psychology

Vulnerability

Apparently, there’s a new movement afoot.    It’s all about the wonders of being vulnerable and in order for the world to continue on its axis, we must all be live and breathe in the suits we wear, purchased at the Vulnerability Shop at the nearest mall.

I don’t get it.

I’ve lived 54 years on this Big Blue glass cat’s eye and I always thought vulnerability was one of the worst words anyone could think, write, utter, use an an adjective to describe a levy, a military position or a person.

Vulnerability means a breach…a breach means weakness and weakness is just a hop, skip and a jump away from full on catastrophe.

Nope, says Dr. Brené Brown, the latest avant thinker on the Oprah Winfrey Shelf Of Iconography.   She’s been a frequent  guest on O’s channel and can be seen  on several different Super Soul Sunday segments.    She’s a human Pez dispenser of tweetable quotes that delight Oprah and sates her audience of the wisdom starved.  brene

As for Brown, she’s a Texas girl, I think.    At least her accent is persuasive.   I do know for a fact that she has Lone Star roots.  She was educated  at the Universities of Texas and Houston, respectively.   She’s a professor of Social Work  at U of H, but I have a feeling that she’ll have her own show on OWN soon.   Oprah has a big ol’ girl crush on this chick.  I’ve seen that look in Oprah’s eye before.   Last time it glistened that way , Dr. Phil’s career was was born.

Anyway, Brown is obviously a clever gal who is likeable once you realize the platform on which she speaks.    She’s also  one of the few scholars around who researches, writes and lectures on the subjects of shame, authenticity and of course,  vulnerability.

Now, here’s the deal with all this:  I actually think I can better understand the psycho/social/political ramifications of the human genome project on  Aloite Muslims who eat pork platters during Ramadan, than comprehend this stuff.

But Brown is growing on me.  According to her curriculum vitae,  has spent more than a decade studying connection – specifically authenticity, belonging, and shame, and the affect these powerful emotions have on the way we live, love, parent, work and build relationships.

Easy enough to comprehend, but why is it hitting me in the forehead and circling there like errant electrons?

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”

― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Yeah, right and all, but how is this mindset any different from that of any other professor cum New Age human guilt remover?

Well, when I did a little digging, I realized that Brown isn’t trying to remove shame from our lengthy lifetime library catalogs of failure.   She wants us to embrace it.     She claims guilt is good and one helluva motivator to ‘stay on track’ because it’s in direct correlation with our behavior.    And providing we’re not sociopaths, we know that guilt rears its little head when we compare something we’ve done—or not done—with our personal values.      Thrill stealing,  eating two pounds of Amedei  truffles in thirty minutes,  cheating on a test,  philandering…. any good Catholic or Jew will tell you  the list of guilt ridden examples is endless.    The deal is, the discomfort it causes can, if we let it,  result in positive changes, namely in how we see ourselves and others.

Brown goes further to explain that there are huge differences between classic guilt and that good oil’ get down dirty shame which she insists is a totally separate emotion.

But wHat’s the difference?

She cites this example:    ” If you made a mistake that really hurt someone’s feelings, would you be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake”?    If you’re experiencing guilt, the answer is yes: “I made a mistake.” Shame, on the other hand, is “I’m sorry. I am a mistake.” Shame doesn’t just sound different than guilt; it feels different. Once we understand this distinction, guilt can even make us feel more positively about ourselves, because it points to the gap between what we did and who we are—and, thankfully, we can change what we do.”

Okay, but wouldn’t we have to be fairly evolved to separate the emotional wheat from the condemning  chaff as soon as its presented to us?

In Laurieland yes—in Brené Brown’s very researched world, no.

She also writes about perfectionism which she claims isn’t at all about  achievement, but rather a   belief that if we live perfectly, look and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame of ourselves and others. But the word perfect is an aberration.

I grew up in a world that was based on  on performance,  the focus was on the outer Laurie and how that reflected on my parents.    Grades, manners, sports, how I dressed,  cheerleading, gymnastics, being popular at school,  being loved by my teachers who because of the small town I called home, had also taught my sisters, most of my cousins, aunts, uncles and my mother and father.     I sought praise from my parents, but that was for naught.  They were withholding, at least to my face.   I’d hear  from other people how proud they were.    I guess they didn’t want to play favorites or fill my head with ego.     So, I went to great lengths to hear I was talented, smart, funny from anyone with a pulse. I didn’t care that my friendships  should have clued me in to the fact that I was a good friend in returned,   that my good  grades reflected my intellect and drive…that a display case filled with ribbons and awards indicated my talents.       I needed a constant flow of emotional recompense from outside sources.

But the reality is I’m hardly alone in this sad pup tent.   I know tens of people, especially around my age who grew up this way and consequently chose careers that were performance based.     I learned early on how rewarding it was to be able to make people laugh.       And I did laugh clown laugh posterthis by going for the laugh regardless of the price.    And make no mistake, there was always a price  in one way or another.    I grew up with this self imposed bounty  on my head.      In  the end, everyone applauded but me.     THINK:   Lon Chaney’s Tito in the 1928 silent flick, “Laugh Clown, Laugh”.      The resulting rush of emotion rush was too short lived.    You can’t give a starving Biafran child a few bread crumbs every other day and expect her to be sustained.

The one positive in all this is that   I have learned we evolve from the guilt/shame continuous loop, that plays in our heads. Think of an old flame.     At one time the loss of this person could make you wail like a banshee.    Years later, when you think of him or her,  IF you ever think of him or her, you feel no emotion at all.     You’re over it.   To me, that’s more of a definition of evolution than anything Darwin could present.   In this day an age, it’s all about the emotional  evolution.       I think we all have our personal thoughts on the on the subject that we humans once had  webbed toes, gills, scales and  communicated with the monosyllabic “Ugh”; that subject has grown tired and boring.      Besides, I’m fairly sure Charles Bronson was the missing link.  Call me crazy.    

The emotional spelunking is all we have left.

This is what Brown does, in essence.   She feels if you ask yourself  “How can I improve?” , that’s a form of perfectionism that  keeps  focus elsewhere.      It basically means you’re asking yourself or anyone listening and willing to opine,  “What will they think?”     It’s all part of that perfectionism bugaboo which in the long run, always hampers success and allows entré to a  whole slew of vices and mind screwing negatives.

Like vulnerability.

Ah…okay,   I think I’m getting this, especially when I realize that an earthquake is the planet’s way of letting off steam,   that a hole in a darkened cave  lets light in….and air.     That a castle without its impervious moat and drawbridge and vassals on the rooftops  at the ready with vats of boiling oil ready to spill on marauders who dare get close to the walls,   well…maybe that’s not the best analogy.   But those who breech the castle aren’t always the bad guys.    Sometimes, a battering ram is the only way to enter…

Or exit.

So then, the question beckons:  is imperfection the  only perfect thing we know for sure??

And this intriguing point forces me to think.   We don’t do enough editing or Photoshopping  of  our thoughts.   In fact, we should Air Brush the shit out of them, not for the sake of  rearranging or completely morphing  bad memories into something more palatable, but for the character  these life lessons can build.    Kennedyesque as this might sound,   we sometimes have to do what’s uncomfortable, because it’s the right thing to do.

CASE IN POINT:  

While in college, I was broke.   Couldn’t  even afford the the 15 cent packages of  ramen, the collegiate food staple.   I called my mother, crying, begging for money, embarrassed by  my underemployment and damned tired of the all consuming, relentless classes that were keeping me impoverished.   I was tired, burned out and feeling desperate on many levels.     I asked for cash and she told me no.   Flat out refused to give me a dime. I don’t remember her offering a reason why she refused to help.  She may have given one, but I was too hurt and overwhelmed by feelings of maternal betrayal to have heard a word.     She became the Queen Bitch in my eyes, cruel and heartless.

So, I begrudgingly realized that it was all up to me.  I  came to terms with the reality that I simply had to do survive on my own by doing more in some areas and not as much in others.    I had  to work more hours, study harder, party less, save more by any means legally necessary. For me, that meant collecting aluminum cans along the highway and stomaching the honks and cat calls from passersby.  I had to hock jewelry, I considered  surrogacy for barren couples, for a price,  thought about being  a guinea pig for outlandish medical experiments and getting involved in black market organ harvesting. I didn’t have to do anything unsavory…. I didn’t shrivel up and die.  I learned a great deal about my mother’s wisdom and a lot about myself.

Her response left me vulnerable and that  vulnerability forced to me to go to places I wouldn’t ordinarily go.      And there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, though it took me decades to realize what she did, had actually been a favor. I realized that a little  struggle often  builds character.  Hell, as the late Viktor Frankl who was held for years in a Nazi concentration camp and survived could attest, a lot of struggle can completely alter  perspective and often times, that  turns out to be a good thing—if we allow it to be.    It’s our choice, really.      If misery moves in, we have to decide how to treat it as the roommate from hell.

I still find myself in vulnerable states from time to time,  but that’s only because fear drives it into my life and parks in a red zone with time expired on the meter.     I have a better understanding of the cause and affect of  what vulnerability is...and isn’t....and that’s forcing me to rethink the entire process of rethinking.   I now get it.  Vulnerability is risk…and risk is worth it.    Closed doors, open windows.   Failure often breeds success.      A break up leads to an even more profound relationship.   Maybe we don’t realize any of this  at first, I mean, it’s hard to feel anything beyond the immediate   rage, pain and disappointment , but eventually clarity comes.

It’s like the ironic symbolism involved in removing a blindfold over our eyes after days of being forced to wear one in a room that’s very well lit.     The contrasting brightness  makes you wince, turn your head,  put your hands go up to your the eyes to replace the darkness that you once pleaded to escape, but going back to what’s familiar and dark sure beats the ocular pain and struggle involved in the the readjustment process.  Ma Nature made the eye resilient.    Its very make-up allows us to get used to either the bright sunlight or faded light, after  a while.      And the best thing about being blindfolded–if there is an upside?  If we’re ever kept from the light again,  if we learn from the experience, at least we’ll know what to expect and how to make necessary adjustments if the darkness is prolonged or  when brightness returns.”

And somehow, the light always does.

 

 

REFERENCES:    http://brenebrown.com/

The Glory of Misery

I have strange childhood memories.    

We were on the membership roster of a swimming pool that was open the day school let out for the summer and closed a few days before it started back up in the fall.   It was private,  which in the South Central Texas parlance of the time (it was the early 1960’s) meant whites only.

The founding fathers of this aquatic club decided that for safety’s sake and insurance liability, children under a certain age had to be accompanied by a parent.   If and when they passed a swimming test administered by a certified lifeguard (usually a High School coach needing extra cash during the summer or some acne riddled jock who needed to work but the area’s only other employment option for teenage boys–hauling hay–simply wasn’t an option.

For you urbanites, that mean physically moving large bails of hay from either one side of the farm or ranch to the other side…or….taking it to market.   Either way it was grueling work.   Hot, exhausting and thankless, but it kept the jocks in shape and well-tempered for the dreadful pre-season two-a days (football practice) that invariably came with playing  high school football.    Being a lifeguard and sitting in a chair under an oversize beach umbrella, smelling of Coppertone to high heaven and occasionally blowing  a punitive whistle at  young hellions like little Kenny Whozits for dunking little Cindy Whatzits near the deep end, was a glorious alternative.

I can remember taking a break from swimming and sitting in this covered alcove where the parents would sit.  It was composed of moms mostly.  Some came to the pool to sit and watch their kids; others turned it into a social hour and smoked, drank Tab and gossiped.  Others would come for a little quiet reading.    Back then, the books that fashionable literates brought with them to the pool  were “I’m OK; You’re OK” and “Jonathon Livingston Seagull”.   There might have been an occasional “Love Story” or “Gone With The Wind” in the line-up, but I remember the two a fore mentioned titles the most.

One of the books had what my grandfather would have called “one of damned them hippie peace signs” in the letter “O” of the OK in the title.    Decades later, I Googled the book to find out what was offering so many moms a literary reprieve from mothering.

Interesting.

As best I can tell, “I’m OK; You’re OK” was really,one of the very the first widely accepted books about a subject that now seems so ridiculously cliché and panel guest-like on the  Dick Cavett Show:  getting in touch with your inner child.  

I don’t mean to be condescending.  It’s just that the term is–or rather was– so hackneyed.   To be fair, I have NO DOUBT  at all that what we learn as children, be it good or bad, has a definite impact on adulthood–as long as it doesn’t become a panacea for every issue once we put away the dolls and Tonka trucks  and sprout pubes.   We can blame some things ( in some case, many things) on what we experienced as kids, but to make  a bad childhood a blanket excuse for every adult problem is conveniently irresponsible.

I’m not saying this is what author, Dr. Thomas Harris implied in his pages.   In all honesty, I’ve only skimmed the book.  I’m merely talking about the nonsense left by the others who took  the transactional therapy ball and ran with it,  all the way to the bank.

As for the other book?  Well, as a kid I had no idea why any adult would want to read about the antics of a seagull.  I’d spent time on the Texas Gulf Coast.  I knew what these birds were all about.  Seagulls were nothing more than airborne shit dispensers.     I also noticed that it was written by someone named Bach.   That stood out to me.  At the time, I was taking piano lessons and learning to play a few minuets that perhaps a distant relative might have composed.

In a nutshell, the  book is about growth.   Jonathan is a gull who’s passionate about flying.

Okay.

He goes to great lengths to learn the math of the talent nature gave him but apparently, his fellow birds don’t appreciate his zeal for the craft.   He’s deemed an outcast and heads out on his own, only to two other gulls who teach him a bunch of existential stuff and flight basically, becomes this homily for change and personal growth without the guilt.    Wow, a self-help book with anthropomorphic whimsy.

Man, you gotta love the 60’s.

Bach’s follow-up to the avian  tome, is Illusions: Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.  It’s also about change and learning and the teachers in our lives who help us accomplish this feat.   In this book,  Bach writes a great line:

Trouble is inevitable; misery is optional

I’ll take it one step further.  Misery  is a state of suffering to be sure, but it’s also a very attractive one.  No, not in the way like a pleasing personality  or a great sense of humor is.  It’s  attractive in a negative way. It draws attention.    I mean, think about it,  when we’re miserable, two things happen.  We’re abandoned because misery requires an emotional investment with which to contend…

OR….

The sympathetic people in our realm with go all Florence Nightingale and  feel sorry for us; take care of us.  They’ll bombard us with welfare calls, texts and emails.    We’re treated with kindness because no one wants to add insult to injury.  And this emotional gravy train runs along quite smoothly—-for a while anyway.    Some sad sacks will milk this for all its worth, buy eventually, that has to change.   He/she will have no choice . Misery might love company, but if a miserable person  makes the company miserable, the sources of all that attention, will go away and stay away.   Like the plague.  Dealing with/coping with a miserable person on a continuing basis takes an investment few people are willing to make.   Hell, even the guy  or gal in abject misery eventually has a tough time stomaching himself.

While growing up with had a devoted Cocker Spaniel mix named Frisky.   Wonderful dog who in late 1972, developed renal failure.  While my sisters and I were at school, my father decided that was the best time to “put Frisky out of her misery”.   She was buried in a far corner of the yard.     I can still get misty eyed at the thought at that sweet four-legged soul despite the fact that she’s been gone almost 42 years.

I had a cousin who had a genetic ailment. She died recently after years of dealing with so much pain.   She was a sweetheart of a girl, but she suffered terrifically.   Many have said that her death puts her in a better place; she too is  ‘out of her misery”.

I’m in complete agreement.   Especially where physical maladies are concerned.  Towards the end, my dog…..my cousin had no life.  Spiritually speaking, a beating heart  and respirating lungs don’t  constitute living.    Life is in the details; details  that go beyond oxygenated blood flow and brain waves.

By their deaths, are these loved ones  in a better place?   I don’t know.   Medical science and logic make every effort to assure me it means  they;re definitely not in pain.   That’s comfort for the living.

But there are aspects of mental/emotional suffering that I feel can be a positive experience.    Heartache is a game changer.     It can, if you let it, be a portal to some rock solid changes.  It can make you more self-aware;  it can break down barriers that have kept negative things internalized.    It can make us more empathetic;  hone our emotional  survival skills and can be one helluva wisdom inducer.   Reformed miserables (please re-read with a French accent) are some of the wisest people I know.

The results derives from bouts with human suffering, especially from heartache, is a lot like disaster science.   For example, we learn invaluable information about airplane safety after plane crashes.   Granted, it’s often at human expense, but well, that’s the circle of life.    We live, we die and somewhere in between that very stark beginning and end, we learn a few things along the way.   Life really is this metaphorical little red school-house.   We’re born (we get up in the morning).   We go to school (we start to grow). We matriculate 12 grades (we learn).  We graduate  (we die)

Some go on to advanced studies.    (Heaven)

Some opt for marriage (Hell)

Come on…I kid, I kid.  No emails or unsavory comments, please.   It was a joke.

Seriously,  my heart aches for all whose hearts ache, but trust me when I tell you that this too shall pass.   Bach, Lakewood megachurch  Pastor Joel Osteen and all the others who’ve made thematic variations  on the “troubles are inevitable/choosing misery or not” bandwagon, are quite right.  The power to decide is yours.

All yours.

But it’s just so goddamn ironic that more often than not, it takes being miserable and ultimately, surviving it to understand that it IS an option.

Live and learn, I guess.

When It “Clicks”

Recently, I wrote about my proverbial “gong moments”, those dalliances with clarity that hit at the damnedest times and invariably shake me to the core.   I love these moments.   Whenever “The Gong of Awareness”  goes off in my head, these  become seminal moments which are almost always life affirming, but they can also be life altering.

I’ve had a few gong moments recently.  I’ve also had a few pertinent clicks.    For me, these stem from two different genuses.  A gong moment usually centers around something personal and psycho-social.   For example:  love, my lack of it and why, accepting change, changing acceptance…those kinds of things.

When something clicks for me,  I realize something about myself physically.   I don’t know why they’re different but for me they are, but they’re similar in that I can actually feel the change they incur and once I feel it, ingest and process it, it becomes part of my reality and therefore, unflappable.   I’m very myopic that way.

Recently, I had a click with regard to my weight, which I am ashamed to say,  had become a problem in the past ten years, due in part to a HORRIFIC relationship with a souless man, one bout with deception that involved someone equally inhuman, several stints of unemployment,  being broke and destitute, having the self-esteem of a mollusk that had been shucked over  AND an overt love of Coke (as in a-Cola) and carbs.    I got tired of my bed being so crowded every night;  I battled for the covers with all those things that frightened me.      And they were always more present and always louder in the darkness of late hours.  

And to make matters worse, I was also lazy.  Gaining weight was tributary that fed my laziness.  And vice versa.  

So I spent a decade feeding my fears only to emerge  as the reigning Queen of Cortisol.   This gross, gelatinous subcutaneous expanse became a most unwelcome squatter that settled around my tummy and mid-section then sent word to all its friends and relatives to move to the same “Promise Land”.   There was also fertile ‘ass land’ that was up for grabs.

I was like this short, squatty 19th century Oklahoma with blond hair  (OK, that might seem an odd thing to say but there are History majors reading this who are laughing their sphincters to the point of prolapse).

I’ve made several attempts to lose tonnage before after I had what I’ll call ‘snaps’, which are baby clicks that came on strong but had no staying power.    The  big click for me, the one that resonated and spurred me on to action came from a lowly ER physician. 

.

BACK STORY

I had broken my shoulder in a car accident 20 years ago and because of other, more serious injuries, my White Coats  discovered weeks later that my right shoulder had been broken and was already in the process of healing AND healing all wrong, might I add.  It’s been my intention to have surgery on it to fix it because it hurts terribly, but well, after all the corrective surgeries I’ve had, I just didn’t want to endure another one.

Fast forward to late December 2010.  I’m putting on my bra one morning, I hear a snap and feel a searing pain–I cracked my shoulder.  It hurts, I cry plaintively…my running mascara practically drives me to an emergency clinic where I’m examined by Dr. Insert Name Here who said my right shoulder appeared to be swollen though it was hard to tell since I was  “so chunky”.

Chunky….an adjective used to describe peanut butter, various ice cream flavors and one nasty tasting candy bar infected with raisins.

That’s when it hit me.  

.

CHANGING MY FATTITUDE

It hit me that I was going to be 52 in a few months and I was fat…overweight….portly….jolly….chunky.   And nothing in  my life was going to change unless I changed my life.

So, I went on a self-improvement binder and not just going through the motions, I altered my belief system.  And that made ALL the difference.   At the risk of getting all Wayne Dyer and Marianne Williamson on you, My thoughts became my actions.  Armed with this, I then made every attempt to separate my emotional wheat from my cognitive chaff and part of that included a permanent separation of adipose from my body. 

This weight supplied  better defense than NATO.  It  was a wonderful buffer between me and all of life’s perceived complications, you know those horrible things we run from: love and relationships, happiness,  fulfillment and feeling good and positive about oneself.Yes,   sometimes, we run from good things.  Silly, but for the emotionally fragmented, happiness is a lovely concept only.   For it to be real would take a lotta work.

And I’ll share something else with you;  something I’ve always heard, but only recently learned:  once you make a real attempt to straighten up your life, you open yourself up to opportunities.   And they literally come out of the woodwork.   I don’t know why there’s a correlation but there is. Maybe it’s more mind control and manifestation that even I’m aware.  Then again, perhaps it’s finally just realizing that your life isn’t working and once that happens, it’s easier to squelch the inner demons,  relinquish some aspects of control, you finally learn to surrender to a power bigger than yourself and of course, you learn to curse the French for inventing the word “sabotage”.    Then you teach yourself to praise the language that was/is  Middle English for deriving  the word, “healing”.

There’s a tremendous amount of personal responsibility involved with these “clicks” and allowing them to adhere. I say that because change is indeed a conscious decision.  And part of that involves understanding the duopoly that’s at work here:  the chubby person on the outside and the one that reigns supreme in your head.   A fat minded person can spend 20K on a gastric bypass and an extra 10K on lipo to jump-start the process, BUT….if he or she is still fat minded, it won’t matter one damn bit what happens on the outside.   Getting sucked, tucked…folded…whatever, it won’t matter.   Until that drastic click is heard, felt, FULLY BELIEVED, then acted upon, the fat will return.   It’s an age-old story….

But one that for me, has mercifully, thankfully ended. 

I’ve lost 31 pounds in 35 days.  

I won’t bore you with details, but I’m under a doctor’s care and I’ve learned so many things.  I look at food so differently now and the resulting transformation is as much internal as external.  I can now see the error of my ways and the behaviors and motivations that lead me down a path of self-destruction.  I know the difference between feeling hungry and feeling empty.   I know now that a pizza isn’t sanctuary, and stretch pants with an elastic waistband only rewards self-destructive behavior.   I have deduced that my weight is not a trade-off  that makes tolerable all those feelings of sadness, failure, disappointment or loss.  It only exacerbates those feelings which become comfortably habitual after a while.   

I have changed.   

And that has helped make me living proof of the immortal, Victor Frankl’s adage: 

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves

Really, what other choice did I have.  And that begs the question, what other choice do you have?

In closing, I absolutely LOVE saying that soon, you’ll be seeing far less of me.   Proof of that in the form of “Before and After photos” are forthcoming.

Here’s to clicking, ya’ll.    I’d toast it and you with champagne, but it ain’t on my diet.

.

The Who Helps Answer The What

Her life is in a state of flux.   We’re talking changes….BIG CHANGES of the flummoxing variety.    And those who know her and the major transition that awaits her don’t understand why she’s reacting to the situation as she is.   

Her “problem” as they see it,  isn’t one.   It has created a gulf between her and the small circle she calls her friends.  This has left her feeling isolated and very much alone and misunderstood.   

Even so, she got a call recently from a colleague who offered to help.   He wanted to apply some form of Psych 101 to her cause for some unknown affect.   It involved an album, an ancient but still working Kenwood turntable and a darkened living room.

That’s where he had her sit, head down on folded arms on top of the table while he stared at her.   All this as The Who’s “Who Are You” played in the background.  I guess the song was supposed to help her delve into her psyche in an attempt to dislodge whatever burr she has stuck in the in ass of her current mental state.   He kept insisting something about perspective.  

But why The Who?  She HATED The Who and insisted she always had more luck with The Kinks or even Bad Company.

“No!   he insisted.  “This song asks a question that you have to answer.” 

The album spun on the turntable; the audible scratches indicated he’d done this a few times. 

He’d interrupt every once in a while to ask if she was getting “anything relevant” in her head

Suspicion took over and because with her head was down, she wondered if he was grabbing “anything relevant” out of  her purse.   I mean, she didn’t really know him all that well.

No on both counts.

The song droned on and she felt ridiculous.  She allowed another minute to pass, just to be polite.  Then she told him that aside from the arm action giving her poofy bangs, nothing was happening mentally or emotionally and then she asked if she could raise her head.   

“Sure, but the song hasn’t ended.”

“For me, it has.   Sorry, but I don’t think this has worked.  I uh…still have questions!”

As she prepped to leave, she told him that this was just going to have to be one of those things she works out by herself.

“Will you  be okay?”

“I will be.  I always am.”

They made small talk for a few seconds, then she grabbed her purse and headed toward the door.

“Well, thanks for making the effort.  It was worth a try, I suppose.”

“It always helps me.   When I play that song, I can go into my head and everytime–even before it ends,  I know exactly who I am and what I am at that moment.   In fact, I did it as you were listening to it this afternoon.”

She chuckled as she turned away from him,  rolled her eyes, then grabbed the door handle and asked with a slightly sarcastic tone,  “Oh yeah?   Who exactly are you then?”  

He paused a half second and then responded, “I’m your friend. You’re not as alone as you think.”

She stood there briefly and winced a bit as the clarity seized her then turned to tell him,  “Then, I suppose that makes me lucky!”   

The song ended exactly two seconds later.

Simple yes; effective perhaps, but no matter how you look at, this experiment in emotional sensation and response just set gestalt back four decades.

.

Conditioned Behavior

LOCATION:  THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY.

DATE:  RECENTLY

TIME:   5:38 am (CST)

MOOD:  RESTLESS, UNSETTLED.   IN OTHER WORDS, A TYPICAL TUESDAY

I had my hand on the phone, poised to mash those little buttons that I knew by rote.  But I didn’t.   I was battling two entities within.  The old, needy Laurie was resurfacing and that’s what motivated my reach; what fueled my obsession that morning.   But it was the new Laurie who ultimately stopped my nimble fingers from punching the ten digit number that would quell so many fears, but create new ones at the same time.

He’s there and picked up the phone.   Joy.

But he doesn’t sound happy to be talking to me.   Doubt.

And the two cancel each other out. And in the end, you end up with nothing.  

Thank God the New Laurie isn’t going to take that.   I mean, I’m not…..right???

I taught myself how to behave; how to respond.  Damn my infernal ability to self teach!!!!!

I drove back to Houston deep in thought. I don’t remember most of  the drive. I passed by a million random farmhouses and anonymous pasture land. I drove through nondescript towns and when I finally got to Houston, I looked down at the dashboard and realized I had been in a vacuum for the past several hours.  I had just logged well over 200 miles of abject nothingness.  All I had was my odometer to prove that I had been anywhere at all.

I walked in my house, dropped my purse and luggage in the living room floor and kept walking. I went straight to my computer and sat down. I had no idea what I was looking for or what I was hoping to find. Sometimes, I need to believe that answers appear out of nowhere when we really need them.  Well, that and  maybe my Life’s Instruction booklet will finally manifest and show me something of merit.   Maybe enlightenment will come in the form of some anonymous e-mail attachment.

I sat at my computer and went straight to email.  After opening up six missives from some Nigerian lawyer needing the PIN number to my account at the First National Bank of Chad, a feduciary institution of whch I’m decidedly NOT a customer; eight emails about some nasty old cartoon character named Maxine; five asking me if I can see water flowing in a painting by Winslow Homer and three warning me about some new virus or worm thing that if I open it or feed it bread or something, it will give my computer the hi-tech equivalent of human Chlamydia, I decided that email would not be the source of inspiration that I so desperately needed.

I then started Googling things and read whatever popped up.  Lo and behold, I actually found a little gem that struck a chord with me.  And on that day,  I needed something with which to connect.

This woman had written that the circus was in her town and she was driving by and saw several elephants in a parking lot. She noticed that these huge creatures were still and for the most part docile.  All they had keeping them “in line” was an industrial width rope that was haphazardly looped around their feet. There they were, these four huge beasts just standing there tethered together.  Roughly five tons of pachyderm. They could’ve broken free easily, but they didn’t.

Curiosity got the best of her, so she parked her car, got out and asked the trainer how in the world this flimsy rope was keeping these elephants from running away. He told her that these elephants had been raised in a circus environment since birth and had been tied together since they were very young. In the first part of their training, the young elephants tried to break free, but the rope was tied securely to their feet and they were too small and not yet strong enough to break free. So, then the rope just became part of their conditioning.

Conditioning.

In short (and in the most clinical terms I could find on ye olde Intrawebsphere), it is the following:

  • Linking neutral stimulus with pleasant event/feeling –> positive preference
  • Linking neutral stimulus with upsetting event/feeling –> aversion or bias
  • I know a little bit about conditioning.   I am going through a varied form of it now.   Additionally, I have decided at this ripe old age that I currently find myself enduring, that I live my life in two different ways almost simultaneously.   I suffer with ICPS or Incessant Pavlovian/Capravian  Syndrome, which often strikes at Christmas and oddly enough, at dinner time. 

    For example:  every time I hear a bell ring, I am on one hand, salivating profusely and absolutely JONESIN’  for some kibble.

    I know…odd, right?

    Then at the same time, a the sound of a bell makes me think that somehow, somewhere, an angel is getting his wings!

    ;

    Or is it…everytime an angel orders chicken wings, a bell rings???

    I never can remember which axiom is which.

    But the point is, we’re creatures of conditioning.  We exhibit trained responses and it doesn’t take much to make us associate certain sounds or tastes or sensations with positive or negative responses.

    Here’s a prime example from one enterprising Freshman psych student at Bowling Green.

    And then if my mother’s conditioning efforts to  turn me into a quivering heap o’human  flotsam with a touch  of neurosis thrown in for good measure, weren’t bad enough, check out what the Stanford Prison Experiment was all about.

    So, then is it safe to assume that hierarchy allows the inherent evil in man to spew forth? 

    In every scenario, there are good and bad scenarios; good and bad apples found in the same barrel.    We hear about sadistic prison guards; there are the good ones, too.   We’re read stories about kind, compassionate army corporals who feed a starving enemy combatant with a war waging a few miles away.  We hear about evil, angry pimps who rule with an iron fist…and cane,  and hold dominion over their human merchandise, the proverbial whores with the hearts of gold.   Well, the hypothesis deduced in the Stanford study basically stated the apples were good and the barrel was bad.   Good people turned bad because they were given a little bit of power over a powerless few.

    And look what happened.  Conditioning  occurred on both sides of the psychological fence.   Dare I say it even teetered on the evil.    Yes, evil.  It’s in the world, you know.

    From where does it stem?  How does it emerge to prominence?

    • mindlessly making the first strike; acting first
    • dehumanizing others in an attempt to ascend to the top of the hierarchy
    • diffusion of responsibility
    • blind obedience

    But let’s get something straight – understanding evil is not excusing it.  We want and need to understand why people are evil so we can avoid designing and maintaining systems that create and promote it.   We want to build societal models that make it easier  for people to demonstrate heroism.

    Ultimately, in the Stanford Prison Experiment, there was only one “hero”.  It was a woman who repeatedly begged coordinator Zimbrano to stop the experiment.  He didn’t, but he considered her to be his hero for at least trying to stop that madness.  They married  a year later.

    Heroes are different things to different people.  I guess heroism is too.   A few years ago, New Yorker, Wesley Autrey  became known as the “Subway Samaritan” for saving the life of a 20-year-old film student who suffered a seizure and fell onto the tracks.   Autrey jumped down and pulled the man to safety.   And this happened in a city that produced socialized apathy that was allegedly in the Kitty Genovese murder case.  Remember that?  A young girl was murdered in her Queens neighborhood and a countless number of people saw and heard the attack , supposedly, did nothing to stop it.   The case soon became known as the definition of apathy. 

    There’s been plenty of speculation that the Genovese murder didn’t exactly go down as the spectator sport the media inferred that it was.  Frankly, I have no doubt that the case was sensationalized…even the The Times needs sell papers,  but it’s still hard to shake that mindset that (especially before 9/11) NYC was comprised of a cold, aloof citizenry that could turn a blind ear and eye to a young woman being stabbed repeatedly in the streets below. 

    But Autrey’s actions drew applause, even from a jaded populace.  When asked why he did it, he replied,  “I did what anyone could do, and what everyone ought to do.”  He was taught (read: conditioned)  by solid parents who taught him right from wrong and instilled in him decent values.

    After the story broke, media attention rapidly spread. By the end of the next day, Autrey received a flood of gifts and phone calls of praise from complete strangers. He received $5,000 cash and $5,000 in scholarships for his daughters; $10,000 from Donald Trump. He was interviewed for several national morning news programs and was invited to be a guest on Letterman and Charlie Rose among others.   He received a trip to Walt Disney World and on Ellen’s Show, he was given a $5,000 Gap gift card, tickets and backstage passes to a Beyoncé concert in New York, season tickets to the New Jersey Nets,  a signed jersey from Jason Kidd, a brand new Jeep Patriot, two years’ of car insurance from Progressive and a one-year free parking pass for use anywhere in NYC. His daughters were given new computers .

    On January 4, 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Autrey with the Bronze Medallion, the city’s’ highest award for exceptional citizenship and outstanding achievement.  He was also the focus of part of President Bush’s State of The Union Address in which he received a standing ovation.  

    But sadly, warm, fuzzy stories have a shelf life.    A few months later Autrey hired a Hollywood agent….who he eventually sued for breach of contract or some typically tawdry Tinsel Town nonsense.   Autrey went Hollywood and ultimately, Hollywood didn’t want him.  

    Not even a real, by God hero.  

    Yet Jared from Subway is heralded for eating sandwiches and Angelina Jolie is deemed a spectacular mother, even though her only claim to cooking dinner is dispensing week old toaster shakins on paper towels for little Maddox, Zahara, Pillsbury BirdsEye Boyardee, Fort Sumter Jr.,  Electro Magnet Lou,  Liberiana Tankerella TzeTze Anne (nicknamed “Hank”), Stillwell Clovenhoof and the rest of the crazy ass melanin mismatch she calls her family.

    Fame.  Ain’t it a bitch?  

    .

    Of Mice and Menopause

    psychology.jpg

    Mens, ya’ll don’t know how lucky ya’ll is.

    Yall’s lucky NOT to go through the debilitating pain and inconvenience of a monthly menses. 

    Lucky in that you DON’T have to endure a painful and emotionally erratic apogee and perigee that is the cessation of that monthly menses.

    Our bodies break down.  Male…female…it always happens regardless of gender and there’s never any dignity in this process.    Women though (and I say this because I am one) have it tougher.   Sorry, but on this I will not negotiate.  And I say this as my self-esteem and boobs race to head south first.   I accept this, therefore I don’t mind being the age I am, I just don’t like the aging process or how I got here physically.   It’s like the difference between death and dying.  

    So, for a middle-aged woman,  menopause is an unavoidable fact of life.   That doesn’t mean I have to like it.  In fact, I hate the emotionalism of menopause.  Sometimes, I think when we women are in its throes, we’re certifiably crazy.   I can honestly look back over the last few years, especially since my once fertile ovaries now only produce powdered eggs, and I know I’ve demonstrated full on lunacy from time to time.   Real Francis Farmer shit, too.

    But it’s the fact that I bounced from bat shit crazy to relative sanity on my own that confounds me.  No pills, no weekly visit to the man with the office filled with naugahyde couches and boxes of Kleenex everywhere. 

    So, is this the norm?   And if it is the norm, what exactly is it supposed to be?   And in the midst of menopause is there such a beast as normalcy in the truest sense???? 

    Can a therapist (or an endocrinologist or ob/gyn) tell you what’s normal and what isn’t, based on what text books taught her? 

    I mean, have you ever actually listened to therapists trying to out shrink each other?   Have you ever seriously listened to them as they talk about mundane things outside of their field? As God as my witness, if they use the word “narcissist” once to describe someone, they use it a MILLION times. I think  over heard a bevy of them in a supermarket once, use that word to describe a squash.

    What the Freud??

    I’ve dabbled in comedy and humor all my life. People have asked me, “Hey Laurie, are you funny all the time?”

    No.   I’m rarely funny when I’m funny.   But I would think it’s probably hard for someone in the mental health profession to stop being in the mental health profession even in their throes of their private lives. The attitude, the knowledge, the training is pervasive, I would imagine.

    I thought about becoming a psychologist briefly in High School. I conned my mother into getting me a monthly prescription to Psychology Today. It bored me. Cognitive this…and cognitive that.

    Snore.

    I then took three hours of psychology in college. I don’t remember much about the course other than the day we discussed libido and even that’s hazy.

    Snore, then a prominent tongue smack followed by a lip flubber.

    But when a relationship blew up at the same time my TV career imploded in the late 80’s, I started seeing a an analyst on a regular basis. He was Rogerian in approach. Very patient centered. Everything I said, he followed up with his patented, “And how did that make you feel?”

    Snore, lip smack and a rip of sleep induced flatulence–the kind that can flutter a top sheet.

    I answered him, because well, Laurie Kendrick ALWAYS had an answer, but I never told him what was really bothering me. I was still such a ridiculous people pleaser back then. I actually wanted him to like me.  Like that mattered.  I was paying the man to listen to me for God’s sake.  How counter productive is that?

    I left after two months and had nothing to show for it..

    I was in search of a Freudian because I knew for a fact “mommy” was involved and I felt I needed someone with clinical chops to back me up.   As it turned out, I was right. The Freudian was who and what I needed. Interesting, too. He was great at interpreting dreams and he also introduced me to the Repressed Laurie.

    I loved therapy because it allowed me to talk about me. At the time, I’d just gotten back in to TV news and had spent a career interviewing others, reading what others had written and being forced to act a certain way for the sake of the almighty ratings point.    I pushed the envelope, but I never shoved it.  

    Repression and my recognition of it became HUGE in my life.  My therapist helped with that and then I started to doubt his ability to help me, personally.   I felt I needed more than just recognizing certain emotional inequities within me.   My abandonment issues always kicked and negated whatever progress I’d made.   Those feelings ALWAYS came to the forefront whenever he looked at his watch and said “That’s all the time we have for today”.    So,  I left. Guess he got too close. Or I got too close to something.   Psychologically, I needed to have issues back then.  Sometime we create neediness when we need neediness.  The assertive neurotic is a much more efficient pysch patient.   

    Then, during another dalliance with shrinks in the mid 90’s, I had one very forward thinking therapist who sent me to a psychic, because I felt hopeless. He said I needed “psychic therapy”. I got more out of the psychic. She told me that a man with brown hair, two daughters, and odd last name and this inexplicable need to spend a lot of time in airports would soon be coming onto my romantic horizon.

    And then after seven of the worst years of life with a pilot with the morals of flagella, I went…nay, I ran back into therapy again.

    So, once back in the world of rhetorical queries and tears,I felt OK again.    I stayed with this particular unorthodox shrink the longest. I liked him, but he had strange eyebrows that would change shape with every expression he’d make. It got to the point that I would sit there, look at him and see Rorschach images in those ever-changing eyebrows of his.   If that wasn’t strange enough, he also had some rather odd precepts about love, sex and reasoning.   

    Can you say “Rollo May”?

    I never cried much during my sessions with this particular therapist and I actually had much to cry about. The tears just wouldn’t flow–not in session anyway. I’m not sure why.

    In fact, I’m not sure why we cry at all.

    tear.jpg

    But we do.

    I cry a lot.  Lately, I’m damned effusive about it.  It takes little to set me off–Folgers coffee commercials; an AARP spot.   Those damned Geico ads.

    Those damned hormones: 

    MY FINAL THOUGHT:

    I think I might get back into therapy again. I feel the need.   So, enjoy the fruits of my emotional fragmentation.  I think you’ll absolutely HATE my posts if I ever get mentally/emotionally healthy.   But don’t worry;  I’m far from that.  In truth, I’m feeling a little anxious abnd beyond that,  mentally occluded lately.   Life doesn’t feel as it if fits.  Something is askew; out of place.  Maybe it’s me in a nutshell.    

    If you read a recent post of  mine which outlined a very dysfunctional relationships  with the woman whose birth canal I once traversed,  then you  know I must do what needs doing in terms of self help.  If I seek it,  I hope I can find a nice Rogerian therapist again.  I don’t think I gave the first one much of a chance. Besides, when this new one asks how things make me feel,  these days, I’ll have a hell of a lot more to tell him.   I’ve learned how to master sustaining anxiety and self loathing in recent years.

    Speaking of….

    “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”.

    –Kierkegaard

    “It’s called “Ativan”,  Soren.   Might I suggest you try one!”

    –Laurie Kendrick

    cv

    Life Called On Account of Cruelty

    .

    I’ve noticed that several people have tried to find my blog by looking up “weekend trip to the Texas Hill Country by Laurie Kendrick”.

    Now, this concerns me because I actually went to the Hill Country to see family, but very few people knew about it…save for family.  

    My mother turned 80 several days ago and celebrated it at my sister’s palatial estate this weekend.  Interesting weekend.   I have never felt more distant from my mother.  Why the chasm?   I’m single and an easy target for a mother who is a bitter, angry woman.  A midlife divorce left her reeling and she hasn’t been the same since.  My father was henpecked and nagged.   He only grew a spine long enough for the time it would take to avoid her while running to the back door to get into his truck to go play golf, or hunt…I even think he took up bowling….maybe even competitive midget tossing…ANYTHING that would get him out of the house and away from her.  He ruled the Kingdom of Avoidance.

    My two sisters and I weren’t so lucky.   We couldn’t flee her dungeon of dysfunction and that meant  she had three prime scapegoats in the form of little girls who after a while,  believed that we were in fact, the worthless, lazy sloths who would never amount to anything, that she said we were.   That insertion of her reality was usually punctuated with something physical.    And when you’re told you’re an idiot with a slap,  after a while it’s hard to separate the two different kinds of pain created.

    Children can’t sit there and rationalize an insane situation.  We don’t determine culprit and victim.  We didn’tunderstand the pathology of a narcissist.   Or what makes a sociopath, a sociopath.   We just heard what our mother called us, accused us of, condemned us to.   And we bought it.  I mean, it was our mother was telling us these things.  We were taught to believe what she told us.

    And as in years passed, my mother said some extremely cruel things to me this weekend, but this time, they were extreme.  She said things about me, within ear shot that devastated me; things that struck my core.   Painful things.   To the general public, I’m a crusty old broad who like the Moorish “El Degüello” that Santa Ana made famous by having a bugler play before decimating the Alamo, I never take quarter.   But to me, I am nothing but this mad woman’s youngest daughter who after a weekend with her, feels emotionally drawn and quartered.   

    You have to understand that the hardest thing I have ever done (and trust me,  I have lived a life rife with difficult endeavors) is to be her daughter.   This weekend, it was difficult simply co-existing with her on the same acreage.

    Everyone who knows her and can see through the facade and acknowledge the abject lunacy that’s pervasive, will tell me to consider the source.  She nuts…leave it at that.  Then, there are those that go the ecclesiastical route and say forgive her.  She’s your mother and deserves your honor, love and respect. It’s written on The Tablets.

    Nah…..

    Hers is a world molded by economic depression, World War II, post war nuclear families, early marriage, and basic education for women who have always known their place…whatever that is..   

    My world wasn’t like that at all.  My hardships were her residual ones, the ones she refused to let go of and could only be happy if she could make someone else unhappy. 

    And like her, I am full of self-doubt and conflict.   Insecurity.   It’s a Kendrick woman’s kryptonite.      

    At the party, I looked at my mother and had no idea who she was.  I was looking at a virtual stranger.  This woman is a joy to others.  They see that persona;  the outward one that’s lovable and funny…that gives a damn about public image.   When people make that comment to me–that she’s adorable and such a riot,  I have no clue who they’re talking about.    I only knew a woman who was mean and petty; abusive and intentional with her inflictions.    And that woman who both scared me and scarred me is now  old and tottering.    She looked faded; like this human sepia toned photograph taken by Matthew Brady and one that was tattered by time with its edges crinkled and curled up.  Her skin looked  opaque and thin; like rice paper;  the kind you see encasing a PF Chang Spring Role.   Her eyes were very much alive at times, then completely vapid at others.    She was so old.  Even beyond her 80 years.  

    What time hath wrought.

    Then I looked behind the withered skin.  I realized that my mother doesn’t like me and then I realized that I didn’t like my mother.  We haven’t liked each other for a long time.  I don’t know if we ever liked each other.   We went through perfunctory motions that were true to our roles–as my mother, she fed me and made sure I was clothed.   As her child,  I spray painted elbow macaroni gold and made her a necklace, but it never really got beyond that.    I am sure she had it tough growing up too.  her mother comes from a family of well….whackos.  

    By the time I was in high school, her illness was getting more obvious and more sinister as symptoms go.  I fought this admission for the longest time and instead of confronting her issues and understanding them (true, I was young at the time, but old enough to grasp human frailties and their symptoms)  I allowed it make me feel lesser as a person because like my friends and then later, my suitemates in college, I didn’t have a kind, loving mother who hugged instead of found fault.  Our dynamic was so different.  Cold and aloof.

    She in turn raised a daughter that  really doesn’t know love…not the way she should. 

    Love.  Seeking it has been a vision quest of mine for as long as I can remember.   I must have always been keenly aware of its absence in my life; even before I was cognizant of the fact.    And in this search for it, I’ve made plenty of mistakes.  I accept responsibility for those, but if I’m to be honest, what’s the source of this desperate need? 

    This void, I suppose,   is common among children of children of the Depression.   The Greatest Generation?  According to Brokaw, yes.   Hardly the greatest parents.  Perhaps they had no choice.   They lived through hardships and global conflicts that resulted in unspeakable horrors and change.  After that, they lived in an iconic post-war America that was more surreal and scripted than anything else.  They had the Hays Commission and social mores that were imposed and so often, these were in direct conflict with their very own, very real human need and desires.    How conflicted they must have felt.

    And how restrictive their lives were.  They had traditional roles and the stress to maintain them was ubiquitous.  s.  Dads were the bread winners and the masters of their domains–smart, brilliant problem solvers, while women were mothers  who gave birth and nurtured.  They were homemakers, who cooked, cleaned, kissed our booboos and referred everything else to dear old dad.   Women in the 50’s and 60’s were even more restricted.   From their  girdles, to their housedresses to their weekly Beauty Parlor’d coifs.   I could never have lived like that…even if living like that were the norm. 

    It is said the parents whose procreation gave rise to the boomers and hippies,  in general wanted more for their kids.

    More of what, then?   My father isn’t in my life.  He lost his mind and his family during their nasty divorce and had to be tragically extricated from my life,  for both of our sakes.  His absence and her pervasive, relentless presence in my life, has made me who and what I am.  But I assure you,  I’ve not been perfect and I know my attitude and distance (even if both have been a direct response to the abuse I endured) have helped contribute to my laundry list of paternal relationship problems.  I made horrific choices.   I reacted instead of acted. I shouted back when I should have allowed a cooler head to prevail.   But here’s the deal:  In spite of everything, I’ve never stolen anything when I had the cash.   I’ve never just decided to be angry out of boredom and sadly, I don’t think I ever drank because I liked the taste.  

    Why then?  How?

    These admissions aren’t poster children of blame.  They’re simply explanations; my way of seeking an explanation, anyway.     And in that process of taking inventory in my warehouse of gray matter, I have discovered that I’m a by-product of the worst kind of complex, carbon-based “creationism”.   I guess in the grand scheme of things; Frankenstein had his monster, Henry Higgins his Pygmalion and Mama Kendrick has Laurie. 

    I wish things were different.

    ./