cats.org.uk

Yesterday I was literally down on my hands and knees cleaning my floors, feeling so pleased with the results. But a few hours later, as the afternoon sun streamed through the glass storm door at the front of my house, I saw tiny little paw prints trekking figure-eights in the polished glow. How, I wondered, did one of my cats come in without my seeing it, to dance on my floor while it was still wet? I thought that cats were averse to anything wet, never mind sticky, as the floor wax is. Sneaky. Unexpected. Yet there the prints were, proclaiming ‘territory’. That’s how cats are. What did I expect – really? As I grow older, I think of a similar metaphor that’s been present throughout my life. Ideas and beliefs that were fulfilled, and those that were crushed to bits in the process of living.

Starting pretty early-on (I think it began when I entered school), I’ve always had expectations for myself; and soon afterwards, for others. To be honest, the bar was set pretty high for a long time; the pressure intense, for me and anyone I was close to. How did this develop? As I look at my own upbringing, it’s clear that my parents and grandparents drove much of what I thought was my own initiative. Turns out, it wasn’t. Still, I can’t say that their expectations for me were out of whack. Most of what they asked (make that, quietly and subtly demanded) turned out to be helpful.

But being shaped by our elders is a kind of an expectation in itself; the method doesn’t always translate so well when we try to shape others, so that their attitudes and actions conform to what we want and need. How much influence do our expectations have on the people we say we love? And how do we ‘put them – what we expect to happen — out there’ — as demands, and even ultimatums? Or, do we go into what I call ‘stealth mode’:  our expectations are very specific, but we don’t share them overtly. We alone know what they are; we  sit back, waiting for others to intuit what they are. Disappointment and resentment lurks, then grows.

Entering into relationship – especially the kind that is deep, heartfelt and crucially important (we feel) to our wellbeing – we bring expectations. They’re driven by our needs and our desires. As I think back, and look forward, I’m learning from experience how my expectations are sometimes unrealistic, ego-driven, and completely impossible for another to fulfill. It stands to reason, then:  either I’m trying to make someone into the version I want, or, my expectations are a reveal of my own faults (read unresolved fears or insecurities). Perhaps I’m basing my expectations on what others around me use as a measurement of Success and Happiness? Are they even mine?

That would be just as silly as waxing a floor in a household full of cats, believing that not a single one will go dancing on the wet floor.

Michaelangelo’s David, vam.ac.uk

Before I turn the spotlight on men, I want to offer two bits of context. First, my Post for today is from a ‘binary’ perspective. Limited, I know, but there it is. And second, I need to give a fact-based “nod” (you’ll see how it relates, promise) to women. Author Gita Patel (2013) compiled extensive research-based data about how uniquely qualified women are considered in global business and overall professional settings. Women are valued in the corporate world as being more “people-based”, “democratic and participative”,  and more “inclusive”.

womankind.org.uk

The stunner (for me, anyway):  Patel’s research reveals that women were “rated more competent in taking initiative, practicing self-development, integrity and honesty, as well as for being results-driven.” These are generally considered more masculine attributes in many societies.

Which leads me (and other Readers, I imagine) to wander – mentally – into the territory of Power, and what it means to men and women. But since this Post is In Praise of Men, that’s where I’m headed.

Social psychologists (pop, or legit) have always regarded Power as a key driver in the male psyche. Personal power. Professional power. Feeling a degree of control and influence over internal and external happenings. As I think about the men (surrounded by them while growing up) in my life — the energy, aspirations and drive…the tension, aggression and occasional acting-out – this makes so much sense. Maybe it was because I was the only girl in a crowd of brothers, but my father liked to ‘school’ me about males. Paraphrasing here, my own father (a stern, strong, stoic) said that, despite how single-minded they can appear (trying to address the need to find, and hold on to Power), most men need and deserve compassion and, most importantly, praise. No matter how gruff, ego-centric or stoic they appear (of course, Dad was also referring to himself), they are “no match for women and they know it” (a direct quote).

The Red Planet, Mars, independent.co.uk

Men, as author Robert Ardrey implied, have always been – since the days of early man – programmed in certain ways that have become increasingly difficult to act out in today’s world. Since the early days of Feminism, many men have struggled to re-align themselves with the changing needs and perspectives of women.

As a young (single) man in his 30’s recently confided, “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”. Too emotionally attuned to your girlfriend’s needs? She ghosts you for a Bad Boy. Too focused on your career and establishing yourself (trying to find your own balance of power in the corporation)? She accuses you of not valuing the relationship and your future together – she suddenly wants to marry and start a family.

psychologytoday.com

Yesterday I was out and about and had to stop in for a shot of espresso to fortify myself for another few hours. A man was coming out of the bistro as I was entering. I reached for the door handle, which he already had a hold of on his side. Our eyes met. Not for the first time, I saw the tentativeness in the man’s expression as he prepared to hold the door open for me. As I tell my millennial son, “Your mom raised you right.” It’s not that I needed the door opened for me, being perfectly able-bodied to do so myself. It’s that the man chose to open the door, in gallant fashion. (Personal experience note:  Southern men will always open doors for women.) This was his choice, and I allowed it.

It’s not just ‘gallantry’ that I appreciate in men – far from it. It’s more the way they’ve continued to evolve and find their correct and comfortable place in confusing situations. As a woman, I encourage and embrace men: “Welcome to our world.” That’s just a small part of my role on Planet Earth.

We’ve heard it, read it, or said it:  “The only Constant is Change”. A man named Heraclitus was apparently the first to make this observation, in his writings around 500 BCE. Let that sink in, and nurture your spirit for a minute:  we’ve been stressing over changes in our lives for a while. As long as there’s breath in our lungs, change is coming: ready and welcome… or not.

A certain kind of change is particularly tricky for a lot of people; I’ll definitely include myself in the group who struggle with endings, and new beginnings. For about four straight years (I’m out of that period for the moment), the endings in my life felt like freeway pileups. Instead of twisted steel it was emotional wreckage.

When endings come – whether they’re expected or a total surprise — they can wreak havoc. The ending might be the loss of a life, a job or lifestyle; a friendship, marriage or significant relationship. It can be a choice, or something imposed on us. Even in the most positive scenarios, endings force us to adapt to new feelings and circumstances. There’s a process we go through, at our own pace, in our own way, according to what feels right for us.

gettyimages

As I grow older, most aspects of Life seem to have gotten so much easier. Maybe clarity and wisdom have just made me more patient and tolerant! But change is always lurking. When a major ending turns my world upside down, I turn to survivors of life-altering shifts. I want to understand. I want to feel that All Will Be Well; that an ending will always be followed by a New Beginning. I want proof, in the version of someone else’s story. Author William Bridges and his book “Transitions” is one of my trusted guides. Not only does Bridges reassure with “Here’s why you feel what you feel,” but he describes the process without sugar-coating it. I appreciate that.

Following a big life change the body, mind, heart and spirit need a period of quiet time known as the Neutral Zone. A  friend and I were sharing stories recently about our dogs. She’d lost a beloved Huskie she’d had for 15 years and went into a months-long funk. Her adult kids immediately began urging her to get a new pup.

But Mary pushed-back; she needed time to process her loss. The Neutral Zone is essential rest, and also preparation for a New Beginning. Even if an ending feels more good than bad, it’s still disorienting: it’s detaching from what was, and preparing for what comes next. Whatever and whenever that gets revealed to us.

We’re encouraged to “roll with it”, “walk it off”, and “go with the flow” when Life’s changes upset our inner balance. But Bridges says, that isn’t enough. “…it’s important to do more than simply persevere. We need to understand what’s within us that might be undermining our resolve…” and allow it to surface in our minds and hearts. Let it tell us what we need to know, before we move on.

La Tour Eiffel:
independent.co.uk

I notice and appreciate any kind of advertising that credits consumers with being able to react and respond to cleverness and wit. Especially when use of language (not just catchy music or jingles) involves more creativity than just repetitive slogans. There’s a popular clothing company, brick and mortar and (of course) online that has adopted a phrase that the French would call a “double entendre” —  double-meaning in English. The phrase is in fact in French, “Bien Fait”, and can translate as ‘well-made’ or ‘well-done’ (as in an accomplishment, not a piece of meat). Bien Fait is clever because it implies that the clothing and accessories made by the company are of quality. But it also slyly compliments the purchaser on her taste in selecting whatever item(s) from the company.

Golden Gate Bridge: jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk

Which got me thinking recently, how important, yet how rare positive recognition can be in our society. I’m speaking specifically of Life in California, which I’ll acknowledge may not be similar to Life anywhere else on planet Earth – in terms of our social interactions. In fairness to my home state, however, this phenomenon may actually be more of a Big City affliction. I think of it as an affliction because, very often, there’s a deliberate effort in our personal interactions as well as professions to refrain from too much positive affirmation. Compliments. Praise. Recognition. Aside from promotions and pay bumps, how often do people in positions of power extend meaningful ‘kudos’:  eye contact, a smile, a handshake or pat on the shoulder; a Thank You ?

independent.co.uk

I have colleagues who, for one reason or another, have been unable to find employment in the field of organizational consulting or human resources in California. But other states in the U.S. are more than happy to hire them. These other states have lured my friends with higher salaries and better benefits. But more importantly, my erstwhile colleagues report feeling enthusiastically welcomed and treated like rare professional “gems” by companies outside of California.

Closer to home, I’ve observed that in both personal and professional settings, many people are almost hyper- judicious in their praise and gratitude for hard work. Why is this? We’ll “gush” over a new baby or a new puppy, but perhaps not so enthusiastically recognize a fellow human who creates or receives a standout moment in his or her life. Are we jealous? Are we in the belief that offering recognition or praise somehow compromises our own ‘standing’, in relationship to the person who’s experienced a triumph? Do we let our egos get in the way, when someone deserves and would really flourish with a “Well-done!”  from us?

canstockphoto.co.uk

I’m often in a hurry and distracted by my various projects. I’ll admit that I have to make a conscious effort to slow down, make eye-contact, and offer authentic gratitude and praise to those who make my life easier; and to those who’ve accomplished meaningful growth or tasks, large or small, in or outside of my immediate purview. I can see what a difference a simple “nod” can make, in the way even strangers’ faces light up; their shoulders relax, and they smile. They feel, for a second, connected and included through their value. Bien Fait.

tuigarden.co.nz

As I travel about my city running errands, I notice what many people also see – so many businesses laying out change-of-season reminders, enticing us to buy the decorations that help everyone enjoy the seasons and holidays more fully. That’s the idea, anyway. Not that we need reminding that, here in the Northern Hemisphere, kids have gone back to school, the weather is (or soon will be) changing, days growing darker much earlier. It’s definitely a change I believe we all intuit. For some, the feeling heralds a slow slog to Holiday times they’d really rather leap-frog over entirely. For others, the frenzied Holiday season can’t come soon enough.

As I go into a craft store for a few sewing items, I hurry past the Styrofoam pumpkins, pre-made wreaths and  heavily-scented piles of pine cones. Not that I’m a grumpy “Bah, to the holidays !” type of person. I just don’t want to be rushed into changes before I’m ready.

freeimages.com

It varies from year to year, but I always notice that as our summer season winds down, the light coming through the trees in my yard changes. It becomes softer. Maybe not as cool as I would like it to be (this is California), but definitely a different color and intensity. Buttery and diffuse. The shadows in my yard have a different slant to them somehow. They’ve grown longer and their edges are blurred.

I enjoy living in a place where I can see these subtle differences slowly coming. From the leaves on my Pistache tree blending from green to gold, to the giant Live Oak leaning over my bedroom shedding its acorns that sound like small, hard bombs as they hit the roof.  (A crack on the head from one of those really hurts.)

The new season ushers in changes in me, which is why I like the process to be leisurely and peaceful. I just had my birthday. I’m taking stock of ‘where I am’ in terms of Living My Best Life. Whether or not I’ve written down the goals I’ve had for myself throughout the year (which I measure by birthday-to-birthday, not December 31 to January 1), I know in my heart where I stand. I look at the half-finished redo of my rose garden (it suddenly got too hot and I lost interest). I look at the recipes I’ve torn out of magazines but never tried (as I opted for one-skillet meals while finishing my dissertation).

gettyimages.co.uk

The lists of projects that seemed exciting in late winter and early spring were over-taken by complicated personal relationships and family members needing so much more from me this year —  for some reason. As the days grow shorter, I feel quieter in my soul. I feel “ok” with what I did, and didn’t accomplish in My Year. I look forward to the cooler, darker fall and winter months as a time of rest, integration, and renewal. I ease into this time, sensing that it’s meant to be slowly savored, just as the tasty morsels of lovingly-prepared food delights, as well as nourishes. All of the Distractions that hover nearby will need to wait just a bit, while I watch the bright yellow finches scuffling at the feeder, to fatten themselves up for winter, charming me with their odd little voices

sohotravel.me