The New Cheese: Hip Lingo

I’ve come to a very difficult conclusion in my life… I’m old.

At least, that is the best and most feasible explanation for what I might term as an involuntary revulsion and full body shudder when watching current events, attending meetings, listening to conference calls, or reading emails and allegedly professional publications. I’ve seriously tried to find any other explanation than my downward slide into the deterioration of advanced years, but I was finally forced to face my fears and dreads. I’m old. I’ve reached that stage of maturity that twitches at the extreme levels of informality and familiarity that speaks only given names and coins terminology that Webster never intended. I’m not the cool, hip career woman I wanted to be…

Did I really want to be? And… that is a topic for a whole other post. My point here is a peeve of mine (pet? not really): The overuse of “hip” jargon, slang, and familiarity in allegedly professional contexts. Honestly, I do understand the desire to appeal to the young and innovative generations, but seriously? Do we have to give over all dignity? And to be frank, what does some of that crap mean?!?

Just for example, let me run through some of the more glaring vocabulary issues.

Side hustle. This is also known to most people as a second job. Yeah, so apparently that doesn’t sound nearly cool enough. Therefore making it sound like something you could possibly be arrested for on the street corner while catching a communicable disease sounds oh so much better.

Buy-in. This one isn’t nearly so twitch-inducing to me, but it is possibly due to over-saturation levels of hearing it when I worked briefly in the advertising segment of a business publication (yes, that happened… I don’t like to talk about it). Anyhow, the problem is minor, but here it is. This terminology is fine if you are talking about investing… or possibly poker. However, it has come to be used in business situations as accepting an idea. It has the power of making someone who doesn’t actually go along with the proposal feel that they are missing out on a deal, right? “ACT NOW… While supplies last…WE HAVE OPERATORS STANDING BY…

Move the needle. Unless you are a seismic event, or possibly a lie detector? What people generally mean by this is to point out that a change will or won’t actually have a measurable effect. See what I did there? I used actual vocabulary that explains that any change of process should be impactful. It should have a measurable outcome. In other words, we don’t just do something to say “look what we are doing.” It should have a result. That said, this little phrase probably sounded truly profound… the first time. After saying it for every bloody process change, it rather loses that shiny new profundity. When it is applied to process changes that have no appreciable effect? It loses all meaning.

Corporate values. Only one thing to say about this one. Corporations don’t have values. People have values. Corporations have policies. Boil it down, people. The leadership of a company values certain human characteristics and believes that those characteristics will support the identified mission of the company? Awesome. Then, say that.

Take the temperature. Because someone might have a fever or be incubating a virus? Because you want to see what to wear today? What the actual…? Apparently, this little phrase has taken the place of hoary ol’ chestnuts like “testing the water.” I suppose it is meant to say that you are evaluating whether someone is amenable to an idea? Like, “I think they are warming up to me,” or perhaps, “She seems quite cool in her demeanor.” However, it seems just a little invasive, to be honest. I always seem to picture a rectal thermometer… ok, so no one else does that? My bad…

Game-changer. This one makes my list because, honestly, overuse. Everything is a “game-changer” it seems. Truth be told, the results never quite answer to the hype there. Additionally… it’s not all a game. If everything seems like a game to you, might I interest you in an MMPI for psychopathy?

Empower. Great word. Improperly used most of the time. I believe entirely in empowering people. That is to say that I think individuals should be given the tools and knowledge to advocate for themselves. I think they should be given opportunity to grow. However, I see this used more often by managers, directors, and various forms of business leadership as a way to spin their disengagement from advocating for their own employees. Instead of abandoning them to sink or swim, “I’m empowering them to act on their own behalf.” Um… really? I don’t think that is what that is supposed to mean.

Open the kimono. So, I’ll just disclose here that I’ve never truly heard this one used myself, but I read it in an article and snarfled my coffee. There are so many things wrong with this phrase, I do not have sufficient time or space to innumerate. It is meant to be a clever euphemism for “reveal the information.” The levels of cultural and gender insult… well, let me just say that I hope that I never actually encounter this phrase in real life. Lewd. Inappropriate. Slightly perverted.

Think outside the box. Again, overuse, and if we truly examine the number of years that everyone has been encouraged to think outside of this imaginary box, it begs the question: Is anyone thinking inside it anymore? Does the box even exist? Maybe the new innovative thinker thinks inside the box.

Drill down/Deep dive. I put these phrases together because they generally mean the same thing. It is someone’s attempt to illustrate getting into the most minute of details regarding a project or report. Often the reason for this is a negative outcome or errors. It is technically not that offensive, but it is unnecessarily “cool” terminology. It makes it sound like an adventure instead of what it truly is: A lot of time examining huge amounts of information looking for what amounts to a specific needle in a pile of other remarkably similar needles.

And now to the section that I like to call “grammatically challenged” or “what part of speech are you?”

Solutioning. This is not a word. Most spellcheckers will actually scream at you for even trying to type it. So, stop it! Solution is a noun. It is NOT a verb of transitive, action, or passive form. You cannot add -ed or -ing to it. The word you are looking for is solve. When we are trying to make the meaning of this word an action, we say SOLVE! or solving or solves or solved. We can resolve. However solution is the result of solving… unless we are talking about chemistry and that is the combination of two or more elements… or is that a compound. Anyhow, the moral of the story… stop trying to solution things.

Leverage (as a verb). Again, see above. A lot of folks like to use this to mean influence or put on pressure to change a situation or opinion in their own favor. This would be applying leverage.

Ask (as a noun). I’m not precisely sure where this came from originally. A friend actually told me that this is a prison culture form of speaking. In that context, “the ask” is a favor for which the person doing the asking is promising a future claim to the person granting the request. Oh, and yes, that is actually the correct form: The request. Ask is a verb.

Synergize/Synergistic. Blame Stephen Covey for this language/grammar mutilation. When he wrote about those 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it was mind-blowing, ground-breaking, and a few other hyperbolic terms to describe common sense concepts collected and marketed in palatable form. He made the noun synergy into a verb to imply cooperation of two or more individuals with unique talents for the purpose of unified positive outcome. It’s been nearly 30 years now, it’s totally ok to use proper words again to describe collaboration.

Learning, or learnings (as a noun). This is another of those things that people say, going for clever… and missing. We do not get “learnings” from educational seminars or training programs. We can learn new facts and ideas. We can develop new skills. When I read or hear people talking about their “learnings,” I generally think they skipped class.

Socialize it. Apparently this is the new way we disseminate information. We no longer announce or provide. I blame social media for this one. Since Twitter and Facebook have a broader outreach capacity than your general office memo, the concept of broadcasting information that needs to reach masses of individuals can no longer be merely “told” or “shared.” I suppose socializing also makes it sound more fun. I suppose I can also blame certain psychological concepts. We talk about socializing children to help them learn to interact with others. However, might I call your attention to the fact that information shared doesn’t interact and doesn’t need to learn not to bite the other children in daycare.

Actionable. If you are not an attorney discussing legal aspects of a contract or case, please do not use this. Just no. Thank you.

Hack. “What’s wrong with hack?” I hear you say. We can hack through underbrush and hack fallen trees to create combustible fuel for warmth. The term has been adopted now by the computer age to mean taking apart code and sneaking through security. Sadly, now, it is now used as a noun… and verb… applied to life? I really do not need to hack up my life. It is quite unnecessary to damage it further. To call something a “life hack” sounds catchy and modern, clever… slightly illegal… and ridiculous. They aren’t hacks. Hack is a verb. It is a strategy or an idea or a helpful piece of advice that might make something challenging more reasonable or simple. That’s not hacking. That’s helping.

There are others. Of course, there are; like everyone calling each other by first names and acting like everyone is old college chums in every board meeting. Overly familiar behavior, lack of formality, and general misuse of language. Every day someone, somewhere misuses a word that becomes popular slang because of the situation or the popularity of said person. Seemingly without end, I continue to hear these newly coined terms and assassinated parts of speech thrown about like rice at a wedding. Oh, wait, we don’t throw rice at weddings anymore. There’s that age thing again. It would just be nice to say what we mean without trying so hard to sound hip or cool. It’s become rather passé, which is the opposite of hip and cool, right? What I think, personally, would be fabulous would be for professional people in professional situations to actually conduct themselves and sound like they have intelligence and a sense of decorum and respect for their colleagues. That, in my so humble opinion, would be the hippest. And then again… maybe I’m just old.

 

Happy St. Hangover’s Day…

In the post-shenanigans, early morning light, I made my way to the gym. It was slightly less populated, a concession I assume to the late night revelry of all those who like to pretend to their Irish-ness for one day of the year in America. There were, however, considerably more people than I truly expected. Maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental or pessimistic about these things. I honestly expected the gym to be a veritable ghost town with only the staff for company, but there were sufficient numbers to make finding a parking spot a bit of a challenge… but now that I think about this, the cars in the parking lot might have been vehicles abandoned by their owners in lieu of a safer Uber or Lyft option to risking jail or death on binge-drinking extravaganza day.

I am half ashamed to admit that my own celebratory activities were quite tame in comparison to years gone by… it is perhaps my own concession (to age and responsibility). Though I did have the good fortune (granted by the fae and leprechaun greeting me at the door to the establishment chosen) to spend time with friends, family, and many faces from the past, I gave up my attempts to be cool, festive, or lively before ever the dusk had given way to the dark. I made it home still quite in possession of my senses (and sobriety) and made my normal bedtime ritual. My younger self would have shaken a mournful head (to be quickly followed with aspirin for the pain that action would likely have caused). Yet, I do not feel so disappointed. I was able to have a good time without the overindulgence and bad choices that would have resulted in feeling like poo this morning or potentially even less pleasant outcomes.

And so… I went to the gym and will now head off to work (yes, I’m working on a Saturday). Instead of tired, achy, and vaguely nauseous, I feel relieved and rather proud that I managed to have a good time spending time with the people I love without abusing my body (or liver) to the point of extended recovery necessity. We live. We learn… well, at least until the next time that temptation presents me with potential bad choices from which to learn more lessons. I hope that everyone recovers well today. Remember to stay hydrated, and that time and rest are really the only true cures for a hangover… and for those of you who indulged in copious amounts of green beverages, remember not to scream too loudly in the restroom (the tiles reverberate and your head will hurt worse). Cheers dears!

The New Cheese: RANT… News from Galileo, an individual is NOT the center of the universe!

I think one of the most difficult parts of existing, persisting, and excelling in the new marketplace, business structure, or classroom of today is trying to absorb and respect all the cultural aspects and diversity that exist and understand what each different facet exemplifies as consideration and manners… and what apparently doesn’t rate as worthy of such. For me, this is a daily… ok, hourly struggle. Let me boil it down and stop dancing around what I’m trying to say. Respect! That is it. It is the considerable lack of manners and respect that appear to have prevailed in a greater sense and with growing rudeness for well over a decade, possibly two!

At one point, I think I blamed the 80’s… you know, that “Me Era” that people talk about where wolves ran Wallstreet and were popularized as the It dudes and Tiger Ladies of society and success. Where the merit of standing on and walking over people to get to the top meant you were hungry, ambitious, and Machiavellian (not originally or necessarily a compliment, by the way) instead of being recognized as, well… just a jerk. What everyone seems to block out and ignore is that the majority who didn’t manage to find the secret of their success or make it to the top though still emulating the cut-throat behaviors of those who did were not so admired. Being a jerk without the accompanying glitter of fame and fortune merely made you an asshat with no manners instead of a shark gobbling the competition and commanding adulation from the pilot fish hoping to feed upon the leftovers and crumbs. Sadly, even with a resurgence of vintage and nostalgia waving merrily in our fashion columns, eBay sales, and television programming, the old fashioned concepts of please, thank-you, sorry, excuse me, and waiting your turn never seem to make the comeback. Instead, social media and popular figures have continued to promote talking over, talking badly, interrupting, insulting, and generally treating even friends, family, or colleagues worse than you would a soiled nappy from a baby’s bum.

And… I seem to have gotten myself off my originally intended topic… looks like it may be one of those days.

One of the biggest peeves that has been on my radar of late is a sadly common failing of an occupational perk. Now that technology has really made it possible to be in multiple places at once virtually and hold meetings all over the world from the comfort of your bedroom, telecommuting has been embraced globally. Not only do the employees dig it, many companies are finding it financially attractive due to less time lost for commuting, socializing (but wait, people still socialize, don’t they? I’ll get to that), and illness. They have a greater access to quality staff who may not want to move to Mumbai just for project management position or chance at promotion. It is truly fascinating to be able to work in three countries without actually leaving my office. Very sci-fi. But like any other wonderful advancement, there is always something a little less positive for which we must control. In this case… it might be due to lack of maturity. On the other hand, I may just be overly sensitive to certain immaturity levels and not giving people enough credit because this is a serious hot button of mine. Telecommuting requires a certain level of self-discipline. Without a boss looming or coworkers watching, you have only yourself to crack a whip or focus that attention that wondered over to the laundry that is laying over there next to, but not actually in the hamper. However, that is an even more responsible distraction than the most common. It is far more likely that the attention was actually drawn by social media newsfeed, online shopping, or random video rabbit hole… and before you know it many, many moments have flitted by without a single productive activity.

Additionally, one of the benefits of the telecommuting gig is that your actual commute is likely a few steps away instead of a slogging to a tram stop or having to drive through harrowing rush hour traffic. It also means that meetings may be attended in pajamas or worse (please don’t share, and keep that webcam OFF). Morning briefings don’t require so much as a good tooth brushing, much less hair being tidied. Then again, without anyone looking, it is also just as easy to multitask during said briefings. Trainings, meetings, and conferences held across the ether without any accountability that you are actually paying attention… oh yes, it happens. And… I am as guilty as the next person. I’m not going to lie about it. That doesn’t excuse the behavior, though. Whether I believe that a meeting deserves my full, riveted attention or not, I should at least try to make sure that I am absorbing the majority of what is being shared by “being here now” (as we say in my company). I cannot complain about being left out of decision-making or not having all the information needed to perform my duties if I’m not listening while they may actually be imparting that very same wisdom I seek. As I have grown to understand how my own success frequently is tied to taking responsibility for my own actions, behaviors, and attention, I try to make sure that I am giving my attention (painful as it is sometimes) in meetings, trainings, and conferences.

So, why is this a rant, and what has me so peeved? Well, one of the outcomes of people not “being here now” in teleconference situations (or even in person as many of my workplace folks and teachers will attest) is that they miss important announcements, information shared that they may need later, which leads to errors and chastisement, and generalized annoyance spawned within the hearts of managers and supervisors at large. Distilled to the purest form, this aggravation stems from the fact that people don’t @#$%ing listen! There is nothing quite like that feeling of being asked something that has been trained upon, gone over in meetings, reminded in emails, and provided in job aids or instruction manuals readily available in a common and easily accessible location. A colleague and I were mutually absolving our consciences of the desire to throw large temper tantrums over this exact phenomenon. It seems we have both continually experienced the scenario of staff members who will continually ask questions about things that 1) is not new information and has not changed for say the last 2-4 years; 2) should not really require either of our positions, educations, or experience to answer… because it is available in job aids, from their peers, and various other sources of disseminated information; 3) the question has actually been answered before directly to said person as well as to the team or possibly department… multiple times; and 4) it is available in a memo that was emailed to everyone, maybe even that same week. We both were able to come to some insight as to why the aggravation and anger over this particular peeve seemed more difficult than any other to shake. The most likely reason is because each and every time that it happens, it actually implies… actually shouts, loudly… “I DON’T BLOODY LISTEN TO YOU BECAUSE YOUR @#$% AIN’T THAT IMPORTANT TO ME, AND NEITHER IS YOUR TIME SINCE I DEMAND THAT YOU DROP EVERYTHING YOU ARE CURRENTLY DOING AND ANSWER ME.” Granted this is the perception rather than the intention, but it goes back to the first little tangent I traipsed upon at the beginning of this post: Consideration and manners have become a rare commodity. The rule has become that most people consider that their priorities are much more important and therefore more of a priority than any other priority that you might have prioritized in your own mind… Yes, that is a lot of priorities. When everyone thinks that their stuff is the most important and more important than anyone else’s, we start to have a problem. People who believe themselves to be the center of the universe have a tendency to dismiss anything else and anyone else as trivial.

What’s the one conclusion I can bring this number to? (I totally went there…) First, be present and pay attention. Maybe it is boring. Maybe you don’t feel like you should have to take time away from your Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon perusals to listen, but the person presenting or holding the meeting put their time and energy into it. Shouldn’t you at least give them a small amount of yours to actually listen? Second, do your own homework. Look things up. Use your resources before potentially interrupting the flow of someone else’s work to ask what you may very easily have found was already answered earlier. And lastly, remember that other people are just as busy as you believe yourself to be. It is entirely possible that they cannot suspend their current activity in order to immediately answer your inquiry (that may actually have an answer in the aforementioned resources). Exercise some patience before double texting, blowing up instant message, or lighting up every one of their phones. (See Pause and Reflect while you are at it.)

So endeth the rant. In the spirit of full disclosure… some of the people out there trying to keep you informed and focused on quality of performance are feeling a little unappreciated, ignored, and unheard… in short, we feel a little disposable, much like the meeting agenda/class syllabus/memorandum that we took a week (or more) to create and you took less than a second to toss in the trash (or deleted items file).

Ok, I’m done now, for real. <sigh> as you were… Pity party of one… ah, that’s my table ready.

Physician heal thyself…

And nurses, counselors, therapists, caregivers, social workers, case managers, community health workers, teachers, first responders, peer outreach… in short any person who spends their time (work or volunteer) opening themselves to the experiences of others’ suffering. In a recent continuing education exercise, I was asked to examine myself for resilience and potential risk of compassion fatigue. The simple act of participating in the exercise and completing the assignments for the course reminded me of the very great risk that people in caring roles face of suffering from the “cost of caring.” Amy Cunningham speaks of this beautifully and concisely in a Ted Talk, describing what this cost can be and toll it takes (link in the credits below, totally worth the viewing).

Many of us who work and volunteer in roles of service have adopted the philosophy that self-denial in pursuit of career, advancement, and the care of others is to be admired. Self-sacrifice is applauded and rewarded. Going above and beyond is the expectation. Adding insult to the expected self-injury is that we are frequently also required to be above the consequences or be able to physic our own resulting ailments. To a certain extent, I can agree with admiring dedication and industry. A good work ethic is absolutely to be admired. However, there is a fine line between a good work ethic and good self-care. I occasionally use that line as a jump rope (more about that later). For those of you in the caring professions, and a few of you who are not,  you have likely heard the term “compassion fatigue.” You may also have heard this described as secondary traumatization or vicarious trauma. What many people think of when folks talk about stress related to caring for others is burnout. I want to tell you now, that these are different concepts, related but decidedly not the same.

As caring professionals, we frequently are exposed to the traumatic experiences and information that can be shocking, depressing, or even devastating just being exposed to it, hearing it, visualizing it, and empathizing with the victims in our care. Empathy is one of the most important tools of the caring professions, but there is a cost involved in being empathic day after day. Repeated exposure or even just one event that triggers some recognition or identification becomes a lived sensory experience that transports the care giver into the realm of the victim. Some professionals begin experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress, much like those of the people who have been involved in critical incidents or crises. Different than counter-transference where the experience mirrors or parallels experiences from their own lives or triggers emotional reactivity in the part of the caregiver because of personal history, they respond with stress related symptoms purely out of empathy for the situation of those they assist. The frequency or intensity of just experiencing the trauma through the eyes of the individual they are helping is sufficient to trigger signs and symptoms. This is compassion fatigue. It is not my intent in this post to give all the specific signs and symptoms of traumatic stress, but in broad strokes, it has physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual impact. It can impact relationships. It can impact efficacy as a professional.

Ok… I hear you saying, “but that sounds a lot like burnout.” Here is the most significant difference: Victims of burnout have gotten to the point that they just want to give up. They have nothing left to give, no space to absorb. They have exhausted their energy, empathy, and passion, like a bulb that was used until failure or a battery run past minimum charge. The way most experts in this topic differentiate between compassion fatigue and burnout is that people who have gotten to the point of burnout frequently no longer want to practice their profession or calling. While compassion fatigue results in risks for the professional and their clients due to potential boundary concerns and difficulty managing the stress they experience, burnout can lead to the loss of empathy and resentment towards those for whom they once cared. Professionals and volunteers with burnout can become callous and appear uncaring or harsh. It can result in errors of omission in services rendered and potential harm to patients or clients.

The important piece of this puzzle is that neither of these conditions are unavoidable. Taking the appropriate actions in self-care, consultation, and support can provide preventative measures to avoid the pitfalls of vicarious trauma and even help bring caring professionals back from the brink of burnout.

Insight into your own needs and responses can be the best preventative measure. Watch for your own signs of drowning: Irritability, sleeplessness, dread going on shift, numbness to any and all emotional content (personal or professional), rumination and inability to let go at the end of the day, fatigue, isolation, using (or abusing) alcohol or drugs… You know your own signs best. Self-awareness is the best primary defense, but when we fail to see our own symptoms, it is good to have the buddy system. Friends, family, colleagues are often great at noticing when you are “not yourself.”

Over the years, I have gotten to be much better at spotting my own particular signs of distress (and knowing how to combat these signs). When my natural defense system is on emotional overload, I fall back on my introversion and a combination of task and avoidance oriented coping (You thought task and avoidance would be mutually exclusive, didn’t you?). When I start running a tad low, I tend to become more task-oriented, workaholic, and isolating. I avoid situations and people that require my emotional presence. I tend to shut people out if it isn’t work related, and I let things go that are my best forms of self-care: Running, gym time, sleep, meditation, and play… yes play. Adult or not, we all need recreation. It helps us rejuvenate our cognitive processes. But when I’m overdrawing my emotional and empathic accounts due to work or personal stressors, these self-care processes always seem to be the first to go. I know myself well enough (after, the unspecified number of years I will admit to being on the planet) that I recognize when things in my life have gotten out of hand and I have reached that aggregate limit. When this happens, I try to fill my time and avoid any activities that might let my mind drift to the very topics or memories that hurt… and yet theses topics and memories are likely the very ones that probably need most to be taken out, examined, and processed. With that self-awareness, I also know that timing is key. If I push myself too soon, it doesn’t serve the best purpose, but if I leave it too long, my self imposed exile becomes way to comfortable and I won’t want to rejoin the world. This is where that support network comes in handy. Friends and colleagues who know me best are also the best at dragging me back out of any caves I might crawl into and encouraging the self-care I’ve probably been neglecting.

For you, my readers, I encourage an honest self examination and evaluation. Be ruthless. Be thorough, and try to recall how you handle critical events and times of intense stress. Evaluate time and outcome. How did it work? List the coping strategies that you have in your toolbox, and objectively determine whether they are truly helpful or maybe not so much.

Prevention is a keystone to good health and good mental health. Restorative and preventative exercises can divert compassion fatigue from become burnout. It is important to get rest, exercise, nutrition, and time away from constant exposure to shared trauma and the histories that recount horrific occurrences. Most jobs and deployments have leave or paid time away. It is there for a reason. Take a break. Use that time. Most importantly, it is crucial to have appropriate training, refresher courses, supervision, and/or consultation. Carrying the burden can get extra heavy, and consultation (or supervision) provides ethical opportunities to identify and address challenging aspects of situations that may trigger stress. It is important to employ your ethical decision making model and engage with colleagues who can be objective and provide good clinical counterpoint. Professional colleagues can often provide support to each other and offer insight when we get overwhelmed in our own empathic response.

Lastly, I would encourage those of you out there caring for others to remember your own natural supports: Family and friends. We often have to be concerned with confidentiality, and we also wish to protect the ones we love from some of the things we see, hear, and experience. However, don’t shut them out. You need not share details of information gained under the cloak of privacy and confidentiality (or when the story is just too terrible), but you can share your own feelings and fears. You can explain your own reactions without having to give details of the stimuli. Stay connected to humanity, especially your own. That can give you a life jacket to prevent drowning in empathy, and regardless of the proverbial command in the title, it is completely unnecessary to heal yourself.

Amy Cunningham presents on Ted Talks, Drowning in Empathy. http://edu.ava360.com/drowning-in-empathy-the-cost-of-vicarious-trauma-amy-cunningham-tedxsanantonio_d7a4359c8.html

 

And the dam breaks? On blockades of many sorts…

For any writer (or aspiring writer), there is always this occasional feeling of having a mind completely devoid of creative inspiration. I like to refer to this as the writer’s blockade. It isn’t a mere issue of searching for the write words (yes, that was intentional), feeling that there are an overwhelming flood of ideas waiting for your feeble vocabulary to give them shape and form… no. It is a full blown, beautifully empty blank where upon no amount of prodding, poking, free-flowing, and rambling seem to dislodge anything coherent.

Many of my writer friends have complained about this sensation of having nothing on which to expound. There is nothing so elusive as the creative impetus that decides to go walkabout without any notice. I mean, really? It isn’t as if I lost the English language in there somewhere, right? The hours become days. The days become weeks, and suddenly you find that you haven’t written a post, piece, or paragraph in months. The obstructions of the blockade can take on varied forms… and often, they are as individual as those they plague.

For instance, I spent the last three weeks working on a post that had presented itself to my mind months ago. I struggled with this, and it still reads like dog poo on the bottom of my favorite boots. The sentences stilted and the vocabulary just clunky and unnatural. I honestly cannot figure it out. At other times, the words seem to flow of their own volition out of the tips of my fingers (maybe a case for possession?). Then, at other times I cannot seem to put an idea worthy of the letters into any form. The muse has departed… apparently for another zip code, possibly a different state, another country, left the planet entirely? I’ve had some brilliant (well I thought they were) ideas while driving, in the middle of a session, during a meeting while I was presenting on something else entirely, or possibly at 4:00AM when a 10 pound demonic feline decides to apply all of his weight into a focused area directly on my boob… However, when I later approach an actual keyboard at a more convenient and appropriate time… poof! David Copperfield couldn’t have made anything disappear that well. It is a good argument, I suppose for having a voice recorder of some sort close by at any time to capture these thoughts before they seem to evaporate and blow away like so much smoke. But I can already see how that would turn out. When the recordings are listened to later, what I thought was perfectly intelligible speech with creative inspiration summons a demon or opens a hellmouth.

The worst part is that I generally fail to recall even the topics in the vaguest manner. It concerns me that perhaps my short term to long term memory transfer process is starting to get a little fragile. I really am not ready for that particular issue yet. Or maybe it is just that I have too much data trying to be stored in a finite space. Well, hell… my hard drives are full… or maybe corrupted. Bad sector, format C. Perhaps it is a symptom of descending madness… they do say that there is a fine line between that and genius, right? Ok, maybe that is pushing it. I don’t believe that genius is one of my failings. However, I must be grateful for small favors, I have not yet started singing nursery rhymes in my head or subjecting you to them (with a special shout out to my dear friend)… Oops. There I go… Mary had a little… dammit, Tess!

 

Respect the One that Brung ya…

So, aside from the attrocious grammar and ignorance of verb tense, the phrase itself is an old one that you may or may not have heard before. It goes back to a bygone era, but the concept holds true today… in a sense. Let me preach on it…

The time was that when you chose to be with someone, whether that be for the evening or for a longer term, it meant something. It meant that you would take that opportunity to spend the time indicated to interact with them. Sometimes that might mean with social activity; sometimes mutually enjoying a form of entertainment. For those longer term endeavors it meant that there might be multiple opportunities to interact exclusively or mutually within social context. The point being that when an individual made a choice of their own volition to be with another, they had the consideration to attend to that person.

Over time, those old traditions or manners have faded. Many might consider that these antiquated expectations have no place in an independent, modern, emancipated world. I don’t agree. That may surprise a lot of readers, especially those who know me best and longest, but hear me out. I am a strong proponent of individual rights and standing up for what is right and honest. Believe it or not, these philosophies are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I have observed a good deal of human behavior in the past… well, we’ll not disclose the precise amount of years, suffice to say it’s been more than a few decades. One of the things that I find repellant, if not truly repugnant is bullying. What I have found is that due to the advent of the modern romantic comedy, many people have a problem differentiating between playful banter and public degradation… by most interpretations, bullying blandishments. Due to the magic of film and television, we are made privy to interactions and conversations that would… and should… have been between two people instead of a public display.

Picture a meet cute between a couple of feisty, not unattractive people. Due to the circumstances of the sincronicity that brings them together, they are placed in antagonistic positions; be it vying for the same taxi or the same employment position. They verbally spar, and we love the witty repartee… because we are behind the camera. Ultimately, that antagonism provides energy and passion that will become angrily shouted affection, followed by professions of love… and scene!

Let’s try another. Spouse enters domicile and announces his/her presence. Their partner appears with look of chagrin and disheveled appearance. Dialog and interaction leading to discomfiture on one part, frustration on the other, and vague threats of sending said partner “to the moon” accompanied by a raised fist and followed by a laugh track…

How about this? Single, but involved individual in a live-in, long term committed relationship finds themselves consistently frustrated by their partner’s habits/lack of attention/too much attention to others… goes out with a trusted friend and spills their guts about every flaw and perceived injury. The friend is supportive. They spend hours of advice-giving and shot drinking. It is all very empowering. It shows the importance of a support network.

What is my point? These are all manufactured and artistically created situations.

I’m going to take the second scenario first. For anyone with a knowledge of classic television, The Honeymooners had very recognizable tableaux. The audiences of the day laughed at the implied spousal abuse threats. Why? Mostly because many of the viewers never believed Ralph would hit her, and at the end of every episode, Ralph kissed Alice. No one at that time thought about the “comedy” show as being a representative of abusive relationships. At the time the show was filmed, spousal abuse and the horror it can be were secret sufferings of untold numbers of people. What went on inside the home was private and nobody’s business… thankfully, that attitude has changed somewhat with the intervening years, though the real horror is still all too prevalent. See below for links and organizations that can help.

With the traditional romcom banter, we’ve all been programmed to see the end game of the situation with passionate acknowledgement of the attraction they fought from their first meeting. We’ve been taught to see it as cute and witty and passionate. But let’s take a look at those caustic remarks flung by opposing parties in front an audience. In the Hollywood version, it is funny. No one has their feelings hurt terribly. But we’re not talking about a live studio audience or the invisible observer of the silver screen. We are talking right out there in public with actual people that you might actually see again in other aspects of your life. Does that change the story? Does the embarrassment of having someone point out your flaws and shortcomings in the middle of a café or office feel different than what we imagine for the characters on the screen?

Last, but not least, is that coffee shop dish with friend or friends. Besties and supportive friends are awesome when you are getting your groove back, but once you’ve given them all the grimy details of the bad guy/gal in your life, it may be super hard for them to see that person in any other way. Intentionally or not, the protagonist/story teller has brought one or more other people into the intimacy of the relationship. Given the impact of technology in the lives of many people in society, that number can be multiplied exponentially when folks tend to vent on one or more of their social media venues… warning, that includes “vaguebooking” because most of your friends will know to whom you are referring. Do yourself and your relationship a favor and leave off the character assassinations if you aren’t ready or intending to walk.

I can feel the judgment boiling off of my people out there saying “You need support! You shouldn’t have to keep secrets! You shouldn’t project facades…” Yeah, all of it, but I’m decidedly not talking about abusive situations, for which the answer is to get to safety (and absolutely positively reach out for help in those situations, see the links below). I’m not talking about ignoring something that should change, for which the answer is to work in concert with your partner. I’m talking about respecting a person that you chose to spend time with, whether that time was a few hours or a few decades. I’m talking about not degrading them or humiliating them in a public venue and to your friends and family. I’m talking about setting an example in your own behavior for 1) how you might like to be treated and respected, and 2) how you feel others should consider and behave towards that individual. Whether we realize it or not, how we treat our significant other (and how we talk about them) cues our friends and others around us to act in kind, and displays outwardly how they will be permitted to treat that person. When you disrespect your partner vividly and hurtfully in public, it opens the door for everyone else to consider them with the same disregard and flagrant disrespect. It plays up like the mob mentality that says “Hey, her man (or woman) treats her like crap, she must be crap. We don’t have to be respectful.” It may seem like I’m blowing it out of proportion, but just observe sometime how behaviors change depending on how the S.O. of any individual treats them in a group or public setting.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that we all have to show devotion to anyone we decide to go out for coffee with? No, but respect is not devotion. On a date (be it first or perhaps even further along the line where things are still casual, and there is no serious risk of harm involved), perhaps the chemistry is just not there. End it as civilly as possible. No harm, no foul. If you truly just can’t stomach one more second, consider how to curtail the event without creating more drama than is absolutely necessary. If the guy (or gal) deserves a glass of chianti in the lap, so be it, but that should be the exception, not the rule. In a longer term relationship, recognize the difference between gentle ribbing and hurtful humiliation in front of other people. What looks cute on a movie or television screen might be pretty uncomfortable before the live and quite real audience of friends or acquaintances.

And… if you truly care about the person and the relationship and want it to work out, be careful how you “vent” to friends and family. Should you choose to stay together and work on things, it may be exceedingly difficult for those friends and family members to see the monster you painted so vividly in a more charitable light. The bottom line is that if you don’t want to be with the person in question, then don’t be. Do them the courtesy and show them the respect of letting them go so that they might be with someone who might have more, or different, feelings for them; and you can move on to someone to whom you might be better suited. And one last thing… if you do find that your better suited is someone other than the one you are with, close that former chapter before opening the new one. In the end, self-respect is a valuable commodity, and treating others with disrespect often leads to a lack of respect for self as well. So, in the end, the one that “brung ya” is you. Have some respect for yourself.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – http://www.thehotline.org/

Crisis Textline – http://www.crisistextline.org/   Text “GO” to 741741

Advocates Against Family Violence – https://aafvhope.org/

Newsome, T. 7 Ways You’re Disrespecting your Partner Without Realizing It. (January, 2016). Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/articles/133567-7-ways-youre-disrespecting-your-partner-without-realizing

Physical Fit: Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot, and the “Crud”

Gym-crowding season… That beautiful time when the resolutions of the New Year still have the power to motivate people with a natural state of indolence to gird their loins and push themselves towards more active lifestyles and healthier choices… until the crowds and the close proximity of those individuals become the breeding ground of contagion decimating thousands of inspirational fitness memes and individual resolves. Yes, my friends, I speak of another season: The cold and flu season.

Recently, our local area schools have shut down due to so many teachers and students being out sick. Some people might think that is overly dramatic, but there are folks who would show up to school or work like patient zero if they didn’t shut down the whole place. (See Sick At Work.) However, these institutions of learning are not the only incubation zones for the next plague. We have the workplace, houses of worship (of varying varieties because showing up in public for religious events is totally immune and entirely safe from passing along the next mutation of H1N1), entertainment venues, and of course… the gym.

Oh yes, this place that is the bastion of healthy life choices can become a greenhouse for pestilential flora and fauna. And can I just for a moment comment that humans, of the allegedly adult variety, are just nasty? Seriously.

My gym is actually very nice. It is usually clean. The bathroom/locker room situation is almost a religious experience with esthetically pleasing fixtures and general lack of icky personal detritus. As far as the rest of the amenities, staff make sure there are sufficient wipes, spray bottles, and such to wipe down equipment pre- and post-sweaty activity. That alone would likely be sufficient to slow or completely curtail the spread of plague… if people would actually use it!

Yes… I speak now of the nastiness. Let me preach on it. I have sadly seen it with my own eyes. The nose picker who then grabs the hand-holds of an elliptical machine, the hacking cougher imitating with some skill succumbing to tuberculosis who grabs the free weights with the same hand the recently covered the mouth, and of course the devastating sneeze-monster with accompanying snot who thinks nothing of continuing their bench set with the same hands that received the explosive productions of their nose. None of these individuals actually bothered to wipe down said equipment when they completed their activities, but instead chose to move on and spread their personal colonies of viral agents to yet more unsuspecting equipment and people.

It’s enough to make you gag a little, isn’t it?

I commend these people for pushing through their own pain, discomfort, and lassitude to keep their fitness performance at its best, but please you can take a sick day from your gym routine. In fact, most studies and fitness consultants will tell you gladly that resting and recovering is generally better than trying to ignore a cold or more dire illness. 1) You recover more quickly. 2) You don’t actually share with all the other relatively ailment-free people. Staying home when you are sick is not a show of weakness. It is just good gym-citizenship, and it is a better choice for your own recovery. Now, I get it. I totally do. Not all illnesses have the impact of ague or la grippe. Sometimes, they don’t even seem worthy of notice; an annoyance, no more. If the disease seems minor and you feel that it isn’t even really a hitch in your stride, you don’t want to lose the gains you’ve made in your training. However, keep in mind that there are still the other gym attendees to consider. All the more reason everyone should remember to mind the hygiene and be considerate of others.

And speaking of hygiene… there are other forms of communicable ailments that don’t necessarily have to wait for a season. In this case, I’m speaking of the more delicate matters of fungus. Yeppers, that is right. We’re gonna talk feet and down there. Most of us have heard of athletes’ foot (tinea pedis). Heck, unless you have lived in a cave devoid of any media you have to have seen at least one commercial. Some of them have cute little depictions of demonic creatures that want to live between your toes… ew. Most of these commercials are humorous and entertaining, making the idea of fungal infection a laughing matter rather than a health condition or personal concern. Do not be fooled. This outbreak can cause embarrassment, discomfort, and spread to others (sometimes without even making direct contact). Locker rooms and showers, regardless of cleanliness, are great atmospheres for these types of infections. Moisture from shower and sweat, damp clothing in lockers, and people going around without shoes.

Oh yeah. They do. They go without foot covering or protection in public areas. I’ve seen it. I’m not a foot prude, you understand. I would prefer to go barefoot in most seasons… in my own home, on the beach, in my pool… Not in a public gym locker room or shower! And yet, there she was as I walked in one morning after my own workout, getting ready for work… or errands… or maybe an early morning date… I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I was taken aback by her appearance. She was obviously halfway through some sort of operation to tame her hair (which was drying, recently showered, and taking up what appeared to be more than its usual space), leaning close to the mirror to address eyelashes and eye make up with that contorted expression that seems a prerequisite for the activity… and she was barefoot!!! She stood there with her naked feet in direct contact with the tiles of the bathroom floor, and it was all I could do to restrain the full body shiver as my own very overactive imagination pictured all the little demonic creatures from that commercial swarming over her feet and the surrounding surfaces… and possibly coming after me! I quickly grabbed my kit out of my locker and bounced out to go home for a shower and possibly  chemical decon.

There are, of course, other forms of these fungal outbreaks to plague more than just your tootsies. There is the tinea cruris… You might know it more commonly as “jock itch,” but it doesn’t restrain itself merely to the specific area for which the layman has named it. It likes to be anywhere there is close, damp, warm areas: Thighs, buttocks… and ladies, you are not immune. So, air out the drawers and launder those stanky gym shorts and that sports bra as well (oh yeah, didn’t think of that did you?).

Which brings me to ringworm… which isn’t a worm. Did you know that? Nope, not a fauna, but a flora. This one is a fungus as well. This one is tinea corporis or tinea capitis. Actually the tinea is the actual fungus and the other words are where it decides to take up residence. So, in fact, all these fungi mentioned are the same basic condition, just occurring in various locations on the human body. Depending on where the growth sets up, you can lose hair, have scaly or ring-like patterns, and itch like the devil. It is not fun, and it is contagious. It can go from person to person or person to equipment/floor/shower to person. You get the drift.

The point of all this being: Take some care of yourself and others who share your workout space. Please remember to wipe down surfaces of machines and hand holds. In fact, you might just for caution’s sake wipe down before using the apparatus. Use the sanitary wipes and sprays provided. Don’t leave dirty, damp gym attire in lockers to ferment. And for the love of all that is holy and right in the universe, wear your bloody shower shoes and don’t go barefoot in the locker room! YUCK!

The Tribe of the Giant Bags

I need someone to explain to me a trend in the fashionably accessorized…

What is with the ginormous bags?!? They’re huge. You could, I expect, carry not only toiletries, phone, wallet, and car keys in one, but possibly a full wardrobe change, several firearms, and a positive menagerie of pets. Maybe that is it? It is like a new version of homeless chic. You may not be able to afford a place to live after purchasing that Coach bag, but you won’t really need a place to hang your hat… or pants… or anything because it all fits in the bag. Doesn’t matter if you look like a staggering hunchback due to the imbalanced weight dangling from one shoulder or the other… you are en vogue!

I looked up the word “purse” in the dictionary. I ignored the part about the lips being drawn together to express displeasure or irritation (but I could see how discomfort might come into the issue with some of these bags). The definition that pertains in this instance is “a small bag used especially by a woman to carry everyday personal items.” Who needs that much stuff every day while out?!? Holy cowhide! Look at this gal. I’m fairly certain that if that bag actually contained anywhere near the material to fill it, it would outweigh her.

I have referred to myself as an accessory moron, but if there is one area in which I am even more of an imbecile, it would be with regards to handbags, purses, clutches, evening bags… I am not only uninformed, I am totally uninterested. The most likely outcome of me carrying some sort of luggage would be that I totally forget to take it with me and leave it hanging on a chair, in a chair, on a table, under the table… you get the idea. I am not of the mindset to carry my belongings in a stylish receptacle. In fact, I’m likely not to carry a receptacle at all, stylish or not. The only exception is for situations like conferences or travel when I might have a carry-on or utility backpack that is capable of housing all the necessities, but more often to stow the various items and information gathered at booths and tables and vendors along the way. Even so, what do I really need to have with me? I honestly cannot imagine requiring on my person while walking freely about town enough stuff to require the space of a large attaché or small suitcase.

However, that is not so much the issue as  the question of why do purses now resemble luggage? I mean, seriously, I remember a time when purses of the larger variety were restricted to individuals who carried the necessity of changing an infant or toddler (aka, the diaper bag) or to those individuals of an uncertain age (aka, grandma bag). You know what I’m talking about, because mother’s who are trying to travel or just run errands with accompanying offspring cannot do so without many parcels  and items that the rest of us generally don’t require (snacks, drinks, activities, diapers, wet wipes, pack and play cribs, physical restraints…). As for grandma, I never did understand all that. There might be wallet or billfold, checkbook, glasses, tissues (in varying states of use…ew), a collection of candy, gum, and cough drops, hair brush, hair spray, compact (with or without make up)… houseplants and maybe a floor lamp… The words “Just a moment, I have it in my purse…” were generally guaranteed to foreshadow a 20-30 minute archeological dig through a voluminous shoulder bag.

So, when did this become fashionable? I suppose technology can assume part of the blame as people seem more and more incapable of functioning without a laptop or tablet that might be larger than a pocket or clutch. Without the accompanying larger devices though, I’m baffled. I’ve seen young… young people squealing at non-human decibel and frequency over gargantuan constructions designed, I’m certain, to hold most of their worldly goods. What are they actually doing? If they pack the thing to its capacity, they are likely to cause significant and permanent spinal deformity that would draw pity from Quasimodo. You cannot convince me it is necessary for the individual who can actually afford the monstrosity to carry everything she owns, unless… maybe that is it. Due to the cost of fashion, the purchaser is no longer able to afford lodgings and is forced to convey their possessions and all necessities with them at all times? Has our world and society become such that all inhabitants should have a bug-out bag with them at all times? Maybe they actually live in there? Now that would be a trick. I might actually take up the habit of carrying some sort of baggage when they manage to harness some sort of mystical force or scientific breakthrough to create Timelord type technology that makes it bigger enough on the inside for me to crawl into it or possibly a bag of holding capable of also serving as my residence. At that point, we can talk. Until then (and without chiropractic services on retainer), I’m pretty certain that I shan’t be able to join the tribe of the giant bags.

Pause… and reflect

I’ve written before about the gap of time between stimulus and response that Victor Frankl called “choice.” In modern society and a world of technology, those moments and fractions of time seem to dwindle to nothingness as we embrace the faster and the quicker and the immediate gratification. The famous line from Jurassic Park comes to mind… “so preoccupied with whether or not [we] could, [we] didn’t stop to think if [we] should.” Now it seems that we have even less time to consider.

I find myself rushing around so fast sometimes that I don’t even notice and fall into a pattern of just doing and choosing with no thought or reflection about alternatives. I know I’m not alone. I see this pattern mirrored all around me by individuals, groups, corporations, and institutions. Recently, in a meeting, I heard a colleague comment that your first thought is what society tells you, and your second is from the person you want to become. That comment really resonated with me, but I took it a bit further. I interpreted it to mean that your first reaction (whether internal or external) in any situation is usually a reflection of what you have been taught or programmed to think by culture and society; the second response that occurs to you is a reflection of the struggle to become: Something more, someone better, someone memorable, or someone important…  The problem for most people is that the time frame to have those two reactions, responses, or thoughts has been drastically decreased… artificially. The instantaneous response expectation has dissolved that window for choice and almost eliminated the opportunity “think again”. So, what does that do to our struggle to become? What room does that leave to strive for better than reaction?

No one wants to halt the tide of progress (or be accused of being the factor that slows it). So, no one wants to say, “Maybe we should take a moment to think…” or “Perhaps we should stop and consider all the options before we make a hasty decision…” So, instead, we rush right along with what seemed-to-be-a-good-idea-at-the-time; only to be followed by a quick brake and reset to try something else when it turns out not to be the best idea. Oh, the time that could be salvaged (and possibly harm avoided) if someone… possibly myself… had taken a moment, quick inventory, and possibly not leaped before looking.

And… rereading, that paragraph sounds really negative and like I am somehow the victim of all this mad, mad, world of faster and “Right NOW!” That is not true at all. I am as much to blame for my chaotic and knee-jerk responses to the world around me as anyone. It is super easy to get caught up in the flow of traffic and find that I’m way beyond a safe pace for me. I am not what I would consider slow, but I’ve found myself more and more reactive instead of responsive, acting on autopilot instead of considerate and conscious decisiveness. That’s a problem.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’ll tell ya… When I respond, I should do so in my own time, at my own pace, and with consciousness of the choice. When I react, I’m often mindlessly doing something to stop a negative stimulus in my life without any other thought than “MAKE IT BLOODY STOP ALREADY!!!” and occasionally “I have to answer all of these requests NOW or DIE!!!”

So, um… the truth is, I would say that maybe 1 to 5% of the conscious decisions and actions that I’m required to take (excluding commutes by motorized vehicle and crossing the street in heavy traffic) on any given day could result in death. Once upon a time, that number might have been slightly higher, but these days… not so much. So, if I do not actually answer, respond, or act upon requests with immediacy implied by the requester… no one will die. Seriously. Nobody. The people making the requests might not agree, but then, they are stuck in that immediate gratification loop that everything has to be done and done NOW. Chances are that no one will actually be dramatically inconvenienced, despite their prognostications and over-dramatized estimations to the contrary. The other bit about making it stop? Well, that is one of those stimulus response systems that seems to be programmed into humans like classical conditioning. Most parents will recognize it. That voice that becomes a repeated “Mom, Mama, Mommy, Mum, MAAAA!”… in truth the response is not often the wisest or well thought out to this particular prompting, now is it? But that is precisely how my make-it-stop nerve gets overused. Again, I can find other ways of making it stop than giving in, addressing the unnecessarily repetitive prompts, or shooting the subject in question. I can actually ignore it, shut it off, stop reading my email, and put my phone on airplane mode. This might actually not go over so well initially (think what happens when you try to extinguish behavior), but it might also teach others to exercise a bit of patience on their own.

Once upon a time… when someone needed to reach me, they had to call. If I wasn’t there, they had to try again later. Once I had an answerphone, they could leave a message, but they still had to wait for me to call back when I was available. Mobile technology has somehow given everyone the impression that each and every one of us should be available at anytime, anywhere. Vacations, hours of rest, travel times are all no excuse for failure to respond. Well… that shouldn’t be the case. We all need the opportunity to be unavailable, but we also need to be unavailable without the guilt. Yes, I said guilt. Along with this assumption that everyone be available at any time has come this feeling that if we don’t answer (calls, texts, IMs, emails) we will lose out. I’ve actually seen this as an identified and defined phenomenon: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I think that the term is supposed to apply to social context and people with unhealthy attachments to their social media accounts, but it can be more generally applied, I think. We fear that if we don’t respond that a friend will no longer like us, a potential romance will pass us by, a job opportunity will be missed, or (worse) we will get fired.

Why have we gotten to this point? Why do we feel that we consistently have to be the first hand on the buzzer? Why, why, why? And what happened to that momentary space between stimulus and response? In many instances in the rush, rush, rushing of our lives to gratify a stimulus by a response, we fall back on automatic and the first thing that pops into our heads. Sometimes, that might not be so bad… if you are taking a multiple choice standardized test, maybe… The rest of the time, it’s rather awesome to maybe think again. Get a second opinion from a less reflexive self. Challenge that impulse to immediate reaction and try to work towards that better self you wish to become. Instead of rushing to the first response, pause and reflect. You might be more pleased with the results.

2016, goodbye and thanks for all the… well…

What can I say? As most of the denizens of the interwebs would indicate, the last year has been a bit troublesome, dare I say positively devastating in so many ways to so many, many people.

The thing is, it hasn’t been as directly disastrous to myself as it has been to others and a significant blow to famous personae and individuals who have some importance to us for the images and contributions they have made to us as a society. The number of celebrities and creative personalities who have departed this mortal coil has been astounding. I have tried to look at it objectively. I really have. I suspected it was a perception thing. An article in Snopes.com actually questioned whether it really as the deadliest year for celebrities stating that the overall “notable death” count wasn’t so high (of course that article was written with a good 3 days still available to the reapers to do their worst). The Guardian indicated that it was social media that made 2016 seem so very harsh to our beloved celebrities. Time magazine indicated that it wasn’t so much the number but the caliber of individuals… That sounds like a feasible theory. It must be that it was just a matter of my generation, right? In any given year there are probably as many deaths of well-known or dearly loved public figures as have hit us in 2016, right?

But it isn’t just that. The notoriety is a factor, but there really has been a significant number of people lost this year, and not merely those with enough celebrity to garner the mourning of the whole world. Many were taken before their time. Another article I read recently wants to lay the blame entirely at the feet of drugs and alcohol use/abuse. Interesting theory, and yes, I’m sure those elements played their part for some of the dearly departed. However that doesn’t come close to explaining all. Age, accidents, assaults, and disease also made contributions. None of which diminishes the loss of some brilliant people. In an era when more and more people are pushing the century mark due to the advances of science and health, we saw people dying in what might now be considered middle years. These stars of the Hollywood firmament (had to throw in the Singing in the Rain quote for Debbie), the musical performers, the notable spokes people, scientists, journalists, and others were often a huge part of my more formative and somewhat memorable years. We all hate losing our icons, even those with nice long lives, but the ones we lost in this past year were a bit too close to my age… some significantly younger, and that’s hitting a bit too close. Speaking of close… On top of all these losses in the public sphere, the world around me has been on fire… quite literally because for those in the southern states know that we were on fire for quite some time with loss of life and of much property, nothing unfamiliar to those who have suffered in the wildfires of our western states. And I suppose that is my point in a way… We lose a devastating number of people every year. We lose people dear to us, dear to those around us, people who serve and protect, those who have dedicated their lives in one way or another to serve others. That is really the point, isn’t it? Or is it?

For whatever reason, this year has appeared to hit us all, collectively,  with the representatives of things we cherished. We’ve lost idols, icons, crushes, and heroes. That doesn’t diminish the losses that we suffer every day and every year of those in our personal spheres and the unsung and so often faceless heroes that contribute our society and the world by their service, freely given with knowledge of the risk. I think it brings it into more focus. The public figures and celebrities that we lost this year were beacons and provided joy, beauty, and even a sense of hope to each of us (including those who give their lives and service without fanfare). I think that is what is possibly the devastating impact of the public losses we’ve suffered in 2016. They are merely a fraction of the whole, but they’ve taken people we held onto as superlatives and ideals (though some portrayed masterful villains as well), people who used their gifts to transport us to other lands and times, people who used their influence to keep us informed or to push for change… 2016 took our examples and left us struggling to wonder if we mere mortals can make a difference?

But that brings me to something else about this year that those of us still breathing are watching through the end…

There were some decent things that happened in 2016. Focusing on just the losses and negatives is like “watering the weeds…[instead of] watering the flowers and paying attention” according to the founder of Ziva Meditation, Emily Fletcher. I know, you don’t believe me, but it did. I remember times where I laughed, I had times of elation, I heard my loved ones laugh and cheer and be glad. I performed a wedding to join two of my dearest friends. I saw growth and pleasure and happiness. I watched people stand up for each other. I saw people who not a week before had been at each others’ throats with political differences set all that aside to make sure that victims of the fires had food, shelter, and clothing. I spent time with friends. I saw friends accomplish goals and dearest wishes. I even accomplished some of my own goals, believe it or not.

I don’t want my memories of this year to be overwhelmed by the horrible that has happened this year. With all the positive and beautiful, I’ve also seen some incredibly ugly things that have occurred (not the least of which was the way that I saw people treat each other this year… face to face AND virtually).

If I have a hope for the new year, it is that perhaps we can focus more on ourselves…no, wait, it isn’t that sort of focus. I think it is time that we stop blaming an external locus of control for all our ills. It is time to stop blaming each other for something lacking in our own lives. We need to stop the cycle and believe in change for ourselves. I am sincerely hoping that we all examine our own actions and the repercussions. It’s important to realize that all our actions have consequences, and that we all have a choice in how we respond. I know that there are things that happen in this world over which we have zero control, but we always have a choice in how we respond (physically, mentally, emotionally). I want this coming year to be one in which we choose our responses wisely. I would like to see all of us respond rather than react and take a moment to  consider the longer term impact of action.

This year, it has been difficult for me to see over the top of this incredibly large amount of @#$% that has accumulated. That being said, I’m still here… I’m still breathing… I’m still employed and serving in to the best of my abilities (minimal as they may be). These are all things for which I am grateful.

We face a new year. A clean slate to make a new difference. I ask that all of us let go of the negative. I hope that we all can focus forward and stop trying to drive without facing forward but merely staying focused on the rear view. In fact, there is a pretty decent article that can give you some good ideas for how to do just that, focus on positives, on Greatist.com. I hope for the New Year that we can grieve our losses, let go our disappointments, and that we move into 2017 with a focus on building our progress towards a better year. Happy New Year! Goodbye 2016.

A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?