Go Away, Secret Admirer

It happened again. Almost exactly 13 months from the last time. And it rattled me. It still rattles me.

Late at night, someone left a flower on my car here at work. This time a pink rose. No explanation. No identification.

With the motive unexplained, the only conclusion I can reliably draw is that someone was here. Right here, where I was standing now, alone in the dark. Someone being secretive.

And because all other information has been withheld from my emotional database, it becomes, intended or not, a very eerie form of passive aggression. As I said when I wrote about the first incident, the secret admirer thing becomes creepy after about the second grade. Please read that blog post for more details on my thought process regarding this behavior.

In the meantime, here’s a handy rule of thumb: If you think you need to remain anonymous in order to take action, then DON’T TAKE ACTION. Either man up, step up, and own what you do, or leave people alone.

Please.

Pink Rose

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“Oh, George…”

Every once in a while, my mother used to talk in her sleep. It was usually something quite silly, and I’d have fun teasing her about it the next day. She would just roll her eyes at me.

But one night, when I was about 10 years old, she said, “Oh, George…”

She said it in a husky, passionate way. This was the first time I realized that my mother had a private life all her own. It kind of rattled me.

“Ma, who’s George?” I asked her over breakfast.

“George? I don’t know any George,” she said, looking confused.

I asked her what she had been dreaming about, but she said she couldn’t remember. (Come to think of it, what else could she have said to her 10 year old daughter at that moment?)

Some stories you never get to hear all the way to the end. This was one of those. It’s probably why it stayed with me, after all these years.

Now that I’m an adult, I hope and pray that there really was a George in my mother’s life. Born in 1927, my mother was a product of her era. I strongly suspect she didn’t “get around”, as the saying goes.

She was married twice. First, to my alcoholic and physically abusive father, and then to my step-father, who weighed 400 pounds, and was a perverted pedophile. If those were the only intimacies she experienced, I feel truly sorry for her.

My mother was a beautiful woman and an amazing human being. I hope at least once in her life she had an encounter with someone equally amazing who made her feel attractive and valued and appreciated. I hope that she had reason to have a secret smile on her face every now and then, to keep her spirit warm in the emotionally sterile world in which she lived most of the time. It makes me sad that I’ll never know for sure.

Everybody deserves at least one good “George”.

Intimacy

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Best Kept Secrets

I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I seem to have stumbled upon two of the Seattle area’s best kept secrets. The first is the neighborhood where I just bought my house. It’s a hidden little hamlet that most people do not even realize exists. Therein lies its charm. We don’t get a lot of visitors. The hubbub is kept to a bare minimum. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everybody, and you feel like you can keep your doors unlocked. (But I resist that urge, in case you’re wondering.)

When I get within a quarter mile of home, it’s like I’ve entered an oasis after having spent weeks in a desert, and I’m about to plunge into a crystal blue spring. It feels good to scrub off the dust of the trail, figuratively speaking. Bliss.

The second is a public park within walking distance of my house. I never see many people there, and once you’re about a block off the highway, even though we’re not that far from the bustle of Seattle, it’s as if you’ve plunged into a forest primeval. Nature just runs right up to you and cradles you in its arms.

It is a place where you can soak your feet in a cool mountain stream on a hot summer’s day, or lie in a field, gazing up, up, up at old growth forest. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to have a getaway like this, practically in my own back yard. It takes my breath away. I can’t wait to see how it changes with the seasons!

And if you think for one second that I’m going to tell you where these gems are, you are out of your mind. Finding serenity and peace in this area is as rare as hen’s teeth. If you have a place like this, guard it with your life.

Forest.jpg

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Secret Squirrel

I know several people who have a very strong sense of privacy. They don’t reveal anything to anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary. They are listeners, not talkers. They observe the world, and keep their opinions about it to themselves.

On more than one occasion I have been shocked to my very core when I’ve found out something about one of these Secret Squirrel types after having known them for years. Often it’s pretty major stuff, too. Not necessarily anything sinister, but usually it’s something that fundamentally alters my view of that person.

Part of me wishes I could be that self-protective. But on the other hand, these people seem kind of tense to me. They’re a bit paranoid and suspicious. And to be honest, even though I know I shouldn’t take their behavior personally, it’s hard not to get my feelings hurt because it makes me feel untrusted, and if you can’t figure out after decades of friendship that I’m trustworthy, that just makes me sad.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m way too wide open. Because of that, I’ve been taken advantage of. On the privacy spectrum I’m at the opposite end. There has to be a happy medium out there, where you’re open to love and friendship and closed to swindlers and scumbags. I think with time I’m slowly working my way toward it. It’s a process.

secret squirrel

Government Conspiracy: The Great Oxymoron

I have a basic philosophical difference with someone I love very much. He thinks that large scale governmental, or even global, conspiracies are possible. I on the other hand, think that’s doolally with a capital doo.

I suppose it boils down to which you think is more powerful: government evil or government stupidity. Having worked for the government, I can assure you that it will be stupidity every single time. Oh, they’d like to conspire, believe you me, and sometimes they’ll get away with things for a little while, but they are not capable of that level of organization and overall thought control in the long term.

Governments, after all, are composed of nothing more than masses of individuals, each with their own opinions and moral code. Many like to gossip. Some like to profit from insider information. Some want the spotlight. The vast majority have their eyes glued to the clock, looking forward to going home to their families. And then you have those pesky malcontents and whistle-blowers to contend with.

And in this era of social media, camera phones, satellite imagery, and traffic cameras, it’s really rather impossible to hide inconvenient things like the construction of concentration camps and the digging of mass graves.

The truth will out.

To pull off a conspiracy, you have to be certain that every individual involved thinks the way you want them to think and acts the way you want them to act. For the rest of their lives. Think about it. We don’t even have confidence that that can occur for even a few seconds.

Next time you’re at a traffic light, consider this: When the light turns green, every single person in line should be able to instantly accelerate and be perfectly fine. Like train cars, if we all move at the same speed at the same time, we would not crash into each other. But no. We don’t all instantly accelerate. The first one goes, there’s a slight pause, then the next one goes, and so on, to the point where there is a substantial delay if you are at the end of the line. Why is this? Well, duh. We can’t be confident that everyone will have the same reaction speed, the same engine power, and that some doofus isn’t in the middle of texting his girlfriend.  (“I love u, too!” “No! I love u more! <3” )

It’s the same with conspiracies. To think that human beings are automatons who will march in perfect lockstep one hundred percent of the time is to set entirely too much stock in the abilities of the human race. More than two people cannot keep a secret.

My friend has an admirably high opinion of humanity’s ability to function like a colony of bees. I, on the other hand, believe that most of us are just trying to get through life in one piece. Which one of us is more cynical? Hard to say.

_______________________________________________

“I have come to the conclusion that my subjective account of my own motivation is largely mythical on almost all occasions. I don’t know why I do things.”

–  J.B.S. Haldane

spy

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Condom Socks and Other Privately Public Things

As I write this, I am wearing the most comfortable socks I’ve ever owned. And to add to their allure, they have the word “condom” woven across the sole. It’s like walking around with my own little secret that no one would guess unless I chose to reveal it.

These socks were given to me by a dear friend who volunteers as an HIV counselor. It’s one of the incentives they give out when someone gets tested, as I did recently. When they came in, he texted me. “We have condom socks!” and I replied, “For foot fetishists?”

No one is certain as to the logic behind these socks, but I suppose a certain number of people like to do the deed with their socks on and this allows them to quietly remind their partners that safe sex is a good idea. And before you ask (because believe me you wouldn’t be the first), no, there is no reservoir in the toe.

I was sitting in the library the other day with my condom socks on, and I started looking around at people, wondering what secrets they wear, even though they’re in public. My sister used to like to wear lacy girly undergarments beneath her Air Force uniform, for instance. And I was looking at the men, thinking, “Boxers, briefs or commando?” when it suddenly occurred to me that a certain number might be wearing women’s underwear. No one would know.

And then there are those who have hidden tattoos. How many of those are cherished, and how many are an embarrassment from an impetuous youth? And prison tattoos. You can spot them from a mile away if they’re not covered up.

Jewelry can be highly personal, too. It can even be out in the open, but you have no idea what its significance might be to the wearer. Take wedding rings. How many are worn with joy, and how many emotionally chafe to the point that one longs to toss them in the nearest retention pond?

And how many victims of abuse are hiding their bruises, cuts and scars? How many people sport needle tracks? How many have visible health issues which they are desperately concealing?

If you’re like me, you look at people every day and you make certain assumptions based on the picture that they present to the world. But when you think about it, it’s such a thin veneer that is revealed to us. There’s so much more that could reside just a few millimeters below the surface. We are all encased in cocoons of privacy, whether it’s obvious or not.

condom sock 001

If I Disagree with You, It’s because You’re Wrong.

When my late sister wanted to push my buttons, she would say, “You have very strong opinions.” For decades, this put me in a place where I could not win. I wanted her approval so much that I’d try not to have strong opinions. I’d try not to have any opinions at all. I’d try to figure out exactly where I was wrong, or bad or crazy. I’d try to change who I was, and I’d fail, and therefore feel even worse about myself.

Then one day in my early 40’s it occurred to me that maybe the reason she felt that my opinions were so strong was that they weren’t being changed by her often contradictory ones. I realized that everyone is entitled to an opinion. I express my opinions, yes, but I never insist that the rest of the world agree with me. In fact, I find that in general I’m not particularly persuasive. I finally said to my sister, “Yeah, but as long as I’m not forcing those opinions on you, what difference does it make?” And just like that, after decades of what felt like pure torture to me, that particular button was never pushed again.

Opinions. Everybody’s got ‘em.

Just recently, in my internet wanderings, I was introduced to a concept called confirmation bias. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, in reading about current political issues, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.”

I suppose I always knew that confirmation bias existed, but I never knew it had a name or that so many studies have been done about it. I’m willing to concede that every one of us is guilty of confirmation bias, but here’s where it gets dangerous: people in the throes of confirmation bias can make bad investments, poor choices, or break laws. Have you ever said, “It seemed like a good idea at the time…”

Economies have been destroyed and wars have been waged by people influenced by their own confirmation bias. It is why the concept of bloodletting persisted for 2,000 years, and why there are still people, even today, who think the world is flat, and that man has never walked on the moon. Confirmation bias is the bedrock of every cult and lunatic fringe militia on the face of the earth.

Unfortunately, it’s also a major factor in many forms of mental illness. Depressed? It will be so much easier to believe the negative things said about you, your circumstances, or the world in general, thanks to your old friend confirmation bias. Schizophrenic? It’s not that hard to find people who agree with the voices in your head. Hypochondriac? Someone will gladly confirm your diagnoses for a price, and since they agree with you, they must be more right than those doctors who are telling you that you’re fine. Paranoid? In this information age, when any nut case can have a platform to express his views (including me!), you’re bound to find “evidence” to support your conspiracy theories.

The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your confirmation bias.

  • Take the extra time to actually confirm facts. Two of my favorite websites for this are www.snopes.com, and www.factcheck.org.
  • Keep an open mind. Allow yourself to hear opposing opinions and ideas, and if they come with a boatload of documentation, you may want to take them seriously. This is called exploratory thought.
  • Take pride in being able to say, “I was wrong.” It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to do so.
  • Ask yourself if you are rejecting information simply because it doesn’t confirm your belief. Then ask yourself why it’s so important to you to maintain the belief you have.
  • Think critically and logically instead of emotionally and aggressively.
  • Continually ask yourself, “Is this information a fact, or is it an opinion or a rumor?”
  • Try to stay rational and remain calm. If you think there’s some evil international conspiracy at work, and you seem to be the only one privy to it, odds are you have a problem, because a) It’s nearly impossible for more than two people to keep a secret, and b) What are the odds that YOU are the one person on the entire planet to have been given this revelation? I mean, yeah, it could happen, but the odds are heavily stacked against you.
  • Apply the principle of Occam’s Razor. The simplest theory, the one that requires the least amount of assumptions, is often the correct one. For example, unless you live in Africa, if you see hoof prints, think horses, not zebras.
  • Think for yourself. If the evidence before you is that the emperor has no clothes, then he’s naked, regardless of what everyone around you is saying. Be careful about this, though. Make sure you’re drawing your conclusions from facts, not simply from a strong desire to see the emperor naked.

Of course, all of this is my opinion. Feel free to decide for yourself.