psychology

A Conversation With My Mother

8:23 AM Saturday

(the phone rings; I know who it is)

LK: Hello Mother

Mother: Well, three cheers for caller ID!

LK: Nope, I knew it was you.

Mother: How?

LK: The phone started weeping.

Mother: Oh my, my! Now, that’s cute AND funny. Score one for my youngest daughter.

LK: How are you?

Mother: Concerned.

LK: About what?

Mother: You, mostly.

LK: And to what do I owe this maternal display?

Mother: You’ve got a birthday coming up soon and I’m a little worried about your current situation.

LK: Mother, I’m fine. You have nothing to worry about.

Mother: But you’re not working!

LK: Yes I am. I’ve got about three separate and very steady free lance writing gigs!

Mother: Those aren’t real jobs.

LK: Mother, they are real jobs and they pay me well. Your problem is that you don’t understand the concept of freelance. Just because you don’t understand what I do, does not negate the legitimacy of what I do.

Mother: You work from home; you have no interaction with co-workers, no benefits and I know for a fact there are time when you work wearing a T-shirt with no bra and shorts.

LK: That’s on a good day!

Mother: That shows you have no self-respect.

LK: But I’M WORKING IN THE PRIVACY OF MY OWN HOME!!!!!!!!!

Mother: That doesn’t matter. You should live graciously. I bet you eat straight off the stove.

LK: When I cook, yeah..I do, sometimes.

Mother:    That’s absolutely barbaric. And I bet when you order out or have something delivered you probably eat on your bed or on the sofa in front of the TV?

LK: Yep.

Mother: Well, I don’t. I prepare myself three square meals a day and when I eat, I sit down at the dining room table and I use my good china and a linen place mat and napkin. After I walked out on that sperm donor I call your father….

LK: He left you.

Mother: That’s always been just  a rumor. Anyway, when I left him, and again….when I did,  I made a vow that single life wouldn’t prevent me from living a good life. You should do the same.

LK: Our lives are completely different, Mother.

Mother: Yes–in that I have one and you don’t!

LK: Funny, but I see that in reverse. At least I’m trying to do something with my life.

Mother: I resent that.

LK: And I resent that you’re implying that I’m a lesser human because I do  things differently. .

Mother: But well, itscobvious in some ways you’re obviously not happy.

LK: No I’m not! I don’t even know where you’re getting this. I’m perfectly okay.  I just don’t live conventionally–but that’s according to you….

Mother:   You just said okay.    Not happy and  that’s what concerns me. You’re going to be ____ years old. And you’re not married and…

LK: And Mother, do not finish that sentence.

Mother: Yes I will. I WILL finish this sentence and many others before we end this conversation. You have to face certain realities, Laurie. Thirty years ago you’d either be considered a closeted lesbian or an old maid. Both if you lived in New York.

LK:  What?   Why New York?

Mother:  Don’t  interrupt.   You’re not as young as you used to be. In fact, the odds are stacked against you. As it is, I read recently  that a woman like stands a better chance of being strangled by red-headed Lithuanian terrorists at a Latvian tampon factory on. Thursday afternoon during a hail storm as opposed to  than finding a suitable companion, much less a man to marry.

LK: That sounds oddly specific.

Mother: Well, it’s true. And I’m getting older too and I’d like to exit this earthly plane knowing you’re fine and will be in good hands after I’m gone.

LK: I am fine, Mother.   I’ve bought a car, a house…I’ve even travelled to that  opinionated, anti-single woman place called New York you speak of.   And I’ve been there alone…many times.

Mother:   You just answered you’re own question.    You went there alone.    Look, just aim higher.  Get  a real job with  an office and a security badge and benefits.

(I frantically shove a bite sized mini-Baby Ruth in my mouth.    A minor substitute with no-Xanax in the house)

LK: (chewing) Again, I’m fine. I don’t want to work ( swallow) in a corporate environment any more. The thought of doing a nine-five gig on some nondescript floor of some nondescript hi-rise downtown makes me ill. And I’m making money.

Mother: But it can’t be that much. And what progress are you making?

LK: Progress? I’m making great progress. Important people are seeing a different side of me. I’m making headway in the area of writing. I’m getting published. That’s what I want to do with my life. I want to be a writer, Mother.

Mother: But that’s not a real profession!

LK: What are you talking about? You read books all the time and magazines, too. You watch sitcoms and TV news…the content of each of those books…the magazines and those shows you love so much are ALL the handiwork of writers, Mother.

Mother:   Well, I don’t see your name on any closing credits.

(I’m seething by now and trying to maintain control without shouting, “There’s a rest home in your future!!!”)

I take a deep breath.

LK: So?

Mother:     Make me feel better by making an income with  a real job.

LK: I should make you feel better? That’s what I live for, Mom. And if I were to do that…for you…what kind of job would you recommend?

Mother: Any old job.

LK: You, of all people, are telling me to get any old job? Then, would a fast food gig be good enough? You wouldn’t care if I worked at a McDonald’s?

Mother: Just as long as you were the manager.

LK: That’s just so typical. I’d have to be the manager, wouldn’t I? I couldn’t just be a shift worker. God forbid! How would that look to your friends?   How could you justify being the Mother of a fast food worker?

Mother: We’re not talking about me.

LK: Aren’t we? You’re actually quite proud of me and who I am. You know it’s true. You loved it when I was on TV and radio. You also love that I’m a writer. An award winning writer, too.    That bothers you too..  thatvIm damn good at.    Butbyourvoridecfir me only exists when you convey it’s to your friends. But somehow all of that gets lost when it comes to telling me anything to mynface. You can’t tell me you’re proud of me. You couldn’t if you tried.   Instead , you have some distorted need to let me know that you don’t think I’m quite good enough…for anything.

Mother: I never wanted you to get a big hard.   Besides, it’s called humility, Laurie. Something I’ve always stressed with you.

LK: No, its called being a torpedo parent and THAT’s about the ONLY thing you’ve ever been consistent with and that’s  a form of control and it’s all you’ve got left. My sisters and I are three adult women that you can no longer manipulate. So, you’re relegated to ego-punches. That’s all you’ve got left in your arsenal.

Mother: We’re not talking about me and quit trying to blame your inadequacies on everyone else. You’re accountable for your own happiness.

LK: And that would be accurate if I was unhappy. I’m not but you can’t seem to get that through your head. Who are you trying to convince here- me or you?

Mother: I have nothing to do with this. I’m merely holding up a mirror of truth to your face.

LK: We’ve always had different versions of “the truth”, Mother.

Mother: Yes, in that I’ve always known it and you haven’t.

LK: If I’m good at denial Mother, I learned it from you.

Mother: That is such a lie!! I have NEVER denied anything in my life. I just choose to ignore certain things. That makes life easier. Like when I divorced that cheating bastard I call your father….

LK: He divorced you.

Mother: No, I divorced him. The court got it wrong.

LK: Why do you talk about him like that to me?

Mother: I speak the truth.

LK: But he’s still my father. I’m half him.  You diminish me as a person by saying those things about him.

Mother: No I don’t and that’s that psycho nonsense from that crazy old TV coot, Dr. Bill…

LK: Dr. Phil

Mother: Whatever and don’t you defend your father, either. Have you forgotten that he walked on you when he walked on me?

LK:  I’m aware of his departure from my life everyday.   But that was 40 years ago, That’s almost half of my life.  .    You make me crazy, Mother!!

Mother: And you make me tired.

LK: OK, enough about Daddy.

Mother: I should say so.   Anyway,  I still think you should try to get out of that tiny and probably filthy apartment and get a job that requires getting out.  You need the interaction. I know what’s right for you. I always have and you never have.

LK: You don’t know me at all, do you?

Mother: I know you perfectly well. And you’re a…..

  • LK: No, you don’t know me. You’ve never known me. I want to write…I need to write. If you knew me you’d know my need to explore the many facets of my creative side and you’d support instead of putting me down because God forbid I should ever be better than you at anything, but I am and that kills you.

Mother: Now you wait one minute, Missy. I ‘m creative. I decorated a six bedroom home.

LK: That’s not the same thing. Besides, if you really knew me, you’d know how much you hurt me with the things you say to me. You’d know how much conversations like this take a chunk out of my soul.

Mother: I tell you these things for your on good. And one more thing, your insolence hurts me.

LK: My insolence?

Mother: You’re insolence. And you’re ungrateful.

LK: Why couldn’t I have been an orphan?

Mother: I can arrange it.

LK: ENOUGH!!! Stop it….Now!

For a few seconds, we say nothing, caught up in the deafening silence of recoil.

LK: Look Mother, I don’t want to fight.

Mother: Who’s fighting?

LK: We are.

Mother: I don’t see it as fighting. I’m just trying to give you motherly advice.

LK:  Then we will most definitely have huge fight if you continue “advising” me, alright? My life is different from yours. You’re lucky. Very lucky. You live a very comfortable life. You don’t have to work. You’ve never have had to work, but I do. I’m tired of broadcasting and as I continue to evolve, so do my hopes and dreams and desires. And right now, I want and need to try my hand at something different.

Mother: But it’s awfully late in the game for a single woman to be trying “something different”. Is that a gamble a woman like you should to take?

LK: What do you mean by “a woman like me”?

Mother: Well, you’re not getting any younger, either and frankly, you’re losing your looks.

LK: What?

Mother: I agree there’s nothing wrong with brings self-sufficient, but at what price? There’s no honor in being 60 and single or 40 and single for that matter.   And in your case, you’ve never married. You need to be married. You need to get your life in order.

LK: For one thing, marriage will not get my life in order. You should know. You’re divorced.

Mother: We’re not talking about me.

LK: This is exasperating, Mother! You’re  exasperating! My life is fine. My life is—–(I don’t complete the sentence. I’m getting very angry, something that happens a lot when I talk to my mother. But I try a different tack this time. I take a deep breath .  In doing so, I allow myself to regain composure) OK, if you want me to be self-sufficient and you think my trying to be a writer at this stage of my life is silly then you could eliminate that pesky working part and just give me my inheritance now.

Mother: (silence)

(Mercifully, The Sound of “Call Waiting” beep can be heard on both lines)

LK: Well, Mother, someone is calling in..

Mother: And I’m still mulling over that orphan crack. You really need to think long and hard about what you said. You should apologize with some flowers. You know I’m getting up there and won’t be around much longer.

LK: Can I get that in writing?

Mother: That can also be arranged.

LK: I have to go, Mother.

Mother: Have you talked to you sisters lately? What was that story you were writing for that magazine?

(She won’t hang up. She actually wants to talk!!!  What to do? What to do? “Call Waiting” clicks again)

LK: Mother I have to go (I think fast) It’s uh…it’s…uh….it’s Daddy calling.

Mother: Good lord, what does he want!!! Then I definitely want off the line. Besides, I need to go to my lawyer’s officer.

LK: For what.

Mother: After this conversation, I’m amending my will.

LK: You do that, Mom. And later on, I’ll be calling Information to get a particular phone number.

Mother: Whose?

LK: Dr. Kervorkian’s

Mother:    Very funny.   Give that worthless son of a bitch I call your father, my deepest indifference.

LK: Already done. Goodbye mother.

Mother: Think about what I said, Laurie. I mean it. Listen to me. Remember, I’m your mother.

As if I could ever forget THAT detail.

I hang up and once the line is clear, the phone rings immediately. It’s not my father. We haven’t spoken in years. I don’t recognize the number calling in, but it doesn’t matter. It mercifully got me off the phone with my mother.

LK: Hello?

Phone Solicitor: Hello, Miss Kendrick? I’m assuming it’s Miss Kendrick based on the fact that I have no information indicating you are married or…..

I say nothing and just hang up on the guy in mid-sentence. That was the last thing I needed to hear.

I sit there for a few minutes; a million thoughts swirl in my head.

I then pick up the phone and start dialing a number I know so very, very well.

First ring….

Second ring…

LK: Hi Cindy.   Laurie Kendrick here.     Does Dr. Brandson have any time to  possibly squeeze me in for an emergency session today?  ,I’m really feeling the need to talk.    I…I just really need my shrink.

Cindy:   What happened?

LK: My mother called me.

Cindy:  Oh my!    Well, in that case, can you be here in ten minutes?

 

 

 

 

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In Praise of Meaty Women 2017

If you,d cut me in half, you’d count 58 rings.   Yep, this old tee with boobs and graying hair with some blond in there somewhere, thank you, have seen  a lot of life.  The tales  my pudge twigs could tell.

The  post you’re  about to read with a repeat.   It wwas written as menopuase and all it’s hormonal MOABs Was wreaking havoc on my mind and ass.    Allow to me repeat, it did a number of my ass.     Someone women breeze menopause with a cough,    But  nor me, of course.  It devastated me.

How bad?     Rodney King and the LA riots bad.      The fairly recent nepal earthquake bad.  The University of Texas  Longhorns 2016 football season bad.

So, when I first wrote this seven years ago, Mother Nature was forcing me to retain later like a reservoir.  I had insomnia, heart palpitations, I was bitchy, moody, I had a hotflashes one moment and then I’d  be so cold the next minute, I was surprised tornadoes weren’t forming on the drynline  near my crotch.  (Somewhere, there’s a meteorologist or a weather nerd laughing his or her ass off at that one!)

At the time, I was also angry.    I had  grown very tired of the concept of being “ridiculously thin to be considered in”.

I had had my fill with the men who will only pursue this anatomical ideal that Hollywood and Glamor, Cosmo and Maxim and Playboy have forced fed us.  And save for the emotionally/mentally skewed, I’ve had my fill of women who are so shallow as to think being bone thin is the only way to be and are literally killing themselves in an attempt to stay skinny to keep their men and society happy.

Fuck that noise.

During the puffy  years, I felt  this way legitimately. It didn’t stem from an attempt to justify the fact that I wasn’t thin then nor am I now not a particularly thin woman. It is true, I have lost a considerable amount of weight in recent months and while I’d be considered a great piece of ass in at least 21 countries, I’m still not Cosmo worthy. I am a woman who could be described as “upholsterered”‘.  No sinewy musculature pokes out anywhere and no part of my skeletal system protrudes.  My elbow and scalp are about as this thin and boney as it gets.

But even with pounds lost, I’d still be considered chubby by many, but here’s your reality check, Society–I’M YOUR AVERAGE WOMAN!!!!!! I’m the norm. More North American women look just like me.

So, bellow there:  Meet the face, ass and gut of average America.

Parts of men arevrounded.   They’d protrudes. Stuff hangs over waistbands like an intertube.

It jiggles and often moves of it’s own accord.

It is the stuff of which many women are made and I would hope that someday soon, we can understand that a little extra adipose, doesn’t negate the efficacy of femininity, beauty and womanhood.

But none of that matters. Thin women are the ones who idealized. Men will look twice at a thin women–it doesn’t matter if her face looks like it was set ablaze, then extinguished with 30-rounds from an M-16. It’s about the damned body!

Yep–men will ogle and admire thin women; then, they’ll shake their heads while making that “eye squinting, lip pursing face” while inhaling loudly—as if they’ve just been served a perfect prime rib, yet invariably, they’ll go home to wives and girlfriends who are struggling to squeeze their ever expanding frames into their size 16 jersey knit stretch pants.

It used to be so different.

How did this happen? When did this happen?

thinfat-women.jpg

Back 300-400 years or so, heavier women were the preferred stock. Men loved women who were heavier. A little excess weight signified health and health meant the woman was of sturdy child bearing stock. And not only that, weight bore certain social ramifications, as well. Being zaftig was a sign of wealth; there was a correlation between adipose women and a family who was loaded. Obviously, it meant the woman’s family had enough money to buy enough food to eat.

It made sense–a large woman, a large dowry.

In fact, the famed counter-reformation artist, Peter Paul Ruben painted a number of portraits of women; all of them heavy. It was a combination of his style and the common girth of his subjects that became an adjective to describe larger women….Rubenesque.

We still use that term today.

His appreciation of the much fuller female form is evidenced in this lovely piece, “Venus At A Mirror”, painted sometime around the year 1615.

rubens_venus_at_a_mirror_c1615.jpg

Corporally, this is a woman of substance. Not thin by any means, but certainly not obese. There is a big difference between the women in this portrait…

And this woman:

leopard.jpg

Some of you might laugh and guffaw at this woman. Sadly, that’s also part of a conditioned response. Our first impression of her would be reflective of societal norms. Initially, we’d probably think that she’s lazy and worthless and from a certain socio-economic level that deems Little Debbie Snack Cakes with green sprinkles to be a vegetable. We would be repulsed at first glance and God forbid we’d stop for a second to think about what physical maladies might be plaguing her; what serious psychological issues are at play here.   Sure there’s laziness, a lack of will power,,, a whole litantnof reasons why,     But no one gets large this ever…EVER… without deep seesded psychological reasons.

if nothing else, tremendous pain..

No, none of that matters–she’s just a big, fat, ugly, and obviously, a reprehensibly lazy slob and that’s that.

Yet, I ask you– is the photo above any more disturbing than one from the opposite end of the spectrum??

anorexia.jpg

The same warped psycho-social reasons exist here,  too.  Pain.   Both are horribly tragic.   And so very, very dangerous.

Eating disorders are surging these days. We overeat, binge eat; we’re bulimics–we have our cake and heave it, too and we’re anorexics.

A countless number of women are afflicted with body-dysmorphic disorder. In short, it effects perception. What a dysmorphic sees when she looks at her body and what her body really looks like are two completely different things. She sees what her illness makes her see and her reflection in the mirror becomes the enemy.

This photo exemplifies that perfectly.

body-dysmorphic-disorder.jpg

It says it all, in fact.

This is real, my friends and this isn’t a gross exaggeration. This is reality for a person suffering with body dysmorphic disorder. What you’re seeing is, in effect, what the dysmorphic sees. Distorted beyond belief.

Tragically, people are dying from the diseases associated with this…yes, men too, though the numbers are disproportionately female.

But statistics regarding increasing fatalities among binge eaters, anorexics and bulimics be damned—thin is the goal. Images like this are ubiquitous.

skinny-woman.jpg

And wanna know what’s so damn ridiculous about this photo?

If she were eight years younger, black and living in Biafra, the BBC would feature her in a documentary. A United Nations Humanitarian Aid box would soon arrive near her village via air drop and a day or two later, we’d see her fly-ridden face staring blankly at the camera while slowly teething this over-sized Pop Tart looking cracker thing.

Sir Bob Geldoff would eventually see the documentary and be moved to write a special Christmas song about it. He’d gather a few of his fellow British warblers together to sing it while being filmed–a video would be produced and long story short, a billion British pounds would be raised for famine relief.

More of them big ol’, Pop Tart looking crackers for everyone.

But nooooooooooooo!!!!!!

In this case, in a world of “acceptable starvation”, a photography crew snaps a few shots of Skeletina, the newest Supermodel from Latvia on some runway in Milan and a million magazines get sold.

What’s wrong with this picture, people? I ask this literally–WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?????

The insanity makes me crazy.

Personally, I like a beefier built guy, but if forced to decide between a hefty guy and John Goodman at his heaviest, I’ll go for the thinner of the two. So, does that me any less guilty?

No.

But I’m making a concerted effort to see beyond beauty being skin deep and fat being deep skin. Maybe it’s because there have been times in my life when I’ve been heavier. I know what it’s like to be looked over, then promptly overlooked. Socially, my weight issues meant the world was fixated on (as cliche as this sounds) what I was eating…not what was eating me.

Sadly, I saw it that way, too.

Before I die, there are several things I want to accomplish. Chief among them: I want to make a difference with regard to the early detection of breast cancer in socio-economically challenged women AND I want to do something about eating disorders and the psycho-social reasons why they exist.

There’s a mental and emotional bridge that needs to be gapped here. I intend to find it. Somehow, someway and the fact that I’m sick of this; sick of all of it compels me.

Women have to change the way we look at ourselves and we cannot do this through eyes that are focused by the airbrushed photos in glossy magazines and impossible ideals.

It’s not a matter of  brandishing a weapon  and holding it someone’s head and STRONGLY encouraging them to move away from the pie.      One can lose weight if the spirit moves you.    Sheer will power is key, but getting to that point isn’t easy.     There can be many things standing in the way of wanting to lose weight and actually losing the weight,

Whatwed the reasons, this has got to stop. If we don’t, it’ll will continue to be our most fatal flaw. We push ourselves, deny ourselves, starve ourselves and for what??? Will life in a size 4 body really be that different? How happy can our external world EVER be if our internal one thrives in chaos? Can we ever look that good if we feel that miserable?

Make no mistake: turmoil ALWAYS trickles from the inside out.

But for some for some ridiculously skewed reason, if the outside looks good, harmful internal conflicts be damned.

Lets get something straight…re-read this post if yiunhvar yoo,    I’m not bashing thin women and I’m not bashing heavy women.    This post is, at it’s very heart, targets the entities that that promulgate the negativity.  The Madison Avenue ad types; Hollywood, magazine editors ( The Devil Wears Prada is a movie…fictio.   Maybe but the film exemplifies this horrendous mindset) and there are the bitchy columnists outbthere and fat bashing You Tube posters who have a special place in hell waiting for them).   And there are countless  countless others (like sick perfectionist mothers and aashdole, husbands and boyfriends) who force feed us this ideal of what women are supposed to look like. But the reality is, women DON’T look like that. Air brushing and retouching are photographic techniques that disingenuously portray women unfairly.  too.

There’s a famous quote from Cindy Crawford made a few years back.  Some fans approached her and told her they wished they could wake up every morning and look like her.   To which she replied, she ALSO wished she could wake up everyday and look like Cindy Crawford!

I’m years post menopausal but better (swearing less)  but still  working  on my new issues. I envy those people with blast furnace  metabolisms or tall people who have places for milkshakes and cheeseburgers to go.

And Im also still very aware  of the concept that if we’re thin at all costs, that makes it all OK.

But that just makes it even more dangerous,   Thevlate  Karen Carpenter and many lesser known women (and men) who died, prove that true.

But sadly, as a weight obsessed society, we’re too fat-headed to grasp it.

 

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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?  

    .