen about the whole thing. I wish I had been able to gather myself as quickly as my Big Sis did (although she did scald herself cooking, so maybe she wasn’t as composed as she looked). But, I’m trying.

Tonight, Mom and I watched the news about a big fire up near Lake Tahoe. By 11:00 p.m., over 150 homes had been destroyed in this fire. I thought how much worse that would feel than just losing one family keepsake. But then I thought about how miserable I would feel if my own home were completely destroyed. While I don’t think I’d be too off the mark to be sad about something like that, I still need to learn more about letting go of some of my attachments. I won’t even get into the problems that come about because I’ve become too attached to an idea in my head. It’s generated more arguments (many with my patient Sweetie) than I can count. And it often comes down to, I need to let things go sometimes. Hopefully, with more study, lots more prayer, and more good examples in my life, I can improve on that. Maybe. Someday?

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