A friend of mine recently made a drastic life change for the better. Boom. Just like that.
I’d been wanting him to make this change for well over a decade. I’ve been worried about him. I’ve been watching his self-destruction and feeling absolutely helpless about it for so long that it had become part of my routine.
Yes, I had talked to him about the situation. He listened. He got angry. I didn’t want to turn into a nag and completely push him out of my life. But I had to make my opinion clear, and so I did. Case closed. Nothing changed.
He is a full grown adult, capable of making his own choices. He was hurting himself much more than he was hurting anyone else. Yes, it was painful to watch, but it wasn’t impactful, per se, on others. So on life went.
The hands-off approach was the best one in this instance, based on the carefully gathered statistics that I’ve accumulated over a lifetime:
Number of people whom I’ve convinced to take my advice for their overall betterment: 0.
Number of people whom I’ve been worried about who have made changes on their own: A miraculous quantity, slightly higher than 0.
And the hands-off approach turns out to have been much, much better for my own mental health, too. When all is said and done, I still have a friend. That’s definitely a plus.
Yes, I realize that this isn’t a one size fits all scenario. Your results may vary. Life and relationships and situations are way too complex to resolve within the confines of this little blog post.
Even so, I really think I’m on to something here. I may have to try applying it to other areas of my life. I think that if I shut my pie hole a little more often, the world will be a much better place. At least for me. Plant a seed with people, yes, but then back off and let them decide if it will take root or not.
Now, to keep from telling him “I told you so.” That’s a separate challenge entirely, but it pairs well with the shutting my pie hole plan. Wish me luck.
Due to various health issues (I’ll spare you the details), someone recommended a book to me that she purported would change my life entirely.
Boy, she wasn’t kidding. In order to be cured of all my ills, I must do the following, immediately, and all at once:
Do some form of sweat producing exercise for an hour a day, and completely avoid the following foods for the rest of my life:
All processed foods, including anything in a box, bag, or can.
Processed and smoked meats, including bacon, ham, salami, hot dogs, corned beef, and sausage.
Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Cashews and Pistachios.
Upon reading this, I got tears in my eyes and immediately ate a pint of ice cream and fell into a deep, dark depression, as is my wont in moments of despair. Because I know me. There is no way I can pull this off. You may as well ask me to chop off my head and replace it with that of someone else. It’s too radical a change, it’s too overwhelming.
It’s a set up for failure.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s all good advice. I’m sure it would be life altering. But it’s too extreme. It’s too all-at-once. And my medical condition isn’t life threatening. It’s just annoying. So the incentive isn’t the kind I’d need to completely do away with every single thing I normally eat, with the exception of salad (without dressing) and other veggies from my garden, and then be expected to get my starving butt off the couch to jog for an hour a day.
I know I’m sounding like a whiney little kid, but am I alone in this? Could you do this? Right this minute?
Apparently this must be done all at once or it won’t work. So… it’s not going to work.
Baby steps I can do. I already don’t drink alcohol or soda. I already hate corned beef. And I eat much healthier than I did 10 years ago. But this… it’s insane.
So, in essence, I bought a book that makes me feel worse about myself than I did before, and I still have the health issue. This does not make for a successful health plan. There has to be a better way.
I’m not asking for things to be made completely easy. I’m willing to make certain sacrifices. I don’t think all life solutions should be to take a pill and continue with your bad habits.
But baby steps, you know? I can’t run a marathon when I’ve barely learned to walk. You can’t expect me to quit my job, move to the country, and eat pine trees, while building my own log cabin. Tomorrow. Or even next week. And anyone who expects that much of me is part of the problem.
The first step in designing a healthy lifestyle system is that it should be at least remotely achievable. Otherwise you’re just selling low self-esteem. Thanks, but we’re already full up on that, here.
A recent earthquake in California reminded me that the things in life that we consider the most stable really can’t be taken for granted. We assume the earth is solid beneath our feet, but in fact, liquefaction exists. That’s kind of scary.
I think humans, in general, are averse to change. We prefer to be able to rely on things. If we build a skyscraper, it should remain standing. Despite what history tells us, we think our governments and borders will always remain in place. There can be no global warming, despite all incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, because that would mean we’d have to alter our way of life, and the future would be far less predictable. We simply cannot have that. It is not to be borne.
A friend of mine recently reminded me that a barleycorn used to be a unit of measurement. How long was that? Well, 4 poppyseeds, of course. And 3 barleycorns made up an inch.
Similarly, a hand was 4 inches, and a shaftment was the width of the hand and an outstretched thumb, or 6 ½ inches before the year 1066, and 6 inches afterward. (Did our hands shrink?)
And then there was the ell, which was a unit for measuring cloth. It’s from the fingertip of an outstretched arm to the opposite shoulder, or 45 inches. Which is to say that, given the extreme differences in body shapes and sizes, uniformity of measurement pretty much did not exist.
And then there was this odd reliance on nature as well. For example, a bovate was the amount of land one ox can plough in a single year. (15 acres, give or take.) A virgate was an area measured for two oxen, so about 30 acres (well, duh). And a carucate was an area that can be ploughed by a team of 8 oxen in a year, or about 120 acres. (No extra points if your land is full of peaks and valleys, or the rocks keep breaking the plow.) A single household needed a “hide”, which consisted of 4 to 8 bovates, in order to sustain themselves agriculturally and be able to pay their taxes.
I’m thrilled to find out that it took two Jacks to make up a Jill (or gill), or half pint of liquid. And this one makes me smile: a half gallon is called a pottle. (Use that in a sentence and see if any eyebrows get raised.)
In addition, wine had its very own units of measurements, including the rundlet, the tierce, the puncheon and the butt. And ale and beer had the firkin and the kilderkin. I suspect that someone was drinking the product when they came up with these names.
For a bunch of other fun and obsolete measurements, check out this Wikipedia post.
Even the way we measure our world has changed through time. That has got to make you think. We’d like to believe that our yards and meters are cast in stone, but if humanity still exists a thousand years from now, I wonder what they will find quaint and obsolete about the way we saw the world?
May is a very strange month. Sometimes it gets really warm and you think, “Yay! Time to put away the winter clothes!” But every time I’ve done that, I’ve regretted it, because sure enough, here comes a cold snap. So I think of May as an in-betweeny time, and I try to keep my options open.
There are all sorts of in-betweeny times in life. There’s that uncomfortable stage in your development when you’re not quite a child, but also not quite an adult. Some days you feel more mature than others. (And come to think of it, I still feel that way, only not to such an extreme.)
There are also those times when you take great risks and you feel both courageous and scared silly. That’s how I felt when I drove across the country to start a new life in a place where I’d never been, and where I knew no one. One minute I was thinking, “Dang, this takes guts! I’m proud of me!” and the next minute I was thinking, “Holy cow, what have I done?” I had no idea that adrenaline could pump for 3100 miles and during the first several months of my adjustment to this new life. But it turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done.
I also experienced kind of a weird in-betweeny time when I started this new job. I mean, I had 14 years of experience as a bridgetender coming in, so being a bridgetender in Seattle came naturally to a certain extent. But there were also new policies and procedures and new nomenclature to get used to. It was like I knew what I was doing, but then I didn’t. That rattled my cage a tiny bit.
Another in-betweeny time for many people is when they find themselves in dysfunctional relationships, and can’t decide whether or not to stay or go. These transitional periods can also be the most dangerous for people in physically abusive relationships, because the abuser can often sense when he or she is losing power, and the violence accelerates. I’m grateful I’ve never experienced that myself. It must be terrifying.
And I hate the in-betweeny time when you suspect that there’s a cold coming on, and yet it hasn’t quite hit yet. You feel kind of bleh, but not so bleh that you have a legitimate reason to don flannel and start complaining. You just have to wait and see. How irritating.
And I’m sure that most of us have experienced the feeling of being on the brink of a major decision. Should I take this new job, or should I stay put? Should I marry this person or stay single? Should I buy a house or continue to rent?
In-betweeny times are when we are the most vulnerable, because we all want to make the right choices, but we will never be sure if we did. To this I say, keep your options open, but end your agony and decide. Because the no man’s land that you find yourself in is not a place that you want to remain for long.
About two years ago, I bought a house that I love. The place fit me like a glove. The neighborhood made me feel welcome and safe. This was home. I could see myself growing old there.
And then I got married, to the realtor who helped me find that dream home (and could help you, too, by the way. Just sayin’). And suddenly the house no longer fit. The house that was just right for me was entirely too small for two adults and three rambunctious dogs. And so I packed once again.
While trying to figure out what to do with the place, I continued to stay there once a week so it wouldn’t look completely abandoned. But as more and more of my stuff was moved from one abode to another, it increasingly felt like I was camping. And my camping days are pretty much over.
Ultimately, we decided to rent the place out, and there was much maneuvering to find what we hoped would be the best tenants. (Fingers crossed.) They will be moving in soon. They will make my home their home, and it will inevitably change.
Recently I spent the last night in my home. I built my last fire. I took my last bath in my deep, luxurious tub. I cooked my last quesadilla in my kitchen with the inexplicably high countertops. I gazed at the glowing stars that I had painted on the bedroom ceiling the very night I moved in.
I wish I could have sat on the back porch, for hours, reading, like I used to do. The back porch is my favorite place. But the freezing temperatures prevented that.
I had very mixed emotions, walking out that door the next morning, knowing that from now on I’d only be an occasional visitor in my perfect little house. There was sadness, yes, and misty eyes, but also relief. I’m glad that things seem to be working out.
But the best part of this very multifaceted feeling was that I was also anxious to leave. Because I wanted to go home. And home was no longer that place. It’s becoming someplace else. And that’s not only okay, but it’s also great.
Recently I set off a heated debate in my world. I mentioned that I was glad to see that felons who have served their time in Florida have finally had their voting rights restored (unless they were convicted of murder or felony sex crimes).
Florida has always been the most restrictive state in terms of felony disenfranchisement. According to this article, in Florida, before Amendment 4 was passed, “one in 10 voting-age adults, and almost one in four African American adults were barred from voting for life because of a previous felony conviction.”
It’s clear to me why this has been the case. Florida is a red state, and it was feared that most people who have been in prison would vote blue. Also, with the disproportionate number of African Americans convicted of crimes, this was a handy way of depriving that minority of the vote, which, let’s face it, is the deep South’s wildest dream. (Now they’ll just have to rely on gerrymandering to get their desired results, and they’re quite good at that.)
I really believe that if we think that prisoners who have done their time have paid their debt to society, then we have no right to prevent them from participating therein. Now, do I expect that most of them will? No. Most of the rest of us don’t vote, unfortunately. Why should they be any different? But they should have the option.
The more roadblocks we place in their paths, the less likely they will be to reenter society with even a modicum of success. We set them up for failure. We make it nearly impossible for them to find decent jobs. We don’t want them as our next door neighbors. We don’t want them voting. Is it any wonder they remain on the fringe of civilization?
When I expressed this opinion, I got a lot of pushback from the people I know who formerly worked in the law enforcement field. The general consensus seemed to be, once a felon, always a felon. They have no inclination to participate in society.
When other friends, civilians like me, said that this might give them some incentive to do so, the law enforcement people opined that they know better. They won’t change.
We civilians piped up that even if only a tiny percentage wanted to change, that’s worth it. That’s when things got hostile. Apparently we shouldn’t form an opinion because we’d never experienced what the law enforcement types have experienced.
Then we pointed out that the law enforcement types wouldn’t, by definition, come into contact with the felons who were trying to change their lives, so their stats are biased.
More anger. Have we personally seen people attempt to change?
Yes. Examples were given.
That response, of course, was ignored. One person from the law enforcement camp said they used to laugh at all the “do-gooders” who were attempting to change felons.
But we never said we were attempting to change them. We were just glad that they had their rights restored, so that they could make their own choices.
We civilians pointed out that we were sorry that the experience of law enforcement had left them so jaded. The law enforcements fired back that they were realists and that we had no right to weigh in since we didn’t have their experiences. (I half expected them to start calling us Muggles.)
We were then told that we can’t change anyone. They had to change themselves. Again, we pointed out we are trying to give these people the opportunity to change themselves. Again, this went unheard. They just said that they speak facts.
(Actually, no. These are opinions based on experiences, but clearly these opinions are so strongly held that they see them as facts.)
I can understand why one would become bitter and cynical when dealing day in and day out with the very dregs of society. It actually happened to me, too, for a time, in a job where I dealt with a lot of liars and people prone to fraud. That’s why I quit. I didn’t like how it was causing me to view society in general.
I think there’s a reason why law enforcement types often socialize only with one another. The rest of us don’t get it. We Muggles have a completely different worldview.
But we don’t get it because we have the luxury of hanging out with the majority of society, which is either law abiding or has paid its debt and is attempting to move on. How lucky we are. How grateful we should be.
Law enforcement is necessary, and I’m very glad that it exists. But unfortunately I believe that it’s a career path that warps one’s view of society. People in law enforcement have to live in a dark world, and therefore they have a tendency to forget how to see the sun. And it’s a little scary to think that people with warped views of society are in charge of keeping the peace.
I honestly don’t know what the solution is for this. But I’ll still maintain that if even one Florida felon enters the voting booth, I will consider Amendment 4 a smashing success. Congratulations Florida, for finally getting something right. (In my opinion, of course.)
It’s a strange experience, occupying a space that someone else had made her own for decades. All the furniture has been picked out, all the walls are painted, the art chosen, the plants planted. She’s not here, and yet she’s everywhere.
Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the most part, I like her taste. I would have liked her, I’m sure. But it’s time to make this place ours.
Slowly, but surely, we’re introducing change. We’re adding the new and getting rid of the old. We’re keeping the good, and getting rid of what no longer fits. We’re rearranging. We’re changing colors, here and there. We’ve had a garage sale. We’ve planted a tree.
Just recently we painted a glow-in-the-dark milky way on the ceiling. Adolescent as that may sound, I’ve had it in my last two houses, and I find it comforting to stare at as I drift off to sleep. So doing that meant a lot to me.
You don’t really think too much about marking territory unless you have dogs, but we humans do it, too. We just do it with paint and pillows and photos. It’s how you make a house a home.
I love the transition between summer and autumn. It’s my favorite time of year. A respite from the heat, but not yet miserably cold. A sense of enjoying the sun as the days perceptibly shorten. A slight frisson because there’s an ancestral fear of not surviving the winter. An appreciation of abundance while it lasts. A feeling of being on the brink of an adventure.
This started me thinking of other seasonal transitions.
Autumn to winter is a time to hunker down, muddle through, and try to stay warm. It’s also when you take a deep breath before diving headlong into the exhausting holiday season. It’s a time of conserving your resources. The horizons seem to shrink. My instinct is always to stay closer to home.
Winter to spring! Excitement! Birth! Beginnings! Flowers! Pent up energy just bursting to come out! The end to hibernation! The overuse of exclamation points!!!!!
Spring to summer, for me, is a little fraught. I love the lengthening days. I adore the vacations. It’s nice to have less bulky laundry to do. It feels good to be outside, enjoying all that nature has to offer. But it’s also freakin’ hot. And you have to mow. I don’t do hot and I’m a resentful mower.
Regardless, I am so grateful to be living in a climate of seasons again. You don’t really get spring or autumn in Florida, and I felt their absence keenly. I enjoy marking the passage of time. I love the variety, the anticipation, the change.
Well, here’s something that took me by complete surprise: Getting married teaches you who your friends really are. I’m not talking about the people who could or couldn’t attend my wedding. There are quite a few legitimate reasons for people to make that choice. Distance, expense, health, timing… I’m okay with that.
I’m also not referring to the people who might have disagreed with my decision. That’s fine, too. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.
I’m talking about those who could not or would not emotionally support my decision, and my happiness, whether they agreed with it or not. I’m also calling out those who were offended by how a fundamental shift in my life goals and priorities had impacted them, as if they had staked claim to the center of my orbit and I had no right to deviate, ever. I’m talking about those who made a concerted effort to rain on my parade, as if they were the grand master thereof.
I admit it. Barb isn’t going to come out and play quite as often. At least, not with them. The center of my world is now the person I am sharing my life and my future with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an awesome friend to have.
Personally, I can’t imagine saying to someone, or even thinking, “Now that you’re getting married, we can’t be friends because we no longer hang out twice a month.” How absurd. I’d like to think that my friends are grown-a$$ adults who can survive with a little less of me, and yet remain secure in my unwavering esteem.
I fully expect to have friendships outside of my marriage, as I expect my husband will. We are a team, but we’re also individuals. We’re not fused at the os coxae (look it up).
But for that to happen, it will require people to be just a little bit flexible. It will oblige people to make a tiny bit more effort, just as it will necessitate more effort on my part, because the logistics will be more complex. It will also demonstrate that the friends who stick around think I’m worth it.
So, as painful as certain realizations have been of late, I choose to look at this as a winnowing process. The wheat is being separated from the chaff. And what lovely wheat it is, too!
I am very, very lucky to have the amazing friends that I have, old and new. I am grateful for them every single day. Those who don’t have the staying power were apparently never true friends in the first place.
And to that, all I can say is… Namaste.
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Thirty years ago, a friend said to me, “Every time I meet a German male of a certain age, I wonder what role he played in the Nazi Party.” It kind of made my blood run cold, if I’m honest. But now that generation has, for the most part, died off.
But when you think about it (even though these things are on a different scale entirely), there are little criminals in every generation. Sometimes I look at the adults I know and I remember that all of us have gone through the stupid adolescent stage, and that means, purely from a statistical standpoint, that a certain percentage used to be dumb-a$$ little punks.
That CEO may have delighted in keying cars when he was 13. Your postman may have thought it was funny to make sexually harassing anonymous phone calls. Your spouse might have been into shoplifting.
Bullies grow up, too. Some of them outgrow that tendency. Others, unfortunately, become your supervisor. I shudder to think what antics Donald Trump got up to when he was 12. It wouldn’t surprise me if he pulled the wings off flies.
And while certain behaviors should be written off as the foibles of youth, and people really can mature and change, a lot of criminal behavior is an innate part of one’s psychological makeup, and the only reason that person is still out amongst us is that he or she just never got caught. You can never be completely sure of the content of someone else’s character.