Saturday, December 31, 2011

Exposed: Achieving your values brings happiness

I was recently asked about a quote I have on my FaceBook page.  I have two quotes listed and I was caught off guard by the question.   I also felt a bit exposed and maybe put on the spot so I did what came naturally (to me), I attempted to pretend to make light of it.   I actually played possum, so to speak.  It’s not a good strategy.  It’s really quite dim-witted and dull, but sometimes when I am caught off guard or feel exposed, I am not so very quick on my toes, or my verbal responses.  Of course putting your life, or your life’s dreams and values up on FaceBook kind of makes you fair game for being exposed, kind of like blogging, I suppose. 

The quote was/is by Ayn Rand and it goes as follows: 

Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. 

It’s a quote that I connect to for several reasons.  Mainly, I value happiness.  I firmly believe happiness is not one of these abstract concepts that needs to be lost on so many.  I believe happiness is attainable, abundant and at the ready for anyone that wants it.  I really like happiness a great deal in spite of my sometimes serious grimace or determined gait.  Read on, because those features might be me in pursuit of happiness.  Smile when you see it in me, I am getting happy or going for happiness full-on.

What do I value?  What makes me happy?  What comes to mind immediately, I would have to say first and foremost, my children, or the opportunity to share life with them.  Not so much in the literal sense of giving life but more in the ethereal sense of providing opportunities for them to see beauty and develop wonder and see the goodness of each day.  To have been able to expose them to different paths and possibilities and then allow for their lives to emerge and choose the path that works for them.  I’m not saying this has been easy or even clearly in view at all times, but I think they are truly open to the world around them and feel valued.  To have lived by my values to provide a chance for them to develop their own has been a worthy cause.  I know it’s schmaltzy but maybe that’s another value of mine - schmaltz, in all of it’s puffed up, glittery, feel-good potential.

I value hard-work and productivity.  Ambition.  Drive.  Accomplishment.  Discipline.  The concept that cutting and stacking wood to heat the hearth can fulfill all of these values sometimes as much as, or more so, than landing a high-powered position isn’t lost on me. In fact it is incredibly attractive in it’s simplicity.  But I also enjoy the bigger, bolder attempts, the kind that provide regular paychecks to buy the wood that needs to be chopped and stacked and fed into the hearth of the happy home.

Individuality.  Independence.  Creativity.  Risk-taking.  These speak to confidence and drive and sometimes the chance to just push past all of the restrictive and constraining doubts that linger all around us unheeded and unduly.  These are important values that provide and abundance of happiness when acted upon.

Strength.  This is my big scary value that I exude and ultimately intimidate and then quiet and shamefully attempt to mask.  I understand I need to temper this one but I have some more time to work on it.  It’s a process, this life and this undertaking of values and this desire for happiness, at least give me that much.  Strength is also evident in being able to carry on.  To wake up each morning and face adversity and take it head on or push it aside to achieve some other small accomplishment or complete a basic task.  For me strength is the power to be resilient and remain hopeful and expectant amidst a great deal of unhappiness in others.  And the on-going idea that my strength has some ability to make someone else feel less strong?  Poppy-Cosh! There is plenty of strength to go around, have at it!  (Time will tell if I can temper this, or want to, or need to.)

Passion.  Desire.  Pleasure.  Sexuality.  So much taboo and taintedness, restraint and discipline associated with these values that provide deep interconnectedness or momentary thrill.   The opportunity to express and feel and live is electric and vital.  Why do we work so hard to devalue and demean and disparage these feelings?    Another day.  Can’t figure it all out here.  I do know that this value has been one in need of minimizing for the conformity police and the jump to conclusion die-hards.  But the secrets out: this one makes me happy, easily, and quickly, under the right circumstances, or lighting, or eagerly, smiling, kind and gentle companion. Privately and respectfully.

Faith.  This value is a bit tough to truly explain to others.  Faith has this negative association with religion.  Religion has this negative association with rules and restrictions and restraint and conformity and discipline, which are typically values I run from, but I have a very unique relationship with religion and faith.  It’s not easy to describe or explain.  Well that’s not really true.  It’s not easy for others to hear about because religion and faith have these really harsh and negative connotations with you know, rules and restrictions and hatred and war, even.  That’s just not right though.  That has nothing to do with faith.  I do go to church, more than occasionally.  I like the traditions, the structure and the opportunity to sit and think of something, anything, bigger and better than self and society.  I also like the concept of faith as a value in saying “I have faith in you.”  “I believe in you.”   I have great certainty in the power and ability of others being able to carry on and succeed when they try, attempt, risk it all for some piece of happiness, really isn't that faith?  I am really happy to know that I have faith in myself, in others, and have welcomed the faith others have in me.

Appreciation. Wonder. Joy.  I value beauty and nature and color.  The natural world.  The man-made contrived.  I cannot recall a day in my life that something has not captured my attention and surprised me or caught me off guard in a manner that has not left me awe struck.  Each day on my way to work I drive toward the Catskill Mountains and see the interplay of sky and clouds and color.  Water and mountains and trees.  Fog or mist, snow, sun…color, movement, life.  The play of light.  The constructed invention of humans.  Buildings, parks, walkways, internet, medicine, books, language.....Joy, wonder, appreciation.

Wit.  Real, funny, happy, laughter causing wit. Play.  Like sledding or skipping just because.  Playfulness.

Honesty.   (Realizing that sometimes being honest about yourself leaves you exposed.  So trust might have to come with honesty, hand in hand.  I honestly want to have fun and take life slowly.  I honestly like the idea of being available to anything that comes my way but I honestly don't operate that way as much as I would like to imagine. I am honest to a fault, when called out or asked to share my thoughts or opinion.  OK, I didn't exactly share all of this when the quote on my FaceBook account was brought up, but if a follow-up question was asked I would have.  Or if I knew why my FaceBook account was being heavily scrutinized or perhaps simply curiously reviewed.   I am honestly, at times a big talker but still a lot of fun to be with and snarky as all get out occasionally. Honestly, I want what most of us want; love, companionship, connection, belonging and the courage to be honest about it.  All a process....But I definitely value honesty and it's not always easy to come by, which makes it that much more valued.)


I am so easily happy, see?  There are so many opportunities for happiness all around us.  Everyday, all ways.  Ripe for the picking when you have values. And we do, all of us.  We might just need to wipe them off and re-evaluate or realign ourselves to them.  

And for your reading and thinking pleasure just a couple more quotes by Ayn Rand, a phenomenal woman with clearly articulated values and therefore, hopefully happiness.

 “Why do they always teach us that it's easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It's the hardest thing in the world--to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.”
Ayn Rand

“Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, a person's sexual choice is the result and sum of their fundamental convictions. Tell me what a person finds sexually attractive and I will tell you their entire philosophy of life. Show me the person they sleep with and I will tell you their valuation of themselves. No matter what corruption they're taught about the virtue of selflessness, sex is the most profoundly selfish of all acts, an act which they cannot perform for any motive but their own enjoyment - just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity! - an act which is not possible in self-abasement, only in self-exultation, only on the confidence of being desired and being worthy of desire. It is an act that forces them to stand naked in spirit, as well as in body, and accept their real ego as their standard of value. They will always be attracted to the person who reflects their deepest vision of themselves, the person whose surrender permits them to experience - or to fake - a sense of self-esteem .. Love is our response to our highest values - and can be nothing else.”
Ayn Rand

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bon gré mal gré - C'est la vie!

Just over three years ago, as I drove my daughter to college, I began a journey deep inside myself that had been long overdue.  I had been on the outside of most everything for some time.  It wasn’t always that way.  I was once, or practically, a rebel, a warrior, a risk-taker, and devil-may-care hellcat, or so I like to imagine or claim.   Not a myth of youth, so much as, a clearly defined being with personality and purpose.  Sometimes a force to be reckoned with, other times a calm and quiet presence, an observer, a thinker, and just as quickly a raucous instigator challenging others to be more, or less of who they were destined to be.  I was more frequently alive and lively.  Realizing, almost at once, that I had been this "someone" so long ago, I started reflecting and examining and analyzing before starting to adjust and alter and maybe soon embrace or at least calmly accept. 

I suppose bringing my daughter to college was symbolic as much as it was monumental and yet still, an ordinary transition in the life cycle of us simply, mortal humans. The depth of the separation caught me slightly off guard just the same. I had 3 years prior released a son out into the wild, or an esteemed college, in any event, and survived unscathed.  With my daughter I saw something else.  As much as I saw the richness and fullness of her life beginning, I also saw how much I had been evading and stifling that fullness in my own life.   The anticipation and expectation of greatness was tangible and all around her.  Something large and possible lie ahead for my daughter, it was palpable. I saw her as ready, but vulnerable, open but inexperienced and accepting of what was to be.  I had great faith in her and knew she would go far if only she wished.  As she does. 

This transition forced me to take a closer look at what was missing in my own life.  It wasn’t hard to identify.  It was me.  I was missing from my own life.  I wondered when and why I had given up or left.  I might have mourned my “self” more than I mourned her parting.  I wanted to feel whole again.  I no longer was able to be the pulled and partitioned parent providing too little to too many and nothing to myself. 

I started to take a closer look at my efforts at evasion.  I struggled to maintain a marriage, knowing it had long ago lost its way.   I was not ready to accept that it likely never had a chance, and so I was never looking directly at it.   It had been built upon deception and illusive assurances.  I suppose the best way to avoid that truth was to embrace it and try to quell it.  I might have tried to hug the love into it.  When that failed, I became combative, and frustratingly ambiguous and finally submissive. 

I can now say, sadly, I helped create this conflicting duality.  This dance that offered rejection and attraction, over and over again.  Repelled and rapt. This self-fulfilling prophesy that has permitted me to gloat in the reality that I cannot trust.  Men.  See.  Again.  I have been playing out a deeply rooted childhood violation, molestation, but never fully.  And so it hasn’t healed.  I haven’t healed.   Instead I get to “imagine” that I am in control of “it”.  This harm that has festered deep within.   I choose men that offer very little and then I get only that much.  Expectant of little and appreciative of less.  See.  Again.  Why would I expect more? 

I am strong.  I am a fighter.  I am smart.  I am funny.  I am attractive.  I am violated.  And so I fight.  I resist.  I submit.  I attract.  I repel.  Anxiously.  Awkwardly.  Uncertainly. And angrily.  Because all that I am that is good didn’t protect or help or save me.  And all that I am that is not so very good did not protect me or help or save me.  And so I can’t trust.  Me.  See?  

In not wanting to believe that there must be something wrong with me to have made this happen I have kept this secret tightly concealed for so very long.   I believed I would not be able to convince others that I did not cause this violation to occur.   I did not stop it.  I did not understand it.  Instead I grew up and believed I could not trust men. Or myself...with...them.  

I have developed some strong, unconventional leanings amidst some regular, ordinary thoughts and desires.  I don’t always “fit”.  I tried to convince myself I mostly don’t want to, or need to, or simply just can't.  But I have tried only so much, and doing so, I have lost a great deal of me.   I have started realizing I am not so very different, or difficult, or dastardly.  I am resilient.  I am strong.  I am a fighter. I am smart.  I am funny.  I am attractive.  I am healing.  I am trying.  I am deserving and desirable. I am ready to trust a little more.  I am ready to expect more.  

Tonight after struggling with the reality that I took a chance and tried out my dating chops and more or less failed miserably (well maybe not that much),  I shared with a friend,  "The worst problem is that I don’t have a clue why it didn't work out”.   It didn’t take very long to reveal that that was really not the worst problem, or even entirely true. There has been this pattern over time:  There is initially BIG attention and attraction directed my way that I find so intimidating and unbelievable.  Rapt and repelled, curious, isn't it?  I question and discard and distrust at the same time that I desperately want to eagerly accept and experience.   I send out, or keep close, unclear cues.  I was even able to imagine a few of my not so appealing traits and features. I briefly attempted to develop this new interest in requesting feedback, as though if I only knew what was not working I might tamp it down and alter who I am.  Still playing out the early violation.  Or maybe just bide for time and explain it away. Imagine that? I’m not really interested in tamping down or submitting or giving up me.  Instead, I am ready to heal and accept and maybe grow and chalk up the experience to the real possibilities that await me and smile at the kindness and gentleness that was shared, if briefly. 

I am attracted to men, and no longer so afraid, ready to trust, finally, and that’s more than ok.  I am complex and wizened and maybe not appealing to every man, or even a man I might find appealing.  So, whether I like it or not,  C’est la vie!  I suppose that's the greatest lesson in being this particular woman in control.  I don't get to decide or determine or alter or fix it all.   My story is still unfolding, I am ready to live fully and find out where I might lead, and follow, and just be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Oooooh Oooooh Pick Me, Pick Me!!!

In a classroom full of potentially competitive individuals, or perhaps attention seeking supplicants, the best way to gain the attention of the top dog, or teacher, is to wave your arms and shout, “Ooooh OOOH Pick Me, Pick Me!”  This technique works on several counts even with the most stern and serious teacher. The chaotic fits of waving, wiggling and shouting attract attention. If the teacher does not approve or consent to this frowned-upon technique, the attention of peers is clearly noticed just the same.  The teacher is sometimes left to acquiesce in the absence of any other volunteers and call upon the reckless individual. Next, the weakened teacher is often compelled to gain classroom composure by taking a moment to point out this is not the approved mode of acceptable classroom behavior, thereby further attending to the impetuous attention-seeker.  The function of the behavior was to gain attention and approval, perhaps to share and display intelligence and garner respect and esteem.  At the very least he or she got attention.  This system of gaining attention and then approval, infrequently supports any predetermined end goal.

I am finding in the world of dating, or at the very least the world of meeting potential dating possibilities, there are similar conventions that have been poorly developed, if at all.  I am unconventionally conventional with a smattering of unique and unusual and a touch of nonconformity, or maybe a bit more.   I won’t be the one waving my appendages flamboyantly in order to gain a brief moment of someone else's attention.  I also won’t be playing coy and attempting to set up some sort of carefully devised “test” to determine whether or not some potential contender is a real catch.   So what am I to do?  What’s a self-sufficient, grounded, seeker of fun and occasional companionship to do really?   (Admittedly, I am still in a slightly vulnerable state post 20 year relationship status, but I am picking up speed and momentum quickly.)

As I recall, the first objective is to be picked.  Then what? There seem to exist very clear guidelines of what not to do as opposed to what to do.  This is problematic to me on several levels.   First, I am not very good at following guidelines.  This in and of itself, has landed me with some not so good partners.  That concept of cutting off your nose to spite your face, has been a lesson hard earned.   Secondly, I continue to stubbornly fight the notion that I must conform to some outdated, oppressive, gender-related restrictions.  Here again, cutting off my nose to spite my face, I continue to attempt to approach situations and forge a life that works for me, against the grain, or the tide, or the acceptable societal rules.  I believe the current courting rituals were created in the 1950’s with some slight adjustments based upon the introduction of the birth control pill.   It seems we've come a long way, baby, but we haven't covered much ground. 

I recently came across an article at that highlighted yet another perplexing formality, if you adhere to the conventional wisdom of gender-related generalizations and the stereotypical confines of current societal courting rituals.  The gist of the article was warning men not to have sex on the first date.  The premise being, waiting shows that the man is more likely to be considered a gentleman, waiting gives the man time to evaluate whether the “woman is crazy”,  waiting creates anticipation.  Waiting shows you don’t think she’s a slut.  This is my all time favorite bit of conventional wisdom, it’s right up there with the warning that “some women still view sex as synonymous with coupledom” in the same article.  I definitely need clarification here.  If I am the so-called slut that sleeps with someone on the first date, does this also mean we are now a couple? Well, that would surely be crazy, I think.   There was more about determining the crazy factor and also the issue/problem with learning too early about sexual incompatibility before a relationship can be formed and sealed.  Umm, buddy, if we don’t have that certain je ne sais quoi we probably won’t be forming a deep and spiritual relationship of love and adoration.  But that’s just me.  I imagine it could explain all the sexless marriages out there today, the men clearly waited too long and those crazy women had the chance to, or were forced to, wait before revealing their sexless attributes after the careful evaluation process that determined they were not sluts.  But we all know that isn't really the reason intimacy in marriage is on the downside.  I just think we could re-evaluate how we go about all this hooking up nonsense and make some adjustments to how we determine what to do after we get through the initial first phase of being picked.

I think I might have passed an initial meeting.  I was asked what I was looking for, I shared honestly.  A little excitement,  a little attraction and then a couple more meetings, or “dates”  and ….maybe I blew it when I asked the buzz kill question:  “What are you looking for (in a relationship)?” It may have translated to “Holy Schnikes! She’s going to start wanting a commitment, and then co-ordinated towels hung just so in the bathroom, and jeez, before long….(insert here whatever fear of commitment activity hits home).”  I was only asking because there were smatterings of possibly charged territorial binding remarks that were starting to sound less than the light and easy connection I was seeking.  Of course I didn’t just say,  “Whoa, dude, this is really fun, albeit a little heavy getting through some of those I-am- a-little-vulnerable-after-ending-a-20-year-relationship-and-out-of-practice questions, but let’s not get too serious, this has been fun can’t we stay here for awhile?”  (Note: I said "awhile", I dare not say "forever" another buzz kill word)  Question asking in relationships, or pre-relationships is a tricky business.  I did want to know what the dude was looking for, but I think it may be time for me to communicate what I want. 

Here’s the short list:  I want cream in my coffee.  That’s a shout out to Lyle Lovett, but I do really like cream in my coffee.  I like my coffee strong, with cream, or really, half and half to be precise.  I want dates.  Not the dried fruit, but the occasional dress-up and be seen events at a restaurant, movie, theater, or music hall of one type or another.  I am just as thrilled to go hiking, picnicking, for a long walk, watch a sunset with a glass of wine or water, boating, occasionally and maybe fishing, or just lie on a beach.   

A trip to Home Depot can be a turn on, but only if we mutually agree to be there together, or we mutually agree to go our separate ways to find whatever gadgets and gizmos are needed to successfully create, repair or recondition some important mechanism, or project of our own devising, or maybe each others- I don’t want to be waiting for hours, or keep someone else waiting.  (On deeper thought, this may be a test, but I don't think so.  I might want to know how handy the dude is, but I do really like Home Depot, and Lowes, too.)   I want someone to open the car door for me, and gently close it after I get in, or out.   I want to cook dinner for someone once in a while and I want to enjoy a meal cooked for me.  For the record, I like good food, but I also like basic hearty stews and soups with a side of toasty, cheesy bread in the cold months and seasonal fruits, salads, seafood, and grilled meats in the warmer months.  I want to hang out and watch movies, but I don’t always have the attention span, and I want that to be OK too.  I want to converse, and joke and challenge and be challenged.  I want to go on adventures, these might take place within a couple of feet of where I am at any time, or they might be far and wide from where I am located.  I want to be able to comfortably say, "Whoa, dude, what the heck are you talking about, or slow down, or you really need to stop..."  I want to quickly deal with the uncomfortable stuff head on, lightly and easily.

Oh, and I want all of this to happen without a great deal of stress.  Maybe once a week, or every other week.  I want my freedom and independence.  A call or check-in doesn’t hurt in the early stages of maybe-this-is-working-out-for-now.  I want to know that someone is thinking about me and maybe grinning sheepishly because I don’t fit so easily in any particular square peg or round circle or whatever place we are all supposed to be trying to fit into.  I also want to be OK if time stretches out a bit longer and I haven’t heard anything.  I want my space, literally and figuratively.   I want to be busy and satisfied and engaged in my own interests.   I am also up for spontaneity and wild abandon from time to time.  I guess I want it all.  I just don’t want it all at once from any one particular person, right now, or maybe evermore (nevermore?).   

I may want to have it all on that first date and give it all and if that changes the fate of having more later, so be it.   I have more to give and get and I might want something different next week.  So, pick me or don’t.  I have a lot going on right now.  Deciding on co-ordinated towels or wondering if I might start revealing hints of crazy is not part of my Action Plan just yet.  I want something different after all.  

 If hasn’t been launched  I have a few very good ideas……

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Culture of Dating, Desire and Dining Out

Now that I have set sail into the world of potential possibilities and set my sight on just maybe, I am starting to get my sea-legs back when it comes to dating.   I am trying to recall why I was not so very good at this several, three, decades ago.  I am not entirely sure that it is worthwhile to spend too much time looking back.  I wasn’t so good at a few things back then.   Walking.   Cooking.  Singing.  Driving a car in reverse.  OK, it appears I am still not very good at these things. 

Walking.   I don’t fall or knock into things nearly as much and I have added hiking to my short list of physical strengths.   Uphill climbing is a bit easier than the basic flat surface movement- I apparently need to be watching and stepping.  I seem to be very good at walking fast.  NYC walking.  People move out of your way when they see you coming with speed, they confuse it with purpose, and the only purpose to walking quickly and deliberately is to get somewhere fast.  If you are walking down a hall in a school, as I typically am, with what looks like speed and purpose, it typically appears to be an emergency, an attack, or a demand is soon approaching-people truly move out of my way and assume I am, maybe aimed at them?   It could soften my image and reputation if they knew I was really an accident waiting to happen kind of klutz.  I am not really sure I want to soften my reputation quite yet or let everyone in on my problem with movement.

Dating.  I had a really difficult time following the proper sequence of events in my earlier dating experiences.  I believed, or pretended, that I was able to exercise my rights as an equal partner in the race to get horizontal. I imagined that there could be a way for women to want the same thing that men wanted without getting accused of being loose or easy or numerous other unsavory terms.  I attempted sophistication and intrigue with a touch of mystique.  I probably spent too much time even considering any of this, the men-folk were generally thrilled that I (or anyone) was game.  In doing so, I was mostly avoiding the area that was much more difficult for me to navigate.  (See below.)

Speaking.  It looks or sounds like my walking, but it comes from my mouth.  Abrupt starts and stops.  Twists, gallops, stubs and stalls.   I developed a coping skill in this arena, as well.  Fast-talking, loose-lipped, jokey, funny, zings and snippy little bites.  Not so much the hurtful variety as much as the sardonic, sassy wit.  Or so I like(d) to believe.  Of course it’s not always the case but since it’s a coping strategy for me it’s been difficult to think about how my commentary might land on those around me.  The trick for me has been more to get it out quickly and wittily to deflect and distract from the lag time in processing and thoughtfully producing clear and interesting, sustainable communication.  I am not interested or available to “avoid” speaking to just anybody.  It’s only those I am attracted to that might get the pleasure of my company before the pleasure of my communication skills.  I have my standards!  There is definitely a need for attraction and a few other value-added requirements that will only be disclosed at my discretion, most likely through non-verbal cues. 

Maybe I can’t say I have improved a great deal in some of these areas.  I will say I am more readily accepting of some of my “Areas in Need of Improvement", A.I.N.O.I.  I am perhaps, just as accepting of the idea that some of my A.I.N.O.I  (or lets just call it ANNOY for laughs and the sake of simplicity) are, or will be quite endearing in the minds of at least a few others in the years to come.  

Walking.   Gracefully at a pace that feels slower than watching paint dry or peel or whatever slow-paced painting activity there is, will need work, super-sized effort and maybe a slow walking steady-paced partner, or those big old football tackling posts for me to slam into a few, maybe hundred times.  

Cooking.  And of course eating, might need a cultural transplant or some sort of repressed memory replacement therapy.   A recent date brought me in close contact with excellent El Salvadorian food.  The ensuing conversation about food that followed gets me tongue-tied.  Oh yeah, that’s because I was asked if I liked tongue or ever had tongue.  I wish I could recall specifically the question about my experience with tongue.  But I can’t.  The mention of tongue and eating creates some primeval Irish famine reflex.  Up through my DNA, the synapses immediately fail to connect because I am from a people that collectively perished rather than eat the abundance of fish and seafood surrounding the green rolling landscape.  And, hey, I love a potato as much as the next Colleen but really? Refusing to eat prawns, trout, crab, seafood et al, when the blight occurred is just a little tough to mash up and digest especially to those cultures, and they are many, that eat tongue, liver, sweetbreads, tripe, brain, pig’s feet, chicken necks, sushi, and seafood.   The Irish are a proud group.  Some of us would rather perish than eat “beneath us”.  Of course when you get close to the point of perishing you are fairly and far "beneath" a few different layers of troubles.   Irish people eat food as sustenance.  Period. The end. The ugly bitter end, indeed.  The concept of thinking of, and eating food as a source of pleasure is a fairly new concept for us.  I mean, 20-30 years new. 

A recent visit home for Thanksgiving helped me recall just how much the relationship with food is supposed to be one of torment and displeasure, ummm, I mean sustenance.  My darling son, Liam, with the map of Ireland all over his dear sweet face, and a gusto for eating that was indoctrinated at the Greek and Jewish-American dinner table of his best friend from Nursery School and further cultivated through the African-American cuisine served at the table of his best friend's family, recently lamented, “When I grow up and have my own home, I am doing Thanksgiving up.  I mean really, I am doing it right. “  I may be recovered by then and prepared to join him.  It will take a while.  I would really like to enjoy “Thanksgiving done right”.  In my family of origin it seems to be celebrated in a manner to suggest, “Oh you should be thankful you get anything….”  It’s like a scene from Dicken’s Oliver, or Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.  I am unfortunately, not well-suited to plan or prepare Thanksgiving dinner in a manner that speaks to appreciation or gratitude.   I am thankful for things like yodels and toxic pink sno-balls, if pushed and on occasion.  (Another coping strategy).  I believe Ring-Ding Jr's are a brilliant chemically enhanced marriage of sustenance and pleasure, second only to banana moon-pies which for the record, easily, and secretly can be scoffed-down following a sustaining meal of sadness and regret.  (They have a shelf-life measured in ions.)

While I work on improving my walk, my talk, my desire to share of myself with an other self, I am open to redefining eating for pleasure as opposed to sustenance.   I know I will need some real work here and a gentle dinner companion.  During the last 20 some odd years of my own Irish-American existence, and a couple prior, I felt quite thrilled and downright culturally daring, yes, exotic even, to have eaten hot dogs with mustard - instead of ketchup, goat cheese, Indian food-of all different regions, calamari, clams, steak prepared medium- rather than medium-well or well-done.  

In the early 80’s I ate  shawarma.  Now what about that? 30 years ago! A wild, adventurous eater from the very earliest days of Irish dare-devil culinary appreciation and pleasure eating.  I probably started the damn trend.  Someone probably noted me walking kamikaze-style with a determined glance, that sometimes appears to be a scowl, heading into the middle eastern restaurant in the Village with a friend that I trusted, rather than dated.  He mesmerized me with his tales of travel and adventure, I ate heartily of the unidentifiable meat product that a small she-devil served after she cursed out her husband while demanding that he slice off some meat product for my friend and I.  I was dating a friend of his at the time. I might have missed the boat on that one, but I just got my sea-legs back, I am ready and open to all of this now.    What kind of wine goes with tongue?  I am going to need a lot, of wine….or maybe if we just call it something  else, it will be easier to, ummmm, swallow?

Bruite Teanga?
Bullai fir Teanga 
Tóstáil Teanga?   
Leasaithe Teanga? 

(Gaelic for Boiled, Well-done, Toasted, and Seasoned Tongue)  I’ll have the Tóstáil Teanga with a side of boiled buuuuh-dade-uhs (that's "potato" from the homeland) and a Guinness with a-lot-of-wine chaser, please!

Singing is done, only for pleasure, no sustenance here-and it's really just my pleasure, usually my pleasure at causing the displeasure in the hearts and minds of others, or just that little old play on "wild abandon" I am toying with.  Driving in reverse?  Now that I have shared that out loud, I kind of need to learn how to improve.  It seemed kind of silly when I pronounced it recently, as though it were some sort of disability or disease, like say, shopping or eating moon-pies excessively.  I guess I could actually learn how to back-up.  I have an ass-kicking parallel parking gift, driving in reverse really shouldn't be impossible.  Maybe a one-time tongue-lashing might be in order, I sometimes learn best when I have my Irish-all-up and twisted in a knot.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Relinquish the Power, Step Away from the Eight-ball

I’m quirky, this is by now established fact. It’s always been the case, so many of my childhood memories have a somewhat peculiar or unique edge to them.  One particular memory involves me, a pool ball, and my father.  (ok, honestly, it might have occurred more than once but the trauma that will be described will explain how it happened more than once, I’m sure).  For all sorts of reasons that seemed unorthodox and inappropriate to my mind once I became a parent,  (sure an-uptight-at-times-parent) many of my memories as a child took place in a “bar”.  Actually a Legion Hall, or Catholic War Veterans Post to be precise, if that makes any difference.  My father was the Commander in Chief, or Grand Poobah or whatever the head of the Catholic War Veterans Post is called.   So in essence, he needed to be at the post and he wanted to have his family with him, or my mother was not going to be left home with four wild children, aged 5-9.   I wasn’t actually raised in bars and bordellos, after all, I just had a progressive father, or a strong mother.

So back to my story, this early lesson in power and control and the relinquishing of power, yes, that’s the story here.

In this civic-centered outpost, there was a full bar and a juke-box and a staffed bartender, Leroy, who occasionally allowed me to squirt seltzer or reach in and get a nice cold one for Mr. So and So or Mrs. Such and Such.    But mostly not, the bar area was off limits to the children, and there were usually 8 or more of us running around.  We were cordoned off to the back room with the pool table and poker tables, or the front “banquet room”.  (Use your imaginations, or see it just as it was; long crowded banquet tables, wooden folding chairs, ten to a table, yellow or taupe quasi-marbleized linoleum tiled floors and a dropped ceiling with an accordion partition closing off the bar area from the hall circa 1968-ish through 1972 or so-ish in Queens, New York under the Seven Train “el”. ) Dazzling.  We walked around the perimeter and played games of hide and seek or begged quarters to play the Beatles (early) or The New Seekers on the juke box.  Occasionally, Leroy gave me a quarter and requested a few songs, Don’t let the Sun Catch you Crying, Me and Mrs. Jones, Sunny, and Downtown were a few on Leroy’s hit parade.

I didn’t much care for the backroom.  I was one of the littler ones, scrawny and scrappy.  The older ones played pool.  Big long sticks, held just so, with chalk and circumstance.  Order and guidelines, rules I was not privy too.   When I was up for it, seldomly,  I would attempt to give purpose to my surroundings, but often I just got lost in following where the balls went after they were “pocketed”. I was intrigued with how they winded around through hidden chambers and long tubes.  Quirky-like.  Suddenly I would take on the task of getting the ball before it reached it’s final destination as though I was “helping”.  Excitedly, I would reach in and grab the ball.  That’s where I went wrong.  I would next attempt to pull the ball out.   As easy as it was to reach in and grasp the ball, it was abruptly impossible to remove the ball and my hand.  My hand would get stuck, I would panic, I would scream in terror at the thought of the firemen or medics that would surely need to amputate my arm to remove me from the pool table, or the pool table from my arm.  The blood-curdling scream that ensued would bring my father, immediately, but calmly towards me.  He would assess the situation and evenly tell me to let go of the ball. “Ginger, let go of the ball and now just push it forward a little.”   Just like that.  In trusting his words, and his cool composure, I would calmly relinquish my grip and pull my red and swollen hand out.  He would lift me up and kiss my hand and wipe my tears and offer another Coca-Cola or the opportunity to head home.  Such a team, my dad and me.   I have learned to stay away from pool tables, dreadful hand-eaters, I never learned the rules, and I am not any better at handling that stick.

I can’t help but wonder how I can use this early learning to help clarify the difference between needing to relinquish power in a symbiotic relationship based upon trust, and the resulting power struggles that entail when power is taken with force or intimidation or outright disregard.  Had my father approached the situation shouting, and yanking my arm, the screaming would have stopped because I would have passed out and the blood loss would also add to the weakened vocal power.  I would have never forgiven him and that would have caused all sorts of other issues, and I for one don't need any more issues.  Had he played little games and teased or tickled or told jokes, I wouldn’t have been able to hear him and I would have had a difficult time understanding why he wasn’t connecting his response to my situation, it would have caused feelings of distrust and confusion, and Good Lord, it took two pool table episodes for me to catch on.  I would like to imagine, I, being scrawny and scrappy and too small to play, might have alerted some of you to understand, confusion was a little bit too close to me at this premature stage in the development of my pool hall acumen. 

I suppose the most important aspect that made my father and I such a great team, aside from the fact that he was my dad, duh, was that he could assess the situation immediately. Of course, in this particular situation, I viewed myself as a player in the symbiotic relationship.   In my place of work when I need to call in another adult, that adult needs to immediately become an equal partner and we need to work together quickly and seamlessly, or chaos is introduced and chaos just never helps symbiosis or the management of crisis.

My father never needed to ask the other children what happened.   When you work with young children (please recall young is relative and the frontal cortex is not in full gear until the age of 24 give or take a few minutes)  you learn quickly that in times of stress and strife, more so then times of complete and utter calm, they are not typically articulate.  Some give every detail of the way their skin is smoother than your skin before they begin to discuss where their best friend lives and then remember they have to go to the bathroom before they can answer “what happened” questions.  Others begin to tell you whose fault it is and how Johnny was cheating and Michael cried when Jimmy called him a bad word before the screaming child, or knife holding child, or whatever crazed child even entered the area.  They have stories, lots of stories, mostly about nothing that you are attempting to find out, and not much that would benefit the immediate situation.

When you work with children you often need to be able to assess situations quickly, instinctively.  If you can’t, well, you end up behind the eight ball and you are going to be rendered hysterical and your behavior will escalate quickly.  When you have a position that requires you to have a sense of authority and you don’t have control because you are clueless, you end up stuck and lost and suddenly flailing to gain control.   It may seem the only way to “let go of the ball” and pull your self out is to take control from those around you.  This interferes with your ability to manage situations that may now otherwise and quickly get out of control. The reality is the need for control or the sense of not having it creates stress and tension and when handling crisis situations, the first and foremost rule of thumb is to remain calm and in control.

In my job I often need to work with support staff that can’t or won’t offer support because they are not fully apprised of a situation and then they are expected to act based on my authority.  (Scary, huh?  A woman with authority? Clearly for some, fortunately not for all.)  The fact that I am a woman comes into play in the most egregious of ways, again and again.  As a woman, I am not thought to truly have authority in this rather hostile work environment.  The hostility is pervasive, it is widespread and it is so entirely acculturated into the climate it is acceptable to imagine that it is not recognized.  However, enough serious events have taken place to alert some to the reality of the hostility.  But what the hey?  Why change now or do anything proactive?  Certainly, we all know how ignoring things make them go away.  Things like women. I remain a woman and that won’t be changing, so I will continue to work in my job as a professional, and a woman and imagine that one day some of the men that I work with will be able to work as professionals, and men, side by side.  I am that rare figure that doesn’t easily sit quietly and abide and relinquish power simply because it is perceived as a threat in the eyes of some men.  I advocate, I educate, I speculate, and wait and wait.  But I won't be easily ignored.  I rather enjoy being a girl, a woman, a professional. And just as a reminder, I like control, which doesn't make me controlling.  I am comforted by it, and if someone else is maintaining it, professionally, all the better.