Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Your Daily Chuckle

After a full morning of teaching, I'm too tired to type this whole joke out, so here it is on video. Even if it does make me look insane.

(Update: I don't know what's funnier, the joke or the fact that for some reason the video and the audio aren't synched. Trippy!)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

OMG, the Dinosaurs Were Real!

I have a childhood memory of being someplace--I think it was at night--with crowds of people. We were there to see the dinosaurs. It was an outdoor exhibit of some kind, with these life-sized dinosaurs, including the peaceful vegetarian brontosaurus and the ferocious man-eating Tyrannosaurus Rex. I recall being simultaneously fascinated yet scared by the towering TRex, staring up at his snarling big teeth.

I turned to continue on with my family, and they were nowhere to be seen.

I stood, surrounded by swarms of people and other kids, turning anxiously to see if I could catch a glimpse of my mom and dad. What seemed an interminable amount of time passed as panic rose in me--and then there were my parents, just as relieved to find me as I was to see them.

I was only four years old, so it's a very sketchy memory, but the big TRex and the scared feeling have always stayed with me. I just have never been able to figure out where on earth we were--it had to be close to home--yet there are no dinosaur exhibits of any kind in Richmond, Virginia, and who on earth has ever heard of a huge traveling dinosaur exhibit? Is my brain playing tricks on me and I made all this stuff up, or it's merely a childhood dream I'm remembering?

(Believe it or not, I remember the first time I became aware that I dreamed in color. It's because I woke surprised to realize I'd been dreaming about my favorite sweater, which was purple.)

On Facebook, lately everybody has been joining these hometown groups, so a couple weeks ago I joined "You know you're from Richmond, Virginia if..." It's been fun chatting with some college friends who grew up there and have memories of the 60s and 70s, and I have even met a woman who knew my two older brothers, Harvey and Steve, when they were patients at the VA Hospital after being discharged from the service. And this morning, lo and behold, the mystery of the dinosaur memory has now been solved.

Read about the traveling dinosaur exhibit here. In 1966, it stopped by Willow Lawn Shopping Center in Richmond, Virginia. I'll be damned.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trust Your Struggle

I admit it: I don't like feeling pain, I don't like to hurt, I don't enjoy grieving, I don't like feeling sad and disappointed, and I don't like feeling disrespected, taken for granted, or being taken advantage of. Who does?

I've blogged before about how having too many expectations leads to a lot of unnecessary suffering, so that it's wise to keep your expectations realistic. Still and all, you can't move through the world without having some expectations. If you didn't, you'd let everyone know that you'll take anything from them. You'll be perceived as a pushover, someone with no self-respect. Any boundary you draw will promptly be stepped over.

The trick for me lately has been in trying to locate the boundaries that work for me. What do I expect from this person? Is it a reasonable expectation? (If not, adjust. Anything higher is just a hope, not an expectation, so don't fixate on the hope.) What will I not tolerate? Is that a fair boundary? (If so, set it, and stick to it.)

This strategy has helped quite a bit in maintaining my own serenity and peace of mind, but still accidents happen. It's when I feel the difficult things I don't want to feel that I try to figure out what went wrong in the expectations/boundaries department. Did I let someone get away with crossing a boundary? If so, why did I do that? Sometimes figuring out why I did that eases the pain and the indignation. Or, was an expectation simply not realistic because I let too much hope encroach into what I wanted an outcome to be? And if I did that, what was behind my attachment to that outcome?

One thing's for sure: we judge most harshly in others the things we most hate in ourselves. For example, if someone is selfish and that drives me crazy, then I'm learning that in some ways, my anger is also me being all self-righteous about how I don't let myself be selfish because I think that's unforgivable, or that a part of me knows I am selfish sometimes and I may very well have done the same thing I'm judging them for had I been the one in their shoes. How many people who set off your gaydar open their mouths and spout the most hateful things about homosexuals you've ever heard? (Methinks they doth protest too much.) So when I'm struggling with difficult feelings, I'm finding that almost every single time, at the core of the struggle is something I'm having difficulty with myself.

Our struggles are a reflection of our own internal state. So trust your struggle. There's something valuable you'll be able to take away from it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Help (Movie Review)

Yes, I know. I know, just like The Blind Side, this is another story about a heroic white woman who swoops down and saves the poor black people (or person). Of course The Blind Side happened to be a true story. This one is fiction. And then some had a problem with the book itself that the film is adapted from, because part of the narration was spoken by African American characters, and the writer, Elizabeth Stoddard, is white. So how could it possibly be authentic and not a caricature of a kind? A final complaint is that the help (the black maids) of the book are portrayed as "Mammy" types, women who love the white families they work for and are content with their condition. I've seen this complaint now shift away from the book and onto the film. One group, I understand, is even encouraging people to NOT support the film because of its racism.

Well, I read the book, and I just saw the movie. And my conclusion is this: some people think Huckleberry Finn is racist, too, because the tale has Jim, a runaway slave, and people in the book refer to Jim as "nigger." Sure, that sounds racist. But if you actually read the book, you see that Twain clearly believes that slavery is wrong and that Jim is every bit the protagonist that Huck is, and that Twain is trying to show us how appalling it is to treat any human being as a lesser person. The Help is much like this in its intent. The maids are not "Uncle Tomasina" type mammies, and Skeeter (the protagonist) does not rescue them. She collaborates with them; they help each other. And the maids help other white people in the film as well--with the important distinction that the ones they help (in a non-menial way) are the ones who see them as equals.

Perhaps I recognize this because I grew up in Richmond, Virginia--city of Monument Avenue lined with statues of Confederate heroes and capital of the Confederate States of America--in the 1960s and 1970s, and I grew up with help in my own house. Unlike the persons in Stoddard's book and the movie, we weren't upper class white folks, though. Nope. We were lower middle class. Both of my parents worked, so we had an African American maid/babysitter (today the role is referred to as "nanny") who also did some light cooking. She was paid $35 a week, which was crap; my daddy picked her up in his car every morning and drove her home at the end of every day. Bessie loved us kids. She was a second mother to me, if not really a surrogate mother (since my stepmom wanted very little to do with us). She wore the same wrinkled house dress every day with comfortable shoes and was very old, and she had exactly three teeth in her head. I would sit, fascinated, watching her drink her tea every morning. She was allowed to eat at the table with us kids.

I'm not sure that would've been the case had she ever had occasion to eat with my parents. Bessie just fed us breakfast and lunch and Saturday dinner when my parents went out on their weekly date. Her life's work had been raising white families' children. She spoke fondly of every last one of them.

Does that make her a "Mammy?" I don't think so, because I doubt very seriously she felt about my parents the same way she felt about us, the children. She was formal with them, addressing them as "Sir" and "Ma'am" (although we were expected to as well), and she referred to them as "the Mister" and "the Missus." I doubt she was crazy about her measly paycheck, but since she was an old woman of color--she told me stories of her school being in a one-room schoolhouse out in the country, when the President was Calvin Coolidge--so I doubt she had many job options.

Likewise, The Help takes place in the South (here, the Deep South in Jackson, Mississippi) during the late 1950s and early 1960s, so black women probably had fewer employment options at the time. They were, to be blunt about it, essentially treated by many as paid house slaves. (There's a poignant moment in the movie when one maid points out that she had been "left" to the family she worked for in the grandparents' will, as if she had been property.) No one in the film applauds this; Skeeter and the maids all look appalled, as of course they would be.

It's not racist to describe it as it was. It is racist to push it all under the rug and pretend it never happened, or to pretend that prejudice against blacks in this country ended when slavery ended. It most certainly did not.

As a child, I didn't understand the rules. Bessie was just Bessie to me. I had black friends at school, busing had started, and my family (fairly poor) sent me to public schools. (Some of my white friends' parents sent their kids to private school when busing commenced.) In high school, my very best friend was a beautiful African American woman named Kim, with whom (in retrospect) I was more than a little in love, though I wasn't very sexually aware at the time and just thought it was the normal adoration one might have for, say, a sister. One day I brought Kim home. My stepmother was there. I introduced them. It was a short conversation and Kim had to be on her way.

My stepmother snapped at me as the door closed after her: "Don't you EVER bring a nigger to this house again!"

I was genuinely confused. "But Bessie is--"

"That's different!"

Today I understand that having a black person in your house was okay if they were a paid servant. Having one as a friend was not so much okay. And then I understood in a flash why it was servers at the S&W Cafeteria always looked like they wanted to throttle my stepmother when she called them "gal." I thought it was just my stepmother's country upbringing, but no--it was her racist upbringing. It is insulting when a white person calls a black adult "gal" or "boy." But they sure as heck weren't Uncle Toms because they didn't sass her or reach across the counter to slap her. A person has got to keep her job.

That was the South. To draw an accurate picture of it as it was is not racist. It is exposing it for what it was.... and, at times, still is--and not just in the South, and not just when it comes to African Americans. Here in California, I see a lot of Mexicans treated the same way. The message non-white laborers are continually sent is "you're not as good as I am." I honestly don't see white nannies and white gardeners (oops, sorry, I mean landscape architects) treated in the way the day laborers lined up outside Home Depot are. But no doubt some are, because race is not really the only issue here: class is inextricably tied up in all of this, too.

The maids in The Help clearly aren't crazy about their employers, at least not the ones who treat them as lower class. And Skeeter is no angel. Her first agenda in approaching Abilene about the book is more "career motivated" or selfish than anything else--the Civil Rights era is getting rolling and she sees an opportunity to write a good book. Abilene at first refuses to be involved: too risky. But their motives evolve. Abilene is struck at church that a book in which the maids tell the truth about their existence would be a brave thing, the right thing to do. As Skeeter begins to take down the tales, the book also ceases to be hers. The book turns into THEIRS. The product, by ANONYMOUS, is a collection of all their stories, a collaboration. Skeeter appropriately splits the royalties with all the maids, and all (including Skeeter) get an equal share.

To say the maids in The Help are mammy-types is insulting to them, I would think. They don't love their "massuhs" and they don't just always roll over and take it. There is plenty of mocking and giggling in the kitchen behind their employers' backs, and Minnie takes the world's most memorable revenge against the high and mighty Hilly (that I won't reveal here because it would ruin one of the funniest moments in the film should you choose to see it).

Yes, yes, some will say, but why does it always have to be told from the point of view of a white woman? Why couldn't a black woman write about the maids? That's a good question. Perhaps one will be forthcoming. But in any case, Elizabeth Stoddard's book (and the movie) take place some decades ago, and in the early 1960s, would a publisher like Harper & Row been willing to read a manuscript by an unknown black writer? There's always a possibility, but it would be hard to believe, and works of fiction succeed only when they're believable. Let's not forget that women writers, period, black or white, haven't been taken seriously for all that long. Let's not forget that some women writers of a mere century ago or so felt they had to write under male pseudonyms if they expected to be published.

Having said all this, I will say the book and the movie are flawed. They're both worth reading and seeing because they're entertaining and they impart a good "take away" message: when we band together, right will prevail is one; another is "everybody's shit stinks--we're all equal, so don't you forget it." The book isn't great literature, but it's a good read. The movie isn't an instant classic, but the some of the performances are remarkable. You'll love Minnie, Skeeter, and Abilene; you'll love the kind-hearted white trash (who is less trash ultimately than the high and mighty Hilly); and you'll love Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson. You will feel angry at the appropriate moments, and you'll have a few belly laughs. Definitely it's worth seeing, and it's good enough that I might even see it again once it's out on DVD.

Here's the trailer:

Monday, August 22, 2011

At Least They Know Where They're Going ...

...for picketing funerals of soldiers and just being generally obnoxious.

Adele: "Someone Like You"

"Don't forget me," I beg.
"I'll remember," you said,
"Sometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead."

A song for when it hurts instead.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Value of Alcoholics Anonymous

There was a time I went through a rabid anti-AA phase – in retrospect, I see it had everything to do with my own ego and my own addiction digging in its heels and fighting for itself by using the sharp scythe of rationality. “It’s a cult! It was modeled on the Oxford Group,” I’d say, and I’d add hotly, “No god is going to keep me from drinking—only I can do that.” And I loved rattling off all the contradictions embedded in AA sayings and belief: “If alcoholism is a disease you have no power over, then you are doomed to drink no matter what—the program itself is self-defeating.” Or, “If this isn’t a religious group, why do meetings start off with a prayer and end with a prayer, and in between, people are bringing up God all the time?” I was also fond of pointing out the high relapse rate and could quote from Ellis on cognitive-behavioral therapy and how the truth is that most alcoholics quit being alcoholics not with the help of any program, but on their own.

Well, after numerous attempts to quit on my own, or by using techniques I found in Rational Recovery and SMART Recovery, I found those techniques didn’t stick for me, either. Nothing was helping. The longest I ever went without a drink was seven months—and towards the latter part of that, I was definitely white knuckling it, and my inner addict’s voice was starting to be the loudest one on the committee in my head. “Ah, hell, you’ve gone this long without a drink; clearly you have no problem since you’ve proven you CAN quit.” “You can have just two or three and stop.” “Your drinking is a problem only when it’s a problem—so just stop for awhile whenever it starts to be a problem.” If I could just manage the negative consequences, why, then there’s no problem.

And there I’d be, a year later, right back where I started from, drinking to excess every other day, often so drunk as to black out, calling in sick to work a lot, and feeling like miserable shit half the time.

So what was it about opening my mind and heart to AA once again that worked this last time out (I’ll be two years sober this Sept. 4th)? First, it was finally letting go this idea that my own self-will and determination could get me to stop abusing alcohol. But if I couldn’t do it, who could? “God” was this sketchy figure to me. I wasn’t even sure then that God liked me too much, since I’d been raised by atheist parents and I saw a lot of religion as being just a bunch of silly, superstitious practices. But I also had seen much beauty in certain spiritual practices—such as living in the now, practicing forgiveness, embracing serenity even in the face of chaos, living to serve and help others. Abusing alcohol, acting out, going into rages, I certainly had not been living in a way in which my actions and words were aligned with my own values. So that was my starting place.

“OK, there’s something about this vast universe that is bigger than me, some purpose I’m here to fill that doesn’t mean drinking myself into a stupor all the time—help me fill this purpose.”

Others less emotionally and more rationally inclined than me can choose good, orderly direction (GOD) as their Higher Power and thus their Higher Power doesn’t have to be “God-like” at all. Others choose their own AA group as their Higher Power, their home “group of drunks (GOD).” The point I came to see was that Higher Power could be anything that helps give you strength and direction, as long as that “anything” is not you, yourself. I was finally ready to go there after my own self-will and ego had failed me enough times.

This is the only “ego deflation” that’s really needed: it’s merely acknowledging that hey, guess what? Once I’ve got booze in my system, I can’t stop. But guess what, maybe help provided by my Higher Power can at least help me resist picking up the stuff to begin with. If I can just do that—one day at a time—then I can start getting my life back in order and living a productive, full life.

This was basically the first three steps, and every step after that has everything to do with working through all the reasons I started drinking to begin with and why it was I turned to alcohol as a way to cope. For me, fear of experiencing uncomfortable emotions was a big part of it all. I see the “character defects” of the Steps not so much an innate flaws I’m born with, but as negative patterns of behavior I developed over the years—both to cope with life in general and also to protect my own addiction to alcohol. Me, I blame others a lot; I hang onto resentments and obsess about things; I get anxious when I feel I’m losing control over an outcome; I’m mesmerized by my own intellect and will rationalize and lie to myself all day long if there is something I want to believe or do. Working through the Steps and seeing these things then means I can take action to stop doing them. And lo and behold, when I stopped doing them, the Promises started to come true.

There is much good, practical advice dispensed in AA meetings: “If you don’t want to be a liar, then stop lying.” “If you don’t want to be a thief, then stop stealing.” “If you don’t want to be a deadbeat loser, find a job.” Or this gem: “You don’t make things better for yourself by sitting there polishing the turds. My friend, you are still shitting in shit. Get up. Get out of it.”

It’s a lot of practical stuff that even the PhD’s, doctors, and engineers among us can occasionally stand to hear.

For me, AA has become a collection of groups in which we can share our struggles and our pain and our coping strategies in a safe place—and if you don’t feel safe in a particular meeting, keep looking for one in which you DO feel safe. It could be a same-sex meeting; it could be a large and impersonal one where you can feel anonymous; it could be a small, intimate one of only five or six people. AA is a place where you work through all your garbage. AA is where, working with your sponsor, you can finally start developing some decent coping mechanisms and make some real emotional growth. If your sponsor isn’t helpful, find a new one. You are empowered within AA to be proactive, to take responsibility for your own recovery and for how you can best work your own program.

The value of AA is to be found in the broad experiences of its many members. I have never left a meeting without taking at least some little piece of wisdom from it, even if I had to listen to a lot of baloney or preaching or lecturing or clich├ęs for much of the hour. At some point, somebody is bound to say something I needed to hear that day. And if I’m given a chance at the end, I like to say the Prayer of St. Francis. No, I’m not Catholic, I’m not even Christian in the traditional sense—but it’s a prayer asking to be a better soul. It’s impossible for me to repeat that prayer and not feel better, like I’ve been recalibrated somehow. I close with it here.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The New Semester Has Commenced....

Well, the fall semester has started, and as usual, my classes are full, and students on the wait list are pleading for me to add them. I wish I could say it's because I'm such a popular professor, but that would be a lie. Sections have been cut drastically because of the budget situation. Any class without at least 20 students isn't allowed to make, so the remaining sections either wind up a little over-enrolled, or students are left hanging.

At least students are much less likely to drop now, so I suppose there's always a silver lining somewhere.

I have a stack of diagnostic essays and a sentence boundary quiz to peruse over the weekend, so it's definitely a case of "jump in with both feet." As usual, it'll be interesting to see how many of these entering students have no idea what run-ons or sentence fragments are.

I think back to when I was a student taking freshman composition, in 1980. If there were three misspelled words, your paper was handed back to you with an automatic "F." It's a different world nowadays, that's for sure.

But we have pretty new buildings on campus and the latest in high-tech SMART classrooms. Now if only someone would invent a foolproof way to get students to love reading.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Moby: "South Side" (with Gwen Stefani)

Heard this song on the radio the other day and was reminded how much I used to like it. This is a live performance on the David Letterman Show.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy 7th Anniversary to My Wife

I dedicate today's blog to my wonderful wife. We were married three years ago today, although today we've been together seven years. (We also got a civil union in Vermont five years ago this past April, when gay marriage wasn't yet legal in California--then rescinded by Prop 8, although the law couldn't "undo" those marriages already performed). I am happy to report that, so far, our marriage seems to have had zero impact on the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

All that aside, I am blessed to be with a truly remarkable person. I'm fond of saying that she is the only person I've ever been with with whom I am absolutely secure that nothing I may say or do could ever be an automatic deal-breaker, something so bad that she'd kick me to the curb. There is such security in that. And I feel the same way about her: no matter what happens, I know it's not the end of the world and we'll work it out. We have weathered so much together, borne the ups and downs, survived my hitting the bottom of my addiction to alcohol, and bounced back even stronger than we ever were. I am comfortable showing her my faults, sharing with her my failures, and willing to be vulnerable, weak, and needy in her arms. Likewise, I hold her and wipe away her tears. Even when we fight, it's a short-lived conflict that we learn and grow from.

But mostly we share with each other triumphs and laughs and are each other's best friend. We "get" each other. Being loving and intimate, being lovers, is just icing on the cake.

Happy Anniversary, my dearest friend. I'm looking forward to many, many more of them, until the end of our days.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Are You Involved with Someone Who Is Rebounding?

I don't know why I get on these little kicks--other than my own perverse curiosity--but since I've been reading Hold Me Tight (thoughts here) and pondering relationships, what makes them run smoothly like clockwork and what makes us feel stuck, inevitably "red flag" stuff crops up. Here's some information I came across that struck me as valuable in its simplicity. I thought I'd post it with some added thoughts of mine in case others might find it useful.

If you're worried you might be someone's rebound, look for these "warning signals":

1 They move at a really fast pace.

2 They don't take the time to get to know you or let the relationship evolve. They jump into the new relationship very quickly and want to get serious very quickly. People who demand exclusivity right off the bat, or are jealous right out of the box, are showing you how insecure they are.

3 They still talk about their ex. Especially if they still bitch about how their ex did this or that, or didn't do this or that, or this or that was all their fault, etc etc, I always just try to tell myself: "One day that might be ME she/he's talking about."

4 They compare you to their ex. Even if this is in a positive light, it's not good because it means they're still stuck on their ex.

5 They declare their love for you very quickly after the relationship begins. Infatuation feels like love--at first. You don't actually love someone if you've known them for only a few months or so. Someone who can't tell the difference is either emotionally immature and/or is rebounding and is unaware of it.

6 They treat you like a trophy or prize to be won. They might post lots of pictures on Facebook or try to "show you off" or take you to lots of public events to be seen. They definitely want to project an appearance. Look for signs that they want you to be seen by others. Beware if they want to push you too quickly into meeting their ex, or being accepted by their family, or insisting that their friends accept you as a new couple, and the like.

7 They spend lots of money on you and try to impress you. Spending money is a coping mechanism.

8 They're needy. Some people simply don't want to be single for long. If you have trouble imagining what they would do with their spare time if they didn't have a significant other, family commitments, or job commitments, that's a bad sign.

9 They get jealous quickly or keep secrets. Or, they're evasive or give you only half-answers or avoid questions.

10 They compliment you habitually, even when one isn't needed or may be awkward. If someone is constantly complimenting you about things that are not unusual, or when it's not necessary, this could be a big warning sign. Too much adoration means they aren't seeing you as you really are: they're projecting, and that wind in their sails is bound to cease and the sails will collapse. They're seeing you as their savior, their knight in shining armor on the white horse who is everything they need. Once you stop rescuing them, they may no longer find you appealing.

11 They have a history of going from one relationship right into another. Worse: all or many of their past relationships ended as affairs, and they commenced your relationship with them as an affair or as a reason to end their last relationship. Let's hope you're not that dumb. People need time off to heal. Rule of thumb: figure one- to one-and-a-half months of healing time for each year a couple was together.

12 They quickly change their relationship status with the idea of making their ex jealous or to beat their ex to the next relationship. Or, they get angry when their ex starts a new relationship, or they obsess about that. Again, these are a clear signal they're not really over their ex.

Now, none of these "red flags" is the kiss of death, but if there are a number of them present, that tells you to watch out. Back off, insist on going slowly, get to know each other, and keep in mind this new infatuation may burn off as quickly as it started. Or, just be aware you're involved with someone who is rebounding and keep your expectations realistic. It probably won't last. Or insist the relationship not be exclusive until they've dated around some more and had more time to heal and recover and find themselves again. Otherwise, your relationship with your rebounding lover will likely turn into a repeat of the relationship they just got out of.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Duet to Brighten Your Day

If this doesn't warm your heart, nothing will.

Original song by original band is here.

Hold Me Tight

I'm reading a book called Hold Me Tight, which puts forth a new way of counseling couples in crisis. It's written by Dr. Sue Johnson, a marriage and family therapist who has created something she calls "Emotionally Focused Therapy" (EFT) and which is producing some extraordinarily successful results. She makes the claim--and the first portion of the book supports it pretty well--that our view of couples too emotionally dependent on each other is misguided. Fused, undifferentiated, neediness, codependent are all bad words today, when in reality that's exactly what a healthy couple ought to be.

But only in the "good" sense. Obviously both individuals in the couple need to be healthy, independent persons in their own right. But at the same time, she says there's been way too much emphasis on conflicts in a marriage being solved via negotiation, compromising, and learning how to fight effectively because these don't acknowledge the central purpose of what a marriage is really all about: attachment.

Attachment, she says, is a scorned and frequently overlooked human need. It's just as essential to our total well-being as food, warmth, or air. We all know that babies who aren't held fail to thrive. Johnson claims that doesn't change just because we reach adulthood: adult humans require attachment too. In presenting various case studies, Johnson is able to demonstrate how virtually all conflicts in a marriage can really be boiled down to fear--fear of losing the one we are attached to.

The healthiest couples, she writes, are the ones whose attachment to each other is understood by each person in the couple to be unshakeable, no matter what. No matter what may happen, they know they each have the other's back. There is complete security that the other person isn't going anywhere. If they go away, there's trust they'll come back. If something awful happens, any fear that thing will be the last straw or the deal-breaker is fleeting, because the couple handles crises by affirming their attachment to each other. In short, each person feels safe.

People nag, act out, cheat, lie, act passive-aggressive, get jealous, all of that when, at some deep level, they feel the relationship is jeopardized. What most people actually need is not so much negotiation and compromising and new agreements and how to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements (all of which is fine, but it isn't what they MOST need)--what we most need is reassurance, reassurance that the relationship is solid.

We sabotage our own relationships when we tell ourselves that needing our own partner is childish and bad. It's the needing itself that should be nurtured. Needing each other is what makes unbreakable bonds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Grateful Dead, Grateful We Won Finally

Every year, the Giants have some former members of The Grateful Dead (Phil Lesh and Bob Weir) sing the National Anthem at AT&T Park, and yesterday (the anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death), they did so again, along with 3rd base coach Tim Flannery, as the club hosted a Grateful Dead Day. The stands were full of people in tie-dye or sporting Dead t-shirts, and during the game on tv, the camera kept going back to this one guy in the stands who was the spitting image of Jerry Garcia.

It's a respectable rendition of the National Anthem.

The Giants beat the Pirates, 6-0, and Chris Stewart hit his first major league home run.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Perhaps you've seen this poster before; it regularly makes the rounds on Facebook. But I love it because it sums up nicely how I've come to let faith operate in my life. It also reminds me to stop trying to drive everything by the demands of my ego and to live in the now.

Faith is trust that things will play out as they should if only I let them. Things tend to go wrong when I over-analyze, fret, worry, plan too much, or try to control outcomes as if life were a game of chess. When I'm running on ego, my life winds up being less like a well-played game of chess and more like my trying to force a square into a circle.

But if I do the things I love and concentrate on the now, that's when good things happen.

Life unfolds as it will.

Faith is trust that as life unfolds, a beautiful and delicate origami will emerge.

Hat tip to Max.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Two Wolves

An old Cherokee told his grandson, "My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, & ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, & truth." The boy thought about it, and asked, "Grandfather, which wolf wins?" The old man quietly replied, "The one you feed."

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger

Okay, I needed to put something funny on my blog because I'm still all mouth-agape over the S&P lowering the United States' credit rating for, like, the FIRST time in history. Thanks, Congress. Congress is like the honey badger. It doesn't give a shit.

The Need for Faith

There's a fellow who visits the new ITR Addiction magazine at In the Rooms and has taken to spamming any post about rehab with various diatribes about how rehab and "the recovery industry," etc, don't work and are actually killing more people than they help. Needless to say, he admits he was forced into rehab (my guess is by the courts--often addicts are given a choice of either jail or rehab), and from the sound of it, it wasn't necessarily a good rehab and/or he didn't quite possess the attitude to make it work for himself. All this aside, his main issue with AA and 12-step programs in general is the spirituality portion of the program; he found better success getting clean and sober with Rational Recovery, which is a cognitive-behavioral therapeutic (CBT) approach to addiction.

I do wonder why he's going to an AA-based model website to push his own agenda (Rational Recovery has plenty sites of its own), but my experience with RR way back when was the opposite of his: I didn't get what I needed. I kept drinking. I was unable to use my own force of will to stop.

So my view is "your mileage may vary." I've blogged before about how AA alone didn't get me to stop; Rational Recovery, Moderation Management, and SMART recovery didn't get me to stop; for me, it took rehab. Most rehabs (not all) are based on the 12-step model. I had trouble with the spirituality part myself. I'm not an atheist, but there are plenty of reasons I have big problems with organized religion (I'm gay; I'm a feminist; you can figure out why I had problems). And I've blogged before about how I came to settle the question for myself: for me, I'm able to embrace the idea of some kind of universal spirit or loving force operating in the world that has higher hopes for me than my sitting there staring into the bottom of a shot glass all day long. I put my faith in THAT. And that was enough, because it was NOT ME.

All of this is a long-winded way of my getting around to what Carl Jung's view of spirituality was. Jung felt that human beings as a species are inclined to spirituality; we have a natural hunger for the transcendent. In his experience with patients, he found that an alcoholic's cravings for alcohol mimicked the human craving for the Divine. So he wasn't surprised to discover that replacing one craving (booze) with another (God) would often fill the hole in the alcoholic--in other words, get rid of the craving for booze. There's an interesting letter Jung wrote to Bill Wilson that discusses this here.

Attach to this some work that was done in the 1990s by Hamer, a behavioral geneticist, in which he posed the idea of a "God gene." He found some evidence that our genes can predispose us to faith (what faith will depend on your cultural background and so forth), but the need for the divine may have biological roots. It's an innate hunger, a desire, a want, perhaps even a need that, in some of us, must be filled for us to feel complete.

For me, some kind of simple faith brings me relief. All the pressure is off ME to fix every last thing that goes wrong, so I am at much greater peace accepting that I don't control everything, indeed that I couldn't even if I wanted to. Thus, anxiety eases, and serenity enters. If I feel lost, I can pray for guidance--whether it will come, who knows, but sometimes it seems to--usually through some sort of meaningful coincidence (Jung would call it "synchronicity") such as an old friend re-entering my life, or a colleague confiding something in me, or my opening a book, and voila! There the solution is. Faith also gives me comfort that, even when things are falling apart and I'm feeling grief or pain, I will recover and I will grow and I will end up better than I was before. Faith is a glue that keeps me together sometimes.

This last paragraph will drive anyone who runs solely on the fuel of rationality absolutely bananas. They'll say I'm using faith as a crutch and things like that. But faith DOES work for some of us. For some of us, it is as necessary as breathing air. You either have that hunger for the Divine or you don't. And understanding faith is kind of like what Louis Armstrong said about defining jazz: "Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brandi Carlile at Montbleu Resort

Just back from Lake Tahoe, where Chelle and I drove up yesterday to catch a Brandi Carlile concert at the Montbleu (used to be the Caesar's Palace). Naturally, since it's Tahoe, I did a little gambling, but I would lose a little, then win a little, then lose, then win, so I wound up leaving with about ten more bucks than I came with. So, I can't complain.

Brandi was great, as she always is. If you don't know her music, I direct you to the video below of a song called "Turpentine," which Chelle wanted her to play--and which actually may have been on the setlist, but people kept calling out requests, so she and the band did some substitutions. She did play "Dreams," "The Story" (my personal favorite), "I Will," "Forever Young," and many others, including a cover of Johnny Cash's "Jackson" which segued into "Folsom Prison Blues." She also did a couple of new songs, one of which was called "Raise Hell," which was raucous as you might expect.

All in all a good time, we met some kindred Brandi fans who live probably ten minutes south of us, and today I am wiped out. Early bedtime tonight for sure.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Angry Dragon's First Race

This is video I took on my iPhone of video that was showing on my laptop, okay? So, apologies in advance for the video quality. But, the 9 horse is the filly we own an interest in, and, yes, indeed, as expected, she was a mite irritated in the paddock. At least she didn't bite her groom.

The race itself went fairly well. She made a good showing for a first time starter. She didn't want to go in the gate, the feisty girl, so they had to do the usual ear-grab to get her loaded. She stumbled coming out of the gate but recovered quickly and caught up in a few strides, moving past horses and coming in towards the inside from the wide post. She settled in front and led the way for much of the race. But coming down the stretch she seemed to lose focus and get tired, so she got passed but nevertheless hung on for 5th place. So, she actually earned a little hay money, which we can't complain about.

We haven't been able to talk with her trainer yet about whether she's okay after that stumble, but she had such a great stride and such good early foot that it seems like she's probably okay. Maybe next time she'll try dirt and do better, or Chuck will add blinkers to help her focus; since it won't be her first race anymore, she'll hopefully be less nervous and won't burn off so much energy beforehand. And if she gets a better post maybe she can rate instead of setting the pace.

I just love her blaze and that pretty face. And you kind of have to respect any lady who lets her feelings be known.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sink Your Teeth into This!

Oh, yeah. Netflix Streaming has Dark Shadows, every last episode except for the first season, which most people think was pretty sucky anyway. Things didn't really get started until the second season, when Willie Loomis accidentally released Barnabas Collins from his coffin.

When I was a wee nipper, this afternoon spooky soap opera used to scare the beejeebus out of me. What was I, five? Six? Seven? Every afternoon after school, I'd be over at the Cipriani's house to play, but come time for Dark Shadows, everyone gathered around the television set (with the inevitable tinfoil on the rabbit ears) and we all fell silent. I, of course, followed very little of what was actually going on, but I knew enough to look away, terrified, whenever the creepy music started. Once the girls were on to me and started in with the teasing, I bucked up. I learned to watch and not watch, blurring my eyes on purpose so I couldn't see what I appeared to be watching. I tuned out so often I never really did get a handle on all the storylines in that show.

They tried revitalizing Dark Shadows briefly in maybe the late 1980s, early 1990s, and it bombed. All I remember of it was that it starred Ben Cross and was mildly interesting. It just didn't capture the flavor of the original soap opera.

For the past week, I have been devouring these 20-min episodes with relish. It's so bad it's good. The spooky techniques have been parodied so often that now they come off as total camp. I've come to love True Blood in all its goriness and humor so much (and even The Vampire Diaries is a guilty pleasure) that Dark Shadows isn't even remotely scary. But! It does lay down all our expectations of what the quintessential vampire should look like, be like, and do--and that is be tormented, lethal, sexy, and impeccably mannered. Oh, and be rich and live in a nasty, dusty, spiderwebby old mansion.

Throw in some more supernatural beings like witches and ghosts, and time travel and such, and the storylines can go on forever.

Much recommended for teenagers and adults--probably not so much for five year-old kids with big imaginations. Oh, and one more thing: stay tuned. Tim Burton's now remaking Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp as Barnabas.