Monday, December 24, 2012

Fixing, Spreadsheets & Lists, oh yeah, and Christmas

I've been thinking about what fuels my OCD and anxiety lately.  Of course the shooting in CT was a big driver for the recent up-tick.  Even so, I'm getting pretty tired of fighting it or trying to "fix" it.  So,  Jeff suggested that I just be okay with not being okay.  Just accept that I'm not happy with this anxiety stuff and proceed forward (albeit with the twisted face of a person attempting to smile while writhing in the discomfort associated with feet binding). 

At first I thought that built into his recommendation was the hope that I would someday not be "not okay" and someday I will "overcome" my not-okay-ness and be able to trot down a rainbow path of righteous and productive luminosity.  And we will all sing songs and smile while chasing butterflies and feeling groovy--without the aid of .25mg of Xanax.

But then I realized that this is probably unfair to Jeff.  Because my thinking is outcome-based and not process-based.  I'm an outcome person. I'm not a process person.  Jeff is more process driven than I am.  Sure he likes a good outcome, but he's more of an in-the-day-moment-place kind of guy.  He can access joy faster than anybody I've ever met.  He can be driving down the road grumpy and hungry and in a flash just start singing the wrong lyrics to a song on the radio which makes the car erupt in laughter. "Strong as Stuntmen!" (That's Billy Squire's "Stroke me, stroke me" for all of you out there who don't know Todd Brown's rendition). 

He seizes the moment to find the joy  (while I'm crossing things off a list). 

Am I lucky or what?

He also loves Christmas.   

Usually we have a big Christmas Eve party.  I start the excel spread-sheeting for that sucker in late September.  But this year we decided to dial down the intensity a little, skip the party and let him get through the last few months of his MBA program. I personally wanted to focus more on time spent with the kids, friends and family and less on acquiring things, wrapping things, shipping things, recycling things, etc.

This has bought me a lot of extra time and space which I then promptly used to get all jacked up on anxiety. 

It's funny to write that down and see it in black and white.  Because it's true.

Sitting through the space/time vortex while not really doing anything produces a singular outcome -- I mean, if I can muscle past the squirming: A very distinct sense of peace.  And I'm not saying that it's all hunky dory peace where the dishes are done and that everything is in some kind of perfect order or even alright.  But there is a palpable quietening of all the nerve endings.  And then an opening of different eyes and ears -- hell maybe it's the third eye -- that can see things like Christmas lights and glitter and excitement and hear laughter.  In this peace, I am able to perceive joy, even in if it's only in the abstract of my husband or kids.  Too bad I can't cover or poke out my other four joyless sensory organs and still drive legally.

Like Jeff does. He only sees and hears the good stuff.  And he really doesn't get all bothered by dirt or clutter or to-do lists.  And in the end, I think he gets way more done with less effort.   But he does have a wife with a clipboard.  There is that,  I guess. 

He's really fun to share Christmas with.  He metaphorically and literally grabs the spreadsheet out of my hand while simultaneously admiring it.  I mean, he's got his own little OCD things happening and the dude loves spreadsheets.  Anyway, to my honey, I just want to say I love you and thanks for teaching me how to celebrate not just Christmas but life with or without a to-do list.

Merry and Peaceful-ish Christmas to Jeff, Hank, Big E and the rest of you all! 

Love and Blessings all around! (Kirsten, that was for you) 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Grief and sadness are very inconvenient.  Anger is easy.

I think enough has been said about Sandy Hook for this week.  The decedents have all been laid to rest.  The country has turned down the rhetorical volume in order to turn toward loved ones to celebrate Christmas with those still too young to even know anything has happened.  Winter storm Draco has plowed through the Midwest giving some of us something else to worry about for the next few days: power outages.

I just have an observation or two about the aftermath -- specifically the facebook aftermath.  Grief is pretty predictable.  The first emotion after the initial shock is anger.  We saw a lot of that.  With it a comes a lot of finger pointing.  Predictably, a lot of people fell back along party lines because that conflict was so fresh and familiar.  Fighting, labeling, hate-mongering, etc.   What struck me the hardest was that these strongly negative emotions seem to be preferable to just plain old grief-stricken depth-piercing sadness.

People I know pretty well went right to some pretty horrific politicking complete with tons of expletives on their posts.   But I decided to love them through it because everybody grieves differently.  And it's all messy.   Some messier than others. 

This is what I came away with.   Now let me preface it all with this: I suffer a pretty steady dose Generalized Anxiety and I have 2 6-yr-old Kindergartners.  I had to send them to school this past week.  To a school without a discernible security system in place.  This took extra prayers, extra church time, extra care from my understanding friends, extra meds, extra love from my husband and lost of extra softness for me from me.

The first morning, I refused to let them ride the bus because I wanted 2 or 3 extra minutes with them.  I drove by their school maybe 6 times during the day on Monday and Tuesday.  I stopped in to drop off snacks that I had "forgotten" on Wednesday.  Thursday and Friday are covered because I volunteer there anyway on those days.  Unfortunately that trend of driving them to and from school continued until this afternoon.  It culminated with our bus driver approaching me in the parking lot and jokingly asking if I were ever going to let the kids ride the bus again.  I told him I probably would but it remained to be seen when.  I smiled.  He smiled. Because I knew he understood.  I explained to him that I'm a pretty anxious person and that this whole thing really got to me.  You know what he said? "I get it. You don't have to say a thing."

Extra care. Extra love. Extra understanding. He didn't scream in my face that it was all my fault because of a., b., c.

Sort of like the way that you'd treat a struggling or fearful kid, a sad friend, an injured or sick person.  Extra softness, love, tenderness, care and understanding.

The details will be sifted through in the months, years and decades to come.  The experts will render their analyses.  There will be studies, debates, fights, etc.   But in a Black Swan event such as this, the first step is the inconvenient business of feeling.  Feeling it all.  Not just the pissed-off, angry, hateful recoil feelings but the deep sorrow that comes from recognizing that our time here is brief.   Some briefer than others. That we are vulnerable. Recognizing that fairness is often invisible to us. That darkness lurks in the hearts of all of us.  And that a life well-lived involves hurt. Unbearable and unfathomable hurt. Because a life well-lived involves opening ourselves up to the loss that comes with daring to be connected to each other.

And, it seems the brightest spot in the bleak landscape this past week is the realization that we are all deeply connected to each other.

Like it or not. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Philosophy

 Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
  --Zen Buddhist saying

Mind your own business and don't eat junk food.
--Besse Cooper

Besse Cooper, super-centenerian extraordinaire, died Tuesday at the ripest old age of 116. She was born in August of 1896. Amazing feat.  She hit three different centuries, 13 different decades and 2 millennia.  According to her son, she was a voracious reader and loved watching the nightly news.  She got a lot of exercise working on her farm until she was 105 at which point she moved into a nursing home. When asked what her secret to a long and healthy life was, she replied that she "minded (her) own business and didn't eat junk food."  Now isn't that a tidy and succinct personal ethic?  Easy to explain to the kids.  Easy to implement.  Not fancy.  Read a lot, exercise a lot, mind your own business and don't eat junk food.  Love it.

Later on in the day yesterday,  I read (at the behest of Deepak Chopra on facebook) this article by Jean Houston, PhD (I am not familiar with the issuing university that gave her that degree: The Graduate Theological Foundation) about entelechy, a word originally coined by none other that Aristotle himself.   This entelechy concept is about individuals and humanity as a whole transcending to a higher mind--a collective mind, I gathered.  I read the article but it started smacking of kooky Matrix-y dark matter energy stuff about the 3rd paragraph in.   Here's the link.    There were no scientific references to anything that this woman was talking about.  It's pretty short.  See for yourselves.

Here's an excerpt for all of you smarties who skipped it:   

When my research has given me the opportunity to take depth soundings of the continents within human beings, I have marveled at the enormity we contain. Somewhere in the vast treasure trove of the body/mind, I am convinced, we remember everything we have learned over the past 13.8 billion years.

I don't remember where I put my phone. Jeff never knows where is car keys are. So she's wrong about that.  Any-who, yeah, I read through this transcendent stuff and it all started sounding very utopian/marxist/if-you-don't-agree-then-you're-stupid-y.  But the author seemed to be pretending that this was a new concept--this entelechy--that the whole of humanity is magically evolving toward something greater and its cosmically coded into our DNA and this collective intelligence, etc. And that there is ample evidence that we are rising ever higher with each passing day.  Uh...really? She has not seen Honey BooBoo or Jackass, The Movie quite obviously.

She shuts down any naysayers about the same time she starts talking this cosmic smack --- like only the troglodytes are hanging back in the land of matrixlessness clutching their purses.  I can't remember the psychological/philosophical term that explains this concept that a theory can not be disproved because inherent in the refuting is the refuter's basic stupidity.  But the high school equivalent is the "popular clique".   She continues to eschew materialism with the following paragraph:

The preponderance of archaic methods of solving problems from war to water-boarding. From racism to risings of fundamentalism of every stripe. Fear as victor, the terrorist and the terrified supporting each other’s claim to a devolutionary agenda. Then too, too often and in too many places, reality had been diminished to the flattening of one's spirit and the expansion of one's purse.

I don't even really disagree with her until about midway through this paragraph.  But it sounds like just like way back in high school, there is no way in to this society of super-highmindedness and only a one way ticket out.  They let you in.  You are dubbed Knight of Cool by the dude scepter which henceforth requires that you to comply with a silent code of ridiculousness, pettiness, barbarism, teasing, bullying and condescension.  That's what I mean.  Can you imagine going up against this woman and Deepak Chopra and telling them that they are flat out living in some kind of la-la land?  They'll just look at you and say, we have PhDs or MD degrees but of course we've transcended these petty accolades in favor of belittling you on sheer force of our otherworldly and more highly evolved awesomeness.  BTW, Deepak's net worth is reported to be between $75-80 Million smackaroonies.  That's a lot of peyote.   I couldn't get any info on Ms. Houston's quid.

Dude, come on! Besse Cooper's philosophy is so much more accessible, understandable and real.  I think hers has some scientific gravitas, too:

I like Deepak. I have actually met him twice. Once on a path in the middle of the woods in Wyoming. Once at a book signing.   I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a highlight for me.   I would probably like Jean Houston, too,  if she put down the peyote pipe and started speaking English again. Check her out:

My whole point here is that living well is a pretty simple thing. Living a long time is complex and maybe not even something that appeals to you.  But a simple life ethic is infinitely preferable to one that only the cool peyote-smoking matrix-dwellers have access to via their collective higher mind.  I'm always skeptical of a philosophy that says I am required to think exactly like other people and flatten my purse in order to expand my spirit.  Let me also say that generally speaking (and you can even ask Jeff) I love this hippy-dippy cosmic philosophy.  Sorry Fr. Chas. I'm just being honest.  But this time, they lost me.

I wonder what Besse would've thought about that article.  It sounds like she was more of the "chop wood, carry water" school of enlightenment.

If her response to it were anything like Jeff's it would sound something like:

"Huh? This is just like gobblygook. Yeah, I gotta go upstairs and give the kids a shower. Thanks for dinner, Honey." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nothing kills joy faster than...

Comparison.  Comparison is the antithesis of peace.  Funny how peace and joy walk hand in hand down el camino real.  But there lurks the comparison hobgoblin, waiting patiently, with the uneven sidewalk segments to trip them both up and separate them. And then steal their wallets and then kick them in the ribs and then insult their mothers. And then spit on them and then..

There has been a lot of discussion on facebook and the blogs I follow about this very phenomenon.  So I know I'm not alone in this internal conflict. Often the comparison buzzes away in my mind just below true conscious awareness.  There,  it can do untold damage to my sense of belonging, peace, tranquility and acceptance.

I know this because I was held hostage by comparison and brutally abused by it all of last year. And this is the inexcusable part:  I was comparing my sweet kids to other peoples' kids.

My kids measure up just fine on all the important metrics. They're kind, gregarious, bright, engaged and engaging, mischievous, funny, loving, energetic and most of all healthy (Thank God, Thank God, Thank God).   But for the entire time we were enrolled in a private preschool (and for the time we were in conflict with a member of our extended family who is not terribly, shall we say fond of our kids), I fell prey to the comparison trap.  Ugh.  It was excruciating.

I had to gnaw off my metaphorical leg to get out of it.

Metaphorical Legs

What I mean is that I had to kind of get to the attachment point.  I mean where did this thing have a hold on me?   Well, I found it right at the "not-good-enough" juncture that connects inside my left temporal lobe and stretches from inside my brain down my neck, strangling my heart and penetrating my soul with a desiccating pulse of freeze-rays. One day in the Plum Market parking lot, I realized the extent of the reach of this tumorous thinking.  I stood paralyzed by the fear that I had burdened my children with my own non-good-enoughness by comparing them to other kids.  And I began to weep. Uncontrollable sobs. In public.

I resolved then and there, walking as I was into Plum Market talking to myself and muttering to the kids to cross quickly, to say, and please pardon me for saying this, "scr*w the world. Scr*w everybody!! I'm on my kids' side.  Because if I'm not, who will be? You all, you comparison mongers, you can go to h*ll.  If that's what this whole parenting thing is all about--your kids being brilliant and beautiful and most importantly: better than mine and them getting a 2000 on their SAT in 3rd friggin' grade--then p**s the hell off.  We'll stay here in our smelly freaking basement playing Legos in our recently-but-I-can't-tell-you-exactly-how-recently-washed, ill-fitting sweat pants and semi-soiled t-shirts singing nonsensical songs and pounding on our drums with no particular end in mind.  You all can rush off to get another belt in TaeKwonDo, play a 3rd instrument, learn Mandarin, origami, chess, space camp, long board techniques, swim team, etc.  But please, by all means,  leave us in the relative peace of my messy office where sit my late-as-hell thank-you cards,  and all the rest of the evidence of my absentmindedness and depressive and anxious episodes, such as my messy and unkempt hair, house, garage, truck, etc.  Oh yeah, don't forget just down the road: my smelly and fuzzy horse whom I adore despite his many challenges.   We are more on the real (and a bit gamey) side in this endoit.  Less jazz-hands, less Tiger-Mom, more fend-for-yourself-I'll-love-you-no-matter-what school of thought/parenting. Later Compari-bots. I'm OUT!"

The only thing I can now compare my kids to is the absolute emptiness that was there before them.  I hope I do them justice. But in the end, it's going to be up to them to live their lives. Not me.  I hope I fill up my own life with good-enough-ness enhancing pursuits that render a decent example for them of love, connection and vulnerability--and authenticity.  And I don't mean that cheesily. I mean it for-realzily.

You cannot compare your insides to somebody else's outsides. 
-- The Courage to Change

Monday, December 3, 2012

I know, I know


Recently we instituted a family-wide ban on the phrase "I know" as a response to a statement or question.   This was borne out of necessity as our littlest one followed every single statement to him with a terse and snotty "I know" as if he were allergic to NOT knowing something.

It dawned on me that he actually comes by the phrase quite honestly.  I say it all the time. I always thought that I was saying "I know" as a sort of accord with the person with whom I was conversing.  It turns out that what I was really doing was shutting them down and making them feel stupid.  I realized this not from them telling me so but from experiencing it from the other side.  When the curt and shitty reply to some awesome juicy piece of news that I deliver to a loved one ends up with the "I know" response, I shut right the hell DOWN.   So I imagine the apples didn't fall far from the tree.

The whole thing is a bit of a cluster.  Jeff is halfheartedly on board but mostly not.  The kids are constantly interrupting us during a regular discussion where it's perfectly appropriate to say "I know" to tell us that we, in fact, have just broken a rule and said "I know" to which we invariably respond "I know, I know!!" which usually prompts a tearful and rapid exit followed by a slamming door and more "I know, I knows." has done something to me.  It has made me so much more aware of sounding like an officious bitch every time I engage in conversation with anybody.   The fact of the matter is that I don't know jack sh*t about much.  Other people are far more interesting.  In an effort to not appear as stupid as I really am or as un-knowing, I should say, I was going out of my way to tell people how much "I know" when in fact it was just a mask for how much I didn't or don't know.  Not knowing something, it turns out, is a good place to start learning.  While knowing everything is not.


Some phrases we've adopted to replace the offending "I know" include but are not limited to the following list:

"Yeah, yeah"
"Uh, duh"
"I hear you"
"What do you think I am, stupid?"
"I see"
"Uh huh"
"You've already said that 1000 times!"
"That's cool"
"I've heard that before"
"Is that right?"
"How fun, cool, great, wonderful, interesting, etc."

Of course my hit ratio is abysmal.  The kids' is better. They catch themselves and then tell me when they catch themselves.   I hope this is a precursor for other forms of exercising self-control for them and for me. The next issue to tackle is yelling.

I know, I know, right?!!!  Now that's going to be a hard one.