Lately I’ve been thinking about the Biblical verse from Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven”. Seems to me that in our modern rush to have everything, all the time, we’ve gotten our seasons and purposes mixed up to the point where they really don’t mean anything anymore.
I remember when I was a kid how exciting it was when strawberries first started to appear in the spring. Watermelons were the quintessential late summer treat, and fall meant ripe apples, covered in caramel, of course. We gorged ourselves on them knowing that they would soon be gone. If you wanted these goodies any other time of the year, you had to painstakingly preserve them by canning or drying.
How quickly that all changed. With advancements in farming and shipping, suddenly you could have a watermelon boat for your New Year’s Eve celebration and fresh strawberry shortcake for Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t the same. For one thing, modifying fruit to have a longer shelf-life came with the price of a less tasty product, something my husband and I argued about endlessly when I first wanted to put in a garden.
“You can get vegetables at the store without all this digging, weeding and watering,” he griped. “So what’s the point?”
That argument went right out the window the first time I handed him a slice of ripe, just picked tomato, nice and warm from the garden. I always prefer to enjoy things in their traditional seasons. And this time of the year, that means mulberries.
These days, most people don’t know what mulberries are much less how they taste. Lots of people consider mulberry trees a nuisance and their fruit famine food, at best. They just don’t know. I watch every year as my mulberry tree puts on fruit and ready myself for the day it will be ripe. You’ve got to be quick. For a couple of weeks you have to pick twice a day, then it’s all over.
I lay plastic drop clothes on the ground around my tree and weigh them down with bricks. What fruit falls in my absence can be easily seen and gathered. Then I smack the high branches with a long length of PVC pipe to bring down the rest. It’s a constant struggle keeping birds away. And a couple of times, what would have been a bumper crop ended up on the ground, long before it could ripen, due to heavy winds or hail.
Once the berries are gathered, you have to slice the green stem off each and every one of them, something that can take hours. (I’ve come up with a way of doing it while watching TV.) Then finally, I mix them up with a little sugar, corn starch, nutmeg butter and salt, tuck them between a couple of crusts and bake.
The result is something rare and ethereal. I guarantee, once you’ve tasted it, you will never forget it.
Those of you who receive my column in your email may not realize that it is also printed in a newspaper. A weekly newspaper called The Forney Messenger, to be exact, where it appears under the title Stranger Than Most. (Because, face it, I am.) There’re lots of other columnists who write for the paper but, as someone recently pointed out, I’m just about the only one without a picture of my smiling face as part of the byline.
Honestly, I never even considered giving the paper a picture to print. What for? I want people to react to my words, not my appearance. And my appearance has changed so much over the past three years, who’d recognize me anyway? But beyond that, there’s a part of me that just doesn’t want that much exposure. It seems prideful somehow and pride has always been one of my sins of choice – something to fight against.
Do people really need to have an accurate vision of what I look like before they can enjoy my (ahem) wisdom? Not at all. I remember listening to the radio when I was younger and imagining what the DJs looked like and then being shocked when I saw them in person or in print. In a way, it ruined my experience.
Besides, a picture would take up valuable space and I have a hard enough time trimming my columns to exactly 500 words as it is. Why do I strive to make each and every one of them exactly 500 words? That’s just the way I roll. I like the challenge and it makes me a better writer. Still, people crave the visual, so I thought about maybe printing a picture of me now and then.
For example, as work continues on the Woman Cave (I’ve been told I should call it a She Shed but that’s too much like a tongue-twister I could never master), perhaps I could do a little before-and-after expose’ and be sure I get in the shot. But that would just open the door to getting even MORE advice on how I should be doing things.
Because that’s what everyone is into now - redecorating as a spectator sport. Show after show on TV is dedicated to people knocking out walls, adding extra rooms and turning thrift store furniture into kitschy accent pieces. Problem is, I hate kitschy accent pieces. I like clean lines and lots of open space. And I like my walls white. What I really want is a blank canvases on which to bring forth my vision.
Besides, this is a very small space. About 300 square feet including the loft. I’m planning on using a lot of the wall space for shelves and cabinets for my anticipated guests to use. Whatever else goes in there is going to be very carefully selected. By me. No doubt, my Woman Cave will end up being, like its creator, stranger than most.
When I moved into my husband’s house 16 years ago, he had a drum set in his back bedroom. On weekends he liked to go in there, crank up some old rock and roll and bing-bang-boom away. It didn’t take too long before I impressed upon him the need to move the drum set out of the house. So he built a man cave in the garage to accommodate his musical equipment and the drum room became my office.
Next, I impressed upon him the need to avoid waking me up at 3 am by opening and shutting his drawers and cabinets as he dressed for work. Now he’s moved most of his clothes into the guest room and most of his toiletries into the guest bath. He wakes up, tiptoes out and I don’t see him until I get home at night. Soon enough I would have gotten him out of the house altogether except that I decided to turn our shed into a woman cave. For me.
My husband always says I’m crazy to put any money into this property because we’ll never get it back out, and there’s a housing development going up right across the street and our property values will plunge and one day they’ll drop the bomb and we’re all doomed. DOOMED! I don’t know. I think getting cancer for the third time makes avoiding “doom” seem like a waste of effort. I just want to enjoy myself while I can.
Besides, he also said I was crazy about the pond and the patio and I love them more than life itself. (I’m also putting in two more patios.) I’m going to make this area fair – FAIR! - before I go and that’s all there is to it! While most people applaud my decision to start these projects, they get all upset when I tell them about the “spending the money before I die” part.
“You’re going to be just fine,” they assure me. “You’ll beat this cancer. You’ll see!”
I’m not so sure. Besides, technically I HAVE to spend my money before I die unless I just happen to keel over while I’m writing a check to the contractor. And I want to be healthy enough to enjoy my new woman cave and expanded patio options. Plus I really need a place to escape when my husband starts going into one of his rants.
He’s actually being surprisingly supportive. Mostly, I suppose, because it’s MY money and I’m hiring most of the work out. Still, he knows he’ll have to help out some. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. I biggest fear is that I’ll get it all done and then won’t be able to persuade my kids to bring the grandkids to enjoy it with me.
Time to crank up the guilt. It worked to get me the grandchildren I deserve. “(Ahem.) I just hope you can visit while there’s STILL TIME.” Sound convincing?
Every time I put my opinions out there, some people really agree and some people really disagree. And that’s okay. I don’t discriminate. Though I crave approval, just like most people, I’m perfectly content to still love and respect people who don’t hold my exact views on every possible bit of subject matter.
In fact, I’ve always tried to nurture friendships with people from a wide variety of different backgrounds. I read very extensively, and include “news” sources from both the far right and the far left. As is my custom I end up somewhere in the middle. The only time I have a problem is when people refuse to see any point of view but their own.
Humans have a tendency to migrate towards those who share similar interests and opinions. But going too far, we can end up in the dreaded “echo-chamber” and begin to consider the “other” side the enemy. Raised by open-minded and tolerant parents, I’ve always been guided by the saying, “There are two (or more) sides to every story”.
This is especially important in counseling. While it’s my job to forge a “therapeutic alliance” with my clients, that doesn’t mean I take every word they say as gospel. I know people exaggerate, avoid and downright deny parts of themselves. That’s why they’re in counseling. Because that isn’t working for them.
Usually a family will have decided amongst themselves just who is “the problem”. And that poor soul is the one dragged into my office. In the biz we refer to this individual as the “identified patient” and I’m supposed to “fix” him or her. But usually, the “problem” person is just the one who acts out the most to what is family-wide (sometimes generational) dysfunction.
People who don’t want to hear this leave counseling convinced that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Those who are open to the possibility of there being more to it than meets the eye are able to understand that when one person in the system changes, the entire system changes.
You’d think that the very people who brought their “problem” to my office would be willing to try almost anything to get that problem resolved. But often they aren’t. They don’t want to change a thing about themselves. They want me to change the other person. Sorry. Impossible.
My job is to get both sides to communicate better about what’s going on with them. It’s incredibly satisfying for me when former combatants really understand, sometimes for the first time, what the other person is going through. As I (endlessly) tell couples, it took you both to get to where you are. It’s going to take both of you to get somewhere else.
Which brings me back to the importance of appreciating another point of view. Face it, we all have opinions, but that’s all they are. Everyone else isn’t the enemy. As a wise woman once told me, “That’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla.”
We all love to fantasize about those “miracle questions” like what would you do if you won the lottery or got three wishes. Being (as the title suggests) stranger than most, I don’t dream about money or power. My desires have to do with acquiring knowledge. Specifically, I want to know exactly what my cat is thinking.
I wonder how strange the world must appear when you’re small and fur-covered. For example, the top of my cat’s head is about a foot off the floor, yet she has no trouble hopping to the top of our 6-foot fence. That would be like me jumping 30 feet straight up! But she can also squeeze into and around incredibly small spaces. Nothing must seem impossible.
Everyone knows I’m a cat person, but I hold no illusions about the pesky little beasts. I know how they disdain the human race, how they consider us servants and would exchange us in a heartbeat if a better situation came up. Their goal is to get every family on the street feeding and loving them.
You’ve got to be on your toes if you want to impress your cat, something my husband refuses to understand. For example, we feed our little Shadow at 6 am and 6 pm. I’ll get home at 7 pm and ask him if he’s fed the cat.
“There’s food in her bowl,” he’ll grump, not looking up from the TV.
“That’s not the issue,” I remind him. “It’s time to feed the cat.”
Grudgingly he’ll get up and shake some kibble into the bowl. Shadow appears out of nowhere, sniffs the food, and walks away.
“You see?” he cries. “She didn’t want to be fed!”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” I reply. “It’s the duty of the cat to train the humans to feed her at a certain time whether she’s hungry or not.”
“We do the same thing,” I explain. “I don’t sit by the window at 4 am waiting for the paper carrier to deliver.” (Yes, I still read a PAPER newspaper every day. See above comment.) “But when I do get up and go out to the box, I want it to be there.”
“Ridiculous,” he growls.
Since there’s little chance of me knowing what my cat is actually thinking, I’ve become obsessed about tracking her whereabouts. I already suspect her of cheating on me as she sometimes strolls in smelling of strange perfume. There are little tags you can buy that attach to a collar and will track your animal day and night.
I imagine that data would consist of long, long periods of stasis (she does sleep an average of 18 hours a day, after all) followed by a flurry of activity all over the neighborhood. Maybe she follows a standard schedule. Maybe I’ll finally be able to identify my rival for her affections. But knowing Shadow, she’d find a way to get the tracker off and toss it into the pond.
Repeat after me. “You kids are going to do what you DO, not what you SAY.” I don’t see why that’s so hard to understand. But time and again parents thrust their children into my office expecting me to fix “bad” behavior while they sit in the waiting room playing with their phones. Okay, so what do parents consider “good” behavior? Mostly they want their kids to be cheerful, obedient, industrious, clean and quiet.
Well does that describe you, Mr. and Ms. Parent? Or do you come home griping about the job, serve fast food because it’s too hard to cook, leave your dishes and clothes on the floor and fall asleep in front of the TV? Or maybe you spice it up and scream at your spouse for a few hours about chores undone and cash misspent. You really want your kid to change? First take a good, long look in the mirror. You simply can’t expect your kids to adhere to a set of values you routinely ignore.
The problem is that “values” is kind of a dirty word these days. Values are “exclusive”, “biased”, “racist”. They operate on the assumption that there’s true good and evil and that we can know the difference. We’ve stepped away from that level of certainty. Today we must “celebrate” all the values espoused by every culture lest we be considered “bigoted”. Calling something right or wrong amounts to hate speech.
But what about those good values we want from our kids. Where do we come up with them? The answer used to be the Bible! For generations of industrious, cheerful men and women scripture was the first sentence they read, the first words they wrote. And other cultures had their own holy books and schools to study them.
But whatever it was called, the Book was really just a collection of old stories. And that’s where we get our values. From the stories we tell. They’re our answers to the big questions – why are we here, how are we supposed to act? If you want to learn the values of a culture, listen to the stories they tell their children.
And there’s the problem. Gone is Aesop with his intolerant morals. The Hare wasn’t proud. He was stressed out by the expectations of his stratified society and really needed a nap. And the Grasshopper wasn’t lazy. He was just sharing a different set of skills by making music instead of storing food. The selfish Ants should share.
Problem is, you don’t want your kid making those kinds of excuses when he doesn’t clean his room or put his laundry away. That’s back talk! Is it? Or, is the same sort of story you tell when you’re angry, stubborn, lazy, messy or noisy? And why do you ever act like that when it’s “bad”? Just face it. You’re going to have espouse your own values if you want your kids to learn them. And that’s easier said than done.
I was going to title this column Welcome to the Ice Age, but I know too many of my friends and family would stop reading right there. What I actually want to write about has nothing to do with the AGW theory/hoax. My subject today is Hell. As in H-E-double toothpicks. Not just being stuck in traffic, or in a contentious marriage, but the real deal. Demons with pitchforks, lakes of fire and noxious fumes for eternity. The Pope came out and said it doesn’t exist. I wonder.
Of course, my vision of Hell never included burning heat. I side with that tiny slice of Nordic DNA I possess and believe that we’re going to go, not by fire, but by ice. (The Title of a book you should read, by the way.) People today act like cold is great and heat is the enemy. That’s because so many of them spend the winter running from heated room to heated car. They’ve forgotten just how deadly cold can be.
While it can definitely get too hot, eventually the sun goes down and it’s a little better. Cold just keeps getting worse. It’s unrelenting. It settles in and worms a way inside every shelter, every piece of clothing. Add water and you’re looking at a miserable death. That’s why the Inuit used to say farewell by wishing that you stay dry. Cold sucks and it’s devastating to the environment.
Just look at the way life had to adapt to the Ice Age(s). Mammals go into hibernation, grasses wither back to bulbs, trees keep thick, fibrous leaves all year to take advantage of every scrap of sunlight. Bugs spend a decade or more underground and come out only to mate. After metamorphosis they don’t even have mouth parts! Humans managed to survive because we had fire and could sew clothes.
Actually, most of us just stayed where it was warmer. The Sahara Desert, for example, was then a verdant grassland dotted with lakes and crossed by rivers, the home to crocs and hippos. Humans did great. Aerial radar can peer through the dunes and see their villages, roads, and animal pens. They probably even farmed. It was a happenin’ place. Civilization! So, of course, MY ancestors moved away to scratch out a lonely existence in the frozen north.
Where we learned to hate, Hate, HATE the cold! And to devise all sorts of ways of keeping warm. We dug peat and then coal. We fashioned ingenious layers of clothing and furs, boots, scarves, gloves, hats. You want a reminder of what it used to be like, just go to the Ren Faire. The fashions of that day reflect a little period (about 300 years) of intense cold we now call the Little Ice Age.
And guess what? It’s comin’ back! But we’re clever little creatures. We made it through the last one, I’m pretty sure we’ll make it through this one. Even though it’s gonna be Hell.
As in “There’s nothing certain but….” Say what you will about Ben Franklin, the man really knew how to turn a phrase. It’s too bad that today’s children aren’t learning much about our Revolutionary War heroes. In a typical over-reaction to the supposed “white-washing” of American history, our “progressives” have decided to tar and feather it.
It’s become popular to paint our founders as evil men. They were philanderers, slave-owners, tax cheats. They were home-grown terrorists, dumping other people’s property into the bay and cowardly picking off the enemy from the tops of trees. Why didn’t they suit up in flashy uniforms and march toward the British in orderly fashion like civilized men?
Well, if they had, there would be no America today. Remember, these were just ordinary men living in some pretty difficult times. So they weren’t saints and they fought a little dirty. At least they were willing to risk their lives for our freedom. Why act so shocked – SHOCKED – that our heroes have feet of clay?
The tarring continues into the present with our current president. “He had sex with porn stars!” (Ahem, JFK?) “He’s so immature and foul-mouthed!” (Ahem, LBJ?) “He made so many promises and hasn’t kept them!” (Ahem, every politician in the history of the world.) Why even the Reverend Dr. King had numerous dalliances, some of which resulted in children, or so the story goes.
It makes you wonder who’s next. Labor disputes with Santa’s elves? Tearful testimony from bereft mother hens accusing the Easter Bunny of kidnap and murder? And just what does the Tooth Fairy do with all those teeth? It’s pretty grisly when you think about it. For God’s sake why are we doing this to our children?
It’s like explaining divorce to them. You don’t come right out and say you’re splitting up because daddy can’t keep his pants on or mommy can’t stay out of the crack house. Instead you say that because mommy and daddy fight all the time, it’s better for everyone if they don’t try to live together anymore. And you’ll have two houses!
Is that white-washing? I suppose so, but why wallow in the ugly truth when there’s plenty of beautiful truth? George Washington was a skillful, inspiring leader who bravely endured hunger, cold and disease fighting in the wilderness. But I’ll bet he was a little less than diplomatic sometimes, yelling at his starving, barefoot soldiers to suck it up and just keep marching. What?! No 15-minute breaks? The vicious tyrant!
So what does this have to do with the certainty of death and taxes? Well, while it’s true that we will die and lose all the material things we’ve gained, it’s also true that there’s beauty, joy and hope before we get there. This week I found out that my cancer is back. But I also learned that, for the first time since I married my beloved husband, I’m getting a refund! Guess which one I’m concentrating on?
Another school shooting (or two) and a huge march on the Capitol for stricter gun controls. My heart aches for the children who have to go to school each day worrying about gun violence. It also aches for those who experience daily family violence, a much larger group. And that’s the real problem – we’ve lost our moral compass. Blaming this sickness on guns is like blaming cars for drunk driving deaths.
Personally, I don’t see why anyone really needs an assault rifle. But then I don’t think anyone needs a three-ton, extended cab pickup truck with wheels taller than I am to commute to an office job every day. And more people are killed in automobile accidents than by guns every year.
I also don’t understand why anyone needs 300 guns in their collection. I also don’t know why anyone would collect 300 Beanie Babies. “But stuffed toys don’t kill anyone,” you might protest. Well, if a mountain of them collapsed on you, your body might not be found until the neighbors reported the smell. (Remember, I LOVE to watch those hoarder shows!)
At any rate, this is not about laws. It’s already against the law to take a gun to school and it’s always been against the law to murder people. It’s illegal for convicted felons to possess a gun, but when they’re rearrested, they almost always have one. Remember that Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but last year 650 people were shot to death within the city limits.
We can have more extensive background checks and longer waiting periods and maybe that will save a few lives. But the real problem here is untreated mental illness. It is interesting to note that the largest percentage of people killed by guns every year are committing suicide, 59% in 2016. No one would argue that suicide is not a mental health issue.
So why are kids grabbing guns to handle their problems these days? I’d like to blame video games, but the research is inconclusive on that one. Still, while the gory shoot-em-ups may not be causing our kids to perpetrate actual violence, the very fact of all that unsupervised screen time cuts our children off from real-world consequences and reduces their coping skills to those of the jungle.
Kids have always had social problems in school whether from gossiping, bullying or the broken hearts of first love. Most of the teens and tweens I counsel state that “drama” in school is their biggest headache. In the past they turned to their parents for help navigating these woes. Now they are more likely to look on You Tube.
Today’s parents are often no better. Witness all those videos of angry dads punching out referees during Little League games and moms brawling at the mall. Our society suffers from an astounding lack of civility. So as long as we seek to remedy our frustrations with violence, we’ll have murders, guns or no guns.
Everyone who’s in business for himself knows that you can go from feast to famine in very short order. That’s why it’s important to save your money and never stop looking for more work. My schedule goes from incredibly tight to pretty durn loose periodically because, drat it, my clients just keep getting better.
Just this last week I cut a bunch of them loose. They were good clients. They showed up on time and did the work I assigned to them. An unscrupulous counselor might have let them drag on a few more months since they were coming and their insurance was paying, knowing that people have a hard time telling an “authority figure” that they want to discontinue services. (And I have to keep reminding my kids that OTHER people see me as an authority, even if they don’t.)
That’s why I let my clients off the hook and suggest termination myself. When I feel like we’ve reached the end, I do a little summation of what the problems were, the actions the client took, and the changes that have been made. Then I ask if “maybe we’re done for now”. The look of relief on their faces is both encouraging and disheartening.
First, it tells me that they’re ready to be done and that they’re grateful to me for bringing it up so they didn’t have to. Second, it lets me know, once again, that if I do everything right, I will always be working myself out of a job. Now in a lot of companies, the person who WORKS the jobs and the person who FINDS the jobs are different. In my little company, it’s just me.
So how do you find clients? Well, as a professional, you’re really not supposed to put up billboards and run noisy TV commercials where you “hammer” those pesky mental disorders into submission. People do it, but it’s considered unseemly. So I list myself (for a fee) on sites where people look for therapists and I hand out a lot of cards.
Those cards have an incredible shelf life. I swear I can leave off a little bundle at some doctor’s office I just happen to be passing and three years later I’ll get a call. I also know that those cards can ride around in someone’s purse or wallet for a long, long time before someone has the courage to dial my number. It’s hard admitting that you need help. A lot of my first conversations with a prospective client begin with “My wife is making me call.”
I know no one really wants to have to go to therapy. But then no one really wants to have to call the plumber, either. My services are at least as important. The plumber cleans out your pipes, I clean out your mind. The difference is that I can only educate, suggest and, possibly, implore. You have to slog out all that dysfunctional mental gunk yourself.
The most important book in the psych world is the DSM, which stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and which contains all the diagnoses insurance companies need to judge you. Not many people own a copy. Maybe because a print version will run you $8,000! I think it’s actually around $600, but that’s still a whole lot for a book that’s a whole lot of boring.
Thanks to the internet, most of it’s now available free online and that means a lot of my clients have diagnosed themselves before we ever meet. Certain labels fall in and out of fashion. For a while there everyone had Borderline Personality Disorder. But then it became painfully clear that the symptoms of BPD were basically just being immature and selfish with a propensity to see things as strictly all-or-none.
PTSD is still having a good run, maybe for the medical marijuana. But Adult ADHD is what’s really sexy now. Nobody wants to have just plain ol’ depression anymore, much less one of those phobias everyone else has. Afraid of snakes and spiders? Just suck it up! But there’s one phobia that’s making a comeback – mysophobia. The fear of germs.
Maybe it’s the long flu season and maybe it’s all those zombie movies, but people are beginning to really believe that a catastrophic pandemic is inevitable. It scares the hell out of them. But we shouldn’t fear the germs. Truth is we need germs and if we ever got around to totally eradicating them, we’d die, too.
Germs are one of the earliest forms of life. For a long, long time, there wasn’t much else. And even when more complex creatures arose, they had a tendency to incorporate some of those germs into their bodies for various reasons. A perfect example is our digestive system. Probiotics? Just another name for germs. They live on us and in us at astounding numbers.
People didn’t use to worry about germs. They worried about sorcery and evil spirits. And they came up with thousands of remedies when all they really needed to do was wash up more often and stop empyting their chamber pots into the streets. Today the bulk of our good health comes from just having fresh food and clean water and not inhaling a wood fire 365 days a year.
But I think we’ve taken it a little too far with all our sanitizers, gloves and masks. If we aren’t exposed to common germs we lose our immunity to them. Besides all that sanitation is illusionary. Go into the kitchen of any restaurant and you’ll see people preparing food with their bare hands. Go into any factory and see where your foam cups and plastic wear are manufactured. Don’t get me started about slaughter houses.
Of course even normally harmless germs like staph can become a problem under the right circumstances. But if you wash your hands several times a day, especially after, I think you’re pretty safe.
In the Bible, someone will occasionally opine that the road to hell is straight and wide, but the road to heaven is narrow and difficult. The road to hell is also supposed to be paved with good intentions, something I’ve never really understood. But I tend to think there’s way more than just two roads and that they all have varying degrees of difficulty and width.
Now that narrowest of paths is for the holy men and women. Those who have been “touched” by God. John the Baptist living in the wilderness and eating locusts. (Ick!) Buddha wandering the world with a begging bowl and a walking stick. Monks with vows of silence and nuns with vows of poverty. That’s some serious godliness right there.
I think there’s another road for the truly evil. Those who lie, steal, murder and somehow justify it all to themselves and end up playing the victim. Unfortunately, you’ve also got some who pretend to be holy and they can be the nastiest of all. But I don’t see this road as particularly easy. Criminals usually lead pretty uncomfortable lives. Still it’s probably a wide and well-marked thoroughfare.
Branching from all these roads are others leading in slightly different directions. There may even be a road for each of us. And maybe our individual paths sort of wander between the holy and evil sides depending on our circumstances. Sometimes we’re pulled toward greed, wrath or sloth, and other times we struggle toward charity, love and strength.
I like to take a middle path. I’m not tough enough to be a religious aesthetic, but I can’t abide wicked people, either. So I just slog along with my eyes on the brightness of God, but occasionally straying into the nettles of sin. (I’m particularly fond of pride and sloth.)
So where are we all going? Good question. It’s sort of THE question. What’s it all mean? What’s it all for? We tend to think about this more when we’re young and when we’re old. In between, we’re usually too busy to give it much thought. There are schools to finish, jobs to hold, families to raise. We trot down our roads confident we know where we’re going.
But eventually we all stop and ask ourselves, “What the heck am I doing with my life?” It’s a dangerous time and many people are overcome by regrets and despair. It’s a time when a lot of old trauma can resurface, bringing anxiety and depression. People always ask me why they’ve all the sudden having trouble with things they thought they’d forgotten. “Because it’s time,” I reply. Not a satisfying answer.
No one wants to stop, turn around and face all the things he’s been running from. Not fun. But that’s what you have to do if you want to keep going. In the end, you get to drop burdens you probably didn’t even realize you were still carrying. All the better for moving on down the road
Many of my “court-ordered” referrals involve domestic violence. I really should put together an anger management class. God knows the demand is out there. And when my anger clients tell me about the lousy groups they’re forced to attend, I know I could do better. Probably won’t happen. I’m essentially lazy and I get tired enough after a week of individual sessions.
I wanted to write about domestic violence and how it’s almost never punished because it’s almost never reported. But it is oh, so common. Thankfully, I grew up without slaps, punches, or beatings, so I have a very low threshold for family violence. My heart breaks for the children who lived in dread of those even more imaginative, cruel and truly monstrous punishments I’ve heard about in my sessions.
The school system does a pretty good job of reporting child abuse, but it’s harder to screen adults. Since the abuser’s mantra is “Don’t you dare tell anyone or you’ll regret it,” many victims just endure the violence, too terrified to speak out. And, sadly, even when abuse is discovered and the perpetrator accused, fast talk and expensive lawyers can blunt the punishment.
That’s why I have my own mantra – Report physical abuse first time, every time. Get to a safe place and dial 911. Don’t think about it, just do it. When you’ve finally had enough and want to prosecute, you’re going to need evidence – police reports, ER paperwork, official pictures of the injuries. Unfortunately most people don’t report. They’re in shock and denial.
First, they don’t think the police will help and they’ll just get some version of “Well what did you do to make him mad?” Second, they hesitate to betray a person they love. There’s still a strong taboo against calling the Po-Po on your family. Third, they’re afraid of things getting even worse once he gets out of jail. And they often do.
The best advice is to not get with an abuser in the first place. They can be very clever and charming, but if you’re observant, you’ll catch their masks slipping. They begin by isolating you, move on to verbal abuse and increasing control and escalate to violence. You need to stop it with the isolation. As romantic as it can be to nest with your lover, you shouldn’t have to give up friendships, jobs or family to do it.
Once the verbal abuse starts, it’s time to leave. If only people would. I know that every family fights from time to time and angry people say mean things. That’s not really abuse. True abuse is targeted and unrelenting. It’s designed to destroy your self-esteem thus making you easier to control so that by the time the beatings start, you already feel like you deserve them.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who tries to control you and berates you constantly, it’s time to put a stop to it. If your partner doesn’t shape up, leave.
The first time I visited my future husband in Forney, I stood in the middle of his yard and scanned the horizon. It curved around 270 beautiful degrees with a straight shot to the sunrise and another to the sunset. Directly across the street were three wheat fields intersected by tree lines. I heard nothing but wind and birdsong. I fell in love, effortlessly, completely. It’s a joke between us that I had to LEARN to love my husband.
He has had to accept my longing to turn places “fair”. I stole this idea from Tolkien and his description of elf habitations. The elves were minimalists, creating beauty not by altering nature, but by enhancing it. A standing rock became a carved pillar. A grove of trees became the poles for a tent. Tolkien said that even when the elves left, their lands remained blessed for long after.
So when I stood in Dan’s (quite empty) yard, that land called out to me and I ached to turn it fair. In my mind, rude cyclone fencing was clothed in flowering vines. A sluggish, shallow creek held the promise of a lovely pond, ringed by willows, a home to turtles. The leaning grayish deck was swept away and replaced by a patio of fitted river stones. Everywhere there was peace and beauty.
And that’s pretty much what happened. Though it took another two years for me to agree to marry Dan and move in. And I had to pay for most of the “enhancements” on my own and only after protracted “discussions” with him about how “he wouldn’t put any money into this place because he’d never get it back out” and “you say WE’RE going to do it, but you mean I’M going to do it”.
I loved my yard, especially the quiet. Used to be all we heard was the dull whine of Highway 20 when the wind was out of the south and the overly-enthusiastic train horns when it was out of the north. Now, I hear the rumbling and blaring of heavy construction equipment. And I watch as workmen mound up the dirt, tear down the tree rows and set out the plot lines for one thousand new houses.
One thousand houses on 300 acres. It boggled my mind. I paced it out near my outer fence and tried to imagine what kind of house could possibly fit. Piles of bricks with zero-lot lines. My beautiful field that for decades had brought forth wheat will now yield a crop of noise and trash. It’s already started. On my daily walk I see the remains fast-food meals, a lonely glove, a gimme cap.
Soon, instead of the horizon I’ll see the tops of houses stretching away to join the tops of more houses. Traffic, already increased by the proximity of two schools, will become locked. How soon before they put up a light? Now I know how the coyotes and raccoons feel when the trucks start rolling in.
I tread lightly when it comes to religion in therapy. As part of taking a patient history, I usually ask the client where he stands on “the whole God thing”. I respect his beliefs, or lack thereof and let them guide me as I try to help him pursue his highly individual path to healing.
Some people are immensely relieved to learn I’m a Christian. (They were afraid to ask.) But while faith can be a powerful tool in therapy, it’s not the only one and it’s not strictly necessary. Sometimes I find myself at odds with a client’s beliefs, even if we’re both Christian. One common point of departure deals with forgiveness.
Many of my clients have been massively injured by people they should have been able to trust. They’re grappling with hurt, anger and shame. Most of the harm was done long ago, often during childhood. So the adult in my office has usually been told, more than once, by more than one person, that he should have been able to “just get over it” by now.
Some of them are also told that they simply must forgive their abusers or they aren’t good Christians. So here we have a wounded soul, desperately trying to navigate his conflicting emotions about past abuse. But as if that wasn’t bad enough, he now has to magically summon forgiveness for the ones who hurt him or he’s worse than Satan himself. Talk about blaming the victim!
People who spout this belief usually have no comparable emotional damage to deal with. They come from the “Holier Than Thou” school of religion and consider themselves to be THE authority on what God wants. They’ve got the Bible down pat, except for that pesky little part about not judging lest thee be judged. And they’ve also managed to zero in on the motes in their neighbor’s eyes, while totally ignoring the logs in their own.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think forgiveness is a beautiful thing. But like a lot of beautiful things, it takes time to develop its full loveliness. I tell clients that it’s more important to first process their feelings of rage, betrayal and guilt before worrying about forgiveness. But if the day comes when they can forgive their abusers, they will finally be putting down a load that was never really theirs to carry.
What I would NEVER tell anyone is that he is not a good Christian because of what he’s feeling. I don’t have a direct line into the mind of God and I never trust anyone who acts like he does, even if he is the preacher. And while I try to live a righteous life, I fully admit that I fall short, consistently and sometimes spectacularly.
But guess what, all those “holy” people thumping their Bibles and shaking their fingers are sinners, too. Add to that the sin of pride for ever thinking any different. Oh well. To err is human.
Since shortly after I got my license at 16, I’ve always had a car. A used car that I bought with my own money. You see, I grew up in the days before conspicuous consumption when high school grads didn’t expect a brand new car from their parents. (And then a $100,000 wedding later on in life.) Being a good kid then just meant your parents trusted you with THEIR car from time to time. If you wanted more than that you needed to get a job and look for a junker.
I never really had a junker. I’ve had extremely good luck buying used cars. And after I was done with them I was always able to sell or trade them for a good price. While my cars had the usual assortment of mechanical problems over the years, they never spent a minute in a body shop. In fact, I never had a serious wreck until just last month. And that one was a doozy. First, a little background.
Four years ago, my auto mechanic (my beloved husband) decided that I needed a new car. And he wanted me to get a brand new car because he believes that if you buy a used one, you’re just getting someone else’s problems. I agreed on the new car deal but only if he paid half. So we went shopping and I decided on a sky blue 2014 Chevy Impala.
Of course I had to have full coverage insurance on the car while I was paying for it. But I kept that insurance even after it was paid off. And it’s a darned good thing! In the four years I’ve had that beast, it has been in the body shop four times! And only two of them were my fault.
First I scraped up the door on our fence trying to block a wayward donkey (Susie) from getting out. A year later my husband did exactly the same thing during one of the rare times he was driving my car. A year after that, someone backed into me in a parking lot. And finally, this year I really screwed the pooch by hitting a patch of gravel, fishtailing off the road and plowing through a barbed wired fence.
The good news is that no one was hurt, including me. And the car had nothing but “cosmetic” damages. But oh, what damages! That barbed wire wrapped around my car and I drug it halfway across the field. There isn’t a panel or piece of chrome that wasn’t scratched at least a little bit. And some of it was scratched all to heck!
So I took it back to Gary’s. This will be the third time he’s pounded out and repainted my car. (The other guy’s insurance insisted on another shop when he hit me.) He thought it was going to be totaled, but the insurance company agreed to have it fixed. Now it’s for sale! Anyone interested?
Deep in our hearts, we all cherish a vision of the perfect childhood. Parents who were wise and loving. Siblings who were fun and supportive. A community dedicated to preserving our safety and offering us opportunity. The only problem is that no one actually HAS that childhood. It’s a sepia-tinted fantasy cooked up by the Hallmark Corporation.
Almost all the clients I see had it pretty rough coming up. But many of them note that everything looked perfect from the outside. In other words, someone looking in would see a happy, functional family, working in the yard, going off to church, gathering for carols around the Christmas tree, enjoying a Disney vacation.
What outsiders didn’t see were father’s drunken rages, mother’s preference for one favored child to the detriment of all the others, siblings locked in an unending battle for too few resources, tearing each other apart for a few scraps of love and attention. There’s often violence and abuse from verbal to physical to sexual. All of it carefully concealed behind endless posts of smiling faces.
This is exactly what came to light in what the media are calling “The California Torture House”. For at least 30 years, two very sick people kept creating children just to deny them even the smallest bit of nurturing or dignity. The 13 siblings rescued from that filthy hell were so malnourished, they appeared to be half their ages. Everyone is asking how it could have gone on for so long undetected.
Well, the “Torture House” is just an extreme example of the suffering I hear about day after day in my office. And trust me, it goes on in every part of the USA, in every part of the world. It could be going on right next door. You don’t know about it because the perpetrators – and the victims – are desperate to keep you from knowing. And therein lies the problem.
Let’s say a well-meaning neighbor had asked those lunatic parents why their children were marching around all night. At best they’d have gotten some nonsense about exercise and discipline. More likely they’d have been told to mind their own darned business. And in pretty short order, the family would be gone – moved away to someplace more secluded.
Let’s say you notice a local kid who’s always hungry and underdressed. You kindly ask what’s going on and despite the kid’s stone-walling, you decide to notify the authorities. Congratulations! You just signed that kid’s death warrant. Or, more probably, a fate worse than death, once the parents figure out who snitched. And you can bet that kid will never ask for help again.
Ferreting out the particulars of child abuse is a difficult and dangerous task. And once kids are “rescued”, their lives don’t necessarily get any better. Many languish in abusive group homes until they age out then face the world alone, with little training and no support. There’s simply got to be a better way. But what?
In my life I’ve owned and loved several dogs. Any animal I take in gets a cradle-to-grave assurance of food, water, medical care, affection and respect. That being said, I really don’t like dogs much. This should come as no surprise to my sons, both of whom insist on owning large canines. Most of the time I’m at their houses, I’m saying things like “Out of the way, dog!” and “Stop licking me!”
I’ll admit that dogs make good companions. Just try getting an iguana to hop up on the car seat beside you for a ride to the grocery store. And dogs will fend off intruders, but only at the price of barking like idiots any time something moves outside. Living next door to a pack of hounds or a herd of little yappers can quickly cause you to lose your sanity.
No matter how much I may love a dog, it is not allowed to sleep in bed with me. It is not allowed to lick my face and certainly not inside my mouth. (Ew!) Videos of people online “kissing” their dogs make me want to vomit. You DO realize that tongue has just been licking its butt, right!?
So I’m a cat person. Cats are clean, quiet and self-absorbed. Unlike the needy dog that rushes you (barking insanely) the minute you come home, a cat will look up slowly, yawn and blink a few times, as if to say, “Oh, you’re back,” before resuming the snooze. I’m often heartened by the Cat Philosophy of Life. “When faced with adversity, take a nap.”
But I’m not a crazy cat lady. I like to keep one cat at a time. And I won’t make my cat a prisoner in the house. Aside from not wanting to deal with the smell of a cat box, I believe cats are only semi-domesticated and I’m lucky enough to live on a property big enough to allow my cat, Shadow, to roam a bit. Though, like all cats, she spends most of her time asleep.
She’s more standoffish than most, but she lives like a queen. She has multiple snooze spots all over the house which I have made more comfortable with the addition of old towels. She also has a cat flap at both the front and back doors. She expresses gratitude for her freedom by bringing home the occasional mouse or bird (or parts thereof).
Another good thing about cats is that they’re all about the same size. You can get a collar or bed that will work for any of them. Which brings us back to abnormally large and powerful dogs. For me, a collie is the perfect size for a pet. Not so small as to be ridiculous. Not big enough to tear your kid’s head off, like a pit bull, which no one should be allowed to own. That would be like me keeping a cougar as a pet. Just plain wrong.
Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice for president. Or my second. In fact, the only reason I voted for him was because I simply refused to accept Elitist Hillary Clinton as my queen. Like all men, Mr. Trump is flawed, but I’m starting to like him. I like the way he isn’t a political insider, he isn’t taking a salary, and he says what he thinks, come what may.
So last week when news broke about him calling some countries “s**t-holes” my heart sank. “Please,” I silently prayed, “don’t let him have put it in a tweet.” Turns out he didn’t. He said it in a private (and probably pretty heated) discussion with our “representatives” about our messed up immigration policies.
Of course the Elitists in Washington, Hollywood and the media went ballistic. Never mind that Robert De Niro had just publicly f-bombed Trump - repeatedly. It’s okay when THEY do it. And that’s what I dislike about them - their hypocrisy.
Let’s just look at one of the allegedly “s***hole” countries – Haiti. Our Washington elites visit Haiti (in their private jets) and their hearts break over the conditions there. Our Hollywood elites might even document the suffering on film – the disease, hunger, over-population and corruption. They’ll edit it down and distribute it.
When it comes out, Hollywood’s collective mass will weep huge tears and proceed to give the filmmakers awards. Okay so far. But then Mr. and Ms. American Public go to see that film and, as they’re walking out of the theatre, they might comment that Haiti sure is a “s**t-hole country.
And the Elitists go ballistic again. How dare those deplorables condemn Haiti as a “s**t-hole”! But didn’t they just spend a whole lot of time and money creating a piece of “art” designed to show us exactly that? Again, it’s okay when THEY say it.
Elitists seldom do any real work to make life in “s**t-hole” countries more tolerable. (That’s for church mission groups to handle!) They just go back to their mansions in their exclusive, gated communities because it’s okay for THEM to build a wall to keep out the riff-raff. It’s just not okay to protect ordinary citizens from a wholesale invasion of crime and poverty.
So what’s the solution for the “s**t-hole” countries? Well it isn’t for corrupt rulers to keep taking everything while exporting their excess population to the USA. Giving them money won’t help, either, because the rulers always find a way to keep most of it. The citizens of those countries need to stay where they are and fight to make things better.
Not surprisingly, our Elitists love to import poverty. (Poor people are SO much easier to control.) Secretly, they’d love to be like the rulers of those “s**t-hole” countries and be able to rob us all blind without any pesky Constitutional rights getting in the way. And none of them, from Washington to Hollywood, wants to be anywhere near a Haitian refugee, unless he’s busing their tables.
Over the holidays I went to visit some dear friends who not only don’t have the TV on all the time, they don’t even OWN a TV. It’s so peaceful to be without the constant screeching of that idiot box. I can focus, come up with new ideas and refine existing ones. Every time I come away from there I’m determined to end my dependence on TV. And for a few days, I do.
But gradually I begin to stray. It starts with watching a single program or checking the weather on the news. Before I know it I’m inert in front of the set, binge-watching Forensic Files or Futurama. I tell myself I’ll stop after the episode is over, but the TV programmers have figured out that dodge. They don’t let you wander off during the break, but start up the next program while the credits of the first one are still running.
A lot of people who have the TV on all the time aren’t really watching it. They say they just like the background noise. My treasured stepmother is one of these. She has a TV in each room of her house playing CNN non-stop. (Now tell me THAT’S not depressing!) She says it’s comforting to have voices in the house. She doesn’t really hear them, but I do.
My problem is that I can’t NOT hear that TV. If the thing is on, I’m attending to it and find it difficult to concentrate on anything else. I can’t keep up my end of the conversation or even work on a project. But when I ask people if they’d mind turning off the TV while we work or talk, they look at me like I’d just asked them to strip naked and sing the Star-Spangled Banner while hopping on one foot.
Most of the week, I’m working and my attention is focused on my clients and the ever-increasing mounds of paperwork the government demands. So it’s only on weekends or holidays that I succumb to the siren song of televised entertainment. Saturday I was thus hunkered down in front of the set when an awful wave of depression ran through me. This was no way to spend my precious free time!
Instead I turned off the TV and made up a list of things I really needed to get done. Then I started on the list. Instead of being depressed, I felt good that I was accomplishing something. And accomplish I did. Projects that I had been sitting in piles, shaming me for months were suddenly gone, finished. My mood was definitely better.
I always tell my clients that watching TV all day is a sure way to get and stay depressed. You aren’t moving and you aren’t engaged in anything productive. So when watching TV seems more enjoyable than pursuing your real life, it’s time to turn off that boob tube and get to work making your actual life really great.
Like all old coots, I have deep concerns about the up-and-coming generation. I worry that, by spending the bulk of their days pushing buttons and watching “content” on a screen, they’ve become so disconnected from reality that they can’t function in the natural world. To them, all knowledge is instantly accessible, so there is no reason to actually learn how to do anything.
The bulk of them have no idea how to build, repair or maintain any of the hundreds of machines they take for granted. Ask for a show of hands in a high school classroom and how many would know how to change a tire? Or how to change the oil? How many would even know that you HAVE to change the oil?
How many know where all the food they eat comes from? Most of them couldn’t execute an acceptable grilled cheese sandwich without a quick check on You Tube. How many could get a fire started without matches and then keep it going long enough to cook that sandwich?
How many could fix a leaky pipe? More importantly, how many know how to turn the water off at the main before they start trying to fix that leaky pipe? At the office building where I work, I’m the only one of five women who knows how the flapper assembly works in the toilet tank or how to release the stopper plug in the sink so you can fish out all the hair.
I’m also the only one who isn’t terrified (to the point of hysteria) by bugs and rodents. These young, strapping women, who would take on a man in a fist fight, dissolve into shrieking, quivering wretches at the mere sight of a mouse weighing no more than five ounces. Can you imagine how they’d respond if they had to field-dress a deer?
Heck, I can’t even get them to let me SHOW them how to get out the hair that’s clogging up the sink. And it’s THEIR hair! I’m totally bald, remember? Their solution is to call in a plumber and so I guess they deserve being overcharged. (Maybe I should start charging them?)
So why does any of this matter? Well, I have a theory that the further you stray from the fundamentals of existence, the more dependent and depressed you become. I truly believe that what ails our young people more than anything is that they don’t do enough real work, with real things. It’s the kind of activity that builds character!
For example, before he became a king, David was sent out to watch the sheep. I image him being a mouthy little brat who was then just learning to play the lute. I’ll bet no one missed him much while he was out in the fields. But that’s where he learned to spy out the land, be vigilant and bring down wild animals with nothing but a sling. How many kids today could do that?