love, sad, love, sad, love, sad, sad love

Banksy

Valentines Day can be such a pain.

Not because I don’t have a sweetheart (I do), not because I dislike marketing holidays (gawd, I do) and not because I have an aversion to the pudgy winged moppet with a weapon as it’s mascot (yup). It’s because this holiday causes such angst, agony and loneliness—maybe more than being homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. During those holidays, others compassionately invite the forsaken in, churches & charities prepare turkey dinners and gift giving trees for the indigent and the lonely. Everyone—if they want it—has somewhere to go.

On Valentine’s day? Niente, nada, nothing. No Valentine’s philanthropy for the loveless, no support groups for the lost-to-love crowd. Maybe a therapist?

When I teach creative writing in middle or high school, I watch how this lack of a bf creates such distress. The days leading up to Valentine’s, it’s what most girls are discussing and there’s a covert, schizoid scramble to get coupled before the dreaded day hits so you’re not shamefully solo. But it doesn’t end there. Afterwards, the competition is fierce as to who’s boyfriend was better, what he gave, said, sacrificed.

This sends those poor boys who are ofttimes are out of practice when it comes to gifts and shopping running a deranged, commonly last minute dash to get the ‘perfect’ present, do the ideal over the top thing.

Doesn’t differ that much in adults. If I had a nickel for the times I’ve heard men and women feel satisfied about how this holiday panned out—I’m in my 50s—I’d have about 70 cents.

Before this was a marketing holiday, its power to seriously wound was small. Indeed, it was fun, especially as a child. Even if Mary got seven valentines and I got three, it wasn’t sheer devastation though we all knew who the class cootie was. Most of us constructed simple hearts adorned with doilies, glitter and a glued-on desiccated candy hearts professing, “Be Mine” and bestowed them to best friends, family, teachers.

Now, it’s often a contest of size, swank, hip, yuppie-mom-made, dollar store duds or Disney given-equally-to-all. Merchandised ‘love’ is force fed to us continuously from every conceivable outlet weeks ahead. Adults steal every holiday and ruin it. Sigh.

When my kids were little, we’d all make valentine’s for each other—some with poems, some not—all customized. As a kid, my parents did small things, if any, for each other but my mamma would compose a personalized poem for each of my brothers and me, paste them onto red hearts she’d cut out of construction paper and doilies and place them on our plates at the breakfast table before school.

That felt like real love…because it was.

There’s more to loving than just the smitten sort. See help me, I think I’m falling…in “distraction” again for further discussion of the disruption that romantic love causes when elevated above the other three loves.

Maybe cherishing yourself, along with honoring all manner of intimacy might be a better way to venerate love than filling a ‘slot’ with just any person, or turning affection into a competition.

how to deal with pass-agg aggro

alex-gregory-passive-aggressive-street-signs-new-yorker-cartoonI write about passive aggressiveness fairly often because in the USA that’s considered the “reasonable” way to convey one’s dissatisfaction. It’s the safer method of disapproval because its expression is more obfuscated than anyone who shows how they really feel when they feel it.

O, the negative judgments that are levied upon those brave souls who dare to display directly. Are they trouble makers? angry? hysterical? verbally abusive? too emotional? Yes, sometimes they are. But one thing leads to another. Meaning, those yellers, those huffing-puffing persons, those tantrum-ing children don’t always materialize through parthenogenesis; they’re forged.

I’m not suggesting that any of the above actions are acceptable, or superior to a stiff upper snoot but they are more frank and visible which makes them possible to address and—hopefully—resolve.

Pass-Aggs thwart their mate/boss/kid by regularly doing that which they deny they’re doing but so indirectly they can circumvent accountability when confronted. They’re as oppressive and controlling as the most hostile, angry person only they do it insidiously and dishonestly.

My mother spouted this Italian proverb when one of us kids would attempt to tell on another: Giovanni, toccarmi! Come on—you afraid? Do it! Poke me, come on! until the goaded sibling finally touches him…and: Mamma! Mamma! Giovanni touched me! My wise mother would rarely interfere with me and my brothers’ squabbles because she realized that for every pinch, unkind word, foolish action there was a not-as-easily-seen one that probably proceeded it.

Systemic, consistent passive-aggressive actions like these:

  • says one thing, does another
  • talks in ambiguities and generalities
  • agrees to something, then “forgets”
  • procrastinates/ “waits”
  • sulky, surly, sullen
  • dismissive, minimizing, lying
  • defensive in the face of requests
  • “designed” incompetence
  • pessimistic
  • gathers excuses, blames others for their own inabilities/unhappiness
  • poor decision making
  • stubborn
  • usually late

bring forth an inferno of frustration and helplessness due to the futility of finding sincere solutions. One can’t even get the pass-agg to admit they feel what they feel let alone move towards rectification. They didn’t learn to respond appropriately to conflict and scarcely look internally to examine their role in a relationship problem. Pass-aggs externalize and blame others. They deny their self-destructive behaviors, the consequences of those behaviors and the choices that cause others suffering.

What can you do? Kids/teens are commonly powerless—given our child rearing practices. Empower them with choice and a voice. Make it safe for them to speak, and then listen. They usually become more direct in relatively short order. And let their brains develop. Have patience.

With adults…honestly? Not favorable prospects. Two reasons: 1) pass-agg behavior is a deep-seated childhood coping strategy 2) They’d have to want to change their pattern of avoiding their pain.

  • Help them attain insight into the negative ramifications of their behaviors by persistently calling them out but speak from your needs, your feelings instead of what they do or don’t do.
  • State your boundaries clearly and refuse to budge if they don’t follow through; let them experience consequences.
  • Don’t allow “soft” bullying, contemptuousness or victim-hood.
  • Lastly, leave the “relationship.”

chin-up my ass

Head_up_ass

I live in a country (U.S.A.) of mostly muted emotions. Or the opposite: Jerry Springer. We’re a bi-polar nation addicted to the cerebral flip-flop between indulge/restrict, wanton/celibate, carnal/piety, sloth/extreme actions…  Not much middle ground, not much consistency, not much reality. It’s head living.

We’re often expected to be positive, smiling (especially if female) and eschew “politics or religion” in talk. In other words, stash any potential discussion that could evoke turbulent emotions. See pollyanna is passive aggressive.

Worse, keep “negative” feelings private or be done with them pronto. Lose your dog-familiar of 10 years? Get a new puppy! Break from an unhappy relationship? Hop back in that saddle! Your book of stories is rejected for the 17th time? Recirculate it! Make it happen! Serious inner work? Use affirmations! You have breast cancer and go through medical torture? Keep your chin up!

I loathe chin-upping!

As do kids, animals, plants, trees, stars, stones, rivers…  Okay, I don’t know for sure that all those things feel as I do but I do know that we ridicule and control children, teenagers and dogs when they display “brawny” passions, especially ones that make us feel something we’ve spent our lifetime stuffing down. They poke ours by innocently remaining with theirs and we hate on them for waking our sleeping giant.

The chin-up is a disguised critical voice and no matter how serene and sweet it sounds it still doesn’t permit “unfavorable” emotions to exist. Chin-upping is always in a hurry with its “sensitivity.” The sole way to dispel sad, angry, hateful, anxious feelings is to be with them in deliberate compassion…However. Long. It. Takes. Chin-upping doesn’t allow for that. People who insist you smile and make nice, people who label whatever emotion that scares them as “negative” don’t allow for that either.

Let’s take anger, a most despised emotion. Not rage—which is born when anger is unresolved—but anger which is a rational response to injustice; something’s wrong. It’s a motivating force. The issue isn’t anger itself, it’s finding relevant ways to rectify it. I suspect that only by appropriately expressing it can we truly let it go.

Maybe the “story” your anger attached to has inaccuracies but the emotion is unconditionally valid. Don’t throw out the feeling with that flawed narrative. It’s your job to use nuts & bolts thinking to view the anger with sincere interest—like a kindhearted parent—and hear why it exists instead of wishing it away. If you’re trying to extinguish it, you’re not listening.

Be with, without trying to fix. Encourage Self by accepting all emotions without good or bad labels. Embrace them instead of evicting them. Enable them to choose to get up and go organically instead of “chin-upping” them, which never works long-term.

Augusten Burroughs accurately observed that even with eager determination and a handful of maps you won’t get to California unless you know where you’re starting from. Ground yourself in your emotions, in your body. Your “truth” lives there.

p.s. Here I am, hanging with my “negative” emotion!

newness: routine vs. rapacity, part 2

For me, it’s really irritating to live in an indulgent society where greed for “stuff,” bucket lists, extreme experiences, and lately any experience/substance/body that one hasn’t encountered is considered cool (see wagging dicks, bouncing bosoms: newness, part 1). “Doing” instead of “being” the quintessential.

The extremes are obvious but it’s the ubiquitous invisible beliefs constantly studied and then media-fed to us that slay me. One crystal realm to see this subconscious struggle is with pre-teens and teenagers—one of the most beautifully vulnerable and most denigrated groups in our society— between what their spirit was born to do: connect, care, do “right,” play and what this dysfunctional society says is phat, hip, cool, or “fun.” Most of them forgo real fun for what’s hot, trendy.

Doing something one loves more than a couple of times, eating at the same restaurant, going in depth with an avocation, well, that’s “boring.” NEW is usually better than the same hike, meal, restaurant, the same genitals, activity, shoes, city, country… And even if we do repeat (and we all do) what we love that isn’t deemed cool, it’s like some senior-old-person guilty pleasure that we often justify or apologize for.

I like adventure and I like routine. We confuse NEW with true challenge and depth with monotony. Too many shallow “challenges” in life create chaos. Not enough sagacious varietal experience generates boredom.

O, the societal sin of being familiar. There’s middle ground; extreme breeds crazy.

Previous generations who stayed where they were, took road trips with the kids, (mostly) stuck to ethical mores, acted responsible (able to respond), invested serious effort in vitalizing their kids, had valid fulfilling work, well, celebrations and NEW were significant and meant something. “Special” wasn’t a daily seek & slake.

As with all mammals, routine establishes a sort of safety that authentically gives us the courage to face authentic stimulating challenges. Think art, writing, starting a business or learning to play an instrument. The NEW, the extremes, they see-saw our lives into addiction, impulsiveness, dot-to-dot existence and acting the goat. This is the stuff of undeveloped brains, like adolescents or emerging adults, because their cerebral matter isn’t all there yet.

If you’re under the age of 25, you get to be foolish and not see the bigger picture; this is your job. NEW is made for you! This is how you discover your bona fide Self. If you’re older than that, geez, you’re choosing immaturity and there’s no excuse.

Our culture is sophomoric because marketing likes it this way. Many of us don’t spend time thinking beyond the first spoon fed media thought. Time to act the adult and think deeper.

Being mature doesn’t have to mean humdrum, sexless, unmotivated. Really people, the infantile United States-ian “forever adolescent” is pathetically vanilla. And boring.

the trouble with having kids is that they grow up to be “people”

And…hell is other people, so says Sartre.*

The stresses of having children are not only when they’re young and you’re raising them but also as adults when they’ve developed into “other people.” That “other” is often not what we imagined when our new squirming bundle of possibility was initially cradled.

Many people think kids are born as a clean slate. Not true. They’re their own beings right from the start. They are more fluid as children—sure—and our influences do matter. As parents you can encourage or thwart, but you can’t fundamentally change.

My two adult kids are jewels; each unique with gorgeous facets which shine in their own exquisite ways—different than me. They have, do and will put themselves into “settings” I wouldn’t choose. Still lovely, just not a “bracelet” I’d buy.

When your kids are little, they don’t see you as a person in your own right, with fears and feelings; you’re an extension of them. When I work with teenagers, I deal with their parents too. My teen clients have no idea how over-anxious their parents are watching their “babies” roam away from family life into the world, but usually seeing them as adults blocking their way. The inverse is true: the parents don’t see teenagers as “real” people either. They’re just kids.

IMHO, the goal of parenting is to make yourself nonessential, but not necessarily unwanted.

Your children are helpless beings at birth. You temporarily hold all the keys and all the power. Your job is to give each key back day by day, age by age until they reclaim their passkey of power.

Support yes; control no. You have to become a “person” and relinquish “parent” even if they don’t want you to. You’ve got to trust you gave them working, functional keys and then let them use them. By themselves. Without commentary, unless asked. Your time for major influence is over. [See: parenting grown-ups]

In Sartre’s play, No Exit, three dead characters find out that the afterlife is not fire & brimstone, but being locked together in a room for eternity. Once you have kids, there’s no escape from the room you entered when you birthed them, even when they’re grown up. And that’s not bad. It’s just that you don’t get to say anything.

*not to be interpreted that I don’t admire my adult kids or their choices

Fiber art: “Alchemy-Fire” by Aimee Reid-Rice

how to cook a teenager

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I adore teenagers. Best people on the planet, IMHO. If given even a 16th of a chance to be so, most are earnest and straightforward. I’ve worked with many a teenager: counseling, teaching creative writing or volunteering at teen shelters.

The goal of all child-rearing should be to raise a decent, thinking, heart-driven person who considers others but not at the expense of Self. Here’s some tips:

  1. Listen more; talk less.
  2. It’s not about you. Focus on what your kid requires, not on how you look as a parent. See #17
  3. Ask yourself what your kid needs instead of how to “fix” their behavior.
  4. Communicate honestly even if sometimes you say: “I’m uncomfortable answering right now.” Teenagers have precise bullshit meters. You’ll put nothing over on them even if they’re too polite to tell you so. Yes, I said polite.
  5. Please be kind. People speak to their kids as if they’re deadwood.
  6. Be compassionate. Please don’t talk about them in front of them; they have ears.
  7. Tell stories to tell stories–not as “morals” or “lessons.” Trust they’ll get it; it’s just fun to hear a story.
  8. Stop being so serious all the time; they’re not things to teach but people to interact with. Have fun with them.
  9. Don’t tease them. It’s scary and difficult enough not knowing how all the parts of you are going to fit in this f-ed up adult culture (I’m still trying to figure it out) without someone being condescending or acting as if what is felt or thought is a joke.
  10. Don’t bite on the bullshit. Ask, don’t argue.
  11. Be willing to repeat and repeat and repeat. Maintain neutral tone over and over and over.
  12. Be vulnerable. These are people. (I can’t say this enough). Tell them about your life–your floundering, your triumphs, your feelings–just to share. See #7
  13. Model behavior you’d like from them. They’re still kids and even though they’re attempting to define themselves into the larger community instead of just family, teenagers still take cues from you. You want respect? Give respect. You want humor? Be humorous. You want them to work hard without whining? Then…..
  14. Embody integrity. If you say you’ll do something Follow Through. Excuses? You hate it when they do it, so don’t. See #13
  15. Often when teenagers make “know-it-all” statements, they’re actually asking questions by “trying on” ideas. Let them. Instead of discounting or dismissing, ask why they feel that way (without a tone!) and then…Listen To The Answer. Have a conversation. Let them practice expressing those feelings, beliefs. You don’t have to agree but you don’t have to trash or ridicule them either.
  16. A teenager’s job is to discover and to risk, not to modify their behavior so you’re not alarmed. Deal with your fear. You can tell them how what they’re doing or not doing makes you feel. See #12
  17. Trust your kid regardless of some acting out behavior; you have no other intelligent choice. It takes tremendous courage when the rest of the panicky parents are watching and ready to blame you and your kid as “bad influences.”
  18. Tame your child, don’t break them. Do this by honor & respect, not control & fear.
  19. Listen more; talk less.

f@#k the phone

In the late 70s, early 80s, SNL did a skit where two aliens can’t determine what/who is earth’s “leader.” After eliminating various things, they realize that it must be the telephone: when it rings humans drop what they’re doing and rush to it.

This was before the birth of mobile phones. ~Just imagine~

Here’s just one person I know who’s addicted to his phone: he unconsciously checks it for emails, calls, whatever, approximately every 2.5 minutes! and he even doesn’t realize it! (he’d deny this to his death). To ask him to silence it—not turn it off—practically sends him into an apoplectic seizure of explanations as to why it must remain on. Many a great rationalization follow. But I’ve been in the woods with this man when his phone’s gone off. Jeezus! Don’t tell me you’re “working” now, buddy. LEAVE IT IN THE CAR.

Notice how many businesses from banks to espresso stands sport signs forbidding cell phone use? There’s a REASON people.

Before answering machines and cell phones [yes, there was a time, and back in the day you couldn’t even turn the ringer off or unplug the phone] I would let my phone ring if I was eating dinner or having tea with a friend because my life was more important at the moment than whoever was calling. It would actually make people nervous and it wasn’t even their phone!

I need and carry a phone like everyone else. I love the convenience of it all. I do. I log roughly 20 minutes a month on it. But I also love the idea of syncing my calendar, FB, texting, internet on one small device so when I get an iPhone—and I will soon—I’ll use it more, but not a whole lot more. And I will silence it. Regularly.

Because when I’m with someone, that’s who I’m with. Cell phones are not toddlers; there’s no excuse to be distracted minute by minute by it ringing or dinging. Even if the crack-berry addicts choose not to answer, they still have to look. Geez, honestly, toddlers are more thoughtful!

Speaking of kids. How insignificant they must feel in the face of adults who appear to prefer to connect with every technology over and above their own children. You know how many people I’m acquainted with who pick up their kids and talk on the phone to someone else the whole time in the car? Sigh. And then parents bitch about how “rude” those kids are when they’re teenagers. Double sigh. Think of how tolerant & patient they were all those young years… Please consider what message/s you’re modeling for your offspring.

BTW, I must have taught my children too well. Neither of my adult kids has a cell phone, they let their land-line machine pick up when they’re doing their life—just like their mamma—and they love to engage in face-to-face dialog. I’m proud, even if it is darn hard to reach them sometimes.