Friday, October 30, 2015

TGIF - Trick Or Treat

Would you look at that? Another month gone. Times flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? We’ve been building and building, growing and growing. Thank you. We’ve added 10 new Facebook followers in the last week alone. I’m pretty sure that’s our best week yet, since the initial boom. Keep spreading the word, and help our community grow. We absolutely appreciate all of your support.

I don’t have very much to update today. I actually need to get out and finish up my Halloween decorations. Yes, I realize this seems to be last minute, but we don’t finalize everything until a day or two before Halloween, and that’s on purpose. The biggest part of our display is a backyard “haunted cemetery” that we open up to the public while everyone is out Trick-or-Treating. We keep it mostly under wraps until then, so we hold off on putting some of it out, to prevent damage and keep things hidden. Once it’s public, though, we do almost everything other than spotlights to bring people in. I even added a couple small strobe lights last year. It’s a lot of fun.

My other annual tradition is to issue this public reminder: It’s Halloween, and children are going to be out and about showing off costumes and gathering goodies. The parents with these children try to keep everyone organized and safe, but it’s a daunting task. If you also happen to be out and about, please pay attention and remember your surroundings. The children are excited, and won’t always be paying as much attention as they should. Be patient and be understanding, and keep your eyes open. Here’s to everyone having a wonderful, safe, and happy Halloween.

Thank you for your support so far, and enjoy yourself this weekend. Watch out for spooks, and take care of each other. Trick or Treat!

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ghosts And Goblins

What scares you? What wakes you up in the middle of the night with cold sweats and panting breathes? What haunts your dreams and disturbs your days with unchecked dread? Most of us have these things that go bump in the night, though we may have difficulty discussing them. It is often easier to pretend to have no fear than to face the fear we do have. The fear is still there, though, and it will often reach out and bite you at the most inopportune times if you follow this course of action. Better to face it head on and deal with it than to let it sneak up on you unaware.

The ghosts of the past can be one of the most difficult fears to face. They’re past. They’re gone. They are not present to argue with and wrangle into submission. These things that one might think should make them easier to dismiss turn out to make them more difficult to address. A ghost cannot reach out and physically harm you, but you can’t reach out and physically shove a ghost out of the way either. When that ghost stands in the middle of the room and howls at you and rattles its chains, you can’t use conventional methods to make it go away.

We all have a tendency to drag these ghosts around with us. Memories of lost love or past injuries. Regrets over words unsaid or deeds undone. Guilt over words said or deeds done. The past informs the present, and we often relive our worst moments over and over again. The very times in our lives that we maybe should not have lived that way the first time are the ones we often repeat incessantly in our dreams and thoughts.

Spending so much time living with ghosts, though, can’t fix the past. It can only damage the present and potentially cancel the future. We cause pain to today by ignoring it in favor of yesterday, and then today becomes another yesterday full of regret, and the horrible cycle continues. Break the cycle, and make today the best day you have ever lived. If you look back on today from some future tomorrow, make it a day you look back on with joy instead of pain. Even better, make those tomorrows days that you won’t want to look back from in the first place.

Ghosts have no power except what we give to them. Don’t give them power and you don’t have ghosts. That may sound simple, but it can be one of the hardest things you ever do. If you believe that not thinking about something is easy, I challenge you to not think about a white elephant right now. You thought about it, didn’t you? A magnificent white elephant went trumpeting through your thoughts just now … and it just did it again. That is how thought works. Trying not to think about something is one of the best ways to trigger that very thought. Instead, acknowledge the thought, give it a nod, and then think about something else. Don’t ignore it. Don’t pretend it isn’t there. Just don’t give it any importance. “Oh yeah, you again. Okay. Next.” Eventually this becomes habit, and the importance is naturally gone. This is how we exorcise ghosts.

Goblins can be tricky because they are right here, right now. They have a current physical presence, and they make sure you know about it as often as possible. They are bill collectors presenting Past Due notices; bosses scheduling annual evaluations; children with twenty nine hours of activities to somehow fit into 24-hour days. Goblins are the term paper you spaced until now it’s due tomorrow. Goblins are the everyday horrors that plague our lives with discomfort and unhappiness. Sometimes they’re friends with the ghosts and act in tandem, but more often they are just agents of chaos acting in any way and using any tool to wreck the present and take away good possibilities for the future.

Goblins may have a physical presence, but you still usually can’t just dropkick the little buggers over the horizon. For one thing, goblins are often our own fault (Who didn’t do that term paper when you had time?), and you can’t really solve your problems by punishing yourself. When the goblins are someone else, there are usually legal or social ramifications that would prevent a more direct physical response. Also, a more direct physical response is often just rude, and tends to create even more goblins. Don’t do that. Don’t make more problems when trying to solve the existing ones.

That is one of the more difficult things about goblins: They have an amazing capacity for reproduction. If you’re not careful in how you handle them, your Goblin Removal Procedures can easily becomes Goblin Multiplier Procedures instead, and you’ve just made the situation worse when you were trying to make it better. Even if you don’t add to the army of goblins, it is still far too easy to replace one goblin with another one. That make not make things worse, but it doesn’t make them better either.

The best way to deal with a goblin infestation is honest mindful awareness. Know where you are, know what you’re doing, and know your results. Not where you want to be or where you think you are, not what you want to be doing or what you think you’re doing, and not what you want the results to be what what you think the results might be, but the real ones. Be present. Be aware. Be real. If your actions are attracting goblins, address your actions. If it’s not your actions but the actions of other people in your location, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your location. If you have no choice about your location - rare, but possible - take precautions and make sure that you are not adding to the goblin summoning.

We all have fears, but most of our fears are ghosts and goblins. They’re not real, or they’re only as real as we make them. When you are giving energy to the things around you, make certain that you are not powering ghosts and goblins. If you are not currently equipped to make the world a better place, at least don’t make it worse.

There are fears in this world that are not ghosts and goblins. They are less common, but no less real. A house fire, a violent storm, a random act of hatred, an ill child. These and other such events can be terrifying in their very real ability to take away from live that which makes it life. We face these things as best we can, but remember that we all face them, and we are all afraid sometimes. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is moving forward despite fear. No courage is required when you are not afraid, only when you are. Don’t doubt yourself because you’re afraid. Acknowledge your fear and move forward anyway. Then you will have no reason to doubt.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Behind The Masks

Most people wear masks at various times and for various reasons. It’s so common, in fact, that people who never (or almost never) wear masks are generally looked upon as being socially or emotionally underdeveloped, or possibly even both. This is not always a conscious consideration - we love to say that we prefer things honest and real - but it is true just the same. We are so accustomed to the presence of masks that we even sometimes wear them in private, and then tell ourselves that the mask is our real face.

A mask is a mask, no matter how often we call it a face, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a problem. A mask is a tool and, like most tools, it can serve a useful purpose or it can be misapplied. When tools are misapplied, things tend to break. Unfortunately, when this tool is misapplied, it is often hearts, minds, and even lives that break. Masks can be very useful and even powerful tools but, as is often the case, they are also dangerous tools, and should be used only with appropriate care and consideration to minimize their hazards.

I can already hear the argument, “Honesty is always the best policy and you should never hide behind a mask.” Of course you’re right, and when Aunt Sally asks you how she looks, you always and only tell her the exact truth, don’t you? If you answered “yes” to that, I’m guessing they don’t offer sensitivity training at your place of employment. There is a time and a place for everything, and that includes honesty. The people who tell you, “Hey, I’m just being honest,” are usually just being callous and lazy. That’s not the same thing.

Honesty may be the best policy - and it is a policy I follow personally, so I am certainly not knocking the idea - but “best” does not necessarily mean “only”. There are times when it is a good idea to show a different face - a mask - to the world, and we have developed a variety of socially acceptable ways to create and use these masks. If you can help Aunt Sally with her appearance then you might find a gentle way of doing so. If you can’t help, though, or, even more important, if Aunt Sally is perfectly happy with her appearance and any negative input from you is only going to cause hurt feelings with no positive benefit, you smile and tell her how fabulous she looks. Being kind is sometimes more important than being honest.

Being honest, though, can sometimes be the way to be kind, even if it might not seem so at the moment. If Aunt Sally’s hat is going to violate zoning ordinances at the party she is attending, it may upset her that she now has to rethink her entire outfit, but that would be better than arriving at the party and being locked out. This is a weird example, I know, but you get the idea. You have to think about things in complete context to keep honesty and kindness in a proper relationship with each other. You can’t just rely on “I’m always honest,” or “I’m always kind,” because life is more complicated than that. If you are going to navigate life with mindful intent then you will have to think things through occasionally and not just rely on blanket rules.

It is entirely normal that you may need to keep a collection of masks handy, and have some skill at switching them out as necessary. Your face is the better face, and a healthy response to the world requires showing your face the majority of the time, but a mask can be the healthy response under a variety of circumstances. Strangers don’t need to always know your innermost thoughts, and sometimes “How do you do?” just means “Hello.” Life is a complex system of moving and interacting parts, and living a healthy life means that we make every honest effort we can to work within that complex system without causing it or ourselves to break down.

Take, for example, a situation where you have a pain, you have a solution for that pain at home, and you have a well-meaning friend between you and home. Your friend asks how you are doing, and will be entirely sympathetic toward, but will also be unable to assist in any way with your pain. In fact, despite honestly meaning to help, explaining the situation to your friend will only serve to delay you from getting to the solution, prolonging your pain without benefit to anyone. You can be open and honest, explaining the situation to your friend anyway, or you can grin and bear it, put on a happy mask, and promise to catch up later. Choose wisely.

There is no wrong answer to that situation, in case you were curious. I know which option I would favor, but there is nothing wrong with either one. If you are moving forward without causing unnecessary damage, you are meeting expectations, at least. The point to this little exercise is simply to demonstrate that choosing a mask can be a good answer. I believe that it can even be the better answer in some circumstances, but you will have to make that determination for yourself. I only offer, as evidence, the fact that wearing a mask in this situation would lead to a speedier resolution of pain without transferring the pain or leading to a new round of pain as a result. If you would feel better about it, by all means, explain to your friend later. Just understand that you haven’t hurt anything, and you have helped something to stop hurting.

There are two restrictions that I would apply to the healthy use of masks: Masks are for temporary use only, and masks are not for private usage.

The first one might seem obvious, but that is often not the case. We are creatures of habit, and anything we do often or long enough tends to stick. If we spend enough time wearing masks, we get used to wearing masks and forget to take them off. Honesty really is the best policy, though, and it’s best to show your real face as often as possible. If you find that it is not safe, healthy, or comfortable to go sans mask on a regular basis, you might want to examine the circumstances making this the case. There may be something else you can address that could lead to a resolution of both issues. Odds are, you are not the Phantom of the Opera. Remove the mask and let your face breathe whenever possible. It’s good for you.

You cannot live mindfully by lying to yourself. Those are incompatible actions. If you are wearing a mask in private - if you are telling yourself that everything is fine when it is not fine - you are actively preventing mindful awareness. Worse, you are preventing things from becoming fine. You cannot fix a problem that you will not address. We occasionally wear masks in public to prevent pain and to keep things running smoothly. Wearing a mask in private, though, ultimately causes pain and prevents things from running smoothly. That is the opposite of healthy behavior.

Masks can serve a useful function, and using them can be a healthy outlet, as long as we maintain such actions in reasonable proportions. It’s the season to be aware of masks and disguises, hopefully in fun and entertaining ways, and it’s a good time to examine how they can fit into our daily lives. Just make sure that you’re wearing the mask and not being the mask. As long as you maintain that distinction, there’s a good chance that you are at least pointed in the right direction.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

TGIF - 10-23-15

Today is the last full day for our Trash Bags are for Trash fundraiser, so I hope you will help us bring this in for a successful landing. Children going into foster care are going through a tremendous amount of turmoil, and losing so much of what they know and love. If they get to bring anything with them at all, they have to throw their possessions into whatever is handy, which is usually nothing more than a trash bag. The psychological ramifications of that action can be traumatizing. We can’t make foster care easy but, with your help, we can smooth some of the edges. Help us to help Together We Rise donate proper suitcases to children going into foster care. It’s a small piece that can make a big difference to a kid struggling with loss and identity issues. Anything helps, and we certainly thank you for any help you can provide.

While you are hopefully feeling generous, let me take a moment to remind you of our Patreon account. If you like what we are doing here at Frequently Interrupted, please consider subscribing to help us keep the lights on. Nothing will ever be required, but everything is appreciated. Thank you for your consideration. Foster licensing is moving forward. Our class is complete, as are most of the interviews. There are, of course, still processes to go, but the end is in site, at least for the licensing portion. Thank you for your continued thoughts and support in that regard.

Next week is Halloween. We love Halloween around here, and usually go all out for decorations and costumes, but we might be a little scaled down this year. Between everything else going on and the weather (Remember when I was asking for rain? We got it!), we haven’t had as much opportunity to put everything together, but we haven’t stopped yet. I'll be pulling everything out this weekend and seeing what I can do on short notice. I can be pretty resourceful when I want to be. We won't go without, at the very least, as long as my little cemetery doesn't wash away. The spider webs might be out of luck this year. We'll have to see. Keep your eyes open and maybe I’ll get some pictures shared. (Pumpkin image courtesy of halloweenclipart.com.)

Have a great weekend, and we will see you Monday!

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Taking The Sting Out Of Stress

Raise your hand if you have ever felt the debilitating pressures of stress. Raise your hand if you know the feeling of having so many concerns weighing down on you that you don’t believe you can successfully tackle any of them. Raise your hand if you have ever had so many things to do that the only thing you managed to do was to sit around and count how many things you had to do. If your hand is not at least figuratively in the air, I have a feeling that you’re not being entirely honest with yourself.

Stress is a part of being alive. There may be a few people who have managed to make it go away completely, but they are a statistical anomaly, the exception that proves the rule. They are not the standard case. For most of us, the act of being alive means that we will face stress, and sometimes we will face stress that seems overwhelming. It rarely is overwhelming - if that weren’t true, the human race would have long since gone extinct - but stress has a tendency of making things seem to be more than they are, and we have a tendency of believing it. Stress is often a liar, but we are often gullible. There are some things that we can do about that, though, if we take the time and remember to do them.

Knowing that stress is a liar, the first helpful trick to to just remember that stress is a liar. We often forget. When things are going well, we tell ourselves that we know better, we know what stress does and how it makes us feel, and we have these grand plans about how we’re not going to let stress get to us this time. Then stress comes calling with that lopsided grin and a bouquet of wildflowers, and we’re falling for the same old stories all over again. Living with stress is the ultimate bad relationship that we keep running back to no matter how many times we get burned.

We know that stress is a liar, so treat it like a liar. Look for the truth. Remember the times that this same thing has happened before, and remember how you got through them before. Look at the facts of the situation and realize that the molehill, after all, really is not a mountain. Listen to your friends, and understand that you have support from people who have often felt the same stress in the same situations. Whatever you do, do not take the word of a known liar. Get a second opinion, and even a third. Get the facts.

Don’t borrow trouble. So much of the time, the things we stress about aren’t even real. They are imagined maybes and predicted possibilities. We have cast ahead and come up with a list of things that might happen, then we picked the worst choices from that list and built a life around them. Let me tell you a secret: We are lousy fortunetellers. I’m still waiting for my flying car and self-lacing sneakers. Sure we get it right sometimes, but we get it wrong at least as often.

Worry is the worst use of imagination ever. It doesn’t add anything useful to your life, it doesn’t solve problems, and it doesn’t make things better. The only thing that worrying does is to prevent you from enjoying now while you’re stressing over a tomorrow that may never come. Then, if it does come, you can’t enjoy tomorrow either because you’re stressing over all of the things you left undone while you were worrying. It’s a snake eating its own tail until it devours the universe.

That isn’t to say that you don’t plan for tomorrow. In fact, planning can be an exceptional trick for alleviating stress, but you have to understand the difference between planning and worrying. One is constructive while the other is destructive. One helps you to put things into place for enjoying and appreciating life, while the other takes away everything that makes life worth living. One finds solutions while the other obsesses over problems. That is probably the easiest way to tell the difference. If you’re not exploring solutions, you’re not planning.

Remember again that stress is a liar. Stress will tell you that there are no solutions, or that these solutions will never work. That’s worrying. Toss it out and replace it with planning. Can it work? How has it worked in the past? What are the pieces that need to line up, and how can I help to make sure that happens? What has changed, and what can I do to accommodate that change? Planning acknowledges that there are answers and then goes looking for them.

When there aren’t answers, though, you can work with that too. One of the leading causes of stress is the refusal to accept the universe as it is. If you are experiencing stress because of your desire to have rain fall upward then you are being your own problem. Just as it is necessary to recognize the difference between planning and worrying, we must also be able to tell the difference between what is and what can be changed. It is also helpful to know whether or not I can change it. While it may be possible to build a hot rod that can break land speed records, I can’t do it. I don’t have the knowledge or skills. We have to know ourselves, and we have to know the universe, and we have to be honest about both.

May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. We have all seen it a million times in various forms, but we rarely remember to apply it. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to let go, and it is imperative to our own health and well-being that we learn that and put it into practice, each to the best of our own abilities. Change what you can and let go of what you can’t, and the stress will melt away. Even better, after the stress has melted away, you will often find that you have changed things you didn’t think could be changed. Once again, we are reminded that stress is a liar, and sometimes the best way to find something is to stop looking.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, there are two physical activities that are the bane of a stressful existence: laughter and dancing. Give it a try and you’ll see that I’m right. If you’re dancing and laughing, you’re not stressed. It just works that way. These two activities are the best of life, distilled into its purest form. It’s like sunlight to a vampire, which is a pretty accurate description all around. Turn the music up and dance like noone is watching, even if they are. It might be even better if they are watching. If you dance as poorly as I do, that could lead to the laughing, and you have the One-Two punch to take stress out of the picture. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. You need it, and it’s often not as serious as you think. If you can’t laugh at yourself, I bet you have a friend who would be happy to help. Call that friend. It will be good for you.

Stress is a part of living. You’re not going to get around that, but you can mitigate it. Your life is made up of many parts, so don’t let stress take more than its fair share. Keep it in its place, and live a good life. Live, laugh, love. That’s what it’s all about, after all, so make sure you’re not missing out. If you need help, ask for it. We all do sometimes. Do what you have to do to get the most out of life, and then make sure you live it.

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Don't forget our Trashbags are for Trash fundraiser, please. Lend a hand, if you can. If all you can do is spread the word, we appreciate that too. It all helps. Thank you.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Hump Day 9-21-15

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Changing Seasons

It’s that time of year when we tend to most notice the changing of the seasons. Leaves turn colors, the temperature is starting to get cooler, the days get shorter, and the nights are often filled with the scents of smoke or harvest … or pumpkin spice, depending on where you live. Sandals and shorts start going back to the back of the closet, and sweaters and hats start putting in more appearances. We don’t all get all of the changes every year, but we get changes, and we notice the changes. We might have four seasons, and each one might be defined by changes, but, in my experience, this is the one that really stands out.

It’s also kind of funny, if you think about it. The change from Summer to Autumn usually stands out in a positive way in modern society. People like this change. It wakes people up and makes them feel good, and I’m certainly among that number. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. It has some of the best holidays, the best weather, and my birthday, all rolled into one season. What’s not to like? It is a change, though, that signifies death and dying. Those leaves aren’t turning colors just to be pretty, and many of the customs and traditions we take for granted at this time of year originated in cultures who were desperately reminding themselves that this death was only temporary. What we see as carefree and fun was often nothing short of terrifying at a time in the not too distant past.

How times change, right?

Many cultures in the past looked on this dying time of year with fear, and their fear was not unjustified. If the harvest was especially bad, they would not get a second chance. If the upcoming winter was especially bad, they might not need a second chance. Changes at this time of year could literally mark the difference between life and death. Some of these people lit bonfires to encourage the sun’s return, and we look back on those people from our cushioned age of technology and we call those people primitives. Let the wifi go out today, though, and you’ll see a whole new meaning of primitive behavior. The more things change, the more they stay the same. They just shift around to encompass new understandings and new tools.

It can be argued that many of those people from past cultures did not understand celestial mechanics, but I wonder how many people today truly have such an understanding. We take for granted that the seasons are cyclical, but how many of us can explain why or how that is true? How many of us are simply taking the matter on faith. and then looking down on people for expressing a different faith? It’s something to think about, if you’re inclined to ask such questions.

However we arrived at the understanding, few of us today have any reason to fear the changing of the seasons. We have relatively easy access to food, and harvests are rarely a major problem. The biggest issue most of us face from a difficult harvest is an increased price at the grocery store, or our favorite seasonal products being out of stock. There are exceptions, to be sure, and nothing I say here is meant to take away from the plight of the farmer or the poor or anyone else who might genuinely be harmed by such concerns. I’m speaking only in the more general sense of our society as a whole, and our society as a whole has achieved a level of safety and comfort that would have been viewed as practically mythological by most societies of the past. That safety and comfort allow us to see things from a different perspective so, instead of seeing falling leaves as a dire portent of impending doom, we are able to admire the beautiful colors.

We know the sun is coming back if for no other reason than because it has always come back, but how often do we forget to apply that same thinking to the more intimate parts of our own lives? If you are reading this then you have survived everything life has thrown at you to date. In fact, the odds are good that you have done more than survive. We can make certain assumptions based on the criteria needed for most people to be reading this. They aren’t guaranteed, but if we were in Vegas they would be House favorites. If you are reading this then you have a 100% success rate for dodging the falling anvils of life. Congratulations! That’s a pretty good average, but how often do you remember it? More to the point, how often do you forget it? How often are you convinced that this is the one that will do you in, completely forgetting how many times you have already successfully passed through the same fire. We all do it, so there is certainly no shame in the matter, but life can become at least a certain degree of easier if you actively know that you are doing it, so that you can actively respond accordingly when necessary. Yes, it is possible that simple wear and tear can turn a series of successes into a final failure, but there is no reason to assume that will be the case when it hasn’t happened yet. Don’t borrow trouble. If you’re doing your best, and your best has worked so far, don’t assume that your best is going to suddenly stop working. By making that assumption, you’re adding stress, which is increasing the likelihood of failure. By removing that assumption, you are also removing the corresponding amount of stress, making things that much better. You believe that Spring will come again because it always has. Believe that you will rise again because you always have.

Seasons change. There is an enormous amount of math that goes into making sure this happens and continues to happen in the manner that we have come to expect but, for most of us, it’s as simple as, seasons change. They always have and they always will, round and round we go, world without end, Amen. Simple, right? Of course not. You already know that the world is not without end. There will be a time when Spring will not come around again. It’s inevitable, but how much time do you spend worrying about it? That would be something close to none, if I had to guess.

Your own life is obviously of more immediate concern than some far off moment of entropic collapse, so it is equally obvious that you will be giving your own life a bit more concern than you do to inevitable cosmic matters. That just makes sense. My only suggestion is that you keep that concern in perspective. Your track record is better than you think, so keep that in mind. Don’t assume failure after you have had so many successes. It may be true that some of them have been pretty narrow successes, but they’re still in the Win Column, right? Remember that.

Seasons come and seasons go. Change is just about the only dependable constant in this life, so embrace it and make it work for you. Just as we as a whole have learned to overcome a cultural fear of Fall, we as individuals can learn to overcome our more individualized fears of failure. Spring will come again, and we will rise again. One follows the other, and everything changes. Knowing that, we are better able to embrace now as now, and that helps us to live life, moving forward.

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Don't forget our Trashbags are for Trash fundraiser, please. Lend a hand, if you can. If all you can do is spread the word, we appreciate that too. It all helps. Thank you.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Monday Motivation 10-19-15

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Friday, October 16, 2015

TGIF - Trash Bags Are For Trash

We have just about a week left on our Trash Bags are for Trash fundraiser, and we are just over halfway to our goal. Thank you for what you have done so far, and I hope that you will continue to help us cross that finish line. This one is a pretty big deal for me, and you will no doubt see me discussing such things in the future. We may even do additional fundraisers. We’ll see.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with the issue, the idea behind donating suitcases for foster children is all about dignity and self-worth. When a child is placed into foster care, it is usually due to emergency circumstances. It’s fast, it’s chaotic, and it’s terrifying. Children are not placed into foster care because life is going swell for them, and the placement, even if ultimately helpful, is not an immediate improvement. These children are losing everything they have ever known and having their entire lives uprooted and torn away. Then, if they are given an opportunity to pack anything at all, they are usually handed a trash bag to carry their possessions. A trash bag. Try to imagine being a small child, being removed from your home and taken away from the people you know and love (because you do love them, no matter what else might be happening), and then you’re told to put your favorite toys and clothes into a trash bag. How would that make you feel? I think for, most people, the answer to that would be something along the lines of “pretty crummy.” The purpose of this fundraiser (and many more hosted by Together We Rise) is to try to alleviate some of that crumminess. Handing a child a suitcase instead of a trash bag may seem like a small thing, but it’s one small thing going right in an ocean of things going wrong. You might be amazed at how much of a difference that can make.

I’ll get off my soap box now. Help if you can and are so inclined, and please spread the word. Thank you very much for your help and support.

In other news, we officially passed 100 Facebook followers this week. I have no idea what the normal timeline for that might be, but we did it in about three months, and we did it with no advertising aside from you and me, spreading the word. I think that is pretty fantastic! Thank you for that, and let’s keep that word going. Invite your friends, comment on the articles and posts, and always feel free to send in your suggestions and ideas. We can’t do any of this without you.

See you next week!

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Don't forget our Trashbags are for Trash fundraiser, please. Lend a hand, if you can. If all you can do is spread the word, we appreciate that too. It all helps. Thank you.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Labeling Problems

People often have a real hangup with labels, as well they should, when you get down to it. Labels are useful communication shorthand devices, but sometimes they can be too short and they are often overused. People don’t want to be labeled, until they do want to be labeled. It can be difficult to keep straight, and if you don’t keep it straight that communication shorthand can become a communication breakdown. It’s a tricky subject, so it makes sense to at least be hesitant when it comes to labels.

Still, there is hesitant and then there is … well, there is what we often get, which is a problem in its own right. Sometimes it seems like every time you turn around there is someone telling you not to use some word or another because it might hurt someone’s feelings. It’s not that simple, though, and blanket rules almost never work. Zero tolerance policies don’t usually make anything better. They’re just an excuse to not think about something, but you have to think about things if you want to create positive change. Encouraging not thinking goes the wrong direction. Instead, use general guidelines, and then apply those guidelines to the specific situation to see how they fit. Think about it before you react to it. It takes more work, but it tends to make things work better.

Why is this word upsetting, and why is this word being used? What is the meaning and what is the context? These are critical questions, and we need to answer them before we start trying to change the world. It is also important to ask why we are even asking in the first place. Why is this important? Why does it matter? That part might actually be the most overlooked? Is the issue you’re addressing worth the effort you’re expending?

A very easy example for this time of year and for someone who advocates in the field of mental health is the word “crazy”. That one is a touchy beast all year round, but it grows real claws and fangs around Halloween when we are inundated with slasher flicks and the costumes that go with them. Inevitably there will be someone calling for a boycott of some crazy-themed costume - often based on nothing more than the word “crazy” on the label - because it is offensive to people with mental health issues.

My immediate reaction is generally something along the lines of, “It is? How?” I don’t know about you, but I have never felt the slightest urge to don a hockey mask and chase after teenagers with a machete, and I’ve never felt any identity connection with anyone who would. Words have meaning, yes, but they don’t necessarily have just one meaning. If a word can mean something offensive and also something not offensive, and I don’t fall into the offensive category, and the person using the word wasn’t talking about me in the first place … Do you begin to see how many moving parts there might be here? It isn’t as simple as, “Don’t use that word.”

We who advocate in these fields tell people all of the time to own their own identities - be the author of your own happiness, and don’t let others define your image or your worth - and then we turn around and tell other people not to use certain words because they might damage someone they’re not actually describing. That’s a contradiction, and contradictions do not generally lead to good mental health.

My brain is broken. It does not work as described in the manufacturer’s specifications. Not saying that will not make it not true, and I don’t see any value in hiding from what is true. If you call me crazy as a result of my broken brain, I will likely agree with you. There is at least one functional and entirely valid definition of crazy that applies to me with pretty definitive accuracy. I own that identity, and it’s not unusual that I say it myself. I don’t mean anything negative by it, and neither do you. We’re just describing what is, using a language we both understand. That’s called communication. If you’re describing that “crazy psycho” from a horror movie, you’re not describing anything about me. That is not my identity, and has nothing to do with me. I have no reason to have an opinion at all, except as it pertains to the movie.

I don’t like the word “ain’t,” but I’m from a part of the country where it is common vocabulary. My dislike of the word is my problem, and will not have the slightest impact on common usage. The same is often true of many of the labeling words we tend to find objectionable, whether we like it or not. No individual owns language, and we do not get to decide what is and is not acceptable, especially with words that intrinsically have multiple meanings. Words with one meaning, or one dominant meaning, tend to work themselves out all on their own. If you don’t believe me, look back at history, even recent history. There are some pretty big examples that you don’t even need me to name. They changed, not because people fought against words, but because people changed society as a whole, and one thing just naturally led to another. Trying to fight the world on common word usage is wasted energy on a lost cause. Pick your battles, and try to do so with an eye toward actually accomplishing something useful.You can usually tell when someone is being insulting. If so, address the thinking behind the insult rather than the insult. If not, is it worth the hassle? Is there really a problem with a person using a word to express an understood concept, or is it really my problem obsessing over a part of the meaning that isn’t even involved?

I’m not saying that these questions are easy to answer, or that we shouldn’t try to change truly offensive behavior. I’m saying it would be a good idea to put more thought into identifying truly offensive behavior, and not waste time and energy on what isn’t truly offensive behavior. We have a finite amount of time and energy, and there are already days when it seems our need for those commodities surpasses our supply. Don’t fight battles that don’t really matter.

I believe that being courteous and considerate of the other people around us makes life better for everyone, but it’s not better if we’re being routinely offended by what we perceive as other people not being courteous and considerate. Ultimately, we have to own our own actions, and recognize the fact that we can’t own the actions of other people. We can be examples, we can make suggestions, and we can call for change when doing so is productive, but we also need to learn when to let go. Deal with the condition, and the symptoms will be addressed naturally. The road will be bumpy, but that’s the way it goes. Taking the downs along with the ups is part of living, and we could all use a little more practice in living sometimes.

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Don't forget our Trashbags are for Trash fundraiser, please. Lend a hand, if you can. If all you can do is spread the word, we appreciate that too. It all helps. Thank you.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy Hump Day 10-14-15

Modify as you need, the thought remains the same.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Common Courtesy

There are times when it seems like the phrase “common courtesy” has become an oxymoron. There often does not seem to be anything common about courtesy these days, which is a shame because I do believe that a bit of courtesy could, if not fix, at least reduce many of the problems that we face today. At its base, courtesy is the art of getting along without causing friction, and we could certainly use some getting along without causing friction. The machinery of human interaction seems to be creaking a bit lately, and could definitely use some more lubrication. Courtesy is that lubrication.

In my house, we say “Please” and “Thank you” on a regular basis. If you are requesting something, you say “please.” If you are receiving something, you say “thank you.” It’s that simple, and it applies to everyone, every time. If it’s missed, there is a gentle reminder. This applies equally to the adults as to the children. If I am handing out a chore, I say something like, “Please take out the trash,” and, when that chore is complete, I say, “Thank you.” We practice manners and good example here. We also do not fight in this house. No one yells, and we have very little of the drama that is often associated with having teenagers in the home (very close to none, most of the time). I can’t prove that one is the cause of the other, but I strongly suspect that there is a connection.

Manners are a means of showing respect to another person, and a person who is receiving respect is less likely to respond with disrespect. We all know that is not a perfect correlation - some people are going to be rude no matter what - but it helps. If the situation becomes one that requires a more brusque response, it is easy to change gears in that direction, but changing toward the other direction is not so simple. Think of it as a mountain road, with courtesy at the top of the incline and discourtesy at the bottom. If you start at the top, going down is easy. If you start at the bottom, though, going up requires effort, sometimes even insurmountable effort. It is far easier to begin an encounter with courtesy than to try to get to courtesy after a discourteous beginning.

As Robert Heinlein said, courtesy is the lubrication that keeps this human machinery going. We bump up against each other every day, in almost everything we do. There is friction. There can’t help but be friction. If there gets to be too much friction, things break down. Arguments, conflict, war. These are, from a certain perspective, the inevitable results of an absence of courtesy. The presence of courtesy may not always prevent such issues, but it can certainly reduce their frequency, and maybe even reduce their volatility. The leading cause of conflict is anger, and it is difficult to maintain anger in the midst of polite conversation. It is not impossible, and I have actually known people who become more polite the more angry they get, but anger and courtesy are not easy cohabitants, with courtesy usually being the stronger of the two.

Heather says that I am such a firm advocate of manners because I believe that, if I were to forget my manners, I believe that my mother would appear behind me and give me a Gibbs Smack (funny, we knew those as Mom Smacks long before there was such a character as Leroy Jethro Gibbs). She claims that she has even seen me have a minor lapse and then look over my shoulder with some apprehension. I think if I actually believed such a thing, I might decide to be rude a bit more often. I don’t get to see my mother nearly often enough, and that would be an invitation, no? On a more serious note, though, it does point out that my mother taught me well, and I do give her all credit for that belief and that behavior. The woman who raised me and was still able to maintain polite courtesy on a regular basis deserves a medal.

They say that children have to be taught to hate, and that is true. Unfortunately, children also have to be taught things like courtesy. The natural inclination of the human mind, without any guidance, is somewhere in the middle, not leaning too much toward the positive nor the negative. This would probably be fine, all else being equal, but all else is not equal, and entropy still prevails. It is the natural trend of all systems in this universe to move toward break down, and it is up to us to work against that trend. We must teach our children courtesy so that they can build the world up, rather than watch it break down.

While we are practicing courtesy, we must remember that not everyone will be so inclined, and there is a limit to what we can expect while still remaining courteous ourselves. There is a growing trend in some social circles of demanding that people extend certain courtesies, but courtesy and demand rarely go together any better than courtesy and anger. Think of it like this: If I have two cookies and you have none, it may be courteous of me to share one with you, but would not be courteous of you to demand one. If you understand the distinction then you understand courtesy. Courtesy is about giving, not taking. There are balancing acts that must be achieved, no doubt, but simply demanding courtesy is rarely on the program. If someone is being discourteous, we can politely inform them of such and, if they continue, we can break off contact. I believe that is almost always a better option than issuing demands. Sometimes we can’t break contact, though. There may be any number of reasons that we are required to maintain contact with a discourteous person and, if that is the case, then presenting a demand may be necessary. That might also be a case where traveling downhill on that previously-mentioned mountain road becomes necessary, but we can hope that such situations remain uncommon.

I don’t believe that we can live our full potential by living like hermits isolated on a mountain top. Human beings are social creatures, and we must be social to be fully human. If we’re not learning to be fully human, and to be the best fully human that we can be, then what was the point? If we’re just here to figure out how to not be here as quickly as possible, well, that would be pretty silly. No, I’m convinced that we are here to learn how to BE HERE, and to learn how to make being here be as good as it can possibly be. I also believe that can be pretty good indeed, if we just put our minds to it.

Part of how we do that is by being good to one another. Practice courtesy in everything that you do, and you’ll find that you see the world in a better way. If you are more consistently positive, the world around you becomes more consistently positive. It’s almost like magic. Maybe “please” really is a magic word. Just remember to say “thank you.”

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Don't forget our Trashbags are for Trash fundraiser, please. Lend a hand, if you can. If all you can do is spread the word, we appreciate that too. It all helps. Thank you.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday Motivation 10-12-15

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Don't forget our Trashbags are for Trash fundraiser, please. Lend a hand, if you can. If all you can do is spread the word, we appreciate that too. It all helps. Thank you.

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