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 …

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!

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.