“Yes, but”

Ah, the “Yes, but” game. A game that everyone plays and everyone loses. Who would play such a game? We all do. It’s a popular game played all around the world. The rules are simple. At least 2 players are required, and it’s a good family game too. Player one makes the first move with a statement, usually lamenting a painful situation in their life. Player two then responds with a “useful” piece of advice. Player one then responds “Yes, but that won’t work because…  Player two then offers another piece of advice, and player once again responds “Yes, but”. Play continues in this manner until one or both players gives up in frustration or is too tired to go on. Sound familiar? I don’t want to admit the countless times I’ve played this game.

If I really want to stop playing “Yes, but” I need to catch myself before I get sucked in. The problem? “ Yes, but.” is so seductive for both players. We think this time will be different, the problem will be solved and both players declared a winner. I think there may be several ways  to stop the vicious cycle of “Yes, but.”  and all require being aware of the set up to the game. I love to give advice and problem solve, and though this is not a fatal flaw, I can attempt to solve other peoples problems when they need to problem solve on their own. If I’m giving someone information about their problem it’s so easy for me to assume that they will take my information and run with it. If I’m honest my “information” is sometimes given with a judgment about other’s inability to inform themselves. I am a caring and compassionate person and I truly want to help those I love, and sometimes my loved ones (and I) really don’t want help because we don’t intend to “do” anything different, we just want to be listened too.

Now go back and read the previous paragraph. Notice anything? With the exception of naming the “Yes, but.” game I did not use the word “but”! This is actually kinda hard to do. Try it for yourself. This experiment demonstrates another way to end the “Yes, but.” game: change the game to “Yes, and.” Player one will have a hard time simply resisting suggestions and Player two will be less likely to keep pushing and pushing their advice, and instead seek more information. It could look more like this:Player one: “I want to lose weight and nothing I’ve tried works.” Player two: “What have you tried?” Player one: “I tried the banana diet and that didn’t work for me.” I know this may seem like a small difference but “but” (!) is a more loaded word because it  casts doubts on what came before it, and does not contribute to any solution. 

It’s a slippery slope to  “what-about-ism”— “Maybe we did that, but look what you guys did? “ This blame  game has no winners and zero problem solving. This is a favorite game of politicians. When spouses start the blame game, escalation is almost inevitable. When we have years of relationship history, there is so much “blame” ammunition to use. This duel of blame does not have any chance of a positive resolution for either party. “Yes, but” is a  long and losing game . Listen to yourself, be aware of how you ask for help or respond to requests for help. No matter the game, who wants to be a loser?  “Yes, but”….

Snail Mail

Snail mail looks pretty speedy about now!  Put your mail in an envelope, make sure there is an address on it, slap a stamp on it and put it in a mail box. And wait, and wait some more, for the letter to arrive at its destination. I screwed up my email accounts yesterday and snail mail looked pretty attractive for awhile. I could send emails, but not receive emails on one account, and vice versa on another, and fixing this necessitated a great deal of swearing. I know this should be easy, but sometimes trying to communicate with my iPad is “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” or “That is not logical”. Kudos to you if you can name the movies or TV shows these lines are from and the famous actors who said them. Boomers should know!

I can email, text, FaceTime, Zoom and message family and friends. I can also call or leave a voice mail if I need to. With caller id I can even see who is calling before I answer (or not). You would think with all of this technological support that there  is no “…failure to communicate.”    There is some  thought that we don’t know how to talk in person anymore, and that there is no substitute for face to face and physical  contact. I believe there is definitely some truth to this, but I have to point out that families who gather together physically may actually be far away from each other because of differing political and religious beliefs. The old adage of never talk politics or religion with family has never been as true as it is now.

The RNC has determined that the insurrection on January 6, 2021 was “legitimate political discourse” Discourse: the use of WORDS to exchange thoughts and ideas. There were some words exchanged on Jan 6, including many expletives  and “Hang Mike Pence”! Ok, these are words and they do present “thoughts and ideas”, but the majority of the communication and exchange on January 6  was violent and harmful behaviors by Trump supporters. I doubt the 150 police officers injured on that day would say that getting beat up was “ legitimate political discourse”. The initial reaction to the events of January 6th  by Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, was not this is “legitimate political discourse”, it was fear for their lives and disgust at the events of the day. Unfortunately the communication from the MAGA base and the MAGA King was that things were not the way they seemed. Naming insurrectionists “patriots” was just the beginning of new “alternate facts” being presented. And we all know how the “Big Lie” lives on….

This is where I should share my great wisdom about how to communicate with our loved ones,  our enemies or those we strongly disagree with. I would if I could, but I’m pretty much out of ideas. How do I (and we) stop being triggered by opposing viewpoints from the “other side”? I know a good start would be to stop pouring gasoline on the fire and dial down the rhetoric and blur the divide between the sides. I’m thinking that talking about it may need to come after we 

begin to see the other as more like ourselves. Playing tug of war with the Donkeys and Elephants mixed on both sides might put rancor aside for a bit by the desire to win. Getting people with opposing views to laugh together might also soften the sharp edges. Other than gathering the “big kids” on the playground or at funny movies, how do we get positive feelings to reach across the great divide? I wish I knew.

Grilled Cheese

“Are you ready to order?”  “I’ll take the grilled cheese, no bread please.” ??  My friend suggested I order this so I could stick to my low carb diet. Makes me chuckle, but I really don’t want to deprive myself of my usual comfort foods.  Why is it so  hard for me to do what is “for my own good”?  I remember:  “Take this medicine it’s for your own good.” And this meant it tastes like crap or it hurts. A big part of this dilemma  is that I’m not always sure what is for my own good, and as we all know things change. I’m all about feeling better physically and emotionally as I get older, but I don’t have 50 years to figure this out. I’m shooting for better not perfect. 

Like it or not (mostly not), some of the resources I had when I was younger are gone or in shorter supply. I’m not as fast, as strong, or as fit as I was.  My energy bucket has a leak in it. I’m awake less hours in the day too. When I think about what’s “for my own good” I know I have to be sure that I’m not just depriving myself or paying negative costs. Following a low carb diet isn’t the most fun for me, but not getting diabetes gives me a better chance at living longer and feeling better. So there’s a reward , but it’s not immediate. Delayed gratification is tougher to buy into when the gratification may not be realized before I die!  Rewarding myself  as I meet incremental goals feeds my motivation and my positive feelings about myself. So practically, this looks like a cheap 20 dollar date with Amazon every 2 weeks if I stay on my low carb diet, and a low carb shake several times a week. I get some goodies as I go along, so I get rewarded on my journey towards the big reward.

What about the phenomena of the “Normalization of Suffering” as it applies to aging? What I mean is the assumption that aging brings with it all kinds of unavoidable negative consequences. We often buy into certain beliefs or stereotypes  about aging that suggest  decline and deterioration are unavoidable. I find myself saying “Getting older is a bitch.” and thinking some of my aches and pains are just my due as I age. What does it mean when I say “I’m too old”? What does  “too old’ mean? Should I give up and just let what will be will be, and not worry about low carb diets because it won’t make any difference. The medical establishment often supports the inevitability of suffering as we age. How many times have you heard “You’re getting older and this is common in people your age.” My knee hurts and I hear its “just” arthritis from overuse for many years.  Apparently,  aches and pains are normal for the elderly. Would we say this to any other age group? So I swim through the molasses of these kinds of messages when I try to do what is “for my own good”. Maybe I should eat dessert first!

As a country we can’t even do what is “for our own good”. I’m sure I’ve never heard anyone say the “right” to own an assault rifle is for the good of children! We know what needs to be done to save our planet from being uninhabitable due to climate change, and we still can’t seem to do what needs to be done for the good of the planet and all life on earth. For many,  the greater good seems to be power, wealth, giving in to inertia and controlling others.  For damn sure,  women don’t need to be told what is for  “our own good” and what decisions to make regarding our own bodies and health care. 

It’s up to me to define what is “good” for myself.  Of course, I have to be honest  and willing to take action that may be uncomfortable or even painful to take care of myself. I’m reminded that there are lots of things that are “good” for me that feel wonderful. Things like massages, warm baths, naps, and a good book are all “good for me” and I feel rewarded and not deprived. As for that grilled cheese sandwich, bring it on! 

Iowa

Fort Atkinson, Iowa My son Tyler’s photo

I just returned from a week long trip to Iowa to visit my family. I grew up in a rural area on a farm.  The landscape is beautiful and people are resilient. We were at ballgames, and ate, took beautiful drives to lots of small towns, and went to coffee shops and ate, did some wild Ranger riding and ate, walked a 5K, half of which was in rain, and took tons of long walks. My son pointed out that each small town we visited had its own unique heritage and feel. The Czech settled some towns, the Irish others, Norwegians had a big presence -and throw in some Germans too. There’s unique churches in every town and in the countryside, and we visited many. Who would have thought visiting cemeteries would be so interesting and even  “fun”? Remind me to tell you about the bootlegger/cemetery connection.

My intent is not to do a travelogue, but setting determines so much of our well- being. Growing up,  I didn’t fully appreciate the beauty of Northeast Iowa, because I had no comparison and I was complacent with the familiar. What strikes me now is not only the beauty, but the welcome of Iowa and my family.  My family shows up for each other. Presence is a gift to the receiver and the giver. At large family gatherings, and they are large with my 11 siblings and their families, there’s not always time to talk to everyone,  but I still feel the presence of everyone. I visited my Mother several times, but because of advanced dementia she can no longer be present for me. I could be present for her and chose to do that. Showing up is the prerequisite for loving. You just gotta be there and be present. I may stumble and fall but I won’t fall through the net of family holding me up. Red Rover strong! Sister strong!

Earlier in my life I thought Iowa was behind the times, bordering on backward.  Complicated lives, complicated values, just plain complicated was somehow more sophisticated and “better”. Simple was just not realistic. Boy I was so wrong …. After all, there are coffeeshops in Northeast Iowa so there’s all the sophistication I need. No need to debate forever on which restaurant to go to when the choices don’t number one hundred or more. Small town grocery stores may only have five different kinds of toothpaste, but then you can spend more time brushing instead of choosing which toothpaste to buy. Simple is rich and deep and healing.There are lots of things that just aren’t that important. It’s always good to keep it simple.

But I don’t live in Iowa, I live in Colorado. So I’ve decided I’ll just bring “Iowa” to Colorado. The welcome I felt there, the feeling of family, the beauty and rich heritage and the simple choices and values of Iowa are what I have carried home to Colorado. When I get caught up in all the “sophistication” of my lifestyle I will take a pause and ask how would “Iowa” do this? I will spend time with my son and renew my determination to be present for him. When I am tempted to purchase yet another shampoo that promises to make my hair thicker I will remember to keep it simple. Family is important, beauty is important and being Present is important. 

A special thank you to my traveling companions, my sister Ann and my son Tyler. We are quite a trio! Hopefully we will have many more travels. 

Silence

Silence can be golden, but sometimes it is yellow.

I should have said something! I kept quiet about the teacher who tried to sexually assault me, because he was such a good guy and who would believe me? I found out later that he had tried the same thing with my neighbor. How many other women had he assaulted because I kept quiet?  He was never held accountable, he got away with it. I and the other women he assaulted didn’t get away with it. Keeping quiet did not mean that no harm had been done. My silence was yellow, I did not act with courage. There are times it is best to shut the f’up, and times to scream as loud as you can.The trick is to know when to do which.

Everytown Research and Policy has found that in the U.S., the crisis of domestic violence is closely linked to the widespread and growing use of guns by abusers. Two-thirds of women killed by an intimate partner are killed with a gun. Existing loopholes in federal and state law allow access to guns by abusive partners and stalkers, often with deadly results.  Common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of abusive partners can reduce gun violence and domestic violence.  Red-flag laws seek to keep guns out of the hands of those who are a threat o themselves and others.

Are you suicidal? Do you have a plan? Is there a gun in the house? Quite a few people may wonder “How can you ask that?’; Aren’t you just giving an idea to a troubled person?” No and no. Experts on suicide believe that putting the issue of suicide on the table and talking about it with someone actually lessens the risk of suicide. Silence in this case is not golden, and having an extremely difficult conversation is the better choice.  Talk about it, admit it, share your feelings and you are no longer alone and living in the closed loop of your thoughts. Be brave and confront difficult feelings out loud. Yours may be the voice that gives someone a pause to reconsider. 

According to Harvard Public Health, 2/3 of the annual gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides. Look at the headlines. “Gun suicide soars as cause of death among teens.”; “Young Americans taking their own lives with guns hits record levels.”  The states that have the highest rates of gun ownership have the highest rates of suicide because firearms are so lethal. About 85% of suicide attempts with firearms end in death. A gun in the house raises the suicide risk for everyone including the gun owner, the spouse and children. The call to understand the “why” of suicide is not enough. The “how” of suicide is equally important, especially where guns are the method of choice.

That racist  or homophobic joke was not funny at all, but do you come up with a weak chuckle and stay silent? What if the person telling the joke is your boss or your father-in-law? Sometimes silence can be both golden and yellow, a mixed bag of consequences. The greater good of keeping your job to support yourself and your family may be the silence is golden decision. I’ve found that knowing where my boundaries are and knowing how much  psychological “costs” I’m willing to spend for “put up and shut” up are critical. I call it  the “man in the mirror” test.  Facing racism, homophobia and anti-semitism with silence implies tacit agreement with hate.

Experts fear that increasing belief in the  “Replacement  Theory” conspiracy will bring more hate crimes and mass shootings. Over the past decade, seven of the top ten incidents of hate were mass killings by heavily armed young men with military assault rifles. ABC news reported on the mass shooting in Buffalo: 10 people were killed and another three wounded when a mass shooting erupted at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that authorities allege was a “racially motivated hate crime” carried out by a heavily armed white teenager who fired a barrage of 50 shots outside and inside the supermarket. The mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub was a hate crime motivated by homophobia.  The “why” in hate crimes differs, but often the “ how” is military assault weapons.

I am a child of the 60’s, and from college to today I have not used my “inside voice” to express my anger and passion for social and political issues. I raise my voice in protest.

I will not be silent.

Plant Your Feet

I put up my hummingbird feeder and filled my other bird feeder this week, and visiting birds have given me many moments of joy and wonder. None cooperate when I try to take a photo, but I really don’t need a photo to remember the colors -blue, red,yellow. I’m kind of possessive: “These are my birds, they came to see me.” I’ve discovered I don’t need big splashy expensive experiences to feel joy and wonder. I’m not racing around looking for that “big”moment anymore. Doing less , slowing down and simplifying my life has meant more joy in my life, not less.  I see more because I am not looking forward all the time and  I try to stay where my feet are planted. Sometimes I end up taking a photo of my feet when I’m bumbling around trying to catch a photo of something else. I just realized that deliberately doing this would be a message to myself to stay rooted in time and place. This is also a good idea because I have an obscene number of shoes!

Where are my stocking  feet? I’m hanging out with my doggies. I love the way Molly rolls onto her back, begging me for belly rubs and her little paw reaches out to my hand. It’s so simple really, I want belly rubs and please give me more. She doesn’t use “reverse psychology” to get what she wants, and she doesn’t demand a belly rub. I do end up feeling guilty if I don’t rub her belly because I love her, and I want to give her what she wants. I’m not sure she understands me if I say “I cant do this now, I have to go.” But then again she never pouts either! Roscoe is a whole other story, but I love when his ears are perked up and his tail is going 90 miles an hour and his big brown eyes are looking at me. I love hanging out with my doggies, they are better company than some people I know.

When I have my “crummy”  sneakers on I’m usually  in my yard, mowing, weeding and planting. I get a great deal of satisfaction when I get my plants out of the cheap plastic pots they came in and get them in the ground and watered. I imagine how they will grow and fill in the areas I want filled in. There isn’t much joy in the act of weeding, but I love it when I see the pile of weeds I’ve pulled out and the now weed-free area. My me-powered mower whirls around and throws out cut grass. As I go around following my prior pass, I get to see and appreciate my progress. I haven’t climbed Mt. Everest (yet), but I finished mowing my yard.

If the photo of my feet shows a cast, a walking boot or some sort of a wrap or compression  bandage, then I am usually not too happy. I’m slowed down and staying where my feet are planted, but I feel like I’m in jail!.  If I stop fighting the physical limitation I can get to acceptance and even learn something. I learned to crochet when I had my broken foot and I also made such a dip in the recliner that it never recovered. When I’m sitting in the right chair I can see the birds at the feeder.  I think about the saying  by Nietzsche “He who a why to  live for can bear almost any how.”   I do have lots of “whys” to live for!

Just for fun I’m going to take a photo of my feet wearing each pair of shoes and boots I own. Don’t hold your breath!  It could be awhile….

Mothering

It is  ironic that Mother’s Day comes  a week after a leak from the Supreme Court of a draft decision to overturn Roe V Wade. This year I don’t want cards, chocolates or flowers on Mother’s Day. I don’t want a white, evangelical, Christian man to tell me what the Bible says.  I know what Jesus says. I want a woman’s right to abortion to be upheld. I want a pregnant 12 year-old girl who was raped, to not be forced to give birth. I want women to have a choice about what happens to our bodies. Giving birth does not make me or any woman a Mother. Mothering my son makes me a Mother.

“Those who take seriously the call of Jesus to love our neighbors must ask the Christians whose unyielding abortion obsession imbues our society with such division and rancor: How can you care so deeply about the unborn, yet show so little compassion and concern for the children of God who are already here?”

Excerpt From: Christians Against Christianity by Obery Hendricks Jr.

Thinks

Last Sunday we went to an excellent show,“Seussical”, at Mountain View High school in Loveland. As you can probably guess it was based on Dr. Seuss’s writing.  We couldn’t stop talking in rhymes after we left the show. What stuck with me was  “The thinks you can think”.    I know how powerful my thoughts are, and how they create my world, but this simple saying brought it home to me in a way I  can really understand and use. Lately, my problem is I can’t seem to put 2 “thinks” together to form a meaningful thought. I jump from thought to thought, and these fragments of thoughts don’t provide any clarity for me, or worse leave me anxious and unsettled. The “thinks” I can think..stink.

In my younger days I believed that my thoughts were always true, and my thoughts were lots more negative than they are now. I thought my way into lots of sad feelings and feelings of low self-esteem.  It took many years for me to begin to see that my “thinks” determined how I felt about something and how I made choices. It seems simple to me now, but it is not easy to remember this with my thinking cap on. Perception is what’s it’s all about. For example, when I was a kid I loved snow days, no school and all day to play, but as an adult I think about shoveling, slippery streets and cabin fever.  My childhood “thinks” and my adult “thinks” are ages apart, but I hope I still have some innocence left. I can choose to count my gratitudes or my troubles. What I focus on becomes stronger, so I need to use my “thinks” to help me feel better.

I discovered my Imagination and creativity once I left behind some of my negative thoughts. I could imagine how painting a piece of junk might become a treasure with some paint and restyling. I could imagine how to do a new crochet stitch in my head. This is creativity: the “thinks” that help me imagine what could be. Without imagination there is no creativity.  I have room to imagine positive things when I jettison negative thoughts. People sometimes make career choices by imaging how they would feel, for instance, as a doctor or teacher. If I cant imagine something, how will I allow myself to experience it? So “thinks”can create or negate. How powerful our thoughts are!

“We’re not paying you to think.”  The Management.  We all know what this means!  This is ass- backwards of course, we know problem solving is an invaluable skill. Too much thinking by employees can threaten the status quo and create fear in those who are invested in keeping things the same. For better or worse, changing my thinking changes everything.  I did have good ideas at work, but I was discouraged from sharing them. Now that I am retired, I can spend as much time as I want thinking about whatever I want.  My time and ‘thinks”are mine.

When I talk to myself in my head I watch my language. I realized that I was often telling myself I was “stupid”, which certainly didn’t promote positive self-esteem. Now I say “I did the best I could.’ or “That was silly.” Changing just this one “think” has helped me feel better about myself.   How many more “thinks” can I change to add more joy to my life? The number of possible “thinks” is infinite. Just think about that!

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you.

Dr. Seuss 

War Games

The best known war board-game is  “Risk”, where players take turns and use strategy to attain “world domination and conquer all enemies.” The objective is to conquer all the territories of the world by eliminating opposing players.  Sounds like fun right? I have 5 tanks and 3 battleships, what do you have?  Of course, there are rules and no civilians  to bomb, murder or rape.

 The latest war game is the Ukrainian/Russian war. There are lots of daily discussions on the news channels about strategy, weapons and military equipment.  Where are the troops moving and what cities are under siege? As we sit in our safe homes we can imagine the moves being made and decide who won the war for the day. We need to warn you that what you are about to see is very disturbing…  we can be so removed from the suffering of our fellow human beings. We can do blue and yellow flags and sunflowers, but we can’t stop the carnage and genocide happening every day in Ukraine. We can’t even pretend we aren’t aware of what is happening.The Russians have made a good move—they have trapped Ukrainian soldiers and civilians sheltering in a steel plant in Mariupol,    Ukraine. They will not allow aid in or evacuation of the civilians. The Alamo in Ukraine.  Likely most of the soldiers and the civilians will die at the hands of the Russian soldiers, and the world will be outraged, but we will never forget and it will never happen again.  We were outraged at Columbine 23 years ago today (4/20), but we need to be reminded of this tragedy now lost in a sea of school shootings since then. We will forget, and it will happen again.

And then we have the “Culture” wars. My sister asks if humans are still evolving or are we now devolving? Devolve: degenerate, or deteriorate. We may be taller, bigger and stronger than our ancestors, but I think our emotional and intellectual reasoning is devolving. What do we experience in the emotional sphere? We can choose what to allow into our awareness, and we can always deny and lie about what we see and feel. I am a liberal who likes Disney characters, and a not insignificant number of ultra-conservative MAGAS  likely believe I am a pedophile who wants to run through kindergarten rooms yelling “Gay, trans, Gay.”, and spends an inordinate amount of time “grooming” myself i.e. brushing my teeth,  washing my face, and combing my hair. Is this even rational? It is the world according to Q!  Just throw out stink bombs and see who says they smell like roses or vice versa.  Are we losing our reasoning abilities and our thinking skills? Have we lost our minds and our humanity? We are delusional, living our lives on multiple battlefields—and we are losing. We can not allow hate to win.

I Win, You Lose

I say to my friend on the treadmill beside me,“Hey Im doing pretty good on the treadmill today, over 2 miles and  212 calories burned.” And then it happens!  Miss perfect young body gets on the treadmill next to me and cranks it up to highest incline, and some ungodly high mph number, and works on some sort of puzzle on her Kindle,  all without audibly panting as she sails along. I now feel deflated and decidedly less impressed with myself. The trap of comparison in action. I can do this,  but someone else can do it better, or their house or car is much nicer than mine; or the reverse, I am so much better than someone else at A,B and C, or my car is a lot nicer. Doesn’t really matter which way the comparison turns out, either way my experience is reduced to better than, or less than.  Comparison is a trap and a thief. Constant judgement steals the now. So why on earth is it so hard for me to let go of comparing myself to others?

We humans like to measure things. We start by asking our child “ How much does Mommy love you?” and we spread our hands wide and say “This much.”  We are taught more is better.  We “Keep up with the Joneses”, trying to prove that we are as good as other people by getting what they have and doing what they do, even when we can’t afford to.We cringe at the saying ‘He who has the most toys wins.”, because we know we believe this on some level. I ask myself “How am I doing?” or “How am I measuring up.” more often than I’d like to admit. The problem is I become an observer of my own life rather than living and experiencing my life. I’m afraid I won’t be successful if I stop comparing myself to others, and my safety and well being depend on knowing how others are doing. Lately I’m beginning to think the opposite may be true, and it is the comparison that keeps me from success, safety and well being. 

As I age I get to compare how much older or younger I am than someone else. If I were only measuring years, and not trying to define myself by my age, that would be one thing, but I slip into “younger is better” in a heartbeat if I don’t pay attention. We tell some people they don’t look their age and that’s seen as a positive, but what about those of us who look our age?  Does it matter? Perhaps it matters only in the world of on-line dating! Am I a winner or a loser? What if I just don’t care?

“Comparison is the thief of joy .” Theodore Roosevelt

“Don’t compare your life to others. There’s no comparison between the sun and the moon. They shine when it is their time.”