Insecurity Blanket

I remember a time when all I wanted was to be secure. I wanted to be certain, to the degree possible, that everything would be perfect, now, and in the future. I remember wishing for security, hoping for security, praying for security, planning for security. I’d go so far as to wish on stars, to hold my breath while driving through tunnels, and beg the universe for security. Security was the word I used to describe my resistance to change, my fear of change. Oddly, though, I wanted some change, but only on my terms, according to my overall plan for lasting security; the bigger house, the acreage, the newer car, a bigger paycheck, better performing investments, more clothes, more shoes, a bigger boat, horses, more pets. Happiness. Security.

Scarlette Begonia

And I was a prisoner. I was a slave. And I was insecure in my quest, my driving desire, for security. Things went according to plan for so very long, but I wasn’t completely happy, and I didn’t feel secure. There was always a sense of unease, uncertainty, at times, feelings of dread and doom.

As the economy worsened several years ago, my empire fell. The worst I could imagine, happened. Everything was lost. Everything material I’d worked for, for my entire adulthood, lost. The real estate, the acreage, the pets, the horses, the boat, my security, and the means to a secure future. But, in that precise moment when I knew it was all gone, I experienced a sense of peace, of calm, of, dare I say, joy. The burden had been lifted, I was no longer a prisoner, I was no longer a slave. I was, for the first time in my life, free. The shackles of security fell to the ground and I ran. I ran, I danced, I sang, my quest for security replaced with a quest for growth, adventure, uncertainty, and joy.

Scarlette Begonia

Since that time, not even a decade later, I’ve left my marriage, I’ve lost a lover, I’ve lost family, I’ve lost friends, children have grown and moved far, far away. Loss is change, and change, is part of life. There is comfort in being comfortable with change, loss, and with insecurity. Life is tenuous, life is exciting, life is not meant to be secure.

Security meant comfort. Comfort meant complacency. Complacency meant a headlong spiral into disaster. Life, now, is moment to moment. Life now is edgy. Life now is adventure and risk. Life now is real. And blissfully insecure. I am happy, almost always.

Oh, sure, I still find myself fretting over potential loss, thinking about “what could go wrong”, what could change in a manner I’m not cool with. And it is only at these moments that unhappiness and discontent seep into my world.

Scarlette Begonia

There is something very liberating in losing all the stuff. I look now, with pity, at people burdened with “all the things”, and ever in anguish about not having more. I’ve found so much freedom and joy in being “stuffless”, I often go through my remaining belongings, pulling things off shelves, out of drawers, bundling them up, and sending them away to become other people’s stuff. The sense of relief, with each and every purge, is indescribable.

Yes, there are “things” I want. I want a stand up paddle board right now. Does my life, my happiness, my sense of success, of purpose, depend on it? No. I can rent one any time. And, sure, I’d love for my current relationship to endure, but this is never a certainty. Do I let the uncertainty of permanence poison the beauty and joy I have right now? God, I try not to, I’m wonderfully imperfect, but I try.

In security, we are hopeless. In insecurity, once we understand it and embrace it, we are free and joyful. Security is imperfect. Security is a myth. Insecurity is growth, it is reality, and insecurity, like many good things in life, requires practice and thought, to understand, to embrace. In a blanket of insecurity, we find ourselves, our true selves; our passion, our joy, life. In a blanket of insecurity, we learn to take risks, to accept the present moment, each as they come, with gratitude. We learn to forsake the past, gleaning only the lessons we’ve learned along the way. We learn not to fret about the future, what will come will be right, in that future moment. We are not in control, and we lose control in our attempt. In insecurity, we have the chance to learn to be youthful, adventurous, and joyful. We learn to actually live.

Scarlette Begonia

So, like a small child with a ratty, old, blanket, required for comfort, for sleep, for security, there comes a time where it must be tossed into the trash. It must be discarded. When we embrace insecurity, blanket ourselves, instead, with the joy and opportunity in insecurity, we learn to live and we find joy.

SMH

I have developed an unsavory habit and I’m here to own up to it, to acknowledge it and find a twelve-step program to end it.

I shake my head. SMH. A lot.

I shake my head at dumb drivers. I shake my head at slow walkers. I shake my head at loud talkers. I shake my head at bicyclists on the sidewalk. I shake my head at narrow-minded tirades. I shake my head at people who eat junk. I shake my head when people say things I don’t totally agree with and I think they aren’t looking. Sometimes I get caught, and when I do, I shake my head. At myself. For getting caught.

SMH at other drivers
SMH at other drivers

I shake my head so much I’m afraid I’m going to have overdeveloped neck muscles!

Facebook is intolerable anymore. I gave up television decades ago.

Don't get me started on talk radio!
Don’t get me started on talk radio!

I live by the adage “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”. Some people assume I’m shy. Some people. SMH.

There I go again.

Isn’t shaking my head an expression? Non-verbal disapproval or judgment for something said, not said, done or not done? I’d say so. Who am I to judge? We are all entitled to opinions, our unique way of doing things, and if I am polite enough to not criticize out loud, what is all the head shaking about? I am actually sitting here, shaking my head, at myself, as I write about this unsavory behavior of mine. Make it stop!

Maybe that guy is riding his bike on the sidewalk because a garbage truck hit him last time he rode his bike in the street and this is the first time back on his bicycle after months of recovery from his life-threatening injuries and the embarrassment of being hit by a garbage truck! And I shake my head. Probably not, but it’s possible, right? Maybe the loud talker and the dumb driver have a reason, a story, and I have no way of knowing why they are behaving in a manner I consider unsavory.

As for beliefs and opinions; I have my ways, my beliefs, my opinions, and I think they’re good. Other folks do things differently, have different beliefs, opinions, and behaviors, I respect that. I do. And since I respect those differences, why am I shaking my head all the time? It is not up to me to judge, to decide who is right and who is wrong. Maybe we are all right, maybe we are all wrong. Who’s really an expert in anything? Who’s really a judge or an authority to be trusted, wholly? I think we’re all naïve and foolish, we all have much to learn, we’re all just nymphs, neophytes, in the grand scheme. I like how we think we’re THE superior species on the planet. I have my doubts. SMH. That’s my opinion. BTW.

We all have our differences! That’s what makes people so incredibly interesting! We’re all different! If we were all the same, thought, acted, believed and behaved the same, well, I’m shaking my head at how incredibly horrible that would be!

I preach acceptance. I preach tolerance. I shake my head at intolerance, in fact. I, myself, crave acceptance, tolerance and even understanding. I don’t care if folks agree with me, I just want them to understand why I believe, act, do, as I do, accept it and tolerate it. So I don’t understand why I shake my head. I don’t accept it and I will no longer tolerate it. So there.

Since shaking my head has become an involuntary behavior, I am struggling with the means to a cure. If I dwell on it, I’m afraid I will appear stiff and robotic, daring not tilt my head, or turn to gain a better view. I’ll be walking around like a soldier, right face, left face, about turn, head straight, gaze forward at all times. I’ve thought of maybe wearing a hat with dingle balls hanging from the brim, like one of those Spanish dudes, and every time I shake my head, the dingle balls will swing in my view and I’ll know to stop! Or maybe a hat with a bell on it! You’re shaking your head, I know it!

An Effort to Evolve

Well, whatever the cure, I am from this moment on, making the effort to stop SMH, to practice acceptance and tolerance, and to strive for understanding, where possible, and to keep silent in word, and in deed, if I don’t!

 

Boundaries, Control and Micro-Management! Oh My!

I’m glad to be home. But …

This whole being home thing is a big adjustment. I knew it would be. It seems I just get settled into a happy routine and it is upended by travel in one form or another. I am not complaining, I do love seeing the world, though I think I’d prefer adventure travel to business travel. We all know I am not one to sit home and let the world spin around without spinning around out there, experiencing it!

When the rhythm of my life changes, as it does a few times throughout any year, travel to working at home, working at home to travel, I go through a “storming” phase, where I try to regulate, try to find a routine, just adapt, and, finally, I reach my “norming” phase, where I find normalcy in my altered routine. I do love routine, as long as spontaneity is big part of it, if that makes any sense to anyone besides me.

I am a very self-directed person. I thrive on independence, freedom and autonomy. I love people in my life, I need close relationships like breath, but, I also need a bit of privacy, some me time. Daily, and, preferably a bit at the very beginning and a bit more at the very end, and, hopefully a little bit somewhere in there for some exercise. As much as I thrive on camaraderie and companionship, I like and respect boundaries. I like and respect privacy.

A little on life with Mom, whom I adore, bless her heart.

We are having some boundary issues and they are no more prevalent when I return home after a fit of traveling, just more noticeable. While traveling, though I may have very limited free time, I do have completely uninterrupted free time to pursue my activities, whether writing, reading, sleeping, meditating, working out, chatting on the phone, social networking, or feeling miserably alone. Whatever.

At home, and this has been true since my birth, my whereabouts must be constantly accounted for, as do my activities. Like a cat. An untrustworthy, mischievous, cat., and I have never yacked up a hairball on the carpet or sharpened my nails on the sofa. If I am upstairs, in my office, door closed, writing, meditating, or even during business hours, working at “real work”, she will knock, open the door, and inquire of my activities. Often, she will yell, from another floor of the house, “Where are you?” and my response, no matter the volume, is never heard. I must abandon my activity and go inform her of my location and activity. There is nothing quite like finally finding my quiet mind, sitting on my little couch with the morning sunlight streaming through my office window, meditating very conscientiously, and having to yell in reply, at the top of my lungs, “I’m meditating!” This I do so as to avoid the knock, knock, knock on my door, only to have to explain the whole thing. I’ve decided that I’m going to begin answering, “I’m masturbating!” and see what happens, and if no answer, I’ll walk to the top of the stairs, dildo in hand, and explain more clearly. No. I’d never do that.

This, I know, sounds fairly minor. I can deal. I’m tolerant, patient, accepting, compassionate and open-minded. I work at it, it’s one of the things I make an effort to evolve at. Let’s take this to the next level.

I’ve written, before, of our “tissue issues”. Since childhood, Mom, bless her frugal, raised during the depression, heart, has very carefully monitored paper usage of all forms, with the obvious exception of notepads, catalogs, junk mail, and newspapers. Tissue, toilet paper and paper towels, though, are very carefully scrutinized. As a matter of fact, after one very public outburst in the paper aisle at Target about my ability to use a half sheet of paper towels, I stalked across the parking lot to Whole Foods and bought two rolls of my very own, environmentally friendly paper towels. I use them exclusively. I’m about to do the same with TP. I do share in the restocking of TP, but it hasn’t seemed to help. How bad can it be? Example.

I have long hair. Mom has never had long hair in her life, and, in fact, for much of my life, at frequent intervals, has suggested that I should cut my hair, that I look “good” with short hair. So, do I look bad, now? I have cut my hair short, before, now and again, but because I wanted to. Just to be clear. Now, I have long hair. When I shower, a few hairs gather at the drain of the bathtub. After I get out of the shower, I grab an adequate amount of toilet paper and collect the hair from the drain and throw it in the trash. As a courtesy. Who wants to see hair in the bathtub? And “my” bathroom is the guest bathroom, which, and I wholeheartedly agree, must always be clean enough for guests. So, come on over and use my bathroom! Take a shower! It’s clean enough!

One day, when the topic of toilet paper use arose, again, it must have been an odd numbered day on the calendar, as there is a very regular pattern, Mom noted, “I know why you use so much toilet paper, you use it to wipe the hair out of the bathtub.” Yes. True. So, I wonder, has my budgeted allowance been adjusted? No matter, I just throw the hair away, now, in a big clump, sans toilet paper. If you glance into the trashcan under the sink, it looks like someone crammed Chewbacca in there. Mom has yet to comment on the toilet paper savings as a result. It wasn’t until the “trashcan” episode came up the other day that the reality of Mom’s “hair in tissue” observation became very clear to me.

While I was away, the bathroom received its twice-annual makeover. There is the spring/summer/fall collection consisting of rug, toilet seat cover, shower curtain, wall hangings, toilet top trinkets and trashcan, all coordinated. For Christmas, until spring, there is another collection of items in a different palette. So, it’s Christmas now, the bathroom says so. I was asked to not throw hair or tissue away in the decorative trashcan because of the material it is made of. I didn’t ask. It’s plastic. Same as the rest. It just has a fabric cover. I’ve learned long, long ago not to throw anything away in the decorative can, I always use the hideous peach colored circa 1960’s era plastic trashcan crammed under the bathroom vanity. But, it was in this moment that I realized, the fact that she referred to hair separate from tissue, Mom examines the trash, she actually unwads tissue to see what’s inside. I’ve taken to emptying the little trash cans to the big can outside almost daily to prevent her from having to perform her “budget to actual” examination, analysis and record keeping. I’m also making every effort to blow the biggest booger I can muster into every piece of litter I discard. I am being tolerant. And accepting. I don’t have to understand, just tolerate. Sigh.

Boundaries. And micro-management. How to do everything my way.

I may not be much different, but I try. Mom has always been quick to suggest, strongly, perhaps insist is a better word, that certain things be done a certain way. To control how absolutely everything is done. Fine. Usually. Turning the stove vent on when I cook leeks or boil water, placing my coffee press on a hot pad on the almost fifty year old Formica counter to preserve it’s shine, so the avocado and mustard gold streaks in the pattern will continue to glisten another half century, well beyond it’s fashionable longevity, or drying the shower and the stainless kitchen sink after every use (and this I totally support), all just examples. I can manage these, and, in “my” house, I might have my own. I would, in fact, and one example; when using a pot or pan, hand wash it and put it away so someone (me) doesn’t have to fish it out of the dishwasher the very next meal and wash it in order to use it. It’s not like we stock pots and pans like bowls and plates, there is one in each size and they get used multiple times in one “dishwasher cycle”.

When we drive places, as in, I drive her car to places she is afraid to park, and perhaps rightfully so, though I grew up in this town and am quite navigationally adept, she tells me exactly how to drive to our destination and where exactly I should park. She becomes quite alarmed if I enter a parking lot at a driveway other than the one she’s used to.

The line is crossed, occasionally, though, when a suggestion is made and is then followed up on with frequent queries and reminders. These suggestions are usually prefaced with “you should” rather than “could you please”, as in the example above. “You should call so-and-so and say such-and-such.” An hour later, and every hour, on the hour, thereafter, “Did you call so-and-so?” No, I am perfectly capable of managing my friendships, personal relationships, and communication, and of constructing sentences, for that matter, on my own, in my own way.

I remember, as a teenager, having a crush on a young man that worked at my dad’s bike shop. He was French. The young man. My dad, too. Anyway. Mom and I worked at the bike shop on weekends during the summer. Mom vacuumed incessantly and sprayed everything with Windex until we all asphyxiated, I assembled new bicycles and checked out guys buying motocross bikes and skateboards. I got paid to do this. On the last weekend before school was to begin, my last weekend on the job for the summer, Mom and I were leaving the bike shop at the same time as the young French man. She knew I thought he was cute, but I was (believe it or not) a bit shy. I grew out of it eventually. She told me I should say to him, “If you’re ever in Napa, you should stop by for iced tea.” I did. He looked at me like I was a bug. I said to Mom, “That didn’t go very well.” And she agreed, like I’d thought of what to say all by myself, and failed. I’m not a good puppet. From that point on, I have vehemently resisted letting anyone form phrases for me, or to prompt me as to when to speak or what to say. I’ve got this, and I’ve been managing fairly well on my own ever since.

Another time, way, way back, when I was in college in Sacramento, and, for the record, beyond the legal age of consent, my boyfriend lived in Napa. Yes, Stanly, so maybe I wasn’t all too bright about “love” at that time. I would, on occasion, drive down to see him, and spend the night, if I had a late class the next day. Mom confronted me, informing me that she’d seen my car parked out in front of his house at some unholy hour of the morning. Well! What was she doing out? Besides checking up on me. So, I just parked in his one-car garage, causing a great deal of automotive upheaval with roommates and such when I visited.

So I just moved in with the next boyfriend, which, of course, was unacceptable. I was just trying to economize. Think of the time and gas Mom saved not having to drive by every night to see if my car was where it “shouldn’t” be!

I realize that I will never change who my mom is, and how she thinks or feels, nor would I want to. Besides, change only occurs from within. And while I may change my behavior in response to some of her “concerns”, I am not changing any of my beliefs or values as a result. We are who we are, and after her ninety years and my fifty, we are probably, both, pretty set in our ways, however different they may be. Fine. If I pride myself on being accepting, tolerant, open-minded and compassionate, then I shall be.

I try really, really, really hard to be tolerant and accepting of the unique ways people do things, that I may do differently. To each their own.

With that in mind; while I may suggest certain concepts, principles and methods, here and in my daily doings, as a good way to do or approach things, I usually preface it, implicitly or explicitly, with the fact that there are more than one good way to do just about anything, even open heart surgery, and, that the method I’m suggesting has worked, thus far, for me. It is merely a suggestion. Always.

One thing that works for me, now, with certain boundary and micro-management issues I struggle with, is to find a quiet place, however fleeting, and to write down my affirmations and then, the things I’m grateful for. Among my list of affirmations; I am tolerant, accepting, patient and open-minded. Among the things I am grateful for; my mom. And for being as tolerant, accepting, patient and open-minded as I am.  Despite our idiosyncrasies, our minor, petty differences, we are lucky to have each other, now, and for all of time.

I’m still “storming” a bit, though. So, another tactic for feeling frustrated is to go to yoga for some quiet physical exertion, stretching and calming reflection. Which I am going to do! Right now! Namaste, dammit!

Scarlett’s Letter July 13, 2013

My wonderful, perfect, fun, romantic vacation draws to a close, and with every passing second I try not to let the fact that I’m returning “home” dampen my mood. But it does. But I try not to let it show, and I’m not sure I pulled it off 100%. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not like I won’t be back, I will, I just don’t know when and my vacation time from work dwindles. With only half the year behind us and one week of vacation left, it is hard to figure out where to take that week. Next week would be grand, but then the next six months would be hard to endure. I try not to think about it.

We busied ourselves this morning, fishing. We revisited the stocked ponds along the Steese Highway. We were armed, we thought, with what no fish could resist; freshly gathered and dried salmon roe. I harvested it myself and it has been drying in the yard for the past few days, as the salmon strips dried in the smoker. We harvested a small alder tree from the yard, stripped the bark from it, chopped it up and used it to smoke the fish in the smoker. The roe just dried, slightly, on racks in the sunshine.

We visited the prettiest of the several ponds first and saw trout everywhere, jumping for insects, swimming past us in small schools, inches from our “irresistible” bait. I tried a lure, a spoon, a spinner, with and without bait. Stuck up fish. Stuck up hatchery born, commercially fed fish. They don’t even know what salmon roe is, apparently, nor that any normal, wild fish would attack it like Jaws a young, teen, swimmer at the beach. Eventually, we moved on to the next, less scenic, more successful pond, based on our earlier experience. Nothing. Nothing, but mosquitos. We gave up early and fast and returned home, with thoughts of, maybe, hitching up the airboat and going after the “sure to catch” grayling on the Chatanika. Once home, though, in the heat of the day, we decided not to. Not to do anything. And it was splendid, just some quality, quiet time. A siesta.

As evening approached, my plan was to take my man out for a nice dinner, my treat, in thanks and in appreciation for such a wonderful vacation. We called to make reservations as The Turtle Club in nearby Fox, and, thankfully, they had a couple of openings left, and one for precisely when we’d hoped for. We got all dressed up after washing the smell of mosquito dope and salmon roe off, and headed towards town. We had a lovely, lovely, large, large dinner, which, against my plan, ended up being his treat, for my upcoming birthday. My sweet man! We skipped dessert, on purpose.

Across the street, in Fox, is Silver Gulch Brewery, where we met nearly three years ago, and today is Beerfest, featuring tastings and a live polka band in the tent adjacent to the brewery. The parking lot was jammed full, so we parked across the street and skipped the fest and just went in for a quick visit with the “locals” at the bar and a beer (40 Below for me). We had an engagement for dessert, up the hill, and enjoyed filling our free time between dinner and dessert visiting and sipping.

We enjoyed dessert and wine with the neighbors up the road, as we always enjoy time with them. As they prepare to sell their home and move away and make a new life in the “lower forty-eight”, I struggle to face the fact I leave this “vacation world” tomorrow morning and return to my life, firmly rooted in the “lower forty-eight”. People come and go in life, not so much like a tide, but more like a river, there for a fleeting moment, in the grand scheme of things, then on with the current. When I think of the number of people I have had friendships with over the course of my, now, fifty years, the number, in total, is staggering. And, at moments like this, I want the river to freeze, like rivers do, here in Alaska. I will return, soon enough, but it will be different, not better or worse, necessarily, but different. In time, even a short period of time, there are changes, and we have to accept and adapt to those changes. Or be left behind, saddened and confused.

Living with my elderly mom, lonely since my dad passed, or longer, she fills quiet with one-sided conversation; mostly of “how things used to be, when times were better”. She mourns for the world today, not at all like the world she thrived in, a world that, to her, was simpler, slower, softer and more tangible. She just exists in this world, she doesn’t understand it, appreciate it, or participate in it, complicated, fast paced, unforgiving and digital. Today’s world is foreign and hostile, scary and unwelcome. Today’s world, that which Mom fears and discounts, I embrace and drink in. And with this lesson, vivid in my mind, I pray that I am always appreciative, accepting and a willing participant in the world, and as it evolves and changes. As the world evolves and changes, I hope, so, too, shall I. I don’t ever want to be sorrowful or bitter for a world that has changed in my midst, I don’t want to be left behind, saddened and confused. As I head home and my world at home and the world that I love, here, both are destined to change, I vow to boldly embrace those changes and adapt and be joyous for the new, exciting experiences ahead, the new people, with the hope that some people in my life remain steadfast, and with the hope that the people who do move on remain, somehow, close. And so, many smiles, chocolate mousse and more wine! Salut!

 

 

Salmon roe drying in the sun, excellent bait for most trout.
Salmon roe drying in the sun, excellent bait for most trout.
The prettier fishing pond, stocked with fish that don't know salmon roe is good bait!
The prettier fishing pond, stocked with fish that don’t know salmon roe is good bait!
Alder wood from the front yard was used to smoke the red salmon strips from our trip to Chitina earlier this week.
Alder wood from the front yard was used to smoke the red salmon strips from our trip to Chitina earlier this week.
Smoking the salmon strips over alder wood.
Smoking the salmon strips over alder wood.
An example of change; what is now Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, AK is on the site of the old Fox Roadhouse.
An example of change; what is now Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, AK is on the site of the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built "around" the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built “around” the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built "around" the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built “around” the old Fox Roadhouse.
Our friends' amazing chocolate mousse with a super "secret" ingredient!
Our friends’ amazing chocolate mousse with a super “secret” ingredient!

Great Expectations

What Do You Expect?

What is an expectation?

ex·pec·ta·tion
/ˌekspekˈtāSHən/

Noun

A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

Let’s talk about that second line, there, a belief that someone will or should achieve something. Let me ask you this; how easy is it to change? What’s the biggest thing you’d like to change about yourself? Are you done, yet? Have you even started? Not that easy, is it? Now what if someone strongly believed you should change in that way? What if they believed that you would, or should, achieve those changes? And what if you didn’t? Do you think the fact that you didn’t quite fulfill their desire, confirm their strong belief, would cause disappointment, even if only a little? Would prolonged disappointment on their part, perhaps, cause a strain in your relationship? Yes, it would, and the more time that passes that you don’t confirm their strong belief, the more likely that disappointment will mount. The relationship deteriorates over time as a result. Yet we all have expectations of others in our relationships. It is absolutely natural.

Expectation is a relationship disease, like a cancer, eating away at it, undermining its health and vigor, zapping its strength and cutting short its longevity. The only person than can change you, is you. You, plain and simple, have to want to change. Then you must apply a significant amount of energy to that desire. And only you can do that. Period. You can’t change anyone else, and they can’t make you change either. Expecting another to change, trying to convince them to change, pleading, offering ultimatums or threats, are the surest way to put a once vibrant, healthy relationship to a slow and miserable death.

This reaches far beyond romantic relationships and invades relationships with friends and with family members. Expectation causes disappointment, anger, resentment and eventually bitterness, in any relationship. The “expector” is disappointed, angry, resentful and bitter for being let down, the “expectee” for the lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the “expector”. Even if we have expectations of someone with the best of intentions, “I think you should lose weight because I care for you.” Or, “I think you should spend less money so you can save for retirement.” When those types of expectations are placed on us, even though well intended, what is the immediate reaction of the “expectee”? Not change, at least not long term. The “expectee” may make an initial effort, but if they are not embracing the change wholeheartedly, if the desire to change does not come from within, the behavior will continue, the expector will be disappointed, and the expectee feels all that much more awful, first of all for letting the “expector” down and for “failing” or for letting themselves down. Often times, this undermines the self-esteem and self-confidence of the “expectee”, which, with many behaviors, just causes them to increase or worsen, or for new behaviors to manifest.

I once knew a married couple and from the outside looking in, I thought they had the perfect relationship. I remember talking to the wife about it and she told me that a couple of times a year, or when there was a change in family dynamic (a new kid, a new job, etc.), they’d sit down and discuss their expectations of each other. I thought this was brilliant. I attempted to employ this in my own, already unhappy marriage, and the expectation that my husband would even sit down and have a meaningful conversation with me wasn’t even met. Long story short, my marriage ended, neither of us ever lived up to any of each other’s expectations. And the happily married couple are now bitterly divorced. The wife was, for lack of a better term, a bit more assertive than her husband. Over time, he pretty much self-destructed. His life is in shambles and she is happily remarried.

Surely relationships must have some level of expectation in order to survive. Is it wrong to expect your spouse won’t cheat, will honor your wedding vows? The difference here is that vows are a mutual agreement, entered into by both parties, willingly. An expectation is one sided. Therein lies the crucial difference. Expectations often follow the word “should”. Listen to your thoughts, your words; how often are you thinking or saying, “should” as it relates to other people in your life? That is a one-sided desire, your desire, for someone else to change or conform, often against his or her will or desire. Expectations in a relationship, being one-sided in nature, are a highway to frustration and disappointment. Yours and theirs.

We usually begin a relationship managing to overlook all those things we think the other party should or should not do. We are open, accepting and tolerant. That is the key; openness, acceptance and tolerance. As time passes, unless we are conscious of own behavior, the “shoulds” begin to creep into our thoughts and into our speech. We need to learn to identify this tendency and to foster that loving openness, acceptance, and tolerance. We need to affirm in our relationship the characteristics of the other person that drew us together and accept the characteristics that we might otherwise expect to change. Quite simply said, much harder done, we need to replace expect with accept.

One of the best books I have ever read on all matters of relationships is The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. This book eloquently and logically explains how poisonous expectations can be to a relationship and how to replace expectations with invitations. I’ve read this book and I’ve re-read this book. And I recommend this book unequivocally. It should be required reading for anyone that ever has to relate in any way to another person! I am inviting you to read this book; I am not expecting you to read it. I’ll accept your decision, either way. Just sayin’.

Don’t Poke the Bear

Why is it so important to always be right? Why is it so important to have the last word? Why is it so important that everyone agree with you, your philosophy, your religion, your politics, your lifestyle, your fashion, your, well, you name it? Or with mine? I’m not innocent here, either.

True, as a blogger about lifestyle and self-improvement and health, I could fall under this umbrella. I do give advice, unsolicited advice. But I don’t think I’d argue with anyone that what I believe is the only solution, unless I’m feeling defensive. And I find, lately, I’m on the defensive quite a bit. True, I am a sensitive soul, but when attacked, or picked at, I will defend myself, my beliefs, and my right to have my opinion and to follow my beliefs. Don’t poke the bear.

My favorite animal is Ursus Americanus, the black bear, which may or may not actually be black. The black bear is shy, very smart, and can smell food for miles. Just like me. Their sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhound’s, 2,100 times better than a human’s. They are omnivores, consuming a mostly vegetarian diet. They do eat meat, but they don’t often kill, but rather, will scavenge what another predator left behind. In other words, if you cook a steak for them, they love it, otherwise, a salad will do. They tend to be peaceful creatures, they just want food, and otherwise, seek to avoid any kind of encounter and especially seek to avoid conflict. When provoked, or if they feel their young are endangered, or if you have a candy bar in your sleeping bag, they can, and will shred you to pieces. I identify with this species on many levels. So don’t poke the bear.

There are only a few people in this world that can illicit a defensive reaction from me, and they tend to be the people I am the closest to. But not my kids. Either we three are on exactly the same wavelength, or perhaps it’s just that I’ve done an exceptional job raising them. They’ve got it all pretty right, and if ever we differ, they don’t pick, poke, prod or attack me, or try to convince me to conform to their way of thinking. The cubs and I get along.

I like to get along with people, peacefully, respectfully and companionably. If we have a difference of opinion, I respect that. I’ll listen to your opinion, maybe, maybe, I’ll offer you mine, and let’s just leave it at that. I have been known to change my philosophy, my opinion, but it has always, always, always been my choice, based on facts I have gathered myself, and after much thought and reflection. No one has ever, ever, ever been successful in changing my opinion by shouting, pounding their fists, quoting statistics or surveys, by quoting the ever ubiquitous “they”, by interrupting me, by talking over me, by humiliating me, belittling me or criticizing me or my beliefs. In fact, people with those tendencies are usually on my “seek to avoid” list, and for those who I can’t avoid, I will do one of two things; shut down or lash out. It’s the lashing out I am here to discuss. My advice? Don’t poke the bear.

I will say that I was raised to never discuss money, politics or religion, and it’s a lie. I think it is good manners to avoid those topics, always, but especially at the dinner table, at parties or social occasions or celebrations. And I do. Let’s talk about food, or wine, celebrities, travel or fashion instead. Please? If you must debate or discuss money, politics or religion, save it for smaller, consensual, groups, over a beer, a glass of wine, bourbon or brandy, perhaps with a cigar. Retire to a smaller group and have at, but to drag those topics into the main theater of a gathering is just not okay. Emily Post, I’m sure, would agree, and, at the very least, most of the guests would really, really appreciate it. Take it outside, gloves off, and go for it. Poke the bear away from the party, preferably outdoors, or in another room.

I was married to a man who was very politically outspoken. He had a twin brother who was equally politically outspoken. The funny thing, though, is that they were polar opposites on all things political, social, and economic. They were raised by each other, or by wolves, but in either case, they were never exposed to Emily Post, manners, or etiquette. They both believed that the louder you were the more correct your point of view was. Extra points for interrupting and talking over the other. Needless to say, family gatherings were a nightmare. The more genteel of us would try to convince them to not talk about politics during these gatherings, and that rarely lasted long enough for the first drink to kick in.

This not so refined manner of communication carried into all things family, the louder you were, the righter you were, and I fully participated in this chaos. The bear had been poked beyond recognition. This was a major contributor to the first three words of the previous paragraph, mostly the second word. In my current relationship, we have nearly opposite lifestyles, a few differences in philosophy, an occasional difference of opinion, yet we manage to be very agreeable and always respectful. He was raised to never raise his voice in conversation, no matter how adversarial. So refreshingly civilized. If you want people to really listen to you, try whispering, or speaking in a calm, even, tone of voice, they’ll have shut up for a minute and lean in and listen, actively.

In my current relationship, we have a rule, to always love and respect each other. No matter what. What does it say about where we both have been in the past that we had to make this rule, write it down, and occasionally repeat it, not out of necessity, but more as a comfort to each other?

On poking the bear; I’m sure we all handle this a bit differently. Personally, I’ll shut down first, especially if I’m in a group where my soft voice is not likely to be heard, or acknowledged. If I can’t get a word in edgewise, I just give up. I just get quiet and look for a way to retreat. And make notes for a blog post later. If I can’t retreat and the poking continues, or if I am in a comfortable environment where I get poked at all the time, I will defend myself, usually by prefacing every response with “No! …”. The literal translation would be “please respect me for who I am, for my individual thoughts and beliefs. Please try, for a moment, to be open minded, tolerant, accepting, and please pretend to be intelligent enough to realize that there may be more than one opinion, more than one correct answer.” Another literal translation might be “IT”S NOT A DIET! THIS IS HOW I ALWAYS EAT! YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IT!” Oh, sorry, lost my head for a moment. The bear was being poked.

I begin my day, nearly everyday, by writing in my journal. First I write down my affirmations, then I write down all that I am grateful for. This daily exercise puts me in a great frame of mind to survive the day, to make progress, to evolve a little bit more in some meaningful, and hopefully measurable, way. A few of the things I always express gratitude for are my parents, my kids, my friends and my man. At the top of the list of my affirmations are that I am a good daughter, a good mother, a good friend and a good mate. Ten minutes later, an hour later, a day, week or month later, I am face to face, with all of those parties. The bear is sometimes poked and all those good intentions, all the affirmations, all the gratitude, is momentarily lost. “No! …” And in the ensuing moments, guilt.

How to proceed when “No! …” doesn’t work? I wish I knew. But really, in the grand scheme of things, especially where family, friends or intimates are concerned, how important is it to be right, to be heard, to be convincing? The likelihood of changing anyone’s mind on any topic, let alone deep seated beliefs such as money, religion or politics, are extremely remote. Isn’t it far more important to preserve the mutual affection and respect between you than to convince them to vote one way or the other? To behave one way or another? To worship one way or another? Life is made up of relationships. The goal is to have a life made up of good relationships. Relationships between unique individuals with a unique code of conduct, set of values, intrinsic beliefs. To truly love someone, either friend, family or intimate, is to respect them for their uniqueness, for their individuality, for their values and intrinsic beliefs. You can’t change anyone, but yourself, and truly, you’ll only create an adversary by trying.

So please, don’t poke the bear.

The Rhythm of Love

I haven’t written in a while. And I’m behind on my projects for work. True, I have been packing boxes, moving truck loads of my belongings from old residence to new, and now unpacking boxes, in every spare moment of my time. I have been residing at the new residence for a couple of days now, and I am really struggling to develop a rhythm in my day.

I think humans were meant to have a routine; a daily routine, perhaps a weekly and monthly routine, and most definitely a seasonal routine. As hunter/gatherers, our lives were very much set to the pattern of the rising and setting of the sun, the change of seasons, and the progression of age. It is natural, and living without a routine, though commonly thought of as romantic and bohemian, is really not sustainable. And so, I am feeling a bit out of sorts.

I like to consider myself spontaneous. I can be. I’d like to think if a friend called and said “let’s go do this or that tonight”, I’d be thrilled and ready to go. I think I would. Usually. But, for every day where nothing spontaneous presents itself, I do like to have a bit of a routine. Perhaps it has to do with my life, in general, with so much travel, and rarely to the same place twice. Though every destination is different, I do have my travel routine; how I travel, the time I prefer to book my flights, what I do as soon as I arrive in the city, at the hotel, etc. There is a definite pattern, if not a routine.

During the brief respite from travel I have each year, occurring right about now, I crave a routine in order to get my projects done for work. When we don’t travel and train clients on software, we re-write, rearrange and refresh our class materials. That’s what I’ve been working on the past few weeks, and still I am behind. I’ll get it done, no doubt, but I am struggling, more than usual, with the upheaval of moving in the midst of all of this.

During this time of year, when I work from home, I like to get up, eat breakfast, write in my journal, check Facebook, text important people in my life a heartfelt good morning, work out, shower, and be ready to work by the time I’m “supposed” to be working, 9:00 am in my home time zone. This I can usually accomplish, sometimes it’s a little later, but then I just work a little later. Sometimes a lot later. No big.

My old residence was a house outside in a newer suburban neighborhood, an annoying distance from any convenient shopping venue. The house was actually, originally, leased by my son and a few of his friends from high school for their first years of college. My son being the only of the four that went directly to a university rather than to a community college. After a year or so, the other young men all transferred to other schools in other locations and my son was left at the house by himself, with most of their stuff and all of the rent. My lease was up for renewal at that time, with a sizable rent increase, and after an unsuccessful attempt at securing new roommates, my son asked me to move in. I rented the two smaller bedrooms from him, he kept the master bedroom. It was kind of a strange dynamic, at first, but we settled into a routine that suited both of us. Neither of us were home, much, at all, and when we were, we were often alone. We actually got into the routine of setting aside a Friday night once a month to go to a pub for a beer or to a wine bar for a flight of wine. While living with my son, I was able to stick to my preferred routine when working from home, mostly, and was very happy with that.

My son has moved, having found a less expensive option, living with other college kids, which is a much better college experience than living with your mom. I support that. I wasn’t wild about paying for and keeping clean, the entire three bedroom, two and a half bathroom house. Especially the paying for part. My mom just turned 89 and lives alone in the house I grew up in, an older, suburban, split level home that requires quite a bit of work and maintenance. She struggles with the stairs and with keeping things up. I, being the only child, and my father having passed away just over a year ago, worry about Mom falling or overdoing. Her neighbors have all been lovely and kind and have been looking out for her, but I knew, I’ve known for most of my life, that at some point, I was probably going to have to assist in some way. I consider myself the “floating family member”, I can live pretty much anywhere as long as I’m within a reasonable distance from a decent airport. Well, I can’t live in Hawaii. Or Alaska. Which is really, really, really unfortunate.

So, here I am. Living with my mom. For two whole days now. I haven’t accomplished anything. I have no schedule. I have no routine. I have no solitude. And I have no patience. Breakfast is littered with random recitations from the newspaper, I couldn’t focus on my journal at all. There I was writing down my affirmations, one being “I am a good daughter”, all the while just seething and being generally grumpy because I was unable to concentrate on my task as my mom read snippets of the newspaper out loud to me. I’m pretty sure I was making the same face my dad used to always make, sort of a grimace, when my mom read from the newspaper. I wasn’t ready to work until 10:00 am this morning, and I really wasn’t all the way ready, but I had a meeting. Then I finished getting ready. I worked for a wee bit, had another meeting, then took Mom out for errands. Just like yesterday.

I know that I need to be way more tolerant. I need to be accepting. I need to find a way to secure solitude at one end of the day or the other to do what I find very important to me; journal, reflect, exercise, write, read. Oh, and work.

I have written over 1,000 words tonight, and this feels really good. Of course, I should be working on my work projects right now, try to finish up before next week’s deadline, having probably only put in about six hours of work in the past two days, total. I’ve told Mom that tomorrow, no errands, that I need to work twelve to fourteen hours, after my morning routine. We’ll see how that goes. I am hopeful. I have plans to alter my morning routine slightly to accommodate the “I am a good daughter” affirmation. I will do my journal (affirmations and gratitude) before I go down for breakfast. I will smile while she reads the newspaper out loud and I munch on my breakfast, text and Facebook. Work out, shower and then work.

I am a proponent of change. I think change is good. I am comfortable enough with change to deliberately seek it out. I embrace change. With change comes adjustment, tolerance and acceptance, all four being very upsetting to most people. All four being critical to our ability to develop, to evolve into the people we hope to become. And so, I have set my alarm and look forward to the challenge of a new day. A day where, out of love, I will try to fall into a new rhythm.