Monday, December 26, 2011

Not coping during the holidays

Once and a while the upbeat American attitudes get on my nerves. I’m naturally a very upbeat person; a yoga addict I’ve also learned to view my world with more balance. Thus I realize that all qualities are both good and bad (being upbeat can earn you “insensitive” as well).

Reading Joan Didion’s new book Blue Nights I was awed by her ability to write with such raw pain. I waver on whether or not to write about myself and her fearlessness in doing so was admirable. She’s brutal on herself in the book and, in my opinion, really hasn’t coped with her daughter’s death. Why must we always put on a happy face or spin positive? Why must we always “cope”?

My family is pretty dysfunctional (anyone else?). As a child I lied about it; I now usually accept it. But holidays can be trying.

So in defense of all of those who sometimes don’t cope, and don’t even want to cope until ready, I have a few new holiday rules. When I’m perfect perhaps I’ll apologize for them but until then:

1. Some gifts are unlikable, insensitive and a waste of money. Smile anyway but feel free to toss them to a local charity ASAP.
2. You don’t have to want to see everyone you’ll see during the holidays. Smile for your own benefit not out of obligation (sometimes the best way to be in a good mood is to force it).
3. Be in a bad mood sometimes. Don’t fight it (just don’t cling to it).
4. If you eat or drink too much forget about it and start afresh the next day (a Weight Watchers rule).
5. It’s okay to buy yourself a Christmas/holiday present.
6. Get mad as appropriate but try to keep your mouth shut. You may be right but saying it to someone who isn’t listening does no good (and makes the day worse for those around you). If you do say it, apologize for saying (not believing) it and move on.
7. Get tired. Take a break.
8. Throw the food you don’t want to eat away.
9. Accept that people will be mad, depressed, unreasonable or even crazy. That’s their problem.
10. This too shall pass.
11. Appreciate being alive and healthy (or whatever it is you have to appreciate) instead of brooding over what you can’t control.
12. Or just brood.
13. The New Year is an immediate “start over”; make it your new favorite holiday.
14. Some food is icky.
15. Some people really don’t behave; try not to be one of them but if you do apologize and forgive yourself.
16. Spend time with some children during the holidays.
17. Donate…to get out of yourself.
18. Make your own list of holiday survival rules.
19. We all ultimately have a relationship with ourselves first. Respect yourself regardless and aim higher next time.
20. Spend time outside, reading a novel or on a stupid web site (email me for suggestions).
21. Forgive.

This post will never be my favorite one because it’s a bit silly. But it made me feel better (write a dumb blog posting?!). I recommend that you read Didion’s book if you want to see the raw emotion of someone who dares not to cope, and write about it. Let’s all aim to do a little bit better next year.

Picture of Maine from Steve K.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Today’s Meaning in Chaos?

I didn’t get enough done today. That reality isn’t exactly my norm but let’s just say it happens more than I’d like. My kids had a half day at school today (not the usual) so I’ve had to make adjustments for that change.

But the bigger thing about today is that I got many, many little things done but no big one. With continual interruptions that goal seemed like the best way to plan my tasks. It feels less satisfying and productive.

I grew up in chaos; thus I’m not a big fan of chaos; I handle it well. Mostly. Too much chaos and one never knows, I might just freak out (I’m also a control freak, a dual partner from having too little control as a child). But chaos leading to a loss of control is a reality of life. defines chaos as: a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order. Life is just like that.

So how did I find meaning in my chaos today?

1. I lowered my expectations.
2. I picked tasks that didn’t require too much focus (no writing the final – hopefully - thrilling scenes in my book).
3. I accepted last minute changes to the schedule; and hadn’t calendared any crucial tasks.
4. Went for a beach run…even though it put me behind schedule.
5. I avoided stressful people and situations (not good to push my limits on a day when time is moving much faster than I am)
6. I settled on a simple blog posting and not the more exciting one I’d been planning to write (the importance of an idea and its relationship to execution…coming).
7. I reminded myself that my kids and their friends will only be around for so long before they disappear into college and their own lives (gratitude).

The underlying theme is we all only have so much control. When chaos hits, it’s what you’ve done before that provides grounding for how we cope and survive (or even thrive) with it.

Profound? No, when I can focus and concentrate more! But I like this topic as I ponder my own search for meaning. I’ll be thinking and writing again about predictability, order and chaos and how they impact our concept of life. If we don’t learn how to define our own meaning in the midst of a chaotic and ever changing world then our search will never end. The related saying we all know: the only things for sure in life are death and taxes.

My meaning for today was spending extra time with four kids I adore and have known since they were much smaller. I got to actually notice how much they’ve matured even while they haven’t changed so much. And I learned that I’ll be okay if I don’t finish writing my next book today

The photo is of a Hawaiian beach and taken by my friend Kenny (thank you)!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life’s purpose explained?

Up early this morning I was reading Aristotle (love to write that….note below I’ll question whether I actually understood what I was reading) and was struck by some of his happiness/well being precepts. Since I’m not writing a primer on Aristotle here I won’t get much into details but a core concept is that virtue relates to the proper function of something. He makes ethics a practical and not theoretical study.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m passionate about education. In part, my interest is practical in that I have two kids and don’t believe in education as a passive practice. No, I view kids as that mythical blank slate and feel responsible for what writing fills up that whiteness. Let’s not forget that impressionable minds are especially susceptible to believing what they’re told; kids often lack the perspective to evaluate truthfulness. Hence how they’re trained to reason is critical. I recently explained to my eight year old (seven at the time) that everything on the Internet wasn’t true. It was like a light dawned in his eyes as he self explained all of those contradictions he’d seen over time on a computer screen.

Not that I’m saying life’s purpose is the Internet (though for some people it may be).

But the big puzzle I’m pondering is how relevant school is if it isn’t addressing the bigger person and helping children evaluate and find their proper function. No test will tell you that (as anyone who’s taken one of those career guidance tests knows).

I’m now consciously starting from scratch in understanding education. Yes, in our country it was established to follow the agrarian calendar and enable basic literacy (to create more knowledgeable voters? Better workers?). Education is and always has a public policy aspect to it. Are the government’s goals for my children the same as mine? As my children’s goals for themselves?

I love literature and philosophy for a related reason. If we haven’t defined our life purpose how can we fulfill it? And from what sources exactly is a child expected to draw that conclusion? The humanities allow us to evaluate and decide based on intangibles and not merely a straight linear (rule based) path.

I’ll keep pondering and writing on this issue. Education? Spirituality? Religion? Ethics? Leadership? Which source do I draw on first to begin crafting an answer? We’ll see. I do agree with Aristotle that by taking what we know to be the right actions and for the right reasons we draw much satisfaction (and self respect). The great thing about reading other’s thoughts is that we typically get from them what we want to read. Whether I “understood” Aristotle this morning is irrelevant: I’m now pondering education, learning and self direction in an entirely new way. Our education forms our belief systems and shouldn’t be taken lightly.