Friday, January 29, 2016

TGIF 1-29-16

For those who are new to Frequently Interrupted - and we do have several of those recently, so welcome! - I want to take a moment today to reiterate some of our basic working principles here. Between Facebook and Twitter, we’ve hit about 150 followers now (in fact, Twitter just informed me that we have achieved the first milestone of 25 followers on that platform as I am typing this), with surprisingly little overlap. It’s surprising to me, anyway, but I am new to Twitter and probably just haven’t learned yet that this is normal. I will keep learning, though. That’s what I do.

The point there is that our community is growing, slowly but surely. I don’t know what the normal growth rate for something like this is, and I don’t think that’s terribly important. I would rather grow slowly if that means growing with people who really want to be here. I think we are achieving that, and I thank each of you for your help in that. Keep spreading the word and we will keep growing.

The ideas behind this forum are threefold: mental health, self improvement, and a better world. Each of these are tackled from my own personal perspective, being the only perspective I have, and are addressed in ways that hopefully line up with each other. They are from my perspective, and frequently about my own life, but presented in such a way that I hope that can be useful to anyone reading them. They are also inseparably tied together and, to me, one flows naturally to the others.

This began as an extension of my personal mental health journal. I have issues that I have dealt with for most of my life, and I believe that I have had a good amount of success in dealing with those issues. There have been some challenges recently that led me to go back and review the process from the beginning, and I decided that, as part of the process this time, I would share that work with others. I hope that other people can learn from what I have done - both my successes and my mistakes - and helping others also helps me. It’s a cumulative positive effect.

As I work on dealing with my own mental health issues, this just naturally leads to areas of self improvement. I have often thought of my process as Finding My Zen, and so have recently taken to labeling this process as Zen Mental Health. As the name implies, this combines elements of psychology with Zen philosophy to achieve a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Many of the lessons I have learned along the way can be extrapolated into broader applications, and so some of what makes me a better person, if looked at from a certain perspective, might help to make to world a better place. I’m pretty fond of the idea of making the world a better place, so I enjoy examining these broader applications, and trying to see how the different pieces fit together, or don’t fit together when that is what needs to be examined.

I’ve been reviewing the numbers, and it seems pretty clear that the readers here more readily connect with the articles that fall into the first category. That is both oddly flattering and mildly terrifying, to be perfectly honest. While it may not always be obvious, talking about me in any meaningful way is the hardest part of what I do here. I can talk your ear off with Remember When stories, but have a bit more difficulty when it comes to Facing The Demons stories. That is fairly typical - we wouldn’t compare the process to facing demons if it were easy - but it’s also fairly typical that those stories would get the greater response. They’re more personal so they achieve more resonance. Of course, that also means they’re more personal so they’re harder to write. I’ll be working on the balance between the three categories as we go along, and I hope that you will work with me, letting me know your thoughts along the way.

Frequently Interrupted is a working combination of deeply personal and broadly communal, and sometimes the subject matter may seem to bounce in unusual directions. My mind often bounces in unusual directions, so consider that a natural side effect. We cover issues like mental health, foster care, meditation, helping each other out, and just about anything else that I believe goes toward making me or the world (or, hopefully, both) better. I like that “anything else” part. It gives me plenty of wiggle room.

If you’ve been with us for a while, thank you. You have helped to make Frequently Interrupted what it is working toward becoming. If you are new to our community, welcome. I hope that you enjoy what you find here, and that it is useful to you in some way. I always look forward to hearing your thoughts, so sound off in the comments or reach out to me through Facebook if that works better for you. I created this site to help me, but working with all of you is a large part of how I do that. Thank you for coming this far, and I look forward to our continued journey.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Building A Solid Structure

There is a fine line between “I’ve got this” and “I need help,” and that line can sometimes be the difference between taking care of yourself and not. It can be a difficult line to see, as well, which is how so many people get in trouble with it. It is far too easy to go on believing that you do have this right through the moment when you don’t and, when that status changes, it can change with shocking abruptness.

A critical component of taking care of yourself is doing the work yourself when and how you can. That seems obvious when you put it into words, but the execution can be much more difficult than the statement. So much of the Take Care of Yourself material that is out there focuses on the affirmation and positive thinking aspect - which is a very important aspect, not to be neglected or downplayed, by any means - and either forgets or glosses over the work aspect, and that’s a shame. Yes, you need to love yourself in order to accomplish anything else positive in this universe, but just sitting in a corner saying, “I’m okay,” to a mirror over and over again won’t get the job done. In fact, that’s a good way to trip over that fine line in a hurry.

In order to make an improvement in anything, you have to work at it. In order to make an improvement in yourself, you have to work at you. Work, not wish. Depending on the work involved it may be a collaborative effort, but you will have to participate no matter what. The more work you do, the more you will get done. Again, that is another one of those things that is obvious once spelled out, but we don’t often spell it out. Spelling it out usually means more work, but if you need the work then you need to do the work. Avoiding that fact won’t change it. That will just make the work pile up and more will need to be done once you do start doing it.

Or the entire structure might eventually collapse from neglect. That’s always a possibility. Of course, the structure in this case is you, so it might be best to not let that happen. We’re back to work again. Work to build up the structure so that it doesn’t collapse from neglect.

While you’re working on that structure, though, pay attention to what you’re accomplishing and where you’re struggling. Don’t get so caught up in doing the work that you won’t ask for help when you need it. We all need help from time to time, and there is no shame in admitting that. The intent here is to build a solid structure - you - not to build a clapboard shack. Solid structures are rarely built by one person. There is a great deal of work involved from a wide variety of skillsets. It is only to be expected that you can’t do it all yourself.

Not only is there no shame in asking for help, you may find yourself facing larger issues if you don’t ask. If a situation that could have gone well with a helping hand gets worse instead because pride wouldn’t let you ask, you haven’t exactly made things better, have you? It is important to keep the goal in mind. If what you’re doing is not making you better, why are you doing it? You’re not in competition and you have nothing to prove. Even if that were not true, what would you prove by letting the structure collapse because you wouldn’t take the necessary steps to prevent that from happening?

Never get so caught up in what you’re doing that you forget why you’re doing it. If the what is no longer accomplishing the why, it is time to reevaluate. Reevaluating is something that is helpful to do on a regular basis anyway, just to make sure, but it is even more critical when these two factors begin to get out of alignment. Comparing what to why can be seen as using the level during construction, to make certain that walls and floor are staying true to the line. The two most common causes of not asking for help in a timely manner are not realizing that you need help, and trying to prove that you don’t need help when you really do. Both of these can be addressed by this regular reevaluation of what and why. Keep your eye on whether or not what you’re doing is continuing to work toward why you’re doing it, and adjust as needed.

Building a solid structure, any structure, is hard work, time consuming and often complicated. It will always take work, and the more work you can do yourself, the more at home you can be with the results, but sometimes you need help. You can’t be at home with results that have fallen down. Take the time to know yourself, know your work, and know what help you might need. Find the balance point that is right for you and the results will happen. Keep working on that balance, adjusting as appropriate, and you’re almost guaranteed to be happy with the results. Once you hit that point, the affirmation part of taking care of yourself will follow naturally.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Just Three Things

I have been a little under the weather this week, and so have not gotten as much work done as I would like. Rather than my own words, then, I present to you these which are far older than any of my own, but are the basis upon which much of mine are built. A few thoughts to consider that I hope you will find beneficial.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Issues Are My Own

One of my common activities is closing doors. I don’t mean that in any metaphorical sense. I mean doors, things that open and close to get to rooms or enclosures. More specifically, cupboards, cabinets, and drawers (which may not be technically doors, but they amount to the same thing). I go around closing these things on a regular basis because, to my mind, they are supposed to be closed. I’m the one who goes around closing these things because no one else in my house subscribes to the belief that they are supposed to be closed. It is likely that no one else in my house subscribes to any belief about these things, one way or the other, so sometimes doors get closed and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they get almost closed. On those almost and don’t times, I go around and close doors. It’s what I do. It’s my issue, so I address it.

I also turn off lights, but I can claim the Dad Rule of saving on the electricity bill for that one, so I get to be a little more pushy about it. The root cause is actually the same thing as with the doors, but there is more involved, so there are more options. I walk around flipping light switches almost as often as closing doors, but I also tell people about the light switches. I don’t tell people every time - it’s definitely a Pick Your Battles situation - but reminders are not unusual. We don’t leave the house without mentioning it. It even gets put on the chores list occasionally. Turn Off Lights. We’re saving money (not really) and conserving (at least a little, and enough to help), so we get group participation.

That’s how it works. The door thing is entirely my own, so I address it on my own without bothering anyone else about it. The lights thing has impact on practical matters outside of my own head, so other people are involved and are even subject to expectations. There are, of course, an enormous number of degrees between those two ends of the spectrum, but the fact that there is a spectrum is one we would do well to keep in mind a bit more often.

There has been a growing trend recently of people trying to put every situation into the second category. If it’s important to me, it should be important to you, and I may even go so far as to get offended if you don’t treat it exactly as I would. Not only do I not believe in this idea, I believe it is actually counterproductive. We are getting mad at people without good cause, and that makes it more difficult to reach understanding and solve problems.

People are not mind readers. It is neither reasonable nor realistic to expect every person to be familiar with every issue, especially as those issues pertain to individual perception. I have an obsessive believe that certain types of doors are supposed to be closed, but I don’t wear a sign that tells people that. How would they know? What purpose would be served by getting upset with people for leaving such doors open. None, obviously. The only thing getting upset about that would accomplish would be to needlessly raise my blood pressure, followed by raising the blood pressure of the other person if I were to actually make an issue out of it. Great. I just made both of us less healthy for no positive gain. That wasn’t a very good decision, was it?

People don’t work well together when they are on the defensive. Sometimes that has to be a secondary concern - emergencies, active threats, and things of that sort - but we can usually get better results when it can be a primary concern. The more people can work together, the easier it is to work toward a goal, any goal. No matter the situation, working in opposition to anyone will impede or slow down progress. That is simple reality. Putting people on the defensive may not automatically put people in opposition, but it leans them in that direction, and berating people for doing wrong is one of the fastest ways to put them on the defensive. That is especially true if the person being berated is unaware of or in disagreement with the designation of being wrong. Again, sometimes that’s the point. Sometimes we can’t address the situation without going through the defensive portion, but we need to think about it. Are we helping, or are we making things worse? Are we trying to solve a problem, or are we trying to assuage an ego?

We don’t work well under stress. Some people do, and some people believe they do, but most people - even most of those who do work well under stress - work better when things are less stressful. If we have the option of having less stress, why would we ever choose otherwise? I could get bent out of shape every time someone leaves a kitchen cabinet open, but what purpose would that serve? It’s easier - for me! - if I just casually close the silly things when I see them. No harm no foul, as the expression goes and, more importantly, no stress. I address my need in a way that solves my problem and puts no one out of join. Don’t borrow trouble, and don’t make things worse than we are.

Sometimes the best thing we can do, for everyone involved, is just relax. Don’t overthink things, and don’t forget that different people have different priorities. Unless you are really and truly saving the world, it’s probably best if you don’t treat it like saving the world. It’s important to you, and that’s fine, but it’s also fine that it may not be important to everyone. Make that distinction more often and you might even find that you are better able to meet your own needs. Having less stress can be helpful that way, as can having more people willing to work with you rather than against you.

The next time you start to react to someone else’s behavior regarding one of your issues, pause. Take an honest look at what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what it is accomplishing. You might be surprised, and you might decide on a different way of doing things. It’s worth a look, at least.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

TGIF 1-22-16

Time flies. It’s hard to believe that the first month of 2015 is already almost over. By the time you’re reading this, we’re looking at one week until February. How are things going for you so far? Let us know in the comments. We would love to hear from you.

I don’t think I’ve given a foster care update yet for 2016. We finished all of the required processes for licensing on our end last week, so that’s a wonderful step forward. We are waiting for the bureaucratic process now - someone has to sign all of those papers, I’m sure - but we are almost licenced. I think the expectation is two-to-three months now, which sounds like a long time (July 2015 to March or April 2016) but is actually a significant improvement over what we were initially told. If I remember correctly, the original estimate we were given was somewhere around 18 months, so we’ve just about cut that time in half. Considering the current state of affairs with the Arizona Department of Health Services (the administration that runs this process, which has been all over the news lately for administration problems, so I probably don’t need to explain), I’d say that might actually qualify as downright amazing.

The foster family experience continues to get better. We have our frustrations, but what family with teenagers doesn’t? What family doesn’t? If you take someone with my issues and add a living tornado to the mix - a living tornado who hasn’t grown up with my issues, the way my other children have - and you might reasonably expect a disaster, but we have had no disaster. Quite the opposite, in fact. There has been some necessary adjustment, to be sure, but it’s also been a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone who has the love and patience to share. You’ll go into fostering with the idea of helping someone, but I guarantee they’ll end up helping you just as much.

On a less serious subject, I’ve been getting back into exploring independent entertainment options recently. This is something I used to do with music and games fairly often, but I had gotten out of the habit. The digital and online options today have opened up whole new worlds to independent entertainers, which, in turn, opens up whole new worlds within which to be entertained.

On the music front, I would like to bring to your attention the Kickstarter project for the upcoming fifth full-length album from the band kidneythieves. I’ve been a fan of kidneythieves for years and have never been disappointed. I heard a little from them during my online chatroom days when they were brand new but, while a great place for discovery, the web wasn’t very practical for keeping up back then. In the years that followed, kt were featured on the soundtrack for the movie Queen of the Damned (which soundtrack was far superior to the movie it supported) and then were featured more heavily in the video game Deus Ex: Invisible War - one of my favorite franchises and absolutely one of the best games of 2003) - where singer Free Dominguez gave voice to in-game pop superstar NG Resonance and the jukebox played select tracks from kt’s 1998 album Trickster. I had an “I remember that!” moment while playing the game, spent enough time around the jukebox to hear every track again multiple times, and have been more actively following kidneythieves since then. Now they are coming back for their fifth album, The Mend, and are determined to keep it independent. If you take a look at their kickstarter page, the project is already funded. Every additional donation now is helping to send them on the road where they are guaranteed to up the entertainment quotient exponentially. Guitar-driven electronic rock with a groovy dance beat, fronted by some amazing vocals. If you like anything in that description, I would be very surprised if you don’t like kidneythieves. Give them a listen and, if you like what you hear, consider giving them a donation. Support good independent music where you can.

"Zerospace" is the title track from kt's second studio album. All copyright belongs to them. Encouragement to go to Kickstarter. You know you want to. (More from me after the video.)

For video games, go check out Grim Dawn. If you are a Diablo fan (I mean more specifically 1 and 2, whether or not you like the direction Blizzard has gone with 3) and remember the rash of Diablo clones about 10 years ago, you will almost certainly remember Titan Quest, and you will probably remember it fondly. It was generally regarded as the best of the Diablo clones, and most reviews gave it high marks in its own right, clone or not. I mention this because it is the creators of Titan Quest who have now brought us Grim Dawn. They have followed the same design and gameplay aesthetics that made Titan Quest such a great game, and brought everything into 2016, complete with an original story that takes the standard fantasy environment and gives it the postapocalyptic treatment. It’s easily the best top down isometric roleplaying adventure game I’ve seen in ages, and not just because the basic setting bears a mild resemblance to a current project of my own. The game is currently listed as Early Access, but has been considered “content complete” as of the most recent update. I’ve been playing it for about a week now, and have yet to encounter any major bugs. I’d call that pretty good for “early access,” and it’s a blast as well. Plus, at $25, compared to the current going rate of $50-$70, it’s practically a steal as well.

Enjoy some gameplay from Grim Dawn to encourage you to check this one out.

That’s some of what we’re doing as 2016 picks up steam. An unusual Friday update, I know, but I believe that how you have fun is as important to your wellbeing as any of the more serious elements. This is some of how I have fun. If you have suggestions, let us know.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

No Obligation Required

There was a recent speech that included the phrase, “our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen." Neither the nature nor the politics of that speech are relevant to this blog, and we won’t be going into them here, but I do want to discuss one piece that I believe is quite relevant. There is a single word in that quoted phrase which encapsulates a severe divide between different philosophies, and that divide tends to complicate these discussions. It marks a difference so stark that the opposing views may as well be speaking different languages, even though they use the same words.

That word, of course, is “obligations”, and the divide is between those who believe such obligations exists and those who do not.

I’m not talking about the specific “obligations of a citizen” referenced, but rather the general idea the reference embodies, that we have obligations by the very act of being alive, or of being alive in a particular location or under particular circumstances. It’s a fairly common belief, as also represented by such ideas as the obligations of being human, the obligations of being a neighbor, the obligations of being a man (or a woman, depending on who is speaking to whom) in the 21st Century, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes it seems that every single person who has an agenda of any sort also believes that people have an obligation that goes along with that agenda.

They don’t. There is no such obligation. An obligation implies a debt, and you have to incur a debt in some fashion. You don’t just wake up one day and have a debt. It doesn’t work that way.

I am not discussing the idea of legal obligations. What is legal is whatever the people who write the laws say is legal, and you can’t really discuss that in any larger context. If the law says that blue houses must have three windows in the east wall then blue houses are legally obligated to have three windows in the east wall. Absurd, but legal (two words that go together far more often than most people realize). If the law saddles you with obligations because you woke up then you have those legal obligations. What is legal is entirely situational to whatever is currently written into law, and isn’t required to make sense. In fact, people would probably be surprised if it made sense more often.

When it comes to moral obligation, though, we expect that debt to make sense. “I owe you this because …” Are you morally obligated to have three windows in the east wall of your blue house because the law says so? Probably not. I can’t think of any compelling reason that would make sense. Depending on the neighborhood and the environment, I could possibly think of reasons why doing so would be good or useful, but required as a debt? That doesn’t seem very likely.

That is the crux of the issue. Far too often, we have come to mistake “that is a good idea” for “that is an obligation.” The two are not interchangeable. Eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise is a good idea - a great idea, even - but it’s not an obligation. Bathing daily and wearing clean clothes is a fantastic idea, but still not an obligation. These things can become obligations, but that takes an intentional action to make them so. They are not obligations simply because we exist.

I believe that good manners, considerate behavior, and just plain being kind to one another will make the world a better place, and I really would like to see the world become that better place, but I am under no illusion that these are compulsory ideas. No one is obliged to be considerate. By the same token, no one is obliged to tolerate someone being inconsiderate. We must all act as we deem fit, and then respond to actions as we deem fit as well. We can discuss what would make better actions or better responses under different circumstances, but they do not become obligations just because they are better. In fact, declaring them to be obligations makes them more difficult to discuss. If I’m spending my time justifying why they are required, I am losing time to explain why they are good. Time is a finite resource. It is not helpful to squander it by intentionally making discussions more difficult. If you tell a person what he has to do, you put him on the defensive. You can get far better results by showing a person what is good to do.

I don’t accept obligations I have not chosen for myself, and I don’t expect anyone else to do so either. I want a better world, but it won’t be better if we have not walked there together, by choice. A better world by force is not actually a better world. It’s just swapping one evil for another. We don’t need mythical obligations to make things better. We just need to understand why they are better, and work toward making them so.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Importance Of Knowing Why

In the social media age, instructional articles have become all the rage. Everyone wants to tell you the 10 Things You Need to Know, or the 5 Things you Should Be Doing, or the 3 Things Required For The Coming Season. Most of these so-called listicles (I’m a little bummed by the fact that Spellchecker actually recognizes that as a word) are just noise, and not even well-disguised noise. They’re an excuse to get people to click through an ad-laden slideshow and drum up page hits, nothing more, and most of them are about as useful or entertaining as that motivation implies. Even the ones that try to rise above that inherent limitation, though, usually fail because their approach just doesn’t work. Most of these things end up missing a critical ingredient: Why?

Why do I need to know these things? Why should I be doing these things? Why are such requirements in place? More importantly, why does your opinion on this even matter? They begin with the idea that the reader has already agreed to the authority of the writer and to the necessity of whatever is being discussed, and skip right past any foundational work that might help those things to make sense. What they do present appears to be written from the point of view that there is only one perspective and only one possible desired outcome, which is absurd. There are roughly seven billion people hopping around on this little blue marble. The four people in my house don’t always share one perspective with one common goal, and that’s just counting the ones who actually live there, the ones with a bed and not just an Xbox addiction. It’s a safe bet that seven billion people have a few more perspectives than just one.

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of people telling me what I should think without telling me why I should think it. As you may have noticed, I do quite a bit of thinking on my own. I put a great deal of time and effort into it, and really don’t have much use for arbitrary instruction. Or any use, really. If you’re not going to tell me why your thoughts might be better than my own thoughts, what motivation do I have to pay attention to you at all? It’s a busy world. Like everyone else, my time is limited.

I try to avoid the word “should” just on general principles. It’s not a word that works well on its own. It’s fairly meaningless without an accompanying “why”. What you should wear, what you should eat, what you should watch … All of these and many more depend on what you expect to get out of them.

“Men in their thirties should not wear this?” Why? “Because you won’t get a good job with a good salary dressed like that.” But I already have a good job with a salary I like, and it lets me wear that. “Oh, um …”

“You shouldn’t do that.” Why? “Because it’s against my religion.” But I’m not you, and I don’t share your religion. “Oh, um …”

“You should write this character this way.” Why? “Because that’s the way I like it.” But I’m not writing it for you. There’s a big audience out there that wants different things. “Oh, um …”

These examples may seem a bit silly, but they all represent conversations I have actually seen wandering around the Internet. I’ve simplified them quite a bit to protect the not-so-innocent, but they’re still real. Far too often, people throw around the word “should” as though it were a magic show-stopper, axiomatic in itself. If someone says something should be a certain way, people are suppose to just accept it. If you can get them to boil it down to why it should be that way, though, it often turns out to be nothing more than personal preference. That’s not really much of a should, is it?

When I was studying journalism, we were always drilled in the five basic questions: who, what, when, where, and why. You don’t have a complete picture without all five answers. You won’t always have a complete picture - trying to figure things out is a large part of why we do the things we do - but the more of these you answer, the closer to complete you get. Finding the answer to “why” can be the most difficult of the five. It’s not concrete. It’s not measurable. You often can’t find it just by looking. Having that answer, however, can facilitate finding the other four, or even enhance the other four, if you already have them.

The answer to “why” often tells you what the speaker believes is important, what makes it important, who the intended audience might be, and whether or not any of this might matter to you, all rolled into one. It’s a very powerful question, and there is a reason it becomes the go-to question for toddlers who are just learning how to learn. Why is a handle to almost everything else.

If you want a better relationship with the world around you, ask “Why?” as often as you can. Look for the motivation behind the statement and you will usually develop a better understanding of the statement. This can help people to get along more easily, and it can help to address those situations when people don’t get along. Don’t just look for your own “why” either. Giving your own “why” helps people to understand you, but looking for their “why” helps you to understand everyone else. More understanding in this world seems like it would be helpful.

The ancient Greek mathematician is reported to have said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and I will move the world.” The question “why?” can be your fulcrum, if you learn how to use it. Place the right lever on that fulcrum, and you can move almost anything. Maybe that’s why so many people don’t tell us why anymore. They don’t want you to move things, they want to move you.

Will you be the mover or the moved?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Words Matter

I was commenting to Heather on our way into work this morning that it sometimes seems like the truth in advertising laws no longer apply, but I think it may be more accurate to say that people no longer apply precise meaning to the words they use. Perhaps that’s never been normal. Maybe it’s just me, but I question how we can properly communicate with each other if even people who speak the same language may not be speaking the same language. It’s difficult enough to communicate across language barriers. I don’t understand why it sometimes seems like we go out of our way to make it worse.

Some of it, of course, is simple dishonesty. People who are trying to sell a product want you to buy their product, and are often not terribly concerned about accuracy. I’m sure many of them are good, upstanding people who do not mean to lie, exactly, but aren’t opposed to a little misdirection if it sells a product and no one gets hurt. They do usually want you to get a product that you want to have; they just have to convince you that you want it first. Or, in the becoming all too common case of misleading headlines, they honestly believe that it doesn’t cost you anything to read the article, so all is fair if it gets your attention.

“10 things you definitely missed in …”

“The first 20 callers will receive …”

“You’ve been doing this wrong and you won’t believe why.”

These are just a few examples, slightly paraphrased, that I have actually seen or heard in just the last couple days. The trouble is, none of them mean what they say. You can’t possibly know - and certainly not definitely know - what I did or did not miss in the latest movie. You’ve been promising this reward to the first 20 callers for six months now, so either no one is calling, you got your first 20 a long time ago and the offer no longer applies, or there never was an actual reward offer in the first place. That third one is almost always used for something that you’ve actually been using exactly as defined or instructed all along, but they have decided that you should be doing it some other way instead. No real reason, but you clicked on the link, didn’t you?

We’re not communicating to communicate anymore. We’re communicating to obscure communication so that we can indirectly communicate something else entirely. I’m not even certain that sentence made sense, which makes it perfectly appropriate for modern communication. Bill Watterson, of Calvin and Hobbes fame, once said, “The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning and inhibit clarity.” It should go without saying that he was speaking very tongue-in-cheek, but it seems more and more like he was right, and it isn’t just confined to writing. We seem to be racing toward a point where the objective of communication is actually to prevent communication.

I have no doubt that you can think of plenty of examples on your own. If you spend any time online, watching TV, or listening to the radio, you are likely bombarded with examples. They usually don’t seem very important and, taken on their own, most of them aren’t very important. Most of these examples, if they were isolated incidents, could be dismissed as lazy thinking, mistakes, or just plain irrelevant. The problem, though, is that they are not isolated incidents. They are a running joke that has long since stopped being funny.

Words matter because, without words, we are left with far less pleasant methods of getting our point across. If we can’t communicate, we can’t live together. It’s that simple. According to most estimates, the global population passed 7 billion people back in 2011, and it’s only going up. There is no end in sight, and, as of yet, there is no other release valve. I do not and never have subscribed to the Malthusian population theories (Malthus failed to properly consider advances in social and technological sciences, which alter the equations almost daily), but it is an unavoidable fact that more people equals more crowding, and more crowding has never improved people’s ability to get along.

Popular culture, and the consumer elements that go along with it, has never been a perfect mirror of society, but it does reflect society in its own Fun House Mirror kind of way. It’s an exaggerated form, but it is still exaggerating something that is really there. You may look at that clickbait headline and say, “Nobody really believes that,” but the truth of the matter is, they wouldn’t keep using those headlines if they didn’t work. Pop culture communication wouldn’t be getting so imprecise if there weren’t a corresponding lack of precision in social communication as a whole. They don’t necessarily move at the same speed, but they do both move in the same direction.

If we are going to make a better world, we are going to have to talk about it. We are going to have to compare ideas and come to agreements over how to implement those ideas, and we can’t do that if we can’t properly communicate with each other. Words have meaning. They can have more than one meaning, and those meanings certainly evolve through generations and culture, but we have to agree on the meanings when we’re using them or we’re wasting our time. Time is a finite resource, and I, for one, can think of much better - not to mention more enjoyable - ways to waste it. Think about what you say and why you’re saying it, and let’s see if we can get back to communicating for the purpose of communication.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

TGIF 1-15-16

Happy Friday everyone. I hope 2016 is treating you well so far, and even more, I hope that you are treating you well so far in 2016. We’re off at a gallup here at Frequently Interrupted, and I want to give you some updates that you might find interesting. As always, your input is not just appreciated, but invaluable. Let me know your thoughts as we proceed to make this our community going forward.

I’ve mentioned before that I am still learning to use the various social media platforms to best effect, and that is going to be a big push for the beginning of this year. I think I have all of the big ones covered now, and I am working on getting them all tied together in a way that works well for what each one specifically needs. My goal in that department is twofold: I want a minimalist approach that accomplishes the best results for both me, as an individual, and for Frequently Interrupted, as a whole. It is important to me that these platforms help to get the word out as far as they can go, but it is equally important that managing the platforms not become a job in itself. While I often say “we” when discussing FI (and “we” does include Heather, who helps with editing and brainstorming), most of the work here is a one-man-show, and I don’t anticipate that changing any time in the foreseeable future. The more time I put into managing the tools, the less time I can spend on actually using those tools, so we do want to avoid that imbalance. I know that some of you have far more experience with some of these platforms than I have, so please don’t hesitate to let me know if you see me making a mistake or doing something with them that could be better done in some other way. You won’t hurt my feelings. Count on that.

The platform that we use the most, and the one that is the most dedicated to Frequently Interrupted, is our Facebook page. That page is the only part of our social media suite right now that is used exclusively for Frequently Interrupted, because it’s the one where I can switch back and forth between individual and official with the least amount of effort. I don’t have to manage two separate logins. This is the page where I make all FI announcements, and link all FI posts. If you follow this page, you will never miss anything done or promoted by Frequently Interrupted. If you only connect to or share one FI platform, this is the one I would recommend, as this is the best way to not miss anything. This is also the one where I do the most tracking, so it’s the one you’ll see me report on the most.

The second best platform for not missing anything is Twitter (follow us with @MyInterruption). You actually won’t miss any FI announcements or news this way, because I have it set up so that everything posted on the Facebook page is automatically sent out to Twitter as well, but you may get more than just FI announcements and news. I don’t want more than one Twitter account, so this is technically both my account, as an individual, and the account for Frequently Interrupted, as a whole. I almost never tweet as an individual, so that won’t usually make much of a difference, but I do use this Twitter account to follow bands and writers I like, so some of the retweets won’t be FI-specific. That technicality is the only thing that makes this the second best platform so, if you don’t mind getting the rare personal tweets along with the FI tweets, this one works great. I had never used Twitter before starting all of this, so I’ve been figuring out what it has and what it can do. If you know any tricks, or have a good follow, pass them my way.

I use and enjoy Pinterest, but that one is definitely a joint operation. I have no interest in having to log in and out to go back and forth between my stuff and the FI stuff, so you will definitely find all kinds of options if you go to my root account on Pinterest. There is an FI-specific board, where I upload many of the images and quotes used on the blog. If you use Pinterest, please share these around to help raise awareness. I would greatly appreciate it. Plus, I have several other boards that you might find interesting. There are a few that are along the same lines, philosophically (Yep!, Everything Zen, and Yoga and Meditation), plus too many to list for an assortment of artistic and geeky fun interests.

I just recently set up Instagram, and I feel like it told me, “You are the last person from Facebook to sign up. Would you like to go ahead and add everyone who got here before you?” I might have been a little late to the party, and I haven’t done much with it so far. It’s another one that is for both me and Frequently Interrupted, but I use it mainly to upload the images used in the blog posts. Again, if you could spread these around to raise awareness, that would be wonderful. I just changed the profile name to myinterruption, to better align across platforms, and please let me know if you have any ideas for how to make better use of this. The final platform we’re using to help get the word out is Google+, and that one is really just my personal page that we happen to share all of the FI stuff too. Again, I don’t want to have to log out and in to manage these things, so that seems to be the best option. You won’t miss any blog through this one, because I share them all, but I haven’t yet explored all of the options here, so it doesn’t usually get any of the other announcements.

While I don’t think they technically qualify as social media platforms, I also want to take a moment to spotlight some of the funding ideas we’re exploring.

We have our Patreon account set up, so you can sponsor us if you feel that appropriate. Nothing will ever be required, but anything helps. I know it is customary to offer extras and bonuses to Patreon sponsors, but I honestly don’t have any ideas what we might do for that. I don’t have art of videos or anything of that sort, and I already share all updates with you as I have them. Thoughts?

I just spent an entire weekend setting up a small shop at Cafe Press. It’s basic t-shirts and coffee mugs and things of that sort, with the Frequently Interrupted logo, so that you can show your support and have something to show for it. Right now, I have only uploaded products with the basic black logo, but I intend to upload additional color options as I have time. I have a few other ideas as well, but I’m not terribly artistic, so working through those ideas and getting them to look right takes a bit of time.

We are always open to other ideas for getting the word out and funding this project. I would love to see this grow and grow, and I depend on your help to make that happen. Thank you for all of the support so far, and I look forward to your continuing support in the future. If you have any ideas, let me know. We also gladly accept any comments you might care to leave. Thank you for coming along with us, and let’s see what else we can accomplish.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Constancy Of Change

It’s been raining for a few days here, which is a pretty big deal when you live in the desert. It’s funny when you think about it. I grew up in south Texas, where it could sometimes rain for weeks at a time, and then lived in western Washington, where it sometimes seemed that the sun remained in hiding most of the time. You would think that rain would be one thing I would be perfectly used to. It’s kind of amazing how quickly you can acclimate to new environments.

If you’ve been following this blog then you already know that I love the rain. No complaints on that front, although I wouldn’t object to a little better scheduling. Driving through the rain, in the dark, in highway construction zones, in an area where the average driver does not have a lifetime experience of driving in the rain makes for an interesting morning commute. It could be far worse, though, and I really don’t have any complaints, but it puts me in mind of a couple things that are worth mentioning.

The first is how quickly we acclimate. The human mind is amazingly malleable, and can adjust to new situations far more readily than we often credit. This can be both good and bad. It can help with facing new challenges, as things that were difficult or frightening become normal with time. That is, essentially, the entire process of learning. We just sometimes need to remind ourselves of how much we have learned so that we remember how much we can learn. On the other hand, though, this can make it too easy to get used to a bad situation. Inertia kicks in and we end up staying with something unhealthy out of habit because we have stopped actively realizing that it is unhealthy.

Getting acclimated to new environments is a normal, and even automatic human function, but it’s also one that we need to remember to think about from time to time to make sure it is working to our benefit. It’s like breathing, in a way. Yes, it happens without needing input, but we can provide input to help make it happen better. It is important to take an active role in how we breathe from time to time, and it is important to take an active role in how we acclimate from time to time. Live life, instead of just letting life happen.

We need to be aware of how we adjust to change, but we also do need things to change. If it never rains, nothing grows, but if it never stops raining, that will interfere with growth as well. We need the rain, we need the sun, and we need the little environmental changes that all accumulate into growth. Growth is change. One can’t happen without the other.

On the plus side, change is a given. Change is the one definite constant in the universe. Things may stay similar, but they will never stay the same, so we always have the opportunity to grow. It is up to us, however, to take that opportunity and make something of it.

When we don’t make something of that opportunity, it tends to make something of us. That’s one of the downsides, and is a negative side effect of that whole getting too acclimated issue. We get used to things being the way they are, so we have a difficult time adjusting when they stop being that way. We adjust, but we don’t really want to adjust. The human mind is malleable, but it is also somewhat sedentary. It wants to settle into patterns. That, too, is part of learning. We learn simple tasks like counting by rote, but when we try to apply that principle to more complex tasks, the process breaks down. Change happens too often, and we have to be able to alter the patterns accordingly. We can survive, at least temporarily, by rote, but we can’t really live that way.

We tend to fear change because it is, by definition, new. It’s hard to know in advance whether or not something new will be dangerous. I’ll be the first to admit that this is something I struggle with all the time. I am absolutely a creature of habit, with a very deep pattern fixation. Fear is normal, and there is nothing wrong with being afraid of change. When we let that fear prevent us from growing, though, that is when it becomes a problem. The natural state of everything in the universe - and that includes us - is the trend toward entropy, the breakdown to nothing, and the only way to forestall that trend is to grow. Be afraid, but do it anyway.

The sun has come out and, because this is the desert, things will dry out pretty quickly. Change in demonstration once again. The universe is always in motion. Don’t get left behind. Know that you are able to adjust, and adjust as needed. That’s how we grow, and growing is how we live.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

5 Steps To Face The Day

We all know that there are some days worse than others. There are days when just getting out of bed seems to be a herculean accomplishment, and the very thought of something so complicated as getting dressed is enough to initiate the downward spiral. I know I’ve been there. I don’t usually do lists like this, but some days, I need the simple reminder. I hope it is something that you will find of use as well.

1. Get out of Bed

When you’re having a day like this, getting out of bed may actually be the most difficult thing you do all day. Do it anyway. Don’t make excuses, and don’t say, “Just five more minutes.” Sooner begone is sooner done, and the day is not going to get any better by postponing it. In fact, sleeping in is likely to make it worse. Now you’re not only having a bad day, but you’re also running late and don’t have time to get done the things you need done. Bad idea. Pushing that snooze button is a fantastic way to make a bad day even worse.

Instead, make yourself get up right away, and be in the shower before your brain has even had time to register its disapproval. Your first step of the day helps to guide the day, and this step says, “I can do this.” Not only are you not giving in, but you are charging forward with all alacrity. Sometimes that’s even enough to flip the mental switch and get your brain back on the right track. Not often, sorry, so don’t expect it, but it helps, and it can’t hurt.

2. Find the Routine

Most of us, especially those of us who who deal with issues like this often, have routines. Routines get me through the morning, because I am not, by nature, an early riser. I don’t normally wake up until about twenty minutes after I have sat down at my desk at the office, so having a morning routine helps to make sure I don’t miss anything. I can go through the motions, checking all of the boxes until such time as my brain actually kicks in and decides that it’s going to be an active participant. This helps to make certain every morning that I walk out the door having had breakfast and wearing pants.

The same trick can help to keep things on track during your worst days. If you have a routine then you are checking the boxes, even when your mind is trying to chuck the boxes out of the window. This can also help to give you a sense of accomplishment because you are getting things done, and such a positive emotional experience can help to break the duldrums. Again, at the very least, it can’t hurt. On the other hand, failing at some task because you tried to do more than you are currently capable of doing can hurt. Don’t do that. On this kind of day, it is better to succeed at small things than to fail at big ones.

3. Mix It up a Little

Keep in mind that, when I say “a little,” I mean just that. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and don’t break your routine, but do something different from what you would normally do. If you usually have tacos on Tuesday, have a salad instead. Try to make it a healthy change, just because it’s healthy, but make it a change that won’t hurt anything if it goes sideways, while still being enough to notice.

The point of this is to make sure your inner self does not fall asleep. You’re supposed to be playing it safe, not playing it dead, so we want to give a small shock to the system, just to keep the system aware of its surroundings. If this small change works out, try another one a little while later. Don’t overdo it, but make sure you stay awake.

4. Take a Moment

I firmly believe that you should be doing this one every day, regardless, but it becomes even more important on those bad days. Take a moment that is yours, only for you and beholden to no one. If it has to be five minutes staring at a blank wall while the world makes no demands on your time (none that you are currently thinking about, at any rate) then take five minutes to stare at a blank wall. It would be better if you can carve out twenty minutes that are just between you and the universe, but anything is better than nothing. Take a moment if that is all you can take. Just make sure it’s a real moment and really yours.

I don’t care if you call it meditation, prayer, The Great Wide Ohm, or what. The world around you is loud and distracting, and static is constantly clogging up your airways. If you don’t flush the system occasionally, you can’t keep the system operating well. That is just as true of your mind as it is of any other system. If you don’t perform regular maintenance, it’s going to break down, and that’s when things really get bad. You may think things are stressful at the moment, but it is worth taking a few minutes to clear your head if doing so can help prevent a breakdown later.

5. Relax

I can’t stress that enough. Relax. You’re having a bad day, not a bad life. The fact that you are thinking about how to get through this bad day indicates that you have survived every previous bad day, so don’t forget that. This too shall pass and, if you have followed the previous steps, it will probably pass and leave you none the worse for wear. You may even learn something that can make things better next time.

Far too often, we tense up and make things worse. It isn’t necessary. If you’re truly having that bad a day, you’re in no shape to be making major decisions. Don’t. Ride the wave as relaxed as you can, make minor adjustments where you have to, and address the big things when this particular wave is over. Just remember that it always ends. There may be another one coming - there usually is - but you’re not helping yourself by stressing about that one now. Relax.

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Take each day as it comes, and always do the best you can at that moment. If you follow that advise, your good days are going to shine enough to overcome any ground you might lose on your bad days. Sometimes you have to wait out the storm. Do what you can, don’t make it worse, and you’ll get through it. As they say, tomorrow is another day. Use these steps to get through the bad ones, and you’ll get to the better ones. Namaste.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It's Only Forever

(Today's regularly scheduled article has been postponed in favor of this small tribute I wrote Monday, after learning of David Bowie's passing. It's not exactly what we do here, it has nothing to do with Zen mental health or any of the topics we usually discuss, but I hope that you will appreciate and agree that it still belongs. David Bowie made it okay to be weird, and man, I can't tell you how important that was sometimes. Maybe I don't have to. Maybe you understand. I hope you'll enjoy my small tribute, and we'll be back to business as normal tomorrow. Thanks for coming along. Rest in peace, David Bowie.)

The first thing I saw when I went online this morning was a headline about the passing of David Bowie. I then spent the next several minutes clicking through links, hoping to find one that said it was a hoax. It wasn’t. David Bowie passed away Sunday, January 10, 2016, after an 18-month battle with liver cancer. He was one of the most influential artists of the past forty-odd years, with some more odd than others, and he will definitely be missed.

At my age, I have seen more celebrity deaths than I can count, we all have, but there have been a few in my life that hit home, that struck a special chord for me, as an individual. When John Lennon died, I knew there was something seriously wrong in the world. When Steve Clark died, I knew that sometimes the demons win. When Freddie Mercury died, I knew that sometimes the show doesn't go on. When Criss Oliva died, I knew that it's not always in your own hands. When Robin Williams died, I knew that sometimes the brightest souls conceal the saddest hearts. When David Bowie died, I knew that even beauty wasn’t immortal. We all must go, but what a difference we can make before we do.

While I was certainly aware of Bowie earlier, my first engaged experience was with the music video for Blue Jean. I was twelve years old, and Bowie’s grandiose performance was like nothing I had seen before. Then I saw Ziggy Stardust, and learned what grandiose really meant. I don’t remember for certain now, but the movie must have been playing on late night TV somewhere. That is usually where I saw obscure, music-related movies. All I do know for sure is that I was fascinated. I wanted to be Ziggy for Halloween, but could never quite make it work. By the time I saw Bowie’s spectacular turn as Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 cult classic Labyrinth (which would quickly become one of my favorite movies), I’m afraid that was how I believed Bowie to be. I had, by that time, completely lost track of the difference between Bowie and his various and wonderful characters. The Thin White Duke had fallen to Earth and, in the process, become something so much larger than life.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was an impressionable child, and the over-the-top fantasy elements of Bowie’s performances during that period were a definite attention-getter for me, but that was only the beginning. Thankfully, I had friends who had a much deeper knowledge of music than I had at the time, and I was quickly introduced to such classics as Space Oddity, Young Americans, and The Man Who Sold the World. The music was amazing, and I was fortunate that my discovery of Bowie just happened to be timed with a resurgence in his popularity. It was a great time to be a David Bowie fan. with hits like China Girl, Let’s Dance, and the wonderfully fun Magic Dance (from Labyrinth). To make things even more fun, it sometimes seemed that Bowie was doing duets with everyone during this time, so we got Under Pressure (with Queen), Tonight (with Tina Turner), Dancing in the Street (with Mick Jagger), and the one my Christmas is never complete without, The Little Drummer Boy (with Bing Crosby).

He was an icon in music, but Bowie became a cult favorite on the screen as well. Having begun his musical career with characters like Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, it was no surprise that Bowie would also branch out into acting. He started early with the documentary/concert movie for Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973), and then followed with the similarly-themed The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). A series of small parts followed, including the Jazzin’ for Blue Jean (1984) that so caught my attention, and then Labyrinth (1986) happened. From that point on, Jareth the Goblin King would be forever remembered as one of Bowie’s beloved characters. Today when people think of Bowie and movies, Labyrinth tends to be one of the first things people mention, but he didn’t slow down there. My personal favorite was his portrayal of Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006) but, if I remember correctly, that was also my favorite movie of that year. It’s definitely one to go back and watch again, whether for Bowie or otherwise.

David Bowie didn’t just redefine a genre. He was a genre unto himself. From psychedelic space odyssey to plastic soul, from electronic to new wave, from classic to contemporary, David Bowie reinvented himself over and over again, and reinvented the music every time he did it. He did it all, and he did it all well. With his passing, the music world has lost a legend. This is my small tribute to that loss, just reminiscing on some of what meant the most to me. To be honest, I can see David and Freddie Mercury getting together right now to plan out some new jam sessions. Can you imagine how that would sound?

David Bowie has been lost to the world, but his music and his legacy will live on. The Man Who Fell to Earth has moved on again, and we are the poorer for it, but the treasures he left us with are a wealth that cannot be defined. "It's only forever. Not long at all." You will be missed, Mr. Bowie.

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David Bowie left us with a last gift, his final video for the new song Lazarus. As always, all copyright belongs to Bowie. Wherever he is now, you can bet it isn't boring.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

TGIF - The 501st Legion

Star Wars fans are a special breed, and we take our love of that dirty, dangerous galaxy very seriously. A little too seriously, sometimes, it’s true, but you have to take the good with the bad. It’s an amazing community, for the most part, and includes organizations like the 501st Legion, which tops off Star Wars costuming fun with some truly stellar charity work. They have done so much of that charity work, in fact, that it has become what they are known for, despite originally being just a fun dress-up club.

The original purpose, and still the primary function of the Legion, was to “promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events,” (quoted directly from their Mission Statement). It began in 1997 as a Geocities website that was set up to share photos of people in Stormtrooper costumes. In 2007, members of the 501st Legion marched as part of the official Star Wars entry in the internationally-televised Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. I’d say they have grown just a bit.

Part of that growth has been through their reputation for charity events. The 501st Legion is a 100% volunteer organization whose members donate thousands of hours to hospital visits, food and blood drives, and community events. The list of organizations they have worked with and helped is too long for me to go into here (seriously, go look for yourself), and they are always looking to do more. They also do not charge for their appearances (though donations are always appreciated). If you want to add some memorable spice to your charity event, you could certainly do worse than looking up a local Garrison for the Legion.

The Legion has now appeared in numerous TV commercials, music videos, and, of course, fan films of Star Wars varieties. They were officially recognized by (though not affiliated with) LucasFilm, including being included in the Star Wars novel Survivor’s Quest (Timothy Zahn), being added to the official database of characters on starwars.com, and being included in video games like Star Wars: Battlefront II. In July 2007, Lucasfilm and Hasbro produced an action figure of R2-KT, a pink Imperial droid honoring the memory of Katie Johnson, daughter of Legion Founder Albin Johnson. Subsequently, $100,000 was donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make dreams come true for sick children. They have fun, and they do serious work. I don’t think you could ask for a better combination.

Most recently, the Legion has added an initiative called “Heart of the Force,” which is an anti-bullying workshop appropriate for all ages, but geared for 5-10. Members of the Wisconsin Garrison presented the concept workshop for a Cub Scout pack, and Carrie Goldman (author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear) was brought on as a consultant. The initial presentation was reported as a great success, and the workshop has since been rolled out to larger audiences. Materials are currently available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, and translations into other languages are forthcoming. Stormtroopers presenting an interactive, hands on anti-bullying workshop. There’s an experience children are guaranteed to remember.

I’ve been considering getting into costuming. I don’t know if I’d be any good at it, but it looks fun. I’ve collected some How To guides I’ve found online, and I know a few people who do it. It’s a possibility. If I do go past considering, you can bet one of the first costumes I try to make will be Star Wars related and, if that happens, I’ll certainly be looking into signing up to join the Legion. Take a look for yourself on the Web and on Facebook, and may the Force be with you.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

You Don't Know The Power

Even before audiences knew the power of the Dark Side, we knew the power of a voice. In 1977, Darth Vader was poised to be little more than a glorified thug, a man in a full-body suit who made vague threatening gestures and, let’s be honest here, had all of the physical grace of Frankenstein’s monster. To be fair, he had the physical presence of the monster as well, provided by the fantastic body acting of David Prowse, and that certainly helped, but it was the voice of James Earl Jones that tipped the scale and gave the character that real sense of menace that he would become known for. Vader would go on to be one of the most memorable movie villains in cinema history, and that was due largely to a power that had remained mostly unknown before it was released upon the world.

Luke Skywalker was a farm boy who wanted to be somewhere else, almost anywhere else. He was every small town teenager looking for a way out while believing that nothing was under his own control. Ultimately he would be the pivot point upon which an entire galaxy would shift, being instrumental in ending an evil empire and reestablishing a force for good in the universe. In the process, he made Mark Hamill one of the most famous people in geek culture who has gone on to be an important element in a few popular franchises. Not bad for a backwater orphan whose previous ideas of excitement centered around shooting rats with his buddies at the local watering hole.

More recently, we have the character of Rey, played to perfection by relative newcomer Daisy Ridley. Kept largely under wraps in the pre-release build-up for The Force Awakens, Rey would turn out to be the epic hero of the movie, and has lit up the imagination of an entire new generation of fans. Retail outlets are having trouble keeping up with her popularity, and I know that I am in plenty of company with people looking forward to where she goes as this new trilogy progresses. I don’t think even Disney really knew how much she would take the world by storm, but you can bet they’ll be capitalizing on that fact now. If you’re one of the people having a hard time finding merchandise for Rey, be patient. I’ll be very surprised if there isn’t a flood coming in the very near future.

Power often comes from unlikely sources and in unlikely ways. Even with this Star Wars discussion, I’ve only highlighted a few of the more prominent examples, and those are actually just some of the more obvious ones. The Force users. The people who can demonstrate their power with the wave of a hand or the swing of a lightsaber. There are plenty of less obvious examples as well. Think about R2-D2, who probably has more Save the Day moments in the original trilogy than any other single character and is, hands down, one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise, all without a single spoken like. How’s that for hidden power?

The truth is that we all have hidden power, and most of us don’t know about it. That power won’t always present itself as dramatically as it does in the movies, but it’s there just the same. It’s in the examples we set, the lessons we provide, and the history we leave behind. True power changes the world, and everything you do changes the world. It won’t usually change in a big blockbuster cinematic way, but that’s a good thing. Small changes are less disruptive and can often lead to more long lasting, positive results. There is a reason that “May you live in interesting times” is considered to be a curse.

Don’t ever believe that you don’t have power simply because you don’t see it in action. I remember running into a guy a while back who I had known indirectly when we were kids. He’s a few years younger than I am, but has an older sibling who was often a part of my loose association of friends in high school, who was in turn a neighbor of one of my closer friends. We didn’t necessarily hang out all the time, but we saw each other often. One of the things that came up when we reconnected was his telling he remembered some weird but cool item that I used to wear way back when and then informing me that I was something of a trend setter. Me? As far as I had known, I was mostly invisible in high school but it turns out that there were people who believed I was a trend setter. I had no idea. I’ve learned over time that having no idea is far more common than most people realize. I found out about that one, but how many such instances never get discovered? You never know who is looking, and you might be changing the world in numerous ways that you know nothing about. Hidden power.

Power is a weird thing, and it is pretty common for it to go unnoticed until something happens where it grabs the spotlight. It’s possible that individual examples of power never grab the spotlight, but that makes them no less powerful. The merest trickle of water can cut a hole through a mountain with just patience and time. If you think about it, big, overt displays of power usually just cause trouble anyway. They’re a good way to get thrown down a reactor shaft or blown up because you forgot a little detail like an exhaust port, but large displays of power tend to be more about show than results. When it comes to results, a lots of successes will outdo one showy demonstration almost every time.

You don’t know the power that you have over the world around you, but you don’t have to know it to know that it is there. I can almost guarantee that you know people who you can see exert such power without knowing it. If you see one example and they don’t see it, isn’t it likely that there are more that you don’t see? Have faith that you are one of those. We all have power. Part of living a mindful life is using that power responsibly even when you don’t know that you’re using it at all. Figuring out that trick is usually what separates the Light side from the Dark.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Do Or Do Not

Some teachers love to give advice that is not exactly useful. They mean well, and they may even have a perfectly valid idea, but the expression of that idea leaves something to be desired. It either can’t be done, or doing it would not yield the beneficial results intended. One of the most famous examples of this, I believe, comes from that most popular of Star Wars characters, Yoda.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

What? No try? But I’ve been telling my children since they were old enough to speak, “You have to try,” or, “At least you tried,” or, “You tried your best,” or various renditions on that theme. We all have. That idea is a cornerstone of our culture. Frankly, that line has bothered me a little bit since the first time I watched The Empire Strikes Back way back when. Yoda is a great teacher, and he has such sound advice, but then he goes and throws trying under the bus. What gives?

What gives, in truth, might be context and perspective. As I’ve gotten older and, I hope, a little wiser, the importance of another great quote becomes more evident and I see more and more how it might apply to Yoda’s advice. “Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” This line, for the three people reading who might not know, was delivered by Ben after Luke confronts him for claiming that Vader had killed Luke’s father, shortly after Luke learned that Vader is his father. Ben explains that, when Anakin fell to the dark side he became a different person, and that person destroyed all that was left of Anakin inside so, from a certain point of view, it was true that Vader killed Anakin. It depends on your perspective.

In the same way, it is true that there is no try from a certain perspective, even though trying is of greatest importance from another perspective. They are not mutually exclusive ideas after all. Keep in mind that Yoda was making his statement before an activity, one that would be thought of as being exceptionally difficult. He was telling a fresh young student to use the Force to levitate a sinking X-Wing Fighter out of the swamp, and that student had responded with “I’ll try,” not with the attitude of “I’ll try my best,” but rather with one of “I’ll try but this will never work.” Luke was not really saying that he was going to try. He was admitting defeat before he had even begun, while using “I’ll try” as a crutch to not be blamed for failing. Context and perspective. Yoda’s statement takes on a whole new meaning when looked at from that angle.

In modern pop psychology, it’s called the power of positive thinking. Whenever you begin something new, especially something new that is difficult or challenging, you have to believe in yourself. Sometimes it is necessary that you believe in yourself completely. “I am not going to try this. I am going to do it.” It is about fixing a goal in your mind and believing in it so completely that you know it is done before you have even begun. It is a positive practice for overcoming obstacles and accomplishing things you might not have thought possible. Don’t let yourself get weighed down by the negative, “I might not succeed.” Instead, focus on the positive, “I am going to knock this out of the park.”

In the context of the movies, and especially in the context of the Force, Yoda was entirely correct. There was no try. If Luke had believed entirely that he could lift the ship then he would have lifted the ship. That’s how the Force works. It’s magic that way. In real life, though, we do need the other side of the coin. We need the rest of the context. Sometimes all the believe in the universe will not make your dreams come true. Then you need to know that truly trying your best is good enough. You did all you could do, and you did it with the right attitude. Just make sure that you’re putting that try in the right place, and not using it to cover up a negative belief. Trying isn’t a crutch. Trying works best for those who believe they will succeed, and works hardly at all for those who believe they will fail. It’s not as magic as Yoda would have it, but it comes pretty close.

So maybe Yoda’s advice wasn’t so far off the mark after all. It just seemed that way to a kid who didn’t understand the whole picture. That actually offers a second lesson here: not understanding something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong. You may not have enough pieces to see clearly what the puzzle is going to be.

Allow yourself to try, but do it with the right attitude. Do it with the belief that you’re going to succeed, and don’t let negativity weigh you down. You might be amazed at what you can do, if you just believe in yourself.

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