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.

Ready to Forget

Lately I’ve noticed what powerful emotional triggers certain sensory experiences – especially my sense of smell – can be. My dentist  tells me (I know, a dentist?) it’s all about the aging process, but I’m not so sure. I think I’ve always been what people who know about such things call a Super Receptor:  the hearing of a bat; taste buds that seem a little too responsive to extremes of sweet and sour; and a reaction to certain smells/aromas/fragrances that can send me floating up into fluffy pink clouds, or hurling into a vortex of panic.

Yesterday, for example, I was heading into a Sephora as a person was coming out.  I looked up, as I always do, to smile a ‘thank you’ (it’s official:  younger people of all genders are now holding doors for me), while catching a subtle whiff of her instantly-recognizable perfume. A very sweet floral:  the same scent that my beloved maternal grandmother (so influential in my life, until she passed at age 91) always wore. My breath caught in my chest, and for a minute I spaced-out as to what I’d come there for. The fresh flowery fragrance instantly took me back in time; so comfortable in the presence of someone I loved dearly. My grandmother’s smile came back; the house in the country came back; parts of me, came back to myself, as I stood before the store’s maze of goodies.

My dentist is involved in this mix because I’d recently shared with her how the odors of certain chemicals and diabolical medications they use (hospitals and doctor’s offices as well) freak me out. Which is why, I suppose, she felt she had to offer that, now that I was “older”, I should consider sedation for dental procedures, so that I wouldn’t “feel stressed”. That actually scared me more than medicinal odors do. Thankfully, most of the memories that come back to me via certain scents are really happy; even blissful.  

I look forward to hauling-out the sweet and savory spices that I use in dishes when the weather turns colder. Their aromas bring recollections of cooking lessons, in my early years, from now-passed family members that I still sorely miss.

The smell of spring blossoms on my lemon tree can put me into a trance of re-visiting Sicily; sweet cherry blossoms, and I’m longing to return to Japan. But some sensations trigger memories that I’d really rather forget. I get mixed-messages from lilacs:  the sprays were everywhere, at my mother’s funeral. The smell of a hospital (as well as the sounds) brings back the visceral fear I felt, as my son struggled with a life-threatening illness. A view of the setting sun, from a mountainside perch I’m still drawn to, brings longing for the happier times in my marriage.

Our sense of smell, so I read from experts, is one of humankind’s most primitive and potent vestiges from our ancient origins. I sometimes wonder if it’s part of Nature’s Wisdom, the fact that so many people in their 80’s and 90’s seem to experience a diminished sense of smell and taste. Being able to avoid reminders of Life’s darker moments might not be so bad.

Decades ago I had a friend, a medical doctor, whose specialty was Companion-Medicine. He traveled to many different countries, learning unconventional ways, alternative methods, of treating physical and psychological dis-ease. David’s interest and focus eventually became releasing and completely erasing deep sadness, even trauma, through Breathwork. Healing through certain types of breathing, combined with visualization, is even more widely-used today. I’m here to say, if done correctly and consistently, it does work.

Having lived a bit of Life, however, and so being acquainted with the spectrum of mild unhappiness all the way up to debilitating grief, I also have to say that Step One (for me) is being Ready to Forget. Despite what I knew would happen in my heart when it bloomed, I planted a lilac bush in my yard a few years ago. And, I’m still not ready to stop going to that special mountain spot, to watch the sunset and recall Love’s bitter-sweetness. In fact, I think I’ve decided that I actually like being a Super Receptor of the sights, sounds, and smells that sometimes, literally, take my breath away and rock my emotions. They make me feel alive, sparking appreciation and gratitude for every moment, and its eventual memory, that I might hold on to.

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.

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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.

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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.

What Can I Do?

It seems like I’ve always had at least one dog in my life. Dog People believe (I’m an omnianimal lover, but I agree) that dogs are superior in their ability to connect with their humans. Despite our shortcomings, dogs accept and, without complaint, endure whatever is right, or wrong with us. Yesterday morning I took my two ‘senior’ dogs out for their daily walk – a slow process, with several rest stops.

Walking older pets becomes a Zen experience (patience, primarily), with unexpected rewards. Had they not slowed my pace, I would’ve missed seeing a neighbor I always enjoy talking to, walking to his mailbox. He’s from Paris originally, and still travels there once or twice a year. A cheerful guy; always ready with an update on one of my favorite cities. He also tolerates my own version of the French language, for which I’m grateful.

Paris Skyline

As my pups enjoyed another rest, we discussed Paris, both agreeing that our experiences there have changed. Not just a flood of more people seeking-out the city’s charms, but the locals seeming more ‘frayed’. Anxious. Irritable. Not only by the overwhelming tide of tourists, but by circumstances in their own lives. Economic struggles; political struggles. Life. Too often, I’ve realized lately, when I travel to a new country I’m way-focused on my own experience and agenda. Especially with a shorter trip or stay in a city: I feel anxious, trying to pack too much in. And so I miss an important gift of travel.

A recent experience in Marrakech drove the point home. I was in the main medina (a city square of commerce, food and diversions like monkeys and cobra-charmers), Dar Jemaa el-Finaa. It was a little before noon, and I was in one of many crowded souks. Getting lost in a souk is easy to do, and can be a hazard.

Picture so many visuals, each more captivating than the next. Aromas of spices, fruits, and oils; piles of dates, nuts and raw sugar (swarming with bees). The locals of Maroc shop here too, so clothing, shoes, backpacks, dishes, light fixtures, knives and apothecary products (argan and saffron-infused) are out, and being haggled-over. The scene is hypnotic.

Marrakech is a glittering jewel to be admired, but also respected. Tourism is a huge part of the economy, and, just as with any large city (as my Parisian friend and I agreed), its people have mixed feelings about their dependence on foreigners.

A souk moves constantly, like a river; if you step out of the flow and your friends keep moving, you hope that at some point they step out too, and wait for you. Having found myself alone, my senses were heightened. Alerted to shouting (“Move!”, in Arabic, was typical souk noise) behind me, I turned just as a motorized scooter shot past, followed by a donkey at a brisk trot.

The driver/rider of the animal was perched high on cloth bags of something. His foot grazed my arm as he propelled his donkey around me. But the shouting continued. After the donkeys and the scooters came a very tall, very weather-beaten man, moving briskly toward me, his mouth working.

He was in traditional garb for a Moroccan male (btw, caftans and headwear can be very different, depending on the region). The man was looking straight at me, soon looming over me (I’m tall, at 5’10” – he was at least 6’4”) speaking rapid-fire French. He must’ve assumed that I was either Canadian or American: he clearly wanted me to know how he was feeling that day, about either or both nationalities.

I remained motionless, listening to the man vent, taking in as much French as my ears could decipher. Like most frustrated people, he eventually ran out of anger and insults. For a beat, he just looked at me; waiting for a rebuttal? I didn’t offer one. It wouldn’t have been helpful.

I’ve remembered, and continue to reflect on the content and emotion in that confrontation: an angst I’d heard before, in France; in Egypt; in my own country. It was an important reminder of what I want Travel to include: not just scenery, but moments that open my eyes and prompt me to ask, What Can I Do?

Things We Do For Love

This recent trip overseas, I decided to guinea-pig myself in an experiment. Always seeking remedies to reduce the dreaded Jet Lag, I’d read about how face masks – the kind that filter germs – can actually shorten your ‘lag time’. Something about breathing moist air, reducing overall dehydration caused by flying, which apparently contributes to feeling so rotten. So, on the roughly 13 hour flight over, I wore the mask pretty much the whole time. Whether it was the excitement of landing in a new country, or the mask actually working, I perked-up  after only a day and a half of feeling rough. The second half of the experiment:  I didn’t wear the mask at all on the flight home. What a difference. Four full days of a spacey head and not wanting to do much beyond sleep. I’ll definitely be packing a mask from now on.

Back home, while I was still feeling like a zombie, I decided to go to my local grocery store for a pick me up ‘shot’ of immune booster. (What I eventually settled-on was an eye-watering, nose-running, cough-spluttering combo of really hot fresh ginger, turmeric, black pepper and some exotic berries I’d never heard of.) While I was trying to read the teeny tiny print on itty bitty Alice in Wonderland bottles, all in psychedelic colors (is that part of their appeal, I wonder), I felt a person behind me. As I scooted out of the way, the woman began talking to me.

I’ve never heard a person talk so fast. Of course, she didn’t know my brain was ‘toast’ from flying. I smiled, and nodded, and she talked. And talked. Some of what the woman said filtered through my mental fog – she seemed to know a lot about those little super-shots and had tried most of them. Helpful. But then the topic meandered a little…to her battle with all kinds of Life stressors and her body’s ‘breakdown’ as she put it.

This happens to me a lot. I’m in a store. Any store. Someone wants to know, “Does this melon smell ripe to you?” “Does this dress look good on me?” “Do you know anything about the benefits of celery juice?” This last question came from the woman in the store yesterday. Far from being annoyed, or anxious to be on my way, I was transfixed by her story:  it just kept rolling out as I continued to read labels, hoping that one in particular would whisper, Choose me!

In a span of the past five years, said the woman, she’d endured the following:  flying 2,000 miles to support a niece through rehab; caring for her mother-in-law until her death from breast cancer; taking-in her brother and his wife when he lost his job; losing another brother to alcoholism; and coping with the death of a dear aunt who meant more to her (she said) than her own mother. After sharing an impressive (and scary, to me) list of meds she’d been prescribed by various doctors (“I had a full-on breakdown and was hospitalized”), the woman told me she was intent on getting well naturally. Clean foods. Juicing. Ah – that explained her super-shot knowledge.

It was time for me to try to edge – gently and tactfully – away from this encounter. I wished the woman luck – she seemed better for having talked non-stop for a bit — and almost immediately flashed-back to when I was a care provider for my own father. How it wore me down. How my love and care for him caused me to almost get into a similar state of total physical, mental, emotional and spiritual collapse. I can’t imagine a succession of caregiving demands. Love is strong. Love is the greatest power on earth;  but we are fragile systems, often unaware and unable to realize when our breaking point is near. Love allows us to endure unimaginable hardship without a thought for our own welfare; love blinds us to any and all things that are not a part of our impulse to care, to sacrifice, to find strength when strength is gone.

I was glad, suddenly, that I was there yesterday in that store isle. The woman who unburdened herself to me didn’t know I had a minimally-functioning brain. It didn’t matter. She talked. I listened. We both connected, intimate strangers. I walked away marveling at her strength, and at the amazing things we do for Love.

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