Watch what you say in front of the cats.

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influences small

influences small

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High chair princess admits truth, outs humanity

A long time ago, I read somewhere that, even among animals, behaviors that have been called “instinctual” and “inborn” are not really that, not really like breathing or blinking or whatever.  Baby animals of species that, in adult form, fight each other, prey on each other, eat each other, have been known to interact with curiosity, with seemingly friendly interest.

Part of this is probably because baby animals all have a baby smell, a smell that tells adults of their own kind, “take care of me, I’m a baby.”  Part of it is probably because they have not yet been trained by their parents to recognize certain animals as creatures to ignore and certain animals as creatures to stay the hell away from.  And they probably don’t have a clear idea of which animals they are supposed to hang with most of the time.

Inter-species tolerance and friendship are based on a more “instinctual” response to life than running away from things one is taught to fear.  They are based on curiosity.  If sentient beings on planet Earth have one thing in common, I think it is curiosity.  In the absence of clear prohibitions against obviously dangerous things, curiosity wins.

Curiosity on planet Earth has to be tempered, obviously, or there would, thanks to many dangerous things, be a lot fewer sentient beings.  So, adults have to convey to children: watch out.

Animals seem to pick up a number of useful behaviors from Mom and Dad aside from being careful in various situations.  They realize they are this kind of animal and not that, need to do this and not that, and need to get about the business of being whatever sort of animal they are.

Human beings have a much more difficult time with learning how to be and do human.  History and pre-history would seem to indicate that, yes?

The process of learning what and who to focus on, to ignore and to run away from, when mutually engaged in by human parents (who should know what they’re about) and human children (who are not born with much of a clue about anything except being curious) inevitably results in the offloading of misconceptions, misunderstandings, fears, frustrations, and a lot of other things that make it almost impossible for human offspring to realize in a clear, simple way that they are human beings, that need to do this and not that, and that they need to get about the business of being human beings.

These days I’m thinking that, in many, many areas of life, maybe all of them, human beings end up functioning the ways they do because from birth they take the idea of being afraid of things for the sake of self-preservation to great extremes.  They almost seem at times to be born afraid, and life from birth on is a process of desperately seeking to avoid everything that makes them afraid (while putting on a front of “I’m cool”; admitting fear of anything is the surest way for humans to call down rejection and destruction).

This week, I’ve been mulling over WHY certain things are so hard for me, why I engage in insanity on a daily basis (“insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result”), and why, when I have an opportunity to do or have things that give me delight, I sometimes literally break out in a cold sweat.

It boils down to: the earliest fears of my life are still highly operational.  I think that these are fears that got a grip well before I reached the stage of cognitive development that allowed me to begin to speak, to deal with abstract concepts, and to remember things in words as well as in feelings, to be analytical and rational and to function knowing that strong reactions to things understandable but irrational based on current circumstances.

There are certain areas of my life in which, when I think about it, dislikes (of noise, of being alone in strange places, of meeting new people, of losing things) and likes (of talking with friends, of long solo walks, of drawing, of going to the movies, of reading with a bowl of soup, of men with deep voices, of women with nice smiles) have roots stretching back to my earliest memories and undoubtedly before that.

Certain things that just “are” in my emotional landscape (positive and negative), things I take for granted as being just who I am and how I feel, things that define me as me  . . . time and time again, I see them as being rooted in the beginnings of my life, a time when I had no choice about accepting or rejecting what I experienced, and I had no way to make sense of them except on a non-verbal gut level.

And the reality is that I was probably frightened of a lot of things.  And feeling horribly fearful and out of control about a lot of things probably lasted longer for me than for other people because I was prevented from going through the normal stage of development in which a child learns to crawl, stand, walk, explore his or her environment, and learn about accepting some limitations and overcoming others.

For most of the first two years of my life, I had to wear a brace designed to correct hip dysplasia (a too-loose connection between my left hip and left leg).  I had to sit a lot and wait and watch.  Though I learned to swim across the floor, I could not really go anyplace unless someone carried me.  So, instead of interacting with my environment directly, I interacted by observing and trying to make sense in my head of what was going on.

And being a small child, I had the problem that small children always have: I could think pretty logically, but I could never arrive at a solid conclusion.  My major premises were always wrong because I had no experience of real life to base them on.  The conclusions I came to about a lot of things was that things were noisy and scary and I couldn’t do anything about them except wait for an adult to come and take care of things (and in some situations wait, wait, and wait).

(I’m writing this as if I remember the details of what I thought and felt at age two; I actually remember some things from that time, but I’m assuming that, if I have thought and acted in certain ways as long as I can remember, then back before I can remember, I was probably doing the same thing.)

The whole point of this rambling sorting-out of thoughts is that fear of almost everything to some degree was my companion early in my career as a human being, and that fear is still with me, influencing everything I think, say, and do.  It’s not (so to speak) reasonable animal fear learned from my parents to help me keep out of the jaws of predators.  It’s more pervasive, more subtle, more wacked and dark than the fear any animal might show when sick or injured.

It seems to me that human fear is not something that has to be taught; it is something that we are born with; we start out like little animals, full of curiosity and wonder about the world around us, but even before our parents start to teach us about being careful with scissors and holding hands when crossing the road, fear begins to over-ride curiosity and everything else.

Unlike animals, we don’t have to be taught to be afraid.  In order to recognize that we are human beings, that we need to do this and not that, and that we need to get about the business of being human beings, we need to learn in ways that I can’t begin to get my head around not to be afraid.

And as far as I can tell, through the entire convoluted, sordid, bizarre, puzzling history of human kind, we have never ever really done that.  We’ve put on a good show.  We’ve developed philosophies, theories of diet, exercise programs, mood rings, mantras, talk shows, mattresses, and God knows what else to help us feel good, look good, walk tall, and project confidence and intelligence.

But take away a job, a home, a loved one, a limb, and what happens?  Under all the swagger and assurance, what is there?

Even WITH a job, a home, loved ones, and all my limbs, I am aware that my inner two-year-old is sitting in her high chair, wide-eyed, with her little heart hammering and about to explode through her chest wall.

I assume as well that everyone else’s inner two-year-old is doing the same thing.  However, in a world full of (among other things) war, economic upheaval, racial intolerance, child abuse, and almost infinite varieties of death, human beings go on being cool, mature, well-informed, capable, and confident that the standard mantras (“it is what it is” and “shit happens”) will keep bad things at bay   Yeah, right.

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Viewing the protests from a high horse

When I was in college, I protested once. It taught me an invaluable lesson.

It had to do with the presidential election of 1972 when Richard Nixon and George McGovern ran against each other.

In 1972, I was old enough to vote in the presidential election. I wasn’t quite clear on what Democratic candidate George McGovern was all about. However, thanks to my grandmother McKlveen (who was living with my family) I had a clear picture of what Nixon was about, from the California senate race of 1950 onward. Voting for Nixon was not an option.

When Vice-President Spiro Agnew came to speak at the Richmond (Virginia) Coliseum in November 1972, I ended high up in the nosebleed seats as a part of a small group that chanted slogans during the Vice-President’s remarks.

I don’t remember who convinced me to go, what the name of the group was, or what we chanted. I do remember thinking, during the first round of chanting, “We’re too high up; they can’t hear us down there.” We were so not-loud that nobody bothered to shush us or threaten us or arrest us.

The Vice-President, from my vantage point, was a tiny blob. (Of course, that could have been because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.) The acoustics of the Coliseum made it hard to make out what he was saying. After about five minutes of protesting, I was bored and restless and wanted to go home.

The thing that really stuck in my mind was a comment made by a fellow protester during the performance of the country-western band that played before the Vice-President spoke. I rolled my eyes and said, “Yuck.” The guy next to me, short, dark, with a beard and glasses, said, “Don’t do that! That’s the people’s music!” Since the guy was kind of cute, and I wanted to appear cool, I shut up.

However, a few months later, when I heard Dolly Parton on the radio, I stopped to listen carefully. And, snotty English major that I was, I was very impressed with the lyrics of the song. I started paying much more attention to country-western music and to the culture–my own Southern Scotch-Irish culture as it turned out–from which the music came.

As a result of my protest experience, I started on the road to being much more aware of my own culture and of the traditional values (hard work, sacrifice, compassion, egalitarianism, color-blindness, respect for legitimate and proven authority) that have always been the truest expression of that culture.

I consider that protest experience one of the defining moments of my college life.

Current anti-bank, ant-war, anti-whatever protests that are the latest media fad–these don’t seem to me to be leading anyone to more thoughtfully consider the complexities of dealing with human life. For instance, I have wondered for several days now why anyone seriously concerned with social justice would defacate on police cars–as happened recently during the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City.

Maybe if I were looking at them from the inside, I would find a lot of people who deal with political realities more like Buddhists than Bolsheviks.

What also puzzles me is why recent protesters don’t simply do what would kick evil rich bastards in the nuts the hardest. Deprive them of money.

Hey, protesters: take your business completely away from Bank of America and Walmart. Be a “locavore” of sorts when it comes to your finances and where you buy your motor oil additives and baby wipes and tampons. Don’t buy into the enticing commercials. Look into your soul and be ruthlessly honest about rooting out that tiny bit of materialistic yearning for The Bigger Better American Life.

Or completely ignore dealing with your own motivations, your own desires that might be propping up the evil rich bastards. Keep standing in the street, yelling and blame-placing. Get arrested. Whine that life isn’t fair. Write endless passive-aggressive blog posts. (I love doing that! It’s fun!) And while you continue being ineffective, the evil rich bastards will gladly take your money and ignore you.

Even if it’s just being honest and aware within your own self, geez, Louise, do something serious and meaningful already.

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Home boy missions

WARNING: I’m left-handed, and I was raised with an especially cranky Scotch-Irish sense of egalitarianism, so I find it hard to just write things. I rant, and this is a rant, not a Ph.D. dissertation. I don’t know everything about everything, or even much about anything, so I’m sure some aspect of this can be picked apart by somebody. But I try very hard, when I rant, not to rant out of ignorance or stupidity.

If it turns out that a striking, thinking-outside-the-box solution is in the works to address any of the issues I describe below, that’s great. I will be happy to learn that I wasted my time writing all this.

I have to say that God has been so gracious to me recently. Things in life don’t make more sense; it’s been very clear this week that the world is definitely fallen, but my sense that God is in control despite appearances is pretty solid–right now.

That said, I am also feeling very Dickensian, very sarcastic and cynical about a few things. I am reading Dickens’ Bleak House, a powerful, passionate indictment of bureaucracy, child labor, religious hypocrisy, class warfare . . . the humor and the anger and the amazing descriptive language just don’t stop.

When I look at some things going on around me, I can’t help wanting to pin some complacent authority figure to the wall with withering sarcasm, including some people in authority in the Christian denomination of which my church is a part. What mostly ends up happening is me shaking my head, muttering “stupid” under my breath, and wishing I had a beer.

Case in point:

Yesterday, as I was walking home from the bus stop after work, I passed a house on my block where an older boy, maybe twelve, was playing with two younger boys, maybe in the five to seven range.

As I passed the house, I heard one of the younger boys shout, in a way that made my blood run cold, “Fuck you bitch! I’m going to kill you!” He was not directing his words at me; he clearly was repeating something he had heard, perhaps a number of times. He repeated his comments and eventually a woman came out and reprimanded him.

I don’t know the number of children in Rochester who, as the product of broken, abusive, or non-existent families, have the above drilled into them from birth, but every day, I see baby mommas of various ethnic backgrounds dragging small, tired, angry children on the bus, children who never see a loving father and whose lives alternate between being screamed at and being given expensive “prosti-tot” outfits, mini-Timberland boots, tiny suede hoodies, and all the Doritos and juice boxes their malnourished little stomachs can hold. And of course, when these indignities are not being heaped on their small heads, these little ones are, while Mom is “at program,” in day care where they have no opportunity to develop any bonds of trust with a caring adult who can model consistent, loving behavior.

I see baby daddies (also of various ethnic backgrounds) by the score wearing their rakishly tilted baseball caps, hoodies embossed with dollar signs and skulls in gold, baggy stone-washed jeans, and pristine, expensive sneakers. I hear them talk about fights, shootings, encounters with the police, sexual encounters with various “bitches,” sales of various drugs.

The epitome of this kind of conversation was a phone call I heard one day on the bus; from behind me, I heard a man talking on a cell phone: “Michael, I’m not kidding; if you don’t give me the money you owe me, I’ll kill you.” The whole bus fell silent for a few seconds.

I live in what someone once called a “marginal neighborhood.” There are a number of home owners on my street, but there are also a number of rental properties.

These buildings hold a shifting population of people of various ethnic backgrounds who are “on assistance.” Some of them, recently arrived Burmese and Bhutanese folks, are doing what they can to find work and better places to live because they, with a strong work/study ethic, are targets for others who have, for a number of generations now, slowly been stripped by circumstances and well-meaning authority figures of the same work ethic–until they are left only with anger, shame, and a belief that they cannot do better.

I have seen pictures from the early part of the twentieth century when my neighborhood was a showplace. I have met several people–responsible, middle-class people, who actually grew up on my street in the sixties and seventies and went to school in the neighborhood. There is a couple from my church that has lived a block down the street from me for quite a number of years.

So I know that my “marginal” neighborhood was once a desirable neighborhood where people lived for years and knew and cared about each other. It was once a neighborhood that was clean. No lawns littered with things like Dorito bags, McDonald’s wrappers, beer bottles, wadded-up baby diapers, tiny rock cocaine bags, and the odd sneaker. It was once a neighborhood that was quiet. No sounds in the distance, during the summer, of gun fire at one in the morning (or is it fireworks? hard to tell in July), no pitbulls barking in the dark.

I am in my neighborhood because, six years ago, I bought a decent-looking house that was a two-minute walk from a bus stop and a five-minute walk from a grocery store. I knew three families that owned homes within a block of me. City government was talking up home ownership and offering grants to first-time home buyers; talk of neighborhood renewal was in the air. . .

At this point, from my perspective, I am cynical about how much any government, liberal or conservative, can do to turn a “marginal” neighborhood around, whether it’s with home buying grants, a greater police presence, or well-publicized marches for peace.

But I become even more cynical when I consider what I have always heard: that the neighborhood issues I see played out daily would not exist if the Christian church would do some basic, practical things that it, in theory, has always been doing–sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, educating the ignorant, soothing the wounded, all in the name of Christ who died and rose so that the wretched, damaged, and dispossessed (no matter what their ethnicity or income level) could have life and hope here and in the world to come.

At this point in my life, I find it astounding that men and women in my own Christian denomination will give up a middle-class life (good home, good job, good car, etc.) to go for Christ’s sake to places in the world where there are no hospitals, no flush toilets, and no cell towers. But they do not ever seem to think of giving up a cushy middle-class life to move into a “marginal” city neighborhood and share God’s love with the desperate people there by modeling a life of commitment to God and family.

No foreign language requirements for that kind of life. No need to give up pizza. And yet, when my denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, talks about home missions, it generally doesn’t seem to be thinking of the people I have described or their needs. It doesn’t encourage singles and young families to buy houses in urban neighborhoods, develop relationships, and begin to show that Christ is the ultimate answer to the needs of the desperate, lost people around them.

The cynic in me sees it this way: If someone is a spiritually dead communist in North Korea who might blow you in to the government and get you shot in the head, go for it. If someone is a spiritually dead drug dealer who might sic his dog on you and shoot you in the head, run away and hide.

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Realization

Been donkey’s years since I last posted. Because I have been way too enmeshed in trying to sort out and make sense of a lot in my life.

Some things I have had no success with, but some I have.

Here is one thing I have made sense of:

I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.

— That means I deal with people who have problems.

— When people have problems, they want answers.

— When people ask for answers, they often do it with noise and confusion.

— My job is to separate the problem that needs an answer from the noise and confusion and provide the information I am authorized and able to provide.

— If I cannot provide an answer, my job is to help (to the best of my authorization and ability) provide information about where an answer can be found.

— If I don’t want the noise and confusion and responsibility of being a problem-solver, then I need to get a job as a mattress-tester.

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The weather’s bad, but I’m not.

An interesting thing has happened to me in the past five weeks.  If I am counting correctly, five weeks ago yesterday, I started losing weight by committing to some really very simple changes in what I eat and in how I exercise.

To date, I have lost eight pounds.  It was ten pounds a couple of days ago, but who knows?  I’ve been eating salty pork rinds the past two days; that could have done something.

My main concern is not, as it has been in the past, LOSING WEIGHT.  It is eating, but only eating that which is really food, foregoing many examples of what modern Americans think of as food.

There’s stuff I’ve moved from the “daily fare” category into the “treat” category where it used to be for me.  There’s stuff I’ve moved out of the “food” category where it should never have been and put it in the “almost like rat poison” category.

I want to eat what is genuine food and what is good for my body.  (Though not all genuine food is good for my particular body.)

After eating, my concern is becoming much more healthy.  I read a book a while ago called The Schwarzbein Principle which got me thinking a lot about not eating crap anymore.  The author said something like, “You don’t lose weight to get healthy; you get healthy to lose weight.”  I want to find out what that involves.  Has to be more fun than dieting.

After getting healthy, my biggest concern is losing inches.  Everyone has heard that muscle weighs more than fat, so it is possible to drop clothing sizes and not lose that much weight.

Because everyone loves pictures, I am going show some of me, but reverse the usual order that “lifestyle change pictures” usually go in.

Below is a picture of me while I was doing Weight Watchers in 2000.  I think some things about it are good, such as becoming much more aware of what goes in my mouth at mealtime, but I became quite skeptical of the whole thing on the day everyone in my group applauded a woman for losing seven pounds in a week.  As it turned out, she had had the flu.  And when I hit a weight-loss plateau and could not budge my bathroom scale for weeks, I gave up and re-gained the 16 pounds I had lost and then gained another forty.

Picture of Me in 2000

WHAT WEIGHT WATCHERS BRIEFLY DID FOR ME

From 2000 to 2008, I made bad choices regarding food, exercise, and stress.  It was all about somehow getting through the workday, getting my work done any way possible, and going home to collapse.  I lived on a lot of junk food.  I occasionally ate things that were actual, real, good food, but most of the time I snarfed up whatever would give me energy without requiring me to spend time buying or fixing food.

In 2008, I began reading a lot about low-carb eating.  It made sense to me.  Problem was, after an initial successful trial of the Atkins diet, I found it difficult, as a loosey-goosey global thinker, to follow a lifestyle that reminded me of regular dieting.  The weighing, the measuring, the paranoia about eating “too many carbs.”  In addition, the effect of eating ten grams of carbs per day gave me the “low carb flu” and then some.  It was too hard for me and on me.  I went back to my old ways.

A month ago, however, after re-reading a variety of information on low carb eating, something started to make sense for me.  I read about something called the Primal Blueprint.  Its take on low-carb wasn’t what got to me the most; it was the idea that a successful low-carb lifestyle is one that includes a large amount of PLAYFULNESS.  In the approach to food, in the approach to exercise, in the approach to . . . everything.  My life for about the past twelve years has been so NOT playful.  Food has definitely been toooooooo serious a subject for me.

So basically, for a month, I have been having fun eating what’s good for me.  And doing something called wall push-ups.

Look at these recent pictures.  I still look fat, but I feel and move much better than I did just a month ago.  I believe for the first time ever that things really are going to change, and I don’t have to beat myself up, spend a lot of money, and/or eat artificial ingredients in the process.  It’s a bit scary to feel so blithe, but I can get used to it.

Two pictures of me in 2010

A LOT FAT, A LITTLE PALE, BUT DOING JUST FINE

 

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