Monthly Archives: December 2016

Gimme

I write myself notes about my life. The ones that are short and to the point I sometimes tape up where I will see them. These aren’t the “inspirational” sort, not the traditional variety anyway: “You are great! You are beautiful! You can do anything!” Eh…that’s just not for me. If need be, I’d write a note that said “Don’t be an idiot.” Sometimes that’s what I need to hear. I’m not sure it would be a best seller in the inspirational poster market.

There is no point in having a lot of notes up or I wouldn’t be paying attention to any particular one. This isn’t something I do religiously anyway. It’s only if I feel like it or think I need to be reminded of a specific thing. I recently put this one on the back of my door. It’s an older one that I’d put away, saw again, and thought: I want to read that now.

img_20161231_081017

When I initially wrote it I was mainly thinking of things, that is, objects, but this note means more than that and I know it. It means Hey! Appreciate what you have, whatever it is.  Yes, pretty things, like home decorations and clothes, but also, things like physical strength, a sound mind, a quick wit, or an ability to make things – a home, a garden, an outfit, even a piece of writing – beautiful. I need to figuratively take my own head and turn it in the direction of what I have as opposed to what I don’t as I assure you I’d have no trouble listing out my shortcomings and failings and what I don’t have. It is so, so easy to focus on what we lack whether it’s objects or intangibles.

People talk A LOT about the consumer culture grabbing us all by the throat and making us covetous, greedy, selfish people who WANT, WANT, WANT. By god, they say, it’s seeing how celebrities and rich folk live that makes us so green with envy and dissatisfied. Seeing the glamorous lives that look so perfect (until they don’t) makes us want to emulate them. Or just seeing all the ads and commercials for shiny new stuff fuels our wanting.

I’m here to say nope. Or not entirely. I think there’s a basic greed in our nature, a desire for more, and a dissatisfaction with what is. If the essential trait wasn’t there inside (most) people we’d be unmoved when sparkly objects and glammed-up lives were dangled in front of us. It wouldn’t register. I bet Thag lived in his cave and thought it was pretty good until he saw Thor’s bigger cave and then wanted it for himself! Maybe he plotted how to drive Thor out so he could get the better cave.

Ancient people protected their hunting grounds, and fishing waters, and good lands for growing crops. They fought for them. And when they saw better ones that were already in use, they frequently battled to get those. The feelings that drove them came from their own nature not a consumer culture or social media. It’s a myth to imagine it was all ever kumbaya! Or that back-in-the-day people were always satisfied with their (shabby) lot.

I maintain there is something in our nature that both wants to protect what we have and to get more. Even people who live with extremely little, whether it’s in the woods, or on the streets, can be fiercely protective of what they have.

They’ve done studies (you know, “they”) where it’s shown that any time someone gets a new thing, they appreciate it for awhile, but then, the appreciation falls off over a predictable period of time.Why, why, why, do we forget that about ourselves? Over and over we get the “new thing” in whatever form it takes and imagine all will be transformed and our essential selves strikingly different.

Many of us were brought up to believe that life was, or SHOULD be, a progression of bettering our lot. It’s all up. That’s the American Dream, the American Way. Just keep trading up. Make more money, get a better job, a better car, a better house, a better wife. Up, up, up.

But life doesn’t work that way for a whole lot of people. It can be shockingly disillusioning. IF we hadn’t been groomed on the up, up, up, philosophy, it might not be as bad. But it’s the difference between what we THINK we should have and what we actually have that is the undoing of many.

It isn’t just a matter of “being happy with what you have” either. Because there are always new potential losses out there waiting for us. Bob Greene, the fitness expert, has this great quote (paraphrased), he said years ago about how there are infinite ways to go forward in life and infinite ways to go back. That struck me so much. Too often motivational people speak only about the rosey life that awaits you. Greene’s words rang true but because of the up, up, up business it is an easy idea to overlook. Things can always be worse. Nothing stays static. And up is not the only option.

The person who quit drinking for 10 years can start again. The cancer can come back. The 50 pounds lost can be regained. The cleaned-up house can return to squalor. Physical and mental decline with age can make someone’s life smaller and smaller. The drugs taken for a short term problem can turn into a long term problem. The money can be invested can be entirely lost. A spouse can die. An illness can strike. A car accident can devastate.

My point isn’t to be doomist. Really it isn’t. The things I’m talking about are a reminder. I need to hear them. There is no promise of more. Or better. No guarantee. The reality is most of us are about as happy as we will ever be because so much of our happiness or lack thereof is rooted in how we think. How we think about our circumstances. What we tell ourselves. The loop tapes in our heads. Not what we tell other people. Not what we think we should believe. It’s all in what you tell yourself. That’s why I write notes to myself. They are never lies. They are never things I don’t believe. But sometimes they are things I need to be reminded.

Advertisements

Grieving for famous people you’ve never met (Part 2)

The longer you live the more people you will see die, people you know and people in the public light, both of which you may have known or known of, for decades. That’s just how it works. If you want to go on living and stay relatively sane, you have to have a way to accommodate that in your philosophy. I’m not going to say “acceptance” because the hell with acceptance. I don’t think you have to accept. Tolerate. You’ve got to tolerate. Because if you don’t the price is becoming a half-alive person living in the past, disengaged with current life, wallowing in emotional stew. Maybe drinking, leaning on pills, using drugs, or overeating. Maybe just hiding away in your home, avoiding others. Maybe becoming a bitter, unpleasant person.

I initially wrote Grieving for famous people you’ve never met in2014 when Robin Williams died (6 months after Philip Seymour Hoffman died). That post gets regular hits from strangers. I feel a little guilty about that. As if I don’t have enough to tell them. I mean I’m not responsible for people, true, but if they were looking for something to help them when they felt hurt, I’m not sure arriving at my blog post was going to do the trick. This is how my mind works. I tend to feel responsible for other people, even strangers, certainly in a situation like this (people arriving at my blog because they are grieving the death of someone). Did I have anything to offer them? That post seems too short to me now, not complete. Like there is more to say. That is what brings me here.

Although it was Robin Williams’ death that spurred me to write that particular post, I didn’t name him because more often than not in this blog I try to write about themes. Even when there might be a specific story in my life or my head, what I want to do is burn away the dross and get to the essence, to a narrative that more people might relate to. My losses aren’t going to be your losses. But loss is general. Ain’t nobody getting away from it. That’s what binds us. That and loving other people. It doesn’t matter who.

I could list out the people in my life who’ve died, who left a wicked hole inside me that is always there, some larger than others. They web over like scar tissue but it’s never the same again. I could name also, the long, growing list of public people who’ve died and left me bereft as well. And the same holds true, some of these were tremendously painful, others not as much. I still miss public people – celebrities if you will, entertainers, famous people – dead for decades. You almost certainly have your own “lists” of people who occupy these same sorts of roles in your life.

The way I grieve for someone I knew versus someone I didn’t is not quite the same, for obvious reasons. But some of it remains the same, the preoccupation, the wanting to hold on, the renewed appreciation, the sadness – the degrees of which vary depending on what the person meant to me.

I want to say again, something I said in the initial post, which is the pain and sadness at a death stem from how much you got from the person in life. And I maintain that feeling is the same emotion whether you knew the person or not. Maybe it’s a little harder when you didn’t because you may be alone in your grief; there isn’t a built-in support system the way there often is when the death is someone you knew.

Here’s the thing. Here’s the takeaway. Grief means you got something. It means your life was enriched. If you’re sad or hurting it is because you loved, because you cared. Because somebody gave you something. Made your life better. (I’m not disallowing grief from painful relationships, twisted grief that doesn’t spring necessarily from pure, good dynamics between people, but talking about most of the time when it does. Moreover in the case of people we didn’t actually know, having a conflicted or difficult relationship isn’t going to be an issue.)

We grief for what we lose. In the case of public personalities, there won’t be any more coming from them. That’s it. Whatever they’ve done, it’s over. Maybe a movie will come out post-mortem, or a cobbled-together album, or even a book of lost writings. There will be tributes. But the gist of it is that whatever gifts they put out into the world, they no longer will. It’s over. If they still had promise, more that they hoped to do, that’s unfortunate. For them and for us.

The point is to do what these others have done. To do your own version of what put the public personalities once admired and now mourned, on the map. To put out into the world whatever it is you have to offer. To find something you do well – or well enough – and give it. That’s honoring dead people. Dead people who’ve touched our lives. Most of us will not win Grammies, or contribute to a winning Super Bowl team, or win a Nobel Prize, write a New York Times best seller, or star in an iconic film. But we can do our bit. Do something. Contribute something. I am convinced that is the penultimate takeaway.

Things Men Have Said To Me (#27)

This was long time ago when I had recently learned about the nutritional differences between lettuces, how Romaine and Leaf Lettuces were good choices over Iceberg. I was at his house when I saw he had bought a head of Iceberg lettuce. I wanted to share my new knowledge.

ME: You have to eat the whole thing to get any nutritional value.

HIM: I am going to eat the whole thing.

Uncharacteristically I had nothing say to that. As far as comebacks go, I have to admit it was pretty good.

I should probably stop reading random stuff. It hurts my brains.

A few things caught my attention recently so I’m cobbling them into one post (with a tilt of my thrift-store hat to my WordPress buddy Tim who also sometimes writes posts along these lines).

I recently treated myself to a 2 pound bag of shrimp. Seafood is generally not in my price range moreover I’ve noticed that icky chemicals are often added now “to retain moisture and color” and other nonsense, which critics say can be used to disguise festering, old fish products. Nice! Dear lord, I’ve even seen carbon monoxide as an additive – seriously, Sea Best Tilapia has it. You can pay MORE to buy their “natural” version which doesn’t. Nice! Anyway, I happened upon this lone package of frozen, raw shrimp at the small, local grocery store at an appealing $5 a pound. It didn’t say anything about weird preservatives but it did say this:

img_20161207_180734_kindlephoto-24162467

Born, raised, harvested, US. This reads like the shrimp’s autobiography.  Born, raised, attended Shellfish Academy, interned at  Pollock, Lobster & Calamari Ltd, met a fine catch, reared 600 shrimplets, worked at Avoiding the Net United….

What Christmas would be complete without a heartwarming discussion of toilet paper packaging? I can’t help myself – I read everything. For some time I’ve noticed the increasingly bizarre improved toilet paper claims. (Give me the company which says only “Be glad we’re not newspaper”  and I would buy that stuff up.) So here’s what this one reads:

img_20161224_101548

You know what I said aloud to myself on reading this? What the hell does that mean?? Flexible and strong for a comfortable clean you can count on?? Who writes this stuff? Count on your toilet paper?? Because it so often lets you down? I don’t think I even want to know what this means.  Cleanstretch®?!? The brand is PROUD enough of their ridiculous new word that they trademarked it. Good thinking!

Speaking of thrift store hats (and yes, yes I actually was, back in the first paragraph), I just got this fine little hat for a $1. I wash everything I buy secondhand and this was not exempted. Afterward, when it was air-drying, I took a look at the label.

img_20161217_092953_hdr_kindlephoto-4727076

Very standard looking label right? Nothing odd or atypical. I draw your attention to the words at the very top, “SEE REVERSE FOR CARE.” Totally standard. Let’s look at the “reverse” then.

img_20161217_093436_kindlephoto-4963314

Now there’s a gut-buster! DO NOT WASH?!? Whaddayamean do not wash?? This is like a sign that reads “Please use other door” but there IS no other door! Why couldn’t they have simply written “unwashable” on the front side?? Even a “dry clean only” for kicks?! Or how ’bout “Throw out when dirty”? As it stands it reads like a weird koan to ponder forevermore. Which I plan to do while wearing my cute hat!

img_20161224_100548_kindlephoto-10923068

My tasteful holiday decorations. No, really.

If I show you these and then tell you I am a believer in tasteful, sedate Christmas decorating, you’re probably not going to believe me. Geez, I’d doubt me. So anyway, I keep my eyes open when I’m out-and-about (a regular theme in this blog) and in that way have acquired many wonderful roadside/sidewalk finds. A bunch of years back I spied these guys, who are a bit over 3′, plus two shorter “tin” soldiers unceremoniously chucked out by the road. They immediately drew me. Not because I wanted giant plastic retro decor for myself but because I thought it might be funny to leave them set up in the yard – preferably where neighbors would get a good eyeful – of someone I knew (I had a person or two in mind, heh). Can you imagine opening your curtains one morning or bustling out the door for work and seeing these? I could!

img_20161209_155511.

img_20161209_155444_kindlephoto-3417517

What happened instead, before I got around to my practical-but-harmless joke, was I got attached to them! I’ve had them probably a dozen years. That’s Snow Man naturally, and the other I like to call Put-upon Santa. His overwhelmed, martyred expression slays me. What’s he got to be so upset about?! The man works but one day a year and elves do sweatshop labor for him the rest of it. Santa needs to take a page from blissed-out Snow Man (maybe it’s his special tobacky) and chill.

Short Thought 174 (generosity)

When someone is generous to me (assuming there is no skeezy motive) I am learning just to shut up and say thank you, thank you so much. No argument, no question, no doubt, no rush to immediately reciprocate. Just thank you.

What you see isn’t always what everybody GETS

Why, why, why do people persist in believing that the behavior they personally see from another individual is the ONLY behavior that person is capable of?!?!?? WHY??

I watch this over and over — and it doesn’t necessarily even involve me, although sometimes yes, of course it does. If Person A says to Person B that Person C did “x”, way too often Person B will put up an argument if whatever “x” was doesn’t correspond to their own experiences — and mind you, those experiences could be very limited. Doesn’t matter — if something about “x” is distasteful or fails to align with Person B’s beliefs, it must not have happened. Oh, this makes me so crazy.

Just know that I’m not talking about the sound practice of applying healthy skepticism to what others say or refusing to affirm sloppy gossip carte blanche. I for one absolutely don’t believe without question everything that’s told to me; I’m right in there asking tough questions if it’s called for or simply saying something noncommittal – or nothing at all – depending on who’s doing the talking. Particularly if the information is damning, I want to know how the person telling me got this information. And I look close to judge the teller’s veracity and credibility. I may just “file” the information away and just keep my eyes & ears open going forward to look for confirmation or rebuttal.

What I’m really talking about is the too-frequent dismissal of the existence of vast numbers of people who behave differently depending on the situation and the company they are in at any given time.

A HUGE factor that is often overlooked is how differently a person engages depending upon the gender they are interacting with. Plenty of people act one way with their own gender and another with the opposite. Why don’t more people know that? Expect it? I once described an experience interacting with a man to another man who knew us both. “That doesn’t sound like him,” said the man, “He’s never acted like that with me.” And I’m thinking: OF COURSE NOT. YOU’RE ANOTHER MAN. IT’S AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT DYNAMIC WITH A WOMAN. 

These same distinctions often occur when moving up or down the social ladder. Some people act one way, as in decently, with perceived peers and act like sh*t-heads with perceived underlings or “inferiors.” But the peers generally assume what they get is all there is. 

You ever notice how normal certain people are with friends yet turn into another character when interacting with strangers? The friendly, good ol’ boy or gal is suddenly suspicious and mean with strangers, for instance.

Why do people take on faith that the only behavior they see or are subjected from someone else the only possibility?? Why is it so hard to fathom that there just might be other sides to people? Sides they might never have any reason to witness??

Don’t EVEN get me started on how differently some people act when they are attracted to someone! Sure, lots of it is fairly benign stuff but not all, not all. People will do things, and act in ways stemming from attraction and sexual interest that those they have no prurient interest in would never likely imagine. But why don’t they imagine??! Why is it such a stretch?

Then there is how people behave “out in the world” vs with their own family. Huge differences can turn up here.

I really think the important thing is to allow in our own world views that what we see of somebody isn’t necessarily the same thing other people see or experience. To allow that when something said sounds “out of character” for someone it isn’t necessarily so; maybe it’s just out of our line of vision.