Category Archives: Wellness

Screened

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Photo from pxhere.com

This morning I sat down at my breakfast counter to a creatively crafted omelet with broccolini and sharp cheddar, local-baked white toast, and raspberry jam from the farmers’ market. It was a simple feast, but a feast none-the-less. I took my first bite and looked out the window at a blue jay in the lower branches of a small pine. I idly wondered what it was doing. Was it eating the seeds of pinecones?

No sooner had I swallowed the bite, as this question drifted away, when an impulse seized me: I should check my email on my phone! The phone was lying within easy reach on the counter, facedown, the way I usually put it so I am not distracted by messages that appear. The ringer is off, so I am not hostage to every notification. Still, something inside compelled me to grab for it. But … I resisted. I consciously resisted, thinking, if I pick that thing up, I won’t taste this delicious breakfast I just made. I will mindlessly shovel the food in while my being is sucked into the screen and pulled in 20 different directions.

I finished my breakfast with mindful bites, allowing the salty cheesiness and the green goodness of the broccolini to rest upon my tongue. But as I ate, I wondered—what drove that impulse? Something inside me in that moment was not content to just BE, as if I harbor a fear of the mundane, of these moments in the actual physical world where nothing in particular is happening. Except, so much is happening! The jay in the pine, the snow sliding off the roof, the clouds of the big nor’easter rolling in, the water on the wood stove bubbling. Perhaps, too, I was driven by guilt. It was already 10 am on a Saturday morning and I needed to get to my writing client work if I had any prayer of taking Sunday off as a “normal” weekend day.

Getting “screened” is a ubiquitous cultural experience. It’s one thing to listen to a news story about technology addiction, and quite another to observe it in your own life, the lives of your friends, and then attempt to do something about it.

The other morning I stopped into my favorite bakery where they serve creamy lattes flavored with malted cardamom or ginger-maple. They have a range of cookies, scones, and croissants that keep me honest about making sure I get my body moving at some point each day, whether it’s a walk, yoga, or a fitness dance session. As I waited for my drink, I noticed a young couple sitting at a table facing the window to the street. Their backs were to me. What I saw was this: both of them were comfortably side-by-side, their heads and necks bent forward, and they were motionless. Intrigued, I repositioned so I could see what they were doing. They each had a large cell phone flat on the table, index finger on the screen, tapping and sliding. Neither of them spoke to the other. The whole 20 minutes I was there. Neither of them moved. As I passed on the way out the door, I glanced down and saw the comments bubbles and emojis of social media.

A couple weeks prior, I was in the same coffee shop meeting a dear friend for conversation. We were talking about pretty intense life challenges. But the whole time, her phone was face up on the table. At regular intervals she would jump as if jabbed in the back and pick up her phone. Then she would exclaim, “Oh, no, it’s my son. What does he want now?” Or, “It’s my husband. God, I hope he is okay!” The adrenaline rush that passed through her every time a message flashed was amazing to watch. It was clear that phone was keeping her, daily, in a constant state of mild anxiety. Needless to say, our conversation lacked a coherent flow with so many starts and stops. I felt genuinely concerned, with her being so jumpy from attending to every message.

I am not immune to getting screened, as my breakfast this morning illustrates. I am an information junkie. I LOVE to learn as much as I can about this crazy, fascinating world. This drive increases as I get older. I just want to have some sort of understanding of “What the heck?!” before I die. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is dark matter and what does it mean about reality? What is that jay doing in that pine tree on this frigid morning? You know, those kinds of questions. Because of this, if a wondering pops into my head, I reach for my phone. This is one of the cool things about technology—all this knowledge at our fingertips! Such a gift!

I also use my phone to track my calories, my client hours, and even to make sure I haven’t died in my sleep to lie undiscovered for days while my cat roams the house traumatized by my demise and hungry. Yes, there is now an app called Snug that allows people who live alone to quietly check in each and every day. If you don’t check in, the app texts your emergency contacts. Pretty cool!

There are also endless, fascinating podcasts to download that make long car drives a pleasure.

The problem is, once that little device is in my hands, there is no telling where I will end up or how much time will pass in that state of mental fragmentation within my benumbed body. Over time, I realized that certain activities such as surfing my Facebook wall often caused me to experience all sorts of negative emotions, such as guilt for not knowing that remote acquaintance lost her dad. Or a lonely pang of wanting a dog again after seeing a cute post of someone’s pup. Or a feeling of missing the train because I can’t afford to plan any exotic vacations. Or disbelief and discouragement over someone’s heartless condescension on a political thread.

On a recent New Years Day, I went for a walk in the woods. As we tend to do during moments of “beginning,” I was pondering my writing coaching and editing business and what I wanted to do concerning its marketing. I was pondering my life overall, what I wanted to discard and what I wanted to enact. I stood in a small grove of trees. It was silent except for a crow’s intermittent caw. Then the wind picked up and the trees made a soft sshhhh sound. I made a decision. I wanted a robust physical existence, not a robust virtual existence.

When one has a small business, or a band, and I have both, social media and an online presence are a must. But just how much, how often, and what kinds of online media can be a choice. I realized that most of my best clients come via word of mouth. I took my business off of Facebook. I never, ever had gotten any client through that page. Instead, I ramped up my LinkedIn for professional visibility. And I delved into the joy of my blog. That was it. No Twitter. No Instagram. I am busier than ever.

And, in one of the best decisions I have made lately, I took Facebook off of my phone. I thought about and researched deleting the account. Or going dark. But I have too many friends with whom I don’t want to lose contact. So I just took it off of my phone.

It was astounding how not having Facebook on my phone changed my life. Just one simple change like that. I no longer lose hours a day to all those screened emotions. I spend less and less time updating my persona online. I read more books. I write more letters (remember those??). I send more cards. I meet more friends for coffee. I make more phone calls and actually talk to people.

I no longer think in Facebook posts. I no longer respond in comments bubbles. My blogs are intentionally long, like real chapters or developed articles. I fear that the breadth and lack of depth of thoughts and of information is at the root of many serious current issues we face as humans. So many people knowing so little about so very much. Just a little of this. A little of that. How can we ever make informed choices?

Recognizing the ways that getting screened affects my life is a work in progress. I must remain aware, observing my own behavior and that of my friends and that of strangers. How is this habit affecting me, affecting us all? Our relationships? It’s fascinating. And a little horrifying. And definitely annoying. Of course, I am as easily sucked in as the next person. The wild and wacky world of quantum physics theories? Right there at my fingertips. On that device! Or maybe a good omelet recipe. Or a page on the behaviors of blue jays.

 

 

The Acceptable State of Busy

The other day I went into the staff room of the small college where I teach, and after I punched in the door code that lets faculty and staff in and keeps students out, I encountered a young staffer seated at one of the round lunch tables munching energetically on chips.

“How’s it going?” he asked loudly.

“Pretty good I guess,” I replied. I was lying. I was tired. I had a mountain of portfolios to grade in the upcoming week; each of them would take an hour. My checking account was overdrawn. I was currently working with my TMJ doctor to find the right mouth splint adjustment to relax my jaw joints enough while sleeping to keep me from biting my tongue off in the night.

“Me too!” he said, with seeming enthusiasm. “Pretty busy, which is good I guess.” He crunched another bunch of chips. “Makes the day go by fast,” he said, as I hustled into the bathroom to check my eye makeup and comb my hair. I was late to my learning center mentor shift.

“Agreed,” I called back from the bathroom door.

Inside the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and grimaced. Fluorescent lights always create a ghastly effect, making me look ten years older than I really am. A thought pounced on my mind.

“No you don’t,” the thought said.

What?

“You don’t agree. At all.”

My inner self was right. I didn’t prefer to be busy, or for my day to go by fast.

But, in my “congenial colleague persona,” I had just demonstrated how mindlessly our culture views busyness as a good thing. When did “busy” become the acceptable good? The desired state of being? The best and most successful modus operandi of our species? Sayings of busyness abound:

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

“Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” Jimmy Spithill

Productivity: produce, product, production, gross domestic national product (note the first word is “gross”)

Bottom line. ROI – return on investment

Get a move on. Daylight’s burning. For chrissake, hurry up. Get out of my way.

The early bird catches the worm.

The noise of busyness is ever present.

When I was a kid one of my favorite books was The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Ferdinand does not headbutt, kick, and run about and try to get in good with the other bulls. Nor does he share their aspirations to be selected to go and fight in the bullfights. He just wants to sit under his cork tree and smell the flowers. For this he is viewed as extremely odd. Speaking volumes about this little book, Hitler and Franco banned it, while Gandhi embraced it.

How could I explain to this guy at the lunch table that what I really wanted was to sit in an open field all day long like Ferdinand the bull and simply smell the flowers? My vision of a good day, of success, was slow and quiet. Just being.

I am not advocating a life devoid of purpose, contribution, and meaning. But I wonder how modern society’s current trajectory, which most days seems bent on mass destruction, might change if we just slowed down—the way we talk, walk, breathe, drive, think, and do. What if we sat and listened? What would we see if we just looked at what is really going on all around us? How would it change what we DO?

What are we really accomplishing with all of this busyness? Is it what is best for ourselves, our family and friends, for society, for the planet?

I try to carve out time for slowing down and observing. Interesting words we use – to carve … cutting and slicing as if time were meat on a plate, or a tree to be fashioned into a wood carving statue. Rather violent, this idea of carving time.

When I do slow down and observe, I am often appalled and astounded at some of the awful things we do and say to each other, what we do to fish, birds, plants, oceans, forests. It takes guts to listen and look.

But I am also inspired and hopeful, enlightened. Always I see the most beautiful moments of the natural world. Sometimes I see the tiniest acts of joy and kindness between fellow humans.

I take a long, deep breath. And the fresh air is a delight.

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Trauma Memories: Listening to the Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh Hearing

After listening to both testimonies for the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, like many I ended the day feeling cognitive dissonance fracturing my mind and jangling my nerves. Two completely different possible truths. One was delivered humbly, with strength, but also trepidation: in a one-piece bathing suit she had practiced her dives. The other was delivered forcefully with anger, indignation, and bitter upset: he lifted weights, played football, and drank beers with the guys. The two narratives spoke volumes about the effects of patriarchy. Each voice could be credible, depending on one’s construct of reality, of what’s right and what’s wrong … of what is really going on here.

I took a long walk down my dirt road.

I thought about my sex education as a young woman growing up in the ‘70s, just a few years earlier than Blasey Ford, in a small town. I got a booklet from my mom, but learned the details on the playground, like many of us did. One boy in elementary school told me, as I sat casually, legs sprawled: “Close your legs; the war is over.” I had no idea what he meant. I am not sure he did either. I felt terribly embarrassed and did not feel confident to ever sit with my legs sprawled again.

As I progressed into middle school, some girls already having sex, I learned from peers, TV, movies, and jokes told by adults:

  • Girls with big boobs got male attention. I developed quite late, not until the very end of high school. Strike one.
  • Girls who had sex were desirable, popular, and got the cutest boyfriends. They dated the sports stars. I held out until I was 17. Strike two.
  • “Boys will be boys.” Whatever boys did or desired should get preference. Home run.

The last, most damaging message was: If you teased a boy—if you flirted, made out, or put yourself in close proximity unsupervised by adults—and you got the boy excited, he had every right to do whatever he wished, because … you asked for it. It was your fault. Especially if you were drinking. Because guys, well, they have this “uncontrollable” physical reaction. It was cruel, once arousing them, not to follow through. Girls who teased were chided with the phrase “blue balls.”

I am not sure if these messages were pervasive, then, for all girls my age, in all towns, and all schools, but these were planted in my adolescent psyche, and, I suspect, in the minds of most of my peers.

Fast-forward to my senior year. When I finally went “all the way,” it felt like a badge of honor. I was in the club! Not long after this dubiously victorious moment, I went out with my friends on Halloween. Somehow over the course of the night, in three cars, we got separated. We were hanging out near our high school, thirty minutes away from home, and decided to meet at this party a classmate told us about. Driving alone for some reason, I found my way to the party at a house out in the middle of nowhere on a back road. I waited in my car in the driveway, but my friends never showed up. Not wanting the night to be a total loss and miffed at my girlfriends, I put on my witch hat and cape and went inside. It was packed and loud music was playing. I did not know a soul.

Turns out many there were a bit older and from a motorcycle gang. I didn’t drink anything, or talk to many people. I didn’t stay long. But I remember two encounters: a short, thin woman, wearing a leather biker hat, took a swig from a bottle of wine as she told me she’d just taken two valiums. Then she confided she was pregnant. I remember feeling panicked. Oh my god! I must have looked out of place and startled. The owner of the house, a stocky guy with medium-length blond hair, came over and for the rest of the short time I was there, he was nice to me. I don’t remember why, or what he did, just that he was nice.

Fast-forward to some evening in some month following this party. I visited this guy. I don’t remember how it was arranged, or why. I don’t remember exactly when—not what day, what week, or even what month. I know it was my senior year. I know it was cold out. I know this because he was fixing his furnace, which wasn’t working. That’s what he did for a living. He fixed furnaces. I don’t remember how I got there, or how I got home. I suppose I drove. Who else would drive me way up to this house out in the boondocks? I have no recollection of where it was; I could not ever find it today.

I suppose this was a stupid thing to do. But he had been nice. Perhaps I wanted a boyfriend. Perhaps I hoped for love. Perhaps I wanted to be cool. Perhaps I was simply looking for a diversion. Our senior class was tiny and here was someone new, outside our small circle. I don’t remember what we did after he fixed the furnace. We might have eaten a little dinner, listened to music. I don’t think I had more than a beer, maybe two. If I had any.

What I do remember is this:

A narrow, dirty-white couch in the middle of an otherwise sparse living room. Making out on this couch with this blond-haired guy I barely knew. Saying, “Stop” when he wanted to keep going past making out. His look of disgust. I remember telling him it was my time of the month, hoping to dissuade him with a decent excuse. It did not stop him. He asked me how many days was I into my cycle. I said, “near the end.” I was shocked when he pushed forward, saying, “no big deal.”

I don’t remember if I said stop again. I might have just gone along with him, because, well, boys will be boys. He was stocky; I didn’t know him very well. I had aroused him, so it was my duty to deliver. I remember my humiliation when he removed my monthly protection and dangled it in the air, almost mocking me. I don’t remember the act itself. I think it was rather quick and business-like. I remember a sick feeling when we were done. Something wasn’t right. But I didn’t know what. And I remember the month of terror after, hoping I wouldn’t become pregnant. Luckily I did not.

I might have told a friend or two. Otherwise I filed this incident away as one of the dumb things I did as a teen. It was my fault. I filed it away initially as evidence that those early messages were true. But one was not true: I was not cool or desirable to have put myself in such a position. I filed away a sense of my powerlessness as a young woman, as a woman of any age. My “Stop” did not matter. Not to him. Not to our culture. I had no name for this until I was in my early 30s—date rape.

The snarky, hateful comments about Blasey Ford on social media run the gamut, but one refrain, even chanted by the President, ridicules her spotty memory of her trauma: How can she not remember how she got there and back? Why can’t she remember how much she drank? When it was? Where it was? Why she went in the first place?

Walking down my dirt road, thinking back on my own trauma, I realized I was missing all the same puzzle pieces. Yet, like Blasey Ford, the moment of violation was crystal clear some 36 years later. I have a similar residual trauma from the incident, though it has manifested in me differently than hers.

But Blasey Ford has at least one memory I don’t have. She remembers his name.

 

 

Losing a Pet: Healing Through Poetry

Losing an animal companion is one of the hardest losses. I have had the good fortune to have one of my poems, “Drool,” published in this beautiful collection of poetry: Our Last Walk: Using Poetry for Remembering and Grieving Our Pets. Louis Hoffman, Michael Moats, and Tom Greening, Eds. University Professors Press.

Link: http://universityprofessorspress.com/project/our-last-walk-using-poetry-for-grieving-and-remembering-our-pets/

A perfect gift if you know an animal lover. I’ve read many of the poems in the collection and they are wonderful! But have a tissue handy!

 

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Old Mr. Mingus always loved to “go for a ride!” 

 

To-Do List for Our Trying Time (or, for any time, really)

[This blog was inspired by a friend who is really struggling to navigate the current upset in America after our long, ugly, divisive election and its disturbing outcomes which have only just begun to unfold…what those outcomes may look like is anyone’s guess. We are in new territory politically and as a nation. My attempt to share with her how I am feeling and what I am doing to stay healthy was the rudimentary fodder for this list. Thank you Trixie! This is my to-do list for me. It is not a mandate for those with whom I share it. Readers may take from it what they wish.]

Take a deep breath. Take another. And another.

Listen. Ask a question. Listen again. Ask another question.

Remember, many moments in history have been extremely difficult; difficulty is not new.

Know that many countries have it much harder than we do.

Pay close attention to what our leaders are doing. Seek information about their actions from multiple sources.

Resist the temptation to tune out. Apathy is our worst enemy.

Take 3 minutes every day to note the parts of your life for which you are grateful. Gratitude counters anxiety.

If you like what your leaders are doing, tell them. If you don’t like what your leaders are doing, tell them.

Spend time with your “tribe” for comfort, AND spend time with other “tribes,” even if it’s difficult to do—we are all one human tribe.

Ask a person who is struggling with seemingly insurmountable odds such as a homeless person, an addict, a recent immigrant, someone with a serious illness, a person on welfare—any one of us could be in their position—to tell you their story and see what you can do to help; or, if you are down on your own luck, ask for help—humility is not a four letter word or a cause for shame.

Speak your truth; raise your voice…even if it is unpopular or taking a risk.

Respect that everyone deals with the stress of challenging times differently.

Ask for a livable wage, often. The cost of living and income disparity is hurting so many of us.

Buying equals power. What we buy has huge ramifications, ramifications of which we are largely unaware. Buy only what you really need. Buy locally. Ask questions about who made what you buy. Ask questions about who profits. Ask questions about what resources were used to make what you buy.

Take regular media and social media breaks. Live in the non-virtual world.

Consider, is this the direction in which I wish my country, or a particular institution, to be going? Is this what I wish my government or leadership to be like? If not, seek change through any viable, workable means you can.

Burn candles that smell nice.

Be especially kind to animals, plants, insects, amphibians, trees, air, water, and sea life—the argument over whether or not climate change is imminent or is our fault is inconsequential. We are their stewards. We are their voices. Ask other people to treat animals, plants, insects, amphibians, trees, air, water, and sea life nicely.

Take excellent care of your health. The world needs you! Sleep, eat, and play luxuriously.

Avoid escapism through consumption, or substances. We need as many clear minds working together to problem-solve as we can get.

If you don’t like what you see happening, take action, rather than complaining or judging.

Adopt a cause, however small, to champion with passion.

Dance, color, sing, or play a game.

Do something nice for your neighbors no matter what side of the fence they might be on. They may need something—a smile, a hammer, a hand, a plate of cookies—but may never ask. You never know what they may be dealing with that is difficult.

Really look at and learn about the tragedies that unfold in the world, even if they are painful. Then, recharge by noticing that beauty unfolds at the same time.

Drive slower and notice what is around you. There is so much to see!

Yodel in the car and then laugh at yourself. It’s hard to yodel and take yourself seriously.

Stand up to small-minded acts of meanness.

Be skeptical and do your research. Be suspicious of assumptions. Seek the truest perceptions.

Spend time doing nothing. Simply be and observe.

Use words wisely—they are more powerful than guns, bombs, or swords.

Call your family and friends and tell them you love them.

Take a walk. Take a lot of walks.

Put energy into the positive. As the saying goes, that which gets the most energy—good or evil—gains the most momentum.

Don’t wait for someone else to do what needs to be done.

Go to a meeting, a public hearing, a protest—see what is happening!

Laugh with a child, often.

Trust your gut, even if outside persuasions run counter to your intuition—your gut knows what is good and right.

Look up at the night sky regularly and let all the stars, all the space, the eons of time remind you, we are but a spark—what do you wish to illuminate?