Scarlette Letter – 8/28/2015

Today was compelling testimony that frequent, vigorous exercise, good food, a leash on monkey mind, and social activity, or connection, fosters a feeling of well-being and happiness.

After a rewarding hike yesterday evening, I took off on a hot, mid-day, ten-mile hike “for lunch”. It feels so good to move and be outdoors. I love hiking with people, but I really thrive when hiking in solitude.

My hike was followed by a Meet-Up event with the women’s networking group I’ve been sporadically active with over the past couple of years. The group organizer planned an evening for a small group of women where she’d show us how to make Venezuelan arepas. I was the only member who showed up, but we had the loveliest of times preparing yummy food, drinking rum infused “batidos” and catching up on stories of adventure, travel, work, and all those things friends chat about.

I came home and felt accomplished, peaceful, content, and happy and watched a Netflix DVD, “Factory Girl”, which, though tragic, and dark, had no detrimental effect on my joy.

Falling asleep was harder than I expected, as I began to make plans for the next day, but, eventually, I succeeded.

A Long Talk with a Good Stranger

If you’ve read between the lines of my past couple of articles, you’ve probably gathered I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch. I’m broken hearted. At first, destroyed, then just devastated, now simply hurt. Notice I say that I hurt, not that “he hurt me”. It is how I am reacting to the situation, how I choose to react, there is no blame, just a feeling, and one that will pass, will heal. I’m doing much better, now. I didn’t cry once yesterday. Or so far, today. And before I go any further, let me be clear, what happened was destined to happen. I guess. It is what it is and I am fine. I still do, and always will, love and respect the man I lost. We have just taken things back to where we started from; friendship. Hurt and hate do not equate. And for this, I am incredibly grateful. I have nothing but good words and happy thoughts about all we shared and about the friendship that lies ahead. Cool. But it has been quiet, no talk, no exchange. In weeks, or has it only been a week? Seems an eternity.

When things get rough, though, I usually retreat a bit, meditate more, run more, sleep more, eat more conscientiously and drink less beer and more water. That things all unraveled during three consecutive weeks of intense travel and stressful work assignments prevented me from my self-prescribed therapy.  So, I unplugged. Traveling, I couldn’t eat as healthy as I should, run outdoors, sleep nearly enough, meditate quietly, or even think clearly, so retreating, unplugging, was my only recourse.

In unplugging, I did pry myself away from social media for a whole week, until I was certain I wouldn’t say something regrettable or publicize an invitation to my pity party, spurring a potential online flash mob of regret. I unplugged. I do this in times of hurt, I either unplug by removing myself from public view, or I unplug from you, if you happen to be the party I need to retreat from, for healing. Unplugging can be subtle, like just not being available, or more substantial; “unfriending” or maybe even “blocking” on social media, or removing conversations and contact information from my devices, not to be hurtful, but to be safe. I need time to reason and there is that period of unreasonableness where I may say something I don’t mean. I just unplug for a bit, regain perspective, and plug back in (unblock, refriend, restore contact information). It’s a “me problem”, and that’s how I deal.

In times of difficulty, we often seek solace in long conversations with good friends, our confidants, the people we trust will listen compassionately and advise with exactly what we want to hear! Or better, yet, sound advice. Cross country travel, long work hours and time zone differences hinder such luxuries. Fortunately, I was able to resort to an equally nourishing and enriching option, on more than one occasion; a long talk with a good stranger.

I am a frequent flier, and am, in fact, somewhere 30,000 feet over Middle America just now. I am, sometimes, a jaded, cynical, traveler. I expect everyone to know and adhere to the unwritten code of conduct aboard an airplane or seated in an airport bar; head down, gaze affixed on some device, or, eyes closed, feigning sleep, means “do not disturb”, and I hang this sign out more often than not. Being out of communication with friends, family, and the man I lost, caused me, perhaps, to lower that sign a little. Or maybe I looked ragged and torn and on the verge of something drastic and people sought to intervene. Whatever the cause, I’ve had some of the deepest, richest, most meaningful, soul-baring conversations I’ve ever had. And with complete strangers. And I haven’t just been on the telling side, I’ve listened, and advised, like the best of friends would. It has been so enriching, so nourishing. I’ve learned a lot, about myself, and others, too.

An Effort to Evolve

A U.S. Marine Corps reservist and young father headed to Chicago on a quick, connecting flight from Minneapolis, a quiet, well-spoken gentleman from Amsterdam at a sushi bar in O’Hare, we spoke of politics and religion, of culture and relationships, of career, and love, an angry, young, middle-eastern traveler and a compassionate, elderly Christian man, engrossed in nurturing and consoling conversation with each other, an exuberant, young Mormon man, just finishing his two-year mission and headed home, a woman near my age, and a kindred spirit, on a long, late, flight home, a unique and wonderful, very married man, brimming with intelligence and witty conversation, on a very long flight home, a recovering cashier at a dollar store, formerly a strong and independent business woman, who I knew was unique with her use of the word “antiquated” in an exchange with the customer before me, a brief and lively conversation with an distinguished older man in the Whole Foods beer aisle; everywhere I turn, another interesting person, another great conversation, a long, long talk with a good stranger.

Again, I’ll find myself, this week, three-thousand miles from home, alone in a hotel room, with only my thoughts, social media, an occasional text or Facebook notification, and the idea of an article to share, to prevent me from the full realization of my aloneness. During the day, with work and my clients and business lunches with familiar, client associates, I am fine. It is in the quiet nights in my room that I am reminded of my solitude and I can hardly wait for my next long, flight home or chance meeting in a restaurant, and, hopefully, a long talk with a good stranger.

 

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Anyone out there old enough to remember the movie Urban Cowboy? Maybe some of you younger folks are into old, cheesy movies. But I’m guessing if you know the movie, or the song, it is now tragically stuck in your head for the rest of the day. I apologize.

An Effort to Evolve

I remember, once, seeing a cartoon of a cowboy looking under a horse’s tail, captioned, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Where do you find love? Where do you look for it?

I know countless people who, despite heroic efforts, can’t find love. Maybe not countless in literal terms, but as I’ve never kept track, in that respect, countless. However many of these people I know, they are all on every online dating site, some even have consultants to assist and advise them on their dating site profiles. I have friends who are chronically single and others who are chronically miserable in the relationship they’re in. I even follow a blog written by a woman who writes of her efforts to find lasting love, which seems to elude her to an almost comic level. Every time she is “in love” again, her readers watch and wait, kind of like watching Jersey Shore or a car crash, we can’t not watch, as much as we’d like to. We all know in a week, or two, a month, tops, she will be single and on the hunt again. Which is tragic, except that she has an enviable following.

For the many I know who struggle with love, I know a few wise and blessed people who find lasting, fulfilling and joyful love. Sometimes with no effort whatsoever, they round a corner one day and BAM!! Love.

May I share with you my thoughts on this? Not that I am some well-published love guru, nor am I the ill-fated, love sick blogger with an enviable following and the “can’t not watch” antics.

I often kid around with my single and dateless friends, “If you want to meet guys you just need to go to bars, alone, and drink really dark beer, it guarantees getting noticed and almost certainly a conversation.” And that is where it all begins, with a conversation. If you aren’t having conversations, or aren’t available to converse, or are always with your pussy posse and so, unapproachable, how can you expect to have a conversation?

Conversation is required for a relationship to begin, but 99% of conversations are not for that intent. They are just conversations. It surprises me, though, in all my travels and in all my observations, how few people are really willing to converse with “strangers”. And, even among my chronically single friends, they “would never” just enter into a conversation in a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, or any other public setting, with a stranger. Question; how else does a stranger become an acquaintance? Am I missing something here?

Conversation or no conversation, there is much more to the story. Love may follow a friendship that develops from some initial conversation that begins in a coffee shop, a bar, the grocery store, an opera performance, or even an online dating sight. But love can only survive under the ideal circumstances, like a rare, exquisite and temperamental flower. We may be “looking for love” in all the usual places, bars, coffee shops, online dating sites, etc., and we may even have some promising, preliminary success, but, I’m here to tell you that’s not where you’re going to find true, meaningful, fulfilling and lasting love (and by “lasting” I mean of some undetermined, unguaranteed, duration, because, remember, love is impermanent, like life, like baseball season, summer, youth, and  like rare, exquisite and temperamental flowers; a topic for another time).

The biggest problem with love, that I see, is that people expect it to happen to them. In other words, love comes from an external source, “he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me …” How often do we hear people make mention of the fact that people in their lives either love them, or don’t? Their kids, their lover, their parents, their relatives, their co-workers, spouses, friends of friends, acquaintances, exes, and so forth and so on? Does this, then, add or decrease their value as a person, to be loved, or not, by other people in the world? We are looking in the wrong place. Love does not happen to us, it isn’t something that is just bestowed upon us, from an external source, because we live and breathe and occupy space on this planet. There seems to be a false sense of entitlement here, and there, and everywhere. Don’t get me started on THAT topic, we’ll save it for later, as well.

Where, then, should we be looking for love, if not from those around us we wish would love us?

Love begins, exists and is always, for eternity, from within.

How often have you heard someone say, or how many times have you, yourself said, “I wish I could find someone who loved me for who I am. I wish I could find someone who loved me exactly the way i am.” Question; do you love you for who you are? Exactly the way you are? To be loved we must first be lovable. To be lovable, we must first love ourselves. We pretty much set the standard, our expectation of how others will regard us, like us, love us, by how we feel about ourselves. You remember those hapless people that round a corner, bump into a stranger, and find blissful love? Chances are, they are very lovable and that it all begins with how they feel about themselves.

Sound narcissistic? There is a different between narcissism and loving oneself. To love oneself means to have self-respect, to treat oneself with love in the way we think, speak and act towards ourselves. If we are self-loathing and self-destructive that is perceived, if only on a subconscious level, by others, as being unworthy of love, our own, first, and theirs, then, too.

When was the last time you picked a daisy and plucked the petals from it, one at a time, saying, “I love me, I love me not, I love me, I love me not, I love me!”?

An Effort to Evolve

Do you recall Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways“? Perhaps we should recite it as “How do I love me? Let me count the ways.” We are, sadly, in the practice of counting the ways we don’t love ourselves;  “I’m not pretty enough.” “I’m not thin enough.” “I’m not young enough.” “I’m not interesting enough.” “I’m not adventurous enough.” “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m boring.” “I’m stupid.” We constantly tell ourselves “I am not enough”, and so those in our midst, the world, the universe, if you will, hears “I am not enough.”

No matter our I.Q., our body type, our shape, size, hair color, job, hobbies, political view, religion, national origin, family history, or anything, we can be lovable. But we must begin with ourselves, it all begins inside our head, inside our own heart. When you feel deserving of your own affections and adoration, you become deserving of others’ affections and adoration. It shines like a beacon through the fog, ethereal and intangible, but real and palpable.

You know those people, friends, relatives, or complete strangers you may casually observe, they’ve just got “that quality”? People seem to notice them despite their relative physical attractiveness, or unattractiveness. That’s the quality; self-love, self-respect, self-worth. The beacon in the fog.

So if that’s the secret, how does one fall in love with one’s self?

It is a process. It is a practice. It is a daily, moment to moment, and lifelong chore. Loving oneself is not something we accomplish and then just check off our list. Loving oneself is something we work at daily, every day, for the rest of our lives. It’s a lot like getting fit and healthy; you can’t just go on a diet for three weeks and then stop. You can’t go to the gym for the month of January and then stop. Health and fitness are lasting only when our efforts are lasting. There is a sign in the yoga room at my gym that says “fitness is not a destination, it is a lifestyle”. Loving oneself is the same, it is a lifestyle and it takes the same level of commitment, sweat, exertion, and sometimes even pain, to maintain. Make no doubt.

Don’t be mistaken, though, I’m not saying it’s hard to love one’s self, I’m saying it’s hard to change the patterns we’ve developed and are enmeshed in. People, without making a conscious effort, are generally very self-loathing. Truthfully, even the most conceited, narcissistic, people you’ll ever meet are actually, usually, the ones that hate themselves the most. It is our tendency, as humans, and this tendency must be reversed. Volumes have been written on it and as I am not going to add to those volumes here, today, that is where I’m going to recommend you begin. Some of the books I’ve seen lately that I’ve found enjoyable to read and informative and enlightening are listed below.

Looking for love? Start in the right place, within. Learn how to love yourself and the world will follow. To get the dreadful Urban Cowboy song out of your mind, I’m going to give you another song from even further back in history! Remember the Coca Cola ad with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”? That’s a lot like what this self-love thing is all about. It begins with one little voice, (yours) a good message and a catchy tune. By the first chorus, others are singing along with you and by the end of the song, all of humanity has joined in. Cheers!

 

Unlimited – by Jillian Michaels
You Can Be Happy No Matter What – by Richard Carlson
The Soulmate Experience – by Joe Dunn and Mali Apple
The Art of Happiness – by Dalai Lama

Actually

Funny thing. When I was a little kid, a real little kid, like a toddler, I was very outgoing. Okay, I was precocious. As an only child, I had way more interaction with adults than with children, so I spoke, well, much like I do now. Often, in “conversations” with grown-ups, when asked a question, or a clarifying statement was made by the adult, I would preface my response with, “well, actually …” I always sought to be fully understood.

A few years later, some time during elementary school, I became more shy, especially around my peers, kids my own age, I didn’t have a lot of experience with them. This was something I struggled with until early adulthood. I came out of my shell when surrounded by close friends and only after I got to know people very well. This pattern is still present and natural for me, though I am much better at overriding my instinct to be quiet and just be the observer in conversations with more than one person. In my quieter days, I struggled with expressing myself fully. Participating in large, group conversations was a challenge because I was too polite to interject and because I’m so darned soft-spoken, when I did speak, I was rarely heard. When I was heard, I would say what I hoped to say quickly and let someone else reclaim the floor. Often, my thoughts were not fully expressed or understood. I always sought to be fully understood, “well, actually …” But, by that point, the conversation had rapidly moved into another topic and I just let it go.

My career has had a lot to do with my ability to establish my social confidence and outgoingness in group conversations. I have to connect, interact, lead, consult, teach and train groups of adults, both younger and older than I. They look to me for guidance and knowledge, though, in many cases, they are much farther along, professionally, than I. I simply know a certain methodology or software that they don’t, and in that arena, I am wise. I am the master. Often I am speaking for eight continuous hours. And for some of my courses, eight hours a day, for multiple days. I have to rely on jokes and stories and personal experiences to keep them engaged in the less than thrilling content of the class. This I have become very comfortable doing. Know one knows I am shy, but me. Often my class participants have questions or need clarification, sometimes I am even challenged. Always seeking to be fully understood, I patiently reiterate, reinforce and restate the point, “well, actually …” I have to be fully understood, it’s what they’re paying for.

Funny thing. When my kids were born, twenty some years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never speak to them in “baby talk”. We would speak to them in proper English and we would use the tone of voice and vocabulary we use in daily conversation with adults. Our belief was that our children would know how to converse and would have a solid foundation in vocabulary, diction and grammar and wouldn’t have to “unlearn” anything when they got to school. I still believe in this completely. The result? My children always sought to be fully understood, and, if they weren’t, they’d politely correct whomever they were speaking to, “Well, actually …”

This, apparently, is a lifelong pattern for me, that has now perpetuated to the next generation, and is likely to perpetuate again, to the next. We seek to be understood, clearly and completely.

In my recent exploration of books and materials on happiness, peace and relationships, I have come to the realization that being completely understood isn’t always the path we must take.  Usually, it is, but I think we may, at times, overdo it. I do believe that good communication in all of our relationships is paramount. It is important that open, free communication be the base upon which our close relationships are built. The foundation. But, in casual conversation, why is it so important to us that every last detail of every last story be absolutely correctly understood?

I find, in daily conversations with close friends, my Sweetie and my family members, if they state one thing in a manner that leads me to believe they’ve missed a detail or don’t completely understand what I’ve said, or meant, I am compelled, almost obsessively, to correct them. Their minor error in comprehension annoys and frustrates me, “well, actually …” I seek to be fully understood. Funny thing.

Does it really make that much difference if Mom calls my smartphone a “Facebook”? (link). “Well, actually, this is a smartphone (holding up phone) and Facebook is an application on the phone, along with many (hundreds of) others.” She has no idea what I’m saying and it does not matter. At all. The course of history will not be changed by her fully understanding these technologies. Does it really make that much of a difference if a friend thinks all accountants are automatically tax experts?  “Well, actually, I’m an auditor, I don’t ‘do’ tax.” Are meteors going to crash into Earth because they think I prepare tax forms for people when, in fact, I don’t even prepare my own tax return? No. Does it really matter if someone asks how my yoga class was when I was really at a spin class? “Well, actually, I was at spin, not yoga.” What difference does that make? The planet will not spin off its axis for the minor misunderstanding. I was at the gym. Good enough. The details are really not that important in many cases. Constantly correcting people, mid conversation, on unimportant details can really detract from the quality of the conversation. Our annoyance and frustration bleeds through, we seem picky, petty and perturbed. The petty annoyances and frustration we experience at the miniscule error of fact detracts from our peace and joy. Poor quality conversations detract from the peace and happiness of our relationships. It becomes strained. A struggle.

Then, there are the more philosophical conversations we have with people. These can become quite passionate, heated and adversarial if we insist on being fully understood. Funny thing. In conversations where opinions and philosophies are confused with fact, we don’t feel “fully understood” unless we “convert” others to our way of thinking. I was recently in a conversation with someone close to me, and, funny thing, I have forgotten the exact topic of the conversation, though it was “philosophical” in nature, and, throughout the conversation I was told, “passionately” that I was wrong. “You’re wrong!” “You’re wrong!” “You’re wrong!” I felt, strongly, that I was right. I had two choices, to yell back, “Well, actually …” and get nowhere in resolving our philosophical difference, or, just let it go. It’s a matter of opinion, there is no right, there is no wrong and no one is going to walk away feeling fully understood. We can just walk away, meaning move to another topic, with an appreciation for the other person’s philosophy, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. Sometimes, nodding in appreciation, even if misunderstood as nodding in agreement, is the only thing to do. Be the bigger person, use a smaller voice, move on to another topic. It doesn’t negate your belief at all. You’re still right, and so are they. It’s a “win/win”. Funny thing, dead horses cannot run no matter how hard you beat them.

There are people that spend the major portion of every day, of every conversation, trying to yell, scream, and bash people into adopting their philosophy, their beliefs. The man I was married to was just such a character. His Facebook wall, oh, wow, I just dated myself, I mean, his Facebook timeline is littered with political posts ranging from mildly humorous to hateful and venomous, bordering treasonous. Any topic raised will quickly turn to politics. Funny thing. His twin brother is as passionate, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. They will never convince each other to change their philosophies, but they’re likely to die of a stroke trying. Funny thing, louder isn’t “righter.” “Well, actually!!!!!”

Funny thing. There is right and wrong and there is no right or wrong. What I’m saying, just to be fully understood, is there is a difference between “knowing right from wrong” and “being right or wrong”.

“Knowing right from wrong” pertains to morals. Personally, I like to limit this to what I’d call “God’s laws.” Think Ten Commandments. We know it is wrong to kill another person unless in self-defense. We know it is wrong to steal. We know it is wrong to be unfaithful. These are absolutes. Right. Wrong. No question. “Knowing right from wrong” is for the “biggies”.

“Being right or wrong” addresses matters of opinion, philosophies and methodologies. And, unless you’re taking an exam on the material in a class, there is no right or wrong. We need to learn to express our opinion, listen to the other opinions, appreciate both positions and move on to the next topic. Politics, religion, science, sports teams, recipes, gay marriage, driving directions from one point to another, legalization of marijuana, global warming, fashion, or our thoughts on the Duck Dynasty debacle; there is no right or wrong and we don’t need to convince anyone else to our way of thinking in order to be fully understood on these types of topics or issues. Funny thing. Do you fully understand?

Well, actually …

Scarlett’s Letter August 29, 2013

My “pre-morning” routine; the routine that occurs before I get out of bed, unless, of course, I’m on vacation, in which case, it may or may not occur at all. I have vacation on the brain, it begins tomorrow. My last official vacation of the year, and only a week, I’m happy and sad, simultaneously.  So, my “pre-morning” routine; roll over, grab phone, scroll through emails, delete ads, decide which emails I’m going to ignore until I am officially “at work” at 9:00 AM in whatever time zone I happen to be in, cruise through Facebook, unplug phone, get out of bed, begin actual morning routine.

My self-discipline has been, though well intended, a bit lackadaisical. I did my fast four miles earlier this week, slacked off yesterday, and began making excuses for today at some point last night. I follow a friend’s page on Facebook, “Runner Girl” and there was some motivational something or other this morning that made me just jump out of bed at an unusually early hour, only because it’s Thursday and the garbage trucks come by at an unusually early hour and wake me up. I donned my running clothes, had a super fast breakfast, a wee bit of coffee and headed out the door before anyone else in the house (Mom) woke up. I’d hoped to get a ten-mile run in before vacation because I know I won’t be running during vacation. I’m not even going to humor myself by putting my running shoes in my suitcase. Will not happen. So, I set out, from the house, for a ten-mile run. I had a route in mind, the combination of a couple of routes I run regularly, and doing “Scarlett math”, I figured it ‘d be about ten miles. I ran and ran and ran. Another reason I took advantage of running this morning, it was foggy and cool, perfect for summer running in the Valley. I ran and ran and ran. I felt energized. I felt like I could run forever. I tried to keep my pace down because of the distance I had planned, but every time I looked at my watch, I was running a full thirty to forty-five seconds faster per mile than my planned pace.

I ran and I ran and I ran. The clouds broke as I ran through the Oak Knoll District, past the vineyards. By the time I neared home, the sun was out and the increasing heat was evident. Still, I ran and ran and ran. Once you’re out there, and you get to the far corner of your route, you really have no choice but to run home. Sure, I could’ve stopped and called Mom for a ride home at any point, but I still felt so energized, like I could run, at this pace, forever. And besides, Mom would never let me live that down. When I got to my preferred point to stop and walk for cool down, I’d run 11.6 miles a full and at a constant thirty seconds faster per mile than plan. I still felt energized. I felt energized, I think, because I didn’t let myself down, I followed through with my original plan and didn’t employ any of the long list of excuses I had ready to justify not running today.

A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
Early harvest this year, most of the white grapes have been picked and they have started on some of the Pinot Noir grapes.
Early harvest this year, most of the white grapes have been picked and they have started on some of the Pinot Noir grapes. WINE BABIES!!

Even though I devoted over two-hours to my run, and hadn’t actually begun to pack for my trip, other than a couple of tiny piles (link), I managed to get everything done. My self-indulgence continued today, after last night’s two hour massage and sugar scrub for my feet, I further indulged in a pedicure and a bikini wax today. Yes, I am spoiled. But as I am doing the spoiling, I really don’t see any issue with it. I pay my bills and afford myself a little spoiling. Problem? Everyone deserves to be pampered, by someone, and if you pamper yourself, hell, at least you know what you like!

My day was fab. My only “observation” for the day; people just don’t think, or apply logic. Either, or both. This is true of more people than not, and I witness examples all over the country. My closest, example, however, today, is at home. When I came home from my pedicure, Mom was gone, out shopping. For some reason, when she returns home, habitually, she sits in the driveway and revs the engine at a constant three grand, for about five minutes. I am only slightly terrified, I have visions of her not being in park and letting off the brake and crashing through the garage, through all of my treasures therein, causing the front half of the second story, my bedroom and my office, to implode. So, far, not the case. At least I know it’s time to go downstairs and help unload groceries. I do. Mom meets me half way up the steps, looks down at my bare feet for an extended period, then asks, as she is looking at them, “what color are they?’ Um. Red. I could not have selected a more obvious shade of red, and I know, for a fact, she is not color blind, and actually, overall, I think her eyesight is better than mine, and when last tested, I was 20/20. So, I wonder, why ask?

Unmistakable red.
Unmistakable red.

I have been in need of a new suitcase for a while. My dear, old, purple Samsonite doesn’t have a single zipper pull left, the cording is worn on every side, and every time I see it arrive on the luggage carousel in one piece I do a little happy dance, which onlookers seem to thoroughly enjoy. Mom has been thrusting Kohls’ newspaper ad inserts at me, day after day. I have actually gone to Kohls to view their “closeout” offerings. They have one suitcase, like mine, but way bigger. Believe it. They make them bigger. I want the same exact one, since I have a slightly less worn companion bag, only slightly smaller. If I can’t find and replace my exact bag, in purple, which, sadly, apparently has being discontinued, I will have to buy two bags, at one time, in another color. Heaven forbid I have two bags in two different colors! Quel horreur. The point here, Mom is aware I need a new suitcase. I am taking a number of bottles of wine to Alaska with me. To share. Maybe. I have been shopping and spending feverishly, on wine. It is now time to pack. This time, unlike earlier trips, I have actually secured an “official”, TSA approved, guaranteed not to break (our winery’s) bottles, box, complete with Styrofoam insert. Normally, I use bubble wrap, two-gallon Ziploc bags and my least favorite pairs of jeans to secure their safe arrival, within my suitcase, to their destination. I have my reservations about the box, we shall see. As I am schlepping the box up to my room, from the garage, Mom asks, “Do you think that’s what happened to your suitcase? Did you carry wine in it?” I struggle for a few, long seconds for a response. If the maximum weight for a checked bag is fifty pounds, does it matter if the suitcase contains cotton balls, gold bullion, or razor blades? How would wine bottles within the suitcase deteriorate the exterior of the suitcase? It most certainly couldn’t be the way the airline employees move suitcases from conveyor to plane to conveyor to cart to conveyor. Repeat almost weekly for three years. Lesser suitcases would’ve had busted wheels two years ago, this I know, for a fact. I have a friend who travels as much as I do, perhaps more. She buys and destroys not one, but two, large suitcases from WalMart every year at forty dollars a piece. They last her about six months before the wheels are busted off or the handle breaks or some other such calamity. I buy one suitcase, on sale, for a hundred-fifty and it lasts me four years. The math works. I will always contend, you get what you pay for. Period. End of story.

All but one zipper tab broken, all the cording worn, obviously, it was the wine.
All but one zipper tab broken, all the cording worn, obviously, it was the wine.

Mom is not the only person filling blank airtime with flotsam and jetsam. People seem uncomfortable with quiet or a lull in conversation. There is nothing wrong with a lull. Lulls provide time for the parties to think of something enlivening and relevant to say. If our only interest is to fill empty airtime with noise, may I suggest music or poetry? It, at least, usually makes sense. To prompt the other party or parties with ludicrous questions does not a good conversation make. It makes me want to break things, as I retreat. Far away.

So, not that I like to gripe, but today, but if I were to gripe, my gripe today would be; think before speaking. Far better to have nothing to say if you don’t have something intelligent to say than to piss off and provoke everyone around you by filling empty air with something illogical and inane. Especially in the form of a question requiring a response. Harsh. But true. So, while I am trying my best to bite my tongue, (link) I would greatly appreciate it if others would try, as well. Idle conversation is grand, but incessant questioning, interrogating, inquisitions and illogical queries does not constitute quality idle conversation. Conversation is an art and one that should be taught in public schools, at all grade levels. Those capable of intelligent and engaging conversation can, and do, rule the world. Those who are inept will be tolerated. Barely. In my travels, in my observations, those truly able to carry on a conversation are few and far between. Ironically enough, the most capable conversers are in bars. If you are traveling, alone or with others, do not hesitate to enter a bar, I promise, the conversation there will be far more stimulating than any other public venue you could happen upon.

So, for today, I have retreated upstairs with my box of wine (bottles), to pack my battered though still travel-worthy Samsonite for yet, another trip. I, no doubt, will pack it and its accompanying piece to no less than forty-nine and a half of the allowable fifty pounds. And the wine in a box, pray for the wine. I’m going to Alaska, one must be prepared.

The final pile. Vacay begins at O'Dark thirty tomorrow.
The final pile. Vacay begins at O’Dark thirty tomorrow.

Scarlett’s Letter August 2, 2013

I shouldn’t let it get to me like I do. I just can’t help it. It drives a little cray cray. Some times more than others. What, now you ask? The “MAYBE game”, of course.

It might just be PMS, which right now stands for “prohibit MAYBE saying”. Please. Is this something all elderly people do? Or just my mom? No. Actually, I caught a friend, my age, a peer, playing the MAYBE game the other day. And I heard my mom on the phone with her twin sister and they were both playing it, together. Yes, I could hear the other side of the conversation, they’re both a little hard of hearing so they kind of yell, politely, conversationally. I could probably hear both sides of the phone conversation from another room. Actually, I did.

The “MAYBE Game”. How does it go? I make a statement, for example, “my toast got cold”, but, really, it could be anything. The response begins with “MAYBE” and is then followed by the most outlandish, absurd, illogical, and totally unlikely scenario, circumstances or list of events that could possibly happen. For example; “MAYBE the sprouted grain in that bread you buy is actually from Mars and MAYBE Oprah sneezed on it”. Except she calls Oprah “Ophra”, with an “f” sound. After a couple of decades I finally had to say something, I finally had to correct her, not so much for Oprah’s sake, but for mine. I said, “you remember the movie ‘Big Fat Greek Wedding’”? Opa! Opa! Oprah is like Opa, but with an “r” in it. So, now, she’s “Orpah”. Sigh.  MAYBE it doesn’t matter. Back to the MAYBE game. So a simple, random statement is made and is followed with by the most outlandish, absurd, illogical and totally unlikely scenario, circumstances or list of events that could possibly happen. But that’s not all, one “MAYBE” is followed by another even more ridiculous “MAYBE”. For example, “MAYBE our toaster was switched with the neighbor’s toaster in the middle of the night by the clowns from the circus. I saw on the news that the circus is in town. Or, MAYBE Michelle Obama eats bologna and that caused your toast to be cold.” This could go on for a few more rounds, but by now, I’ve shut down. I’m no longer conversing.

I don’t claim to be a “know-it-all”, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do like to think that I am somewhat logical. So, when I hear someone make a statement and I feel the need to respond, I like to run things through the “logic filter” first to see if what I’m about to say makes any sense or is going to be helpful, at all. To play along a little here, MAYBE people who play the “MAYBE game” feel that any response is better than no response. There seems to be a belief that dead airtime should be filled with something, some kind of noise or response or reply, whether logical or helpful or not. Truthfully, I think I’d prefer silence so I could think of the actual cause of whatever it is I’ve made a statement about. Just me? Perhaps Winnie the Pooh’s method would be preferable; if you don’t have THE answer, just drum your fingers against your temple and say “think, think, think” until you actually think of something logical, useful and appropriate to respond with. I’m a thoughtful and contemplative person, and when I’m pondering the questions of life, like why my toast is less warm than I think it should be having just come from the toaster, I’d like a little quiet to allow my mind to weigh all the logical possibilities and arrive at the most logical conclusion. MAYBE I’m alone here.

I am also, believe it or not, in light of my missive tonight, a very compassionate person. I try really, really hard to be considerate, respectful, to listen to all the “MAYBEs” and to sort of apply a little logic to each, out loud, for the benefit of all. But, after the third or fourth round of “MAYBEs”, my compassion gets blurred a little and my logical responses become a little more insistent, a little louder, a little more exasperated. After the fifth or sixth round of “MAYBEs”, I usually have to excuse myself from the room. I try to be polite, I try to be kind, I try to disguise the fact that I’m about to roll my eyes, sigh loudly and say something inconsiderate. MAYBE it’s just me.

MAYBE it is me, today seemed to be worse than usual. MAYBE I’m just grumpy, I feel kind of grumpy, but I honestly couldn’t tell you whether I was grumpy before the first MAYBE game today, or after. MAYBE both. MAYBE I should go fro a drive. MAYBE I should go for a walk. MAYBE I should go for a run. MAYBE I should go to bed early. Just MAYBE.

I With a Capital I

People are interesting. Have you ever noticed, in conversation, how much people enjoy talking about themselves? There is nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, it’s what we do. All of us. We like to share things about ourselves, our experiences, injustices, adventures, helpful information, unbelievable details. Nearly everything we bring up in conversation relates to our personal experience or relationship with the topic at hand. Even when we speak of others, it is usually based on our own personal experience or exposure. It may seem obvious, but we do know more about ourselves, our experiences, our methods for doing things, than anything or anyone else and this becomes our basis for participating in conversation. The trick is to know when you are only talking about you and not listening, really, to anyone else.

Have you noticed how we often refer to ourselves in conversation? Of course we use the word “I”, and in proper grammatical use, it is capitalized when written. It would be weird for us to refer to ourselves in the third person, so this one letter word has been devoted for expression of self as a proper noun. But, when we use the word “I” in conversation, we often place a lot of exaggerated emphasis on it. Instead of just “I”, a single syllable, single letter word, it comes out as IIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiii, in about three syllables. If it were a musical note, it would have one of those crazy symbols, a “maxima”, which octuples a whole note, so in 4/4 time, that would be 32 counts or beats. A really long time, that’s my point. It’s emphatically crazy. When we’re trying to get our point across or to be convincing in any manner, we over emphasize the word “I” to add reliability and justification to our statement or position. The more we emphasize the word “I” the more right we are, at least that’s what our subconscious seems to think. We don’t come out and say “I’m right, you’re wrong”, like we did in the second grade, which then usually digressed into the “uh-huh/huh-uh” exchange. How refreshing that would be, as an adult; to spend ten minutes defending your position by simply saying “uh-huh”.

I catch myself doing this and I observe others. Frequently. And, it seems the better we know someone, the more likely we are to engage in this behavior. Once you become more aware of it, more attuned to it, it becomes almost entertaining to observe, in yourself, hopefully so you can fix it, and in others. And though we are all susceptible to falling prey to this self-righteous behavior, anyone who has ever read a book on conversations, charisma, or relationships is aware that the most important part of a conversation is the listening part.

I am often described as quiet. I can be. I try to be, at times. I’m listening. Intently. I am asking salient questions to validate the speaker’s topic and to clarify my understanding. When I speak, I speak carefully without trying to sound too self-absorbed or too self-righteous. It is hard. It is a skill, an acquired skill, and one that is never perfected, but that always takes conscious effort.

With people close to us, family and close friends, the exaggerated “I” comes out. At its worst, the exaggerated “I” is prefaced with the word “well”. Listen for it. Our unsophisticated (egoic) mind uses this combination of words almost like bait, “well IIIIIiiiiii …” and, since we consider ourselves experts on the particular topic (the amount of emphasis on the word “I” is proportionate to the amount of knowledge we feel we have on the topic), our subconscious is begging, begging, begging for someone to ask “why?” That gives us license to unleash our vast wealth of knowledge, information and examples on the topic, further leading to our validity and (self) importance.

One of the more recent examples of the “IIIIIIIiiiii” monster coming out was in a conversation about the “correct” order for brushing, flossing and mouth washing. I honestly cannot remember who the participants in the conversation were, but there were quite a few “IIIIIiiii’s”. No one was right, no one was wrong, and we all had different sources for our (very strong) beliefs. So, did the “IIIIIIiiiii’s” have it? Nope. To my relief, based on this conversation, I was just happy to know that everyone believes, passionately, in solid dental hygiene habits.

Often in, shall we say, “lively” conversation, debates, or, heaven forbid, fights, we feel so passionately about our position or argument, that not only are we using the exaggerated “I”, we use the time the other party takes to state, or restate their position to think through what our response will be. There is no listening whatsoever. I remember this in my former marriage, or, more correctly, the marriage I no longer live in. I would (and rightly so), state my position and my spouse would be so busy rebutting, and usually talking over me, interrupting and getting louder and louder in the process, that he never heard what I said. In other words, there was no conversation, no exchange of ideas or information. Our “conversations” resembled what we see on political panel discussions on television, which I think is the cruelest version of hell and the hell people who don’t listen are going to be banished to.

So, what do IIIiiiii recommend? IIiiii suggest listening carefully to yourself, and of course, to others, in conversation. Be mindful of how you speak and to how well you’re listening. Observe how people begin to react to you differently as you practice listening actively and being genuinely interested in what they have to say. They will begin to make eye contact with you more during conversation, they will lean a little towards you as they speak, and, most miraculously, when they are assured that you are listening and are interested in a compassionate sense, they will stop using the exaggerated IIIIiiiii, and their tone of voice will soften.

When you have the opportunity to speak, keep the “I’s” short, speak clearly but not loudly, make eye contact with everyone in the conversation and allow others their turn to contribute to the conversation. You may not have the chance to expound completely on your topic; learn to let it go. Conversations are like a school of fish; they change shape and shift and move in different directions. Let it go, don’t try to force the conversation, don’t try to force your agenda. Share your ideas and let the conversation evolve. Successful conversation is in the “I” of the beholder. This is the art. This is the key to success in family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, and in business relationships. It’s what IIIIIIiiii try to do.

What’s Right?

I have decided the just about the whole world needs an attitude adjustment, a positive attitude adjustment, and in an effort to make this happen I am striking the phrase “what’s wrong” from my repertoire of questions. We are so automatic to ask, “what’s wrong” of the people around us and then find ourselves captive to a one sided discussion of all in the world of that person that is wrong. While it is proper, polite and supportive to be sympathetic and to listen actively and offer the appropriate support or action, unless something truly catastrophic has happened, it is really a disservice to friends, family and loved ones to prompt such negative behavior patterns.

Those of us who believe and live under the comfort and practice of positive mental thought and attitude are well aware that when positive, life just goes more smoothly, and those occasional bumps are just pebbles in the path, not boulders blocking the road. We have learned, or are at least benefiting from the positive energy that our positive thoughts and attitude generate. With more practice, life evens out even more, and if troubles arise, we are in the right frame of mind to deal with them and move on to more positive matters.

For those who are not so positive, the focus on the negative, quite simply, through the negative energy of the negative thoughts, just creates more negativity. Negative energy is usually enhanced by severe emotions, making it all that much more powerful; stress, anxiety, worry, dissatisfaction, anger, frustration, hate. All of these are very intensified emotions and multiply the energy of the negative thought exponentially.

I know, in reality, it is very difficult to prompt people who are less than positive to only speak of what’s right in their lives. Usually, people who are less than positive have been that way for most, if not all of their lives. Changing those thought patterns and behaviors are difficult and can never be done externally. In other words, the change has to come from within. And, to make matters worse, the more negatively inclined rarely want to hear all your positive mental attitude stuff, they can barely tolerate your bright outlook and carefree life. They want you to come to the pity party. Don’t go there, you just make the negativism more powerful, you add additional energy to it. I do think we can live by example, by we, I mean those of us who are more positive in thought, in attitude and in nature. That’s the firs step.

Have you ever noticed when we have a less than perfect day, okay, a bad day, and we acknowledge it, it usually continues in that manner. You stub your toe getting out of bed, your trip over the cat, you spill your coffee on your work project, the traffic signals aren’t working, causing a major delay in your commute, you burn your lunch beyond recognition in the microwave, so you buy popcorn from the vending machine, and then burn that, too. The day seemed in a downward spiral from the moment you stubbed your toe. And with each “bad thing” that happened, you just rolled your eyes and added it all to your growing list of “what is wrong with this day”. We all do it. The trick is to stop after stubbing your toe! Once we acknowledge that as the “pattern for the day to come”, with negative energy, we have set ourselves up for the manifestation of more bad stuff, however insignificant alone, we are on a vigilant lookout for “bad things” to happen the rest of the day, and we’re going to go out of our way to only acknowledge “bad things”.

So, next time you stub your toe getting out of bed, stop, take a deep breath and just say “glad to get that out of the way, the rest of the day is going to be perfect!” Smile and acknowledge all the good things that happen the rest of the day, even if you do burn the popcorn in the microwave. We all do. It’s evil stuff, I’ve never seen microwave popcorn NOT burst into flame. Opt for the Red Vines from the vending machine, instead. No danger. It’s all good, then!

We know how to set ourselves up for a more positive day when it starts out with a stubbed toe. How can we possibly redirect those around us to a more positive outlook? As much as I’d like to walk up to people and way “what’s right?” I know it probably won’t be met with the reaction I’m hoping for. Perhaps it’s a little more like fishing, give them a little line, then reel them in. Kind of like redirecting undesirable behavior from a small child. If you know the person well, you may know a bit about their lives, their hobbies, their families, something they find pleasure or joy in. Just redirect. Pick a topic, a question, you know you’re likely to get a more positive response from. Ask about their kids, their cat, their dog, their beloved car, their favorite television show, ANYTHING you can think of that will likely elicit a positive response. Then take it from there. Make a mental note of which topics generated more positive conversation and revisit those topics every time you have conversation with that person.

Sadly, we are usually positive people in the midst of much misery, and moaning. It is very easy to be drug down into the dumps, too. Stay positive, stay strong, be the beacon and the catalyst for more positive topics, more positive conversations. It may seem like a lot of work, but, like all things, hard work pays off. Being positive in a vacuum is about as successful as lighting a candle in a vacuum. Remember the song from Sunday school? “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Let your light shine, seek opportunities for developing positive conversation with people who are less positive than you. Foster positive conversation, positive topics and, hopefully, soon, you won’t be trying to light your candle in a vacuum. That’s what’s right!