Bait

If a trout sees a fly flitting about on the surface of his river, he’s going to snap at it. It’s in his nature. And when it’s just nature at play, that’s a great idea. Everybody needs food.

Unfortunately, sometimes man is inserting himself into this little game, and then taking that bait means certain death for the trout. I’ve always had mixed emotions about that sort of thing. When you take advantage of the fact that another creature is going to do what comes naturally, it kind of seems like cheating to me.

Bait. It’s a sinister thing. And the worst part is that we use it on one another, too.

If you’ve ever snapped off an angry response to a hostile e-mail, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You took the bait. And that almost always makes things worse for you.

Humans have always struggled with delayed gratification. The bait is there now, and it’s soooo satisfying to snap at it. For a split second. Then the regret and/or embarrassment sets in.

Trolls, in particular, count on this. They get some weird satisfaction from getting a rise out of people, while hiding alone in their lonely little rooms, clad in their stained and stretched out tighty whities. And they are oh, so good at it.

When someone gives you bait, it’s hard not to take it. But as a loved one says, “Don’t let their stupid rub off on you.” Wise words, indeed.

I’m trying to remind myself that no one controls my timeline. I don’t have to respond instantly to an e-mail. The fact that I’ve never been very good with snappy comebacks is probably a good thing, after all.

Take a breath. Let things percolate. Give yourself the time to use your very valuable brain. Because hooks in the mouth hurt.

Trout fly

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Listening to the Yes

It’s so easy to take shortcuts in life. Frozen vegetables. Fast food. The elevator instead of the stairs. The less than optimal and yet oh-so-convenient partner.

While these things may save time and effort, in the long run, or in the grander scheme of things, they aren’t the best choices. My inner voice tries to tell me this all the time. I’ve just gotten too used to ignoring that voice over the years. But it’s still there.

I know that when my husband and I prepare a delicious meal from scratch, with a variety of fresh vegetables, I can hear my inner voice saying, “Yes!” When I exert myself to the point that I know I’ll sleep well that night, it says, “Yes, yes! Oh, yes!” When I stand up for myself and don’t accept rude treatment, “YES!!!!”

I need to get back into the habit of listening to the yes. Even better, I need to do things in anticipation thereof. I need to encourage the yes. Live the yes. Be the yes I want to see in the world.

Why is that so hard sometimes?

Yes

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Sliz

Every day on the way to work, I pass some graffiti on the highway by someone who calls him or herself “Sliz”. I choose to pronounce that “Sleaze”, but there’s nothing sleazy about this person’s artistic abilities. Just from the calligraphy I can tell he or she has a lot to offer the art world.

Since my commute is a long and boring one these days, I’ve kind of created a whole persona around Sliz. I think of her as a skinny 16 year old girl who hides her hair under a ski cap and wears an army jacket and ratty jeans and some well-worn Chuck Taylor high tops. She’s really pretty, but she has decided that it’s much safer to hide that. Sliz has a lot to be angry about. She’s had it really rough. And her graffiti is just a way to express that fury in a non-violent, albeit property-destructive way.

I wish I could meet Sliz and encourage her to use her talents for good. For example, a nice big “Love is the Answer” in bright colors on the freeway overpass would hit the spot quite nicely. Maybe an image of people of different races holding hands. Or a psychedelic peace sign. Even some beautiful imagery would be cool. We all need more beauty in this world.

For all I know, Sliz is a violent gang member with a severe drug addiction. But I like to think that that artistic instinct means that there’s a glimmer of hope. And I’d also like to think that each one of us can nurture our own glimmers, in whatever form they take, into positive forces for change.

peace
No, this is not the work of Sliz, but this is the kind of thing I had in mind…

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Godzilla in the Amygdala

 Unless you are an unfeeling psychopath, you are occasionally going to experience that slightly creepy feeling that something just isn’t right. It’s a part of the human condition. It’s that moment when the hairs on the back of your neck are giving you your marching orders. You might not even be able to figure out why you’re feeling this way. All you know is that it’s time to go on the defense.

Perhaps it was a bad idea to walk down this particular alley at midnight. (It usually is.) Maybe that person is behaving unpredictably. It could be that you’re just tired, or you’re experiencing a reduced level of control. Or that strange drawing is giving you the willies. And it was probably not the best idea to watch Psycho all alone in that shabby little motel, just before it was time to take a shower.

Sometimes we actively seek out that eerie feeling. It can be fun. But it’s those times when it sneaks up on you that are the worst. There’s nothing more unsettling than an unscheduled visit to Uncanny Valley. For whatever reason, your body has decided that you are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. Run!

 Oddly enough, I haven’t felt that way in a while. It’s almost as if my receptors have burned out. My own personal mental Godzilla seems to be on vacation.

The only plausible reason for this that I can come up with is that we’ve been force-fed fear for well over a year now. Political fear. Environmental fear. Financial fear. Insecurity. Unpredictability. Terrorism, real or imagined.

I guess even Godzilla needs down time. Maybe he’s renting a nice cabin in the Berkshires. At the very least, he seems to be someplace without skyscrapers or the need for rampages. I hope he’s having a good time. I can’t say that I miss him, but I probably do need him.

(Thanks, Jen, for coming up with this great title for me!)

godzilla

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A Maternal Instinct for Benign Neglect

I really have to hand it to my mother. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was exposed to the idea that parents were capable of disliking their children. Ma never gave me that impression, so the concept never occurred to me.

When I was in my early 20’s, my mother admitted to me that she had never really wanted kids. She wasn’t saying this to hurt me. The subject came up simply because I had told her that I never intended to have any of my own. (And, in fact, I never did.)

For my mother’s generation, the question was never if you would have children, but when. It was just what a woman was expected to do. And so that’s what she did.

Recently I read an article in the Atlantic from 2012 entitled, “Not Wanting Kids Is Entirely Normal” by Jessica Valenti. It even made this diehard child-free woman blink. (And very few things make me blink.)

It turns out that a lot of mothers, I mean, a LOT, say that if they had it to do over, they wouldn’t have had children. And yet that pervasive idea that we all have this maternal clock that’s tick, tick, ticking away is still expressed throughout the land. Most people seem to think that every woman’s primary desire is to have children.

I, personally, am relieved to be in my 50’s because finally, FINALLY there’s not this overwhelming societal pressure for me to procreate. If I had a dollar for every time someone smiled at me and said, “You’ll change your mind,” regarding motherhood, I’d be a millionaire. The truth is, I’m actually more the rule than the exception. As the article points out, “most women spend the majority of their lives trying not to get pregnant.” It went on to assert that half the pregnancies in the US are unintended, and the mothers of unintended children treat them much differently (as in, worse) than they treat planned children.

I’m quite certain I was not a planned child. My parents were divorced 3 months after I was born, and I never met my father. He also never paid a penny of child support.

Looking back, I’d have to say that my mother’s parenting style was one of benign neglect. Basically, she let me run wild. I never felt disliked. But I did feel as though she didn’t want to be bothered. She seemed to be in a constant state of depression. She set no boundaries for me, and I therefore never felt safe or confident.

She would bury herself in library books and so would I. She didn’t tell me she loved me until I was 12 years old and my older sister forced her to do so. I had food and shelter and clothing and health care and an education, but I also had the sense that if I pissed her off, she’d stop loving me. She looked the other way when I was experiencing abuse. That, too, is abuse. But I didn’t know any better.

My mother did what was expected of her. Society didn’t care if she liked it or not. And that’s where society got it wrong.

I’m grateful for all the sacrifices my mother made so I could go on to live the life I chose to live, the one that she never had a chance to live. But perhaps we should stop telling women that they’ll change their mind. Perhaps we should congratulate those women who know themselves well enough not to make a mistake that could have psychological repercussions for generations to come. Just sayin’.

18450757140_6e893b490e_b

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Trust Your Instincts

Back when I was in college the first time, I was renting the top floor of a Victorian house just a few blocks away from campus. It had two bedrooms, so I decided to look for a roommate to split expenses. Based on the advice of a friend, I settled on a young, outgoing, very upbeat girl. My friend knew me for the quiet homebody that I was, and she said that someone that outgoing would probably never be home, and that would suit me perfectly.

Thus began one of the worst roommate experiences of my life.

She was, indeed, a social butterfly, but she’d often bring that back home with her, and she wasn’t a very discriminating person. When I tripped over the scruffy older man sleeping in my hallway and I asked her who it was, she said she didn’t know his name. She had met him the night before and he needed a place to crash. She didn’t think I’d mind.

Other times, I’d come home from work and find the apartment full of giggling girls who were helping themselves to my groceries. These same girls often blew the fuses in the house because, for some reason, they all seemed to come equipped with hair dryers, and insisted on using them simultaneously, as one does, apparently, before a night on the town.

She also ran up the phone bill so high that the phone company started billing us every two weeks rather than monthly, and she was racking up late fees.

Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore, and I told her she’d have to find someplace else to live. I decided that this would be my last roommate ever. But friends told me I should try again. Think of the money I’d save! So, in this time before internet, I reluctantly posted a note on the campus bulletin board.

A guy responded. He was a student whom I’d never met. I hadn’t really specified a gender preference, but this made me mildly uncomfortable. But it was separate bedrooms, after all, so I figured I’d at least talk to him.

When he came over, he brought another friend. And they were big. I got this really uncomfortable vibe from both of them. They felt dangerous. He said he needed an answer right that very second, but I told him I’d have to think about it. He tried to intimidate me. If he was that bad on a first meeting, I couldn’t imagine what living with him would be like. So I trusted my instincts and said no.

The next day there was an anonymous note in my campus mailbox. “I’m going to kill you,” it said. My blood ran cold.

I took it to the Dean of students, and he looked at that guy’s student records, and the handwriting matched. He also said that the reason this guy was looking for a place to live in such a hurry was that he had been kicked out of the dormitory for destruction of property. The Dean had a little chat with him, and I never heard from him again.

I guess the moral of the story is that getting advice from friends is nice, but always, always trust your instincts.

I haven’t lived with anyone unless we were in a romantic relationship since that day. Unless you count my dogs. They’re excellent roommates.

instincts

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Surviving Predation

When I think of the many times as a child and young adult that I was preyed upon by some sick person, it makes me wonder how anyone survives to adulthood. If I weren’t touched inappropriately, then inappropriate things were said to me, or someone tried to talk me into doing something that I didn’t want to do. Every woman I know has some story like that from childhood. It really is like being a baby animal on the African plains. Wearing a steak around your neck.

And I appreciate that parents and schools try to teach children to avoid these situations, but the whole “stranger danger” concept doesn’t help at all, because these predators are usually not strangers. They’re relatives, “friends”, or professionals/authority figures whom you are taught to respect. I was once groped by the family physician.

We have to figure out some way to teach children to listen to their inner voices. If something feels wrong, we have to teach them that that instinct is more important than respect or trust. We have to teach them that there are boundaries that no one, NO ONE can cross, and that they have rights. We have to give them permission to say, “No, I’m not doing that.” We have to make sure they understand that if someone says, “Don’t tell,” that’s the very moment in time when they have to tell.

And parents need to be taught, too, that the world is a whole lot less safe than they’d care to believe. Unfortunately, predators can come in many forms. And your child is out there alone on the plains a lot more often than you realize.

[Image credit: Youtube.com]
[Image credit: Youtube.com]

Killer Instinct

I have a confession to make. I’m a killer. And I don’t feel the least bit of shame. I’ll do it again, I guarantee you. If a cockroach or a brown recluse spider stupidly breeches my line of chemical defense and enters my house, there to potentially bite me and rot my flesh or ruin my food or spread disease, that sucker is going down.

Upon first sighting, my mind goes all primal. The only thought I have is, “Kill it, kill it, kill it!” I used to then scream for my boyfriend, but the last two I’ve had have been absolutely worthless in this bloodthirsty realm, so now I just try to get above my panic and then go into heartless hunter mode until the deed is done.

And woe be unto the flea who makes the mistake of trying to feed off one of my dogs. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a flea’s little body snap between my finger nails. Take that, you blood sucker!

I don’t get people like my boyfriend who find it morally wrong to kill cockroaches. I think nature trumps morality every single time. If you encountered a hungry mountain lion in the wild, do you think he’d feel the least bit guilty about feasting upon your entrails? Most assuredly not. And then the vultures would come and nibble on the less desirable bits, and the worms would devour what’s left.

Rats will even eat their own, leaving hantavirus in their wake, so I have no problem with deadly rat traps. I also don’t mind those who humanely trap and relocate higher mammals, even though many of them spread disease, too. This is partly because I know deep down that this territory I inhabit used to be theirs, and partly because I know if I were locked in mortal combat with a raccoon, I’d most likely lose.

I’m not all bad, though. I have been known to pull my car over on the side of the road to let a lizard hop off my windshield, and I’ve helped more than one turtle cross a highway. I’ll put out birdseed in the winter, and I get heartily annoyed with people who let their cats outside, thus depleting the songbird population. I also let ladybugs fly away home.

And I think people who abuse animals should be locked away forever, in conditions identical to the ones they imposed upon their innocent victims.

So where is the line that I draw? If you will intentionally kill me or make me sick, then you are fair game. I’ll kill you every day of the week and twice on Sunday. If, on the other hand, you are simply trying to live your furry or scaly or slithery little life, and we’ve crossed paths merely by chance, I’ll do my best to help you on your way.

So yes, I’ll kill, and feel no remorse. I think those who refuse to do so would be much better served feeling guilty about doing the things that animals do not do themselves, such as polluting or embezzling or pedophilia.

Perspective.

killer

Dog Wisdom

I had just settled down to write this blog entry, and was feeling rather stressed out because I couldn’t think of a topic, when my dog brought me his toy. It is Blue’s philosophy that no one should ever be too busy for a rousing game of tug-o-sock. How right he is. Once we have lost our sense of fun, the joy drains completely out of our lives. He’s very wise. Both my dogs are, actually. Here’s what I’ve learned from Blue and Devo, and their many predecessors, over the years.

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  • If you need attention, put yourself right there until you get it.
  • Once you’ve learned how to relax your entire body with one big heavy sigh, all your problems will seem to melt away.
  • Sometimes you have to bark to be heard.
  • Put yourself right in the middle of the bed and let the rest of the planet adjust to you.
  • Sleep is the most wonderful thing on earth.
  • Learn how to look cute and the world will beat a path to your door.
  • If you really want to maintain a healthy body weight, eat the same boring thing every day, but do it with enthusiasm.
  • If you don’t talk, people will usually assume that your motives are pure.
  • All you need is love. And kibble.
  • If your natural instinct is to tell the truth, someone is bound to call you their best friend.
  • Everything tastes better with gravy.
  • It’s usually best to keep your opinions to yourself.
  • Every once in a while, howl at the moon.
  • Never go for the jugular when simply baring your teeth will do.
  • Be comfortable with who you are.
  • Allow yourself to be hugged.
  • There’s nothing quite like a good back scratch.
  • Squirrels are highly overrated.
  • If everyone around you believes you can’t do housework, then you’ve got it made.
  • If an artist catches you playing poker just once, you’ll never live it down.