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Monday, February 20, 2017

Learning to Listen

Full disclosure: I am sick, a feel like crap. I've had a really tough week, and coughing has meant I'm fairly sleep-deprived. I'm not coming from a place of strength and confidence just now. Sometimes I question whether or not I should even share anything with you all when I feel like this, but inevitably, one of you will thank me for doing so. I appreciate that, it means a lot to me, so here goes.

I had a really nice birthday dinner last night. It was small (family) and at my favorite restaurant. It was late, but doo doo happens, as do giant snow storms, sick siblings and what not. But it was nice just the same. My sister made me a giant pink cake that was everything. It wasn't fancy, it had had to travel a bit, but it was big, pink perfection. Sometimes it's a giant pink birthday cake that makes all things right with the world, and this was one of those times. But I felt like sh**, and a little bit gutted if we're being perfectly honest (again, tough week), and it made me more vulnerable than usual. You know how it goes.

I don't get to see my loved ones often, so when I do I like to catch up a little. I was talking about something that was bothering me about the current state of things, when another loved one interjects with "That's bullshit". It wasn't bullshit. It was something I actually knew quite a bit about. But in order to avoid a "thing" I just clammed up. But that's what we do to each other, isn't it? It didn't matter that I was stating an actual fact. I was silenced by an opinion. Any other day I would have been pretty 'whatever' about it, but I am just so fried. It highlights a problem that is actually pretty huge and relevant right now. Everybody has something to say, but nobody wants to listen. Double that if you dislike the facts. No good will ever come of that.

It reminds me of when I was a child in elementary school. I hated school with a fiery passion. The work bored me to tears, and I've never liked being around a lot of people. I've never been what could be considered anti-social, but I'm definitely an introvert in the extreme. Always have been. Going to a place that made me feel profoundly anxious every day (to the point of physical symptoms), just to be inundated with things I already knew, was like living in hell. I was going to try to find a less dramatic way to put that, but why sugar coat it? There was some discussion about having me skip a grade or two, but my lack of social whatever prevented them from doing so. My subsequent (and inevitable) lack of engagement in the classroom was apparently enough cause for concern that a child psychologist was brought in to deal with with me. He was nice guy with a PhD who meant well and worked with lots of troubled children. I think his only failing was that he'd never been one himself, so there was a giant gap in his perspective that his PhD couldn't fill. That in itself didn't need to be a problem, but he came into the situation predisposed to believe certain things, and he approached me and my issues with those preconceived ideas. Consequently, he didn't listen. He heard things that he wanted to hear, things that supported what he believed. The things that were the most real and important were discarded outright because they didn't fit the narrative he believed in. He was in a position to recognize something in me that, had he been able to see it, my whole life could have been different. Instead, he made suggestions and implemented situations on my behalf that did a whole wide world of damage. Because he couldn't/wouldn't hear me.

I don't bring this sh** up because I'm still grieving it or haven't moved on or any of that nonsense. I think the past is important because it provides context. It's supposed to teach us something and give us some perspective. You have to know what's wrong before you can fix it. But I think getting stuck there, and making every decision based on the past is a ginormous mistake. It's possible to get so stuck in "what was" that we lose the ability to learn and grow. Ahem. But I think the *listening* piece doesn't lose relevance. Failure in our ability to listen to each other is at the root of every social problem we have. It's the reason we have riots and protests. People are so fired up about what to do about this group of people or that one, but nobody is asking the people directly involved. Nobody is willing to hear the answers because they've already made up their minds. Instead, they discredit, dismiss and invalidate, throwing away the truth because it doesn't fit an accepted (albeit flawed/false) narrative that they are more comfortable with. It's like saying "Stop telling me who you are and what you need, because it doesn't mesh with what I think I know about you, and I don't like looking at reality". And that determination to make everything about numbers and policies, about ideologies and money, it's killing us. And sometimes it feels like watching it play out day after day is killing something in me. Don't worry, I won't let it. I won't be sick much longer and I'll get my equilibrium back.

But it's so damned important to listen. Until we're able to understand how profoundly our personal biases influence our beliefs about others, we'll never be able to relate at all to each other.  As long as nobody is willing to listen to the truth, it's all just noise.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Birthday Wishes
Today is my birthday. I usually wake up happy, and shamelessly make the entire month of February all about me. I'm generally insufferable on my actual birthday, but it seems to be more amusing than annoying. Sometimes. You would think I was a four year old child instead of a lumpy, middle-aged woman. I say that without any of the implied self-deprecation. I don't happen to believe there is anything at all wrong with being either lumpy or middle-aged. I'm forty eight today, actually. And it's cool. But I woke up in kind of a sad space, and that's less cool.

There are several legitimate reasons, I suppose. It's cold, it's grey, and it's the time of year that I am SO sick of winter. Some dear friends of mine lost a really great dog yesterday, and that's heartbreaking. Our country is a sh**show, and there's nothing I can do about that (if you disagree with me on that point, please keep it to yourself. For me, even more depressing than the sh**show that our country has become is the  number of people looking straight at the situation and thinking its just awesome). And you know, I still don't have a pony. That last bit is in part my fault. I know what I want, I know what I want to do and it's an area of my life where I'm not willing to settle. It's also an area of my life where I have more than paid my dues, and it's time for a new experience.

I did come to a realization that brings me closer to that goal, though. There was once a time that I wanted nothing more than a house of my own in the middle of nowhere. I could keep my pony at home and I would feel 'free'. But my daughter, in her infinite wisdom (I swear that girl is a magical unicorn, and I have no idea how or why), reminded me that I could have a horse without "all that". She reminded me what it was like to live in a home in the middle of nowhere (which we did for many years) and asked me how I got 'freedom' out of that. She's not wrong. I think of the work and the responsibility, and the reality of living (single parenting, no less) in what is essentially a chore factory, and that really isn't where I want to spend my money or energy. Like, at all. It was definitely the right way for a child to grow up, but now it's my turn. Do I miss mowing the lawn? Shoveling snow? Cleaning off/repairing the roof? Or really, fixing ALL the things? Do I miss injuring myself repeatedly, dealing with getting water to the barn in the winter? Do I miss how impossible it is to go anywhere, or get anything else done? I'm forty eight today, and no, I do not miss all those things that beat me up when I was younger. Maybe someday I will, and I'll revisit the idea then. For now, I like the singularity and simplicity of my greatest financial goal: Pony.

It's a good feeling to be content. I love my neighbors. It was a thought that occurred to me only recently, but there it is. I like that I can make a phone call when something needs to be fixed. I like that my car lives in a garage filled with security cameras. I like that when I couldn't start my car, there were several friendly faces around to offer me a jump start (of COURSE I have cables). If I had the money, I would refurnish my place so that it's a little more 'me', but I have all my parents' furniture from their condo, so I'm not exactly hurting. They don't buy junk, and home is super comfy, so it's all good. We're actually okay, and it hasn't always been the case. I feel some pretty genuine gratitude around that in spite of my cruddy mood.

But this is a post about wishes, and I do have a few. Obviously, a pony and the resources to accessorize, support and show said pony are always in the front of my mind. My friend Autumn wants me to do mounted archery with her too, and that is also a loud and resounding HELL YES. I would like to have the time/focus to finish my new book. It seems to be writing itself, which is great, so if that could just keep happening I would totally dig that. I also wish for it's success. There's never a guarantee there. All I can do is hope that I'm writing something that people will want to read. Speaking of success, I wish that one of the movie producers who's been in touch with me would do more than talk to me about how awesome it would be to work with them. Option the damned book already! Yes, it WOULD be an awesome movie! Yes, I would LOVE to help with the screenplay! Let's do it! (See above re: Mama wants a pony). Here is where I completely acknowledge that I have entirely different problems than I used to, and I'm grateful as hell for that too.

Speaking of holy (we weren't, but let's pretend), I've been praying a lot. I know many of you don't believe in God, and that's cool. I don't know how I would still be alive if I didn't, and that's no exaggeration. You know, the question I get asked the most is "How can a loving God allow so much suffering?". No clue. You might as well ask me "How long is time?" and "How big is the Universe?" because I think they are all equal in terms of how far beyond our human purview they are. Faith is certainly at odds with my logical mind at times, but I have more reasons to believe than not. I've been to some dark places I'll probably never talk about. But faith makes me think of humanity. I'm struggling with that a bit just now. I know all the wonderful things we're capable of; space exploration, medical breakthroughs, art,'s endless. I hear our divinity in a singing chorus, or see it in an abstract sculpture that reaches me in spite of it's intangible yet somehow familiar form. I don't think we understand fully the best of what we are, but I wish we could at least try. I wish we could see in each other our naked humanity, free from whatever form(s) of groupthink we personally subscribe to. I wish we could remember who and what we are and love that in each other and treat each other accordingly. It's how we came into the world and it's how we're going to leave it. In the end, it won't matter who told you to think or feel what. In the end it's just you. Who are you?

Yeah, that last wish was a doozy. Unrealistic, yes. For now. But it's my birthday, dammit, and I had to ask. So off I go to enjoy the day, and may there be many happy returns for all of us.

For my fellow Aquarians: