Archive for October, 2014

Fishing out feathers

October 31, 2014

There were about a dozen swans on the Res yesterday, a heron, two cormorants, a bunch of geese and ducks.

Not surprisingly, there are feathers along the shoreline in places.  I sometimes clamber down to the water’s edge and fish a couple out.  If the shore is too muddy close to the water or the feather is too far off in the water, I look for a long branch.  And then I try to snag the feather using the branch.

It’s kind of like a sport or hobby.  I get a kick out of figuring out how to get down to the shore, what stick to use, how to employ it as a tool.

I am not always very good at the snagging part.  Sometimes I end up pushing the feather further away or sinking it or getting it further stained or covered with muck.

So I ask the universe for help.  I admit this is a pretty silly context in which to ask for the help of the universe, but on the other hand it is very good practice for “turning things over.”  I know I can’t get that feather back without help, and I throw myself on the mercy of those forces beyond me, my motions become more effective, and I lift the feather from the water with my stick.

The other piece is how refreshed I feel afterwards.  I have succeeded in completely distracting myself from all the cares and tasks seemingly on my plate, and for a few minutes, I am just in the moment of fishing out a feather, and in the arms of the universe if I’ve asked for help.  The physical activity I think also contributes to the catharsis.


Eight swans (1 juvenile), a heron and some geese

October 26, 2014

That’s what I saw at the Res late this afternoon.  It was so nice to see a bunch of water fowl back in residence.  The water level was not as low as I think it’s been already this season.  But there are more birds now nonetheless.

Changing old habits

October 26, 2014

I am probably in the habit of dealing with being expected to pick up the slack in my family by doing some version of stoic and a female version of macho.

Well, today I tried something different.  My mother has substantial mobility issues, and I have been trying to figure out how to drop her off at, for example, the building she needs to go to, get her safely ensconced, and then go park the car.  Do I leave the engine running?  Do I turn it off and risk being in violation of parking where there is no parking?

I asked my mother about getting a disability placard.  She said she had never thought of it, which was no surprise to me  —  she admits she thinks of herself in terms of a much younger version of herself.  I have been trying to point out that this “Let’s pretend” makes things, makes difficult situations, even harder, including at my end.  She said she would ask her doctor about it.

That’s another thing I’ve learned:  we can only do something if an M.D. says so.  It’s how she finally decided to move out of her house and close to me.  My doctor advised me at my annual check-up that I had too many stressful things on my plate, including trying to care long distance for an elderly frail person increasingly in need of supports.  That got her attention when nothing previous had.  She had been listening before to people who seem to have been encouraging a situation that was unsafe, and without taking any responsibility for it.

We work with what we have, including the people involved.

It struck me that I find it tough to have to suggest such ameliorative measures, because if they are rejected, then what attitude do I take?  I have broken the pretense that the situation is okay, and we cannot go back to the status quo ante, including how I played my role.

I learned some years ago that people’s level of cooperation varies, that different people have different degrees of cooperativeness.  Some people drag their feet or make everything into an argument or dismiss a call to make an adjustment.  It is especially pronounced, not surprisingly, when the status quo is working for them and they are not considering whether it is working for others.

Willy was eminently cooperative, even pro-active in that direction.  I wish more people were like that.  Maybe only a spouse does that and I became miscalibrated in my expectations.  Or maybe he was exceptional and I became miscalibrated on account of that.

False equivalencies and inaccurate models

October 21, 2014

I was thinking about how some groups get tired of misrepresentations propounded in the name of giving both sides of the story.  The criticism is that in trying to redress a problem of bias, a new problem is interjected, namely a problem of misleading readers of a piece of journalism, for example, into thinking both sides have an equally fair point.  Sometimes, of course, the points are not equally fair, valid, or accurate.

I think if we got away from thinking about it in terms of “false equivalencies,” we could also get away from what seems to be a preferred response to “false equivalencies,” namely to side with one point of view or the other on the terms used by the participants themselves.  Sometimes, I think, the situation is far more complicated;  both sides may have a contribution to make, but they may not be expressing their contribution well, for example.

So I would prefer thinking about how accurate or not a model of presenting a conflict is.  Most conflicts have multiple contributing factors.  Even if voter ID laws really are an effort to suppress minority voting and not a legitimate response to real voter fraud, the legislative campaign arises out of something that needs to be addressed, even if it’s more about unhelpful habits of thought by people engaged in maladaptive self-protective coping devices.  So we could

[this is not finished, but I have no idea when I’ll have a chance to get back to it, so I decided I’d put it up now]

Learning a lesson that isn’t about fairness

October 18, 2014

I was reading a piece in the NYTimes about how human beings see “purpose” in what happens in their lives.  It even mentioned looking for lessons, but, having pointed out this can turn into a moralistic pitfall about just deserts and assumptions about fairness, it stays with that version of “What’s the lesson?” and doesn’t explore what other sorts of lessons there might be.

It could have considered other sorts of lessons.  One can ask, “How can I handle that better next time?  What did I learn about myself?  What did I learn about other people?  What did I learn about how we interact?  What did I learn about what I fear and what my coping strategies are and whether they accomplish what I want to accomplish at this stage of my life?”

If we’ve misunderstand in the West how to find the lesson and what kinds of lessons we should be looking for, abandoning the search for lessons because we’ve gone down a dead end doesn’t seem to me to be the answer.

Do it just because it’s better to have done it

October 13, 2014

I was reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation, and I had a reaction to the idea he talked about and illustrated with a quotation of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, about not judging and then not being judged, not condemning and then not be condemned, etc.

Father Rohr doesn’t seem to be saying we do these things in order to obtain them in return, so I am not criticizing what I read.

But it made me think that what I seem to learn from my own life is to do these things because it seems to be the better course — there seems to be less friction and more progress, but I don’t necessarily “get back” what I “give out.”

For me, this realization is important because I tend to get hung up on “What am I doing wrong?”  when the issue may well be a lesson in “You can do your part fine, but you don’t have control over how others do theirs, and all of you collectively may even do everything fine, but the situation may still come out in a way you don’t like.”  [There are other possible explanations, including that one is facilitating a problematic exchange between two other people, who without the facilitation would never have any exchange with each other at all.  And of course, sometimes the answer may very well be that I am doing something wrong — but just as one can be too thin or too rich, I have found that barking up the virtuous tree of self-correction isn’t helpful if it’s actually the wrong tree, if it’s really not about that — one can overdo self-correction, too.  A simplistic model — such as the answer is always self-correction — may well be inaccurate, as inaccurate as a model that it’s always somebody else’s fault.]

I think for me it’s a subset of faith, to do the not judging and the giving, etc., and to trust that that contributes to the greater good, even when the feedback is less than clear-cut.


October 13, 2014

I’ve had people tell me that I am working on learning discernment, and I have kept that in mind, while having trouble seeing where it applies.  But this afternoon I had an example that may be about where I need to work on it.

I was reading NYTimes articles and opinion pieces, and I found myself feeling very tired and thinking about taking a nap.  And I was a little surprised to be feeling as though I needed a nap.  I reviewed when I got up (a little after six), how much walking I had done (into the center of town and back), how much tea I had had (enough that it wasn’t lack of caffeine).  I didn’t think any of that explained why I felt so tired.

And then my mother, who is staying with us for a few weeks, walked into the kitchen and told me she was going to take a nap.  I accompanied her up to the room she is using, she started her nap, and I found I didn’t feel tired anymore.

So for me, it is a lesson is learning what’s mine and what’s somebody else’s.  That, in turn, teaches me to perceive a mood or a feeling as just a mood or a feeling  —  when it’s clear it’s somebody else’s, it is also clearer it is just a mood or a feeling or whatever, something more like an item of clothing one can put on or take off, since it may not be the mood or feeling I actually have myself, left to my own devices.  Then I can, after that, think about how my moods and feelings are just as much ephemeral, contingent, and changeable as those I pick up from others; and that, then, helps me see that they are not such a big deal as they may feel from the inside of the person experiencing them.

Compassion for others

October 5, 2014

I was thinking as I was writing a reply to a news comment — talking about how inadequate love, compassion, and support for somebody gravely wounded does not mean others with lesser hurts do not feel those hurts or need love, compassion, and support, too — that while we screen, somewhat, to make sure mental health professionals don’t visit their unresolved issues on patients and clients, we don’t do this with politicians and “thinkers.”  And they probably do.

Tea caddy spoon

October 4, 2014

I was looking at an early nineteenth century silver tea caddy spoon shaped like a shell.  I’ve read that real shells had been used at some point for scooping tea and that that is why the shell is a familiar motif in the genre.

I got to thinking about meteors and wondered if they ever impart molten metal to what they impact when they hit the earth — I wondered if a shell has ever become encased in metal.  The idea kind of bothered me, a living creature with an outer carapace it was not supposed to have, maybe like a person living within a paralyzed body but also suffocating, too  —  I imagined distress.

But the tea caddy spoon was itself not horrible, it was graceful and sweet, just in need of a little polishing.

There’s the tag line, “The butler did it,” there’s the Monty Python schtick about “Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition,” one summer at camp, the running punch line was “Fuente Ovejuna” [a play the drama department produced that summer] did it.”  For me, my mind is always drawn back to a meteoric event, I’m not sure why.  It’s connected with my fascination with feathers on the ground and with leaves swirling down from the sky.  I can even hear echoes of it in the myth of Icarus and in the story of Lucifer’s fall.  And I apparently am reminded of it by a silver shell antique tea caddy spoon, too.


October 4, 2014

I was going to post this with a comment I posted on a news website, but, as I wrote, I am a bit concerned that people who don’t know what I’m talking about will take it wrong.  So I am posting it here.

At the risk of sounding like a crank:  I don’t know how territorial and protective Bo and Sunny are, but if I were the First Family, I would make sure I had a dog like our 90 lb. male poodle roaming the house at all times.  He was intelligent, territorial, and would not hesitate to be socially inappropriate by human standards and go after someone effectively if he perceived danger.  (For people with the usual stereotype of poodles, think German Shepherd.)  He would make sure he inserted himself between the human he was protecting and the dangerous human, and I saw him scare and deter grown men and women.  I worried more about law suits than my safety when I had him.  I also think he processed that there was danger more quickly than human beings.  His barking was an effective early warning system.  Of course a dog is not adequate protection against all intrusions and certainly not a replacement for Secret Service protection of the First Family, but dogs are more reliable than people and I think they should be a bigger component of a security plan — and the Obamas can implement this component unilaterally.  It may put off invited guests who are afraid of dogs, but that can usually be dealt with.