Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy Humpday 9-30-15

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I Wish It Would Rain

I’m watching the clouds and wishing they would just cut loose already. Of course, if they did cut loose, I would then be wishing I could get out from behind this desk and go play in the rain. The grass is always greener, right? Some days you can’t put a positive enough spin on things, and you know what? Some days that’s okay. Not every day is going to be a good day, and it is possible to be fine with that.

Yes, I am trying to remind myself of that fact, but, lest anyone forget, I started this project to help me as much as to help anyone else. It seems only natural, then, that you should see the lows as well as the highs. In that way, you get to see how these things I go on about really do help. Hopefully I’m helping us both in the process.

We’ve been in Phoenix for about six years now and, if I’m being perfectly honest, I still haven’t really adjusted. I don’t like the desert. There, I said it. Nothing against people who do like this environment, but it’s just not for me. I need water. I’m a fish. I grew up in south Texas, where even the air is usually wet. I was rarely more than thirty or forty minutes away from a major waterway and, even during our drought seasons, I could usually get to the bay in under an hour. When I go home to visit these days, I usually fly into Corpus Christi, and the very first thing I do when I step outside is take a deep breath of beach air. That hint of salt water on the breeze says Home to me in a way that will never be replaced, no matter how long I am away.

After leaving south Texas, I spent several years in Western Washington, which is beautiful in its own way. Even more beautiful in some ways. South Texas doesn’t have mountains, and mountains are amazing if you love the outdoors. I do, so Washington was a great place to spend some time. It never quite got to be home. in the same sense, but it came close. You could think of it as the home of a friend so close their home was practically your own. As close to home as it gets without being home.

It didn’t have the right weather, though. There was a serious shortage of thunder. There is nothing quite like sitting by the water while a massive thunderstorm rolls in. If you haven’t had that pleasure, I highly recommend it. The wind picks up, the temperature drops, and there’s a scent in the air that is like no other smell in the world. The smell of rain is the smell of washing away the old and giving birth to the new, of a wildness that leads to peace. It’s the scent of a power that can knock down a building and leave a field of newly-bloomed flowers in its wake.

I think we just identified what makes these storms so special to me. Would you believe that I’ve never actually thought about it from that direction before? I’ve always known that thunderstorms wake me up - I’ve stood out in a hurricane before, grinning from ear to ear - but I’ve never really examined why. A good thunderstorm is the perfect natural embodiment of yin and yang, of all-in-one, of life, in all of its amazing, terrifying glory.

We do get boomers here - it’s currently monsoon season in Phoenix - but it’s just not the same. We get the wind, but the temperature rarely drops and the smell isn’t right. No offense, Phoenix, but your rain is usually dirty. I’m not kidding. If you look at the cars here after a storm, it often looks like they’ve been through a mud bath. We get so much dust in the air that it sometimes seems like the clouds are made of dirt, and all of that dust has to come down with the rain. This is a perfectly natural side effect of living in a desert, but it’s one they forget to warn you about. It is more than a little weird the first time you experience dirty rain. That is one thing I doubt I will ever get used to. I like things clean, and my brain has a hard time processing the fact that even the rain can be dirty.

We do get the nice storms occasionally, though, and it is really a relief when they happen. We just had one a couple weeks ago, and it really smelled like rain. You would probably have to be me to understand how important that part was. They don’t happen often, but something is better than nothing, right? See what I did there? You knew I would find a way to loop this back around to being positive, didn’t you? I’m tricky that way.

This is what living with depression is all about. This is what we ask the people who don’t live with depression to understand. When you live with depression, there is an enemy living inside of your own mind, always trying to pull you down. This enemy is always showing you the downside of everything, and usually exaggerating that downside in the process. If there is not an obvious downside, the enemy will surely find a way to invent one. Every … single … day. Some days are better than others - and some days are way better than others - but that enemy never goes away.

In order to combat this enemy, we must always be looking for the positive side. Find the silver lining, see the rainbow, and believe in that pot of gold. It’s not about optimism. I’m not really an optimist, no matter how I sometimes come across. What I am is determined. I am in regular conflict with an insidious enemy, and I intend to win.

There was a day in my life when I went away. For a period of time, I ceased to exist in any real way that mattered. The part of me that is Me blinked out for a bit, and realizing that was one of the most frightening moments of my life. We all forget things. We all have moments of memory that are less than clear. These things are to a fugue, though, as a candle is to a lighthouse. When you look back on a point in your life and it’s blank - not fuzzy or unclear, but actually not there - it changes you. Hopefully it changes you for the better. That has been my intention.

I had been struggling in many ways, back and forth, long before that day, but that day flipped a switch. That day woke me up like nothing before it had been able to do. I had been suffering with suicidal thoughts for years, but on that day I saw the abyss. I looked into it, and decided, no more. I was done suffering. I was going to fight, and I was going to win.

So I am acutely aware of things I don’t like, of things I miss, and of things that make me unhappy. Sometimes I am too aware. There is a little voice in the back of my head whose mission in life is to make absolutely certain that I never forget those things. Some days that little voice isn’t so little. Some days it’s yelling into a megaphone straight into my ears.

Then some days it rains, a nice, heavy, clean rain that roars in and washes away everything in its path. In its wake, life renews, and we get to begin again. We’ve had some heavy clouds just sitting in the sky for a few days now here in Phoenix. I watch them with home and with some longing, waiting for them to let loose a torrent. They might not, though, and I know that. Our chances for rain have already been downgraded, but that’s okay. It may not rain today, but it will come. I might not be where I want to be today, but I’ll be there again. I’m still moving forward, and that is always better than the alternative.

It’s a constant struggle, and it’s tiring, but there is always a renewal, and there is always a better day ahead. If I close my eyes, I can smell the rain. In my heart, I’m always home.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday Motivation 9-28-15

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Friday, September 25, 2015

TGIF - Together We Rise

There are approximately 400,000 children in the foster care system across the United States. An estimated 1,200 children enter the system every day. It’s terrifying, heartbreaking, frustrating, and just about the only thing more upsetting than entering the foster care system, for most children, is the situation they came out of to get into the system. There is no way that being without a permanent home can be easy for a child.

Together We Rise is a non-profit organization made up of college students and young volunteers whose goal is to do what they can to make it easier. The organization was founded in 2008 after the group of students discovered that the 9-year-old cousin of a classmate was living in a car, and then discovering that there were almost no traditional methods for young people to help. In just seven years, these “young, ambitious, humanitarians, artists, and students” have set about to change the rules, and make life better for as many foster children as they can.

The subject actually came up during our licensing class last week. We were doing a role playing exercise concerning what it was like to be a child being removed from the home, and it was noted that the situation often entails a caseworker needing the child (or someone who can help the child) to quickly pack some belongings into whatever carrying device might be handy (pillowcase, backpack, trash bag, etc.). We were asked, concerning the entire exercise, what thoughts we had on how this process could be improved, and this “whatever carrying device might be handy” issue was quickly seized upon by several of us in the class. This is a horrible situation for the child, and there is almost no way to make it not be horrible, but asking the child to throw his clothes and precious belongings into a trash bag can’t help. Why can’t the caseworker at least bring a small bag? It’s a little thing, but imagine the difference!

So we looked into it, and found someone who donated backpacks, among other things. Last week, according to their Facebook page, Together We Rise took 200 foster children to Disneyland. We who are so grown up and so serious about taking care of all of the serious things that seriously do need to be taken care of can sometimes forget the simple detail that these are children. They need a smile and comfort as much as they need all of the legal paperwork and forms signed in triplicate. And they need to know that things that are precious to them don’t belong in trash bags.

Together We Rise is all about volunteers and donations. If you can help, I know they would appreciate it. Even more, the children they help would appreciate it. I can tell you, as a dad working through the foster system, we appreciate it too. Thank you.

We here at Frequently Interrupted have established a Suitcases campaign with Together We Rise, raising funds to donate suitcases to children in foster care. If you can help out, we would greatly appreciate it.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

This I Believe

I believe in a better world. Almost everything I do is aimed at achieving that better world. Even my leisure time is a part of this, because I believe that happy people are a critical ingredient in that better world, and a good balance of leisure contributes to happy people. Happiness is often a good barometer for that better world. The more people who have and can appreciate happiness, the further along the Better scale the world is probably moving. I have a few ideas of my own for how to push that scale, but I think we can all agree that it is a cooperative effort. If we’re achieving happiness for some at the cost of unhappiness for others, we may not be achieving a net positive result.

It’s a crowded world, and there will be some conflicting ideas on what constitutes happiness or a better world. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do believe we should all be able to speak. We each know our own lives better than anyone else, and we each know what defines our own happiness. We can’t all speak at once, if we are all free to speak then we can more easily identify both common ground and areas of concern. Since the alternative to communication and cooperation is conflict and conquest, it seems pretty clear that the more we recognize each other as free people living free lives - and behave accordingly - the more we move that needle toward a better world. We won’t always agree, but if we consistently treat each other as free people, in all that entails, even our disagreements can be positive, and that has to be an improvement over most of human history.

We are a world of individuals, free to live and free to choose, but if we choose to live in conflict then what have we really gained? I can’t do this whole living thing by myself, and I’ve never met anyone who could. We need each other and, the more we cooperate, the better a world we can create, and the better that is for everyone. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. If I spend my time focusing on building myself up while trying to kick the world out from under my neighbor, my neighbor will almost certainly be doing the same. We will divide our efforts and achieve less than if we had, instead, cooperated and helped each other to rise. If we were to all help each other to rise, even the sky would not be the limit. Working together, we could redefine the word “miracle”.

Cooperation is, by definition, voluntary, and cannot be accomplished through threat of force. Any initiation of force inhibits the freedom of the individual and diminishes the potential of the whole. If there is a valid or justifiable reason for that, I have never seen it, and I’ve looked. Initiating force is essentially claiming that I am better equipped to run your life than you are, which is an irrational statement, at best. I don’t know your life better than you, and can’t run your life better than you. Attempting to do so not only interferes with your ability to run your own life but also removes needed energy from me running mine. It’s the same scenario as me trying to kick the world out from under my neighbor, but with even less justification. Force is the antithesis of cooperation so, if cooperation can win us that better world, force can only slow us down.

It may be necessary, however, to slow down occasionally. If the alternative to slowing is stopping, slowing seems preferable. While I can see no justifiable reason for initiating force, I can see one such reason for force, in general, and that is to stop an initiation of force. I have no right to run your life, but I have every right to run mine, and that must include a right to stop you from trying to run mine, or vice versa, as the case may be. That is a delicate balancing act which requires careful consideration. When is a response necessary? If force is going to happen, that which reduces force may be necessary. An appropriate response may stop or diminish an ongoing issue. What is the appropriate response, as opposed to too much or too little response? I can’t answer that for you, but I think I know a pretty good hint: The appropriate response stops an initiation of force with minimal damage to the active parties (that would be you and the initiating party), and as close to no collateral damage as possible. You don’t need to swat a fly with heavy artillery, but you don’t need to be swatting that same fly over and over and over again either. In an ideal world, we would have no need for force at all. In the world we have, though, we strive for as close to none as we can get, while keeping all else in balanced perspective and proper proportion.

We do have to operate in the world we have, even when it is not ideal. Perhaps especially when it is not ideal. There are many ways in which this world often leaves something to be desired, but it has one outstanding feature than cannot be denied. It is real. The things we do in relation to the real world matter, and we can do things that matter because the world is real. It has rules. Cause and effect. 2+2=4. If we take the time to understand those rules, we can use those rules to make things happen. If we don’t take the time to understand those rules, or attempt to ignore the rules, things will still happen, but they will generally be less satisfying things. No amount of wishful thinking will change the real world, but placing the right level in the right place will accomplish wonders.

So we look for the right levers and the right places, and play matchmaker, bringing these two together to accomplish wonders. If we’re on the same page and working toward the same goal, the wonder in question may be our better world. One person can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. When you start adding those somethings together, you can end up with a mighty big lever. One person can make a difference. Sometimes it is only a small difference, but sometimes a small difference is exactly the difference we need. For other times, those small differences add up - remember, even when you’re working alone, you’re not the only one working - and the whole is almost always greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy is an amazing thing when people are working together.

I believe in the power of hope, but hope is not the same thing as wishful thinking. Hope is knowing what can be done and believing in the ability to do it. Hope is choosing to believe that there is a positive side, looking for that positive side, and focusing on the positive side, even in the face of adversity. I have lived a life loaded with obstacles, and I have always managed to put one foot in front of the other because I believed that there was a reason to do so. All these years and I’m still going forward, because I haven’t been wrong about that yet. Hope and despair can both be self-fulfilling prophesies. I know which one I would rather encourage.

Hope leads to a better world, and we have come full circle. Because I believe in a better world, I have hope, and because I have hope, I can create a better world. That’s how it works. What we believe enough, we say. What we say enough, we do. What we do enough, we are. It all begins with a belief, and, if you believe enough, you can’t help but make the world better. Not some hypothetical future world after all is said and done, either. This world, right now, can be made better and better, little by little, day by day, with just the right application of belief.

I believe in a better world where free people choose to live in cooperation toward a common good. I believe that there is never a valid justification for initiating force against free people, but free people may sometimes require force to defend against such an initiation. I believe the real world makes sense and, if we make sense along with it, we can change the world. I believe in a better world, so I have hope, and, because I have hope, I can create a better world.

I could write forever about things I believe, and I do so daily in a less concentrated form. Trying to distill that into a single statement is an interesting challenge, and one you might find useful on your road to better understanding yourself and being a better you. What you believe makes a difference, but why you believe tells a story. If you understand the story, you can better tell the story. It is your story. It’s in your best interest to make it a good one.

I believe. Sometimes that’s all that matters. I believe.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Collection Of Odd

In many ways, this is a great time to be alive. The world changes on a daily basis and, more often than not, it changes for the better. There are exceptions, to be sure, and you certainly can’t generalize on an individual level, but, on a macro level, we have better health, better life expectancy, better communication, better acceptance of each other. The list goes on and on, but that last one is really special to me, and it’s one that often gets overlooked. Yes, we still have problems, and yes, we still have an abundance of people mistreating people, but, on the whole, we are more accepting than ever, and in ways that might surprise the casual observer.

I, myself, am a collection of oddities, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are some of my oddities that I wouldn’t mind getting rid of, but being odd is who I am. I’m comfortable with that. In fact, I’m not just comfortable. I enjoy it. I love being odd, and have a great deal of fun with it, but I am still grateful that some of my oddities are becoming more commonly accepted by society at large. I live as me, whether that is accepted or not, but it’s certainly easier when it is accepted.

I’m an introvert, which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I am not one hundred percent certain whether or not I would change this one if I could. I won’t deny that it can cause problems at times, but it has also played a large part in shaping who I am. Not long ago, it was common for society to assume that there was something wrong with an introverted person, and especially with an introverted man. We were expected to Be a Man, and to Get Out There and Do It, no matter what It was, and no matter how we felt about It. Worse, it wasn’t just a matter of how we felt, but also a matter of physical health. Introverts process stress and stressful situations differently than what is thought of as normal, and, as we now know, ignoring or improperly handling stress can have very real physical consequences.

Today, though, we live in an age where it is becoming truly accepted that different people process social situations in different ways. I can find informative articles almost daily on Top Ten Things Introverts Want You To Know, or Introvert Does Not Mean Antisocial, or assorted similar subjects, and they’re not just clickbait. Not all of them, anyway. There are truly useful articles with truly helpful information, and people are truly reading them. If I get invited to something that is beyond my comfort level, I can respond with, “No, thank you. I’m not really comfortable with that,” and that answer will be gracefully accepted most of the time. It may even spur an interesting dialogue that can lead to a more comfortable and rewarding situation for all involved. That has been my experience many times now. It’s liberating and even encouraging. I can do more than I may have done in the past because I am more confidant that I can stop if I need to without that causing a major issue.

I am a nerd, in the classic sense of the term: higher than average intelligence with a fondness for activities that use that intelligence, and usually a corresponding shortage of social skills or an awkwardness in social situations. That is me to a T. I don’t even need to point out how awkward I am. If you’ve met me, you know. If you haven’t, you’ve probably seen plenty of examples. I’m socially awkward. I try very hard to not be, but that usually just involves keeping my mouth shut so no one notices. I also lost count of how many times I was described as “too smart for his own good” before I was old enough to fully understand what the phrase meant. That isn’t bragging. I have nothing to brag about. I was born with my brain, and the only thing special I did was keep using it. There are also many people higher up that scale than I am. I am above average, but nowhere near the top. I do enjoy what I am, though. I enjoy it quite a bit, and doing so is much easier today than it was when I was a kid.

In the 70’s, nerds were people who spent most of their time with their heads in toilets, their pants around their ankles, or enjoying various other activities of equal or greater degradation and humiliation. There were popular movies that centered around such good times, and it was common to believe that this was perfectly normal. There were also beginning to be movies were nerds turned out to be the winners, but those were new, and they were still rare. They were a good start, though, and they led to today.

Today is a day that many of us predicted. Today, the nerds run the world. If you look at the modern world, some of the names that everyone knows, people who have had some of the largest influence on the modern world, are people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. The modern technological world can’t even function without nerds, and the average person actually knows and acknowledges that now. People like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have made science not just popular, but cool. It’s an awesome time to be a science-minded person. It’s not perfect, and I doubt it ever will be, but we’ve come a long way since swirlies and the surrendering of lunch money.

We can say most of the same things for my geek side. That is similar, but not the same thing, as a nerd. It’s not unusual for a person to be both, but it’s also perfectly normal to be one or the other. I am both, without a doubt.

Geeks tend to have obsessive attachment to particular hobbies or pursuits, or have fixations toward hobbies deemed unusual by the general public, or, fairly common, some combination of the two. We have sci-fi geeks and comic book geeks, movie geeks and music geeks, game geeks and collectables geeks, and more kinds of geeks than you can shake a mint condition first edition at. Geeks are often more social than nerds, but not always in the most positive manner. Geeks tend to want to share their hobbies, and so often socialize better with fellow geeks, but we will talk your ear off just fine, geek or no geek, if you let us. Sometimes even if you don’t let us.

This one can be a bit more tricky because the reaction you get depends largely on the type of geek you are, or, at least, the type of geek you display. For example, I am a comic book geek (among many, many other types). Most of my t-shirts are comic book themed, I have superhero and comic book symbols and decals everywhere, and my friends at work always come to me to ask about the latest superhero movies. That last part has really changed the dynamic lately. Many things that I have always been a geek about are now popular with the general public. Suddenly it’s understood that being a geek isn’t all bad. Add in the growing popularity of technology and IT fields, and some geeks are actually becoming the cool kids.

These are just a few examples of the way things change, and they usually change for the better. All we need is time and perspective. What is seen as odd today may be seen as, if not normal, at least understood tomorrow. It doesn’t just take all kinds to make the world go round, it takes all kinds to keep it worth going round. I don’t even want to imagine how boring life would be if we were all the same. We all have our own collections of oddities, flaws, and interesting little tidbits. Embrace your weird. Let your geek flag fly. No one can be a better you than you, so be you, and keep the world an interesting place.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

TGIF - 9-18-15

It's been a long week and I'm exhausted, but it's been a pretty good week too, so no complaints here.

We began our classes for foster care licensing last weekend, and will continue those every weekend through October. I'm doing homework again for the first time in I don't even want to consider how long. Mostly just reading assignments and filling out forms. As long as they don't want me to solve for X or write a thesis, we should be fine. Pretty sure I could remember how to do those, if I put my mind to it, but I'm also pretty sure I'd rather not. The classes, though, are pretty good. Very informative, and we gets plenty of interaction with other people who are also going through various fostering situations. People get to compare notes and trade This Worked For Me stories. Never a bad thing.

Sleeping is still being a pain, but the weather is starting to turn, so hopefully we will see an improvement on that front soon. Thank you to those who reached out after my "Sometimes You Know Why" article. I spoke about things that help, but hearing from you is one of the things I didn't mention there. That really does help, and I appreciate it.

To top it all off, I received the following message from my brother earlier this evening (I'm writing this Thursday evening, if you couldn't tell):

At Kayli's open house, she had a "About Kayli" page on her desk. Where it asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she said "A writer like J.K. Rowling and my Uncle Rhea".
Kayli is my beautiful niece, and I could not be more proud of that compliment. Thank you, Kayli, and I love you. You just shot straight to the top of my Best Ways To End The Week list. I told your dad to give you a couple big hugs from me, so make sure he did.

I hope everyone has a great weekend, and I will talk to you Monday. Get out there and make the world better!

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And don't forget, follow the Facebook page and share, share, share. We're sitting at just under 100 followers now - not shabby for being only two months old, but we can do better. That depends on your help, so let's spread the word. Thank you, everyone. See you Monday.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Live In The Now

We waste so much of our lives on things that are not real. I’m not talking about things like fantasy or fiction. Those can be more real than you or I, if done well. I’m talking about worrying about things that haven’t happened, reacting to things that no one said, and expecting things that can’t be done. Things like that. Things that, as it turns out, make up a huge portion of the average life. What a waste!

Life is huge and full of wonder, but we miss so much of it, and so much of what we miss is our own fault. If we don’t take the time to live, no one else is going to do it for us. No one else can do it for us. That is another one of those “it’s your life” things. It’s your life, so you have to live it. Life cannot be lived by remote control. You have to get in and get your hands dirty.

Fortunately, there are a few tricks that can help you to do that more successfully. They are fairly simple but, like most simple tricks, they can be easy to overlook and difficult to master. That’s always the way, isn’t it? It’s simple, so we assume it won’t work, or we assume we’re already doing it, or we assume it just comes naturally … The hazards of relying on assumptions, but more on that shortly. Thing is, it’s simple to start, but it takes a lifetime to master, if you master it at all, which is not even remotely necessary. You will see an improvement the moment you truly start. As you get better, things will improve more. No mastery is required. Just keep going.

The first step in the process is to be where you are. I have the most trouble with this one. If I had a Yoda, he would be lecturing me on a regular basis. “All his life, he has looked away … to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” It’s the curse of the writer’s mind. We are always looking at things as they might be and tend to forget to look at things as they are. It’s not a problem if you remember to do both, but remembering can be tricky.

You need to recognize things for what they are, where they are, and when they are. Acknowledge the present, and accept it as is. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead, but if you’re not anchoring your plan in what is, you’re not really planning. That’s called wishing, and wishing by itself is useless. There is also nothing wrong with remembering the past. That is how we learn, but living in the past is not learning from the past. You have to keep going forward or you can’t really learn and grow.

To be where you are, you have to see things as they are. Don’t make assumptions or projections. Those will never help you. Reality is what it is, regardless of your opinion, and it will keep being what it is, regardless of your belief. If you look at it head on, you can take steps necessary to meet it head on. If you look away, refusing to see or insisting that reality is something other than as is, life will pass you by, in the best case. It may actually run you over and leave you with nothing but wreckage and heartache.

It might be easier to address things as we want them to be, and it often makes us feel better, but it’s not helpful. We can’t learn and grow without acknowledging what we are learning and growing from. We can’t successfully change things without knowing what it is that we are changing. Things will change, regardless. Change is the one constant in life. If you know what is changing - not what you assume is changing, but what is changing - then you will be better equipped to productively guide that change.

Do you really know what you know, though? Most people don’t. We go through life being handed knowledge that we then file away into appropriately labeled boxes, and then pull it out again when called upon to do so. We rarely take the time to look at that knowledge and understand what makes it true, or how that truth interacts with other truths to create reality. Most of us are content to go through life with nothing more than the basics - fire is hot, water is wet, etc. - and, if that is enough for you, it’s your life. Live it your way. Just understand that there is so much more, and taking the time to understand how that more works makes so many other things easier to address.

You cannot write a set of rules to cover every contingency in the universe. Life is an infinite variety, so you would run out of paper before you ran out of rules. If you know why you believe a certain thing, though, you can more easily adapt that knowledge to new situations, as the need arises. If your reason why is because So-and-so said so then you’re going to run into problems when So-and-so isn’t around to provide new answers, but if you maintain a consistent internal framework and apply that framework with integrity then you can compare the new situation to that framework and see where it fits. The latter method is also faster, once you know how to do it, because you don’t have to wait around for someone else to provide the answer.

You may, however, be called upon to provide answers more often yourself. That is a side effect of giving the impression that you know what’s going on. People expect you to share. Obviously I enjoy sharing or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. When you do share, make certain that you are sharing in a useful manner. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If it is necessary to see the world as it is, how much more necessary is it to present the world as it is?

How you view the world is critical to your own life and well being, but how the people around you view the world certainly has an impact. If you are helping them to see the world as it is then you are improving your own life as well as theirs. If you are discouraging them from seeing the world as it is then you are hindering your own life as well as theirs. It seems pretty clear to me that only one of these options makes any sense at all.

Finally, once you have taken the time to know the world as it is, make sure that you are responding to the world as it is. All of the work you already did serves no purpose if you aren’t putting it into practice. Don’t treat a minor inconvenience as the end of the world. Don’t reward harmful behavior. Don’t take positive behavior for granted. We make the world what it is through our actions and interactions every moment of every day. Make sure that your part in that creation is pushing toward the world that you want to create.

Always remember, of course, that sometimes the best response is no response at all. You don’t have to answer everything, and some things just are not worth answering. Pick your battles, as they say. Is an answer necessary? Will an answer help? Will an answer do anything that you want done? If you can’t answer Yes to all of those then it is often best to not answer. Save your energy for when you can put it to better use. If you can’t make things better, at least don’t make them worse.

Live in the now. There is so much of it that you will never experience it all, but give it a shot. I think that’s what we’re here for, after all, to experience life. If not the answer, you’re not going to get any other answer without that one. The real world won’t always give you what you want, but it will usually give you options. If you’re paying attention, you can work those options toward what you want. That fake world most of us waste so much time on can’t do that. It’s options will always be as unreal as it is, leading to equally unreal results.

The real world can be a scary place but, if we work together, we can make it less scary. That too is real. A better world is within our reach, if we work for it, and if we start with what is. That is something to look forward to.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sticks And Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It may be one of the oldest adages in the English language. It is almost certainly one of the most common. When I was a kid, it was usually used in a defensive manner. The child being taunted would reply with some variation of this adage to indicate that the taunts were not having the desired effect. This was not always entirely true - sometimes it was more like whistling past the graveyard or warding off the evil eye than an actual statement of fact - but it was still generally being used as a shield. It might have been closer to, “I hope your words don’t hurt me,” than to, “your words can’t hurt me,” but, in either case, it was being expressed by the person on the receiving end of the words. That does not seem to be the case anymore. It might just be my own perspective - it is rather difficult to measure these things - but it seems to be more of an admonition than a shield these days. Rather than being expressed by the person receiving the words, the adage is now often coming from some external source, sometimes even the same external source as the originally offending words. Instead of being used to say, “Your words can’t hurt me,” it is being used to say, “My words can’t hurt you. Toughen up. Stop complaining.”

Something seems to have gotten lost in the translation.

I have to admit that I am somewhat torn on this one. On the one hand, it is not literally true. Words can hurt, and they can hurt a great deal. Words can kill. On the other hand, the damage that words can do is based in the power that we give to them. If you get hit in the head with a rock, it is probably going to hurt, regardless of any belief you might have to the contrary. Words, though, can only hurt you if you believe that they can hurt you, so learning how to deprive them of that ability is definitely a good thing. The trouble is, that is something that has to be learned. It’s not automatic, and it is not a skill that can be gained simply by being told to gain it.

I’ve been hit by a few sticks in my time - as a rural child of the 70’s and 80’s, it would be more unusual if that wasn’t true - and I’ve probably even caught a rock or two. I know I was hit in the head once with a brick, but that was an accident, and it was a small brick. Only a piece of a brick, really, but it still hurt. Nothing broken, though. I have been very fortunate in that regard. I’ve had the usual assortment of sprains, cuts, and bruises, but I’ve never actually broken anything. I came close once playing street football - I’m pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to be a tackle game, but those rules were pretty fluid - but so far, so good. I still have all of my factory parts and, while they are older and definitely more worn, they are still whole and under original specs.

Sticks and stones may have more immediate impact, but words have nearly killed me. I suspect, in this modern world, that words may cause more frequent harm than sticks and stones. We have become a fairly peaceful society - which is commendable, no complaints there - so it is very likely that many people in our culture can now go through an entire life without being on the receiving end of physical violence. I doubt that even a single person has yet had the good fortune of avoiding all verbal violence. We’re just not there yet. To make matters worse, those who are most likely to receive verbal abuse are also the ones who are least able to defend against it: the children, the infirm, the uneducated, the innocent. If you truly believe that words can’t harm, you’ve never watched the fact of a child being told he is unwelcome and unwanted. Words can kill.

It is a matter of perspective, of course. If you live in a war zone and have to take heroic measures every day just to survive, words may not seem terribly important to you, and that would be entirely justified. You would have more pressing concerns to worry about. What people often forget, though, is that “things could be worse” does not actually mean “things are not bad.” Those are two separate ideas that are not necessarily related to each other. Having an open wound may not be as bad as losing a limb, but you still treat the wound appropriately. You don’t ignore it because someone else has a worse wound. If there are multiple issues going on at once then you have to perform triage and deal with the problems in order of severity. This does not mean that the less severe issue is not important, only that it may not be as important at the moment.

Anything that can kill you is pretty important. Dodging bullets is more important than dodging words, but, as a happy recipient of that more peaceful society, I am in a good place to understand that less important can still be important. Instead of making excuses about how much worse things can be, we have an ideal opportunity to work on making things better.

Removing the sting from words is a great way to reduce the damage of words. I, as a reasonably well adjusted adult who has been around the block more than a few times, have learned through practical experience that, while words have power, the power in words is instilled by the listener, not the speaker. It is a form of magic, but only a very simple form. If I believe your words, or believe in you as you say those words, I give power to those words. Without my belief, however, your words have no power. Without my belief, your words are just air.

If you tell me that I am worthless, and I respect your opinion while also harboring doubts as to my own worth, you words will likely cut to the quick. If you tell me that I am worthless, but only one of those additional factors is true, then I have set up an internal conflict. Which do I believe in more, the positive or the negative? Notice that the power is still based entirely within my own belief. If you tell me that I am worthless, but I neither respect your opinion nor harbor doubts as to my own worth, then your words are meaningless. They can do nothing and have served no purpose. Why would I care if someone I know to be a liar tell me I have $3 when I am looking at four?

Do you see how that works? It is so simple that it is one of the hardest things in human experience to master. People believe that it must be more difficult, so they make it more difficult. The words of another person aimed at you have exactly as much power as you give them, no more and no less.

This is a fact, but it is a fact that only works in your favor if you understand it, and most people do not understand it. We are born ignorant, knowing nothing, and we must receive all knowledge in that early stage from external sources. These external sources have great power because we need them to have that power. They provide all meaning because we have none. As we learn, if we learn, we take that power into ourselves. We develop our own ability to assign meaning, and even to teach meaning, but, while we are learning, we are vulnerable. In the beginning. the student assumes that anything from the teacher must be true, and so imparts the power of truth to the teacher’s words. The wise teacher knows this, and guards against the flaws inherent in such a system, while also teaching the student to see for herself. In time, the student becomes a teacher and the cycle repeats. Round and round and round we go, where she stops, nobody can know.

Everyone is potentially a teacher. Unfortunately, not everyone is necessarily a wise teacher. Some people never learn the secret behind words and go right on empowering their own harm, sometimes right up until it kills them. Words can kill, but only if you let them. Take away their power and you take away their danger. You can’t do that for someone else, though, only for yourself. We’re all walking a different path across the same landscape, and we each have no way of knowing where someone else is along the journey. Don’t assume that someone else has learned something because you have learned it. Your words can have consequences, whether you believe in them or not.

Words have power, but it is power that we give them. Learn your power so that words can’t hurt you, but guard your words so that they don’t hurt someone who is still learning. The more we apply these two lessons, the less we will need them. Imagine the day.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

In Memory 9-11-01

On September 11, 2001, more than 3,000 people lost their lives because some people still believe that violence in the name of religion is acceptable human behavior. More than 400 people who ran into hell hoping to save others lost their lives because some people still believe that violence in the name of religion is acceptable human behavior. Estimates vary, but somewhere around 1,500 more people have lost their lives in the intervening 14 years as a direct result of those events, because some people still believe that violence in the name of religion is acceptable human behavior.

Violence in the name of religion is not acceptable human behavior.

There really isn’t anything else to be said that hasn’t already been said a million times over. Thank you to the heroes, both the living and the dead, who did what they could. Remember those who lost their lives, and don’t forget those who are still dealing with the consequences. Rise above the hate that caused such a terrible loss. Give someone you love a hug, then consider loving more people. Look to the future.

Violence in the name of religion is not acceptable human behavior. If we learn nothing else from that day, I still have hope that we might at least learn this.

(Photo credit Jin Lee from the 911 Memorial blog.)

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Bigger Picture

One of the things I have the most trouble with, when it comes to controlling my frustrations and emotions, is people. I have a great deal of hope in humanity, but people scare me to death. That’s really not as crazy as it sounds, when you think about it. As a species we have usually done very well with moving forward in relation to the Big Picture. If you take criteria like Life Expectancy, Quality of Life, Quality of the World Around You (or even Awareness of the World Around You), and similar, related issues, and then take a couple of snapshots of different periods in history at random, the more recent point will almost always have improved in comparison with the more distant point. The March of Progress tends to keep moving forward. The trouble is, it tends to move forward despite the kicking and wailing protests of a determined minority. No matter what the improvement might be, there is always someone (and usually far too many someones) chomping at the bit to go backward.

I’m not talking about differences of belief or politics here. Those are going to happen, and I expect that those are always going to happen. Hashing out those differences is often how we accomplish the moving forward. No, I’m talking about the people who still believe that their beliefs or politics justify hurting someone with different beliefs or politics. I’m talking about people who actually mock or revel in someone else’s pain because of differences in beliefs or politics. Sadly, and all too often, I’m talking about good people who make excuses for interfering in other people’s lives because of beliefs and politics.

I’m not going to go into specific examples here because that’s not what this is about. Besides, if you’re someone who would learn from the examples then you probably don’t need me to list them, and if you need me to list them … Again, I will refrain from making certain direct, negative comments. If you read between the lines then you know what I just said, and if you’re capable of reading between the lines then you understand what I just said.

My beliefs govern me. Your beliefs govern you. Where the two intersect, we can and should come to mutually determined arrangements. Where the two do not intersect, we can and should each mind our own business. This should be remarkably easy to understand, yet it never has been, or at least people don’t act like it has ever been understood. I suspect that more people understand this idea than let on, but some people really like the idea of being In Charge, and refuse to acknowledge anything that undermines their ability to be In Charge. To be fair, these people don’t usually realize the harm they are causing, but that is largely because they don’t want to realize. They avoid seeing, as though reality will just disappear if they don’t look at it.

No one can live my life but me, and I can’t live anyone’s life but my own. It should be obvious that this is true for everyone, but this is another of those obvious things that some people try very hard to not see. Funny thing is, we would actually have less things to argue about if more people woke up to this realization. Think about it. Watch the news some night - if you can stand to do so anymore - and count up how many reported conflicts were not caused by someone trying to interfere in someone else’s life when things would have been just fine - for everyone involved! - if people had just minded their own business. I bet you don’t need the fingers on more than one hand. I bet you even have fingers left over on that one hand.

That’s not to say that we don’t talk about the things we think are wrong - that is, after all, exactly what I am doing here - but talking is not pushing. Talking is not interfering. Talking usually works better, and with less negative side effects. Whenever you start pushing, the person being pushed tends to push back. That is just human nature. If you want to accomplish positive change, there are more positive ways of doing so. If you are determined to push, that may be because you are not as interested in positive change as you would like people to believe.

I cannot rule out force entirely, though. I know that is the position that has been staked out by some of the most well known thinkers in this field, but I cannot agree. Not entirely, at any rate. Life is rarely about extremes, and there is an exception to almost every rule. Force will almost always cause more trouble than it’s worth, but when force is going to happen anyway, and a carefully applied opposing force can stop it while limiting that trouble, I believe that such opposing force is not only justified but may actually be necessary. If I believe in doing no harm, and I can stop harm that is being done but refuse to do so because doing so would require some application of force, am I really preserving life, or am I preserving my own ego?

It’s a tricky question that requires dedication of thought and mindfulness of action. It has no easy answer, and no one size application. It is hard and, unfortunately, that is why many people won’t consider it. People like their answers to be all one thing or another. That takes less work. You cannot live fully awake and mindful, though, if you are relying on easy boxes for your answers. That’s how you go through life on autopilot, and going through life on autopilot is not living.

As someone who has spent years going over this question from as many angles as I can find, I still can’t answer it for you. I can only barely answer it for me, and even that not every time. I told you it wasn’t easy. I can offer some things that I have figured out, though, and you can see how they fit. Every action has repercussions. Every action, without exception. If I pick up a head of lettuce from the produce stand, someone else cannot choose that head of lettuce. Most of our life’s choices are at that level. They will create ripples, but they are not ripples that will be noticed or have lasting consequences. If I take that lettuce and use it to prepare a meal for someone who has no food, this will be more noticed and have more lasting repercussions, hopefully of the positive variety. If I take that lettuce away from someone who has no other food, this too will be more noticed and have more lasting repercussions, though almost certainly of the negative variety. Everything we do can be filtered through a variety of lenses, and it is up to each of us as individuals to make certain that we filtering honestly. Are my actions helping, or am I telling myself that my actions are helping because this is what I want to do, and I don’t want to do harm?

It is unfortunately true that too many people spend too much time in that latter category. It isn’t that we want to do harm, but we also don’t want to change what we are doing, so we rationalize it into something else instead. As noted science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein once said, “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.” We are absolutely fantastic at making excuses. That may be the one skill that the human race, as a whole, has truly and completely perfected. When we want something, or believe that something is right, we will perform the most amazing acts of mental gymnastics to avoid seeing any other possibility.

Good people hurt good people every day because of this. We get so fixed in our way of seeing things that we don’t see what that is doing to anyone else. We are certain that we are doing what is best, when we would admit that we don’t always know what is best if it were some other situation. It may be impossible to set a one-size-fits-all box around when it is right or wrong to interfere, but I can tell you one thing that should at least always raise a red flag: If you are causing harm or pain to someone who is not, you need to re-examine your motives and actions.

I am responsible for my behavior and no one else’s. I can’t control how someone else lives, only how I respond to it. I try to keep this in mind and not let the troubles of the world weigh me down too much. I address what I believe I can fix, let go of what is beyond my control, and try to honestly remember the difference between the two. Sometimes it is especially difficult though. I live in this world, and I am affected by what happens in this world, whether I can control it or not. Sometimes what I see happening makes me despair and almost consider giving up. I won’t give up though. That’s just not who I am. I will write about it. I will spend time with people I love. I will watch a sunset. I will do what I can to try to make the world a better place. I will breathe. Most of all, I will breathe.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sometimes You Know Why

I have spoken previously about how frustrating it can be when you have bad days and don’t know why, but it should be understood that even knowing why does not necessarily make it a picnic. Some days are just bad. You can study all of the cause and effect you want, and identify all of the cause possible to identify, but sometimes knowing the cause just doesn’t help. Some days it isn’t enough. Some days a private island surrounded by hungry sharks and highly visible NO TRESPASSING signs wouldn’t be enough. It’s been that kind of day, or maybe that kind of week. Since I can’t directly address the causes, we’re going to talk it through instead.

We need to make sure that we understand one detail first. People who suffer from depression and anxiety issues tend to have larger reactions than might be seen as normal. This actually is normal for us and, if we’re smart about it, we know that and address it as part of the ongoing issue. Some of the things that twist me out of shape might be seen as regular stuff to regular people, but I don’t have the honor of being regular people. I’m not even entirely certain that I understand what “regular people” means, even though I have dedicated a very sizable chunk of my life to trying to figure that out.

So what kind of things are twisting me out of shape?

Seasonal issues are obvious. We are rounding the corner into the end-of-the-year holiday season, and this time of year is notoriously more difficult for people with certain depression issues. While it is not true that suicide rates increase over the holidays, as is commonly assumed (summer is actually worse than winter, according to the CDC), it is true that people who are already experiencing issues of isolation and separation anxiety can see these become more accentuated during the holidays when those holidays are characterized by any form of separation or isolation. If you don’t get to spend time with the ones you love, you don’t get the familial bonding and reassurance that such togetherness usually brings. Heather and I put on the biggest and best holidays we can each year - and I think we usually succeed quite well, to be honest - but we are still half-a-country away from people we want to be with for those holidays. It’s trying.

There is an added element for me because the holidays were such a big deal for Dad. If you didn’t know him around this time of year, you definitely missed out. He would usually have the biggest Halloween display in town, his turkey recipes for Thanksgiving were nearly legendary, and then Christmas would rival Halloween. I picked up the habit some years back of trying to imitate his displays, and we would send pictures back and forth since we couldn’t be there to see each other’s displays. Heather and I still do our displays here, and we still share pictures with the family, but it’s not quite the same. There is an important detail that is missing.

I’m tired. I haven’t been sleeping well, which is a very bad thing for someone dealing with depression. Even if you don’t deal with emotional issues, you already know that, the more tired you get, the more emotional you get. Magnify that by I don’t even know how much, and you’ll get a look inside my head. There are distinct advantages to my “all natural” coping methods - no chemical fog and no prescription bills, for example - but one disadvantage is that it does require a certain amount of near continuous work. The fact that it is all in my head doesn’t make it any less work. After all of these years I have it down to a nearly subconscious science, but it is not an autonomic reflex. It is work, and being tired makes any work more difficult.

One of the reasons I haven’t been sleeping well is the heat. I live in Phoenix, and it has been a hot summer. Even in the house, it’s never exactly comfortable. It has also been determined that there is at least some correlation between extreme heat and depressive episodes. As I said before, there are usually more suicides during the summer than the winter, and we have really had a summer. Add in the fact that I just don’t really like overly hot weather, and it’s not a good mix.

On top of these are the usual stressors that everyone encounters from time to time (or even all of the time, to varying degrees) about paying the bills, keeping the truck running, and feeding the family. Are the kids getting everything they need? Is there something more I could be doing? No matter your good intentions, if you’re not living in that mountainside hermitage that we’ve already established none of us are living in, you probably have daily worries that contribute to your blood pressure, sleepless nights, and occasional dark moods. We do the best we can, but the pressures are going to come calling, and all we can really do then is to pick up that pack and soldier on.

These are, of course, mostly external factors that I can do little or nothing about. I can’t change the weather or make the holidays less emotional. I can’t rearrange the employment requirements for all of the people I love so that we can all live in the same town, or nearly enough for visiting purposes. I can’t make the bills go away, and I wouldn’t trade the kids for anything you might offer. I can’t make these stresses not exist, but I can decide how I will face them.

It is obvious, when I step back and look at it, that these problems are not unique to me. If I were to take a survey around the office where I work, and if people were to answer honestly, most of the people there would probably check Yes to most of these issues, or to issues very much like them. Most of the burdens that we struggle with on a daily basis are burdens that we all struggle with. As such, we all have the ability to offer a helping hand because we have all been there before. I also believe that most of us do give a helping hand, or would give a helping hand if we knew it was needed. The biggest impediment there is that most of us also don’t let it be known when we need that helping hand. Speak up. You’re not surrounded by mind readers. Odds are, that person you’re ashamed to ask for help probably needs a bit of help just as often as you do.

These are also issues that are fairly recurring. Almost none of the problems that cause me to have bad days sneak up on me. I know they’re there, and I usually know when they’re coming. Each time, though, I have the bad habit of forgetting what we’ve already done before. Each time, this is the one that will do me in. It’s not. It wasn’t the end last time, it isn’t the end this time, and it won’t be the end next time. There will be a next time, and a time after that. That is the potential downside to taking life as it comes. It can be easy to forget the context, easy to forget that you’ve done this before, and it all worked out fine. To get it done effectively, you have to live in the moment while also sparing enough attention for the past and the future to remember lessons and plan for adversity.

The most important thing to remember with these bad days is just this: It’s a bad day, not a bad life. This is true when you don’t know the cause, and it is equally true when you do know the cause. Life will knock you down sometimes. It is up to you to stand back up and do something about it. You can, you know. You’ve done it before. If you have taken the time to read this, you have probably done it many times before, and you’re still here. One hundred percent success rate so far. That’s not so bad.

Sometimes knowing what is causing the problem isn’t actually very helpful. Those days will happen. They’ve happened before, and they will happen again. And still I rise. Remember, every day ends. Even bad days end, and tomorrow’s a new day.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

TGIF - IASP

September is National Suicide Awareness Month. September 7-13 is National Suicide Prevention Week. September 10, 2015 is World Suicide Prevention Day. These are some good dates to mark on your calendar, and some great dates for raising awareness.

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 800,000 deaths attributed to suicide around the world every year, and this is acknowledged to be a conservative estimate. That number may be much higher, with many suicides not reported as such due to the stigma usually attached. That is an absolutely horrible number, whether it is high, low, or in between, and it is well past time for the stigma to go away. Everyone has trouble. No one is immune. There is no justification for the stigma.

Please join the International Association for Suicide Prevention in raising awareness for this issue on World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2015. The theme for this year’s event is “Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives,” and this is all about reaching out to people in need, reaching out to people bereaved, and reaching out to the world at large. Make your voice heard, and make sure that everyone knows that no one is alone.

There is a list of activities and resources available at the IASP website as well as the IASP Facebook page, but there are two activities that I want to draw attention to, because they can be joined in on by anyone, anywhere.

Light a Candle

Everyone is encouraged to light a candle near a window at 8:00 pm on September 10 to show your support for suicide prevention, to remember a lost loved one, and for the survivors of suicide. You are also encouraged to use the image above to spread awareness of this event.

Cycle Around the Globe

The third annual Cycle Around the Globe event aims to collectively cycle the circumference of the globe, 40,075 km or 24,900 miles, and to have participants cycling on every continent. If you are into cycling, and will be cycling anyway (which I know is true for many of you), please consider signing up and participating. Also, again, you are encouraged to share the above image to help raise awareness.

If you didn’t notice, the goal here is to raise awareness. Make some noise, and let’s do what we can to bring down that horrible number. Reach out, and save lives.

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