Friday, June 28, 2013

Considering & Pondering

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?  
~Winnie the Pooh

 1. When reflecting on human psychology, physicist and electronics engineer Derek Abbott, observes that “…[p]eople who are … hypersensitive about certain things tend to be very sensitive to other peoples' feelings in those same areas. This is understandable.

"However, notice that they can be very insensitive to other people on issues that don’t happen to worry them specifically.” Abbot wonders if there is there a name for this phenomenon and a hypothesis to explain it.

No, I don’t have a name for what Abbott calls a “phenomenon.” However, seems to me this kind of person has a lack of empathy as well as a (usually unwitting) disregard for feelings of others—perhaps coupled with a superior sense of self.

These people seem to be so wrapped up in their own lives they are unable to genuinely care about the feelings of others. Oh, these folks will seem to care, yet somehow the conversation always segues back to talk about their feelings and their sensitivities.  

2. Several years ago I knew a person who would open a conversation by saying, with great enthusiasm and glee, “You were on my mind so much yesterday …" Of course, that effusive comment usually garnered my full attention! Yet, after this intro, he related an event in his own life which, in the main, had absolutely nothing to do with me. But, of course, I was in rapt attention (ego being what it is!), waiting for whatever it was in that story which reminded him of me. Nope, never happened.

3. Check out this website, “TED,” an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. TED’s site has “Ideas Worth Spreading.” For the most part the comments attendant to each video are thoughtful and coherent (some seem a bit nutty!).

4. Another Derek Abbott thought: “Given that the atoms in your body get replaced over each seven-year period and that your mind both develops and forgets old data, how can you define identity? Are you really the same person, you were yesterday?”

My very unscientific answer to that pondering would be “No, I’m not the same person; not the same person I was yesterday, or the day before or the years before that. I am, as we all are, an olio of every past moment of experience and every experience of the present moment.

The tricky thing is, I want to save the helpful life lessons I learned yesterday and the days before, add them to what I’m beginning to understand today and toss out the fluff of inconsequential data which seems to continually swirl through my brain.

As for the atoms in my physical body being replaced every seven years, there’s no trick to understanding that. All have to do is look in the mirror or walk up the three flights of stairs to my office. My body’s “atom rearrangement (derangement?),” which has occurred ten times—if Abbott’s calculations are correct—is obvious.

5. Stochastic resonance is observed when noise added to a system changes the system's behavior in some fashion.

Hmmm, such as how my “system” reacts when I’m in grocery or department stores where caterwauling noise disguised as music blasts into my already frazzled mind!!!??

I’ve spoken to managers of these stores and usually receive blank stares of incomprehension. In fact a few store personnel said adding this music is believed to enhance customers’ shopping experience (read: entice us to buy more!).

Okay, so the CEOs have determined their bottom line is increased when they pummel the shoppers’ “system” with this dissonance. This shopper's “bottom line”: I stay away from those stores as much and as often as possible. That resonates with me!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Swirl and Swing of Words*

All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.
~Kahlil Gibran

I’m looking at three disparate, undated pieces of paper—different colors, different sizes, each holding three words written in different colors of ink.

These are the things I know: At various times in the last eight months, I scribbled the words on the papers, stuffed them in the large folder I take back and forth to work—and forgot about them. There they stayed until this morning—two, a bit crumpled, one with a torn edge.

I often jot down ideas for subjects I may want to write about in my blog, yet at first I could not recall why I put down these particular words, or what was going through my mind at the three different times. 

The first paper has these words: Peaceful, Calm, Tranquil; the second: Pain, Illness, Process; the third: Revelation, Transformation, Acceptance.

Thinking about it now, I believe the first words, “Peaceful, Calm, Tranquil,” were written at a time when I was dwelling on how often friends have commented that I usually seem settled and composed and how they often feel less tense or upset when around me. I try, I try. 

My journey to inner peace, calmness and tranquility has been rocky and rife with missteps—missteps which have taken me to emotional and financial precipices. I know it does no good to chastise myself for what now present as poor decisions, or rue the day when those decisions seemed exactly the right thing to do.   

I have always “owned” the way my adult life has unfolded and I take ownership for the way in which I handle the bumps cropping up along the path. 

It's not always easy to project a positive attitude and yet, giving in to the opposite does me no good (I've experimented!), and so I keep smilin'. 

“Pain, illness and process.” Words written inside scribbles that look like river eddies, jagged lightning bolts emanating from the centers. It’s easy to know why I jotted down these three words. During the past four years, two of my dearest friends have been experiencing dire health issues, often bringing severe, intractable pain and an inability to physically function in their usual go-getter fashion. My heart aches for them.

I’ve known excruciating physical pain—a kind of pain that could never be assuaged with any drugs. Thankfully, gratefully, years after surgeries and physical therapy I'm in a "so far, so good" state of physical health. 

My friends who are in pain? As of now, it doesn’t appear that they will ever again know pain free days without medication. They use a daunting regimen of painkillers and those often work well enough to give them a few hours of relief. Neither one wants to take the medication but their lives are massively diminished when there is such overwhelming pain.

The process of pain management can be a mentally overwhelming task. Many sufferers don’t know when the pain will crop up. When it does, a day that might have begun with hope, with sunshine and flowers, with joy in a good, hot cup of coffee or a call from a loved one quickly turns into a struggle to find the steel resolve to cope, once again…to just make it through another day.

Serious illness can strike overnight and quickly rearrange every aspect of life.

I read Floyd Skloot's 1996 book, The Night-Sidewhen it first came out and agree with the reviewer who wrote, "Rarely has so painful a subject—being sick—produced so exhilarating a book. His writing is full of wisdom and panache. He manages to turn physical affliction into literary gold. A series of moving, often hilarious meditations on chronic illness that remind us, in prose that mesmerizes, of the remarkable tenacity of the human spirit." Below are the last lines of Skloot's poem, "Music Appreciation":

  …I may never know what brilliant cell rewrites the entire score my body has followed for life, throwing its symphony into chaos.

It’s somber, but I’m learning to appreciate this new tone, the discordant sound that accompanies vital change.

I was thinking vivace, but find that recovery runs at its own tempo and settle back simply to hear the way my being achieves its harmonies. …

“Revelation, transformation and acceptance,” are the words on a piece of paper torn out of a small notebook I once carried in my purse. The entire 4x6 slip of paper, right out to the edges, is covered with happy faces and twirling doodles. No artistic presence there!

I tried to recall what it was that spurred me to write those words, to embellish that small slip of paper with such childish scrawls. Then I remembered!

Two months before, a friend and I had been together for dinner and then to the theater. We’ve been friends for over three decades and we easily share our thoughts and feelings.

I recall we’d been talking about a myriad of things (as we usually do when we are together). Heading toward her home on this evening, our conversation ended up focusing not on our families or friends, not on the dinner we just enjoyed or the play we’d laughed out way through, but on how we felt about where we were in our lives.

Almost as one, we said we’d recently had a sort of epiphany, or revelation, having to do with the ways in which we’d changed and evolved over the previous many years. We both felt more confident and sure of ourselves even though we acknowledged our physical stamina was not what it had been even five years previous.

As we wove our way through the dark, wet city streets, we spoke of the transformations that had begun taking place in our lives two months prior. 

My friend said she was just now beginning to know for certain that she'd made the right decisions about her marriage and her living situation.  

After leaving a 45-year marriage, my friend and her adult daughter, along with two teenage grandchildren, now share a large, old Craftsman-style home with a lush garden and enough room for the three legally allowed city-chickens. She is on the path to having her second novel published, taking yoga classes and beginning a book club.

Decisions made by the corporate owners of the apartment complex where I've lived for a total of 14 years have forced me to do something I probably should have done years ago and that is to move into a small, less expensive apartment. It has just been so easy to go on year after year, cutting back as necessary in order to keep up with the ever-rising rental rates.  

Of course, I'll keep my part-time job and I will concentrate a bit more on growing my freelance editing business. 

These changes have not come easily for either one of us, but after realizing and accepting that we needed to make some adjustments, we have both transformed our lives.

She called me the morning after our time together to tell me how much she enjoyed the evening. Her voice was calm and soothing and as I listened to her I picked up the piece of paper and a blue marker, eventually writing, “Revelation, Transformation, Acceptance” in florid, curling letters, grinning faces bobbing on the margins.

Dante Alighieri said, “He listens well who takes notes.” I listened and I heard friendship.

*I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.

~James Michener

Monday, June 3, 2013

Going Coastal

At the end of May 2010, due to a few graced circumstances, I joined two friends for a coastal retreat.

Gunmetal gray skies hovered low as we scurried into the warmth of the large, welcoming sea-view home, high above the Pacific Ocean.  Very soon torrential rain slid down the five huge windows in liquid, sensuousness sheets, blurring our vision to the outside.

We are writers of various and varied ilks, interests and levels. We find delight in turning phrases into poetry and honing ideas, research and personal story into historical and narrative non-fiction.

Over these next two and one half days, our focus would be on three areas having to do with the singular mission of perfecting a query letter and synopsis introducing a recently competed historical novel.

The novel’s author dedicated five years to this endeavor and these next steps were crucial. Her family’s serene beach home, tucked against the hillside two hours from Portland, seemed the ideal spot to concentrate on our mission.

Two of us sat side by side in comfortable chairs, reading separate rough drafts of query letter and synopses—concentrating, parsing words and every once in a while voicing an idea for a different phrase or particular word to the other, as in: …how does this sound….? …would this work better here…? …let me read this part to you...

The author sat at a high table overlooking the ocean; her computer open to the manuscript as she continued the heavy and seemingly never-ending work of editing, of perfecting, at the same time alert to our quietly-voiced, intermittent comments a few feet away.

The soft cacophony of the crashing waves and the muted sounds of songbirds provided a soothing background for those six hours as we three wrote, read and concentrated.

The following day presented a blue sky strewn with billowy, cumulous clouds. We worked three hours on the “project” then tucked our writerly work away. 

Soon we were walking along the pristine shoreline. We strolled in communal silence, watched murres swoop the wave crests for food, felt the warming sun on our faces and reveled in the majesty before us.

It’s not unusual for my friends and me to comment on how fortunate we feel to live in this part of the Pacific Northwest. However, walking our beach on this day when it truly seemed all was right with the world, we also felt very, very distressed about the on-going Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster which had begun five weeks previous.

The horrendous environmental damage all across southern Louisiana and down to Florida is beyond heartbreaking.  The devastation to plants and wildlife will continue for untold years.

I am once again appalled at our human avarice, at our inability to live lightly on the planet and at our egotistical audacity. Humans will surely be the shortest lived species--and by our own hand.

“Manifest Destiny” quote, ca. 1840:

It is America's right to stretch from sea to shining sea. Not only do we have a responsibility to our citizens to gain valuable natural resources we also have a responsibility to civilize this beautiful land.

What hubris! Tell me, exactly what is “civilized” about how we are defiling our planet?