i’m sorry my apology sounds insincere, I’ll try to make it more convincing next time

apology-form

Most of what I do as a counselor, besides deep listening, is to help hold pain. Injuries linger long after the horror of events/words have slithered across my clients’ fragile hearts. Age matters not a bit; traumas big or small, remain. One reason I’m contracted to assist in the soothing of psychic wounds is that the ‘perpetrators’ and witnesses haven’t acknowledged the hurt, haven’t apologized.

Apologies don’t have to mean you’re wrong, the other’s right, you did anything deliberately. They’re more about empathy, about caring that the other’s hurt, that the relationship means more to you than your self-pride or the polarized world of right/wrong, bad/good.

No one wants reasons either, at least not up front; those won’t salve the wound. There can be explanations but only after one is attentive to the others’ pain. Apologies are not about you or about being forgiven; they’re about compassion.

My friend, “Fred,” was often left waiting for his dad to pick him up from elementary school, sometimes over two hours, as other kids left, then teachers, then janitors…there was Fred leaping on curbs, skidding rocks and otherwise entertaining himself until his dad finally showed. Before Fred could get into the car he’d hear, “Wow, you’ll never guess who I met up with,” or “The coolest thing happened,” ad nauseum. Fred wasn’t given an apology but a “fun” excuse so there wasn’t room for him to have his own feelings of frustration, fear or anger—but he’d learned long before 3rd grade to suppress pretty much any true emotions around his self-absorbed parents.

Once, when Dario was two-ish, we biked past a crying toddler. He became distressed and asked me to turn back to “see her again” suggesting we hug her. By then her mom was there comforting. For the rest of the ride home, Dario continued to postulate why she’d been crying and what we might’ve done to “happy her.” There’s nary a young kid who doesn’t have natural empathy.

This is what happens to empathy:

  • If you don’t receive any you don’t have any to give. You can’t dispense something you rarely feel. If apologizing is seen as weakness or fulfilled in right/wrong thinking instead of a compassionate act of soothing distress, pride sets in and spins kindness into selfishness.
  • Our paradigm shames or belittles those who want to care, who’re exhibiting emotional pain or grief and often reveres those who don’t. It’s manly to disregard needs in others, in themselves, to not cry, to be “strong.”

Ironically, compassion is where true strength lives.

Attempt an apology that’s NOT about defending your position. Instead: Listen! Accept another’s suffering whether you think it’s justified or not. Remember? It’s not about you. What you think doesn’t really matter. Lastly, ask what can be done to resolve the hurt. There’ll be space for explanations, for your opinion afterwards. Be a soft witness to the other first. Especially with children—Please!

But truthfully, we all have a “fair/unfair meter” within us and we hunger for this same tender treatment.

gas pedal’s on the right!!

giddyupSo, I’m having a conversation about tailgaters with a friend and the quasi-spouse. Close-call stories are being related that illustrate the hazards of tailgating but what I mainly construe is how slow the person in front of the “close call” was going. The loathing of people who text-while-driving obviously extends to bumper-humpers, too.

There’re many bumper-stickers about this topic:

  • The closer you get, the slower I drive
  • In a hurry? Not my problem
  • Sorry for driving so close in front of you
  • Faster than Molasses. 

My personal favorite because I’m often crabbily saying, “Could you drive any slower?”:

  •  YES, I can drive slower.

A rebuttal bumper-sticker:

  • If you drove any slower, you’d be parked.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an advocate of tailgating, but, if I’m passing you on the right while driving the freeway, you’re in the wrong lane for leisurely travel. In Italy, it’s illegal to be in the left lane—as in the USA—unless you’re passing. Cars will flash lights, honk and tailgate until you change lanes. Those drivers may drive at speeds that some in the States feel is ridiculously fast but, over there, slower drivers are thoughtful and courteous instead of stubbornly self-righteous like here in the USA. And THEY OBLIGINGLY MOVE OVER.

I come by my feelings naturally. My mamma was a lead-foot, and I grew up with gentle verbal venting from both parents: “What?! You have cakes/eggs in the trunk?!” (mamma) “If I had that guy’s car and he had a feather up his ass, we’d both be tickled.”(dad) Next, my ex, who would regularly remark, “Green means GO in Colorado” or “Gas pedal’s on the right.”

We who listened to our adults amicably bitch about “other drivers” tend to pass this behavior on. When Tara was a toddler and we were waiting for Steve in the car, she stood in the driver’s seat turning the wheel, pretended to honk and in her sweet baby voice said, “Beep Beep!” Futching Atso!!” When Steve slid in, I said, “Hmmm, we don’t want Tara’s first phrase to be ‘Fucking Asshole,’ do we?” We probably managed about 4-5 days before ineffectively spouting some useless language that other drivers couldn’t even hear. Some years later I remember saying to Dario, “See how pointless this is? Their window’s closed; my window’s closed…Don’t do this when you drive.” Unfortunately, we often learn by osmosis.

Yes, tailgating is foolish. Texting is downright deadly. But couldn’t we all be a bit kinder? A tad more tolerant, less mean speech? At least my parents, my ex, myself and my kids are just venting. We’re not spewing self-righteous toxins at those who’re young, or untaught or just different. Nothing justifies nasty.

Which is worse, tailgating or poky driving? Both suck. Still, for me it’s about consideration. Couldn’t we all carry a bit more grace? Grace for the fearful, old or mellow; grace for those who hear a speedier rhythm and prefer to drive that pace. There is no right or wrong here, except intolerance.

 

 

i’m the decider–not//not bees

yellowjacketThis is a yellow jacket, not a bee

sb10067340d-001This is a honeybee

bumblebeeThis is a bumblebee

A couple of weeks ago, the quasi-spouse and I went mushroom hunting at Priest Lake (in Idaho, USA) collecting about 20lbs of white chanterelles and two handfuls of masutaki.

Afterwards, we drive to Hill’s Resort for a well-earned beer. As we move onto the deck we see a sign taped to the door leading outside with a comic rendition of a bee. The sign reads something like this: Due to the excess of bees we will not be serving food on the deck.

Soon, we’re  sipping our drinks as we gaze at the gorgeous clear lake. A couple yellow jackets buzz around checking for edibles. I grouse to the quasi-spouse about the derogatory “bee” sign and how it never ceases to vex me that most people in all echelons of life—be they liberal or conservative, nature enthusiasts, loggers, scientists, urban guerrillas or art aficionados—call yellow jackets or hornets or wasps, bees.

They’re not BEES.

They’re closer to ants than bees. The only thing similar is that bees can sting but rarely do. For Pete’s sake, I’ve stood in the biennial swarm of honeybees that vacate the feral hive in my back chimney, and I’ve never been stung. When Dario was a toddler we’d caress both honey and bumble bees while they worked flowers. Yellow jackets or hornets never let you pet them; too territorial.

I’m pissy about this because we don’t SEE, we label. And often with careless jargon. We decide things are what we think they are, not what they actually are. We do this to moose, bears, snakes, spiders, children, Muslims, women, their boobs, mushrooms, southerners, wine, trees—you name it—ad nauseum and we do this ALL THE TIME.

Deciding how another feels, thinks or who they are, are inaccurate judgments and those judgments dismiss and negate Self and render others invisible—be they human or anything else. It’s a closed system designed by you and your biases, likes and dislikes. It matters not if you think someone’s the most adorable lovely person or a blockhead, or that yellow jackets are bees; each decision is defective.

We commonly practice this type of “deciding” in romantic relationships and about children and teenagers, but most egregiously with other species.

Observations are not the same thing as judgments. We all get to witness and deduce what we see. Intuit, not determine as reality. Stereotypes are short cuts for some observations but they’re not “true.” They’re “true-ish.” More on stereotypes in an upcoming post.

So, what can we do?

  • Use accurate language: a bee is a bee; a hornet is a hornet; a woman is a person; a child is a human.
  • Speak from your Self. What you like/dislike, fear/revere is yours and it’s not to be imposed on another as “fact.”
  • Whatever it is, is what it is. Accept “it” as it is.

mamma-land or lack thereof

me

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m not big on holidays. That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge them; it means I don’t want others to feel obligated to participate on any set day. As my daughter Tara says, “I love you all the days, Mamma.” Yes she does, and she shows it, too.

My mamma has been dead for 17 years. I’m an orphan and regardless of how many years I acquire on my life journey—many many moons now—I miss my mamma’s living presence. Especially momentous happenings, “positive or negative”: my first published article, first essay, when I placed poems into magazines she would have read. Received my MFA. When I published Decomposition. Rant-ology!

She missed Tara’s wedding, her transformation into a fabulous, bright, kind woman (when last seen by Liliana, Tara was a tortured teen, and Dario, the son-eth, was eight), Dario’s smooth teen years, his college graduation, a creative talent in visual and musical arts, the birth of Lucas, her great-grand-baby, who just turned two.

I also miss her when my soul suffers. The poet in me, the writer—it’s what she could always understand even if she didn’t get my neuro-diversity. I was her only daughter and our skirmishes were sometimes textbook; our love, Italian epic.

The last few years of her life, my mamma and I would talk on the phone every Sunday. I lived in Washington state and she in Alabama. The night before she died, this is what I’d put into my journal:

17 November 1996  Sunday evening

I talked to my mother tonight. She’s not doing well. She’d like to die as she feels she has nothing left to do but suffer. She doesn’t understand why she must still be here. I cry with her and feel empathy yet feel helpless to soothe her in any way…The end of our conversation was telling for us both. I said to her that we might be in a better place next week. She said, “I hope I won’t be here next week.” I assured her that it would be fine with me if she is not, and that I will pray for that for her.

The next evening as I’m getting ready for my server shift, Kelly comes up having answered the phone and tells me that my mamma has died of a heart attack; I didn’t go to work. That evening’s journal entry:

18 November 1996  Monday evening

…I say, “Oh that must be what’s wrong with me.” I’d been acting unkindly all day. I was still moved by the conversation with her the night before. Kelly and I went out for Thai food because I wanted to get out of the house. Upon returning, I opened the door and I could smell my mother. I said to Kelly, “Do you smell that?” He said, “Yes, it smells like my grandmother’s house.” “No,” I said, “that’s my mother’s smell. I guess she was here.”

My sweet mother is dead…I will have to be my own mamma now. Can I do this?…

I did and I could. Mothering my own kids helped heal the “hole” of her. But my heart is never completely whole without her.

Happy Mamma’s Day, Mamma.

hell is still other people

You know how sometimes life feels unwieldy & “obese” because other people exist? Nyuck, Nyuck.

No, seriously.

Maybe I’m getting old, but this way that others have of deciding things about “you” or deciding what you meant and then hugging those hurts to their chest like a favored stuffed animal is turning me into an even deeper misanthrope than Sartre was said to be. But then, who said that? Did they just surmise it to be true? Writing down his observations of the human condition and philosophizing them didn’t necessarily make him a hater.

We all have our stories—and so what? The trouble comes when you don’t run the story by the people you’ve made up those narratives about, you believe they’re true, and then life becomes toilsome for the protagonist in your invented fiction. This bulls@#t creates a lot of gratuitous drama.

I’m of Italian descent; drama is my middle name. I love opera and plays, emotions and songs, poetry and art, and stories. But I don’t like unnecessary childish drama unless someone is an actual child/teenager. They get to have that; they’re children.

I’m not immune from the story-making machine. I recently put together pieces concerning a curmudgeonly and not very technologically interactive friend. I spent three weeks revising it, yet wondered if my inner tale had any actuality. So I sent him an email elucidating the specifics of my story using muscular verbs and shiny details. To my relief, it wasn’t true, and I quote, “Well, aren’t we a bit sensitive.”

Key difference here? I ran it by him before it imprinted itself to my skull as TRUTH. And—because I’m not attached to my story merely because I created it—I let it go. Maybe it’s easier for me to release it because of all the practice I get being a writer, I don’t know. I tell my students (Hello y’all!) to let their writing flow through them to the page, but be ready to cut, slash and kill “their babies” since they should be in service to their work, not applaud themselves as “writer.”

Whatever you invent, you’re responsible for the larger veracity, how it fits into the whole community not only your brain. Just because you think donuts are food doesn’t mean I do; both are “true.” Obama is not a socialist or secret Muslim no matter how many times a tea-partier says it. The conclusions you manufacture about my intentions doesn’t make them accurate in real life. It does mean there’s a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up but that won’t happen in the solitary vacuum of your head.

Stop being afraid of external conflict and say what you think, ask clarifying questions. That’s the respectful, adult thing to do. The only realm where differences will be figured out is in the open air giving both individuals a chance to discuss it and find a whole, round, full “truth” that works for more than just one.

dude! wow man, you guys are really cool!

When the Quasi enters our yard he often greets the chickens, “Hi guys.” Hmmm—what’s off about this phrase?

Give up?

Doh! they’re all females! The Grrrly-Grrrls is their proper group name, if anything. Saying, “Hey girls,” would be way more fitting.

Addressing a mixed gender group by saying, “Hey guys!” is something we’re all so cliché-y familiar with that we don’t even hear it. Let’s turn this around. How about we decide to change-up “Hey Guys” to “Hey Gals” when talking to a combined crowd. Does this sit right with you? Why not?

Because: : : : language matters.

In romance languages, to speak to a blended gender group, the plural becomes male even though nouns have both male and female versions. In English, “mankind” is applied when we mean “human-kind,” “he” and “his” are used if the gender is unknown, and recently people hail both genders by the stupid moniker “dude.” I’m so not a guy or a—yuck—dude.

Placidity is taught. One word at a time. And it begins early. At age 18, I read a suggestion (by a female author!) that when writing children’s books the protagonists should be male because boys don’t relate to *female characters. Really? How is it that girls learned to do so? I’ll tell you. By default–we had to identify with something and there was a dearth of authentic female protagonists. For me: Olive Oyl, Betty & Veronica, Snow White. Sigh.

When my kids were little, I would carefully use pen & ink on the fonts in library picture books changing the genders of pigs, cats, ghosts, whatever—who were all mysteriously males—to females. [Check San Francisco or Denver–guerrilla warfare!] Hello! where did all those boy donkeys, horses or ducks come from anyway? Reverse parthenogenesis?

Later, when I’d read storybooks aloud, I was able to alter the gender without skipping a beat. Once when Dario was about 8, he interrupted me and questioned, “So, is that person really a girl, Mom, or are you changing it?” Drat! Why did I teach him to read?!

So, what can we employ if we don’t want to say “guys” but want to sound casual? Southerner’s use “y’all” or, for real emphasis, “all y’all.” How about, “Hey Gang!” or “Hey everybody.” Fixing “dude?” You’re on your own.

If you think this is too picayune an issue to consider, think again. Sticks & stones don’t break many bones, but words linger in most people’s psyches until…who knows?

And if you believe the matter really is petty, then you’ll understand exactly what I mean if I address men as “gals,” discuss “God-the-Mother,” substitute “women” while discussing humanity. You won’t mind, right? You’ll get used to it. And if you complain, well, then you’re just being “too sensitive.”

*today’s boys appear to identify just fine with Dora and Junie B. Jones.

rabble, rabble, rabble : : women create, men destroy

I War the Mask

When I was 15, I had an epiphany I just knew was true and was stoked to tell my parents. I burst into the kitchen where my dad was at the table drinking coffee, my mamma standing by the fridge. I gush: Women are life! and men are death! Pause, beat. Mamma turns with a half smile to her blender and my dad crankily says, “What crap.”

So, it’s not without a bit of trepidation that I repeat this here.

Women—in general—bring life to things: spin food-stuffs into food, knit, sew, plant flowers and vegetables, arouse lilos (penises), create new humans, nurture said humans, domesticate animals…

Men—in general—like demolition. They do create things but many of those things—in general—destroy, either directly or inadvertently: my brothers fashioned blocks, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs so they could knock them down; often men raze something to build something else and—most of all—they adore and build tools. Unfortunately, they frequently call weapons “tools” and engage in the patriarchal win/lose, right/wrong paradigm most deadly displayed as war.

Before you get your speedos in a bunch boys I’m not suggesting that all destruction is bad or this is all you do. Without disintegration, we’d have a messy, cluttered world [see: you’re garbage!]. For instance: a mushroom’s job is to decompose—i.e. destroy—and I love them! So please, I don’t want a barrel of men complaining how they don’t destroy and how they create, cook and parent.

Yeah, I know! I live with a man, most of my friends are men and I have a feminist-thinking son. I’m talking innate generalities. I think humans are—as Blake said—half angels, half human. We can exercise choice. I’m all about telling my clients—both male and female—they have the power to overcome their “biology.”

But, realistically, when we say that “someone” bashed in trashcans, batted mailboxes off their posts, raped a person downtown, stole a car and lead the cops on a high speed chase, shot another outside a bar, trampled flowers, destroyed Wall Street, burned a cat, graffitied a garage, roofied someone’s drink, oil-spilled the Gulf, broke into a house, battered a child, opened fire with assault rifles in a mall or committed the bulk of violent—and otherwise—crimes, well, “they” would be mostly men.

If we don’t accurately identify the problem, we can’t fix it. If we don’t acknowledge our own inborn drives and archetypes: the hero, the trickster, the shadow, we’ll act them out.

Let’s not make this about “sides.” Be you female or male, it’s time to call a dog a dog, accurately address the issue, without blame, so we can all apply compassion and intelligent choice. Change only happens in truth.

*original art “I War the Mask” by Dario Ré