Witness to Bear

I’ve heard tell some folks’ worst nightmares, and darkest secrets of their lives. I’ve been let in on the most hurtful of other people’s memories and experiences. There are things I wish I had never heard that haunt me still. Unprompted and uninvited I’ve heard almost all the horrid stories of human interaction possible, from a firsthand survivor point of view. Abuses sexual, physical and mental don’t begin to describe them. I hesitate to share them despite this being the nature of the post and the medium at large. Let’s say I’ll share one of (if not THE) most painful: a father bringing his son to his knee in order to shoot a kitten in the head, ostensibly to teach something, although no method can be cast over the shadow of this madness.

I have watched a couple break up, their 10 year marriage melting before my eyes – two close friends I cared for deeply had gotten to the point of public humiliation and physical suffering over their tortured relationship’s tattered remains.

I have patted backs and held hands, sitting quietly as they bear their hearts and souls to the light of day for the first time. They’ve told me secrets whispered quietly in the early dawn, feeling like it’s still late at night… a 15 yr old girl says in the almost-darkness “I’m pregnant, but please don’t tell anyone”.

They have told me their secret fantasies that they don’t tell their partners. They tell me their sexual adventures and exploits galore, unasked. People have come out to me as not-heterosexual when they were terrified to tell anyone else.

I have watched others have sex and do drugs and strip nude to skinny dip in the moonlight drunk.

I have been trusted and let it on countless dirty tales, sworn to secrecy, told in deep confidence of my discretion, just as I’ve been let into pools of shame big enough to drown in.

Strangers have stopped me on the bus or street corner to tell me about their lives when I’m just on my way home, delving into excruciating detail for strangers in the night. They talk about crazy happenings and all the things they’ve witnessed in their time – catching me up on any happenings I missed in my limited capacity as just one human.

I’ve watched a crack-head excitedly show her friends a fat $20 rock she had got, just to fumble and drop it so all 3 are on hands and knees sorting through trash in the alley hoping to find it.

Snapped a picture once of a homeless man with half a large pizza all to himself.

I’ve watched seizures, freak outs, and tantrums enough to write about for pages.

I’ve watched my family’s every moment as they keep looking back to make sure I’m watching.

I’ve watched people hurt themselves only feeling safe with me by their side, even if that safety isn’t enough to keep them from it.

I watched a man beat a woman in the front of their car, with us just staring on from the sidewalk, unable to respond to her honking the horn until they drove away together.

I’ve seen pure ecstasy take over and rapturous wonder flood faces high on life, praying or dancing or ranting or singing or just living another day in the sun.

I’ve seen more than one person confide in me that they handle their business – and that business turns out to be self defense.

Blood on knives never lies.

Many a praise has been said of my understanding, when really they’re exhorting my skills at accepting what has come to me in this life, understood or otherwise.

 

I have watched lives and times go by, and long believed I was put on this earth to bear witness to it all.

It’s almost as if I have no purpose of my own, save but to witness and accept that which came before me in this universe, without my input or participation in any way.

 

 

 

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I never would have said it

It’s genuinely not that bad, and it’s better than a lot of history…

 

from higher consumer protections than ever before,

to children no longer being physically punished in school or sent to factories to work,

from wives no longer needing their husband’s permission and presence to make a purchase beyond groceries,

to the first black president in the US,

from gay marriage,

to the minimum wage,

from national parks being created,

to ceasing hand-feeding the animals there,

from stopping dumping in the great Salt Lake,

to recycling programs around the world,

from small, isolated social programs blossoming into thousands strong in a growing international community,

to the freedom for performers to show us art from their hearts instead of that coerced or controlled by management,

from more freedom of personal speech,

to independent journalism,

from disability accommodation,

to entertaining the concept that gender can be outside of a binary construction,

from enforcing regulation,

to Ruth Bader Ginsburg,

from leaving whale oil as a fuel source,

to scalable, sustainable energy sourcing,

from the labor movement,

to food handling procedures,

from airbags,

to seatbelt laws,

from mental health gaining respect,

to medical professionals taking people seriously when they feel pain,

from better access to education, and better education at that,

to art programs actually backed with enough funding,

from the rise of the nerd,

to sports staying alive in the age of media,

from changing minds,

to changing hearts…

there’s no need to spend precious time picking everything apart saying it’s not good enough. once upon a time this was all just someone’s dream. how dare we spit on that by denigrating it as insufficient, instead of holding it up high for praise as the real progress and change it represents? no one said we had reached the end, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what we have in the moment. let us show gratitude for the fortitude of those before us, and strive to do as well by the future as the past has done by us – and learn from those parts we need to take lessons from.

 

it’s not perfect. but it’s not worse, and it’s getting better all the time – let’s celebrate what we can while we keep going toward where we want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe he had it goin’

Deserve is a word i used to use, but has since largely left my vocabulary. it’s not just that this word leaves a bad taste in my mouth, or makes my lips do ugly things when i say it. that stuff happens because i have come to despise it altogether.

once but a tool in an arsenal of language, it now represents a sentiment i simply cannot abide. it comes from a place in which the person saying it is, or seems, very secure in what they are saying and their reasoning behind it. it has extended to coming from a place of superiority, of some special power to reframe our thoughts to minimize the situation, the specifics, or the outcome.  it is used to mask or hide justification. a word that now, to me, says more of the speaker than the subject. the same can be said for pathetic, although there are less complexities with that word in my experience. it was always  a pretty condescending term to use.

this is not to say that people cannot describe things as they choose, but sometimes word choice highlights underlying sentiments or foundations that show us true colors behind statements – they are often judgments with this word. they are interpretations worded in a way to avoid rebuke, by design. people passing judgment dont want to be refuted, they look to build an impermeable argument.

using deserve is a powerful word designed to appeal to shared values – the core of our identity lies in what we believe to be important, as well what we see as right and wrong. a word like deserve judges the would-be recipient of a given result, with prejudice.

if cliches, religion, or popular culture are to be believed, we are not each other’s judges and have no place doing that to our peers. and morally, i have to agree. it is entriely preumptuous and not even possible anyway – we cannot know someone’s true motives, or the totality of their experience. as such, we cannot judge them to be worthy, which is what deserving is all about.

We are variables

we all have inherent value

a person’s identity is not solely their
values,
feelings,
heritage, or
actions

our true self is a dynamic, complicated, layered creation not just of our own design, but grown in response to environment and stimuli that continues to change throughout our development

identity is as timeless as it is infinitely varied moments in time, it is not fleeting chances or knowing glances but throughout and between each happening

self awareness is myopic at best, our perceptions are cloudy and colored with memories

each of us chooses and redefines parts of ourself each day in so many ways

when we are confronted with a change that necessitates adaptation, we realize we do have a self outside of our preferences and predilections

we are not what we do, think, or feel, we are not our past, our present or future

we are variables

 

 

 

 

Wolf in Wool Wait your Turn

At some point, it turns into something else. Maybe it started out as being courteous, shy, introverted, submissive, quiet, tentative, a wallflower, or anything else you might choose to describe this way. You’re always allowed to decide what you do and what you don’t do. People all interact differently, and I’m by no means asking people to change their identity. This also is different than any people with genuine mental health disorders – those are medical conditions and things like anxiety are real, so this does not apply to people with those types of issues.

There does come a point though, when one things changes into another and in that moment, it often draws no attention. But I ask others to observe what has changed; at least treat it as what it is (has become). There is a segment of the population that claim the titles listed above when there’s more to it than mere shyness (to use one term among many).

If you’ve arrived at a social gathering, you have in fact chosen to be there (mostly – and those who are not there by choice are certainly exempt from anything written here). If you’re at a social gathering, and yet you are not participating, that’s fine too. Please, feel free to be in public without interacting with others – I’m sure your reasons are more than sufficient.

However, if you have managed to get all the way to a gathering, and you’re there on purpose, there’s a certain level of interaction expected of your acceptance of an invitation to gather. People did not invite you to ensure that you don’t interact. To that end, they could have just as easily not invited you to anything, thus achieving a lack of interaction without undue effort. But if you don’t want to interact, and you make it obvious, most people respect that. Opting out is not the subject of scrutiny here.

To choose to attend a gathering, and then make it clear through body language or other cues that you want or need others to not just encourage you to begin interaction, but that you need constant encouragement to provide the same level of interaction as the rest of people – that behavior is inappropriate. This is shown in a number of ways, like physical signs that basically amount to pouting. It’s shown through verbal cues like the person speaking as though they have been cut off when they weren’t, e.g. the kind of stammer that is not a permanent affectation, but instead only used in isolated instances.

I’m going to say it surpasses inappropriate. It’s manipulative, and actually a tactic to control power dynamics in social situations. It also does it in a way that shames us into giving you attention and credit because otherwise we’re the ones painted as overbearing and exclusionary, when the truth is you haven’t included yourself without demanding excessive levels of accommodation. It’s predatory. It plays on our heartstrings like the Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Like anything used to gain power, it insists we give you more time and space than other people in your presence at that time, which is the real issue. I don’t care that you want a turn, I care that you want more turns that are each longer than everyone else’s while acting like you never get a turn. You’re playing the victim when there isn’t one because we’re just carrying on a conversation. There isn’t much victimization in not getting to speak as often as you like.

If other people aren’t cutting you off, refusing to answer or acknowledge you, or any other overt signs that you are being completely excluded, that’s an issue, but it’s more rare than people feel it is. Your feeling of being excluded is typically your insecurity about worthiness of belonging with the group or in that situation. It’s not that you’ve actually been pushed out and need to push your way in – that’s a fear that you’ve made real for yourself.

The reality is, whether or not people admit to others or themselves, this behavior is not just about insecurity, it’s about selfishness. Yeah, I said it. Typically I see this behavior in people who aren’t shy at all, but rather that they don’t feel personally invested or interested in what other people are talking about, so they are just waiting for their turn to speak again. Even if others are speaking to this person’s given topic, it’s not them speaking, so they don’t care and don’t want to wait for the other person to finish.

I’ve long assumed these are people who didn’t get enough attention as a child, or don’t get enough out of their current relationships, or frequently interact with someone who won’t let them finish sentences, or they’re somehow worried that there won’t be enough time for them, or they don’t feel respected in their work or something. Consciously or not, making yourself the victim demands special treatment, and people want to feel special.

Regardless of the reason why, this manifestation of issues from elsewhere lands on the next party talking with you, and that is disrespecting the person you’re currently dealing with over issues with someone completely different. If you don’t feel respected, give others a chance to recognize that by bringing it up, otherwise you haven’t given them a chance to respect you. If you do all that, and still aren’t respected, and decide to leave the situation, leave that baggage right where it is, don’t bring it with you to the next party. If you’ve actually been disrespected, deal with it, but stop trying to head off imaginary slights at the pass. You’re standing alone on the top of a mountain and the wagon train approaching is just tired pilgrims, they’re no army – and you aren’t either.

If someone respected you enough to engage you at all, they’ve done their part and it is not up to them to coax, cajole, wheedle or massage your participation from you. We are not your parents or partners or whatever sweet mentor you had in the past,  nor are we the gatekeepers to a magical land of emotional security. Include yourself in a respectful way and you’ll feel respected by others. Wait your turn and it will come back around to you in due time.

Remind Me

Technically I don’t need anyone around. But it sure is nice to have friends. When I offer or invite I’m looking to bond, and hope to see the sentiment returned. If the invitation has been made, it’s up to us to decide how important it is in our life. I’m not the least concerned about where I lie on your priority list (as long as I’ve made it on there, we’ll call ourselves friends).

When I reach out I’m hoping you’ll join me on a leg of my journey. I know it’s mine to make, and you can’t make it for me. And you’ve got your own journey, I certainly know that too. It’s why I don’t mind when yours takes you on a jaunt headed away from me. I know it’s just for now, and that you’ll change direction in life more than not.

Of course we’re all busy. It’s the adult version of “the dog ate my homework”… and that’s ok, no really – I mean that. We can’t all go everywhere being all people to all things, and whoever expects that is the fool. We must each know our limits, and take care of ourselves as we can. Throughout our lives we see time roll by, catch some and miss other opportunities.

“Remind me” is your way of putting this on the back burner, to simmer the night away. Reduced to its purest elements, the soup gets spicier as it slowly condenses.

Dream upstream

It turns out to be harder than it may seem just to stick to who you are and what you dream.

I was ridiculously lucky to be born and raised in a time and place that encouraged me to be who I am, who I actually am, not some sham just for the sake of appearances.

Even with all that encouragement it was easy to hear only discouragement, especially in relation to others.

But it took me so long to discover that I had been selling myself short for nothing.

It takes real courage to look at a neat package, and strip away all the trappings to get to the heart of the matter, and still harder to question or change it.

We’d rather absorb or deflect or protect than engage in a way that takes risks for what it’s worth.

And it is immensely tiring and strenuous at best, giving up is so much easier than putting up with the rest.

I had thought that there might be some glorious transition screen, a nice montage scene or at least there would be a sign to be seen.

It’s really just us holding us here, no one better between us and failure or success, two things that live in the space between reality and the eye of the beholder, somehow immune to either or both, they occupy in the mind that path between constraint and possibility.

Stop swimming in a sea of regret, self doubt and self pity. Stop waiting for encouragement or fighting discouragement and stand strong in your own convictions. Continue to grow and learn as you go, but don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s ok to be here.

When you’ve swum around the ocean enough, it’s time to head up the river. Instead of going with the flow, some of us know, you gotta swim upstream to get home.

 

My cat is sick

I like to think of stepping out of our own experience as the hallmark of advanced emotional development. It’s the height of achievement for many as it is not inherently a part of all humans – it’s a learned and honed skill that takes practice. It’s one of the most difficult things a person can do. It’s the basis for compassion; honoring the struggles others have as we have is to step out of our own experience and to step into theirs.

I can’t give him due credit because this is from a stranger on the bus, but he had a great way to address this concept in real time: he was frustrated, and my friend sort of wouldn’t stop asking him about it – I’m not sure why, she didn’t know him before he graced the bus with his presence that day. At first he said he wasn’t feeling well, but then he said “my cat is sick”. So my friend pursued the cat line of questioning, at which point he admitted, no neither he nor his cat was actually sick.

However, he had had an experience with someone that was upsetting, and rather than sulk in his experience of frustration, he used a technique. He told himself (and relayed the same to us) “maybe their cat is sick”. He told us that he knows what that feels like, and that it can make someone grumpy, so he extended his experience to another, and gave them the benefit of compassion in a moment when he was feeling hurt. For a young man under 30 that seemed in good health and doing alright for himself, I was a little surprised. It takes work to focus on someone else’s experience, and give it consideration.

Invaluable knowledge and experience comes from practicing the art of stepping out of our own experience. It helps us gain perspective about our selves and our experience (not to make it all about us again). It also helps us put the behavior of those around us in perspective and can help us relate with them which is critical to forming complex, healthy relationships, not to mention supporting self esteem. We need to recognize that others have a rich and varied experience just like we do, and seeing that is to everyone’s benefit.

Stepping out of our own experience generally results in stepping into the experience of another, but it can also lead us to gain external perspective on the human experience as a whole. Sometimes we need to see that frameworks and expectations are only there to guide our thought processes and feelings – these are tools people use to be able to formulate quicker and more useful responses. Those guidelines do not actually define or constrain the human experience, they only help us navigate rough waters on the high seas of life.

Stepping so far from my experience, and by extension my identity, has helped me chip away at a monstrously inflated ego that may have been childishly appropriate, but needed to fade away in adulthood. I am proud and honored to feel like I could even come close to appreciating the struggles of another. I’m thrilled to have proven to myself that I’m not always right, not by a long shot. I am excited to see where the world will take me since I’ve been able to let it have its own space and time, not crowded by my experience dominating the scene.

Although I suppose some could manage to step out of their own experience without being humbled, I hope that more people can use this or any other method to learn lessons of life. Hopefully others can realize that existence is vast, and the more we step outside of what we’ve built in our minds and hearts, the more we can learn about what’s really out there, and what’s really inside us, and everything in between.

 

Existence is Futile – A little tribute to David Dondero

Our journeys rarely take us where we planned to go in the beginning. Divergent possibilities open opportunities to change direction at the drop of a hat. Motivation strikes us in its own time and space and we can choose to entertain or ignore it. Inspiration has no rules, it woos us despite our moods and best efforts. We walk this earth looking for answers when we don’t have a question, and we give each other what we never had, in hopes they never want for it like we have.

The more we follow the thread of humanity winding through the fabric of the universe, the more we see the tension and unending spiral nature that gives fibers the strength to become the thread we need to weave ourselves together. Handmade or by machine, single threads hang on each other in utter dependence, coalescing into an entirely new concept that bears weight or accommodates it depending on the nature of the relationship of strands intertwined with themselves and each other. We need others as they need us, and we are wrapped around them as we hold our own throughout and between them.

When we fray at the edges we just show off our experience and the strength that allows breakdown without disintegration. Our lint balls, bare threads, loose ends and missing buttons celebrate our lives well loved. We cannot predict or manipulate despite the best laid plans we have made, and in our haste to move right along, it all unfolds behind us. Looking back is just our way of falling in love with our past selves, and sending our hearts comfort in the wake of entropy.

We all just want to really be alive, as if there was ever any way to do otherwise.

 

I’m just a coward, plain and simple… or, Sherman Alexie: I hear you, but it’s complicated too

I’m such a coward. Such a big coward. I talk big, and no one would ever think I was cowardly, because I spin such a yarn to the contrary. But all my bravado and big out loudness is talk, and it’s safe when I don’t have to do anything about it.

I always wanted to be a writer. I have always wanted it but I was so scared to jump into a sea of people like me, all trying to be heard over the crash of the waves. But the waves break boats on the shore and I don’t want to be a boat or a wave either.

I don’t want to be turned away, dismissed or dismantled. I don’t want to answer for generations of people that were so much greater than my tiny self. I don’t even have my own answers, so I really don’t know how to answer anyone else about much of anything.

I know I could do so much more with myself but I don’t want to be hurt by this big bad world and I’m just so very tired right now. I don’t want to put my family through uncertainty and doubt to live out my fantasies that may never bear fruit because maybe I’m not that good of a gardener, after all, most of my ancestors were hunter-gatherers.

I’m inspired all the time and dream of a moment when I can rise and shine with my muses and glow like they do inside and out.

But they tell stories of going without, and struggle and strife and I’m tired of all that in my life. And I know my lot hasn’t been that bad, but the truth is there’s just so much more to it than that. How do I demand to get attention and appreciation when in my family that’s practically a sin?

I wish I had the real courage to move beyond loud words and into brave action. I want to be that guy that says “to hell with it all, I’m going to do this shit right now!” and not just when it’s time to get on the bus or ride the elevator upstairs.

How do I make my dreams happen while I juggle the struggle of everyday life?

I just want to curl up and read books and sip coffee and appreciate everything this world has to offer. Making my own way is just so much harder.

 

After letting this sit overnight I’ve got an addition… I’m on my way. Some days I get really self conscious or scared or skeptical. But I am on the path, and I get ever closer, and that’s all I can ask of myself for now.