If You Think You Can Or You Think You Can’t, You’re Always Right

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Lately, I pretty much always think I can’t.

As someone who was raised on the belief that if you work hard enough, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to, my adult life has been filled with sobering lessons to the contrary. As much as I would like to believe I can fight my way through any obstacles that are put in my path, I see that this is colossally not true. At a certain point, I think it is worthwhile to stop raging against the windmills and just stop.

So I have stopped.

And I have become surprisingly good at inertia.

After years of being the most organized, the most goal-oriented, the most type-A girl around, I am now the least of everything. And I don’t really have the mental energy to even care.

Some people look at me now and say I am taking a break. I look at me now and say I am broken.

In truth, though, it’s a matter of semantics.

A few weeks ago I went outside to pull weeds from my empty garden beds. There wasn’t any real purpose to the activity, except that I was craving more emptiness and the weeds were interfering with my blank canvas. So for several hours I sat in the dirt and just destroyed one plant after another. I thought back to the garden in Michigan, and what a contrast it was to pull weeds to allow food to grow, versus ripping out stuff just for the sake of killing things. If I could’ve napalmed everything here, I might have done that too, but getting down to the dirt was pretty darn satisfying.

Last week, I went for a pedicure. I’ve never done that before, and I thought maybe if I did something that was about as unlike me as I could get, perhaps it would rattle my brains so much it would knock me into reset. I had a lovely chat with the lady there (who was touching my feet, which incidentally is icky to begin with…), but other than that, I left with the same me I went in with. I guess it will take more than $20 to snap me out of this mindset…

I took myself shopping, vowing to buy whatever caught my fancy, thinking maybe I just needed to treat myself to something or other. Like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, but I was thinking maybe I would know it when I saw it. I ended up buying some much-needed clothing for several of my kids, but didn’t really find anything for myself. And after a few hours of trying to channel my inner pampered lady (which apparently doesn’t exist), I went home exhausted and with a blaring migraine.

I’m still casting around trying to figure out what might light my fire again, but so far I haven’t been able to nail it down. I guess the good news is that I haven’t totally given up on the idea that the solution is out there somewhere. I’m wondering if maybe it’s simply a function of getting older that one just becomes more blah about things, but it seems like there are plenty of people out there who are much older than I am who still have plenty of passion in their lives.

There is a Shel Silverstein poem I remember (I think called Lazy Jane) about a girl who is so lazy that when she wants a drink of water she just lays there with her mouth open and waits for it to rain. That’s kind of how I feel lately. Like I’m just in a holding pattern in my own life, waiting for something to shift, but with no clear idea of how to bring that about. Meanwhile, even though I live in Seattle, there is no rain in the forecast any time in the forseeable future.

Not sure what to do about that…

Betrayal

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Betrayal never feels good. It doesn’t matter where it comes from or who does it, the results are pretty much always the same: a sense of devastation that can profoundly shatter the sense of self so deeply that the results can last a lifetime. There is nobody who hasn’t been betrayed on some level at some point in their lives, but some people seem to bounce back whereas others just crumble and shatter. Repeated betrayals are obviously harder to tolerate than a one-time deal, and people who start out strong and intact are in a better position to weather this storm than those who start out with a more emotionally precarious foundation.

So why do some people betray and others seem destined to be taken advantage of? A few years ago, I read the ultra-famous book by Byron Katie. What I remember of her premise (other than that I DETESTED her book) is that everything that happens to you is really your fault and to your benefit. Really she is not that cold about it, and she tries to be very loving about everything she says, but- and again I am saying what I remember through the filter of me really not liking her book, so I may be somewhat off here- is that whenever you are having a thought that, “So-and-so did X”, you should turn that around and say instead, “I did X”. So, for example, instead of holding the idea that, “John hurt my feelings.” You should try out, “I hurt my feelings,” and see where that takes you. Perhaps you did things that contributed to your own hurt. Perhaps you drew a toxic person into your life or stayed in a bad relationship or didn’t speak up for yourself when you should have. What I can get on board with is the idea that in some cases you have some responsibility for parts of your own situation. What I couldn’t get to, though, was her insistence that you are always completely responsible for what happens to you and it seemed to me that it let everyone else off the hook for their bad behavior. Truthfully sometimes people mess you over. And it is bad. It is really bad.

Betrayal seems to me unique in the world of travesties in the way it strips its victims of their dignity. It is the one component of any crime that grinds its victims into the dust and doesn’t let them stand back up. People can be hit or stolen from or cursed into oblivion, but once betrayal enters the picture everything changes. Once a person feels they have been betrayed they become attached to such a sense of shame; they become their victimhood in a searing flash of pain. The filth of betrayal is the stain that is the most difficult to soak off. It is the stink that stings your eyes and taints every other thing you try to smell, no matter how pleasant it should be. It ruins perfectly good interactions and steals happiness from endless futures. Betrayal burns like no other acid.

So what is the antidote to betrayal? There isn’t one.

Isn’t that cheery? Time blunts the sharpness of betrayal, and distance helps. As with most things, truth is a great healer, and the more truth heaped on the head of a betrayal, the better and easier it will be to keep it buried. Perspective is always good, and anything you can learn from the experience will be of benefit to you, however hard won the knowledge. I think the best thing to do will be to leave you with a song. It’s an oldie but a goodie. Enjoy:

Score One For Homeschoolers

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One of my daughters has just completed a year abroad program post high school. When she first applied to this school, they had never had a homeschooled student apply before, and they were quite hesitant to accept her. They were somewhat cagey with us at first about what their objections might be to accepting her into the program, but after much persistence on our part, we finally got them to be open with us about their concerns. Not surprisingly, they had many of the same stereotypes as other people do regarding homeschooled kids, ranging from poor socialization to inability to integrate into a traditional academic setting, to not knowing how to “fit in” with more mainstream kids. We were able to get lots of personal references who spoke very highly of our daughter, and who assured them that in each of the areas of concern that our daughter was certainly able to function well, and that they would be making a big mistake not to accept her. In the end, they agreed to accept her conditionally, and off she went.

A few days ago was the end-of-the-year banquet at the school, and each of the administrators spoke about one of the students. The head of the school chose to speak about our daughter, and he started out by saying, “If I could be sure that every homeschooled student would turn out like _____________ Bass, then I would pull all of my kids out of school tomorrow!” Then he went on to enumerate her many great qualities and her long list of accomplishments over this past year. Obviously we are thrilled that she has done so well (truthfully, we knew she would!), and we have a tremendous amount of pride as parents that the people in charge of this program were able to see her for the fine person she is, rather than the image of who they assumed she might be.

What I am also very pleased about, though, is that I feel like our daughter has done a tremendous service for all homeschoolers. As the number of homeschoolers grows in our community, more and more of them will be entering similar programs, and then going on to apply to college (This is something she did also, and she faced similar challenges. Luckily, she has been admitted to her first choice, and I’m sure she will be similarly successful there. But it’s always like reinventing the wheel when you need to get a homeschooled child into a mainstream program…We are now facing the same issue with my next son…). One might think that by now homeschooling would be a common enough practice that most institutions would have some protocols in place for dealing with integrating them, but the stereotypes persist, and it is simply not the case that their paths are smooth. So any time a homeschooler can go somewhere and make a positive impact and be successful, that will leave an impression behind and make it that much easier for the next homeschooled kid who comes along.

So, I am super proud of my daughter for what she has accomplished for herself, and I am super proud of her for the trail she has blazed for others who will come after her. She will be home soon, and all of us can’t wait to have her back again- it can’t come soon enough!

Where Am I?

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This is a question that has been plaguing me for the last few months (if I am honest and reflective, it has been longer), but even more acutely for the last few weeks. At a friend’s house a few days ago a woman was talking about her farm, where she has sheep that she uses for educational programs, as well as other animals. As she spoke, I sat quietly, and the hosts remarked that it was very unlike me not to have any comments. Indeed it was.

My feeling in that moment was that I was so far away from myself (if I was still in high school, or perhaps feeling more literal, I would have written that as “my Self”) that I just felt distant and kind of dead inside.

A friend recently wrote a blog post about the joy of being known for who you truly are, and I didn’t even open it to read it for weeks after she posted it. The pain I am experiencing right now from living a life that is so not reflective of who I am- in so many ways and on so many levels- is so acute that I couldn’t even bear to read her words.

But my problem goes deeper that my estrangement from myself. The chasm between me and Me has grown so profound that I don’t even know how to reconnect with who I am meant to be any more. I don’t know where to look to find myself, or how to light a spark that will take hold of me and shake off the cobwebs. I am not sure how to reverse the spell that has come over me, so I sit in this torpor and just kind of pass the time like a condemned man waiting to expire.

I have been unable to write, unable to blog, and over the course of the last few days, I haven’t even been able to figure out how to continue this post, or how to pull it together enough to finish it. So I’m just gonna post it as it is and see what you guys have to say about it. Maybe you will be able to offer me a road map out of this place…

My Hero, Pranav Kodali

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Please watch. You’ll be a better person for it.

Just Because Race Is Involved Doesn’t Mean Racism Is Involved

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A poignant experiment was done with turkeys. Researchers observed a curious phenomenon, whereby turkey babies would follow their mothers, even into dangerous situations, and even to their deaths. They wondered what made this bond so strong, that while other animals in similar circumstances showed a self-preservation instinct, turkeys would march happily to their own demise as long as their mothers led the way.

As good researchers do, they played around with different variables, trying to figure out which one was responsible for such strong turkey loyalty. What they found out was that turkey moms emit a specific noise, and that was the key. Anything the researchers would hook up with that noise- even inanimate objects- would suddenly find itself the focus of a turkey baby parade. Researchers could put an obvious predator in clear view, and a turkey-mother-noise-emitter in a tin can and drag it past the predator, and sure enough, those little turkeys would just march to their deaths. Publishers of the study referred to this as a “click-whir” response. The brain is programmed to respond to a certain stimulus in a certain way, and gosh darn if it won’t respond that way come high water or predators or zombie apocalypse.

I feel like we have “evolved” as a society to where racial sensitivity has now resulted in us seeing racism everywhere. We clearly have some racial baggage that needed cleaning up. To do that, we needed to be aware of issues of past racism, and how to address them and redress them- but that history has cost us dearly in that now we cannot see race without seeing racism. If police have to give the following description of a suspect, “A 6 foot, 4 inch man, driving a white Honda Accord and wearing a brown jacket…” because to say that he was a certain race- the most obvious descriptor of a person you are looking at!- may be viewed as racist, then we have gone backward instead of forward. If in 2015 we are so eager to show how not racist we are that we are penalizing white people in order to promote less qualified minorities, then we are spitting on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream that people would be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

And when there is an incident between law enforcement and citizens and before the facts are even clear people are shouting, “Black lives matter!” my response is, “Yes, and…?” Of course black lives matter- as do the lives of every person. But yelling this as if this is somehow insightful information is like me yelling, “I think Mexican people are kind of neat!” Perhaps interesting, but it doesn’t really add anything relevant to the discourse.

It reminds me of the time I was leaving a local cafe and someone asked me to sign a petition against LGBT murder. So I asked, “Um, who is in favor of LGBT murder?” The woman went off on a whole shpiel about how “those on the right” (ha!) support policies that cause the murder of LGBT-Q people, etc etc etc… and then after about ten pages of anti-right-wing stuff was the actual petition which was in fact a pro-gay-marriage petition.

Whether the recent incident in Baltimore will turn out to be police abuse or something completely not that remains to be seen. Clearly there are many on the streets and in the media who would like to frame this conversation for us. The last time folks wanted to helpfully sloganize (Remember “Hands up, don’t shoot”?), before the facts were in, the voice of the street was shown to be a conspiracy of shameful lies.

The internet has done so many great things as far as bringing information to people. But when people irresponsibly use social media to spread an agenda before the facts are in, the immediacy of the information age can work against us. For some reason folks almost always see the wrong information, yet almost never see the corrected information later on.

Let’s just hope we can be smarter than a bunch of turkeys.

How Much Do I Hate Forms? Let Me Count The Ways…

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I am applying for one of my children to get into a certain program. It is free as part of the public school system, so applying is really more a matter of getting him on the radar (somewhat of a moral conflict for me to begin with) and giving them enough info to verify that we are actually entitled to receive the services we are requesting. So far that is reasonable. But after the initial application, there were another 27 or so forms (there were not actually 27; I am exaggerating for dramatic purposes…)to fill out, and I had questions as to the reasons for some of them, so I called the organization. I was connected to a very helpful man (yes, a human!) who patiently answered all of my questions, but sadly, some of the answers went like this (and here I am not really exaggerating…):

Him: So then the next form asks about the racial and ethnic make-up of your family and your child.
Me: Um, I think that is illegal.
Him: Oh. Uh. Well, It’s probably for statistical purposes (By the way, why do people always try to tell you that information they are not entitled to have is for “statistical purposes”? What statistics are they compiling? And who are they, the US Census? [Who, for the record, I think also grossly oversteps…]). But you can probably skip that form if you want.
Me: Yeah. I’m going to skip that one.

Please note that there was already a section on the original application that asked for this information, and was marked as optional.

Him: Then we have the income form. This is pretty straightforward. You just fill out your family’s gross income, monthly and yearly, and of you get food stamps or Medicaid and if you have any other sources of income that are not from work.
Me: And why would you be entitled to this information? I mean since this program is paid for by tax dollars, and it isn’t income-based?
Him: Oh, that’s a good question. No-one has ever asked me that before. Huh. Well, I guess they just want to know who is in the program.
Me: Well that’s easy. The person in the program is my son. He’s a kid, so his income is zero. Can I just write that?
Him: Oh. I guess so…

Him: (Poor guy. I know he is wishing he had gotten a different person on the phone. Like maybe someone who just wanted to know how to spell something. I felt bad for him, but seriously, these forms were crazy. And it was about to get waaaaaaaaaaay crazier…)Then the last form is the immunization form. So just upload a copy of your son’s immunizations and you’ll be all set. (So first off, I don’t know how to upload. Honestly I’m not even totally clear on what that means. I believe it’s sort of like faxing, but when I say that people laugh at me. But I’m not sure why…)
Me: Ah. Well we don’t immunize. So how would you like us to handle that? (It’s important to note here that most organizations just have a standard form that they ask you to sign saying that you don’t immunize. Not this place.)
Him: Oh I can email you a form to take to your child’s doctor to have him fill out that says your child isn’t immunized and after he signs it you can send it in to us.
Me: Ok so I will just tell you right now that I am going to sign it and send it in.
Him: No, we need a doctor’s signature.
Me: (Incredulous) You need a doctor to sign that he DIDN’T do something?
Him: Yes. It has to be a doctor.
Me: So you want me to make an appointment with a doctor who didn’t know my son when he was a baby and a toddler (the person on the phone knows we moved here a few years ago, so the doctors we have in Seattle would not have been the ones to give our kids shots as babies anyway…)and take my son there so I can tell the doctor that my son is not immunized, and then he can take my word for it and then he can sign a form based on what I have told him and then this is the form that you will accept as the truth?
Him: Yes, exactly.
Me: Okay, I’m telling you right now that I will be the one signing this form.
Him: Silence.
Me: Just because I don’t want to be shady. I want to be very honest about what I’m doing. But it seems kind of stupid that if I tell a doctor something you will believe it, but if I tell it to you then you don’t believe it.
Him: Silence.
Me: Okay, so I’m going to sign it.
Him. Okay.

We had a similar issue when one of my daughters was entering a certain program, needed a “medical” form filled out, but the information was literally height, weight, eye color, any medical concerns that would prevent her from participating in the program- and immunization history. So I said I was just going to fill it out and sign it. It’s not that we don’t have medical insurance- thank goodness we do. But the idea of going to a doctor so they can certify things I can see with my own eyes or things I actually have more knowledge of than they do is patently absurd. The problem was that it clearly said “physician’s signature”. Yes I have principles, but no I’m not about to commit fraud. Much to my daughter’s’ chagrin, I just crossed out “physician” and signed it myself. They never noticed, don’t really care, and just need paper to put it a file.

I hate to embarrass my kids, so I am really trying to pick my battles now that they are older and are more involved and could become embroiled in these situations. On the other hand, I hate being a complacent robot, and hope I am raising kids who will be able to stand proud and not be afraid to question perceived authority.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned is this: anything that is on a form was put there by a human being and can be negotiated off by a human being. Just because it’s in black-and white doesn’t make it Holy Writ, and just because someone can point to “policy” doesn’t mean you have to roll over. It’s hard to question everything, but in the long run, it’s harder not to.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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