Archive | March 2014

Change and Insanity

I took Barry to the optometrist today. He broke his glasses yesterday when he fell down the stairs. He said he didn’t feel like he hurt himself, like anything was broken or bruised. The Huntington’s just keeps progressing.

I would probably get depressed except for the fact that the snow is finally melting. It has been a loooooooong time coming. It would be nice if it got warmer than 50 degrees, but, at the same time, melting all this snow at once would get very ugly very quickly.

Ever since my minor emotional breakdown Saturday evening, I feel like I’ve been connecting more dots than usual. An emotional wall takes up internal space. Nature abhors a vacuum, so things within have rushed up to meet what was on the other side. Every item I get rid of creates more space, literal and figurative. I’m a little nervous to get rid of more stuff because each object seems to represent a part of myself that I have lost contact with. The item gets donated or tossed and, bam, an entirely new layer is revealed. Becoming a minimalist would not appeal to most people because it looks like walking around emotionally naked.

I wonder if my mission of simplicity is spurring on the Huntington’s in some way. Maybe that is superstitious. As I make space for something new to arrive in my life, perhaps on some level Barry realizes that I am preparing for life without him. I do everything I can to keep his routine intact. Or perhaps, as I let go of objects, Barry is letting go of this earthly realm.

Every day, I become more convinced that, if you want something to change, you have to do something different. I believe in the recovery definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Any changes, no matter how small, seem to wake up the universe and make people take you seriously to a degree previously unheard of.

I am feeling prodded. It must be spiritual because nothing externally is changing very rapidly. Sometimes the external change is so slow it drives me crazy, but I feel the kind of inner prompting I have felt before: before going to business school, when I wanted to make friends with Tamara (and had no idea why), and when I started to want to get rid of things. I had been hunting for items for years and not being particularly bothered by it. So what? A few years ago, I started feeling crazy every time I had to look for something. Maybe it was when Barry got cancer. I don’t know. I only know that hunting and searching became fundamentally unacceptable to me. Why don’t I know how many of item X I have?

Since starting to get my life together, I have lost all patience with people that don’t take responsibility for how things turn out. A friend just lost a job because she could not keep up due to being out of shape. It was devastating to her but did not motivate her to get in better shape. Huh?

I want to help create a world that works better for more people and have come to the sad conclusion that many people simply cannot be worked with; they must be worked around. Their thinking processes are, frankly, what got us into many of the messes we are in now. They are unwilling to change, while the rest of languish under their dysfunctional paternalism. The world is changing rapidly. These folks stay true to the course that is creating environmental and social destruction. Waiting for them (or anything else, for that matter) to change is the definition of insanity. I waited my whole life for some situations to change. Now I am changing myself and my life. I have lost the approval of the powers that be, but have gained something so much more valuable—self-respect. I am determined to be part of the solution. Fighting the creators of our problems is pointless.

After last night, I am left wondering just how many other pieces of me there are. And what do they know? Clearly, parts of me are up-to-date and others are a quarter-century behind.

The issue is one of integration. Is it a worthwhile goal to try to get all my parts on the same page and up-to-speed? Is it worth spending the second half of my life trying to find out? What else is lurking just beneath the surface waiting to be unearthed? I am deeply unsettled now.

When I talk to people, what pieces am I encountering in them? If part of me was twenty-five years behind the rest of me, what are other people like? I try very hard to be honest with myself. What about other people that are not as diligent to be honest with themselves? What pieces of them am I looking at?

I don’t know much at this point, but I do know that I want to go places and work in environments where all my pieces are welcome. Going to church has repressed many parts of my development. I want to flourish. Compartmentalization is the death of integrity.

As Shunryu Suzuki said, “You are perfect as you are, and you could use a little improvement.” I see now that he wasn’t being contradictory. He was speaking to those different parts


Old Me and New Me

I got rid of a candle stand a few days ago. I looked at its spot on the floor a day or two later. This was the first time I have ever removed a piece of furniture. I had gotten rid of clothes, expired food, school supplies, and all sorts of things previously, but this is the first time I have ever given away furniture. The empty space screamed, “You are leaving Michigan when Barry dies! The process is underway!” The truth is that I am making payments for opening/closing his casket. Part of me has been living this reality for a very long time; another part, unbeknownst to the first part, had not faced anything at all.

What brought me to tears was hearing Dan Fogelberg’s “Another Auld Lang Syne.”  It seemed to combine the old me with the new. The new me is proud of my accomplishments, the mountains that I’ve climbed: 25 years of marriage, two bachelor’s degrees, an MBA, etc. The old me would not even recognize the new me.

The old me had no confidence in her ability to support herself and was willing to make any moral compromise to simply survive. Then, oddly enough, I “found God.” My religious experiences always came at emotional low points. The old me needed the approval of authority figures, especially male ones. I was evangelical protestant and then Greek Orthodox.

I finally felt like I had found a home in Orthodoxy. It was wonderful. I had transferred all of my dreams onto it: wholeness, cosmic human purpose, beauty, and grandeur. It was all soooooooo subconscious.

Reality started to invade almost immediately. The priest was/is unfriendly. He didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt when I needed it most and my behavior was impeccable. The congregation is cold. Their goals are trifling. Then the local economy collapsed. And then Barry got cancer. My world unraveled. It felt hideously ugly.

What the priest will never understand is what a favor he did me: he forced me to let go, of him, of his approval, of my expectations of the church and “god”, and of everything else. When I left the church, I reclaimed my brain. I am slowly gaining a level of integrity that is real, not based on an infantile fantasy. My life for the past few years has been all about letting go.

The old me and new me had not met in a very long time, until tonight. The old me would not recognize what I have become. Twenty-five years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I had many dreams, some conscious and some not. I also had no desire to live. I understand more today. What I understand is that, in order to become the competent adult I am now, every single dream and desire I had back then would have to die. I think part of me knew that, even back then. I knew instinctively that my dreams were a part of me and needed to die in order to grow and mature. Life was not worth living. Is it worth living now? I’m unconvinced.

I do not know when I will start the next phase of my life. What I do know is that the me that will enter this next phase cannot fulfil all the dreams or hopes of a quarter century ago, because they are dead. I might be of use to humanity. I might enjoy a career and interesting life. My life has many possibilities. However, fulfilling the dreams of yesteryear is not one of them. Will I ever have new dreams? Is that question itself proof that I haven’t learned my lesson yet?

Change Agent

A theme keeps presenting itself to me: change. I get frustrated with people who would rather die than change. I am fascinated by the Tao of change, return, and stillness. In addition, having an MBA, I was continually told that I was a “leader.” What is a leader other than someone that inspires others to make necessary changes? You have to lead people somewhere.

The more I’ve gotten into Buddhism, the more central the whole change theme has become. It turns out that there are six or eight different bardos (“bardo” translates for the Tibetan into “between two”). Bardos are transitional by nature and there is a bardo for every state, meaning that we are all transitioning from one thing to another.

Then I look around and see people resisting change from every direction and even questioning my right to change. Change is not a right; it is inevitable. There is no option of not changing. You can only change for better or worse. I am not asserting a right to change; I am barely keeping up with the changes being demanded of me, and not even doing a great job of that.

I find myself intrigued with the idea of Buddhist hospice. Robert Chodo Campbell is very interesting to learn about. Hospice is all about offering compassion and guidance to the person transitioning from this life to the next stage, whatever that may be.

I have tutored in the past. I love helping students get to the next level math-wise. Maybe that is a form of leadership. I’m not sure.

How do I leave Michigan and lead people? I am not outgoing. I would rather be behind the scenes. Is there some unique role that I would be particularly good at? I completely understand the feeling of not wanting to change, but lack patience with people trying to avoid the unavoidable. You don’t want to change? I totally understand, but we are not being given the option to say “no.” When do you simply walk away from people determined not to learn or grow or even survive?

Change, Energy, and Movement

Change, Energy, Movement

Everything is changing and moving. I keep running into problems with people and organizations that choose not to change. Eventually, I must let them go. I cannot allow their limitations to become mine. How do you get people to change? As near as I can tell, you don’t.

I am tired of watching churches die due to their failure to adapt to the changing environment. Groups are more than happy for help—on their terms, of course. When young people walk away, older people seem to have the attitude, “Good riddance. We don’t need you anyhow.” The homophobic preaching continues, driving away the only demographic that might improve the church’s survivability: the younger people. They say, “This is how we do things around here. Take it or leave it.” My response is, “Okay. Bye. Good luck with that.” There is no point arguing.

I see the same thing in Michigan’s businesses. They want you to have a J.D. and tons of secretarial skills. Starting pay? $10/hour. When confronted with the disconnect, their response is instant: “We can’t afford to pay more.” But you can afford to drive away from Michigan everyone with more than a high school diploma? Really? What precisely do you plan to do when there aren’t any more educated people left in Michigan and you literally cannot pay enough money to keep people here?

When confronted with the alternatives of change or death, everywhere I look, I see people choosing death. It’s like a diabetic that refuses to eat less sugar. What they are doing is literally killing them, but they have no intention of taking life-saving measures.

These organizations demand that things be done their way, even as they empty out of customers/parishioners/employees. What can a person do?

What I won’t do is go down with them. Their limitations remain their own; I refuse to adopt them. They can sink, but they’re not dragging me along with them.

My frustration is that I feel like I have some very useful skills to offer the world—for a price. I have student loan debt and when I need to support myself, my volunteering days will likely be over. I didn’t get these skills for free, and neither will any future employer of mine. I can always learn more skills, but then my price will go up as well. My time is valuable and it will be treated as such.

If you pay minimum wage, you will get minimum-wage quality employees: low skills, no transportation of their own, and very possibly needing regular time off to see their probation/parole officer. I am willing to start near (not at) the bottom, but completely unwilling to remain there indefinitely.

People/organizations refuse to change/learn. How can I become part of the solution? What can be done to help people refusing to learn basic science and accept the reality of global warning? Just how hot do things have to get? I’m hoping my mother dies before things get too hot because she still lives in that pre-scientific worldview. (“If we don’t admit it’s happening, then it is not really true.”) What can you do with people who try to impose their morals on the next generation without any consent of the younger generation? Older people’s opinions are routinely dismissed, and this is why. Life is growth and change. To refuse to grow or change is a death sentence. Defending intellectual stagnation is not a good strategy for creating influence.

The old world is passing away. A new one is emerging. I will be part of the new world, whether I like it or not. I am just trying to find a place for myself in it. I want to be somewhere learning/growth/maturing are not synonyms for “heresy” or “insubordination.” I will never stop learning. I want to work somewhere that values growth. So far, I do not believe it is in Michigan, the Orthodox Church, or the Republican Party. I left the Republican Party many years ago, the Orthodox Church a few months ago, and Michigan is next, when Barry passes. If they choose not to advance in tandem with me, what other choice do I have? Only to kiss my brains, dignity, and common sense good-bye.

While the Committee Discussed,,,

During the Committee Meeting…

A few days ago, I saw online a discussion as to whether or not it is acceptable for a woman to be a religious or political leader. I just laughed.

The debate misses the point: if you don’t want women running the show, try showing up and doing the work yourself. While the menfolk are sitting and debating the finer points of theology, women are doing the grunt work and earning everyone’s respect in the meantime. I’ve done enough church work to know that the issue is not about who “should” do the work, but rather about who is willing to show up, week after week, and do the dirty work. It’s definitely not about qualifications. It’s totally about willingness.

A long time ago, I read Golda Meir’s autobiography. It was fascinating and enlightening. This woman was raised in Wisconsin. She was present at the 1948 founding of the nation of Israel. She had done a career-worth of public service. She was retired, trying to spend time with her grandchildren. Some of her Israeli buddies called her up and asked her to run for prime minister. At first, she balked, because she had retired for good reasons, her health and her family. She relented and was elected. She served well and re-retired. Was this a woman usurping a man’s authority? Hardly. It wasn’t even her idea. The job needed to be done and she simply did it. Who knows how many men had been asked and then refused?

Anyone who has paid attention to my blog knows that I have a distaste for discussion when action is required. Discussion, all too often, is a lazy substitute for getting the job done. My recent church is always talking, not accomplishing anything.

If you look at statistics, you will find that a greater percentage of women than men are going to school and getting the skills needed to make a positive difference in this world. There were days when I sat in class and wondered, “Where are the guys? Shouldn’t there be more men?” These were MBA classes, not secretarial classes. Many of the men that I did have classes with were immigrants, not from the USA. I can just hear the complaints now: “How dare these foreigners and women take jobs that our rightfully ours! We need to put these people back in their places!” Then go to schools and get some skills. Period. Don’t come to me and complain. I’m busy—doing your job, which has become mine now.

Same Lesson, Different Day

I feel much better today than yesterday.

Talking with my friend, who is in Maryland looking for work, she said that she has had to do a lot of letting go in the past few months. I know how she feels. After we hung up, I got rid of a few sets of queen-size sheets. When Barry passes, I will probably just use the wooden bed frame from the bed in the extra bedroom, which I think is a single.  I have more to get rid of, but I now have a little bit more room in my dresser. It makes me feel so much better. No matter how stuck I feel, it helps to get rid of some physical object. When I looked at Barry later sleeping in his chair, instead of feeling stuck, I just felt bad for him. Big difference. The snow melting also helped. Part of the issue, no doubt, is this never-ending winter. Things are improving slowly. That’s good because a quick melt of the accumulated snow would flood everything. Everything I get rid of makes me feel better.

Blooming Where Stuck

“Make the soil where you’ve been stuck a more beautiful place.” by Dave Bruno

I was looking at a preview of a book that I may purchase (when I am more progressed on the pile of books I am reading now). This resonates with me. We simply cannot always move forward when we wish. Life does not work like that. I don’t believe in plans; I believe in preparation. We can make ourselves into what we want or need to be. Others notice. When they need someone with our skills or traits, lo and behold, our name comes to mind. We can’t always find a job, but we can always make ourselves more employable and, when circumstances allow, perhaps we can move to somewhere there are jobs.

Right now, I’m having a tough time accepting where I am stuck. Barry watches a lot of TV, because that is about all he is capable of. I have a limited tolerance for TV, a fairly high tolerance, but even I have my limit. Before I came to Biggby tonight, some tabloid news show was asking if John Travolta was dyslexic. Who cares? If he wants a reading tutor, he can pay for one himself.

Part of why I feel so stuck is that the weather is just starting to get a tiny bit warmer and I have a raging case of cabin fever. I have to get out or risk going crazy. Watching Barry decline and sitting at home is taking a serious toll on me. I feel like this is a “deathstyle”, not a lifestyle. Life is about movement. If you see something on the road not moving, what do you do? You might assume it is dead, poke it with a stick (to see if it moves in response), or check for a pulse. Movement is a sign of life and being stuck is the opposite of movement. I found myself thinking today, “Is this what it’s like watching someone die?” This is rough. A part of me is dying day by day and I’m unsure there is anything I can do about it.

I feel like everything in our culture is meant to get us to do something, anything at all, to not feel what we are feeling. Religion is an opiate for the masses, but not the only one by far. Let us also include marketing, sex, alcohol, gambling, and whatever else you can think of. The last thing religious authority figures or marketers want is for is to think for ourselves and question the pabulum they’ve been feeding us. Do you care if Travolta is dyslexic? I know I don’t. But as long as people sit around, letting their brains turn into oatmeal, the powers that be can rest assured that the masses are well controlled.

 I need to find a way to move something (emotionally, spiritually, and/or intellectually) so I don’t feel like I am dying inside, regardless of the weather. I cannot continue to live like this. I don’t just want to pretty up my emotional grave.

Consciousness, Be-Do-Have

Somewhere, it might be Penney Peirce the intuitive expert, I heard the Be-Do-Have concept. The idea is that you start at the beginning (Be) and one step naturally leads to the next. Given my tendencies towards minimalism lately, I am now contemplating the whole cycle more lately.

What do I want to be? I want to be the person that helps people/organizations to know what they really want to be/do. In other words, I want to be a consciousness-raiser.

I believe that we are raised to be unconscious, to be driven by societal expectations. When I was growing up, the expected sequence of events was thus: go to school, get married, get a house, and start a family. There are too many assumptions in this sequence to even count. Not everyone is suited for a college education. Also, if you wait until you are finished with your education, you may never end up getting married. The house concept only works if someone makes enough money and someone (else, probably) has the time to take care of it. What if your prospects for marriage are dim, but you still want kids? It goes on and on.

My particular situation has forced many re-evaluations in my life. One reality is that of student loan debt. I cannot afford a lot of stuff and pay off Sallie Mae in a reasonable period of time. I personally believe that student loan debt is slowing/preventing any real economic recovery. We are the only “developed” nation that expects its young people to foot the bill for their own education. This forces young people to move to cities because no one can afford to commute when gas prices are pushing $4/gallon. Owning a car is just not practical. Or buying a house. Or eating out. Sallie Mae has dibs on our tax refunds, if we are fortunate enough to qualify for one.

Another aspect of my situation is that I cannot care for the possessions I have. There is no point in acquiring more. I never thought I would say this, but I want to vacuum, but can’t in a real way. Huntington’s makes Barry less tolerant of variation/change. Moving the furniture around to do a decent job of vacuuming would drive him batty. I do what I can, but have been forced to rethink the idea of spring cleaning. What can I do or not do? This requires thought. When I eventually stop shoveling, I will start spring cleaning.

Becoming more conscious is difficult, but life has ways of jolting you into reality. One thing I have heard, and believe, is that, beyond $50k/year, more money does not add to one’s quality of life. Once you have food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, and health care, more money does not help. At that point, you are supporting the 1% at your own expense. Marketers are amazing at blurring the line between needs and wants. Stressed? Just watch TV and be marketed to endlessly.

Speaking of unconsciousness, I have made friends with a Protestant minister. He is a wonderful person and an awesome listener. However, like many Protestants, I suspect his intellect is slowly declining. He and I were emailing back-and-forth. I quoted the Buddha regarding not trusting anything simply because it is in a scripture or because someone else says it is true. This is his response:

“There is actually a lot of knowledge I accept based on other people’s credentials.  I’ve never actually scene a quark, but I trust that some scientists really have “seen” one.  I don’t have the time or energy to fully explore it myself.  I take it on trust.  I think that’s a kind of “proper confidence” in the source of the knowledge.  It seems to me that at times the question really is more “what is proper to have confidence in and what is not proper to have confidence in”?”

My response was instant: “Check things out for yourself or you will fall behind intellectually very quickly. You will find yourself in a conversation with someone that has done their homework and be flabbergasted at just how far behind you have fallen. I don’t want you to fall behind. Check everything out for yourself.” He hasn’t responded. I am not surprised. I believe that a person can have a 180 IQ, become a Protestant, live in that Christian Bubble, and be an idiot within a decade. I’ve seen it. He’s a very fine family man and has a lot of integrity, but will lose IQ points just like anyone else if he maintains the attitude that some things are trustworthy simply because of someone’s credentials. Such an attitude is discernment-free. He has made himself an unwary target for the unscrupulous. Credentials do not equal good judgment or wisdom. I’m sure he will learn, the hard way, of course, as we all do.

            Our culture is unconscious. Barry’s cancer woke me up. It takes something different for everyone. Being unconscious is easy, but costly. Someone will always be willing to take responsibility for your life—for their own benefit. Taking responsibility is hard, but once you do it, it becomes impossible to imagine any other way of life.


The Minimalists

“Happiness, as far as we’re concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life, a life that is filled with passion and freedom, a life in which we grow as individuals and contribute beyond ourselves. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.

“This may not sound sexy or marketable or sellable, but it’s the cold truth. Without growth, and without a deliberate effort to help others, we are simply slaves to cultural expectations, ensnared by the trappings of money and power and status and perceived success.”

This is approximately where I am. This quote is by two minimalists, Joshua Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus.

Being married, I don’t have some of the freedom they do. What struck me from reading about Joshua was that he lost his mother and marriage in a short time frame and he is also an INTJ like myself. We can go about our lives for decades, living out the expectations of our family and/or society until something happens (like middle age, death, divorce, or any trauma) and then we suddenly see what isn’t important to us. Perspective is instantaneous. How could I have ever cared about ________? Old priorities fall away like a winter coat on the first 50 degree day of spring. But I understand where they are coming from.

Living a simple life is all about deliberate-ness. It’s not about being poverty-stricken, but about being selective and careful with all you do, making it all count.

For me, some of the perspective came from Barry’s cancer and Huntington’s. Making baklava to sell to the poor? Gone. Seeking the approval of religious authorities? So gone. Becoming capable of financially supporting myself? Now at the top of the priority list. Discarding items for eventually moving? Somewhat important, but not urgent. Priorities are instantly clarified.

But physical, tangible stuff comes with a cost. I will never forget a TV show I saw about a decade ago. This family really wanted to get out of debt. Both parents worked. Sounds like an obvious strategy, right? Not so much. The host went through the couple’s expenses and noticed some things. Because the wife worked, they needed daycare, a very serious expense. Her job required another vehicle (requiring purchasing, gas, taxes, plates, insurance, and maintenance), steel-toed boots, lunches, and regular clothing purchases. It was actually costing them money for her to work! She was more than happy to stay at home and get out of debt faster.

Perhaps when the children are old enough to not require childcare, the situation will change. Things change constantly and require re-evaluation. The point is simple: everything you have (including a job) has costs associated with it and vigilance is required to make good decisions on a regular basis.

“Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness.” Amen.