Archive for March, 2019|Monthly archive page

Miscellany

I’ve started to write this post four times, scrapping all of them for various reasons, including that they were all too boring and too negative. I’m not gonna let negativity win. So here are some miscellaneous bits of stuff that I feel like I want you to know and which are all mildly positive.

  1. Spring seems to have arrived, finally. All the snow has melted, it has been above freezing for over a week, and today I didn’t even wear a jacket. The grass on my lawn is beginning to green and three tulip shoots broke ground in the flower bed around the pear tree in my front yard. 😎🌷☀️
  2. Captain Marvel rocks!
  3. I have written over 2,000 words on a new story in the week.
  4. I had my first ramen bar experience and loved it. Admittedly, I kept my topping selections on the tame side. But I liked the whole thing and successfully finished my meal using only chopsticks without any embarrassing slurps or splashes and without wearing any of the broth.
  5. Bonus: I navigated a networking opportunity, meeting professional colleagues and maintaining engaging conversation without panicking or boring anyone to the point of fleeing from me. I regard this as a milestone achievement.
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Thinking

Lately, I’ve had more thoughts and questions than answers. That’s sometimes troubling to me; I’m a literal, linear, logical type of person, so open-ended, unresolved ruminations are uncomfortable.

On the other hand, thinking without trying to resolve, simply acknowledging a topic and exploring it without expectation of action, is rather a luxury. In my role as a legal executive for a public company, I’m constantly expected to problem-solve for the business stakeholders (even though they’re the decision makers and action takers, it’s somehow my job to identify the solutions – go figure). That can be a lot of pressure and is often very frustrating. So, getting the chance to simply think about things is sort of refreshing.

But it’s not without its pitfalls. Given my prolonged struggle with sleep and heightened stress, thinking can easily become stressful, negativie over-thinking or catastrophizing, rather than neutral or constructive contemplation. I’m mindful of that risk and do make an effort to avoid extremes. Yet the nature of some topics naturally leads to some dark connections and emotions. Too, the context in which a topic arises can cast it in an unfavorable light from the beginning, such as a caller who begins with “now, don’t shoot the messenger”.

Predictably, I’ve been seeing a trend in my thoughts and connections made during all this thinking. My pattern is roughly: wake up (if I’ve slept), assess my mental and physical state, give myself a pep-talk to make this a good and positive day, hit the office with as positive attitude as possible, and then come face to face with reality. Now up until the rapid deceleration into the hard wall of reality, my thoughts on practically every topic and reaction to nearly every stimulus is positive and constructive, because I’ve been visualizing a positive day and positive outcome to everything. But as soon as the first whining complaint about having to wait on “Legal” is uttered, or the first fire drill issue is lobbed over the fence into my lap, my thoughts are suddenly unable to conceive of anything but the negative side of everything.

I’m not a negative person, really. I hate the thought that I’ve turned into one. Used to be that I could readily see both sides of any problem and was always willing to remain upbeat and give the benefit of the doubt. But recently, I can’t truthfully say that still describes me.

Perhaps most troubling about this vague pattern I’ve detected is the tendency to make connections between seemingly disconnected things. The way my brain works, when I’ve connected two concepts with some reasonably logical basis for the connection, they’re nearly inextricable, always surfacing together or calling in the other whenever one arises alone.

That’s not a problem when the connections are reasonable, comfortable, understandable and don’t make me question the motives or integrity of the triggering stimulus (especially when that’s a person). It can be quite vexing when the connection is not obvious, or is discordant with accepted wisdom, or throws other values or beliefs into question.

Perhaps an example will help illustrate why this troubles me. This is kind of long, but it’ll land in a minute, I promise:

At the end of every quarter, tensions run high for my team because the sales organization puts a lot of pressure on us to get contracts drafted, negotiated, revised and executed before the end of the quarter so that the sale and revenue count for the present financial reporting period. This pressure is exacerbated by their tendency to leave much of the quarter’s worth of deals until the last week of the quarter, making a huge mountain of work to be completed by very few people in a very short time.

This set of conditions often leads to a high volume of complaints that my team are taking too long and a general attitude that we’re the only reason important deals aren’t getting done or are slipping into the next quarter. No one seems to acknowledge that their failure to plan ahead, their failure to engage with my team earlier, their failure to timely provide complete and accurate information necessary to draft the contracts, and their failure to follow-through with their own tasks are all bigger and more significant contributors to any deal failure than is my team taking the time needed to draft complex documents once we have the needed info and approval. Because we’re at the end of a long process, we attract the ire and the blame.

This is a known and familiar state of affairs, we’re often told, so we should plan for it and not be so sensitive when frustrated sales guys occasionally let off steam at our expense.

This enabling, blame-shifting patter is also familiar. It’s very like what I and many similarly situated folks have encountered when seeking explanations and solutions to problems of inequality. We’re often answered with references to tradition, economic expediency, scarcity of resources, cultural differences, evolutionary immaturity, and plain old inertia as reasons why one group must suffer under unequal treatment, pay, living conditions, and legal rights. We’re told that we have to be patient and let time transform things until we have the relief we seek.

In other words, accommodate your persecutors, swallow your grief and grievances, because your feelings, your thoughts, your life matters less.

And just like that, every resistance to the pleas about abusive treatment of my employees by their own coworkers is in the same league as, say, a victim of domestic violence being told their abuser really loves them but that they’re frustrated with the victim’s X quality or Y behavior, so if they’d just change that thing they wouldn’t attract that abuse. Despite the significant differences in quality and severity and magnitude and genre of the two scenarios, because my brain has recognized the common factor of a demand that an impacted person or group capitulate to and accommodate the unreasonable demand of the privileged as a valid comparison, I can now no longer encounter one without thinking of the other.

This inextricable tie has knock-on effects to how I interact with the people associated with that connection. I’m cautious and suspicious of everything they say and do, expecting to be burdened or betrayed (in big and small ways) in every interaction. Trust is slow or nonexistent. Velocity of work drops because every aspect is double- and triple-checked to avoid recriminations and negative consequences from any perception of a mistake on our part. Friendliness, empathy, camaraderie, collaboration, cooperation all take a hit. All because now every time I hear anything along the lines of “it’s just end of quarter tension”, “everyone is under a lot of pressure”, and “cut them some slack”, my mind fills with echoes of co-dependent excuses and images of black-eyed women ducking their heads every time a loud noise happens.

Even though I know, intellectually, that the unfairness leveled towards my team and violence against the helpless are worlds apart and not truly related, the kernel of similarity in the justification underpinning both types of behavior is enough that I can’t emotionally separate them. And that’s eroding my professional objectivity and my ability to cope with the unreasonable behavior linked to this perception.

So that’s a thing my brain does now: draws dark, somewhat irrational connections between unrelated concepts and taints my world view in the process. Awesome.

Little Joys

This week was marked by ups and downs both big and small, both personal to me and touching the world. When emotions are as strained as they have been this week, it’s easy to lose sight of the goal and get lost in the weeds of distraction. And when there is a huge weight of emotional burden, it is sometimes hard to see the lighter, more joyous points in life.

But, as wise ones have pointed out throughout history, taking joy in the small things, relishing the richness found in the details as well as the big picture, makes life worth living. So, as I continue on my determined path of self discovery and improvement, I make an effort to acknowledge some of the good little things that alone carry no profound weight, but in aggregate easily out mass the creeping sludge that threatens to taint every lovely thing.

Here are three good things that I’m clinging to this week that help keep darkness at bay and lets the light of the little joys shine the brighter:

  1. Yesterday began in the dark hours with more news of more senseless tragedy for the world to cope with. But, as is the dispassionate way of the universe, the planet continued to rotate and revolve. And by the time I reached my office building, the sun began to rise. The beautiful sight was a balm for a troubled heart. I hope you find it soothing, as well.
  2. Sometimes a kind word or a quietly supportive message from someone whose voice you respect can be better medicine than any treatment devised by science. A friend gave me the great gift of letting me “be real” with them, without judgement and without trying to fix me, in a moment when my spirit was at a low ebb. That kind of validation of one’s vulnerability is a precious commodity in my experience.
  3. Other times you just need a new pair of shoes. Or, in my case, boots. I ordered and received these weeks ago, but haven’t wanted to wear them in the snow and muck. But the snow is gone and today there is sunshine and birdsong and a chance to make this a good day. So I’m wearing new boots and my favorite bow tie and venturing out for coffee in the presence of other humans.

Have a happy Saturday, friends. May you find small joys to make the big moments rich.

Unanswerable Questions

Thinking, actual cognitive function of any kind, is truly beyond my ability today. But I have this push to keep the posting streak alive. So I’m embracing the delirium and posting a sampling of the absurdities that float to the surface of my brain during this sleep-addled fug. I have no answers for any of these – hence the title.

In no particular order:

  • Why do socks disappear from the laundry one at a time? And why is it always your favorite pair?
  • Why does sleeplessness make you emotionally compromised?
  • How can a bottle of water left in a car be warm, even when it’s only 30F and only partly sunny outside?
  • Where did Waldo actually intend to go?
  • What’s the point of sticky notes smaller than 3″ square – even my cramped (illegible) hand printing can’t squeeze a complete thought on one of those minuscule flecks of confetti they call mini PostIt Notes.
  • Why do aglets always come off when you’re in a hurry and need to re-thread your shoelaces or sweatpants or hoodie quickly?
  • Why is autocorrect so mean?
  • Why is the word effortless so hard to pronounce?
  • Why is the collective noun for turtle doves a pitying? Are they particularly empathetic?
  • Why do sales reps make me want to murdalize them constantly?

Stream of Consciousness

I’ve been wracking my brain for a blog post for days. I have a draft 3/4 done on some deep-thoughts kind of stuff, but it’s not ready to post and I’m not ready to share those thoughts yet. But I’m feeling the pressure of my goals to post something. So here are some random things, none earth-shattering in their brilliance or insight, but all floating in my head and fighting to get out. So, enjoy this peek into the sausage-grinder:

  • The intensity with which I can empathize and connect with fictional characters can be frightening. Especially when juxtaposed with the struggle I sometimes have with connecting with people in real life.
  • The world outside my office window is shockingly monochrome today, after five fresh inches of snow. But instead of looking like a wonderland, the white and gray just looks dreary.
  • I’m beginning to dread silence. It leaves too much opportunity to hear things…thoughts and voices…that speak uncomfortably loud truths the mind wishes to ignore.
  • Good shoes – sturdy, comfortable, supportive, stylish, reflecting the wearer’s personality – are worth investing in.
  • Social media is a new dimension of human experience that might have been better never invented. Addictive and yet inherently false, deceptive, I count it among the most caustic maladies afflicting humanity.
  • Editing, cutting out the words you labored to compose into a precise expression of the story you want to tell, is freaking hard, man!
  • Have you ever paid attention, consciously monitoring how often you sigh during a given day? I bet you’d be shocked at the number if you counted.

The Tyranny of “should”

It’s amazing to me how much meaning, import, weight, significance and worth can be bound up in a single word. What’s more, it’s at least doubly deep because all that meaning and worth has at least equal proportions of negative import and anti-meaning and measures of antithetical worth. And when all that density and mass of meaning is contrasted with the brevity and ordinariness of a small word, the impact of this recognition can be devastating.

Words like “family” and “love” and “happiness” can have this heaviness and can even be wielded as weapons. But for the most part, at least in my experience, the majority of the unnatural weight of these words comes from within the person who feels that weight as it is applied to them. Internal criticism and insecurity can lend this extraordinary significance to simple words.

But it’s the words with in-built judgement that have the greatest density and gravity and danger. Words like “normal” and “too” and “must” and “enough” and “should”. The culture and society in which any of these words are used have a lot to do with how sharp and powerful their density is. It is true that these words can be just a susceptible to the voice of individual insecurity. But these words, by passing society’s sentence over the object of these words, take on a monstrous degree of weight and power disproportionate to their size and ordinary linguistic importance.

Speaking from my own experience, “should” is the worst offender. Though it is a lowly auxiliary word, a verb form used to modify a main or dominant verb, it has no independent purpose, is always beholden to the main action word to have meaning and value. But cultural and social context synergizes it with secondary meaning and characteristics, magnifying its power. And when that magnified weight is used in anger or other ill intent, it becomes a destructive force that even brutally blunt adjectives can only inadequately describe.

“You should not be…”, “You should just…”, “You should have…”, “You should [do/think/believe/feel]…”, and countless other predicate phrases can be annoying, even rage-inducing when used to impose the speaker’s will on the recipient without regard to the recipient’s agency. Person to person, this can be anything from a mildly negative to a truly horrific experience. But these imperatives become tyrannical when wielded by a system of power to oppress marginalized people under the crushing weight of their unreasonable expectations.

Some examples, all taken from conversations I’ve either witnessed or been a part of in the last few weeks, may help clarify what I’m going on about:

  • “Women should look like women. They should make an effort to look good, feminine.”
  • “People should be required to take better care of themselves, be healthier, lose weight and exercise. Fat people put a greater strain on social systems and should be made to do something about it.”
  • “You should stop worrying about what other people think. You shouldn’t let anyone else tell you how to feel.”
  • “People with money shouldn’t get to whine and play the stress or anxiety card. They should be happy with what they’ve got. What could they have to be depressed about?”
  • “You should be happier, smile more.”
  • “You shouldn’t have any trouble sleeping and shouldn’t be sad. You have a lot to be thankful for, more than most people do.”
  • “You should just shrug it off, let it go. You shouldn’t care so much.”

See what I mean? Even though these dictates were imposed in private conversations, they also appear in the world at large as part of a number of systemic power structures. These same sentiments form the basis of expectations underlying some of the most erosive, caustic social constructs, from misogyny and patriarchy to racism and xenophobia.

When “should” becomes the driver, the metric, and the adjudicator, the power dynamic of that word no longer reflects a reality of free will. Instead, conformity and rebellion alike become matters of safety and survival, not mere choice. And when a person can’t live up to the “should”, the guilt, shame and disappointment are not just overly-dramatic emotional responses, but are catalytic forces with unpredictable potency.

I don’t know where I am going with this post. I have no orderly resolution or inspirational message to impart. It’s just been weighing on my mind and heart and I wanted to put it out in the ether in hopes of feeling some relief from the sharing.

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