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!

The Saved Save Seats

I entered the doors of a Catholic church today and lightning did not strike, nor was anyone smited. Or is it smote? Myself included. I entered the doors of a Catholic church today for a funeral. I am Catholic, but I have not been to a house of worship for some time. I’m spiritually confused at present.

I’m a convert. I converted to Catholicism when my kids were born and I “raised them” in the Catholic faith. I converted from Christianity, but, silly me, I have always thought Catholic to be just another flavor of Christianity. It is. Catholics are Christians but Christians aren’t Catholics. Square pegs and round holes, I don’t know. For some reason, there are wars over this subtly. I’m blind to any difference of THAT magnitude. Or ignorant. Or both. So, smite me.

Why am I confused? I love religion, I fear the religious. I respect religion, I don’t respect many of the religious. I love religion and places of worship for many things; the tradition, the peace, the time to reflect, the solace, the connection to spirit. These qualities you can find in any house of worship, of any faith, of any denomination. And at yoga. And, to me, the stories that each flavor of religion are founded on are similar enough to be the same.  I believe in “God”, a supreme being of no specific form and that from which all was created. My God is the same as every other god, as EVERY other god. My God is, perhaps, more loosely defined than some sects, and that is on purpose. With age and wisdom, or perhaps ignorance, and that isn’t for any of “us” to decide, I have become more tolerant and more open-minded.

In my youthful intolerance and closed-mindedness, I used to sniff at the “Coexist” bumper stickers that adorned all those hippy cars, and usually on the same bumper was another bumper sticker that boldly stated that the inhabitants of said hippy car would be canceling out my vote in the next election. The only political bumper sticker I ever had on my car was a joke, it read, “Dole for Pineapple”. I’ve never had a religious bumper sticker of any sort on my car, though I’m considering making some up that say, simply, “So, smite me”. But in my mellower and somewhat more enlightened age, I agree with the “coexist” message. I don’t have a bumper sticker, nor will I, but I am in agreement. We should coexist. I think Jesus would have a “Coexist” bumper sticker on his car, I really do.

On the topic of religion and bumper stickers, how about the one that says “saved.” Really? Who are they to judge? How presumptuous, I thought that was “God’s” job. That’s what their guidebook says. Perhaps they should re-read it. Okay, so let’s talk about the Bible. What is it? A collection of stories that interpret purported historical happenings. These stories were handed down in the oral tradition for a very long time before anyone thought to write them down and make a collection of them. Okay, some were letters and started out written, but how do we know all the letters got mailed, or that all the pages of the letters are accounted for? We may only have part of the story. Most of the stories, though, were in the oral tradition and were more like bedtime stories. Have you ever played “telephone”? We used to play in Girl Scouts; we all sat in a circle and one person whispered something to the person next to them who then whispered it to the person next to them. The message traveled around the circle and when it got back to the origin, the message was spoken aloud. Never, not once, was the message at the end the same as at the beginning, and usually, it was nowhere close. Can you imagine what geographical distance, translation and the passage of centuries could do to a story? Once written down and compiled into a collection, the same interpretations have been translated, paraphrased, updated, abridged and then unabridged about as many times as years have passed since the birth of Christ. How is it that we can use this collection of stories to so literally guide us through life, death and salvation? They are all great stories and, like fables, all have a moral, a point, and a lesson. But to strictly apply every syllable, out of context, and decree that it is the only way to salvation is ludicrous. And small differences in the interpretation of these stories, after all this time, are the basis for the division or different denominations within the Christian church. You say “tom-a-to” I say “to-mah-to”. It’s still the same fruit. So, smite me.

Being only vaguely aware, and shame on me, of the stories of other major religions in this world, they seem eerily familiar. Some of the details and timeframes differ, but the stories are all similar enough and offer to serve the same purpose; to guide the listeners (followers) of the story to a righteous life and, hence, to salvation. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. I jest. So smite me.

I consider myself a good person. I consider myself quite spiritual. That I don’t currently worship within the confines of an organized religion certainly doesn’t negate the work of “God” that I perform on a daily basis. Does it? I do many good things. Catholics believe that you must attend mass weekly or you shall be damned. Dammit. It’s like falling of your diet after lunch on Monday, the whole week’s diet is shot, so pass the ice cream. I’ve missed a few (years worth) of mass, guess I can sin up a storm, now, ‘cause I’m damned. Seems kind of narrow. Oh, but the guidebook does say, literally, “the path is wide, but the gate is narrow.” There’s an occupancy limit in heaven? Like the church social room I just ate a buffet lunch in, 253 assembled, 110 dining. Or is it more like cheerleader tryouts? If you can’t do a cartwheel and the splits, you can’t be on the squad.

Why don’t I go to mass? Why don’t I go to any church? Why do I fear the religious? Why don’t I respect many of the religious? Because “the saved” fear me, or maybe they don’t respect me. Here is a tiny example and one of the straws that broke the camel’s back; I went to mass, I wanted to sit down, and like Joseph and Mary the night of Jesus’ birth, I was turned away from open seat after open seat. The “saved” were saving seats. This happened mass after mass, week after week, church after church. Will I be turned away from the pearly gates, too, because someone is saving spots for their friends and family. Will there not be room at the table for the rest of us? Were they so fearful of me that I shan’t be allowed to sit near them? I don’t take up that much room, couldn’t we just squeeze together a bit, we’re going to have to learn how, anyway, I hear the gate is, like, super narrow. If I was sitting in a pew and someone was looking for a seat, I moved over and put my purse on the floor, then smiled and patted the empty spot next to me, inviting them to sit.

It isn’t just me. They fear and disrespect everyone. I don’t mean every religious person behaves this abhorrently, but as a group, they do. Evidence; the consensus of the religious on gay marriage. True, homosexuality may contradict what they interpret God’s plan to be, but, hello, so does hate. Let’s not legislate interpretations of morality. The fact that two people of the same sex love each other and want the same rights under the STATE’S laws has zero impact on God’s law, and doesn’t impact, negatively, the perceived salvation of the “saved”.

While growing up I had some very religious friends. I went to the Presbyterian church as a little kid. My mom was raised Baptist, my dad was Catholic for a brief stint, and I went to the Presbyterian church. Why? Because my mom liked the old, yellow Victorian building that housed the Presbyterian church. My formative religious years were as a result of architectural infatuation and the historical landmark sign in front of a building. Perhaps that’s why I don’t see all this with the same degree of seriousness as others. My very religious friends went to a “non-denominational” church. My mom called them “holy rollers”. She feared them. I did, too, but only because they told me that if I were Baptist or Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Lutheran I’d, and I quote, “burn in hell for eternity”. And, if I were Catholic I’d burn even longer. If I stepped out of line in any way, shape or form, I’d burn. I have always been afraid of fire so eternally ablaze terrified me to the point of near hysterics. Then, there were the stories of the rapture and tribulation as translated and interpreted from the book of Revelations, which, if you’ve glanced at it, seems like it was written by Lewis Carroll and directed by Quentin Tarantino and Timothy Burton. On acid. Bad acid. I was given a pamphlet once that described tribulation, that period after the saved are enraptured and those who didn’t fit through that damned, narrow gate await the final judgment. Those of us who missed the first bus would suffer famine and plague and freakish weather and earthquakes and war and all sorts of horrible stuff that has happened regularly throughout the history of our world. It was further described, and I kid you not, that we would be eating bird poop out of milk cartons. No, I’m not kidding, there was even a picture. It was at this point that I first said, ever in my life, “WTF?” What kind of a con job was this? But really, the questions I had were more logical, like, what are the birds eating that there will so much bird shit because I’m quite certain I’d find their food source far more palatable. My next thought was, gee, how is food going to be so scarce and milk cartons so abundant? I never went to my friend’s church again. Smite me.

I did have the chance to accompany another friend in babysitting the consecrated youth of the pastor of the same church a couple of years later. He had a several thousand square foot home out at the country club. This was my first exposure to the amount of wealth generated by religion. This man’s church was on the poor side of town, he preached to the poor, passed the collection plate and lived at the country club. I did not comprehend. I get it now. It has to do with the church and the state. We won’t mention the “G” word, okay, we will, and greed. Religion generates a great deal of revenue, and much of that revenue is funneled into influencing legislation, after the mortgage payment for the home at the country club. Legislating morality, or an interpretation of an interpretation of morality, anyway. WWJD? Do you ever wonder?

Christian teachings use the analogy of sheep and shepherds in many of their examples. So, is it a sin that when I sit in a church and look around at all those people, glassy-eyed, palms outstretched to the ceiling, swaying back and forth, that I only see sheep? Have you ever spent time around sheep? Real sheep? They aren’t too bright and they certainly need shepherding because they can’t think on their own. I’ve owned sheep, I have observed their behavior at length and I am quite surprised they have persevered this long as a species. The shepherds are smart, though, and see to the safety of the sheep. The shepherd is the sheep’s only salvation. I have seen a sheep, unshepherded, when scared, run directly into a tree. I didn’t observe this just once, I observed the same sheep run into the same tree almost daily, out of fear, confusion and stupidity. This occurred at feeding time, I was simply tossing hay to the sheep for dinner. Eek! Wham! Sheep out cold. I have seen my little flock of sheep, when startled, run in separate directions. I guess that’s why they need shepherds, whether people or dogs, to keep them together. A sheep alone in the woods will get eaten. Mine did, by a mountain lion. So, in the religious analogy, are the religious, then, sheep? It is my belief that yes, they are. They are not thinking on their own, their thoughts and behaviors and even their political processes are being influenced by the shepherd, the church.

That, to me, says a lot about organized religion. The teachings, for all of time, have been a means to persuade a large group of people to behave and to perform in a specific manner, in response to fear-tactics and peer pressure. The roots of many religious beliefs have, at their heart, the general health and welfare of the constituents. Many of the religious dictates of forbidden foods came from the fact that eating food prepared or stored in a certain manner would prevent illness in a society before refrigeration, for example. Forbidding birth control is directly related to the “going forth and procreating” which facilitate the growth of the church and its continued popularity just guarantees the future of the church, the growth of the moral, religious army, and its related growing, influence over the political process.

I went to a funeral today. I went to the funeral of a very good woman who was described by many, and agreed to by all, a faithful servant of God. She has lived near my parents’ home for over three decades, now. In their later years, this neighbor, this very good woman, looked out for my parents, especially in my absence. After my dad passed away, she looked out for my mom daily. She visited daily, called often and was always on the lookout for her. And I am forever in her gratitude for her love, devotion and compassion. She did service of this type for many. In the eulogies and in the speeches of those in attendance at her service today, she was the best neighbor, the best friend and the best servant of God. I agree. But, like Christ himself, she was imperfect and a sinner, and while I wasn’t about to stand up and state any of these facts, they did exist. This very good, Irish born Catholic servant of God was a terrible gossip and was by far one of the most racially intolerant people I’ve ever met. Every conversation was laced with bigoted observations and under the breath racial slurs. And this, I hate to say, I have found quite consistent with many of my more religious friends of every race, color, ethnicity and national origin against the others. And in my church, they sit in pews next to each other and just seethe. Yet, with absolute certainty by all in attendance at the funeral service today, the honored deceased squeezed through that insanely narrow gate. And I agree, she did. Like Jesus and our modern religious leaders, the righteous have flaws, the self-righteous sheep are sinners and if the intolerant, haters in modern religion can squeeze through that God damned gate, then I think we all have a shot at “eternal salvation”. And, by the way, if I approach that blessed gate and can’t fit through, I’m hurdling the fence. See you there.

Just Dishing

For something people are so loathe to do, isn’t it amazing how strongly folks feel about how, exactly, dishes are done?

Unless I am completely exhausted, I really don’t mind doing dishes. In fact, I rather like it. When faced with a list of household chores, it is dishes I will tackle first. I am one of those folks who really prefers, okay, insists, that the dishes be done immediately after the meal is consumed. And, to me, “doing dishes” includes, also, the cleansing of counters and stovetops. So, I’m fastidious. In this respect. Dusting and vacuuming? Another story. But, I’m a kitchen person. When I entertain, it is usually the kitchen that becomes the center for visiting and socializing. I may be just a little food-centric.

I have not always felt quite this way. As a child, dishes were one of my chores. I seemed to have many chores as a kid. Both of my parents worked and I always came home from school and woke up on Saturday morning to find a list, in my mother’s familiar cursive, of chores to be completed, satisfactorily, by the time she got home. After dinner, it was my responsibility to clear the table, put the dishes in the dishwasher and clean any pots and pans. I loathed and despised this chore, and rather than just tackling it quickly and efficiently and enjoying the rest of my evening, I would stall and lollygag and take absolutely forever. Of course, after dishes came homework, so maybe I stalled at one to put off the other. I really don’t remember clearly my motives at that time. But, oddly enough, my kids were exactly the same way.

My dad worked every Saturday of my life until he retired, then he did dishes morning, noon and night. My mom, as an R.N., worked many Saturdays. So, Saturday, I did my thing. All day long. I’d make Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and bowls of cookie dough and chocolate frosting, which I ate out of the bowl with a spoon. I’d bake Bisquick biscuits and pancakes. And everything would pile up in the sink. Until about 3:00 PM. My mom was due home at about 3:30 PM. At 3:00 PM, I’d stop watching cartoons, or roller skating in the driveway, or doing gymnastics in the living room. I’d turn the stereo down so only I could hear it and the neighbors were, at last, relieved. And I began my chores; ironing my dad’s work shirts, cleaning the bathrooms, all two and a half, vacuuming, dusting, and, last of all, dishes. When my mom entered the house it was as though I’d done nothing all day long but chores. Except it smelled like strangely of pancakes. I’m still under the impression she was fooled. Perhaps not. I don’t know. We don’t discuss it. Her choice.

In college, with roommates, dishes were a source of irritation and disagreements. Living with friends from high school all through college, those friendships would sometimes become strained due to dishes. We all came from different households, of course, where dishes were done (or not) differently, and these differences were not appreciated or understood by anyone else. I came from a home where they were always done immediately after a meal. Others came from homes where they were only done when the cupboards were empty and there was no room left in the sink, on the countertops, the stovetop, in the oven, or the kitchen table. And there was everything in between. And it was always chaos, finger pointing, gossiping, and complaining.

In my own household, married and raising a family, I preferred dishes to be done immediately after a meal, and in the manner I was accustomed to. My husband was not of the same ilk, his mother having passed away when he was a fairly young boy, he was “raised” by his father. And his twin brother. May as well have been raised by wolves. And yet, for someone with no real guidance in the kitchen, he had some very deep seated and non-negotiable kitchen “cleanliness” requirements I just never accepted, appreciated or respected. This, truly, may be one of the irreconcilable differences I list on the divorce papers. Dishes. And in particular, the dish brush and the sponge.

For a time, we lived together, before nuptials. And, for a time, we had roommates to help offset the rent expense. And, for that time, we had one of two problems; dishes in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, on the table and none in the cupboard. The other problem, no dishes in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, on the table, or in the cupboard. No dishes. Anywhere. How could that be? One day, home alone, I sought to investigate this mystery. I carefully and quietly entered the bedroom of our only remaining roommate, Bob, suspecting I might find dishes on his desk, dresser, bookcase, etc. Nope. No dishes. How can dishes just disappear? And then suddenly reappear, dirty, in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, and on the table? Bob’s closet was slightly ajar and as I passed I caught a glimpse of something suspicious. A dish. I ever so quietly pulled the closet door open and found, to my disgust and dismay, every dish we owned, crusted with food, some of it in various states of decay, on the shelf in his closet. Ew. Bob was pissed that I’d entered his room to find such a horror. I was pissed to have entered Bob’s room to find such a horror. Luckily, I won the pissing contest and Bob moved out.

I have observed many friends and their dish doing habits, and everyone seems quite married, or at least betrothed, to their way of doing things. I have one dear, dear, long time friend who has an absolutely perfect, always ready to entertain at a moment’s notice, Sunset magazine kind of home. She lives a completely charmed life in about every way imaginable, but that’s a story for another time. I hate her. I love her. It’s complicated. But really, I love her. No, I hate her. Never mind. It’s complicated. Anyway, when she had her first child “we” (all the girlfriends, spouses and our babies of various annoying ages) visited her, at home, just as she came home from the hospital. This was not my idea, but, rather, that of one of us who did not yet have children and probably, the well-meaning saint she is, thought this was okay. A fantastic meal for many mouths was prepared in her flawless kitchen and a gigantic mess was made in the process. When the food was devoured and it came time to do dishes, the new mother, infant in hand, became Beelzebub himself. She has always been a little “temperamental”, but this was beyond temperamental and more like a tempest. This was the first time, ever, that I became acquainted with the fact that some people really, really, truly, deeply and passionately care about how, exactly, and I mean EXACTLY, the dishes are loaded into the dishwasher. For me, the dishes went in however they fit and they came out clean. End of story. No, not so. The forks go here, this way, the spoons, the dessert spoons, here and that way. The soup spoons here and another way. Bowls here facing this way, plates there facing that way. I need a fucking diagram! I went and changed my son’s diaper. For the fifth time. Though he didn’t require it. Just before the dishes were done, having run out of diapers (how did that happen), we retreated to my mom’s house for the night where the dishes just got put into the dishwasher, the button was pressed and they came out clean. That, too, with time, has changed. With mom. And me. Sort of.

More recently. I have a friend whose house is always a deplorable mess. I have a hard time even entering her house, and yet, she unapologetically continues to invite me into her home. I have actually had the dry heaves a time or two, which I’ve cleverly disguised as a sneeze. It smells like animals she doesn’t even own in there. It smells like dead animals she never owned in there. What did a dead dinosaur smell like? Maybe that’s the odor. I cannot begin to describe the horrors within, except that Bob’s closet did not even hold a candle to all that is her house. The kitchen is the worst. Or maybe the bathroom. Or perhaps the living room. No, the kitchen. I never ate anything at her house or anything that came from her house. Once, when visiting this friend, she was making a “protein shake”. She offered to make me one. I told her I was allergic to protein. I don’t think she believed me. She put the ingredients in a dirty, crusty, opaque with slime blender bowl, placed her hand over the top as a lid, turned it on and poured it into some random and visibly dirty vessel on the counter and licked her hand. She grabbed the cleanest appearing spoon she could find, one positioned disturbingly close to a half full, dried up can of canned cat food and stirred the concoction. Then, to my horror, she licked the spoon, opened a drawer and threw it in like it were clean. I would cringe when I saw people eat things she’d prepared for a potluck. I would tell them, later, unsolicited, but out of a sheer sense of duty, “I have Imodium with me, if you ever need it.” They’d eye me like I was selling street drugs, but on more than one occasion I was sought out for this remedy.

I really don’t know how my parents got me to first of all, consent to do the dishes, dutifully, each and every night, nor do I know how they enforced this request. With my own kids, it was requested and yet, never happened. Perhaps it was because I grew up not really caring about homework, and the struggles that ensued later in life, as a result, I wished my own offspring to avoid. So, when I asked them to do dishes all they need say to ensure their release from such duty was “I have a ton of homework”. That meant, simply enough, I had a ton of dishes to do. Myself, while my spouse sat, comatose, in front of the television, doing finger aerobics with the remote.

Interestingly enough, when my daughter and I went to Girl Scout camp together, we always, always conspired to volunteer to do dishes. And I swear it was her idea more than mine. By doing dishes, you got your required chore done early and fast AND, most importantly, your hands got clean for the first time all day in that wonderful, warm, soapy water. And, if you did the dishes you didn’t have to clean the BIFFY (bathroom in (the) forest for you). Once we returned home, with nice clean, soft hands, though, it was as though she’d never learned to do dishes. Nor could I convince her to clean the BITHY (bathroom in the house (for) you). How did she have homework in July? I’m such a schmuck.

The dish brush and the sponge; twenty years of yuck and one of the (many, many, many, many) straws that finally broke the camel’s back. Perhaps being raised by wolves would have been an improvement, but, somewhere along the line, my husband decided it was proper, heck, absolutely, positively and non-negotiably, required that the dish brush be kept behind the faucet. You know, that little trench of potential disgustingness between the faucet and the wall? Sure, let’s put the slimy, greasy, food encrusted dish brush there and create a miasma in that impossible to clean area. And, let’s just keep the festering sponge next to the faucet on the rim of the sink, until it falls into the sink, in which case, we’ll just pile the dirty, food laden dishes on top of it until we “deep six” the dishes. To “deep six” the dishes, we just fill the sink with hot soapy water and bury the dirty dishes until someone else (me) comes along and puts them in the dishwasher. Meanwhile, the sponge is at the bottom of this science experiment, in now cold, greasy, dirty dishwater and has to be dug out, wrung out, and then, filthy and contaminated, used to “clean” the dishes.

When the dish brush, the sponge and everything else got to the point that I could stand no more (and, really, it was the everything else), I left. I moved to my very own apartment. All by myself. And for the first time, ever, I was in complete control of my environment. I was in heaven. Bliss. Bliss squared. Bliss exponentially an exponential number or times. I embraced this sense of control to an almost unhealthy point. Not a single carpet fiber was out of place. I’ve always liked to make my bed as soon as I got up, but I actually learned how to make my bed, pretty much, as I climbed out from under the covers. Dishes were done the instant the meal was over, including pots and pans, casseroles and serving dishes. The counters were cleansed and so was the stove before, during and after each and every use. And sometimes more often, just because I loved the smell of my “Method” lavender spray cleaner. I began to load my dishwasher in a very specific manner; forks here, spoons there, knives thusly, plates this way, bowls that way. I ran my dishwasher every single night, even if there was only one plate, one knife, one fork and one spoon. I unloaded my dishwasher promptly each morning, after making my bed, while the hot water heated for my coffee. After doing my dishes I actually cleaned and dried out my sink so there would never be those annoying stains I’d have to clean with an abrasive. Same with the shower, as soon as I was done showering, I cleaned and wiped down the shower so I’d never actually have to clean the shower. I loathe and despise, with a passion, shower mold. This was my world. This was my heaven. This was heaven on earth. Then my daughter moved in.

Bless her heart, returning “home” from college to a home she’d never lived in, but a welcome relief from the home we’d lived in for many years beforehand, this new intensity of cleanliness was both welcomed and a bit overwhelming. But, as a result, and with some initial struggle, in her own home now, it is ship shape and tidy and clean. She, ever the entertainer, and now married to her high school sweetheart, their home is much like my dear, old friend’s, who, ironically, also married her high school sweetheart, spotless and always ready for friends to visit, invited or not.

After living in my own apartment for a while, I moved in with my son when his roommates, all friends from high school, moved out to transfer to other schools. Left with a full size, single family dwelling and the full sized lease payment, I decided not to renew my apartment lease, pulled up my perfectly clean and tidy roots and moved into a house that had been occupied by four college boys for a year. It was like a horror movie. There were, literally, footprints on the nine-foot ceilings. Somehow. And the chemical equation for an illegal substance drawn on the plate glass window with a Sharpie. That’s before we even broach the subject of the kitchen. Over the months I was able to slowly transform the trashed house and small yard into something that almost resembled an abode for quasi-normal people. Almost. Even after the house was tidy, though, there continued a small battlefield. The sink. And the stove. Okay, and the refrigerator. We’ll just say the kitchen, to be all-inclusive. And, again, with my son working nearly full-time and attending school full-time, and with him being an adult and, every now and then, paying his portion of the rent, it was difficult to “require” him to do his dishes. But, really, his dishes usually consisted of a coffee cup, a bowl, a spoon and rarely, a pan with greasy taco meat and a taco meat encrusted plate. It was when the girlfriend visited and “graciously” cooked dinner that things got way out of control. My control. And, bless her heart, she had strict parents, and a curfew, so after dinner was “quality time”, which didn’t consist of “you wash, I’ll dry”, so every dish, pot and pan I owned were strewn across the kitchen. If, as on one or two rare occasions, the dishes were done, they were just placed into the dishwasher, un-rinsed and crusted with food. Our dishwasher was, really, only a dish sterilizer, and that I even doubted. You had to completely wash the dishes before washing the dishes or you’d have to re-wash the dishes. And then, there was the china and the crystal and all the cast iron and all those things that just don’t go in the dishwasher. You guessed it, they’d end up in the dishwasher and I’d cringe. And apologize to my dishes in the morning. I don’t know which was worse, when she didn’t do the dishes or when she did. Either way, I was doing the dishes, for the first time, or again. And I don’t know who taught her how to stir, but it looked to me like she tossed everything like green salad. All over the stove. All over the countertops.  All over the floor. And guess who ended up cleaning all this up because she couldn’t stand it? Or because she needed a pan or a plate or a clean stove to cook with. Me. They’ve broken up now, which is sad, of course. And I hope some day, when he is ready, my son finds a nice girl to settle down with who knows how to do dishes. My way.

My son moved out to live with some college kids. Thankfully. We were good roommates, but it is better for him to be with peers, having a college experience. So, I moved home, with Mom, who is nearly ninety and needs a little help around the house. But not with dishes. Mom has her way with dishes and, by golly, they’ve changed dramatically since I was a kid. Now, the dishwasher has to be loaded in a very specific way. She loads in a painstaking manner so unloading it will be easier. What she fails to understand is that, either way, you’re spending about the same amount of effort and time. If it takes considerable effort to load the dishwasher in a very specific manner, it takes less time to unload it. On the other hand, if you just toss the dishes in in any old manner, it takes no time to load it but more time to unload. It’s all the same in the end. This was the logic I tried to apply to my friend and her tyrannical dishwasher-loading tempest many years ago. And, truthfully, I get it now. When it comes to silverware. Categorizing the silverware going into the dishwasher makes unloading it so much easier, you can do it in a couple of handfuls. But applying this method to plates and bowls, which you generally unload one or two at a time anyway, I still don’t get. Do you? But, this is her home, so I play along. Besides, she is hard of hearing and any kind of conversation is difficult enough and if I start to talk about dishes we get off topic on fishes, or wishes, or things that are suspicious. Sigh.

Now I have a wonderful man in my life. Funny, or not, my man is so much like my mom it is almost creepy. Oh, he hears well enough, but he enjoys watching the news. And he has very strong dishwashing preferences. When it comes to dishes, there are definite boundaries. I respect that. If only I had a diagram, though. His dishwasher is his pride, his joy and his kingdom. The plates face this way, the bowls that way and the silverware goes in exactly according to the instructions supplied by the folks who translated the instructions from Chinese into English. I’m cool with that. Just tell me how and I’m happy to do. The funny thing is, since his dishwasher is the shiz, thou shalt not rinse thy dish before placing in thy washer. I struggle with this. I actually feel remorse when I get busted rinsing a dish before placing it precisely so in the dishwasher. Every dishwasher I have ever encountered required the dishes be completely washed, or pressure washed, or maybe just rinsed really, really well, or at least swished a little, under running water. And, bless his heart, as I was doing dishes last week, upon inquiry from the neighbor, I heard him say something about “trying to be more tolerant” of the whole dish thing when others offer to do dishes. I should pay closer attention, I am happy to do the dishes, but I prefer there be peace and harmony in the dishwasher kingdom. I need a flowchart. This is a man who, among other many other things, is an ace in the kitchen, who not only knows who Jacques Pepin is but loves Jacques Pepin and who doesn’t keep a dirty dish brush behind the faucet, but, rather, a clean dish brush in a beautiful, dedicated, ceramic bowl next to the sink. A man who distrusts sponges as much as I do. A man with a container of butter next to the stove for sautéing. A man who will run the dishwasher when all the wine glasses are dirty but the plate rack is still empty. Did I mention I am in love?

So, how is it that we are all so different when it comes to dishes? We are either anal retentive, militant, dish overlords, or we simply don’t see the need to ever cleanse the implements with which we prepare and serve food? Somehow, we even have generational differences. And dishwashing habits can actually cause relationship rifts and can contribute to irreconcilable differences. How does this happen? Are there therapists and psychoanalysts for dishwashing? Should we all just use paper plates? Or perhaps embrace a more minimalist and environmentally responsible mode; a spork and a bowl and one cast iron Dutch oven in every kitchen. The recipe for contentment. How will we ever find peace, harmony, tolerance, understanding, acceptance and the ability to coexist in this world if we can’t even agree on how, or whether, the forks should go into the dishwasher? Is there hope for the kitchen? Is there hope for the world? I don’t know, but I’m hungry. I think I’ll microwave leftovers from the restaurant to avoid having to do dishes tonight. I seek peace.

Plates this way. Bowls that way. Knives, handle down, here, forks, tines down, there ... Slimy sponge and scrubber properly caged and out of sight (wring them out as soon as cycle ends, though)
Plates this way. Bowls that way. Knives, handle down, here, forks, tines down, there … Slimy sponge and scrubber properly caged and out of sight (wring them out as soon as cycle ends, though)
Top rack, a suitable home for the dish brush. Always clean and out of sight.
Top rack, a suitable home for the dish brush. Always clean and out of sight.
No brush behind the faucet = no miasma in hard to clean area.
No brush behind the faucet = no miasma in hard to clean area.

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.