Stones

Picture them, if you will… smooth stones from a river or a beach. If you are like me (in this way), the very thought will provoke a deep, wonderful sigh; a sensation of settling and safety, solidity and rest. Stones that have been worn smooth by their time in water carry a double dose of elemental energy, but I also have known (know) a love of stones that have arisen from the earth. Now that sounds a bit too poetic, even for me.

Two images come to mind. The first is the stonewalls created by hardy farmers, all over New England. These rocks ‘arose’ through the labor of humans and horses, mules or oxen. Want to cultivate crops? Clear the rocks from the field and use them to mark the borders of your land – and perhaps keep your cows from wandering.

My earliest love affair with stone was with a huge (to a child) rock that sat atop a stonewall like a tabletop. It was my first magical place and over the hours I spent there, I came to know every crack and dip in its surface. I still get an inexplicable, quiet thrill whenever I see the remnants of an old stonewall meandering through the woods along the side of a road. What I’m calling a ‘thrill’ is like a small surge of energy. It’s a connection with earthly energy that I feel whenever I palm a nice rock.

The second image is from my midlife years and took place far from the stony fields of N.E.   I was visiting The Big Island, one of the islands that make up the state of Hawaii. This island is named Hawaii, but it is not the population center, which is on the island of Oahu. When I was reading about the island of Hawaii before the trip, there was a note about possible volcanic eruptions that really surprised me. It mentioned the likelihood of traffic jams on the narrow roads of the island, in the event of a lava flow. Not from people fleeing the danger, but from people crowding in, wanting to get close to the event!              I thought: “No way! Not me!”

At the center of The Big Island is Volcanoes National Park and there I was, hiking with a friend across the Kīlauea Iki, a pit crater, which is next to the main summit caldera of the Kīlauea volcano. There was sulfuric steam puffing from vents in the crater’s surface and tiny scraps of green plants poking through the rock. It was a misty day, so we wore raingear and saw few other hikers. A snapshot taken by my friend actually captures the elemental joy that I experienced standing in that shallow crater. Unlike anything I had ever felt before. Closest comparison is the thrilling surge of ions during a thunderstorm or the exhilaration of ocean air.

The difference, I guess, is that those are airborne energies and this was rock. Solid rock, through which I was rooted, connected into the center of the planet. I know, sounds a little too mystical, maybe, but I’m trying to catch an emotion in words. Does it convey some of the power if I say that I can still feel that elation today, almost thirty years later? I will also add that as we traveled around the island that week, every time I encountered a lava field, my body started to hum. Newly formed earth, lava rock to be specific, carries quite a voltage of energy. Suffice to say, I understood why the guidebook had warned of people charging in to observe a lava flow in action. I thought: “Damn, me too!”

Sometime in the years between the hours of my childhood perching on the stonewall and my hike across Kilauea Iki, I studied Native American culture. “Animism was a commonly shared doctrine, or belief, of indigenous people and various Indian Tribes of North America. It is based on the spiritual idea that all natural objects within the universe have souls or spirits. It is believed that souls or spirits exist not only in humans, but also in animals, plants, trees and rocks. This cultural belief also extends to natural phenomena such as thunder storms and rain and geological features such as mountains, caves or rivers.” It immediately made a lot of sense to me and seemed to explain the elemental connection I felt, particularly with stones.

A few months ago, when I was going through a difficult time, a friend brought me a unique and personal gift. It is a pile of small stones she collected on the beach, that can be assembled into a desktop cairn. I can’t leave it out because my cats would take great delight in scattering the stones. But that means that I have the repeated pleasure of removing them from their pouch and creating the cairn anew: handling each stone, creating balance, admiring the different surface textures, colors, shapes and patterns.

A meditation on stones, indeed.

cairn onecairn in sun

NaBloPoMo_2015

Listen

I believe that I am what’s called ‘a good listener’ and I think most people who know me would agree. It sort of goes along with being a hugger, the welcoming-ness of open arms = open ears and heart. Well, I think I need to re-examine that self-perception. Its not that I don’t listen, but I guess that I don’t just listen. Have I always been this way, or has this habit evolved over time? I listen and then I try to fix. When I am not called upon to fix; when I am not asked to propose solutions. Unsolicited advice. Ouch. And to make me even more uncomfortable in this self-reflection, I can see that in many cases, I respond in that way because the speaker’s emotions are painful to hear. Although I pride myself on being a ‘safe person’ for others to confide in, and I do keep confidences, on some level I want the emotional disturbance to go away.

Listening obviously involves the ears. I have some hearing loss and don’t hear certain levels of sound, especially in a crowded setting. But if I am one-on-one, my ears are fully functional. And empathetic listening obviously involves the heart and that seems to be my natural response. This personality trait, if I can call it that, has just always been who (and how) I am, all my life. I can’t say it has always been easy to be so tuned in to the feelings of others. In fact it is not.

A series of articles was brought to my attention recently that actually label and to some extent explain to me who I am. Tendencies that I have always considered maladaptive have been studied and it appears that I am an HSP, which stands for highly sensitive person. They say that I am ‘biologically wired’ to behave the way I do. Imagine that!

There have been fMRI studies of the brain activity of HSPs. Can’t say that I understand all of the scientific facts, but here is a link to a 2014 article entitled: “The Highly Sensitive Brain: an fMRI Study of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Response to Others’ Emotions” by Bianca P. Acevedo, Elaine N. Aron, Arthur Aron, Matthew-Donald Sangster, Nancy Collins & Lucy L. Brown. In a section on page 11, ‘The highly sensitive brain: empathy and integration of others’ emotions’, I find this statement:

These results suggest that highly sensitive individuals “feel” and integrate sensory information to a greater extent in response to others’ affective states…

A slightly more accessible article appeared in the Huffington Post this past summer.

[HSPs are] easily overstimulated by their surroundings. Loud noises, big decisions and large crowds don’t bode well for HSPs without a little downtime to balance them out. This is because they have a very active emotional response, according to Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person and one of the original scientific researchers of the personality trait.

“The reason this happens is because they’re processing everything around them so thoroughly,” Aron told The Huffington Post. HSPs process their surroundings or life events based on emotions. In other words, the more overwhelming their circumstances get, the more deeply they feel.

It’s interesting that I was about to write about the third element of listening, or rather, my intention to practice listening without offering advice or solutions. As I said previously, listening requires the use of ears and empathetic listening requires the use of the heart, but I want to engage my brain to be more conscious about just listening. I’m not quite sure how the HSP research connects with my desire to practice non-intervention listening. However the idea that my brain is ‘wired’ to be empathetic and the established fact that brain circuitry can be rewired through changing habits means that I have a good chance of achieving my goal, n’est pas?

The HSP research validates my experience of feeling porous, as if I cannot block the emotional vibrations that other people emit. What I choose to do, going forward is to embrace the ‘biologically wired’ skill of empathy and combine it with a conscious awareness of boundaries. To protect myself from absorbing too much of the emotional overflow from others and at the same time to hold myself back from rushing in to wipe up their (messy) painful feelings.

I am beginning to suspect that this particular type of care-taking behavior has served me as a shield, keeping me occupied and too busy to have my own feelings. That’s another ouch, but a healthy realization, I think.

NaBloPoMo_2015

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Less

Less is more. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever ‘get’ that succinct bit of wisdom. Since I was a child I have been teased for giving l-o-n-g responses to simple questions. As a girl it was especially apparent when I was asked about a book or a movie. I had to tell the entire plot line, including details about the setting, the clothes and movements of the characters and so on. I guess maybe that was annoying, but it was the only way I could answer.

As an adult, my friends generally come to understand that if I am telling a story, there is usually a lot of background detail that I feel is necessary. For the most part, they put up with my habit, with only some mild ribbing. I don’t know if they sometimes choose not to ask me a question, knowing that it will take a while for me to answer. My lovely daughter has been much more forthright about her reaction to my long-winded proclivity. Since she was quite young she would, and still does, interrupt my soliloquies with complaints and eye rolls.

I may be wrong, (fooling myself) but I think that this tendency to be thorough with descriptions and in my explanations is not a bad thing as a writer. Or to say that another way, I notice things, take note of details that others may overlook and carefully using those specifics when writing is a strength. Granted, I am talking about an unedited first draft. My writing, like most writing needs to be edited so that each word is necessary and that involves removing some text. (One pleasant aspect of writing a blog post is that I don’t worry much about editing or distilling the language to its essentials. Tee hee.) So, I’m back to less is more.

Now a few words (too funny!) about daily communication. I like talking to people face to face. That is my preferred method. I have always enjoyed the now fading activity called writing personal notes or letters. As we have sorted through the accumulated possessions of my parents these last few years, we have discovered a good many saved letters, spanning their own lifetimes and those of their parents. I’ve read a few and learned things  that I would never have known and that has been sweet. I’ve also looked at a few that I wish that I had never opened… There’s no need to know some of that information. However, I think about future generations who will not have old letters to open, to learn about their parent’s and grandparent’s lives. Will they look through old emails?

Less is more. That was a tangent, but it does loop back to daily interpersonal communication. As I was saying, I prefer face to face or hand written letters, sent through the ailing postal system. I’ve never been a fan of the telephone for lengthy conversations. Holding the receiver is uncomfortable, for one thing and I can’t say that cell phones have improved upon that awkwardness. Use a headset, you might say. I tried that at one point, in the pre-Bluetooth world, back when the equipment clumsy. And nowadays, its just too weird watching people talking to themselves everywhere.

All of this is to say, the phone is a miracle and I appreciate its efficiency as well as caller ID and voice mail, but I had issues with it. Sometimes calls came when I wasn’t able or in the mood to talk. Sometimes a call went on too long and I would get antsy. So, when email arrived in my life, I was a rapid convert. Write whenever you want, answer when you can, even late at night, it all seemed like a blessing. Of course misinterpretations of tone are a consistent problem with emails, as I have repeatedly learned to my discomfort.

And then came texts; ah, even easier than email, because I always have my phone with me, right? Well, yes and no. First of all, I know that people send emails from their phones, but I haven’t and don’t plan to start. Famous last words?

Issues with texts: they require a lot of finger dexterity, they can be misinterpreted as easily & badly as an email and the smart little phone is always changing words I want to send to words it wants to use. That behavior is sometimes funny, but more often a pain. So, I love the ease of texting, but it definitely conflicts with my wordiness habit. I always want to answer in depth, at moderate (not great) length, and that actually does not serve me well.

So, as regards texts, my motto is and needs to be: Less is More.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Back

Last night I went back to my daughter’s elementary school for an event. We gathered to thank a wonderful woman who was leaving after 18 years to take another job. She is a friend, our children were in the same class for nine years and we were also colleagues for the seven years I officially worked for the school. I was an insanely involved volunteer before (and while) I was an employee. I drove to the school five days a week for a total of eleven years and I must say, although it has been a while, my car did very well retracing it’s old route. In the six years since I left, many other members of the community – faculty, staff and parents – have also moved on. But many of them returned last evening, as I did, to acknowledge this extraordinary woman.

It felt good to be there, familiar and at the same time it offered a curious awareness of how I have changed. I thought it was almost funny that my post yesterday was about being a hugger, because I did a lot, I mean a massive amount of hugging in that building. And there were hugs last night, of course. With a few people there were multiple hugs, because it had been a long time and because the physical act took the place of the hundreds of words there were no time to exchange. Hugs are good that way. But my ‘topic’ today is Back, not hugs, although a hugger’s back is an important element of a good hug.

Back in the day, when I was a young student in college, I read voraciously, absorbing the overwhelmingly western, white male canon of literature. One American author I read was Thomas Wolfe and for a time, his melancholic tone and insights really seemed to articulate my experience and philosophy. He was later supplanted by Dostoyevsky and Nabokov, as Wolfe himself had bumped Shakespeare and Dickens aside. Or perhaps it was the other way around. No matter, those were gluttonous days, indeed.

Two of Wolfe’s titles came to mind as soon as I thought about the idea of Back. When I paused to think about it, neither title contains the word ‘back’, but they both include the word ‘home’: You Can’t Go Home Again and Look Homeward Angel. To whit, ergo, thus it is confirmed that going back and going home are more or less the same thing in my mind. The WSL community was my home for eleven years and last night’s visit confirmed once again that while affection and memories remain, the home it was is no longer there for me. And the same is true of all the many physical and psychological/emotional homes where I have lived over the years. They are within me now and they are behind me.

I have been working on a piece of writing that is anchored in my childhood home, torn down some forty years ago now, but still so vivid in my mind. Each session of writing takes me back and some of that is melancholic, but much of it is exhilarating. To do the work of explaining to myself what I experienced back then is yielding so many insights into the past and the present. The sense of liberation is almost levitating. So, I keep at it, picking at scabs to reveal new skin. Hmm, I could follow that wound/blood/scab metaphor, but perhaps another time.

I’m going to close with a couple of lines from a book by Louise Hay. Her work and writing have had a powerful impact in my life and if you do not know of her, or if you do and feel dismissive of her work, I would propose that you suspend your cynicism for a bit and take a look. Retro? Maybe. New-agey? Maybe. But sometimes, many times she nails it and her methods can bring incredible results. Just ask me; I will testify. Anyway, these lines are actually affirmations from one of her earliest books. They are:

“I release the past and all past experiences. I let go of that which is in back of me.”

NaBloPoMo November 2015

 

 

Hugs

I am a hugger. Not as in ‘tree hugger’, although I have on occasion hugged a tree and I am unequivocally an environmentalist. I am known as a ‘good hugger’ and there are people who come to me saying, “I need a CJ hug!” Now that I think about it, those voices are similar to the “I need some of CJ’s chocolate chip cookies (from way back) or I need some of CJ’s Guatemalan rice and beans…” So I guess that supports the idea that it is nourishment that hugs provide.

Generally speaking, a hug works both ways, that is, if I give a good hug, then I receive a good hug at the same time. Size is a factor, in some cases. I am usually larger than the ‘hug-ee’ or hug recipient. And I do notice and relish the times when I receive a good, solid hug from a person who is taller than me. There is a primal comfort there, so I guess that underscores what others seek and get from my hugs; because if I am going to hug someone, it will be a full embrace.

There are a few souls that I have known for many years who I have been forced to accept do not want a real hug. They are supremely uncomfortable with the physical contact and although I have tried to coax them, I mainly respect their personal space and hold back. Fact is, their rigid posture makes me want to hug them, to soften them, I guess. The hugger in me is drawn to them like cats and dogs appear to be attracted to humans who do not particularly like pets.

I don’t know how much it is related to hugging, but babies are virtually always comfortable being held by me. Okay, I have enjoyed being called a ‘baby whisperer’. Who wouldn’t like that honor? I believe that infants can be relaxed with me, because I am relaxed with them.

I enjoy hugging young people, those under ten years of age and also adolescents. But I have a strict policy of not forcing hugs in those situations. I offer a hug or I ask if I can hug them, sometimes in words, sometimes with an open-armed gesture. And if they agree, I try very hard to match their level of contact and not over-squeeze. There are some young people that I have been hugging since they were little, friends and classmates of my daughter’s and I am thrilled that hugs are a regular part of our relationships. That also feels like an honor, to have that bond.

I am inclined to hug certain people, but not everyone, when I first meet them. Handshakes are fine; I enjoy giving and getting a firm handshake. I’ve come to accept the cultural differences of handshake etiquette, particularly across gender lines, and reach out with a gentle hand in certain social settings. I actually ask for, or is it demand, hugs from certain professionals that I have ‘hired’. Doctors, lawyers, even contractors, after establishing a relationship. Most of them will acquiesce and over the course of time, it becomes a natural part of our interactions.

Hmm… Had to check on the spelling of ‘acquiesce’ and I see that part of the Latin root is from quiescere ‘to rest.’ Reminds me of the expression ‘to rest in someone’s arms’, which is sort of what a prolonged hug can be. While I was ‘in the dictionary’, I took a look at the origin of hug and here’s a surprise. Most of the words we use have a Latin or Greek root. For hug, Webster says: ‘ORIGIN mid 16th century: probably of Scandinavian origin and related to Norwegian hugga ‘comfort, console.’ That’s very interesting.

There was an article in the NYTimes several years ago about teenage hugging that offers a few curious comments. It was written six years ago, so the teen scene may have changed a bit.

I won’t be changing my habits. I am a hugger.

NaBloPoMo November 2015     treehug

Triage

I don’t know about you, but I have several “quotes” posted around my study here, reminders of truths. The bits of paper come and go. It’s not that the messages are any less pithy or significant, but sometimes they are lost or supplanted. There is one that has been around for a long time: it’s getting a little grimy on the curled up edges of the paper. It is a couple of phrases taken from a Boston Globe newspaper column by the incomparable Ellen Goodman, about twenty years ago. I remember that she mentions Hilary Clinton, who was then approaching her 50th birthday and although I felt quite young, firmly in my forties, I was (and am still) always looking ahead. I crave instruction on how to move forward in life. Here’s what it says:

“Pick carefully and boldly…Triage what you want to do and what you want to quit. Live intentionally”

This quote has stuck around so long because I really want to triage, but some days, like today, it seems that I do not know how. Boldly choosing what to Quit? Living Intentionally? Yes, yes, and yes again. In my seat of ‘first world privilege’, I have the option of doing just that. But I dither, I falter, I regress to old habits, particularly the care of others and I live… unintentionally? Without clear intention and follow through, that is to say, as if I do not have the power of choice. Which rhymes with voice. Which is why I am writing.

Triage; I like the sound of the word; from the French, I believe. I generally think of it being used in a medical setting, as in the old television show M*A*S*H, where they would ‘assign degrees of urgency’ to wounded soldiers. In that setting, urgency was closely correlated to triage. Looking in the dictionary, ahem, I find that the first listing says: “the action of sorting according to quality.” First note to self: urgency is not necessarily a part of triage. Second note: it is an action, which means it is something to practice and develop as a skill (see quote below from Ursula LeGuin.) And third note to self: the word ‘quality’ refers to the things that give me pleasure and satisfaction, as in ‘quality of life’.

I’ve written before about mindfulness and these last few days about heroes and inspiration. Put it all together and I see that I want to slowly, but persistently, sort through the various parts of my life and do some clearing out. Doesn’t have to be dramatic, just little daily choices NOT to do things that don’t nourish me and are not my responsibility. In the space that opens up, I can try other things. I can try imagining other things. Goodman’s quote goes on to say: “Leap and the net will appear.” Take risks and try new things, has been my interpretation of that advice, which lines up with another quote on my desk, this one from Mary Oliver:

“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

As I age, time seems more limited ahead of me; heck, it seems more limited every day! That is why these questions, these exhortations seem even more important to heed than when I posted them, decades ago. I will leave you with this note from Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin. The book is about the craft of writing, but I found this section to have a wider meaning:

“We can use and practice [behaviors, actions] until – the point of all the practice – we don’t have to think about them consciously at all, because they have become skills. A skill is something you know how to do.”

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Heroes

Heroes… or call them ‘sheroes’ or heroines, I suppose. Personally I would like to have a female version of the word, but neither of these choices works for me. Heroines have generally been seen as part of a pair: “hero and heroine” and she is the lesser actor, the one who gets saved. Heroes are the characters who do, who overcome. Sheroes I see as a laudable attempt to claim or reclaim language, along the lines of ‘wymin’ and other words coined in the 1970’s. But it simply won’t roll off my tongue or my pen. I think instead of the book by Joseph Campbell that had such a profound effect on me, decades ago, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Although I don’t remember whether Campbell spoke specifically about female heroes, in my mind five hundred of those faces are female.

What is a hero and why am I writing about them today? Well, not surprisingly, when I look for a definition of hero, it pisses me off. But I am mollified when I check on the definition given for heroine, because it is word for word, the same: “[person] admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.” Okay, that does work as a definition of heroes of both genders as they are represented in history or herstory. (Now, that is a ‘new’ word that I happily embrace and it has even made it into the dictionary!) Here is a note on the word, from the 1976 book by Casey Miller and Kate Swift, Words & Women:

“When women in the movement use herstory, their purpose is to emphasize that women’s lives, deeds and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories.”

Well, there I go, getting lost in the world of words, wordsmithing and meaning. It is a common detour for me, when I start exploring a topic. There is so much more to say about heroes and I guess I’ll do that tomorrow. Right now I am off to hear Gloria Steinem, one of the heroes of the women’s movement and for me also a hero/role model for how one can choose to live at eighty-one years of age.

NOTE: I’ve provided links to both books that are mentioned, but neither link is totally satisfying to me. So I hope you will explore further, if so inclined.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Gratitude

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollA partial list:

I am grateful to be female. Given the oppressiveness of patriarchy as I have experienced it personally and the persistent ugliness of its presence in the world, that may be surprising, but I am very grateful to be a woman.

I am grateful that I was a child in the 1950’s and early 1960’s; again, somewhat surprising, due to the difficulties in my personal story and the limiting social structure of the times. But I am grateful for the relative innocence of the era: when media was not ever-present and was somewhat more benign; when we children moved more freely within our small world, without the burden of fear and stranger danger; when playing, exploring and making things up was what children did. When our country was ‘between wars’.

I am also grateful to have lived into the 21st century and be experiencing the positive elements of electronic innovation, dizzying, utilitarian, seemingly endless; and the relative progress that has been made in the lives of girls and women.

I am grateful to all of the souls, living and dead, who have influenced me, through their presence in my life and the books they have written; particularly the spiritual teachers whose insights have and do sustain my faith and understanding of the universe.  I’m choosing to name, via initials, a few individuals whose perhaps unwitting guidance, at certain moments in my life, helped me to step onto entirely new paths.

Gratitude to MHB: who opened my eyes to a social political understanding of the world, birthing within me feminist, humanist and progressive values that remain central in my life.

Gratitude to PP: who opened my eyes to the power inside the world of dreams.

Gratitude to PL: who dragged me into recovery from addiction and forced my eyes open to the messages of hope and self esteem.

Gratitude to JC: who has listened to me and by that gift enabled me to speak, who understands me and by that gift has helped me to learn from myself, as well as others.

I am ever grateful to many others.  Although I’ve not named you specifically, you have been stalwart guides, supporters and fellow seekers in my life to date. I hope that you know not only who you are, but also what you and your love mean to me.

Yes, I am grateful for my friends and family, for my health, for the babies and young people that I am privileged to know and love, for my extraordinary daughter and her generosity, for my spouse and her willingness to build our lives together, for my parents who are gone and my siblings who remain, for my comfortable home and the limitless wonder and beauty of the planet and it’s life force.

Like I said, a partial list.

Bonding

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollI’ve been thinking about friendships forged in the workplace.  More specifically, I found myself thinking about my job history and my feelings about revisiting places where I have worked. I’ve had quite a few jobs in 45 years; many of them short term, leaving few memories. For instance, I can’t remember a single person I worked with in the drive-in movie theater in San Diego 40 years ago; not even a dimly recalled face. Then there are a number of jobs where I was the only employee, without colleagues to recall, only employers. Then there are the places where I actually did not like the people I worked with, which includes a couple of restaurants.

Not surprisingly, I made the strongest connections at the workplaces where I stayed the longest and stayed the longest at the workplaces where I enjoyed the best work relationships. Time is a huge factor in the building of these friendships; shared experiences form a bond that lays down neural pathways. That sounds wacky, but the more I read, here and there, about the brain, habits and behavior, the more it seems to me that our daily activities are always shaping and reshaping our brains. Be that as it may, I will not pretend to understand the rapidly expanding field of brain research; just sharing my gut response to what I read.

There are work friendships that rise beyond the shared experience bond. Sometimes there is just recognition of a kindred spirit. This awareness can be immediate, like a dazzling little burst of light. A few minutes chatting with someone makes the day go better or they are the one I turn to when there is ‘an issue’ on the job. Perhaps there is an occasional meeting for a meal outside of work, where personal lives are shared. Other times the camaraderie is revealed after leaving the job, when I find myself continuing to think of the individual and seek them out. In any case, those connections are a gift.

I’ve been reading a book called Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe.  The subtitle is: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War. As described by Doris Kearns Goodwin, an author whose work I admire tremendously, Soldier Girls “weaves together the stories of three very different but equally compelling women soldiers… [whose] stories provide an intimate window on life in the military, the impact of war and the difficult transition to home.”  I wanted to read the book in order to gain some insight into the experiences of women serving in the military in Afghanistan and Iraq, something about which I feel woefully ignorant. My knowledge of those countries, their histories and the long-standing wars to which the U.S. continues to send troops is embarrassingly minute.

I have protested wars since the Vietnam era, while attempting to show support for ‘our troops’ when they are serving and thereafter as veterans. But really, I am shamefully out of touch and like most Americans, literally forget that these horrific conflicts are ongoing, with daily impact on tens of thousands of soldiers and their families. I am not proud of my ignorance. I am impressed that these women were willing to be so open and honest about their lives, thoughts and feelings, sharing their experiences with Thorpe. I am extremely grateful for their courage, as soldiers and as women.

The link with the topic of today’s post is that the friendships these women develop while in training and on active duty powerfully illustrate the bonding that arises from shared experience. These relationships sustain them in dramatic, stressful situations and in the humdrum of everyday activities. Their growth as individuals is shaped by the profound impact of helping each other survive. The caring and affection they display toward each other is enormous and inspiring. Their commitment to each other is deep, real and lasting and it’s also true that they suffer disconnection from each other when they return to the U.S. and struggle to re-enter their civilian lives. It’s a case of Both/And.

There is so much to learn; so much to think about. I encourage you to read this book. I hope you will and that perhaps you will share some of your thoughts on workplace friendships or any other aspect of friendships.

Not

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Guess what?             I am not a victim.

What do I mean? Why is it a big piece of news for me?

I woke up at 5 AM this morning, obsessing about a brief article in the Globe yesterday and a careless comment made by someone who I know loves me and I was all bent out of shape. Got out of bed, came to this desk and began digging around on the internet to see if the N.Y. Times had also printed the item, from the Associated Press. As far as I can tell, they had not.  I got more and more outraged and worked up.  Maybe part of feeling ill was induced by lack of sleep, but the rest of it was from drinking poison.

Poison, you say?  What? Well, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this quote previously.  It is attributed to the Buddah.  If I have, sorry, it deserves repeating.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

It hit me hard the first time I heard it.  I’ve found it tremendously helpful in situations with other people, where I needed to let go of anger that wasn’t bothering them, only affecting me.   So clear, so simple, so true.

Well, this morning  I understood it differently. For a couple of years now, I’ve been writing and processing my hurt and anger re: a lifetime of fat shaming and stigma and the evils of the Processed Food Industrial Complex in all its parts.   This has been a cleansing and healing journey for me. But I have remained stuck in the anger more than I want to be. In a funny (not hah-hah) way, it became comfortable to be swaddled in outrage, which is only one small step removed from the longtime familiarity (comfort) of living in shame.     Not.

Each time I respond with visceral rage to the ugliness and ignorance (and in the case of this Globe/AP piece, sensationalizing spin of the media) of others, I dig myself in deeper. Ranting and railing against their behavior perpetuates my experience of feeling trapped and abused. ‘They’ may have been or may be victimizing me, but I’m the one who takes on the label of victim. I believe that articulating and expressing my anger was/is liberating.  It was/is an important step toward freedom from being locked in self-blame. But now I need to step out of that anger box and stop wasting my energy.

The PFIC is the enemy and exposing, for myself, the links between its various elements is really important. But it is not a battle, a war that I can win. Not an enemy that I can conquer, no matter how many facts I uncover, allies I discover, insightful connections that I make or words I write. That’s just how it is. I can still ‘fight the good fight’, as so many other, inspiring people have done and continue to do, confronting both local and global issues.  But as an individual, I cannot move forward in my life if I keep drinking the poison.

So, it’s a new day. Yes, I’m disappointed that the Globe editors chose to print an article, dramatically (and somewhat misleadingly) headlined: Global Obesity costs hits $2 trillion. They chose to emphasize the serious weight of the economic impact, rather than the sociological aspect of the issue.  I am so sick of that bias.

I went to the source, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, wanting to understand how the $2 trillion figure was calculated.  Can’t say I was able to decipher that information, but what I did find was an extensive and nuanced study, entitled How the World Could Better Fight Obesity. It is available for download, if you are interested.  The PFIC is in there, on the list of things that need to change. I wish the media would not choose to inflame bias and stigma with crappy headlines and lifting phrases like ‘a stark prediction’, when the report is, in fact, an honest look at what is and what could be done.   Grr.   Breathe.

As for the person who loves me, who for some reason chose to describe a group of people as including ‘…two really fat people’ and in response to my reaction, stated: ‘That was the most obvious thing about them.’; well, I’m stymied.  I’ll try to accept simply being puzzled by the choice and logic.  As I toss away the poison potion, I’ll hope to release the hurt. That is my intention.  I don’t want to hold onto any more hurt and anger. No more. Not swallowing it, not carrying it, not wasting time and energy on the victim life any more.  Let the anger fuel forward motion.