Cabin Fever?

solitary

One of the things I find fascinating about the experience of safer at home during the last several weeks is the number of people who are struggling with perceived isolation. I don’t refer here to people who live alone and cannot go to work. I refer to the rest of us. We have social contact. Perhaps we go to work, or visit with friends and colleagues virtually, we might work virtually, we go to the grocery store and other essential places, and yet to hear some people tell it you would think they were in solitary confinement!

I would like to suggest that if the above describes how you are feeling you would benefit

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from some self examination. If you are partnered, I would ask you to consider that maybe the only reason the two (or more) of you aren’t doing well is because the only time you can tolerate each other is when you are separated most of the time. If that’s the case, it might be time to ask some serious questions about your relationship and consider getting some counseling when this is all over. There are concrete steps you can take to improve things, and at this time you have a great opportunity to begin!

marathonThe third possibility is that you are hiding from yourself. There are things about yourself or your history that you don’t want to consider, and all this time with less to do than normal increases the possibility that they will surface. In normal times, you can keep nearly perpetually active, stopping only to collapse into bed at night and hitting the floor running in the morning. Now, however, when you are alone you may be experiencing anxiety and the need to find something, almost anything, to do. The answer is to engage in some grounding practices and just be present to what you are feeling. Running away isn’t going to help, it’s just going to kick the problem further down the road until you have no choice but to face it. That’s always more traumatic that choosing to face it. Don’t waste this valuable time. It may not come again until fall!

Overheard in Detention

My wife and I share a car these days, and when I get to her office early to pick her up I sit in a little vending room on the first floor and write. I let her know I am there by sending her a graphic detentionMrMackeythat indicates I am in detention. Some of the best posts on my blogs start as ideas while “in detention.” There is an office down the hall from my detention room from which regularly emerge two women who head outside, presumably to smoke. One of them almost never talks. Even if she wanted to, I don’t know how she could possibly get a word in because the other one – let’s call her, “Sewer Mouth” – never stops talking. Wait, that’s not fair. She never stops complaining, except when she pauses to launch into a profane tirade that would make a sailor blush. Mind you, I can cuss with the best of them but old Sewer Mouth makes me feel like an Amish beginner. I want to ask her if she eats with that mouth, but she won’t stop talking long enough for me to try.

Leaving aside for a moment how unprofessional it is when going on break to start spewing “motherfucker” before the office door has closed behind you, I have no idea why her coworker wants to be around her. When we constantly ooze negativity, we aren’t much fun to be around. When we blow it out of a fire hose, I have to wonder why this woman even shows up for work. Could her life be even remotely as miserable as her mouth suggests it is? If so, it’s long past time for the people who care about her to get positivetogether and mount an intervention.

It’s good practice to listen to ourselves every now and then. By doing so, we can get a feel for our own mental state – or at least the one we present to the world. A good exercise if we find our talking self to be more negative than we might like is to decide to say a certain number of positive things each day. We should work to increase the number of positive things we say week by week. It would be long until we feel like a new person, because that is what we will be!

 

Places That Frighten Us

When I was a freshman in college I worked at Marshall Field’s here in Milwaukee. It was a department store chain based in Chicago. I heard stories from my managers about the SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESmain store in Chicago on State Street. The store had a basement, a floor that in many old school department stores held what today we would call clearance or overstock items. There were bargains to be had in the basement floor of every major department store – so much so that many department stores would open separate buildings that they called their basement store. I still remember visiting Filene’s basement store in Boston when I lived there.

Anyway, the main store of Marshall Field’s in Chicago also had sub-basements. These levels weren’t open to the general public. They housed the kind of massive shipping, receiving, and stockrooms that the old eight to twelve story department stores required.

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The Subbasement of Mandel Bros. Dept. Store

From what the managers at my store told me, the further you descended the sub-basement levels, the stranger things got. Maybe the stories were retail versions of ghost stories, but I suspect not. Just as there are people who feel more than comfortable in subterranean environment there are people who feel called to work at night while the rest of us sleep. Just as likely is that some of these people choose to work at night because they would rather not interact with us.

Bumps_in_the_nightWhatever our reasons for moving into the night or underground might be, we all would benefit from understanding the primal fear that exists for some of us in those places. It would help us to understand the irrational aspects of our fear that likely are rooted in early human history when going out into the dark exposed caveman to some serious predators. I believe that all of our seemly irrational fears are linked to the desire for self preservation. If we find ourselves feeling uncomfortable but can’t identify the reason, our answer might be hiding in the dark reaches of humanity’s past. Shining a light on those connections may move us past them!

Gross Psychic Weight

You may have noticed that commercial trucks often have weights listed on the cab of the truck that indicate how much weight the vehicle can safely bear. Those numbers are there to help eliminate the safety risks inherent in driving an overloaded vehicle. They smartcarfailalways remind me of the day we put an old refrigerator out on the street for pickup by the city. Early the next morning, I was surprised to see that refrigerator strapped to the top of an old Honda that was slowly driving down the street with its undercarriage about six inches off the pavement!

While hopefully most of us wouldn’t overload our cars and put our own safety at risk, many of us do gleefully overload our psyche with stress producing schedules, experiences, and activities. We can self-schedule ourselves into a busyness that is literally bad for our health in the same way that strapping a refrigerator to our backs would be. In fact, it’s easier to overload on psychic stress because it is most often invisible until at last our mental “suspension” gives out. Then we can find ourselves immobilized, unable to get out of bed in the morning because we cannot even begin to imagine facing our day. Should you find yourself feeling that way, it’s time to get help. It would be better to get help before we findtired ourselves in that condition!

If you feel your mood or your energy flagging, it would be good to look at your activity level. What can you reduce or eliminate to give yourself time to recover in the same way than an athlete recovers from running a marathon? We can easily find ourselves in a place where we don’t believe we can say “no” to the next request. This can be especially difficult at work, but your health and happiness both depend on your ability to set boundaries. I know someone who worked in a large company here in Milwaukee that routinely expected members of his department to put in eight or more hours of overtime and then report the next day at their usual starting time to do it all over again. The company was mystified when errors increased, productivity decreased, and eventually massive turnover occurred!

We all have our limits, and we all would do well to learn what they are and respect them. It may seem like a good idea to stress ourselves to the breaking point or to have a lot of extra money on our next paycheck, but sooner or later our bodies and our minds will demand we pay the price for abusing them.

A Small Life

I had a conversation with someone the other day about the fact that they got a snowplow to come plow the driveway after about an inch and a half of light, fluffy snow had fallen, prodigy-snowplow-videoShe said, “we’re lazy, so we had a friend come and plow the driveway.” I responded that I didn’t think that was lazy, and if I found myself in the same position and had the opportunity for someone to plow the driveway I would do the same thing. We might say that such a choice is but a judicious conservation of energy. A few days later it snowed again, this time a bit heavier, and a different plow appeared to banish the snow from the premises. Good for them!

Then still a few days later it snowed again, this time a wet, heavy snow. Nothing was done except a path to the garage. It wouldn’t matter, except the property is a multiple family dwelling. The driveway remained untouched, the front walk a tortfeasor’s wet dream. No plow would arrive this time. Predictably, the driveway partly melted and then froze again, a combination skating rink and lunar landscape of ice. The same people had delivered to them before all of this started three large bags of salt to treat the ice with, but it remained in its bags. This is laziness. If it was a laziness that impacted only them, nobody would care. There is a larger point at work here.

When we commit to do something and honor that commitment, we grow. In a similar small likefashion, when we commit to do something and fail to honor that commitment, we diminish ourselves. There is a segment of the population that seems to believe doing the least you can to get by is somehow an honorable thing, a demonstration of cunning, but our souls know better. Inside of us, every time we skirt our responsibilities, we are diminished and our life becomes smaller. This shrinking can be overcome, but not easily. In our more reflective moments, usually a bit later in life, we will likely come to realize that we could have been better, our lives could have been richer, but we chose to circumvent those opportunities. Life is about engaging opportunity, not running away from it. Many people don’t realize that truth, and that is the true tragedy.

Sex Secret

I don’t think women do this, but I could be wrong. Women hardly ever invite me to eavesdrop on their conversations about sex. Dammit. Some men do this, however, and it’s them I would like to discuss today. You women can listen in, I don’t mind.

two men whisperingThere are two versions of this practice that break down along sexual orientation lines. Gay and bisexual men will tend to tell stories about straight, or at least publicly straight, men who tried to have sex with them, but they declined. Straight men will claim that they had sex with a woman known to those present for discussion. Perhaps Dice Clay parodied this nonsense best when he joked, “Mother Goose? I fucked her!”

Whether any of these claims are true, and I suspect most of them are not, doesn’t make adice clay bit of difference. The very fact that the claims are made reveals quite a bit about the claimant, and the revelation is not flattering. There is no healthy, mature motivation for one person to share stories of sexual conquest or continence with another. It’s even worse when the story telling occurs in a group context.

In a day in which American sexual understanding and ethics have never been worse, and it seems there is no shortage of people looking to blow up the reputations of select others on rumor alone (e.g. Rep. Katie Hill), we need to see those who recklessly share self serving accounts of their own sexual behavior for the irresponsible, immature people they are. We also need to steer clear lest we become the subject of their next set of fictions.

Give yourself credit

Give-yourself-some-creditSometimes I read articles or blog posts filled with references to what this or that authority figure has said about the topic at hand, and then the post ends. I suppose the opinions of authority figures can be interesting, but they can also be awful. There’s nothing about being relatively well known that automatically confers either wit or wisdom!

At times like that I’m reminded of a priest who served part time at an Episcopal Church I belonged to during the 1990s whose every sermon contained between three and five Gilbert_Chestertonreferences to GK Chesterton. This priest, a bright and eloquent man, never got around to telling me what he thought about the topic at hand. I remember thinking that if I wanted to know what Chesterton thought, I could buy a book – I wanted to know what he thought.

Don’t sell yourself short. Tell me what you think! I really want to know! By the way, I still don’t own a GK Chesterton book!

What the Neighbors Think

I suspect there are more of us out there than we might expect who grew up with parents who had one level or another of preoccupation with what the neighbors might think. There are any number of reasons that happens. None of them are legitimate. Whatever the real reason for neighborly preoccupation was – narcissism, competitiveness, or a convenient way to control the kids – I can assure you that the neighbors really had no healthy reason to be concerned with what you and your family were up to. You didn’t know that, however, and despite the fact that you know that now you still probably have lingering corners of your mind where that message hides.

The key to the freedom we all deserve as adults is to stop caring what other people think. Part of getting to that point may be realizing that nobody is watching, anyway. As kids it was reasonable to think that others were watching us, even if it was only the crabby old guy down the street waiting for us to step on his lawn so he could jump out and start yelling at us. We are adults now, and the old guy is long dead. Nobody is going to scream at us about stepping on their lawn, and even if they do we can handle it. Unless we are sacrificing virgins in the backyard or sword fighting naked with the boys from the golf club, nobody cares.

If you catch yourself with that old feeling of disapproval, I have found the best practice is to refuse to yield to it. If you want to practice your tuba in the front yard but hesitate because you worry about what people think, blow anyway. If you want to go jogging with your shirt off but worry that your belly looks like claymation animation singing the alphabet song, jog anyway. If you want to tell your beads on the front porch but worry someone might think you are a member of the religious secret police, pray anyway. Each time you do it anyway, it will get easier. I promise.

Let’s Be Honest About Religion

I know this is asking a lot, but I wonder if we might have an honest discussion about religion. This project will require laying aside our sacred cows for just a moment and electing to suspend knee-jerk reactions for a bit. I know those things are difficult for just about everyone, but the potential reward is huge.

infinite godBoth God and the universe are infinite. If you don’t believe in God, consider this discussion to be about the Universe. In truth, the two terms might be understood as interchangeable in many ways. We know that the universe is constantly expanding and traditional understandings of God have included the idea that God is infinite. The problem we run into is that the human mind has a hard time wrapping itself around either concept. We might know to answer “constantly expanding” and “infinite” when asked the right questions, but that is a far different thing than being able to conceptualize either idea. For example, when we consider that one-half of infinity is still infinity our minds really can’t conceive what that looks like even if we can recite the correct answer.

Traditionally, we have chosen a religion to attempt to understand God or find meaning in our lives. The problem is that religions are finite and so represent only one view of God. Religions are also more than a little territorial and almost all of them have asserted that they have the only correct view of God. This may have made some sense when the best humans could do in conceiving of God was to posit a very small God existing in a very small universe with only one inhabited planet. We now know that the universe is ever expanding, and so our little regional God with whom we all have a personal relationship, frequently inviting Jesus over for Cheerios (if I were Jesus, I would think bacon and eggs would be the least you could do) is an artifact from a bygone era sorely in need of updating. In fact, if that’s your view then you, too, may be an artifact from a bygone era sorely in need of updating.

let my people go 10 commandWe need to realize that if we are serious about developing a view of God that resembles the reality of God in any way, confining ourselves to one religious or spiritual perspective just won’t get the job done. I have heard people argue that we need to confine ourselves to one religion because the root meaning of the word religion is “to bind back.” We have been bound back by religion since religion was developed. Maybe what needs to happen is for humankind to develop a spirituality that will set us free! If you like to be bound, I can recommend a good dungeon in your neighborhood, but if you want to draw closer to transcendence you might need to consider ask your religious dominatrix to “let my people go,” Moses!

Imagine you had a doctor who decided the only perspective he was going to adopt is that of colds and flu. No matter what your symptoms were, your doctor would diagnose a cold or the flu and send you on your way. How long would you remain their patient? I hope not long! What if your grocery store decided only to sell canned sardines, pickled eggs, and creamed herring while insisting you shop exclusively at their store. Would you listen to them? Why does religion seem to be one of the few areas of life that couples a limited perspective with a demand of exclusivity and manage to stay in business?

The reason is that institutional religion has excelled in thought and behavior control served with a large dose of guilt. For most of history humanity bought into this distorted vision, but the mass exodus of people from houses of worship of all stripes tells us that sales are sharply down and not likely to recover anytime soon. In response, people trying to make sense of their lives have often randomly tried new perspectives, many of which are heavy on flashing lights but short on substance. If you want to believe that you can attract wealth by thinking the right thoughts, for example, you might want to first ask why everyone following those teachings isn’t a millionaire. You would be better off to reject any spiritual or religious system that is constructed to reward greed.

The truth is that if we want to develop a spiritual perspective that works for us, the important first step is to be determined to explore aspects of whatever systems of belief interest you and not allow anyone to try to restrict your exploration. Unless you are a mushroom, those who would keep you in the dark and feed you manure don’t have your best interest at heart. The next step is to allow yourself to make mistakes, change your mind, and change direction. Exploration of every sort involves all of those things. Perfection isn’t the goal, in fact it probably isn’t even possible. Be gentle with yourself and you will be amazed at what you learn! Be bold, you are in charge of your own spiritual life and need answer to no one.

Holding Hands?

God help me, if you told me years ago that I would ever write anything about Justin Timberlake, I would have been forced to surrender my man card. I’m still coming to terms with it as I write this post. For the sake of this discusison, which is an important one, I am going to lay aside my disdain for the cult of celebrity.

What constitutes intimacy? That’s really the question here, as Justin was seen holding hands with Alisha Wainwright during a night on the town in New Orleans. His wife, Jessica Biel, is understandably upset. The holding hands issue raises a larger question, especially given that in parts of Europe and the Middle East friends hold hands as they stoll along the street and not a second glance is given.

hold handsSuppose we tried to generate an “intimacy scale” that ranked behaviors in degrees of increasing intimacy. I suspect holding hands would be rather low on the scale, while knee rubbing (allegedly Wainwright rubbed Timberlake’s knee under a table at which they were sitting) might rank a bit higher. Where is kissing on that scale? How would we sort out the various sexual acts? Where in the list would an intimate but decidedly non-sexual conversation fit? I would argue that people sharing their most intimate thoughts, feelings, and beliefs may well be an even larger danger to their other romantic relationships than a one night stand.

I worked with a couple many years ago who had engaged in a threesome, and one partner was devastated by the other having kissed the third during the event – nevermind that participants one and three had unrestricted access to each other while numbers two and three, by predetermined ground rule, were to have more limited contact. For this person, kissing was obviously highest on the imtimacy list. I suspect most people who had caught their partner patronizing a prostitute in their car would beg to differ, but it points out that for each of us there is a different intimacy scale at work. I believe that scale may flex a bit from situation to situation.

Then there is the alcohol factor. Timberlake says he had “way too much to drink.” Todrunk evaluate this claim, we need to understand what alcohol does. Alcohol disinhibits us as we drink. The more we drink, the more disinhibited we become, until at some point we are disinhibited and throwing up face down on the floor. It most decidedly does not cause us to do things we would never do if sober. It does make it more likely that we will do things that we might consider doing when sober but decide not to do because we see the consequences more clearly when sober.

Some years ago, Mel Gibson tried to justify one of his drunken, antisemitic, DUI rants by appealing to the alcohol. Sorry, Mel, it doesn’t work that way. Alcohol doesn’t put ideas into our head that otherwise wouldn’t reside there, it tends to lubricate the release of those ideas through word and action. Sober Mel might have had enough sense to keep his vile beliefs to himself, drunken Mel clearly did not. Interestingly, he tried to crucify Jesus to make up for it, and his strategy failed. Let’s hope Justin’s apology will make such drastic action unneccesary.

I believe that it would have a beneficial effect on our relationships to consider what out own intimacy scale might be and discuss it with our partners. Questions such as, “what is the most intimate thing you can imagine?” would not only help us understand each other, and ourselves, more fully, they might give us some good ideas for our next date night. You might be surprised to learn that many things offered in response to that question can be done fully clothed and in public without fear of being arrested – especially if you happen to be male.