Observing, Thinking, Changing

Working on Relationships

The same day I had my victim-blaming epiphany, I had another one.

Long ago, I rejected the notion that we should all like everyone else. Sometimes there are people I just don’t like, and people who just don’t like me; there are people I like less than others, and people who like me less than others; and so on. This seems normal and natural to me. On the contrary, it seems rather contrived to me to pressure everyone into liking everyone else.

However, this is not an accepted societal norm, generally, until you are very old, and then you’re allowed, sometimes, to get away with saying you just don’t like a particular person. They call you eccentric then, and shrug it off. Since I am not a very old person yet, I instead get the backlash that I “should” like that person, or else I need to provide a damned good reason why I don’t. There isn’t always a reason, per say; often it’s just a personality clash. It’s not that we had angry words, so now we don’t like each other, but just that I sense the personality clash, so I choose to avoid this person when I can. It just seems like a sensible thing to do, and I am annoyed at the suggestion that I should have to justify it. I don’t have to justify not liking parsnips, or camping, or public transport, or any number of other things in life, generally, but on this matter, bystanders demand an explanation.

And when I do have an actual problem with someone – we have gotten to that point of exchanging angry words, for example – I have nearly always been seen as the one who’s being unreasonable for not brushing aside my problems with that person and pretending that everything’s okay. Through all of life, I’ve noticed this pattern. The other person may be subject to the same censure, for all I know, but definitely I’m expected to sweep my feelings under a rug and be a doormat, or else I’m being unreasonable.

But this day, a friend mentioned the work she’d done on her relationship with a family member over the years (which is now making life easier in their shared current difficulty). Suddenly, it was clear: No, the answer is not to sweep my feelings under the rug – the answer is to do the work to deal with our joint feelings.

This is the harder path in the short term, because it needs both (or all) parties to actually do work, rather than just bite their tongues for the next 75 years. But it is actually the other option, and I am not unreasonable for not wanting to be a doormat.

Pic via 2nerd

Pic via 2nerd

Following on from that, I realized that the thing is, all relationships are work, and we don’t really acknowledge that. Instead, what we generally do is this:

The vast majority of the people we interact with, we do so on a very surface basis – the cashier at the store, the guy we’re networking with, etc. It’s fairly easy to get along well enough with anyone at this sort of surface level for as long as we need to to do those sorts of things.

For relationships that progress beyond this point, we might reach a sticking point (or several) where we no longer get along so easily. We don’t really know what to do at this point. We’re taught repeatedly that relationships are work, but we always take that to mean our romantic relationships. We could reach this sticking point in any sort of relationship – family, friend, romance, acquaintance – and where we don’t realize we need to work through it, we’re more inclined to just bury it or walk away.

It is, of course, not always appropriate to bring it to the other person and say, “I have a problem with you doing X, Y, Z” – that guy you’re networking with might be flabbergasted to find you telling him you don’t like him picking his nose while he’s talking to you (though really, you totally should tell him that). But just as it’s important and vital for the longevity of your romantic relationship, so too is it important and vital for your familial relationships and your friendships.

They could ignore you, or tell you off (“It’s my business if I pick my nose!”), which really doesn’t leave you any worse off than you already are if you’re at such a sticking point. The difference is that if you tell them, you give them a chance to know, a chance to change (“I didn’t even realize I was picking my nose, sorry.”), and for all you know, what’s a big deal to you is a non-thing to them, and the problem could be easily solved. Or perhaps it’ll be harder. But I generally find it easier and better to be forthright with people than to leave them wondering.

Photo by DttSP

Photo by DttSP

Victim-blaming – how widespread and deep-rooted it is

I had a small epiphany recently. I read a post on another blog wherein the blogger is having problems with someone who is – at best, being creepy; at worst, stalking her. As I let it roll around in my head, I thought about how I’ve often debated how much of myself it’s safe to reveal online, for exactly that issue: what if someone wants to, let’s say, creep me out, so ends up sending me black roses, perhaps.

I’ve tended to deal with this by compartmentalizing my online life, as best I can, and generally having this niggling fear that raises its ugly head from time to time.

But as I mulled over it happening in real life to this real woman, it suddenly dawned on me:

In my head, all these years, I’ve been guilty of carrying over the blame-the-victim mentality that we’re socialized to have, which I’ve tried so hard to get away from. This is most talked about these days regarding rape: the blame-the-victim mentality says, “She shouldn’t have been wearing that, or walking alone there, or drinking alcohol, or or or.” The view I’ve adopted, which I think is correct, is that all of us have every right to dress however we want, to walk where ever we want, unescorted, to drink or not drink alcohol, etc, without the safety of our bodies ever being in question. The attacker is in the wrong for attacking, not the victim for simply existing.

But I didn’t see how much the blame-the-victim mentality permeates and goes into other areas; it was, indeed, regarding rape that I first started learning this differentiation. I suddenly realized I’d been carrying the blame-the-victim mentality into this question of how to act online.

The truth of the matter is, if a person’s put clues to their identity, location, etc, online, a creepy person can figure it out, or a reasonable person could figure it out. (Or if a person’s put this information forthrightly out there.) But the reasonable person won’t do anything untoward with that information. It’s the creepy person’s fault that they’ve chosen to go and do something uncalled-for with that information. It’s not the victim’s fault for existing.

It is still the victim’s problem, sadly, to deal with any creepers/etc, but that’s a separate issue. I was conflating them.

(I should be clear here that no one that I know of is blaming the original blogger for this happening, and that I know only what’s in that post about her situation. I only used it as a take-off point for the thoughts I’ve struggled with for so long, and you shouldn’t think I am trying to say anything about her situation at all. Except, obviously, that it’s her creeper who’s in the wrong.)

Alex G – Speak Up, We’re Listening

I really like Alex G’s music. This is a wonderful song, and perfect for this blog.

From the video description:

The Share Your Story EP has been the most important project I’ve taken on so far in my career. I’m so honored to have the opportunity to bring Charlotte’s story to life. If you, like her (and also like me), have ever felt like you don’t matter, let this song remind you that you’re not nothing. Your voice matters, and we’re listening. Share this video with someone that needs to hear that they are important!

The Well-Filled Mind vs the Well-Formed Mind

I came across this TEDx talk recently; Dr Shashi Tharoor puts very eloquently something that I’ve been trying to get across to my peers for ages – the difference between the well-filled mind and the well-formed mind.

Click here or start this at 11:48:

Letting Others Define Us

I came across this late last night, shared on social media as a “heartwarming” story. Instead of having a sensation of heartwarming, all I had as I read the last line was an overwhelming sense of how we often let others define us so profoundly.

Control carefully who you let mark your canvas. Photo by DttSP

Control carefully who you let mark your canvas.

Photo by DttSP

I’ll never forget Easter 1946. I was 14, my little sister Ocy was 12, and my older sister Darlene 16. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things. My dad had died five years before, leaving Mom with 7 school kids to raise and no money.

By 1946, my older sisters were married, and my brothers had left home. A month before Easter, the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially.

When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. When we thought, we realized that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on that month’s electric bill. Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents, we could buy enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1. We made $20 on pot holders.

That month was one of the best of our lives.

Every day we counted the money to see how much we’d saved. At night we’d sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so figured that whatever amount we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering.

The day before Easter, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change.

We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene. We had never had so much money before.

That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn’t care that we wouldn’t have new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering.

We could hardly wait to get to church! On Sunday morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella, and the church was over a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart, and her feet got wet.

But we sat it church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt rich.

When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us kids put in a $20.

As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch, Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes!

Late that afternoon, the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10, and seventeen $1 bills.

Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn’t talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash. We kids had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have our Mom and Dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the spoon or fork that night. We had two knives that we passed around to whoever needed them. I knew we didn’t have a lot of things that other people had, but I’d never thought we were poor.

That Easter day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn’t like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed – I didn’t even want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor!

I thought about school. I was in the 9th grade and at the top of my class of over 100 students. I wondered if the kids at school knew that we were poor. I decided that I could quit school since I had finished the 8th grade. That was all the law required at that time. We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark, and we went to bed. All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much.

Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know. We’d never known we were poor. We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn’t talk on the way.

Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse. At church, we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun-dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, “Can’t we all sacrifice to help these poor people?” We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week.

Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me, and I handed it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering.

When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”

Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that “little over $100.”

We were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so? From that day on I’ve never been poor again.

Now, I’m sure this is fiction – $70 in 1946 is about $855 today, for a start – but it doesn’t matter. I love fiction, because it helps me see certain facts of life much more clearly than I can in the muddled up real world, and then apply those facts of life out here in the real world.

The narrator was happily going through life until someone told her she was this label (poor), and she took it to heart, as complete unchallenged truth, and then had to figure out how to make her life fit that new definition of herself. Then she took a passing comment – some call it a throwaway comment, though I hate that phrase – and she latched onto it and built up an entire lifetime of self-confidence based on that second new definition (rich). Again, she took it as completely unchallenged truth and let it define her.

Clearly, the way it happened in the second case (the passing rich comment) isn’t as damaging as the other way around, but it opens the door for the other way around: someone could make a passing comment about her being poor a week/month/year/decade later, and it could undermine all of her self-confidence just as the minister bringing them the money for the poor family did.

All I could think was:

It’s not good to give anyone this much power over you.

And yet letting others’ opinions of us define us is so much an accepted part of our society that it’s the key ingredient of this “heartwarming” story.

It’s not just because the narrator was a child at the time, either. As I reflected on it, I thought of the countless hours/days/weeks/etc of my adult life I’ve wasted worrying over what others think of me, and how I’ve listened to others do the same. It’s commonplace enough that it’s regularly portrayed in fiction, as well. Indeed, I suspect it’s a key ingredient of how our society has succeeded in lasting so long (remember, throughout human history, there have been other societies that haven’t worked out – so whatever rules we find in our own society are, in part, the rules that have ensured its longevity).

I think it’s good to be aware of what others think of you – I’m aware of one person, for example, who is quite fickle towards me, and others who dislike me to greater or lesser degrees. We shouldn’t all like each other, so this is fine, but my point is: If I thought or assumed that they liked me, and then interacted with them based on that, and they were short and snappy, that could be a blow to me. Knowing where they stand on the “like/dislike” spectrum, however, means that I better know what to expect with each interaction – or, in the case of the fickle person, I know to drop all expectations and just roll with whatever comes.

So of course I think we should spend some time thinking about what others seem to think of us, but the endless agonizing I sometimes do has really got to stop. Figuring out that others think you’re … poor … authoritative … wise … extravagant … thoughtful … bitchy … etc … is one thing; letting their opinion define you is a whole nother thing. That is, thusly figuring out how to act poor / authoritative / wise / extravagant / thoughtful / bitchy / etc, just because that’s what they think you are, and truly they know best, is quite daft, really. Realize their voice is but one of many – and far from the most important one. That’s yours.

Managing Our Emotions

Are we addicted to outrage? Specifically, manufactured outrage?

I think there’s something to what he’s saying.

A cutting board with a blood orange cut open and knives next to it. Also two salads are in the frame.

A blood orange massacre: for when the temptation to commit a human massacre must be tempered.

Photo by DttSP

Mulling over this and more, it seems to me that people are socialized to not feel too deeply or passionately – we tell people who are upset to “Control yourself!”; we call people Drama Queens when they show their upset frequently (and in certain other cases). No, we must control our emotions and not let them control us – sound familiar? These are the messages we get, over and over again.

But we’re emotional creatures: we must emote. So we control when we expose ourselves to things that might make us lose control to times that are acceptable: when we’re at home, alone, perhaps, for one person, or when we’re surrounded by close loved ones, for another person (or another emotion). The rest of the time, we need to be able to experience emotions in a shallower way, to change gears readily.

grinding spices with a mortar and pestle

Displacing the anger.

Photo by DttSP

As for emoting anger and outrage, it’s easier to shift away from outrage about something that’s been manufactured than it is about something closer to home. I think many people latch onto manufactured outrage because of this.

I think this, too, is why depressing fictional stories (books, movies, television shows, plays, etc) are so wildly popular, too. People latch onto the manufactured sorrow so that they can have something that’s a shallower experience – we all desperately need every emotion, but they won’t let themselves be sad for real. When it’s your own real life, you’re supposed to tell yourself it’ll get better, that bad things don’t happen to good people, that it can’t stay this bad forever, and so on – and we’re socialized to eschew those who don’t. When it’s a fictional story or someone else’s story, you can experience that pain and sorrow deeply, but in the fleeting way that our society demands.

Then you can spring right back to your happy-go-lucky default state that we’re all supposed to be in, a smile on your face, troubles of the world forgotten in a heartbeat – or at least stuffed down to where ever they’re supposed to be shoved.

We are not all alike

Does ginger ale (or ginger) help with stomach aches?

If you didn’t watch it, he cites various studies: some contradict each other, and some are inconclusive on their own. We don’t know.

Ginger ale used to settle my stomach sometimes, and then it quit settling it ever.

Do we remember better if we read from paper or from an e-reader?

Perhaps, and paper books may also have other fringe benefits. But it’s not settled: “Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens.” and “Although many old and recent studies conclude that people understand what they read on paper more thoroughly than what they read on screens, the differences are often small.”

I read something about this yesterday – one of the studies that says we don’t comprehend as well digitally as on paper – and shared it with my partner. He reads quite a lot on his ereader; he said he hadn’t noticed a difference. I mused over this, and realized that for me, I find it to be true, but it’s got to do with what I read electronically: things I can easily find again, or ephemeral things I feel no pressure to remember (like social media updates). I don’t read books electronically – I can’t get on with the eye strain, lacking an ereader that looks like paper – so that basically leaves articles, blogs, email, information, social media, my own documents, etc.

a filing cabinet

We can’t be filed neatly away.
By DttSP

We keep looking for universal answers, forgetting that we’re all different. Ginger and/or ginger ale will settle some stomachs but not others, because each of us has a unique body chemistry. Even at that, ginger/ginger ale will settle some stomach aches but not others in the same person because what’s going on in that stomach will vary from minute to minute.

Some people will comprehend better on paper, some with a screen, some won’t find a difference – and some will comprehend better with different methods for different things – because each of our minds work differently.

Don’t fall into the trap of searching for a universal truth. Find your truth.

Why You Shouldn’t Be “Realistic”

A timely message from Prince Ea – as always:

I refuse to accept the reality I was given — I’d much rather create my own.


How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Moving frequently as a child meant learning how to fit in quickly: it meant learning how to read people and become what they expected and wanted. I’ve been a social chameleon for so long, I realized I don’t know who I am.

Today on how to lose friends and alienate people: utter those words to your dearest friends to lose them. Utter those words naïvely, thinking you’re leveling with them. Forget that of course, your friends will feel conned and deceived.

I knew that I’d lose acquaintances and possibly friends in the course of figuring out who I was and becoming that person: by shedding parts of my personality that don’t truly resonate with me, I would lose the people who’d found me tolerable only because of those bits. I hadn’t expected it to start yet, though, since I haven’t yet started shedding parts of my personality, so the threat to this friendship feels like it’s come out of the blue. Of course, it hasn’t.

It’ll work out, one way or another. It could, of course, be another line that’s caused this issue – I don’t know – but in any event, either she can handle my forthrightness, or she can’t. What’s emerging of my authentic self cries out for strong friends to go with a strong me. She’s been a dear, dear friend – one of the best I’ve ever had in my life – but if I have to ever feel like I’m holding back, I’m best relegated to a diary and a blog instead. I’ll be sad if it comes to that, but better to have happy memories than to put the friendship on life support.

Take it in, mash it all about, come up with new ideas…

Almost before I even got started, I hit a road block of doubt. The blog Because I Can recently discussed the micro-attacks invited by having an opinion whilst being a woman, such as this one:

My favourite phrase (referring to the proliferation of blogs/social media) is “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!”

As much as I admire your new adventures it’s a big like those who write blogs about being pregnant/unemployed/married etc – it’s tricky but nothing new/unique and therefore should be confined to a personal diary.

Otherwise it’s just attention seeking.

Sorry 🙂 x

Lisa, who writes Because I Can, goes on to tell us that she’s simply more determined to share her opinion, the more shushing she gets, but I had the opposite reaction, thinking of this particular blog. I hadn’t thought of this blog as attention-seeking, and that gave me pause. I was hoping for some validation, actually: I was hoping for the “Me, too” that Hands Free Mama keeps talking about – the validation of finding someone else who’s gone through the same thing.

But then today, I’ve come across this on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, written by Felicia Day, in a piece about her new book, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), a memoir. She had a great deal of trouble focusing on herself for so long:

My constant inner monologue was, “Who the hell do you think you are, chickie?” But the thing that got me through was realizing that the point of creating is not about ourselves, it’s about everyone around us. How we change others in small ways or large with what we make.

The satisfaction came from other people taking what I made, crushing it into their own a psychic ball and mashing around in their heads, only to come out later in a repurposed form for their own uses. Whether just to share “this made me laugh” in an internet comment, or spur them to create a whole world of their own, impulse sparked by what I’d shared.

So when you think about creating, focus on the idea of adding to the collective Borg consciousness, if only to get over your own road blocks and make it easier to get your voice out there. Seeing how the things we express give other people the tools to fertilize the gardens of their own minds is beautiful. It’s kind of the point of being alive.

Right, that works for me – after all, mashing up what others have created into new things is what I do all the time – so I can get on with that theory.

And we also have this post in the same vein: do something.

Time to get to it, then!

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