Random Attack

I try not to give any energy or focus to ‘negativity’; it seems to have enough power already. Also, I don’t want any of it boomeranging back to me if I can avoid it. Having said that, it’s a fine line between avoiding hateful people and situations, and feeling the urge to say something. Maybe…just maybe…by saying something, could words become a pebble in a pond, sending ripples out to those who need to hear the message?

As I write my Blog posts, and re-read what I write, I realize how important humility is. In the writing process; in the whole Interweb atmosphere (which I’m still learning); and in the Life Experience arena. Like that insane (because it seems to be everywhere) YouTube advert that starts with, “Who am I, to write a book?!” Downplay self-doubt, believe in what you have to say, and hope that others will want to pay for the pleasure of reading your writing. Which makes Blogging so liberating for me:  it’s a forum for self-expression and sharing what might be common themes in Life, for others to learn, or get a smile from. The satisfaction is not in payment or props (and might never be, which is “ok”).

So this was the mindset behind a recent trip to another social media site, where the discussion in progress happened to be Relationships. (In my view, Relationships are the Center of the Universe.) I made a short entry on the site, which had to do with the all-important-relationship that we have with Ourselves. Self- Love, and Self-Care.  Not a new concept, but so under-estimated in value. “For me”, anyway, which is always my disclaimer when I share thoughts about sensitive topics.

Surprisingly, there was an immediate ‘chat’ back to my Post. Astonishingly negative, hateful and sarcastic. The icy-aura that television ghost-hunters say they walk into, in an empty, but so unhappy house. It  surrounded me in a swirl of cold colors that felt like a nasty bruise:  the deep-tissue, really painful kind that transition from purple to red to yellow. I was the one getting cyber-punched in the face, and I suddenly said out loud, with only the cat listening, “So…this is a ‘Troll’. This is what’s ‘out there’; this is the utter misery in the hearts of some people. This ( social media) might be the only outlet for this person’s incredible pain.”

I’m not naïve. In my career, I’ve had many instances where unhappy (and clinically ill, on several levels) people have vented toward or at me. I can think of only twice where I knew that actual harm could be inflicted if I didn’t take some action. On social media, however, an ‘attack’ is somehow stranger and more disturbing than an angry face and loud voice in real time. The quietness of written expression, but the screaming of the words themselves. Even though I knew what I’d written was benign, it was a clear Trigger for the person responding. A reminder for me of several things; but, most importantly, never to assume we’re all on the same page; or even in the same book, when it comes to the Human Experience.

I didn’t apologize; there was no reason to. I didn’t keep ‘talking’; there was nothing to say. But I came away from the experience feeling like I’d traveled to a new country, ventured into a sketchy part of a major city at twilight, let my guard down, and experienced the consequences. I can full stop and call the World ‘crazy’, or appreciate what just made me a better Traveler.

Taking, Not Taking the Blame

A million years ago I was an English Lit major and still have a passion for it. Yesterday morning I listened to a scholar discussing the origins of the facts/myths about The Whipping Boy, connecting this historical reference to present-day politicians. The backstory — acted out in The Prince and the Pauper, by the way– of the W.B. is that a princeling who’d misbehaved and deserved the punishment du jour – a whipping – was spared. Another young man in the court was forced to take the beating for him. The belief was, royal blood could not be spilt; royal tears could not be shed. “Noblesse Oblige”.

Later on in this same day, I heard from another woman – a healing practitioner this time –about the same theme (this is how The Universe’s ‘downloads’ come to me:  taps on the head on the same topic):  whipping boys, scapegoats, “being thrown under the bus” by a co-worker. Taking a ‘whipping’ of some kind, because someone else needs to avoid blame for a bad situation or outcome. Not only ‘taking’ it, but allowing it.

About this point in my day, I had an uneasy epiphany. When we start digging-around, searching for reasons why things ‘happen’ to us, we’re faced with an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes we’re betrayed, totally blindsided by a friend, a spouse, a colleague or family member who’s pointing the finger of blame in our direction, without real cause (other than avoidance and denial).

But too often we allow others to use us as their personal scapegoats, for whatever’s gone wrong. We let ourselves be victimized; we suffer in silence and in guilt; our sense of self-sacrifice is hyper-inflated. To explain-away what, deep down we know is ‘off’, we think of this sacrifice as ‘love’, ‘commitment’, ‘duty’. Our adult children can really do a ‘number’ on us; so can our spouses and other family members. For many years, my ex-husband blamed me for his ‘anger issues’. True to my nature of being compliant (at that time, anyway), I not only allowed it, but internalized the gaslighting. My ‘ex’ eventually ‘owned’ his problems, but I’d already taken-on a boatload of bad feelings about myself.

theguardian.com

Any well-lived life has periods of heartache and trouble. I understand and accept that it’s a natural human instinct to want to avoid – at all costs -appearing responsible for any wrong-doing, or short-comings. But as I grow older and wiser, I’m becoming more discerning and proactive, when certain people in my life actively seek a scapegoat and are looking in my direction. I’m shedding my tendency toward too much self-sacrifice in my roles — especially easy to do with people I love — and definitely watching for big, fast-moving buses.

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 Black Dog

Depression is sometimes referred to as “the common cold” of mental illness, due to its prevalence in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is constantly tracking data on people 12 years and older, relative to such things as doctor and ER visits, prescribed medications, racial disparities, vulnerable groups, and depression that leads to death by suicide.

sheffield.co.uk
enwikipedia.org

Britain’s former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill suffered from it profoundly. He called it The Black Dog: a dark shadow that slipped into his mind quietly, without being summoned, or welcomed. According to historical records, the prime minister made no secret of his depression, which would sometimes last for days. “Taking the Black Dog” is still a familiar expresson for depression’s symptoms, and an important mental health facility in Sydney, Australia uses the phrase in its name.

With stats reflecting that depression is not an insignificant problem in the U.S., it continues to amaze me that it’s still so hard to talk about. Even in family situations, where a young person is involved, an inability to share ‘just how bad it is’ is common. I know that I could easily extend that statement to mental illness in general. But even though psychological disorders have been “outed” in the media, making it seem as though depression is akin to the common cold, we see it, but we don’t really understand it. I suspect, too, that often we’re reluctant to accept it as a valid, potentially serious illness.

Recently I provided some direction and encouragement to a young adult who’s roughly halfway through her doctoral studies. She described an array of personal concerns that, to me, sounded like a version of depression (defintely not diagnosing, here). She linked her feelings about work, school, and her parents (still living at home) to her general aimlessness, lack of focus and energy. But she also referred to her emotions as ‘fake’ because, as she put it, “There’s just no logical reason for me to feel this way. Life isn’t that hard.” Or is it? Can depression be misinterpreted as mere self-indulgence? My parents looked at it that way, with disastrous consequences for my mother.

Churchill, annamasonart.com

For years after Churchill left public service, a debate raged about whether or not his darkest Black Dog moments allowed the prime minister to perceive Hitler’s threat more acutely than allied politicians. Regardless of the help or hindrance, Churchill was never accused of malingering or being too morose; rather, he’s remembered to this day as courageously fighting his own inner demons by acknowledging them publicly: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in…” Far from ignoring his problem, this man wove his depression into his life as a strength: paradoxically, a reason to persevere. I aspire to such Bravery.

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