A Cystic Dream

I have this recurring dream during periods of high stress in my life. I feel this painful, pressurized lump somewhere on my body, often on a shoulder, hip, or behind my ear. I try to squeeze it to no avail. Messing with it hurts, but I have to get it out of there. I pick at it. I scratch it. No luck whatsoever.

Then one day, I’m clawing away at it without much hope of success, and, pop! Suddenly it bursts through the skin. It’s still attached, still intact, but at least it’s outside my body, so the pressure is reduced. Even so, I want it gone. So I take a deep breath, brace myself, and cut it out. It detaches with a sickening, watery, ripping squelch. But it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as I anticipated. What was I so worried about?

Now I’m holding it in my hand. It’s warm. It’s actually kind of pretty, now that I’m free of it. It’s a perfect sphere. The most perfect one I’ve ever seen. It’s shiny and white, like a pearl. (That is, if a pearl were the size of a golf ball.)

I’m kind of in love with this thing, because I realize that it’s all my problems, beautifully encapsulated. I can control it. I can handle it. Best of all, I can get rid of it. So I do.

I always wake up smiling after that dream. I often go to sleep wishing that I’ll have it. I take comfort from the fact that it exists somewhere deep inside me.

It is survival.

Pearl

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First World Problems

I’m having a bad day.

I got about 4 hours of sleep last night, and the commute to work this morning was even more of a nightmare than usual. On the way, I discovered that my radio somehow got rid of my preprogramming for KNKX, and since I don’t know their position on the dial by heart, I missed their weekly broadcast of BirdNote, which is something I always look forward to. And I’m falling behind on my blog and feeling particularly uninspired. And I’m getting a pimple on my chin.

At times like these, there’s this little voice inside my head that tends to give me a reality check. I call her Third World Barb. Here’s what she had to say today:

“What? Is that all you got, girl? I’m starving, struggling, sweating, and do not have a safe place to call home. Thanks to Trump, there’s no asylum for me. I have no hope of an education or a decent job. I consider myself lucky when I have access to indoor plumbing and eat more than once a day. I hear gun shots outside my window every night, and women screaming, when the sounds of my own screams don’t block them out. My life expectancy is probably half of yours. I have never known stability. It’s hard to hear you whine about someone peeing in your Post Toasties when every minute of my life is about the desperate pursuit of food, clothing, and shelter.”

Perspective. It’s a beautiful thing.

Forced Perspective

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Why I Could Never Be a Life Coach

You’d think that being a life coach would be the perfect job for me. If you’ve read this blog with any frequency at all, you can see that I’m chock full of advice. I can figure out how to solve every problem on earth except my own.

What I seem to lack is the ability to persuade people to take my advice. Nobody listens. This is where my life coaching skills fall flat.

Because of this, I’m getting much better at only proffering ideas when asked. If someone comes to me with a problem, I am thrilled to put my thoughts out there, but more and more I’m learning that most things are best left to the ring master of the circus in question.

When someone does share a dilemma with me, and I give my advice, it comes as a profound shock to me that they think there’s any pressure applied from my end. Take it or leave it. I’m too used to being ignored to be overly upset when I am, in fact, ignored. It’s expected, actually.

So while the whole Life Coach idea has its appeal, I think I better just stick to my day job, and keep my suggestions within the confines of this blog.

Life Coach

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The Blame Game

I think it will come as no surprise to anyone that stuff happens. People make mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong.

What I can’t abide is what often happens next. Like flies to a rotting corpse, it seems like people swarm around, in search of someone to blame. I didn’t do it. You did it.

I don’t know if that instinct springs from a desperate need to save your own behind, or if humans are more into Schadenfreude (the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) than we’d care to admit. I hope it isn’t the latter. I’d hate to think we as a species get off on seeing others thrown under the bus. But I have to admit that I’ve witnessed such behavior more than once.

I implore all authority figures the world over to stop asking whose fault things are, and instead, focus on how something happened, and how that thing can be prevented from happening in the future. Then the situation will improve.

If you focus on blame, people will naturally put more emphasis on covering things up. Serious problems will be swept under the rug. It’s only natural that the average person wants to be self-protective. In that atmosphere, things worsen.

Encourage new ideas. Allow people to think outside the box. Make the atmosphere safe to do this, and people become problem solvers.

Unless you are infallible, it’s really absurd to criticize those of us who commit human errors. Learn from these things and move on, rather than create an atmosphere of hostility and tension.

The only time blame is appropriate is when destruction is intentional.

blame

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If I Were You

It is so easy for me to look at other people’s lives from the outside and figure out what they should do to solve their problems. It seems so obvious. Unfortunately, people rarely take my advice. It’s really annoying.

But they shouldn’t. Because if I were so good at this stuff, I’d have all my own problems solved, wouldn’t I? I’d be all enlightened.

The fact is, I don’t really have a clue most of the time. Like the vast majority of homo sapiens stumbling around on this planet, the sapiens part should be taken with a grain of salt. I pretty much make it up as I go along. It’s all very random.

Sometimes I think our dogs are more clued in than we are. They know what they want, and they make a point of letting us know what that is. They always get a full night’s sleep. They’ve figured out a way to survive without having to work. And they express every single ounce of love that they feel, without hesitating or expecting anything in return.

So don’t listen to me. Listen to my dogs. At least that’s what I would do if I were you.

Smart Dog

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Staying Out of Trouble

At the risk of sounding ultra-conservative (heaven forefend), I really don’t get it when people are incapable of staying out of trouble. I mean, I understand making mistakes, believe me. I’ve screwed up a time or two. But when you do it over and over and over again, and can practically hear Dr. Phil whispering in your ear, “How’s that workin’ for you?” You really have to wonder.

Is it about bad choices? Because I’ve managed to choose not to break the law my whole life long. It’s not always easy. I’d love to grab that brand new suede jacket and run like the wind, but I choose not to. Sure, I’d like a little instant gratification every now and then, but the first time you tried to play with a candle flame as a child, you should have learned that actions have consequences.

Is it about feeling like you have no choices at all? I can relate to that, too. I’ve lived in a tent. I’m 53 years old and I’ve only just now managed to scratch and claw myself to the very murky, sketchy bottom of the middle class. And I know darned well I’ll never be able to retire. Things are stacked against the 98%. It sucks. But at least I can look myself in the mirror.

You see, I never had much. But I knew I had integrity, and that no one could ever steal that from me. I could, however, give it away. I chose not to. Because it was all I had.

I guess what it all boils down to is what’s most important to you. Possessions? Control over others? Or your own self-worth? Maybe think about that before robbing your next liquor store. Because that money isn’t going to stay with you. Neither will the drugs. In the end, all you have is you.

handcuffs

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My Own Personal Pleasantville

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie “Pleasantville”, I highly recommend it. A boy from the 1990’s is obsessed with a sitcom from the 1950’s called Pleasantville. It’s your typical show of that era, showing a world that never actually existed, in black and white, where the mother wears pearls and high heels to do housework, the father gives sage advice and is highly respected, and the children are well mannered and, well… pleasant. But when 1990’s boy suddenly finds himself in Pleasantville, he starts to realize that perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I seem to be living in Pleasantville since I recently bought my house. It’s in an isolated little valley where all the neighbors know each other, and everything feels safe and clean and drama-free. Everyone has a dog. I’m even on a first name basis with the mailman and the local convenience store clerk. It’s this oasis of calm, with each of us in our very own cute little houses.

At a time when the wider world seems ever more chaotic and scary, I love going home to my little valley. It’s like taking off shoes that are two sizes too small. Finally, a chance to wiggle my toes.

I love living in this fantasy land, and I’m going to do my best to maintain it for as long as I can. Are cracks forming in the façade? Well, yes. A few people in the neighborhood drink probably more than is warranted in certain situations. But so far, they’re happy when they drink, and I like them, and it’s really none of my business. One neighbor is passively aggressively critical of my benign neglect of my yard. Oh well. And I can’t get a decent cell phone signal to save my life.

But you know, in the overall scheme of things, those are problems I can live with. I love my little neighborhood. Just don’t expect me to wear high heels while I do housework. In fact, wouldn’t even count on me doing housework on a schedule that makes sense to anyone other than myself.

pleasantville

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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.

unicorn

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Not My Problem

I spent the first hour of my shift today with a battery operated leaf blower, cleaning off the sidewalks and the bike lanes of my bridge. A clean bridge is a happy bridge. At least that’s my motto. I take pride in showing this drawbridge in its very best light, and in my quarterly reviews it’s usually noted that this is the cleanest bridge in the system.

Leaf blowers are fun. They give you this sense of power that is normally beyond your reach. Out, damned spot! Out I say! You just have to be careful not to get so caught up in your own head trip that you get mowed down by a bicycle. Talk about a reality check.

The only down side to blowing leaves is that you’re not really getting rid of your problem, you’re just relocating it. Which is fine, if you follow through and bag them afterward. But I’ve seen many a landscaper just blow them down the street. “Not my problem anymore.”

Yeah it is. Because a certain percentage of them are going to blow back into your yard eventually. Count on it. And if everyone has your attitude, a whole lot more debris is going to be blown into your yard by the equally lazy people up the street.

This is also why most medical funding is not focused on prevention. Even though prevention has proven time and time again to give you a much better return on your investment, society in general is much more willing to deal with the problems that have already occurred, when there is no longer a choice.

It’s the same with the environment. Does it really surprise anyone that so many people are willing to ignore global climate change? We’re doing all right for the time being. We still can fill our bathtubs and eat our avocados out of season. Why make sacrifices? And I’m not just shaming the climate change deniers, here. I live in one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the entire country, and yet even as I write this I’m looking out on a highway that is so choked with vehicles that they can hardly move. And yes, I drove home to write this.

One of the few problems with short terms for politicians is that they, too, can blow their problematical leaves down the street. “Let someone else deal with the tricky stuff a decade from now, once I’ve retired.” We now find ourselves hip deep in a political leaf storm, people. Having fun?

Humanity has a lot of growing up to do. We have to start behaving like adults. We need to take responsibility. We need to act with integrity. We need to take society’s ills seriously even if we aren’t feeling particularly feverish as individuals.

It’s time to start bagging up our leaves.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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Verbal Manipulation

I was speaking to someone in a position of authority the other day, and he said, “Wouldn’t you agree that…” and then he went on to push his poorly thought out agenda for policy change. So I responded, “Actually, no, I don’t agree. And here’s why.”

He wasn’t expecting that. You could see it in his eyes. But I don’t like to be manipulated. It’s just another form of bullying as far as I’m concerned. And when your weapon of choice is words, well, you’ve met your match.

I especially hate verbal manipulation in the customer service realm. For example, for a while there AT&T employees were forced to end all phone conversations by saying, “Thank you for being the best part of AT&T.” Seriously?

First of all, you can say that all day long, but that doesn’t erase the fact that you provide, arguably, the worst customer service of any company on the face of the earth. Forcing your employees to say that does not convince us otherwise, and it certainly does not convince your employees that their jobs aren’t detestable nightmares. What it does do is make your organization look even less sincere than it already is.

I know that there is something to be said for putting a positive spin on things, but there’s also something to be said for not taking it too far. Sure, it may be good on some level to call “problems” “challenges”, but the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wasn’t a challenge. It was a freakin’ disaster of epic proportions. There’s no spinning that.

A big pet peeve of mine is the phrase, “We should…” Don’t should me. You aren’t me. You can’t make decisions for me. You don’t have the power to establish rules for me.

And don’t even get me started on “If you loved me, you’d…” That kind of talk makes me run for the nearest exit. I’d be tempted to not even say good-bye on the way out.

I prefer straight shooters. Tell me what you want or need, and why, and let me form my own opinions and make my own choices. How hard is that?

Manipulation
And what happens if I don’t bring you coffee?