Posts Tagged: wisdom

Get your caucus here!

11705238_10205506481636053_1965115608713194476_nI figured today would be a good day to post political, with the kick-off of Primary Season, and all.

Funny, isn’t it, that we celebrate the beginnings of sport seasons – Week One of the NFL season is always a big day in my house – but we don’t get as excited about political seasons. I’m wondering: why is that?

Sports are meant to entertain us. The games are usually pretty exciting, but their outcomes have no real impact on our daily lives. I’m just gonna step over all a y’all Steelers fans, here, because you’re crazy 24/7/365. But honestly, what is most important, the thing we should really pay Super Bowl or World Cup level attention to, if not our political system; who runs it, and what the hell they’re doing with our money?

Say you pay $200 or $600 for a ticket to see your favorite team play, or watch your favorite band in concert. You expect them to put on a damn good show. You expect quality for that money. You expect to feel like, even if your team didn’t win, it was a damn good game. Those are reasonable expectations. Why don’t we have those same expectations in politics?

Nobody’s going to lose their job as a result of a poorly executed tennis serve, but a few tens of thousands might as a result of a poorly executed debate. Why is it so much less important to us? Why are there twelve ESPN stations and CSpan has, like, three? And they’re way up in the high numbers where nobody accidentally scrolls (FYI, I checked my cable provider’s website for the exact channel numbers for CSPAN and found a 1/3 page ad for ESPN’s streaming service on the homepage… I already feel a little vindicated.)

So how are we going to change this? I say WE because I assume, if you’ve read this far you do care about this stuff. So, how?

  1. Register to vote.Voter turnout numbers in the US are pitiful. We’re a republic, which means we elect our political officials to be our hearts and voices in our political system. With voter turnouts as low as 27.8% (I’m looking at you Indiana) and only as high as 58.1% (Go Maine!) we’re not represented evenly, fairly, or honestly. For once I’m not blaming our elected officials for it, either. That’s totally on us. On a side note: Don’t spend your time complaining about how our country’s going to a flaming, broiling hell, then tell me you never vote because what’s the point? That’s just stupid.
  1. Educate yourself about the issues.This is getting tougher and tougher, thanks to the ad nauseous number of links Google lists after you click the search button. As a test, I googled the term “two party system.” I got back 245,000,000 results in about a 1/2 a second. That’s overwhelming; it would take me more than THREE BILLION MINUTES to read just the summary of each of those pages.

What to do? First off, let me say, DO NOT rely on some political meme you found on Facebook, no matter how funny or real it looks. That’s also stupid. What you should do is learn from lots of different sources. Read them, and then find out something about the organization that published the material.

Everyone has an agenda. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But you should know what their agenda is before you go embracing their data, conclusions, and politics. Mom and Dad used to tell us to wait a half hour after lunch to go back in the water at the beach. Their agenda probably had more to do with them wanting just a half hour of relaxation than it did cramps. Here’s Politico’s About Us page. I found it by scrolling down to the bottom of their homepage. I also like Snopes to debunk stories that sound either too good or too bad to be true (see political memes above). Some sites, like FactCheck.Org even publish how they’re funded. FactCheck, is a resource I like, but it is commonly cited as having a liberal bias. Finally, don’t forget to check the politicians’ websites. Fingers crossed they list clear information about where your politicians stand on the issues and what they’re doing in your name.

  1. Pick a side. What issues matter most? Obviously, that depends on who you are and where you’re from. My top three are equality, health care, and education. The environment and foreign policy are a close #4 and 5, but we have to prioritize, right? Pick what matters to you, personally. It’s a good place to start. What gets you all riled up? Government waste? Poverty? Land use and conservation? If you’re homeless, regulations that have been popping up all over the country, that ultimately ban the homeless from living outdoors, will have a huge impact on your living situation. As a woman, abortion regulations have a direct impact on what can and cannot happen inside of my own uterus. That matters to me on a very personal level.

Spend a little time considering what you really care about, then research what’s happening in your community (local, state, and national). Then research your candidates so you can pick one who most matches your concerns.

You can take it slow. And maybe you should; it’s not easy. I like what Rand Paul has to say about staying out of foreign conflicts, but I would never vote for a man who said if you believe that every American has the right to quality health care “You’re basically saying you believe in slavery.” Things get messy in politics, but that doesn’t mean we should opt out.

  1. Put your money where your mouth is. Contribute to the campaign of the politician(s) who support your ideologies. This I can’t emphasize enough. (Here I’m stepping up on my soapbox.) We need campaign finance reform. It’s not right, fair, or responsible to allow individuals and corporations – NO, I do not consider a corporation to be an individual – to hide who they support and how much they’ve contributed. And contribution $$$ matter because if you only have $2,000 to run a campaign you’re obviously not playing in the same sandbox with the guys and gals who have $2,000,000. Do it. Contribute. I never throw a lot of money at my candidates of choice, but I throw enough to make me feel like I’ve done something. Whatever that number is for you, that’s what you should contribute. (…And now I’ll step off.)
  1. Put your time where your mouth is. Support your local food bank. Or your local school by volunteering for career day. Or write an opinion piece for publication. Or go clean up your local state park. My dad helped count the horseshoe crabs on a local Delaware beach. The long and short of this part is: it’s not up to our politicians to make our communities into what we envision them to be. That’s our job.

Did you notice in any of the above where I told you what you should think and why? You didn’t. Well. Maybe the part about campaign finance reform, but okay. That’s not my point. Of course I care if my candidates win or lose, but I care more that we become involved. This is my country. It is your country. If you’re not willing to stand up and be FOR us, work FOR us, then you shouldn’t call yourself an American. Not being involved has resulted in one current presidential candidate leading in the popular polls. That he can spout his filthy rhetoric and retain his popularity is beyond me. I find it frightening, but I also believe he is a direct result of our disinvolvement in the political system.

Hell yes, I want America to be a great country. But I’m more interested in watching a good game in the elections. A fair one. One that involves the best of the best political players. Any other scenario, in my mind anyway, is pointless.

Fame and Fortune and Everything That Goes With It

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On the one hand, I’d like to know who Neil deGrasse Tyson plans to support in the presidential elections. But on the other? I hope he never answers that question publicly. Why? Because politics is outside of his realm of expertise. I mean, sure, there are plenty of scientific and environmental issues looming large on the political stage these days: Flint; 2015 as the warmest year in the history of recording such a thing; fracking and the increased incidence of earthquakes… But these are all single issues, though, which should be discussed and discovered separately, just like every other issue that is important to the voting populace.

Something’s been bothering me for a long time… relative to how we come to our opinions about the world. It’s been a growing irksome thing, to me, for decades. It started back when Princess Diana began visiting one impoverished area then another. Her intent was heartfelt — the way she highlighted our failings as a species was quite effective. And we all adored her using her position for the good. But in the intervening 30-odd years, that scheme has turned grossly self-serving. I never cared when Angelina Jolie went to Africa (and wherever else) to lend her celebrity to the plight of the impoverished. I always figured it was a ploy to put herself in the public eye and make a bigger name for herself. Maybe she does have a good heart, but how do I know? I don’t know the woman.

And these days it’s come to the level of downright ridiculousness. Who in their right mind would rely on someone like Jenny McCarthy to instruct their opinion about vaccinations? That’s not smart. Of course it’s not! Who would take as scientific truth that the earth is flat because some rapper is claiming it? Come on! Are we even for real? And don’t get me started about celebrity endorsements of political leaders. I could care less who some backwoods, longbearded, famous-assed redneck thinks will make a good president. And I’ll add just one more item to this list: I’m sure as hell not gonna listen to some dude (any dude) tell me what can or cannot happen inside of my uterus. Let’s just get that straight right now.

My point is, I think it’s important we respect public individuals for their personal skills, not their opinions. Good actors are famous because of their acting skills. Good business people are known for their business acumen (c’mon Zuck, you’re no baby-raising guru). Physicists know the hell out of physics, and a skilled horsewoman will train the heck out of your horse if you ask real nice. Of course, if you happen to know a person well enough to have gained respect for them. Maybe then you respect their opinions. But I mean,  you know them, like IRL know them. Not reality TV know them. Or Twitter feed know them. Or you watch their vlog every day and feel like you know them, know them. None of those things are real.

Hell, I’ve known some people for years. I love them. I respect them. But we 100% disagree about almost every social and political issue coming down the pike. So you see? Right there! Even knowing a person very, very well doesn’t mean that we have to agree with their opinions. Or their opinions are worth a pound of salt. I suppose I just wish we weren’t so lazy headed when it comes to important stuff. Because that’s how Hitlers are made, isn’t it?

Here are the rules

IMG_0845Be your best and Try your hardest.

When I was growing up we had very few rules in our house. I’m not sure why that was. My parents were young – my mom was 22 when she had me and I was her third child. That might account for some of it. I think young parents parent differently because there are fewer things to worry about when you’re young. Sure, you understand, intellectually, that every time someone walks out the door you may never see them again. Or that the loss of a job could be devastating. Or pain and injury, starvation and war could be lurking around every next corner. You understand those things as a young parent, but you don’t have much sense of the gravity of them. Not like when you get older.

Or maybe it wasn’t so much that they were young as they weren’t super consistent with rules. Here’s an example: some random Saturday morning, we kids would wake up to suddenly find a chores list on the refrigerator door. It was probably at the beginning of summer. Our list featured the good old standards: clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, dust the living room… You can picture it, right? But the thing is, with my parents, that sort of thing usually lasted a couple of weeks. Then it would be forgotten. We kids never complained about it…

Of course, maybe our list of rules was so short because both of my parents liked to keep things simple. Why complicate life if you don’t have to. Fewer rules are easier to keep track of. So we really only had those two. Be your best. Try your hardest. That pretty much covers all the bases.

Be your best means, “don’t hit your sister” and “be polite” and those kinds of things. Be your best is about who you are. And who do we want our children to be (not to mention our friends and spouses and bosses, etc.)? Their best. It doesn’t matter what else after that.

What about Try your hardest? Yes, that’s just as easy; it’s about what you do in the world. Try your hardest means whatever you do: DO. IT. With every ounce of your being. With every pound of your muscle or brain, and with the immeasurable totality of your soul. Do it.

That sounds about right to me, but here’s something else. Actually a couple of somethings else. FYI: They’re things my parents never told me, but probably because I was meant to learn them for myself. This is the first — When you bring your kids up with these two rules, they learn that every single thing they do is a direct result of their choices, and only theirs. If they choose not to be their best, then whatever the consequences? Honey, it’s on you. If they don’t try their hardest? Too bad… It’s called learning accountability. That word is everybody’s favorite buzzword these days, but let me say I hate buzzwords. They are so overused they become meaningless. So let me say it this way, too. By being raised with these two simple rules, I learned to be my own worst critic. A lot of days that sucks because I am really good at being hard on myself. But I wouldn’t change that about me for the world.

The other something is this: Some days your best is simply amazing, and some days it’s not. Some days trying your hardest leaves you sweaty and frustrated and only inches further on your path, or worse maybe despite all that work you moved backwards. But it’s okay because you’re going to try your hardest again tomorrow.

And there’s always a chance that tomorrow will be better. (I learned that part from my parents, too.)

All the rest


(Days 27-30 of 30)

I had all the rest of the lessons about myself written and ready to roll onto this page, but sadly my laptop crashed on me. So, I suppose, my last life lesson to learn, before I turn 50, is that I am flexible.

I can be ready for anything at any time. That’s not to say I’ll like whatever I have to face. I should have washed my mouth out with soap, the words that flew outta there when I realized my laptop was gone with all its files.

No, I didn’t back up my files. Yes, it’s all my fault. Yes, I’m incredibly angry with myself, but no there’s nothing I can do to bring them back. Will I spend my time dwelling on it? No. That’s not productive and it would certainly do nothing for my state of mind. So, flexible.

I am rewriting my script. I am skirting around the corner that wasn’t there yesterday. I can’t say if I was born this way or learned to be flexible because life gave it to me to learn. Either way, it doesn’t make sense to me to roll around in self-pity, ever. I’d much rather pick myself up, dust off the last remnants of sadness/anger/frustration and move the hell on.

And I have to say, that’s not a bad lesson to start my next 50 years with, if I do say so myself.

Cheating life

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I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. ~Sophocles

I don’t understand why people cheat, in life. Generally.

Why cheat? Is that how you want others to think of you, as a cheater? As a person so unsure of her value that she has to “enhance” it? Fake it to tip the balance in her favor? I just don’t get it.

Think about this:There’s makeup, plastic surgery, facial peels, implants, rogaine, viagra, all marketed to appeal to our insecurities. American consumerism says we are what we buy. Do you want to be judged on all that stuff? Because in my mind, it paints a picture of weak, silly, and shockingly insecure. We’re a whole damn bunch of sick, sad cheaters.

Because we’re not happy to be ourselves.

Here’s one example: I’m not sure if I consciously go bald faced, but I rarely wear makeup. I only put it on when I want to feel especially fancy. Maybe it’s because I’d rather not spend the extra time in front of the mirror – I can be showered and ready to go in under 30 minutes. Or maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Making up my face takes a lot of effort. The point is it’s fake, all that makeup and stuff; it’s a way to cheat reality, to make us, falsely and temporarily, feel better about ourselves.

In case you’re wondering, I do realize that wearing makeup is also  a means of self-expression, like clothing choices are. But does your makeup (the face you show to others) define you or does your character (the face in the mirror)? Everyone will answer that question differently, and that’s as it should be. But if it makes you uncomfortable to even consider, or you can’t/won’t answer that question, chances are you might need to spend a little time thinking on it.

Because, instead, we could focus on what really matters. Does accentuating my brown eyes have any real bearing on my personhood? Of course not. That’s the reason I don’t wear makeup much. I’d rather be doing things that feed my soul: I’d rather meditate or weave or write a poem, maybe. Those pursuits “create” me into the person I intend to be. I want to be unique and interesting and worthy of others’ attention — I’m no different than anyone else — but I don’t want it because of some makeup hack I learned on Youtube.

All that stuff, the “cheats” we buy, they’re false shortcuts. Focus attention away from the mirror and toward whatever it is that’s making you feel like less than you want to be. You’ll find real answers there. It’s not the quickest way to “look your best”, but I promise you this: eventually you’ll notice a sparkle in your eyes, and that’s a beauty unlike any that comes from your makeup case.

Be a powerhouse

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I find it interesting that in the English language we don’t have masculine or feminine words, like other languages do; French and Spanish come immediately to mind. Yet we assign, as a culture, masculine and feminine traits to words. Powerhouse, for example.

Powerhouse: (noun) a person, group, team, or the like, having great energy, strength, or potential for success.

As Americans, we attribute maleness to any word related to power. We see it as manly to be powerful. Even 45+ years after Gloria Steinem first took to New York Magazine to chronicle and highlight the growing Women’s Liberation Movement, power is still, in a subconscious and deeply ingrained way, a man’s game. That fact is unfortunate for so many reasons, but let me dive into just this one.

Powerhouse.

I am, at my very depth, thoughtful. I put more time and effort into consideration of my daily words and actions than some people put into doing their yearly taxes, which is to say, a lot. I am a ruminator, a cow chewing her cud. I think things through thoroughly and honestly and wholeheartedly, so much so that my decision-making is usually a tediously slow process. The upside is that once I’ve made a decision I stand very firmly on it. You could say I’m stubborn, and you would be right, but my stubbornness comes from a position of power. My powerhouse is thoughtfulness.

Another definition of powerhouse is a generating station. In common terms this means the generation of electricity, but I’m going to expand that and say it should mean to generate and distribute whatever individual, unique powers we have. And by power I mean our innate intention, our most powerful and resilient and individually characteristic human quality. Your power is likely how you are described by the people who know you best. Most people have more than one, for sure, but some, like Mother Theresa have one that seems to fill their entire soul.

Here’s why I like this word, powerhouse: it’s a “place” where power is both created and distributed. You make your power and you also send it out into the world. I can’t think of any better way to live, creating and giving away the deepest and most valuable part of who we are. It’s enriching for us, as individuals: When we’re focusing attention on our deepest and most authentic selves we can’t help but grow deeply satisfying lives. But there’s a community component here, too: We’re all a single piece of a giant, Earth-sized puzzle. And if you’re not filling your spot, who is?

We’re all born with certain strengths,  certain powers. I am convinced that we are meant to use our powers to support and grow our community, our world really, into its best version, while we grow ourselves. It’s not such a leap to suppose that if we’re all busy growing these rich inner lives that the community would also be gaining the benefit of that wealth, too, is it? And if for no other reason than that, we should take back our power, in aid of our communities. But isn’t it an even better idea to take it back for ourselves?

So tell me, what’s your powerhouse?

 

Momentary Lapses

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Have you ever blown a really important conversational moment? I have. I did it just the other day, as a matter of fact. I always feel terrible when that happens; probably worse than is actually warranted, but I carry that shit with me.

The other day, the conversation was me attempting to convey my condolences. I told an acquaintance how sorry I was that her Gran had passed away. Then I told her, “It gets easier.”

And that was my mistake.

No, it’s not a giant mistake and it wasn’t offensive, but it was trite and conveyed my intention in the smallest possible way that I’m embarrassed those words came out of my mouth. Because here’s the thing: It really doesn’t get easier. It’s never easy, any moment you remember that you’ll never get a chance to talk to or bump shoulders with or smell the particular scent of someone you love, those moments are always filled with sadness.

What I should have said, and would still if I could have a do-over, is that it gets less raw. That’s the real truth of it. Loss isn’t easy and it really shouldn’t ever be an easy thing to miss someone we love dearly. But it should become less raw, and thankfully it usually does.

Less raw? Yes. When you first lose someone, whether it’s from a death or from a divorce or a simple act of relocation, it leaves a ragged hole. It’s sore and throbbing and probably even bleeds a little bit, sort of like when you lose a tooth as a kid. But then a day comes, down the line, when you forget about the loss, so you poke your tongue into the empty space left there. And you forget because it’s not raw anymore. And maybe you can breathe a small sigh of relief.

So, here’s what I wish I would have said, in that conversation: I’m so sorry your gran passed away. I know you miss her and you always will, but I promise it won’t always feel so raw. One day it’ll feel good again to remember those times you shared together, whether they’re great times or completely ordinary ones. Until then just be gentle with yourself, your gran would have wanted it that way. And that part, luckily, will never change.

Spending my attention

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I had an epiphany today and made a significant decision in the course of my life because of it. In a nutshell, I was questioning whether there is a difference between spending time and spending attention in life. Confused? No worries, it took me a while to wade through my own thoughts. If I try to clear it up for you, maybe it’ll help me further clarify my own thinking and ingrain the idea more fully in my psyche or soul or whatever that part is that gives us life and consciousness.

Here’s my the train of thought: time is a mathematical construct that humans have superimposed over life to help give it form. For all its helpfulness, the concept of time is artificial and it has an inherently external quality. It exists outside of us.

Attention, on the other hand, is internal. There’s a direct link between me and my attention that I can’t make between me and time. Time is not under my control. Time can’t change me. My attention is, and can. It’s my choice whether my attention, or what I focus it on, will contribute to how I desire to live and who I want to become. Or not.

What it boils down to is I’m adjusting my internal vocabulary, self-talk if you like, so that how I live becomes an internal prompt to constantly become who I intend to be. Here’s an example. What if I’m scheduled to have dinner with someone I would prefer to avoid? It doesn’t really matter why, but let me go ahead and give you a backstory. This person used to be my boss and I left the company because she was claiming my work as her own.  She happens to be a friend of a friend and now we’re all scheduled to have dinner together to celebrate our mutual friend’s engagement. (This is a totally fictitious scenario, by the way.)

It makes sense, though, that I would prefer not to have social contact with this person, right? If I focus on spending my time with her, over which I have no control, I automatically feel negative about the whole affair. However, if I decide to spend my attention that automatically prompts me to choose how to focus it. Time is not mine to manipulate, whereas my attention is. So, since I want my attention to grow me in the direction of the person I intend to become, I am more likely to choose a positive way to spend it. Perhaps this person is a dog lover. Well, hey, so am I! Maybe she likes the same NPR program that I do. Nice! I will choose to focus on like qualities and the parts of this person that I can appreciate.

We all have good and bad qualities and by focusing on the good I’ve given myself the chance to connect with someone I otherwise would not have bothered with. Why is that important? Connecting with people and appreciating their goodness is a part of me that I want to encourage in myself. There’s so much negative discourse in the world and cutting ourselves off from others because of a single trait, or even a few, we don’t like does nothing to reverse the negativity. We are all more similar than we are different. If we begin to focus on our similarities I believe we can eliminate some bits of the ugly global tensions that seem to multiply daily.

Food for thought: “Pay attention” is a great little phrase, isn’t it? What it says is that our attention is so valuable it costs us dearly to use.

How about we get a little more existential, just for a moment? All that I have, at the most basic level, is my life. If I weren’t here to experience it, none of the material things, the shirt on my back, the phone beside me, the coffee table I’m resting my feet on, none of it would exist, not for me anyway. It doesn’t matter except that I am here. So why concern myself more with the “things” that make up my life instead of my life, itself? Which leads me to another existential conundrum: how to define the meaning of life. If what we focus our attention on and target it at becomes the person we are, then, in essence our attention is ourselves.

Who am I? That’s the mystery of life that is continuously answered in bits and pieces as each moment passes into the next. If every moment builds me into the person I am, and I am always becoming a slightly new person, then it is important that I spend my attention, use my attention, focus my attention in ways that nourish the woman I desire to become. As long as I use that idea to guide what I do with each moment, how can I possibly reach my last moment on earth and not be satisfied with the life I lived?

So how should I choose to spend my attention? That’s the challenge, isn’t it? A broad and somewhat esoteric answer to that question might be, choose to spend it in ways that help you become the person you are meant to be. I can appreciate that, but it’s not directly instructive. I’d like something more concrete.

What about this? I choose to spend my attention challenging myself. That’s better, but still it’s only a pla and I’m looking for a plan. Here’s something: the things that interest me: nature, geology, relationships, photography, writing, hiking, family… those are already a part of who I am. If I choose to spend my attention on those things then I am choosing to become more and more of the person I want to become. Which doesn’t mean I’m leaving no room for growth. Just because all of those things interest me today isn’t to say that I won’t become interested in say contortionism some day and decide to spend some attention on body mechanics and flexibility.

The point is, only I can be me. Only I can choose who I become. If I don’t spend my life in pursuit of that becoming, then my greatest fear, the potential that I will live an unimportant life, may well come true. I refuse to let that happen. So I will spend my days spending my attention. Will I do anything groundbreaking? There’s always that  possibility, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I am interested in who I am and what every day of my life brings. I can’t think of any more satisfying way to live all of my days until the last.

And maybe it’s just me, but maybe I’ve been running around wasting my time when if I’d only chosen to pay attention before now maybe I would already have become the person I now endeavor to be and that person would already have set her sights even higher. But it’s really never too late , and I’m perfectly happy to start right now.

My Intention

I may as well start from the beginning.

I just turned 49, so I’m living out my 50th year on earth, starting today. Right now. And that seems momentous to me. I’ve always wanted to be a “wise woman,” and 50 seems like the perfect age to claim that title, doesn’t it? The problem is, I don’t think it’s one of those titles you’re allowed to self-proclaim. Like, I’ve heard people call themselves a “thought leader” and my first reaction when that happens is, NOPE. No you’re not. That title is earned and it’s not true unless it’s attributed to you by others. Same with wise woman.

So, my goal, my intention, over the course of this next year, and for all my years afterward, really, is to earn that title.What will follow this first post is your guess as good as mine. Like life and a good sour dough starter, these pages will evolve and become what they’re meant to become over time. I’m aiming for wisdom, but I can’t say for certain whether I’ll reach that goal. I’ll try really damn hard, though, and hopefully I’ll strike a cord every now and then.

If letting things evolve naturally, untethered by concrete plans or expectations, makes you uncomfortable, you might not be my target audience. Or maybe you are and you’ve never let yourself think so boldly before? I’ll leave that up to you. Either way, I hope you’ll read me every once in a while. Even more than that, I hope I can entertain you, provoke thought or a hearty guffaw, inspire kindness or a slightly off-kilter way of thinking. If I’m able to do any of those things, even once, then I’ll feel as though the goal I set myself is worthy of my attention. And I hate to waste anything, especially my attention.