Archive for the 'change' Category

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.

Waiting for someone to change

September 25, 2014

I was reading what Gail Collins and David Brooks had to say, in one of their Conversations on the NYTimes website, about people who want their spouses to change.  (They decried it.)  And I thought, “Well, what about the situation of old in which on the wedding night after an arranged marriage, one spouse discovers the other is way too young to have sex?”  In that case waiting for change I think would be seen by most people as a healthy response.

On some sort of continuum, that might be one extreme, towards the other might be expecting one’s grown spouse to enjoy team sports to the same extent as oneself, or to like cats, and then at the very end of that extreme might be things that involve superficial behavioral change (like replacing the toilet paper roll when it’s used up).

I realize these Conversations are meant to be light and airy, but I get distracted by underpinnings (cultural or class assumptions, worldview or thinking constructs) to the humor when I see flaws in them.  Kind of similar, but in a different direction, to the engineer in the joke who points out to their executioner what is causing the guillotine to malfunction.


February 9, 2014

I’m thinking of the mechanics of knowing.  How do I know what I know?

Yesterday I was in a conversation that included how the internal combustion of fire figures in my contemplation.  So last night, I decided to light a candle so I could have a flame to refer to during contemplation.

I chose a yahrzeit candle because I wanted a flame in a container.  I would have preferred a stone container, but I don’t have one, so glass was what I went with.

It was not easy to light.  The wick was low.  It had been lit before.  (I don’t let them burn if I’m leaving the house or overnight, whatever the religious rules might require.)  I am not the first to attempt many of the things I do.  I like being (only) one of many.

After I got the wick lit, and not just a match burning on its own in the wax next to it, it occurred to me to wonder if I was lighting a yahrzeit candle because it was somebody’s yahrzeit.  My dad’s had passed.  So I looked up the date on which I had given birth, and on which the baby also died, in late February many years ago, and sure enough, Friday, February 7, 2014 was the yahrzeit according to the Jewish calendar for that date.

I was a day late, but the coincidence seemed too strong to me to be just a coincidence.  My Friday had included upheaval on a number of fronts in my life, too.

So I started wondering about the engineering of what happened, the mechanics of knowing.

I don’t follow the Jewish calendar in general, I tend to celebrate yahrzeits (which I think of as Jahrzeits) around the date of death on the secular calendar and when the spirit moves me (usually a few weeks before the date on the secular calendar).

The only person I know, I think, who calculates yahrzeits properly according to Jewish rules and the Jewish calendar is a cousin who is sporadically in touch.  I am not sure whether he is aware of the birth and death, and it would not, in any case, be eligible for being marked by a yahrzeit observance according to orthodox Jewish rules, because she didn’t live long enough (she didn’t live 28 days, she lived less than one day).  So I am not picking up on somebody else’s observation of a yahrzeit, I don’t think, but, on the other hand, I wouldn’t have done this myself on my own, without any input from elsewhere.

I don’t have a sure explanation.

But the experience fits into my sense of what I need to do to transition into another phase in my life.  I need to be less interactive, at least for a while.  The image that came to me is that of a generic grandparent sitting in the corner of a library in an elementary school, and just reading.  To themselves, silently.   Not interacting with the children or the staff.

This may mean not blogging, this may mean not posting comments elsewhere.  I don’t know, but I think it means paying more attention to discerning between what other people are calling for me to do and what I actually feel called to do, and only participating in the latter, even if in the past I have heeded the calls of other people as part of what I felt called from a deeper place to do.  I don’t feel that way right now.

I feel a need to make change in my life unilaterally, having tried for some years now to do this through a process of negotiation — I need to get off a merry-go-round I feel I have been on.  While it is clear to me that there are contributing factors to this situation from other people’s misperceptions, it is equally clear that there’s nothing I can do about that, especially when it would involve their recognizing that their process is flawed and producing errors.

It’s hard for me, though, and I did post a comment on Nick Kristof’s blog (in connection with his column about our prisons having become de facto mental health hospitals) earlier this morning, because, as I wrote in it, I was disappointed there were none posted yet when I had looked.   I try not to be doctrinaire.  It’s always a work in progress.

Changing the narrative one person at a time

December 7, 2012

I wrote a response to Paul Krugman’s column in the NYTimes today about part of what I think lies behind the classism he sees in the (callous) attitude towards the jobless, especially the long-term jobless, evidenced by politicians’ apparent disinterest in keeping their focus on reducing unemployment.  I said that I think there’s a self-serving narrative that some successful people tell themselves about how they achieved their success, and I said something to the effect that I think this narrative has to be corrected before their narrative about others and others’ achievements (or lack of achievements) will change.

Someone (walker, from Boston) replied to my comment making a point about how changing the narrative through [communism] failed.

So I thought, since the opportunity for me to reply to the reply on the website is not available, I might as well launch my explanation into ether here.

I think self-serving narratives are corrected one person at a time through an individual’s developing increasing self-awareness, I don’t think there is a short-cut (through developing intellectual doctrines, for instance) to correcting even a collectively-held pattern of self-serving narrative.  I think once there is a critical mass of people seeing themselves more clearly, consequences to the group as a whole may become more apparent.

People complain that not enough people want to devote themselves to teaching school.  I would say the same about people wanting to do the plain-spoken work of coaching people to become more self-aware.

Going against the grain

September 25, 2012

I get a lot out of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, but I don’t always agree with everything in them, even if I am grateful for them and respectful of his abilities.  This morning’s is an example.

I disagree that God initiates in a relationship with us, unless, of course, we want to split hairs.  What I see is that God’s love is there all the time, what initiates the relationship is when we somehow become open to that love.

While I’m at it, at criticizing people whose work I enjoy and whose presence I am grateful for, I will take this example of where I disagree with Fr. Rohr to show where I disagree with David Brooks and today’s column of his on conservatism.

I don’t think what I said about God’s love always being present is anything new, wouldn’t surprise me if Rohr says it too, I could even have gotten it from him.  Nor is our openness as key anything new, especially to more eastern spiritual traditions, I think.  But overall my approach to spirituality is a little more radical a change than David Brooks would apparently advocate, a little less prudent and incremental and respectful of continuity and tradition — I want to jettison our conceptualization of God as a cranky parent, for instance, and I want everybody to remember that everybody learns, eventually, to merge their humanness with the divinity within them — that everybody eventually becomes enlightened.  Nobody does it for you.  And that the basic tools are the same for everybody, regardless of their stage in the process — willingness, becoming more self-aware, becoming more open, getting out of the way, listening, following guidance.

What I see is, to track David Brooks’s idea that conservatism is focused now only on one of its components, is that to clear the runway and get lift, we need to do more than take baby steps, we need to do something more like leap into space.  (…we/Fling our souls into the/Pitch dark again, and/Wait for the stars/To shine.)  Faith for me is the concept that if we do, we will be borne aloft.  Metaphorically, of course; I am, after all, the daughter of an aeronautical engineer.

Because if we don’t take enough of a leap, we fall back, I think, we revert to a prior stage, even get more stuck in it for having tried to progress beyond it and not accomplished that goal.  There are risks to taking small steps when larger ones are called for.

On the other hand, to end on a more conciliatory note, as I assume Rohr and I agree on the fundamental importance of love and its eternity, maybe my spiritual approach is sufficiently rooted in tradition to pass muster with David Brooks’s notion of what kind of change is helpful.

The level at which effective change occurs

April 18, 2012

After having indulged my emotional reaction to a David Brooks column on the necessary elements for change in the world in a comment at the time it was published, I have had some further thoughts on the subject.

If there’s a level of political infrastructure and a level of social organization people pursue for changing and repairing the world, I think there’s also a level undergirding it all of personal self-awareness of all human beings.  At that level, people can be influenced in a more fundamental way and ideas can permeate the collective unconscious, or whatever we call it, and be available for retrieval to all through their own internal understandings.  I think it’s a slow process but a surer one than many others.

I think I have a part in that process, and I think to maintain myself in a way that allows me to do that I am foreclosed from pursuing other ambitions.  I don’t feel comfortable talking about what it is I think I do and what it takes to do it, beyond noting it takes a whole lot of willingness to serve, but maybe if I could figure out a way to do so without feeling that I was compromising something more important, maybe then I would.  I’ve sometimes thought doing so might help me as much as it might help other people have a more accurate sense of my life, because I think by not talking about it much with others, I undervalue it with myself — I think I underestimate what it takes, for example, in terms of skills, energy, time, etc., and I also probably underestimate how much it means to me, how much I appreciate what I get to do and see, and how satisfying it can be to do and to be part of something like this.  I think it feels a little like trying to stand up in a small boat, though, when there’s a need to be careful not to capsize the vessel for no good reason, when I try to explain what it is I do.  But if I could find a way to talk about it in a way that feels to me appropriate, maybe it would actually help.

When the poet Horace wrote (in Odes, Book III, Ode 24) about the futility and emptiness of laws without the backing of customary social norms, I think he was getting at what others more recently (Lord Moulton) have referred to as “obedience to the unenforceable.”  At some level there needs to be a willingness to cooperate and to do what serves a good greater than personal affiliations and interests for human beings to thrive and reach our potential.  I think that kind of attitude arises out of the mindset and understandings of people who have developed an awareness of themselves, of their emotional reactions, of the motivations and functions of their behaviors.  I see that level of human activity as bedrock, as the equivalent of atoms and molecules being fundamental to the material world.  I don’t doubt that other layers are there that need to be worked on, too, for the repair of the world, be they political structures or social ones, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what I’m about, that’s not where my skills and opportunity take me.  I think I do have a sense of what I’m about, but I can’t say I’ve found a comfortable way to live that life.

Packing a suitcase

April 15, 2012

There was a game we played in elementary school sometimes that probably helped strengthen memory skills.  The player recited something like, “I’m packing my suitcase, and in it I put” and then listed what all the previous players had packed and then added an item of their own.  The rules varied about how fanciful (and memorable) the items could be.

There’s also a Jewish prayer in which how we arrived at this present moment is recognized, all the things that have brought us to where we are.  I think it’s about what has brought us to a blessed occasion, but I’m not big on categorizing events, in terms of how we think of their place in our lives, according to whether they’re pleasant or not, so I would use the concept to think about how we arrived at difficult events, as well.

I was thinking about both these traditions this morning because I feel at a bit of a crossroads, and my not altogether healthy “monkey mind” tends to voice the criticism, “If I should be doing something different now, perhaps I should have been doing it earlier, too.”  Regardless of whether that criticism gets at anything true, that line of thinking tends to result in my not doing anything different now either — kind of like a paralysis sets in.  Maybe it’s related to how dieter might think, “Well, I blew my diet already today, why bother trying to stick to it now and for the rest of the day?”  A method of self-sabotage.

It occurred to me that if I think about it in terms of the packing-the-suitcase game, I feel much freer to do something new now.  This is a new moment, stuff came before, but it’s now its own turn for an action.  How I got to this point may be the result of prior actions (and other factors, perhaps) — the Jewish prayer concept — but here I am now.

Then I can move on to trying to understand what to do now, in this present moment.

Transitions and changes

March 10, 2012

I found myself reorganizing some finances, finally, that I had never really understood the history of or reason for their being arranged as they were.  It didn’t involve much money, the CDs were coming due, I realized after over eight year’s after Willy’s death, I probably would never either remember or figure out why there were two small IRAs at the credit union that holds the mortgage.  The credit union said they didn’t have to remain there (although the savings account does), and in fact I discovered this evening that they transferred the money early but without penalty (I am told there is a 10-day grace period before the CD maturity date, as well as one after it — who knew?) to their new homes in other existing IRA accounts.

As I cross off things to do from my list of widow stuff, I am faced again with the telephone listing question.

I put the telephone bill under my name some years ago, but when I was told that to have an unlisted number would cost me a fee but I could leave it under Willy’s name for free, I left it under Willy’s name.  My thinking when I was married was that the listing would be used to reach me primarily by people who knew me well enough to know Willy’s last name and think to check under it, too.  Of course, now, unless people know my kids’ last name (which includes Willy’s), new people I meet would probably have no way of finding my phone number, I think.  And I meet people who have no reason to know my kids’ last name, or even that I have kids.   So I’m thinking that I might need to revisit my phone listing decision and put the listing under my name.  I don’t think it’s shielding me from unwanted calls from my kids’ friends, or anything, as it is, since those would actually be some of the few people who could actually find it now.  So I should probably find out if I can change the listing.

In thinking about all this stuff, I am struck by how things make sense at a certain time, and then circumstances change, and they don’t make sense anymore.  With things like IRA accounts and phone listings, I wouldn’t have thought I’d have to revisit the decisions  about them until I got older or moved or something — they weren’t on my list of things I thought I would need to do currently.  But while I could justify avoiding dealing with them for a while, even I have gotten to a point where competing considerations have made me feel silly for not looking at the decisions afresh.


December 17, 2011

I was talking the other day about accepting change, and how while I might tend initially to think of that in terms of accepting negative changes, I am perfectly capable of not accepting changes for the better, of worrying about when that other shoe is going to drop.  That’s no better than not accepting negative change, it’s a form of self-sabotage, I think, and thinking about multiple kinds of not accepting change helps me see more clearly that it’s more than about coping with difficulty, it’s about being open to whatever is going on in my life.

I’m thinking that there is a similar point of needing to be accurate about how complicated or unusual a personal situation may be.  On the one hand, there is the illusion of “uniqueness” — the usually inaccurate belief that no one else has ever experienced this.  But there is also, I have discovered, a countervailing pitfall, of not realizing that the people in your audience are actually misunderstanding and underestimating your situation, perhaps because through their own experience, including of other people’s ways of communicating, their system of calibration does not match your system of representing the information. (One of the ways I first discovered this was when I had a physical (post-surgery) problem that could be measured, and when I finally got the nurses to do something, and they could see what had been causing the pain, they said, “Oh, if we had known it was so bad, we would have done this a lot sooner, we didn’t realize …”  Well, I thought I had made it clear how much pain I was in, but clearly I hadn’t.  Someone later told me that they expect patients to exaggerate, and hence I needed to have artificially amplified my communication.)

In both the calibration scenario and the accepting change scenario, it’s not just the most common version of the problem that needs to be considered but the more general point.  Leap-frogging to the common manifestation distorts the insight and makes it less helpful:  accurate communication is not always arrived at by discounting, by dismissing the possibility that the circus is in town and the hoof-beats are that of a zebra and not a horse, and open acceptance of change is not the same thing as dealing with actual loss.


December 1, 2011

I was reading what the NYTimes is calling “Pinkerisms,” and my reaction is to listen to Neil Diamond’s song “Men Are So Easy” to remind myself to locate my compassion before I finalize my reaction.

I can’t say I know for certain that it really has anything to do with gender, but I do associate it with gender; maybe it’s an issue overrepresented among men.  There’s more to us than our “monkey minds,” a “language” more basic than verbal language.

This morning I discovered in the shower, in the sea sponge I’ve been using for quite some time, a tiny little shell buried inside.  I worked it out, it’s quite sweet.  I felt moved to put it with my little piece of meteorite, in one of its crevices.  A harmless but maybe eccentric thing to do.  But it allows me to tell the ending to a story that needed telling, and it represents for me an example of things I could never have understood had I insisted on trying to understand them through verbal language.

Shell creatures don’t have verbal language, nor do geese nor rabbits nor the earth itself.  We talk about horse whisperers, joke about squirrel whisperers, probably as pet owners acknowledge non-verbal communication with them.

Why is non-verbal communication important?  Well, maybe it was the normal currency for millennia, maybe it’s still a lingua franca in this world.  Why is it important for humans to be conscious participants in non-verbal communication?  For me, it is the way I happen to understand, and it allows me to help others with whom there is no other means of communication.  This could be a severely distressed adult, a disabled baby, someone who speaks another verbal language, someone who has no verbal language.  By translating their communication from a more basic mode of communication, I can do kind of what I think a talk therapist does — help bring the issue into the light of day, where it can be seen for what it is, re-framed and re-interpreted as necessary, stripped of it emotional tyranny by stripping it of emotional baggage.  The intellectual stratum that’s left is the pure “information” of the situation that produced the emotional response.  At higher levels of understanding, that’s all there is.  But to begin the process, one must start at the level of communication of emotion.

So, why not, “de gustibus non disputandum est,” or rather, de gustibus linguarum non disputandum est?  Because we need to use that more basic mode of communication more than we do if we are to improve our world.  We keep going off in a particular direction of control it, fix it, change the material world to suit our fears and desires, and we all agree to go down that path, congratulate one another for accomplishments along those lines, but ultimately it’s a dead end.

My saying so is not going to change much if anything.  Nor would my gussying up this blog or acceding to other people’s sense, so far, of what would help me.  It’s like the way people say work for peace, don’t wage a war to try to produce peace; if I were to go back to same-old, same-old, for sure nothing would change and I would feel I had wasted my opportunity to serve and what I have accomplished so far.  If all I can do is maintain what ground I have gained for another to use further, then that will have been my contribution.  If I can figure out a further way to develop the ground I have recovered, I’m open to it.