daily prompt, Uncategorized

Dividing Lines

I love the internet. I’m fascinated at the new ways to communicate we’ve created, and I love the new forms: emojis, tweets, etc, that have evolved in these new genres.

But I don’t love the unfriending, the unfollowing, the blocking, the snubbing. I don’t mind how they help create a positive space for people, and tools against bullying and harassment, but I do mind how quickly, and thoroughly, they can cut someone out of your life. Someone doesn’t like your political post? Suddenly, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been friends, how many times you’ve exchanged cards or stories of your lives, how much you have in common: that one thing and you’re gone. They hit that unfollow button, and you have POOF disappeared from their world. You no longer exist to them.

It’s like that stupid bully game people played in second grade, where you pretended that you didn’t hear or see a member of your class. They’re invisible as a form of punishment. But when you are a kid playing at that, you still see the person, you still see the hurt. You want to see the hurt.

In this wild world of the internet, though, you don’t even have to see that. You annihilate them from your world. Are they hurting? You don’t need to know or care. Are they wanting to apologize to you for offending? TOO FUCKING BAD, right? Do they not even know they’re being ‘cut’ from your life like this? Sometimes, not at all. They’re found guilty of the hideous sin of having offended you, and there’s no appeals process. You don’t even have the right to face your accuser.

I don’t mean people shouldn’t ever pull the plug on a relationship, but I just…wonder if we could maybe take a look at what we’re doing, what the bar is. Is posting a meme against a politician you like enough to end a friendship? Do you REALLY like your politician better than your friend? (Seriously, if you like a politician more than an actual friend, I wonder how naive you are: Politicians lie! It’s what they do!) Do you really feel so strongly about this belief that rather than try to educate your friend, or appeal to his or her compassion, you’d rather just end things? Really? You care so little about your friend you won’t even put out the effort to sway them?

Who’s the problem, here, again?

But as a result, I’ve become gunshy about a lot of topics. I post nothing political. I never say anything to a friend unless it is relentlessly positive.

And I’m sad, because our friendships have become so fragile–not only does that diminish friendship, it does real damage to the world of ideas.

Let’s face it. I don’t know everything. I have some opinions that are probably wrong and stupid. The whole point of growing in life is outgrowing ideas that no longer suit us, realizing that the things we thought we knew aren’t always good or right or beneficial for a compassionate world. I’d much rather have someone call me out and take the time and energy to teach me, if not to change my mind then at least to be understanding of the other perspective, than be cut out of someone’s life eternally.

And I worry about the echo chamber they’re creating, and how, sooner or later, if they prune this or that person they disagree with away, they will be entirely, and utterly, alone.

Sooner or later, they’d even have to (I presume) have to disavow their former self, their own beliefs they no longer put faith in. That is, if they can even grow in these too sterile environments.

Divide

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secrets, trust and statistical norm.

I saw an article the other day on my twitter feed (I believe) and the gist of it was that young people having secrets is an important part of development toward individuality and adulthood. The gist was that having something to hold back creates social connections (who trusts you with their secrets, who are you not allowed to tell), and that navigating this social web makes us smarter. Additionally, a secret develops an interior life, a thing that exists but is intangible and important.

It’s a nice theory. But the thing with theories is they tend to generalize/averagize us–taking a world view that exists for Joe Average, the Statistical Norm.

There are a lot of secrets we keep because we can’t bear to let anyone know. Because there’s too much ego at stake, too much shame at risk. We can barely admit that reality to ourselves, and there are people in the world who cannot be trusted with secrets. They are the ones with the power to hurt us most.

My mother, to stop talking in generics, does not know about the time I was raped. (No trigger warning: I won’t go into gory details). Why? Because my mother would manage to make it my fault, even this many years later. I did something wrong, something stupid, something to deserve it. And she’d bludgeon me in the now, insisting I lock myself in my house after I get back from work, never go anywhere, especially not after dark. It would cause so many fights that would wear me down, diminish all the work I’ve done to get past that moment, to refuse to let that moment, that bad thing, define me.

Jane Average could tell her mother. Statistical Norma could tell her parents, and get support and help and sympathy, not blame, not recrimination, not guilt. And it is always in the back of my mind, that I can’t do that. That there’s a ‘normal’ way parents should be, and I can never, ever have that. That damages me far more than the actual assault–many–too many!–women get raped, but when you feel you can’t tell anyone about it, even the people who should love you and trust you and support you the most, you feel so suddenly, terribly, awfully alone.

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The intangibles of survival

I’m pretty sure others responding to this prompt are all over the ‘books/waterpurifier/handgun/etc’ lists, and those rock. I watch Naked and Afraid, and that’s the end of my armchair survivalist knowledge, to be honest.

But I’m going to think about the five things you can pack in your body that are essential (in my mind) for survival. Not just in a desert tropical island, but in the sometimes uglier places we find ourselves.

1) ABSOLUTELY the first on the list: sense of humor. Those times in my life when I can’t laugh are the absolute worst. I can make it through anything–anything–if I can find some humor, even if dark, even if bitter. I have had moments in my life where crying has turned to laughter and vice versa–humor is the other side of the coin from the weight of sorrow.

2) Optimism: You have to have hope. You have to be able to look at things and say, yes! I can do this! I can find the good in this situation, or if not the good, then some good. I can find a new story to tell about this. I can make it through and life will be good again.

3) Pessimism: WHAAAT? Yeah, in my mind, seeing the glass as half empty and probably dirty is equal partner to getting through tough times. Being able to foresee the bad things that could happen, that might not happen, that are too ludicrously impossible to happen…is an underrated survival skill. Guessing what could go wrong allows you to figure a way around that wrong, the ultimate If This Then That algorithm.

4) Determination: sometimes Optimism goes on a walkabout, probably looking for that sense of humor up in that coconut tree. For those times, I’ll want my determination, the sheer ability to grit teeth and gut through. As that famous quote goes, when you find you’re walking through Hell, KEEP GOING, so you can come out the other side, is what I’m talking about.

5) Memories. Sometimes in tough situations we lose all sense of proportion, not just of good and bad, optimism and pessimism, but of who we are. When everything is so different from what you’re used to, when you feel unmoored, when that diagnosis or that sudden accident feels like it’s caved the floor in under you, memories remind you who you are, who you were. They remind you you can love, you can be loved. You matter to someone. Your stories, your memories, will be what keeps you warm at night, the light of who you were and who you loved will nourish the part of you no calories can reach.

And, of course, I’d bring my knitting.

Five Items

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Pictures and the other thousand words

There are always the big things you know you’ll miss, so in a sense, you have a chance to prepare yourself, or at least to tell yourself “I saw this coming”; things like a fresh off the line Krispy Kreme doughnut, watching your dog run (as I swear dogs are meant to do) all sleek muscle and bounding legs.

So I think it’s the small things that would devastate me. The things I didn’t see. The things I didn’t think to store up a fresh hoard of memory and sensation about. I might see my last Earth sunset, and say, “This is the last I’ll ever see.” And then I’d store it up, commit to memory as much as I could the play of light and color, the slow encroachment of dusk’s mellowed color, and I’d memorize my loved one’s–their faces, their voices, the silly quirky things they say or do–the way their nose wrinkles when they laugh, the way they spread their feet when they sit.

But the small things, like birds in the morning and the sound of snow….those you can’t prepare for. I remember when I lived in the South and Midwest, how much I missed them. Mourning doves coo differently in the South–a strange syncopation of the oo-oo-oos I grew up with in Yankeeland, or the ‘birdy birdy birdy’ call of cardinals outside my window right now. I’d miss that.

And when I lived in the South, I ached for the sound of snow–not the wet darts of sleet, which was all we got down there, but that dry plush whisper of a sky filled with snowflakes.

Every place has its own sounds: I learned the bullroar of a tornado in Oklahoma, as I learned the howl of a cat-5 hurricane in the South. I learned the laugh of mockingbirds in the South. The arp arp of sea lions on the shores of California and the scent of cypress.

Pictures, they say, are worth a thousand words, and I’m sure I would have pictures and memory, but no device on Earth that I know of can capture the other senses that matter to us–no recorder can catch that snow sound, the way the sky turns pink and bright in a midnight snow, doming the last bit of sunlight in it. I think these other senses–the hot smell of pine needles baking in the South Carolina sun, the salt and sea of Montauk, the vixen scream that woke me up, heartpounding, my first summer here–are the ones I’d miss the most, the every day background noise that we often don’t realize shape and color our lives, until we move from them and feel, even when surrounded by all our STUFF–our books and music and movies, etc–strangely out of place.

Longing for Gravity

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People =/= numbers

I…can’t answer this? I mean, there is no one solid forever here you go answer for it because not all conversations are the same. It depends on what you want out of it.

If I’m spilling deep secrets, I want one person, entirely trusted, because I want to be HEARD. I want my experience listened to, validated, questioned. I want my inner life to be brought to the outer life and acknowledged. Maybe I want empathy. Maybe I want to know if others would see/feel the same thing in the same circumstances. Maybe I want solutions. But I want that one person’s entire attention.

If I’m sharing ideas, I want a million people! Okay, maybe not a million, but when I give a paper at a conference, I want as many people as are interested in the topic to show up and I want them not to hear my ideas, but to listen and then tell me theirs. I want them to use my paper as a springboard, and then we together, in a sense, collaborate in the world of idea making. Because my brain can only come up with so much, and your brain can only come up with so much, but if we pile our amounts together, we create something bigger and more complex and nuanced.

In less formal settings, I like small groups, dinner table sized. Enough that I can speak when I have something worth saying (not often) and that I can be quiet and listen, without feeling the pressure to be ‘on’ or entertaining, where I can focus on hearing others and just celebrate the ways we all came together.

Inner monologue, no. Sometimes I get sick of being in my head. I know these old patterns, these old voices. Oh, there’s that anxiety about money again. Oh great, here comes this trite list of things I need to do today. Oh, there’s that weepy voice whining about my shitty childhood. UGH. Boring! Those voices talk too much. In the case of in my head, fewer speakers the better. Meditation has helped so much with that for me: sit down, let them babble and ramble and freak out and just say ‘well, that’s interesting’ and let it go, and not let that voice take over. Eventually, they quiet down. Eventually, the voices in your head (which are just ego conditioning) fade–just for a second, a few seconds, but it’s enough of a glimpse of freedom to keep you going, and aware that those voices are a cage.

Counting Voices

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On Time and Pace

There have, yes, been times in my life where I wish I could make a moment last forever, or at least a little longer, so I could memorize every detail, across the whole span of senses, so I could wallow in it, feeling the deep riches of the moment.

And there have been times so awful it was almost a physical pain, as I tried to make it through a day in the hospital, hooked up to machines, with just enough awareness over the cloud of pain to feel time dragging itself by like some heavy, grit-skinned worm.

But that’s how life works. One of the reasons the precious moments are so precious is that they are so small and rare, bright flashes like jewels, whose very color and shape, rather than size, give them beauty. It’s the knowing that this beautiful moment will pass–is passing even as you grasp it–that makes them so bright and valuable. If you could live longer in those moments, they’d be as common and everyday as houses, a sort of paper-napkin dailiness.

Humans: we get accustomed to things–good and bad–astonishingly quickly. It’s our species’ gift and curse, I think. Give us good, we will swiftly become used to the good and demand better. Give us bad, and…we’ll find a way to scrape something like a life out of it anyway. It’s what we do, who we are.

I learn as much from each kind–the fast and beautiful moments and the slow and ugly moments both. I’ve learned to appreciate the good moments–there are times now when I can feel one coming, and I’ll look up, and see something that brings me joy and just open my heart to gratitude–whether it’s a quiet sunny morning with coffee and a friend, or looking up from a good book to see my cats around me. I’ve learned that life is beaded with these beautiful moments, even if some of the beads are small.

And from the painful, awful times, I have learned patience. I have learned to endure. I have learned that I am stronger than I think I am–that I have not succumbed to the lick of insanity that fierce impatience brings, and I haven’t dissolved, utterly, into despair.

And like the dark velvet cloth jewelers use to show off a gemstone, those slow, bloaty, dark moments have made the bright ones shine even brighter.

If I’d sped through one, or lingered in the other, I wouldn’t have gained my strength, wouldn’t have learned the compassion and patience, the slow, careful eye one needs to find the tiny gems of everyday beauty.

Pace Oddity

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To the Unsung

Can’t help but notice a sort of nauseatingly positive theme in some of these topics. This one seems particularly odd–why should I post this info here instead of, you know, actually TELL the person? It’s not covert aggressive but it does feel vaguely…subtweety.

Anyway, I’ll switch off crab mode and take a real swing at it.

So, anyone who’s ever just had to use what Deadpool would call ‘Maximum effort!’ to just show up? You’re great. I’m talking to the not bendy guy next to me in yoga class, who shows up week after week, still not able to touch his toes, whose ujjayi breath is more like a waterbuffalo in distress. You’re not bendy, you’re not that girl in front of us, with her clear gymnastics background (look at how she sticks her butt out in serious lordosis when she raises her arms over her head) getting fawned on by all the yoga instructors about how great her backbends are.

You never get told how great your backbends are. But you show up, you do the work. You do it, because unlike Gymnast Butt (who is going to suffer severe issue when she’s our age when those overstretched ligaments age) you face challenge. She likes yoga because it’s easy for her, and she gets praised. You like yoga even though it’s hard as hell for you, and no one ever praises you.

Till now.

I’m also talking to the people with chronic illnesses (can I get a HELL YEAH from Hashimoto’s peeps?!) or depression, to whom just getting out of bed seems…really impossible sometimes, yet you manage to do it. Maybe not gracefully, maybe not skillfully, but you still show up to your job or your classes or for your family. You’re hurting, but you still get done what needs to get done. You don’t get much praise, either. In fact, people might judge your house (not as clean and Architectural Digest ready as theirs) or you don’t look like a supermodel gliding through the day like a stock photo on Lifehacker.

All of you show up. Whether you’re sick, whether you’re tired, knowing you don’t look ‘cool’ doing it. But you do it. And you know, acutely, many people wouldn’t even think this is worth noticing–their life has different challenges so they don’t see that what they take for granted is a challenge to someone else.

That bendy girl might need that praise in her life–that’s not what brings you to your mat. But you don’t judge her because your motives are different. You show up to do your best, and it is your best, even if it’ll never make the cover of Yoga Journal.

And you probably don’t need my praise, either, my appreciation, or notice, come to think of it. But still, thank you for being awesome. Thank you for having the courage to show up, be vulnarable, fight the fight, even when it seems no one cares.

Pat on the Back