Cute, But Psycho

There used to be a popular product line when my son was in grade school – kids’ backpacks, school binders and  t-shirts featured the (registered trademarks featured in this Post) brand image:   a simple cartoon-bunny meme. An adorable little rabbit that made the most obnoxious and sarcastic comments. My 4th grader loved, because he so identified with, the bunny who had license to do and say ‘whatever’, because of his (or her, it was gender neutral) extreme cuteness. Over the years, the meme’s become a lot darker (as has our collective sense of humor, I guess). Kind of like the state I’ve spent life so far in:  California.

dailymail.co.uk

Today I read an article that US presidential candidates for our 2020 election are pretty much avoiding campaigning in California, even as our March primary nears. It’s not that they don’t recognize the importance of our huge electorate – more that they just can’t figure California out. The attraction (cuteness) is strong; but the edginess and diversity (the ‘psycho’ part) creates wariness. Tell me about it. If Californians themselves recognize what a unique state we are, I can understand completely why the rest of the nation (and World?) is both intrigued and repelled.

Living in The Golden State offers huge potential for getting your mental, emotional and spiritual wires crossed, as you go about your daily life. What represents The Good Life can feel skewed, compared to the rest of the U.S. You feel it more, as you head south, where Hollywood Culture is so deeply ingrained. Tanned skin, fit bodies, perfect teeth:  Is the entire county waiting for that breakthrough audition and (Tesla’s or Virgin Atlantic’s) rocket to fame? To the north, where Big Tech (Google, Apple and Facebook, among thousands of other companies) has anchored itself, there’s an intensity (frenzy) that’s all about ‘retiring’ at the age of 35 (with billions in the bank and shares generating more cash every day). The center of our state is a bit of a neutral zone.

californiaalmonds.com

I recently heard someone call it, The Green Vortex. ‘Green’, because of the tremendous amount of agriculture (we literally feed the world, I’m proud to say); but also the ‘green’ of operating suites. (Yes, there’s a reason why a certain shade of green sets the tone in so many hospitals everywhere). Calm. Sedate. The Central Valley of California’s vibe is “Relax:  what’s your hurry? Try this BOMB street taco!” Friendly, non-competitive, easy-going, more affordable housing. But the CV gets ‘ripped’ for exactly what it offers:  a kind of ‘rehab’ for frazzled nerves.

Which brings me back to the “Cute, But Psycho” bunny meme. As I travel the country and the world, it’s clear that many people ‘get’ that about California. Celebrities and their mesmerizing lifestyles (cute); vast chasms between the plight of our Homeless and our Tech “nobility” (psycho – “Why can’t California manage these things?” Well, how long have you got?)

People I engage (from other parts of the world) day-dream of moving to The Golden State. But to live happily in California, you need to have your head on straight, no matter where you choose to live. See, accept and appreciate the ‘cute’, but never turn your back on the ‘psycho’. Ground yourself in what you know is real, and just enjoy the fantasy-like quality of our entertainments. California is way more than Hollywood and Tech:  we’re also Yosemite and Big Sur, Napa and Death Valley. And yes, there’s a whole bunch of us that don’t obsess over wealth, popularity, social status, or the latest fashion trends.

Good luck, Political Candidates:  Californians are “all over the map”, which is just how we like it.

Life in Balance

Writing has been an ever-changing experience for me. Early in my career I was an editor, and speechwriter, for a very large county-schools system: 48 separate districts under one superintendent. I wrote articles that were published in the WSJ, that someone else attached their name to:  standard-practice, but so annoying. The speeches I wrote for the CEO? Same thing. Still, I was having my ‘voice’ heard, and I liked it.

prima.co.uk

Other kinds of professional writing – proposals and grants – not so much love there. By the time I entered a doctoral program and faced the challenge of a writing my dissertation, the only real struggle I had was with the ‘structure’ required of an ‘academic’ publication. Why so resistant to (APA) guidelines? Because I felt they interfered with my creative process. Because I felt the ‘guidelines’ were meant to create a kind of template for how scholarly-writing should look. Because someone, somewhere, decided that Readers really do pay attention to things like how References appear on a page. (I remain unconvinced.) Because I’ve always questioned, and frequently disregarded inexplicable Rules. Rules for writing; rules for creating; rules for living.

Over the weekend I had a discussion with a younger adult about this very topic:  how the desire to live an inspired, free and creative (how happiness and fulfillment unfolds for you) life gets tangled-up with largely unwritten Rules. “Say you’re part of a team function,” he said; “you’re expected to participate in group activities outside of ‘the work’:  lunch together, drinks, sharing aspects of your life with strangers. If you don’t, people start calling you weird.”

Is this a chicken-egg thing, I wondered? Which comes first:  our own need to fit-in and be accepted, or the influence of others telegraphing that we might be ostracized by the group if we don’t conform to its norms? What’s the real challenge, in being authentic – in proclaiming who we are, what we enjoy and what we want for ourselves, ultimately? I think the answer to that is, ‘depends on how high the stakes are and what the goal is’. I freely share (only when asked, of course) with (mostly younger) people how I’ve vigorously ‘bucked’ the Rules, but also ‘played by’ the Rules when necessary:  when I’ve wanted something (like a Ph.D.) that just wasn’t going to happen if I acted the maverick (read: true to my nature). If the task at hand is situational and of a certain time limit – with an end in sight – it’s easier.

But a full life of going-along-to-get-along, to me, represents inertia, then coma, then death of spirit. How many people are swept-up in the life-long engagement of trying to please, wanting to conform, needing acceptance from as many people as possible? Sometimes it can feel, especially when we’re writing, painting, sculpting, dancing – or just preferring to brown-bag it in the park, instead of joining The Team for lunch – that we’re struggling against something important, and possibly even  risking “being alone forever”.

Quite a few notable people, as it turns out, have asked, and addressed this struggle…

George Carlin

 “I like it when a flower, or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so   f***in’ heroic.”― George Carlin

John Lennon

 “It’s weird, not to be weird”.  – John Lennon

Hermann Hesse

“I have no right to call myself one who knows. I was one who seeks, and I still am, but I no longer seek in the stars or in books; I’m beginning to hear the teachings of my own blood, pulsing within me.” – Hermann Hesse

The Big Relax

netdoctor.co.uk

After week-two of being back at home, I knew that what I felt wasn’t jet-lag. I couldn’t clear my head; I felt drowsy and dreamy; I thought I might be catching what a lot of people on the flight back from Montreal seemed to be passing around. (Is there anything more unnerving for the weary Traveler than a plane chock- full of hacking, sneezing people? Almost – but not quite — up there with the ‘Mechanical Trouble’ announcement.)

womenshealth.com

As soon as I arrived home, I lined-up my natural remedies, hoping to boost my travel-stressed system against whatever was trying to get me. It seemed like I was losing the battle when, three days after landing, I botched my portion of a group presentation. At least, that was my ‘read’ on it – I didn’t press my groupmates for their input; didn’t really need to, sadly. But as I walked away from that particular humbling experience, it was only a minute that I felt bad. (Humiliating myself is one thing, but I hate to reflect poorly on my group.) Before long, I was feeling ‘Whatever !’, in mind, body and soul.

absolutelycultured.co.uk

And then the ‘dominoes’ began to fall in my head:  I didn’t care at all about the topic that I’d presented on. My heart wasn’t in it. What’s more, I was annoyed with the way my colleagues had been fussing with one another about work responsibilities. (Really?) I realized that people and situations in my immediate surroundings were making me feel like, “Enough, already!” Lastly, even my urge to write seemed to have waned. What the…? That never happens.

And it came to me:  What if I stopped trying so hard at everything I do? Having recently completed my doctoral program (a major accomplishment on my cosmic To Do list), I never missed a beat before I was on-to-the-next-thing. Where was my Off, or even Pause button? Do I even have one of those? Where did all of this ‘drive’ come from?

independent.co.uk

Not long ago I was doing my four-mile racewalk and came across a guy riding one of those funny little collapse-able bicycles (they’ve always appealed to me, so small and so low to the ground – packable?). We chatted for a bit (he was quick to tell me he was the proud papa of a local, somewhat famous chanteuse in my city). He asked me about myself and I told him about my doctoral work. “Oh,” he said, “You’re one of those super-ambitious women.” Say what? Rather than get into the whys and wherefores of how ambition becomes a different kind of trait when a woman possesses it, I proudly said, “Yeah, I am.” Did that kill the guy’s interest in further conversation? I don’t know, and didn’t care that he suddenly pedaled-off.

Despite the odd (sexist and judge-y) way he framed it, bicycle man was correct. I do have more than my fair share, it seems, of ambition. But after my recent international trip (celebrating the official conclusion of my doctoral work), my body, mind and soul said Hey. It began with a foggy brain and less than stellar professional moment. Then came the acceptance that it’s probably ‘ok’ to down-shift for a minute. I eased-into what I’ve been calling The Big Relax. Staying up late, sleeping in; ignoring The News of the day, phone calls and texts. Most importantly, ignoring my need (compulsion?) to produce:   the evidence that I’m not just taking up space on the planet but actually making each moment count for something.

The Big Relax is already over, but my takeaway is that I can slow down, without stopping. The sky doesn’t fall if I’m not productive. Bingeing on Netflix and Talenti has mental health benefits that, for some reason, I’ve truly overlooked.

‘Swiping’ Life

theledger.com:
The Renowned Miss Manners

When it comes to social niceties, I wouldn’t put myself up there with Miss Manners. (Where in the world is she, by the way…and is she feeling hopelessly redundant these days?). But, even when it requires effort and feels really tedious, I can behave as I’m expected to “in polite society” – at least for an acceptable amount of time. It’s not that I want to be disrespectful – definitely not mean – it’s just that certain social conventions seem so silly:  like we’re doing things according to some script, and not because anyone really wants to do ‘the thing’.

workingmums.co.uk

Cases in point:  I will never say, “Oh, that’s ok” if it really isn’t. I’ll never invite you to lunch if I don’t ever intend to have lunch with you. If I’m not ‘feeling it’, but you press to get my phone number, I’m going to send immediate signals that’ll be very hard for you to misinterpret.

On my recent overseas trip I met another traveler who telegraphed romantic interest right away. I enjoyed our conversations in the moment, but when he asked if I might like to visit him in New York, well…

There’s a social convention that I find totally mystifying. I don’t know if it’s a lack of authenticity, Extreme Manners, or just a discomfort with self-expression. Here’s one scenario:  I run into a friend I haven’t seen in a long, long time. We were never very close – never shared personal information, family updates, etc. When we meet, we hug and smile and briefly catch up. When we’re about to part company – there it is:  “We should get together for lunch or a drink sometime!” So we exchange phone numbers, pretty sure that neither of us is going to call or text the other. (Sometimes we do, but mostly we don’t.) Why is this?

For busy people – jobs, family, our hobbies, or just being happy hermits — we’re all engaged in what I used to call ‘sifting’, but now realize is actually Swiping. Who has access to us begins with our close-personals:  spouses, kids, genuine friends; sometimes co-workers.

Working outward from our Inner Circle, we begin sifting / swiping our Connections. After all, we only have a finite amount of time, energy, compassion, interest, (I call it mental file space) to entertain the thought of more Person-able responsibility. Which means more conversation; more sharing; perhaps more obligations. Most of us have to guard against becoming overloaded. Makes sense. Add to this a delicate Truth:  we all know the person who ‘means well’, or has ‘a good heart’, but who is a human Black Hole, demanding more time and energy than we can muster or give.

So, as we all go about our lives, conventional behavior dictates that we also go through the motions of “let’s try to get together’, or, “I’ll call you”, even though we know there’s never going to be any follow through. But what’s the polite alternative? Pretty rough to say, “I’ve enjoyed seeing you again but – sorry – I’ve gotta Swipe Left.”  I don’t know…is this actually worse than committing to a call or a text, with no intention of doing either?

The fellow traveler suggested that I plan to visit him ( in NYC) – a gutsy leap, considering our short and superficial chats, so, ‘points’ for assertiveness. Still, I did not, could not say, “Sure, that sounds great.” Because it didn’t. (The ‘chemistry’s’ there, or it isn’t). So, I just smiled and pointed to an enormous stork nest atop a minaret, in Morocco – with a stork perched in it. The New Yorker clocked my stork-distraction as a ruse to get out of answering his invitation, and the moment passed.

I did feel a little bad that I couldn’t respond more favorably to New York, but proud that I didn’t say that I would come – or, even worse – create a plan to go without feeling a genuine interest in the man.

At the end of the day, these kinds of things can weigh heavy on my mind, causing me to scrutinize my own authenticity. I don’t ever want to intentionally mislead anyone, or be hypocritical. So yes: I’m going to Swipe My Life, hoping that that the other person can somehow appreciate this as a kindness. I doubt that Miss Manners would approve, but my own conscience does, and that’s what matters most.

“Just Relax & Breathe Through It”

I hate going to the doctor. Any doctor, any time (even when I’m sick and might need one), for any reason. Even benign check-ups. It’s not quite at the phobic-level, but close. Recall what early American pioneers took note of as they moved out West, and encountered Native Americans for the first time. If a newcomer wanted to take a photograph of an indigenous person, they were refused. As American folklore explains it, these original Americans felt that a photograph would rob them of all, or part of, their soul-essence. Thanks, but no thanks. That’s how I feel about most of the medical profession. Irrational, maybe, but there it is.

telegraph.co.uk

When a person reaches his or her 90’s, even in relatively good health, more and more doctors creep quietly onto the stage. Yesterday, as I do every week, I spoke with my uncle who lives about 2,500 miles from me. He’s 91 and still able to be independent; mentally and physically active. And yet, his health has to be ‘monitored’. As he puts it, “At my age, it’s always something.” So off he went, to one of his half-dozen doctors two days before our talk, feeling fairly strong and fit, considering. But as soon as he was put into a room to wait for the physician’s assistant, my uncle said he began to feel anxious. When the P.A. arrived and did a blood pressure check, my uncle’s was abnormally high. “You know,” he later told me on the phone, “it doesn’t do a damn bit of good for them to tell me to ‘relax’.

I can relate. The next day I went to get a flu shot (which I always argue with myself about, but end up doing it anyway). Waiting for the nurse my pulse was amped and my breathing was shallow. When she arrived and was ready to jab my shoulder with her needle, she put her arm down, eyeballed me, and said, “Relax this muscle and try to breathe through it!” as she poked the target on my arm. Easier said than done.

As I was leaving that place (as fast as I could), I began thinking about all of the scenarios in which someone had told me to Just-relax-and-breathe-through-it. Labor pains, and the birth of my son; a therapist I went to, when my entire organization was melting-down and people were literally ‘keying’ one another’s cars and slashing tires out of spite; trying to focus on my attorney’s words, as we discussed my brother’s lawsuit over my father’s inheritance, robbing me of two years of peace of mind.

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Relax. Breathe. Sometimes I play a mental game with myself during stress. I compare what I’m presently going through to the absolute worst-case moments I’ve had before.  Just to keep perspective. Which, I know,  isn’t the same as breathing-through whatever ‘it’ is. Because breathing-through it means allowing the terror to enter my heart, to lie coiled there for as long as it wants (while I try to ignore it), until it gets bored and goes away. Intellectually, I understand that a tensed muscle equals resistance, which equals more pain. But something much deeper, and more primal closes my ears and makes me want to hide from scary moments. When I hear, “Relax and Just Breathe Through It”? Well, the expression “Hold my beer…” comes to mind.

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