Category Archives: Life

(Too) close to home

The neighbors live in chaos. I grew up in chaos.

I’ve had two years to think about this. A lot.

In a way, that adage about not ever really getting away from your past is true. You don’t. It shows up in other people, in other situations. This time I’m a witness. No – that’s not right to say “this time.” The FIRST time I was a witness too. Not a participant.

(I see grown children who continue their parents’ legacy all the time; participating in the chaos they learned on the home front. That is, they never rejected it in the first place. It was normal and it stayed normal. That was never me. I rejected it very young.)

I am the kind of person who has to find meaning in my experiences. I am compelled. In the neighbors I see what I rejected as toxic in my own family a long time ago. Oh, it’s not exactly the same and the differences initially kept me from seeing the parallels. But – people who live in chaos, who thrive on drama, who have shitty coping skills – they’re more or less the same. The specific details are usually interchangeable and not all that significant.

It might be all well and good to just say “So what, go ahead and live like that, who cares; just stay in your four walls and ‘kill’ each other.” But it doesn’t work that way does it? Other people, bystanders, invariably get dragged in, by choice and not. Other people are affected. Toxicity has tentacles.

Also, people who live in chaos recruit new cast members for their ongoing dramas because old ones get burnt out or move on, and besides, a big dramatic production can always use more players and audience members. And again, even if they don’t actively recruit, the mess such people make is not tidy and contained in those metaphorical four walls. It seeps out and contaminates whatever it touches.

People choose drama and chaos to fill emptiness in their lives. It keeps them busy. It keeps them from thinking too much, from real reflection and introspection. Nothing like a good scene, a knock-down-drag-out fight, shallow distractions, an addictive habit or three, or constantly “helping” somebody else with their “problems” to keep a person busy, no? It’s so transparent to me now.

I wholesally reject everything about this. Decency can trump toxicity. It has too. Decency springs of a better place, it has deeper roots. I chose a long time ago to live in decency not in chaos. It is a choice. It’s one I made with my own original family and it’s one that I continue to make throughout my life.

People whose lives are filled with meaningful pursuits and positive activities to occupy their waking hours are not attracted to and do not thrive on toxic chaos. That is the challenge isn’t it? For everybody. Everybody who gives a damn about how they conduct their lives.

Watching the wheels turn, literally

I’m an unlikely fan, albeit a very casual one, of skateboarding. I’ve never been on a skateboard nor do I have any desire to be. But of the few people I follow on Facebook, Shaun White is one. He’s an obvious choice and frankly, I’m not sure I can name any other famous skateboarder other than Tony Hawk (I think that’s his name). I follow Shaun because he amazes the hell out of me; to stay so dominant for so long is quite a feat with so many youngin’s nipping at his wheels. He snowboards too. The funny thing about him is he kind of presents like a typical Californian – this is a guy who played “air guitar” on the podium one year while the National Anthem was being played at the Olympics – and yet he is clearly so driven and skilled. He posts unbelievable photos of himself in action – how is a human being doing that?! – and is funny and charismatic as well in his comments. (He also is the “Zelig” of the sports world; he seems to be everywhere and know everyone. I would not be surprised to see him in a photo op with the pope, doing “rabbit ears” over the man’s head.)

Back in high school I liked a guy who skateboarded. The skateboard was incidental. I just mention it because that’s really my only personal acquaintance with skateboarding in general. I don’t even remember watching him skateboard. I did know he was a member of the skateboarding club at school but I couldn’t even tell you what the guys in the club actually did. Did have they have competitions? Merely get together and try to learn new tricks? I couldn’t say. The main reason I remember that at all is because there was a photo in the high school yearbook of the club, where they were all holding their skateboards and one of the guys (not the guy I liked) was giving the finger to the camera (while smiling of course). I knew who that guy was and I’m sure it was deliberate. How the picture was allowed to be printed in the yearbook I don’t know. Here we go. It’s not the clearest but still.

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Tasteful no?

My community built a skateboard park ten years ago. It’s a nice looking spread with a “low bowl” and a “deep bowl.” It attracts an assortment of people including little kids, tough looking guys, and even adults. They held a fancy skateboarding exhibition way back when it opened and I went. There were talented guys plus there was free pizza. That part I remember well. I’ve mentioned this before but I once read that if a cat jumps up on a counter and finds food by happenstance, it’ll jump up on the counter a hundred more times on the off-chance it finds food again. I can appreciate this. Although it’s ten years on, I remember getting free pizza.

The park stays in my mind for another event too. I don’t remember this event as well but it was another kind of exhibition and I stopped by. A woman I knew showed up and sat with me while we watched. Then a guy I also knew sat down on the other side of me. Although they may have previously exchanged a word that day, I introduced them properly. Well, next thing you know, they are kind of having a conversation “over” me; like he was asking her questions and such. It wasn’t quite like I wasn’t there but if I’d gotten up and left I don’t think anybody would have minded. I mention this because afterward they started dating and in time got married. The funny thing was I wasn’t match-making (not that I matchmake ever) and wouldn’t have put the two together. So what do I know?!

So this past weekend the park had an anniversary exhibition and free pizza was advertised yet again. Yay! I would have wanted to go anyway but a little extra incentive can’t hurt right? It was billed as a two hour event but apparently most of the show took place in the first hour so I didn’t see too much when I showed up at the second hour. The event wasn’t well attended and there was a lot of pizza so I got lunch out of it. It was delicious – I make my own pizza and very rarely eat any other because frankly mine is damned good and healthy to boot – but this was a novelty. I was so content. The weather was fine; I had food to eat and skateboarders to watch. Just the relaxation I needed.

I don’t watch football, basketball, or baseball but I sure like watching skateboarders. The wheels make an appealing whirring sound too which I’m not I sure I realized/or remembered. (Whereas the sound of kids slamming their boards up and down in a parking lot and bouncing off curbs – which they do here despite the park in spitting distance – is irritating.) Enjoying the skaters at the exhibition I was thinking how much of the sport is in the knees; lordy they must take such a pounding.

A woman passed by me with her young granddaughter who was asking about the skaters and how you could get like that. The grandmother responded, “Practice, practice, practice.” I didn’t say it out loud but I thought, “Or you can eat pizza and watch.”

Karma?

This story is interesting. One to puzzle over. I have no direct involvement in the situation – I’m just one of the (semi) outside, curious observers.

In my community, someone who was fairly well known was accused of a theft, an ongoing theft actually. The accusations were documented, not off-the-cuff or with no evidence. In fact there was video footage. I did not see the footage – nor was there any reason I would – but a number of people saw it and all who did agreed on what was on it. I know some of those individuals and have no reason to doubt what they reported. If they say they saw a theft on the footage, multiple thefts, I believe them.

Curiously, despite the evidence and the “eye witnesses” many people doubted that a theft occurred, and yet another contingent essentially said, well if it DID happen, it was justified. That fascinated me. The person at the center was a somewhat controversial figure to start with – the opinions held about this individual were mixed. This person wasn’t universally loved prior to the theft accusation. That’s important to mention because the incident seemed to serve to further polarize people in their views; many used the situation to justify opinions they already held. Perhaps some changed their thoughts, but most of those talking publicly – online – stuck to their guns be it for or against.

Although the police were consulted and their advice taken in gathering evidence, the central players decided not to take legal action but essentially to cut ties: Let’s just go our separate ways, we’ll all move on and this will be over.

That might have been the end of it but for a new weird twist. The person accused of the theft won a bunch of money, a substantial amount. Oh my gracious. Now some people were saying this event was karma. The win was taken as EVIDENCE of something. The person accused of the theft had been badly treated, they thought, by being accused and cast out, so in their minds the universe was righting a wrong. (No doubt others were thinking, “Great, now they can pay back the money! The thought certainly crossed my mind.)

I found this all very strange. I mean on the one hand, stealing is an act, a choice someone makes (independent of what their reasons are and/or whether or not anybody else might find them valid or excusable in some fashion). Winning money on the other hand, is random. However, because the two events happened so close together, a group of people were inclined to find them related even when there was no evidence one had anything to do with the other. I wonder how much time between the two events would have to have passed to make them unrelated in most people’s minds? 6 months? A year? 5 years?

And – too often people apply the theory of karma only when it suits them. But it seems to me if you’re going to believe in karma you’d have to apply it more universally (and even to bad things and EVEN to bad things that happen to you).

It isn’t that I don’t ever use the word karma or don’t think it is at work at times. But I can’t buy in wholesale. For example, innocent children get abused and sometimes killed by their guardians or parents; how on earth could karma be found there? (The child brought it on themselves somehow?? Their ancestors screwed up and this is karmic justice? No way.)

Yet another twist to this story has occurred. The person accused of the wrongdoing has gone into business, one which will be direct competition for the original group that decided to cut ties and not pursue legal action. I really don’t know what to think about this.  Very strange indeed.

Is self improvement worth it?

We are all going to die with flaws and faults. Chances are they will be the same ones we started out with or developed early in life.

This occurred to me this morning as I was thinking about the idea of “working on” your problems. You can work and work and work but you still will die with them, or at least some of them.

Nobody gets to the end line perfect. A fully formed, totally evolved, fabulous human being.

And yet. And yet. There is a kind of Western mythology, or at least American one that suggests or insists perfection is attainable. One must “face their fears” and “conquer their demons” and “challenge themselves” ad nauseam. But why? Will there be a big prize? Oh I guess you might say that there would be indirect prizes of a kind. A better life perhaps, or a more successful career and better relationships. Maybe. Or perhaps pride in having mastered a personal weakness; it does feel good to overcome one.

Maybe what’s bothering me is this. It is other people who invariably set the standards the rest of us are supposed to achieve so far as how we need to be. A lot of the ideas in my head, particularly on this subject, are not my own. I would have never come up with the idea that you must face all your fears and defeat them head on. Oh hell no! My philosophy almost certainly would have had something to do with getting as far away from your fears as possible. You could send them a postcard occasionally but cozying up to them on purpose? No, I would have not have thought of this. And yet this notion about facing your fears is in my head. Stuck.

Here in mid-life I have a pretty good handle on who I am. What my strengths are, what my weaknesses are. I’d be a liar if I told you I wasn’t an advocate of self-improvement because I’ve worked hard to improve a number of things in myself. But they were and are things I want to improve, things I find valuable and that stemmed from A LOT of thought and reflection. My point is that so many messages I get from outside of me about how to live and how to be don’t jive with my own thinking. You (i.e, the culture) may want me to improve in ways that have little value to me.

American thinking is so damned gung-ho. If you just work at it, by gum, you can outfox all your problems, flaws, and weaknesses and achieve a kind of personal nirvana and ride the Success Train through the rest of your days. What kind of nonsense is this? Who really does this? I don’t know anybody who is flaw-less. And complicating matters is that the person you think is a fabulous human being could be somebody I think is a shmuck. And vice versa. In fact, I’ve noticed that any number of people deemed popular/successful – whether in the micro world of my personal life or in the macro world of the larger culture and populace – are not people who especially impress me.

Okay, here’s another thought, my own. That the way to develop yourself as a human being is to find the right balance between being selfish and giving. This matters because too many of the ways a person is supposed to become more evolved, it seems to me, are by doing things they don’t want to do, things that are hard for them (re: conquer your demons, face your fears, etc). If they were being selfish, they wouldn’t do them, and maybe selfishness, a degree of it, has its place. Selfishness can be a kind of self-preservation. The word has a bad rap but it’s typically meant to embody the people who are excessively so, negatively so. On the other hand people who give too much or needlessly self-flagellate can stand to be a little more selfish.

And if I may – it often seems that the people most genuinely interested in improving themselves and working on their flaws are the ones least in need of it. In my life I’ve known plenty of jackasses, losers, fools, and lousy human beings who had absolutely NO interest in improving themselves and “working on” their faults. Oh, it’s true, that by and large, they were a pretty wretched bunch who will never know true happiness or peace but I don’t think they could see that whatsoever (in their books they are miserable because of OTHER people so there will never be any getting through to them so far as “working on tbemselves” anyway). [The semi-exception: The person who pretends to “work” on himself and learns to parrot phrases, such as the wife abuser who can now say things like “I need to take responsibility for my feelings” and “nothing justifies what I did to her” while secretly still believing in his heart she had it coming and if she just didn’t provoke him so much on purpose he wouldn’t beat her.]

It’s like the wrong people care about improving themselves. Or if that’s going too far, there’s a cohort that worries too much or at least out or proportion to their “sins”. So maybe that’s my point. Or one of them.

Working on problems, flaws and weaknesses is a good thing. But – assuming we’re not harming anyone or bothering anybody – they should be the ones that we want to do, the ones we find worthy. Not merely what we’re to!d.

Everything is not my job…

I have this thing I do where I assign myself tasks. Jobs. I talked it about it before when I wrote about my blog’s anniversary and how I am always mindful to not make the blog a JOB. I’ve been good about that so far as the blog, but I had to keep the thought in mind; otherwise I slip there too easily. My nature is: “I must,” “I should,” “I better.”

I expect a lot of people live like this, with a list of things in their minds that have to get done. That should get done. That they either are, or feel responsible for. When I was young, in my early twenties and on my own, someone once said to me that life, in his theory, was 25% maintenance. I was impressed. I’d never thought of it like that. Now I think the figure is too low. Because really, when you consider that most people work at jobs in service of maintaining the other aspects of their lives (exempting those people who truly love their jobs – all 18 of them), you’d be including the paid work in addition to all the other tasks one must do to maintain a life.

What I’m talking about, naturally, is maintaining a good life, because sure enough, lots of people don’t do all these maintaining type activities. They don’t work or they don’t take care of themselves, or they live in chaos and squalor. They let things go. It isn’t pretty. We have all seen it. Their homes are in disrepair. Their bodies are in disrepair. Their children are in disrepair. It’s a mess. And we/I think: Jeez-o-flip, I’m glad I don’t live like THAT. Things aren’t THAT bad. And I don’t EVER want to live like that.

People will say, some of them anyway, that these types of “jobs” or “maintenance” or “tasks” aren’t important. It’s just better to enjoy life and if things don’t get done, oh well. They say a happy family is better than a clean house. Or partying with your friends is more important than looking for a job. Stuff like that. I get that we all have different standards, different priorities, but I look sideways at people who live and say things like this; I don’t entirely believe them. Do they really feel okay with a life in disarray?

But back to me. I walk around looking for jobs to assign myself. Oh sure, that’s not a conscious thought. But when I’m honest I see that’s what I do. Out in the world and in my own quarters. Why is everything my job? I ask myself this. I don’t always have an answer. And what do I mean anyway? I mean that I see things that need to get done, or that I think need to get done. And tell myself to get on it. These aren’t necessarily BIG things (like getting a Master’s or traveling to Italy or running for office or starting a business) but it isn’t the size of them that I’m really referencing here but the perspective.

Earlier this year I put this note on my mirror (I since took it down):

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Maybe some people look around and think “wow things are great”, or think nothing at all. I look around and notice things that should be done. I don’t want to say this is entirely a BAD trait. I’m conscientious, I follow through, I’m reliable. I’d say I’m “proactive” but that’s not true across the board so let’s forget that one.

I have considered whether I do things so that other people might think or say, “isn’t that nice, look what she’s doing”? And the honest answer is no, it isn’t for other people’s eyes. In fact, I do things despite other people watching, despite a certain degree of self consciousness at times (one that has lessened with age and experience). The standards I am shooting for are my own, they are internal.

To be fair, the standards in my head were no doubt shaped by my mother. My mother saw life as an endless series of jobs. It was all work to her. She (along with my father) went and had herself a big family but by the time I came, she took little pleasure in said family, if she ever had (up for debate), and saw it as a huge source of work. Everything was a job. She even complained about family vacations and trips because of “all the work” she had to do to facilitate them. (Oh yes, this made everything, including trips, FUN for her offspring >>>sarcasm.)

My mother suffered. Oh, she suffered. She made sure we all knew – or at least her later children after which she had become thoroughly embittered on the business of raising a big family – how much trouble we all were. And everything about running the household – which was her primary focus (she had paid jobs mainly when we were older, but not a career per se) – were jobs. Unpalatable tasks.

The thing was she disdained pleasure and had scathing words for those who partook of it or focused on it. So it wasn’t like she’d have been whooping it up but for the big family and the work it entailed. In her view,  people who relaxed were LAZY. Children who played were lazy and spoiled. No, thankfully, she didn’t quote that saying about “idle hands” and the “devil’s workshop” but the point was clear enough.

My mother assigned herself jobs, some seemingly pointless and in fact, by the time I was a teen, I challenged her on it. God knows I’d heard her complain often enough about all the work she had to do, so I figured why shouldn’t she cut some corners? Especially insignificant ones.

One of the rare moments I ever influenced my mother stands out. We had a one floor house with a sort-of-finished basement and, eventually, a full bathroom on each floor (I remember a time when the downstairs bathroom had no shower and a curtain not a door). In the basement there was also a bedroom that was usually occupied by one or more of my brothers. But for the centipedes, crickets, and thousand-leggers who also occupied the basement, it was a pretty sweet set up. There was, in addition to the bathroom, a full size refrigerator (that always had beer in it), a TV room, a washer and dryer, and a “separate” entrance, i.e., a back door. AND it was about as far away from the fighting and chaos that was a regular household feature, as one could get and still be in the house. Not too shabby.

Anyway, my brothers didn’t use that washer and dryer, as it was my mother’s domain, and she washed the towels that were folded and stacked in the basement bathroom for my brothers’ use. She would bring said towels upstairs after washing and drying and carefully fold them on the dining room table. I’d watch this, knowing how she was, and finally said, why do you do that? It’s not necessary. To my shock, even now, after that she started just taking the bath towels out of the dryer and, skipping the hauling upstairs for careful folding routine, instead stuffing them onto the basement bathroom shelf. I couldn’t believe it, this token nod to rebellion and the easy life. It’s not like my brothers were going to care. They had clean towels that magically appeared. So what they weren’t nicely folded. (Trust me, she was never going to make them wash, dry and fold their own towels no matter how old they were.)

My mother did not teach me to look for “jobs”. No. It was obviously something I absorbed. But I took it further, out into the world with me, where she hadn’t. I think, in part, it’s because I developed a much stronger sense of self than my mother ever had, and a willingness to act if I thought it was called for.

The thing about a trait like this is that it’s been good in a lot of ways. I kind of feel like if I don’t assign myself jobs, I won’t do anything. And I get to reap (many of) the rewards of things I do. It’s when the tendency overwhelms me, when I “pile on” in my own mind that it becomes a negative force. I mean who wants to steal all the pleasure out of life? Isn’t the point of maintaining a good life so that you can step up and take the rewards too? I am surely not all-work-and-no-play. Please don’t think that. Far from it. But I am my mother’s daughter: in my unconscious mind, the rewards must be earned first. Chores come first. For me, the real task, the ongoing one, is teasing out which “jobs” really need to be done and which are manufactured in my own head. Everything is not my job.

Pullover conundrum

When I’m watching a TV show or movie and a character is putting a shirt on they first sort of roll up the shirt and stick their arms through the sleeves and then pull the neck opening over their head. Once I started noticing this, it seemed the predominant method for donning any kind of pullover UNLESS the scene was being played for comic effect (whereupon the character gets the shirt stuck on his or her head and proceeds to stagger around crashing into walls and knocking over lamps). Usually it’s a smooth two-step move though, and the character hardly breaks rhythm. They make it look cool.

This is not how I put on a pullover. First I pull the shirt over my head and then I wrestle into the sleeves. I’d have never given it a thought but for noticing how actors do it onscreen. It made me think there are two distinct schools on the proper way to get into a pullover – and maybe an adult just does what they were taught as a child. (I know my mother had me put the shirt over my head first).

It further occurs to me as I write this that the onscreen method is probably deliberate so that the actor’s head is visible most of the time and he or she can go right on talking. In any event whenever I see someone do the arms-then-head method I think to myself “I should try that” but invariably I forget to and I remember only as I am contorting into the sleeves. And no, I am not so demented as to take the shirt off so I can start over doing it the other way.

So. How you YOU put on a pullover? If you’re not sure feel free to get back to me on this after the next time you put one on. I’ll be here.