A Rose By Any Other name

Recently, I made a post to Facebook about family and what defines that term. A response to that post made me think about what being a family actually means. I am not alone in my contemplation. The question of who can claim the rights and privilege of relation has been considered not only by individuals seeking to enter into affairs of the heart, contracts defined by legal or religious terms, custody agreements, financial institutions, and even state and federal government.

In terms of history, the term family (from the Latin familia) designated a particular tie through genetic bloodlines that pertained to parentage and relatedness of birth. I suspect this came in handy in terms of evolution when humans pretty much existed in isolated clumps of social interaction and minimal population. The family group identified individuals that belonged to the same genetic line. When you think about the purpose of evolution, mutation and recombination of genetic material to encourage the improvement of the species would be significantly helped by knowing who might share too much DNA to make a blending beneficial to the resultant offspring. As we know from modern science, the mating of individuals who share too close a profile allows for recessive genetic traits to manifest more often. For some of the more maladaptive traits, this does not work out so well for the continued vigor of the species. The ancient Egyptians, for all their seemingly advanced knowledge, never quite got that point (as evidenced by the pharaonic practice of married siblings… if you can’t keep it in the pants, keep it in the family). Defining the family as those of the same bloodlines served its purpose by indicating appropriate people to reproduce with or not as the case may be. This also led to ideas of good and bad blood, or even pure and not so pure lines.

As populations expanded, travel increased, cultures spread across geography, and generations were fruitful and multiplied. Interaction and interbreeding brought humanity new genetic material, new practices, new traditions, and new knowledge. Family grew to be “extended” and associated constellation and extended family groups became clans or tribes. So the spread of humanity across the span of continents and the globe extended to bring various groups together into different municipal and societal organizations for safety, convenience, and commerce. Unfortunately, the closeness of interaction paired with some questionable hygiene practices made a playground for various diseases that at various points in time decimated populations to near extinction. In fact, whole communities and towns were erased from existence by such epidemics as the Black Death. Events led to distrust and fear which set back the intermingling a bit. People pulled back into the idea of loyalty to the blood. Trust only within your own genetic clan, tribe, or family.

But that time is past. The population continued to recover and expand. People eased up on the “stick with your own kind” crap. Well, sorta; if we ignore all the racism, sexism, and all the other ‘isms that divide people from each other. The nostalgic days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when there were rife with images of family time around hearth or table, brought the warmth of affection and family connection to the standard that would lead the charge against the evils of materialism and other distractions of the secular world. All of these heartwarming sentiments easily whitewashing the poverty and hardship of the majority of working and lower classes and painting a much prettier picture of what was going on than the more harsh realities of the time.

With the first and second World Wars, the role of the family and the idealization of the family image became something to improve moral of the troops and give the boys “something worth fighting for.” Of course we had the Third Reich and their own take on purity of the species that put a whole different slant on the idea of family as a way to improve the overall genetic strain of the population. Ignoring the science of survival of the fittest and the improvement of genetics with wider combination of genetic profiles, the scientists of that philosophy focused on identifying the superior race and trying to achieve that through selective breeding, eugenics, and genocide. Not a high point in human evolution.

The 1950’s brought a greater influence of the new-fangled technology of television. Shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver painted the ideal picture of the American family emphasizing the patriarchal pattern where the man is head of the house and all females and children submit to his greater wisdom and intellect. Personally, it makes me a bit nauseous, but I understand where the premise arose. All the men back from the great wars found that the women folk had done just fine without them. Amazing, right? The “weaker sex” had rolled up her sleeves and donned Rosie the Riveter scarves to take on the more traditional roles of the men. When Johnny came marching home, not all the Marys and Janes waiting were so ready to go back to their submissive roles. And… cue Hollywood and its influence upon the masses.

However, time and societal evolution threw another wrench in the mix. Suddenly, the idea of family wasn’t quite fitting into the tidy mold. We had single parents, blended families, children raised by someone other than parents (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, My Three Sons, Mayberry RFD, Family Affair, The Partridge Family, One Day at a Time, The Brady Bunch). Still, for the most part, the family image involved blood connections, but that didn’t quite fit everyone.

We’ve expanded again, but now technology allows us to defy the boundaries of geography to connect with people all around the world. It is a boon for families that have been separated and scattered as diaspora across the globe. Communication on an almost instantaneous media allows for people to remain close emotionally, even when they may not come within physical proximity for decades. So, what does that do to the meaning of “family”? Does that reinforce the concept of family as only that with genetic link? Certainly the number of advertisements and subsequent amateur genealogists point to the curiosity and desire to know and understand our own biological origins, but does that mean that we are bound only to those with whom we share the blood tie?

Definitions of “family” that I have found:

  • a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head  – doesn’t really say anything about genetic connections there
  • a group of persons of common ancestry  – how far back are we going?
  • a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock – again, is there a time or quantifiable limitation on this? I’ve got common stock with 80% of the planet, and don’t get me started about shared DNA with our ape population
  • a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation – aha! no bloodlines discussed again
  • the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also : any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family – and there it is… that TRADITIONAL definition

Now, in addition to all of these, there is a whole realm of other definitions that relate to chemical and biological science, and more interesting in the dramatic sense the term used to define branches of particular criminal syndicates.

For my own experience, I have been particularly lucky to have had a substantial number of biological family members when I came into this world. At one family reunion, I recall something along the lines of 200 people showing up, and that was just the local representation. This was when I was younger. As the years have passed, so have a good many members of the prior generations. As the various progenitors departed this mortal coil, their progeny moved away, spreading to far geographic provinces. The family gatherings dwindled in number and attendance. My own family moved far away from the proximity of blood relatives even before the dwindling started. Gallivanting about (not entirely at my own whims) I didn’t have the consistency of extended family or even of a particular long term consistent social group at all. This is the lot of military or contract “brat”. We move with the assignments, and while the benefits can be great, there is a tendency to be unstuck in the world and feeling a bit unanchored. The phrase “there’s no place like home” doesn’t always have as much meaning. What many of those in my situation found is that we needed the human contact and interaction to fulfill something in our hearts. Instead of holiday gatherings with blood kin, we gathered in groups of friends with shared interests and experiences, drawn together by circumstance, but over the years developing closer ties and emotional connections than the tenuous ones to biological family so geographically distant (many of whom had never been seen, much less engage with through interaction enough to develop affinity of shared experience). I developed from style of life the idea that family was not defined by what flows through the blood vessels and tissues of the body but something that was more greatly defined by the emotional ties of shared experiences and friendship.

Many years have passed since that first epiphany. I still have some close relationships with those who are related to me by genetic lineage. I dearly love many of my genetic family and have great affection and care for them no matter the years or miles that separate us. However, I have developed significant and truly meaningful relationships with those to whom I have no biological connection except as we share the same species. I have occasionally been ridiculed or even chastised for referring to this group as “the family” as they have no biological ties. To distinguish between those of blood and those of heart, many of us have referred to this second category as “chosen family” or “sworn family.” This is not a designation that indicates hierarchy or importance, but merely a nomenclature that lets people know that while there is no shared genetics, the affection and loyalty is there.

A friend commented on my post that his mother does not believe in the concept of “chosen family”. Apparently the lady believes only in the progeny of the loins as the connection to which any can have love or connection. So, here is my argument:

If family is only that which is connected by ties of blood, what is the status of the legally adopted or those fostered for long enough terms that they mature into adulthood as one of the household? Does this mean that the parents who find it within their hearts to provide and care for children who have been bereft of this affiliation or care cannot claim the privilege of family? And those children, are they unable to feel the affection and loyalty to those who have taken them in? Are they less important and less children of the family than those born biologically?

And what of the biological family that has abused, neglected, or disavowed a child, an elderly parent, the disabled (mentally or physically), or the individual who does not fit particularly into their ideology, philosophy, or social sphere? Is that family more worthy of loyalty and love from the victim of their cruelty or neglect than others who accept them and have affection for them regardless?

How about these strict biology adherents who have a Judeo-Christian (and any of the resulting sects or denominations) religious bent? I have heard their strictures that family is one man, one woman and the progeny of their mating, but in the very next breath they talk about their “church family”. Not that the Judeo-Christian faith has a corner on the market for this ideology, but they appear to be the loudest proponents. If we run some genetic testing, how many of them are going to share DNA? I have seen the cruelty (physical, mental, and psychological) inflicted on people by others who claim familial ties. No one can harm us like those who claim the nearest relation and are supposed to stand for us and with us against the world or at least in support of the trials we face. Is that betrayal and harm so deserving of the title of family over and above people who provide support (emotional or material), stand with us against those who wish to harm, and share emotional times across the breadth of affect spectrum?

I say it is not. I believe that there are people who, without their chosen or sworn family would be bereft of any ties. They could spend their time alone during the days when family is celebrated. Others who have been harshly treated by those of their own blood would be condemned to believe they deserve the ill treatment or at least submit to said treatment. Instead, would it not be preferable to have people interact and associate with people who would positively impact their life?

I am sure that there are many who would disagree, and there are many that have their own beliefs about family and who qualify for the “honor” of membership. However, my bottom line is that my chosen and sworn family is no less real in my heart than those who claim kinship by blood. I would and have been known to do as much for them as I would for those born to the same genetic line. I cannot honestly say that all of them would feel the same, but I do not believe that it is the right of anyone else to define for you who family is in your own understanding. To all the families out there, in all the different configurations, thank you for being there for each other.

Hi-jacked In to technology

Life Before Computers

This is the way the world ends and the machines take over.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need a complete intervention and detoxification from the technology of our society. However, I fear the damage is already done and irreversible. Not that I have gone completely Borg or anything. I’m still pretty old school, enough to the point that I still have a wall calendar and a desk planner. It hurts me a little, tiny bit to kill trees for these small reminders of being mere mortal and human, but there it is. In many other ways, I have become so completely integrated with the electronics in my life that I fail to notice how dependent I have become.

This blatantly terrifies me, by the way. It isn’t that I believe we are destined to become jacked into a virtual reality meant to absorb our neural energy for the powering of our electronic overlords, society beholden to and at the mercy of Skynet, a collective of cyborg beings assimilating other species to enhance our own, helplessly clinical and isolated from normal human experience by extreme fear of contagion or violence, or a cowering mass of biological beings unable to be trusted with their own safety and must have robotic overlords adhering to the three laws (Extra points for any of you who caught all the references). I’m not quite sold on the apocalyptic futures painted in science fiction (though I have to admit that Phillip K. Dicks actually spooks me a bit). I’m just completely appalled that my brain has gone soft and squishy in my dependence on the tools we have been provided to make life easier and more efficient, resulting in my brain’s inability to remember or think for itself, it seems.

Once upon a time (in truth, it doesn’t seem all that long ago), I think I had a pretty phenomenal recall ability, especially when it came to numbers; but in general, I could remember almost anything I saw, and definitely anything I heard. I have been known to freak people out, be called a “walking phone book”, encouraged to apply for a spot on Jeopardy, be considered an encyclopedia of worthless facts, and to never forget special days (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). I never had to write something down. I never forgot appointments. It came in pretty handy. I always knew any phone digits I needed to call, and I was a whiz at games like Simon where long patterns had to be recalled. It was useful in school, too, but the older I got, the less rote memorization was required and critical thinking was allegedly encouraged (I have my doubts on that, but THAT would be a topic for another day). The point is, I never developed the skills or mnemonic techniques to serve as backup or trigger recall.

Now, I haven’t a clue what day of the week, time of the day, what I’ve eaten, IF I’ve eaten, or what my name is on any given day. It is a pathetic travesty of the once impressive memory that resided somewhere (so neurobiologists suspect) within my temporal lobes and hippocampus. If I do not have my collection of electronic babysitters around me to tell me what time it is, when I have an appointment, and social media to remind me it is someone’s birthday, I’m libel to just run around perpetually clueless and miss anything and everything of importance.

I heard someone say that all of these labor saving and efficiency improving devices free up our brain from the tedium of every day existence so that we can ponder the more significant philosophical and deeper meanings of our purpose and development of human kind upon the planet. Um… BAH!!! Who knew that Angry Birds and Candy Crush were such lofty concepts. I’ve got any number of silicon chipped helpers dancing around trying to tell me everything from my next appointment to my next bathroom break and my mind is still chasing itself in circles, unable to properly focus on anything of importance. I refer to this as “the shiny squirrels that dance in my office to distract me.” The other occupation of my mind is usually frantic, scrambling panic that I have forgotten something important and assuming that my electronic guardians have maliciously mislaid the appointment slip, event reminder, or outlook calendar item.

Today was the classic example. The schedule was completely packed, and by this, I mean truly packed to the point I think I scheduled a bathroom break sometime tonight before bed… and that was as soon as I could squeeze it in (see what I did there?). Somewhere between meeting number three and conference call number eight, I looked at the calendar to see the fast approach of February on the horizon. My poor temporal lobes that sadly believe they still hold some sway in my life triggered the anxiety reflex that indicated there was something important I’d forgotten. This time, I was pretty certain it was a medical appointment . “Quick, look at your electronic pacifier to see when that appointment is!!!” And obeying the original overlords of my neuroticism, I checked my “smart phone” calendar. In a side note, apparently the phones are getting smarter and conversely I appear to be losing intellect daily. So, checking my appendage, I find that there are no appointments on the calendar for the next month. My natural distrust of the machines reared its head, and I began to panic, assuming the phone had eaten the appointment and I hadn’t the first clue when the appointment might be. I found an old, lint-encrusted appointment card from last year with the office number, and shamefully called the number, ready to throw myself on the mercy of the receptionist who would probably know what an idiot I had been.

The extraordinarily kind lady on the other end of the line did not ridicule me for being clueless. She verified my identity as per federal law, and politely informed me that contrary to my mistaken assumptions, my appointment was not until the following month. She really was very sweet as she slowly and clearly gave me the date and time. Thankfully, due to the nature of this particular doctor’s office, they are used to people having cognitive lapses (chemo brain) and take it all in stride. Bless all beneficent forces that allowed the exchange to be telephonic so that my mortification and blushing shame were invisible to my conversational companion. After hanging up, I went back to my technological tether, and sure enough, there was the appointment, all safe and sound. It was my brain that failed on this occasion, not the technology.

Perhaps, it isn’t so far-fetched that we, as humans, become completely dependent on the faster processing, greater logic, and tighter precision of the mechanical and technological tools of our society. Perhaps we are not so good on our own. However, to avoid the inevitable atrophy of my brain, I will endeavor to keep my mental faculties sharp and clear by exposure to knowledge and practice of intellectual exercise. To that end, I should go find one of those websites that claims to exercise the brain using games (instead of using the brain on the normal activities of life to keep it sharp). So glad that my adherence to electronics is freeing up my mind for the more important facets of life! Ironic that the electronics that free us from the mundane cognitive functions have fostered the dependency further to technology to sharpen the wits that we should be exercising on deeper thoughts, complex theories, higher functions, and personal principles. Thank heavens for the humor that allows us to laugh at our foibles and appreciate the ridiculousness of using technology based stimuli to undo the intellectual lassitude encouraged by same.

Vibrating At The Natural Frequency Of A Hissy Fit

I think everyone has one of those days. You know the days. The ones that people say there is apparently a right side and a wrong side of the bed, and apparently you picked the one that wasn’t on the bed at all? Today, much to the chagrin and terror of the rest of the denizens of this planet, was that day for me.

It wasn’t really any one specific incident of the waking process that I could pinpoint as the culprit to which all fault and blame could be attributed. Honestly, it seemed a bit like any other morning waking up before the sun has even made an attempt to rise and stumbling around in the morning routine of gleaning respectable appearance out of what appears to be the living dead.

Part of the morning ritual is to listen to the news, or more correctly the weather from the large conglomerate affiliate who has the misnomer that would lead you to think they reported the weather but predominantly spends their time discussing everything else BUT the weather. Yet, I still turn to the channel every morning hoping to catch the local information that is provided six times every hour in between snappy bits of banter and news fluff. Once the cleanliness factor and general decisions of the wardrobe are made, I also like to spend my time gathering other pertinent news information for my day from a more reliable media source… yep, Facebook. Admit it, you all do this, too. You scan through looking to see who has birthdays and who has posted a Huffington Post article or other shared story, video, completely unverified rumor. We all do it. Snopes is my validity checker when I catch hold of a story too incredible to believe. Occasionally, I have been known to get excited and share without validation, to my shame; but generally, I like to check the trajectory before I pull the trigger. However, I digress.

This morning, the perfect storm occurred to send my lack of appropriate egress from the bed into a juggernaut of negativity that would permeate my day and make me a danger to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It started with, of all things, the fact that something must have been wrong with the local feed to the national weather center, and when it came time for the hourly summary that would give me a 50% accurate prediction of what would be comfortable attire for the day… I got a national summary that told me precisely dick about the weather conditions currently existing outside my windows. Secondly, the news fluff of the day was a collection of catastrophizing reports from both sides of the platform as the pundit spoke out of both sides of his mouth damning one side of the government of their support of the economic budget, and damning the other for not doing so. I can’t imagine why the American public is particularly ignorant when attempting to formulate opinions or decisions about any aspect of our political or economic climate. Given my own current financial woes, I felt the need to vent in my usual sarcastic style with a bit of snarky satire illustrating the foolishness of our current political predicament. I chose as my own media… you guessed it, Facebook. Oh dear, was that a mistake. Once again proving that pre-coffee communication is something I should avoid like the plague, but can lead to a plethora of amusements and/or blatant despair (for my intellect and sanity) for my friends.

Sadly, it seems that predawn snark is not always understood by all my followers (I don’t really think that “followers” is the accurate, but it makes me feel so messianic). It prompted a sudden rebuttal that led to a reaction which developed into a fit and resulted in a right ticking off. All in all, not exactly how I thought that post would go. On the other hand, what could I expect when I apparently exited the bed from no side whatsoever. Add to all that a news story of completely appalling tone which indicates that despite science telling us that we have evolved as a species, the violence inherent in the system still can turn the alleged implements of law and order into hyenas that prey on the weak and ill. I was literally nauseated by the report that courts had vindicated the fatal beating of a mentally ill young man in California by two police officers. It is not that I doubt that the man with Schizophrenia was violent. I am sure that he was, influenced by his illness, paranoia, and whatever sensory stimuli his brain provided. However, I also fail to understand why it was necessary to beat him to death rather than taking a step back and using training (perhaps they don’t get as broad training over on the west coast as we hillbilly hicks in Tennessee have been providing for many decades now) on identifying the mentally ill and deescalating the situation. I don’t mean to armchair quarterback the law enforcement, but in reading the transcripts of the trial, I was just sickened by the lack of advocacy provided to the victim or his parents.

At any rate, I’m sure that you can see that my day had started off in a general confluence of love and light. Not so much. By the time I had driven through the morning commuter traffic, I could already feel the muscles attached to my jaws tightening and the headache coming on. For the love of Pete! It’s only Tuesday! Entering my humble place of work, I found that I was a staff member down for yet another day. Every job has its quotas or metrics to meet. Whether it is a productivity standard or a profit margin at market close, we all have them. The problem is that when your workforce is decreased by a third, that really cuts into the numbers. It would be just fine, I told myself, though I could hear Mary Chapin Carpenter starting to sing in the back of my head “The stars are stacked against you girl, get back in bed!”

While I won’t digress into the various troubling aspects of technology, I will remark that the day soon turned from bad to murderous as the helpless desk to which we are beholding for all things technologically broken apparently had not seen the memo that they should tread lightly around me. “Watch out for her, bro. She’s loaded with venomous darts and buckshot.” Nope. Wayne, the bane of my office existence (I do hope he somehow reads this, but I doubt seriously that he can define most of the words) is a helpdesk serf who was specially trained like a force recon ninja with the deadly skills of rudeness, insincerity, and stupidity. This, indeed, is a deadly trio. I’ve had the misfortune to deal with him twice, and both times he manages to put that soupçon of derision in every “polite” term it is obvious that he is forced by some customer service nazi to use. (Ma’am… Who knew that could be divided into 14 syllables by a Yankee?)

I honestly wondered for a brief moment if the full-blown tantrums of the young were as cathartic as they appeared, and then pondered for a moment what my employees would do if their director threw herself down in an undignified heap and started wailing away like a foghorn while kicking and screaming… And that did it. The image of myself pitching the mother of all hissy fits while my staff stood agape with horror sent me off into paroxysms of laughter that had tears rolling down my face.

Shortly after, the goddess in form of my business systems liaison suggested I cart my sorry self to the main office for the blessed (relative) peace of the main office, where there is an ever flowing stream of extra-strong coffee. I gladly accepted and spent the rest of my day contemplating spreadsheets and the continued vision of my imaginary tantrum. By the end of the day, I found myself almost human and re-read the initial rant that started my downhill slide.

Rolling with laughter, the unbidden audio tract ran through my head, remembered from a Dewars commercial: “Go back ta sleep, Angus darlin’… All hail the drinkin’ man!”

Forgive and… what was I saying?

Life is too short...

Forgiveness is a practice that very few people have mastered. It isn’t that we live in a society of self indulgent and self centered… um… ok, maybe we have failed as a culture to truly practice altruism and instead have encouraged the “Me” generations to continue focusing on self to the exclusion of behaving with kindness and understanding to the people for whom we allegedly have affection or even care.

All that being said, forgiveness is something that we do when we let go and pardon some wrong done to us. That’s all. Unfortunately, many of us get caught in the cycle of something less healthy. Unable to let go of the idea of vindication rather than true forgiveness. That attachment to vindication leads us to use the concept of forgiveness to succor a sense of superiority to those we feel have wronged us.

When I was younger, I can remember people telling me to “let it go” whenever I was upset or angry about something that I felt was done wrong to me. In fact, my mother at one point begged me to stop talking about some of the difficult times I had experienced. She said that in talking about it, I seemed to just be making things worse and exacerbating my own pain.

This was a complete contradiction of all I had been encouraged to think and believe in various counseling and psychology courses. My instructors and the long history of medical and psychological development had led me to believe that the way to resolve ill feelings and emotional conflict would be to experience catharsis through the sharing of narrative: In short, talking it out. So, following the dictates of my intellect, I attempted to gain some sort of relief of hurt feelings and psychic pain through telling… and retelling… and yes, retelling the ways in which I had been wronged by various people throughout my life. I thought that I was verbally getting it out of my system. For years, I continued to rehash old slights and new to the sympathetic ears of friends or family. And yet, I never felt any better. The old wounds ached (like an old warrior when the weather changes). They still seemed, at times, as fresh as they had been when initially inflicted. So, my self-imposed “talk therapy” wasn’t working.

So, why didn’t work? It finally broke through the hard shell of my cranium that perhaps the people telling me to “let it go” were correct. Maybe my mum had been in the right. Every time that I retold the painful conflicts and injuries suffered in the past, I was scratching off the scabs to reopen the wounds and prevent them from healing. I decided to experiment with the idea of letting go. I verbally forgave the offenders of my life. Sometimes I did it in person. Sometimes, when it wasn’t possible, I just stated it out loud to the empty air. It still wasn’t quite doing it. It was a few more drops of water under the bridge before the epiphany occurred. Forgiveness is only half of the equation.

That old chestnut about forgiving and forgetting? It isn’t just a platitude. The forgetting bit is a significant part of the success in healing. I’ve seen it over and over. People trying to apologize while justifying the behaviors for which they are offering apology, and others forgiving while rubbing the past faults of the forgiven in their faces. This violates the basic principles of forgiveness and of true and appropriate remorse. I’m still as guilty of the fault as anyone. Knowing isn’t even half the battle. It is still too much a part of human nature to want to be right, even when it feels wrong.

Not every action that wounds you will gain an apology; and while forgiveness may relieve the conscience of the apologizer when there is remorse, forgiveness is more important for the future focus of the person forgiving. You can’t move forward, without letting go of the past, it is too easy to hang onto the pain and anger of being wronged when you keep the memory of the details too fresh in your mind. Yes, our experiences make us who we are, but hanging onto the past lets the past hang onto us. We remain stuck in time and fail to move into the future. When forgiveness is the chosen path, look forward, not back. Keep the eyes focused forward and it is less likely that obstacles will trip you up or that you will end up going the wrong way. It’s hard to see a way forward if you only look into a rearview mirror.

Light a candle and stop cursing

Light a candle...

We are in the new year. I wonder how everyone is doing on those resolutions. So many people make resolutions believing in some sort of magical properties of the holidays to make wishes come true. We believe that saying it at that time will just make it happen. *poof* I personally think that this is part of the reason that the majority of “resolutions” lose their resolve rapidly as the year waxes into the full winter and we find ourselves at another turning with the same wishes for betterment still on the “To Do” list with another celebration of the year end.

The weakening of resolve can be attributed to faith in an external locus of control that will somehow take away the key factor in success… hard work. As odd as it may sound, the facet of human success that is given the least amount of credit and yet should deserve the most is effort. Much attention and reward is given to factors and aspects of human existence over which we have no control. It sadly contributes to a loss of internal locus of control and a willing indolence in people who say, “Why should I make any effort? I cannot control the outcome.” From this mindset is conjured a believe in predestination and fate that smacks so strongly of arrogance that it deserves another smack… across the face. What? Did I stutter? Yes, arrogance, people! It is arrogant to assume that you have no control or impact on your own life because of predestination. That assumes (using a different part of your anatomy than your mind this time) that you are omniscient enough to know what the ultimate outcome of your life will be and so, therefore you aren’t going to put any effort into staying the course or diverting it. Wow… I must say, my own powers of divination are not nearly so well attuned. However, it makes a little bit of sense. Self-fulfilling prophecies aside, if you decide to sit around and put in no effort to achieve your aspirations or change your undesired situation, my guess is that you will likely end up exactly as you might expect… with no achievement and no change.

Now, this train of thought on which I bought a ticket this morning is no great epiphany or lightning bolt of originality. I cannot, to be honest, take credit for being the first, only, or possibly even most eloquent individual to ever ponder upon the inherent indolence of humanity. Thomas Edison was the first person to note that success is only partially explained by intellect and creativity and the majority of the credit should be given to sweat; “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Apparently Colin Powell had a more complicated recipe for success. Along with the hard work and inspiration, he also included learning from failure, and not giving up.

I must give credit to a friend and coworker for some of my own inspiration and insight this morning. He posted about the similarity of people and domestic rabbits who are happy to remain in the fouled warren of their own hutch in perceived safety than risk the unknown danger of exposure running free in the yard or home of their owner. He drew the comparison to men and women who choose to live in poor conditions even when opportunities exist to provide better alternatives because it is comfortable psychologically, less terrifying than change, and requires less effort on their part. And so, they stay and vent any frustration and potential energy to influence change in their situation by complaining impotently about the misery they choose over the fear they avoid. I responded to him that this was an illustration of the concept of “learned helplessness” originally defined by Skinner (in a horrible behavioral experiment with dogs. Look it up, because I am not going to go into it here and catch hellish emails from PETA or others believing I condone such.). What my friend was actually describing is actually a very common human experience. Fear of the unknown or expectation of adverse response is a paralyzing force that keeps status quo despite the discomforts or desire for better. Sadly, the fear of uncertainty frequently outweighs certain misery. For change to occur, motivation must come from changing that balance and reversing the conditions.

Transformation in a scientific sense requires energy to convert one thing or combination of things into another. The energy has to come from somewhere. No meaningful change will ever occur without concerted effort from the individual to manifest that change. If we want to change the circumstances of our lives, we need to provide the catalyst and energy to promote that change. If you don’t want to expend the energy, then be satisfied with the status quo and “quit yer bitchin’”. However, as Peter Benenson said, “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Resolving to Solve in a New Year

New Year's Resolution

What is it about turning the page on the calendar that gives people the urge to make drastic changes in their lives? Is it the sense of renewal that a turning year brings that makes people believe they can erase the ignominy of the past year or past mistakes with changing the last digit of the annual sum? What happened to the positive points of that year? Do we keep it all, or should we erase the whole thing and go with the New Year as a completely new start?

The New Year is a time when people believe they can make a new start and make changes to their habits and behaviors in a positive way. It is, in a way, a representation of hope that things do change and that they can be better, that we do not have to accept the status quo and continue in old patterns of maladaptive behaviors forever. That being said, where did it all come from?

Apparently, this New Year’s resolving tradition has some seriously ancient roots. The Babylonians made promises to their deities every year to set their financial balances back to rights by paying back any debts of money or honor. The Romans made promises to Janus (yep, that’s where we get “January,” people) to start their year off on the right foot. Many other religious cultures have holidays of sacrifice and atonement (though not always falling on the western calendar New Year). So, the idea of making promises to change at the turn of the recognized year is not by any means a new tradition. That being said, the time frame for which we make our lofty, or not so lofty, goals for the coming annum should be recognized for the arbitrary thing that it is.

Our modern calendar is a great collaboration of historical conventions and narcissistic tendencies of various rulers, conquerors, and religious movements through the years. Science and fiscal convenience pretty much put the finishing touches with astronomical observations of solar year and figuring out how to balance the account of hours with appropriate counting of days. As it is, we still have to tack on the extra day every four years in February to make it all come out correctly. As our tiny blue planet does its wobbly little dance around our home star, it provides the circuit of time that provides a nice beginning and ending of that arbitrary temporal cycle that gives us a chance of renewal.

Almost half of the adults in America today make New Year’s resolutions. However, of that half, only about 12% actually make good on their promises. Sadly, only about half the people who make resolutions actually believe they will achieve the goals they set (possibly a contributing factor to that pitiful percentage that succeeds, but more on that later). Maybe it is a misunderstanding of what a resolution is? To dig into this, I decided that perhaps I should see if I could clarify matters of meaning. That word we keep using, I’m not sure it means what we think it means…

I’m going to pass over the musical references of progression from dissonance to consonance in a chord. An interesting sideline, and one that appeals to my heart, but not really illuminating for the chosen topic. We’ll also skip over the technical aspects of quality and acuity for digital media of the visual or auditory variety. The word resolution is the noun form of the verb to resolve. Not much help there. It also is a “state or quality of being resolute”… um, yeah. Ok, moving on. Being resolute means you are determined. Apparently, there are some people out there who missed that part, say about 88% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions, it seems. A resolution is also a course of action. Better. Maybe this is where we are all missing the boat, or rather where the boat is missing the destination and instead founders in the Sargaso of ill planned goals? So many people have ideas about things they want to change and positively no clue on how to go about it. Even if you know where you want to go, you need some plan for how to get there. So, finally, the last definition I want to address is that a resolution is “an explanation, as of a problem or a puzzle; a solution.” That is the best one I have seen so far. A resolution is a solution to a problem. However (and here I will listen for the groans and curses of the linguists), resolution looks like you are solving something over and over again, re-solving. Now, doing something again and again could be identified as practice, but it doesn’t always make perfect. Sometimes it does. It can also indicate if you are solving something over and over without satisfaction, that the approach may not be the best. It is possible that a different method might provide better results.

Overall, I still think I prefer the last definition. A resolution is a determined plan to solve a problem perceived in the current status of any given sector of our respective situations. We do not have to accept lack of total success as failure. It is just practice, and we can learn from the attempts.

Last but not least, making resolutions… As evidenced by the number of people who seem to lack confidence in their ability to reach their identified goals, and the actual number of people who let go of their resolutions sometime around February, perhaps there is a lack of skill or desire in making the promises of change to the New Year. In light of this potential problem, I’ve created a little instruction manual for making resolutions (and you don’t have to save them for the New Year as the steps are actually of the one-size-fits-any-date variety):

  • Identify the problem.
  • Identify what the solution to the problem might be.
  • Set a goal for the solution and visualize what the successful solution looks like.
  • Identify a realistic timeframe for the solution.
  • Think of it in terms of the present tense. Define the solution in positive, present tense, and concrete terms. I know this sounds strange, but think of it this way: If your solution or goal is for healthier living habits, saying “I’m going to start [eating better, exercising more, stop smoking],” your brain says “Great, let me know when you actually start!” Make your daily statement of resolve in a firmly determined way, “I am living a more healthy life by watching my portions” or “I am taking care of my body by exercising 30 minutes every day.”
  • Use visual cues and keep them before you every day. Pick positive images, because our brains gravitate towards the pleasant and avoid the unpleasant.
  • Identify steps and initial goals (and realistic timeframes) on the way to the ultimate solution that you can check off as you progress.
  • Reframe backsliding or relapse in a positive way as opportunity for learning. Missteps do not have to result in a plummet back to square one. They are a cue to refocus on the path to your goal.

So, this little ramble started out to be a pondering of what and why people make New Year’s resolutions. It did not end up where I thought it would. Maybe that is a lesson, too. A journey of change sometimes ends up at a different destination than originally expected, and that isn’t always bad. Sometimes the goal is not the end, and in truth, perhaps it shouldn’t be. Changes that we decide to make for ourselves should be a journey of discovery, and it is the small, measurable successes along the way that matter and will motivate us to continue on the road.

Rant: It’s not all catwalks and sports contracts

People always say, “You are so lucky to be tall!” in voices that can be wistful, admiring, or more often catty with a soupcon of ridicule. It is the latter that is probably the more honest and accurate of the bunch.

For the most part, I wouldn’t change my height. It makes it easy to reach things on the top shelves or see over barriers and people, and the air smells better in elevators. However, there are a few things that people don’t think about when they look with an envious eye at the amazons of the world. It’s not all catwalks and WNBA.

First of all, trying to find clothing is just as difficult (if not more so) than for individuals of a less lofty stature. Finding a 35 or 36 inch inseam is damned near impossible, unless you go with men’s jeans… in which case, I usually look like I have a larger package than most guys I’ve ever dated. I really don’t need all the extra cargo space in the FRONT of my pants. If I try to purchase women’s pants, it is even more incongruous. Why would someone assume that if I am six feet tall my crotch to waist area makes up at least 2 or 3 feet of that?! Really people?! So, instead of fitting properly with a waist at the waist and crotch at the crotch, I can look like an Umpa Loompa or I can resemble some old man in a nursing home with my waistband in my armpits and the hem of my pants at midshin.

Forget finding a shirt. Seriously? Remember the ¾ sleeve fashion? I think that actually happened not because anyone actually looks attractive with sleeves that look too short but because no shirt makers could actually figure out that sleeves should come to the wrists… and don’t get me started about shoulders because I look like I could play center in the NFL and yet they want to add shoulder pads in all my garments. What sort of genius thought that was a good idea?!

Which brings me to my next issue… So, supermodels aside, no one really likes tall women. In fact, I dare say even the supermodels are not winning popularity contests for the same reasons. No one likes feeling short, small, etc. You get the point. So, growing up and even as an adult (though I hesitate to consider human beings capable of maturity) hearing names like ‘amazon’, ‘linebacker’, ‘giantess’, or hearing snickering comments about whether I produced testosterone or estrogen eventually gets on one’s nerves. Watching most of the guys show more attention to the cute, bouncy, curvy types who made them feel all big and strong… yeah that was a real pleasure. Just sayin’.

And then there are all the assumptions made about you if you happen to be tall, athletically built and actually play sports… you all know what those are. Hey nothing against it, but my gate don’t swing that way, and so don’t make assumptions about my preferences.

Then there is the whole employment issue. Ever noticed how petite women can be “fireballs” and people just laugh and smile and think it is great they are so assertive. If a man makes a point assertively, well he just made a good point. If a six foot tall female makes a point or is in anyway assertive, well, they are a bitch, intimidating, and don’t play well with others. Spectacular! If there is a negative interaction between someone of a lower stature or a male with a six foot tall female, it must be that the amazon was being a bully or emotional. Truth is, due to our Western European societal norms, it is more likely that the taller, larger female will back down because we’ve been taught that it is wrong to be a bully, especially anyone smaller… of course they neglected to indicate whether that was just physical stature or if the small-minded also applies. It has been scientifically proven that the vocal tones of the feminine voice triggers the amygdala in the male brain and therefore men are predisposed to assume that whenever a woman speaks she is being emotional. Get over it guys. I am probably less likely to storm out in a fit of tears than you are after our argument. Put on your big boy underoos and deal. Logical arguments involve using your brain not your assumptions (which I believe involve a different part of your anatomy).

Anyhow, I guess I’m done with my rant. I wouldn’t give up one inch of my height at this point in my life because it is one of the things that my dad gave me, but for the record it is nearly impossible to blend in with the crowd or go incognito, it is absolutely impossible to find a pair of pants that fits properly without tailoring, back pain and joint pain often go with the territory, and the air is not so rarefied at this altitude, I’m telling you. There are wonderful things about being tall, but every once in a while, I would like to be able to find a pair of sweatpants or pajama pants that fit…

***Originally I posted this on Facebook 5/2/2011 after a particularly difficult day of trying to find work attire at a department store and eventually giving up and walking out without buying anything. For the record, I still haven’t bought new wardrobe… This is a sad statement on the amount of hatred I have for trying on clothing. Given the current state of my work clothing, I will have to give in… soon.

Too Much Attention or Not Enough…

Most, if not all of us have heard the phrase “even bad attention is still attention.” This has been used to explain the delinquent behavior of youngsters possibly since the first humanoids started walking bipedally.  “Mog act bad… Mother of child not give proper attention… Must give attention with club.”

Actually, it is more likely to have been attributed much later in the nature vs nurture argument by other patriarchal types, like Freud, who like any good Victorian, blamed all things wrong with a child on the mother. It seemed like a reasonable explanation at the time. Fast forward to modern day. It seems that every single report of criminal behavior at some point focuses the microscope on the childrearing behaviors of the perpetrator’s parental authorities (be they the actual biological parents or not).

Now, I am not saying that the responsibility of molding of our young breed does not actually start with the parental figures. If you believe in tabula rasa (which I do not, entirely), humans enter this world as a blank slate with boundless potential and opportunity for the adults in their life to completely screw up. Yep, I said it. However, as I previously insinuated, I might not buy into all that. Aside from biology and genetics, of which I do not think even the under-rock dwellers can completely discount at this point in scientific discovery; there is the whole “village raising the children” philosophy (thank you Hilary for plagiarizing an African proverb and removing responsibility from satellite families and giving them someone else to blame). The point being that there are a good many adults that have influence over any one child. There are parents, extended family, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and a plethora of other individuals who come in contact with and have some impact on the experiences of the child. As we all know, we are, at least in part, a sum of our experiences. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even a family member or caretaker that has the most significant influence upon the child. Sometimes it is someone they do not even know, but through the power of the media or the synchronicity of some other exposure to that child’s fertile mind, perfect strangers, fictional characters, and professional athletes and entertainers can have easily as much influence over the development of our young as the parents or guardians who raise them.

So, about this attention thing; I heard it again this morning in some news story or other, probably on a true crime story in the wee hours (thank you insomnia). The most amusing part of the story was the irony that the reporter or writer or narrator never once saw in what they were saying. The tale was one of a modern day “Bonnie and Clyde”. Both of them were ruthless, party-obsessed, and addicted to drugs and each other. I heard the announcer say that the girl was neglected and abandoned as a child, and she found in the boy a willing supplicant who would care for her and meet every whim and wish. The boy, well, this is where I wonder that the writers did not see what they were saying. He was a well-loved child, raised by his mother with excellent opportunities and upbringing. He wanted for nothing growing up.

Ok. We’ve got “Bonnie” who had a crappy childhood, and “Clyde” who didn’t, and they both ended up being horrible human beings cooking, selling, and using meth and stabbing a friend to death with a kitchen knife. Let’s see now… was it too much attention or not enough. Is there some magical correct amount of attention that results in a well-balanced, honest, and successful human? If I could figure that out, I would not nearly be as concerned about paying my bills for a while. What is this mystical, magical calculation of what constitutes “just enough” attention to give a child?

I’ve heard all the old school comments and conjectures about sparing the rod and about how when women stayed at home and were mothers. Don’t even start with me. Seriously, who, in this day and age can afford to be a stay-at-home parent full time? It isn’t even a matter of the excesses or luxuries that make it completely infeasible. Feeding and clothing is only part of the job. What about development and socialization? Then, there is the medical side. The cost of raising a child to adulthood at this time is approximately $241,080. That does not include college, if you desire your offspring to flourish with higher education and future occupational compensation. Also, this is a healthy child with no illnesses or unexpected injuries, and you can just forget about braces or birthday and holiday presents. Besides, it is attention that matters, right? Not the stuff? Even so, what does this mean for the average family? If you consider that the median income of your average American family is around $45,000 per year, that makes one wonder (at least it makes me wonder) how anyone has one child much less more than one child and manages to pay for them, and then expecting a parent to stay home to well… parent? Then, of course, there is the whole single parent situation. In that case, there really is not a choice, unless that parent is independently wealthy or receiving a more than realistic subsidy from state or federal funds.

Now that I have rambled sufficiently long to write myself into a corner, what conclusion can I bring this pondering to? Human beings are a mish-mosh of biological and sociological factors contributing to the best survival of the individual and their genetic make-up to be passed on to another generation. The human organism is indolent by nature. It wants the biggest bang for the least buck, so to speak. How can the least amount of energy result in needs met comfortably and adherence to the maxim “be fruitful and multiply”? What that boils down to is that cute tiny organism that comes into the lives of the individuals who fulfilled their biological directive will probably be mostly well balanced if provided with their basic needs (also providing that the genetic materials contributed were in pretty good shape). As the child grows, as far as I can deduce, the object is to arrange circumstances so far as to make the right choice less painful than making the wrong one. This is where parenting becomes less intuitive that you might suspect for all that the biological drives and instincts are supposedly programmed into all of us. The beauty of a society made up of individuals is that each person is unique in how their chemical and sociological combinations have created their preferences and abhorrences different than many others.

Sorry mums and dads, that means you can’t use one blueprint for all diaspora of your loins. Sucks for you. The ATTENTION required is that you need to know your kid. Know what they like and what they don’t. Know what motivates them and what keeps them from pursuing their best goals, and sadly, know what might be a deterrent from making a choice that would result to their own harm or harm to another. The hardest part is that once you have gotten through the proving ground of instilling some of these notions of what is ideally right or not so much, it is time to take off the training wheels and let them go to make some mistakes, fall and scrape their knees, and learn that the world has a few rough edges that they may bump against occasionally. Preferably, this should initially be practiced when the scrapes and bruises will not result in permanent damage, but will result in some permanent knowledge. A lot of times, this is where parents have the most difficulty. They hang on too long. They fail to give the child a sense of independence resulting in fear of making their own decisions or a lack of responsibility for doing so. It’s not that any parent wants to instill this sense in a child, but it remains too difficult to allow a beloved one to suffer pain, even if less than what they will suffer in future. As hard as it is, parents owe it to these individuals they wrought to provide them the best opportunity for success. The best opportunity, it seems is to pay enough attention to know the child. Spend enough time to make your company as much or more enjoyable than the TV, videogame system, or media stars that might otherwise be their primary interactions. And remember, parents, these are the people who may be choosing your assisted living center!

Wrapping memories…

Wrapping Memories

It was a tradition, always, that my father wrapped the presents. I’d even seen it go so far as for him to wrap his own, cleverly camouflaged in nondescript boxes provided by department stores the year before. I often questioned how the tradition came about, and considered whether his yearly holiday task had started in his tender years. I found myself imagining him as a small boy, rummaging around in the bin of colorful paper and juggling scissors and cellophane tape.

There was no question as to why the tradition continued. No one compared. His skill in fitting the paper. Always efficiently using only what was necessary to conceal the package within. The corners never gaped, and no matter the shape, he managed to create neat edges on all those brightly covered items arranged decorously around the tree.

At some point my independent spirit rebelled and I demanded my share in the holy wrapping ritual. I was graciously allowed to try my small hand at the task. I cannot precisely recall whether my efforts resulted in triumph, but I must not have done too badly as it soon became our shared chore. Not so much dreaded as relished. The time spent together estimating paper and ribbon, drinking hot chocolate or coffee, and listening to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, or Tennessee Ernie Ford.

The lights that made patterns on the ceiling changed through the years from multicolored flashes the small, white twinkling points. The tradition remained.

And as the time passed, new parts of my life invaded my sacred rite. Frequently working holidays in the emergency rooms, I would cross my fingers and race to the house, not even daring to pray that the pager would remain silent for fear of rousing the crisis gods and keep me from my wrapping with dad. It didn’t always work, but he tried to save me at least one, to keep our pact as the family wrappers.

It almost seems a metaphor now, as I think back. My father wrapped those gifts just as he wrapped our family, smoothing edges, tying loose ends, managing the dodgy elements that would mar someone’s experience. Yep, my dad did that. I never realized it for so long.

Then, he was gone. I remember that first year. I think I put everything in gift bags. It was a cheat. I just couldn’t bring myself to attempt the task alone. And I couldn’t ask anyone to help. Everyone else was suffering the same, well… almost the same grief. We all dealt with it our own way.

Little by little, I found myself stepping back into the position. Never fully. I could never fill those shoes.

So, as I sat in the middle of the living room floor, wrapping presents, the memories flooding  back. It wasn’t the same, sitting here alone and thinking as I fold each corner. Then, I caught myself. That frown. The way my hand folded the corner and I was carful to fold the cut edge to make a smooth edge on the end of a difficult package.

I stopped, stunned for a moment. I looked down at my hands at the nails that were more rounded than my mother’s. I saw my hands, built on a larger scale than most women, but the lines more delicate than would be considered masculine. I saw through the lens of memory my father’s hands guiding mine to fold the edges and place the tape. My eyes clouded. Had I hardened myself so much to fear of pain that I had also blocked the other part of my sacred charge, joy? That was what my dad always tried to protect, even when we moved and we didn’t have a tree or our old vinyl albums or any of the other anchor to the holiday traditions of home half way around the world.

I stared a while longer before returning to my task. I wrapped every gift. I regretted the reduction in number. Sadly, the reduction of individuals in our holiday gathering has changed the way we approach gifting. In years past, the sheer number of people created a mountain of gift offerings under the bedecked tree.

Through the years, those of us left have attempted to replicate the appearance through expenditure (that most of us could ill afford). This was a mistake.

The number of packages or zeros is inconsequential to the love and good will of spending time will of family and friends. Yeah, that’s all kinds of cheesy. I know it. It makes my back right molar ache a little typing it. Regardless, it is the realization that dawned upon me as I tried valiantly to coral the few boxes that were before me to bedeck with festive paper.

I finished my self imposed “chore”. I looked at the packages, arranged beneath the tree to best advantage despite the diminutive number. I realized that I had chosen paper as dad would have. No tags necessary because of the number, but also because of the way the paper and package spoke of the recipient.

I was correct in my anger towards the television commercials that stressed the importance of spending more money. Spending time is what matters.

So, this blog has turned into one of those sappy, emotion-ridden, epistles chastising you, like Ebeneezer to repent your monetary ways and seek the true meaning of Christmas (Ham? No, not ham you fat @#$%). However, that was not the intent of this particular (wordy) first entry into the world of blog. It was to say that this Grinch’s frozen heart was thawed slightly today. In memory of one who quietly loved the season, loved his family, and held it together without ceremony or letting anyone else know it.

May I carry that spirit beyond holidays to safeguard those who are dear to me, and may any reading this have a blessed holiday (with no reservation to any particular faith) and may your new year blessed in every way.

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