proselytize and convert

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I checked my mailbox the other day to find a handwritten letter from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was fairly lengthy and accompanied by some of their propaganda. Honestly, I live in a remote place and feel quite violated by this kind of intrusion. Sure, maybe they didn’t come to my door, but given my choice to live so far off the beaten path… WTF are you people even doing out here?

Even if I took actions to ward them off – a Star of David on my mailbox, a mezuzah on my door frame… these are either things they don’t understand or an invitation to more aggressively attempt to convert and “save” me – but these symbols, in addition to my rural retreat, scream out LEAVE ME ALONE. What is it about these cult “religions” that makes them refuse to accept that no one wants their brainwash-induced bullshit?

I shouldn’t let this make me as angry and offended as it does. But if you have to go door to door and badger people into listening to or buying whatever snake oil nonsense you’re selling, it can’t be all that compelling in the first place.

 

please don’t

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There are things you cannot change until you accept them. I have always hated the moments when people are deluded about themselves and their time. Protesting, “But it will be calmer soon…” or planning for some illusory moment down the line when they’ve organized themselves better, when this or that thing is finally resolved, yes…. then there will be time. Then they will embrace the life they really want for themselves. But that time never comes. Because this chaos you wade through now is your life… and without accepting it as the norm, you can’t find a sustainable way to step outside and change that norm.

I am not immune to this behavior – it just depends on the cast of characters. With most people I bend over backwards to put them first, dropping everything to be there for them. We’re told, after all, that what matters in the end –  and should matter all through the journey – is people, right? The people we care about. So if they are most important, I am going to treat them that way. But that only considers that these are the people who are important to me… there are still people who demand attention or time, but if I don’t perceive them as important, I am just as guilty as everyone else of putting them off with the endless protests of, “It’s so busy right now but it will calm down when…”. And it’s never going to calm down – first because I keep taking on more and more stuff that I want to do but also because, whether I like that person or not, they aren’t atop my list of beloved-important-people.

On the other side of this equation, people who are most important to me may not feel that I am important to them. Sometimes I feel this, even if it’s not true. Mostly because if you’re not a squeaky wheel, showing that you need attention or time, you’re probably not going to get it.

face and voice

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She attended a few dinners, a few parties, a few dinner parties. She was social and sparkling, even if she wore ugly shoes. She ran into old acquaintances, made a few new ones, smiled, laughed and talked, and more importantly, listened. What, after all, do most people do than love to be listened to? She smiled and nodded reassuringly, understanding deeply, and uncharacteristically, patted a few people’s shoulders, forearms or hands, even reached out to hug them casually before leaving and moving on to the next engagement. At the airport, she had casual conversations. She talked to a couple on the plane coming back. She made eye contact and smiled at strangers, if their eyes met.

For once she did not feel awkward. For once she did not feel mangled. She did not even feel pulled by her normal extremes.

All she could think, with this flood of faces and voices, is that she only wanted one face and voice. The one that had become most important by far. Others played their roles, but it was this pivotal and important face and voice that had paved the way for this equilibrium that let her move through the world without feeling awkward, mangled or extreme.

Dreamed death on the Jumbotron

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I try and try to make the shot, and even when the ball goes in, no points are scored. My goal was never to die on the Jumbotron – no one would ever think to plan for that. But now I have done that too – died for the whole arena to see.

Look at the bright side,” my evil inner voice said. “Now that you are dead, all the children you lost can follow you in your misery. You have your ‘family’ – the one you wanted, just not where or how you wanted it.”

Photo by pepe nero on Unsplash

Locker room

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If someone had come into the locker room all those times and seen the weird shit you do in there, you might be asked not to return to the gym. No, no, nothing like the old man using the blow dryers liberally on his penis. No, instead the things like you standing on a bench and holding your phone, on record, up to the speakers as Charles & Eddie’s one-hit “Would I Lie To You?” blasted. Or when you needed a photo of yourself and asked your friend to take pictures of you standing against a wall. Your friend couldn’t capture just what he wanted, so this photo session went on too long – what would your modeling session look like to a bystander? And on it goes.

The whole thing made me think about how you – or anyone – could be the story other people are making up or telling. We make up stories all the time about others we see during our people-watching, but our imaginary world could be created at the same time, unknowingly, by someone else. What stories are floating around about you or me?

Photo (c) 2008 Thomas Hawk used under Creative Commons license.

Alarm

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Sunday mornings lingering lazily in bed, I like to set the alarm and press the snooze button again and again. I never used to do this, but I found that the ten-minute intervals between its urgently trying to wake me were perfect for falling back asleep, dreaming something interesting and waking up again – and repeating. Dreams compete against the strangest of films and stories, and spending half a day immersing myself in a carousel of different dream-stories thus seems like a good use of time.

Alarm (1996)
Sarcasm and cynicism
sisters, hand in hand
stupidity by reprimand
we never got past the initial shock-
anatomy on the chopping block
Heartless and aimless, I have stranded you,
in the morning – alone
ended
relationship like an alarm clock
once urgency
then a resurgence of the tired old refrain
love like a snooze button
try to make this love last –
stretch to just ten more minutes
But every moment longer,
prolonging the inevitable,
lounging together in this cradling warmth,
is another moment closer to sleep.
In dreams, we slowly creep away from one another,
as we do in life.
Craving clinging and lingering in bed,
when all we have is love gone dead.

Photo (c) 2014 Jean L.

The 50-somethings

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When exactly is it that most men hit the point of peak entitlement, non-listening, world-class dullards and yet, despite being more closed off to the outside world and the most out of touch they have possibly ever been, feel perfectly comfortable being outlandishly demanding?

It’s a slow process, perhaps simmering within them for their entire lives.

A friend and I discussed her observation (and I agree) that many men we know (mostly men in their 50s) are mind-numbingly boring, selfish and self-involved conversationalists who are so lacking in self-awareness that they don’t realize they have monopolized the one-sided conversations they start with the most boring of rambling. My friend is a social woman and tries to engage everyone in conversation, which I admire but also cringe at, knowing she will end up in more than her share of these time-suck monologues. I have no small talk wizardry at my disposal so avoid this kind of stuff as much as I can. Most people are boring, in the end. I have often found myself in challenging and awkward social situations, where I overcome my aversion to idle chitchat – at considerable pains – and want to almost congratulate myself that I kickstarted a conversation, only to hate myself for bothering minutes later when someone starts talking ad nauseam about himself, his stodgy perspectives, insipid opinions and lifeless hobbies. Conversation thus becomes tedious, drudgery… and work. And the monotony is wearisome.

But these guys were certainly not born this way? Before they hit 50, and found themselves on the loose in the world as single men again for the first time in years, they did manage to get married and have families.

One friend told me recently about how hard marriage is. The man she fell in love with was gregarious, outgoing, curious, adventurous – always looking for new things to try. And these were the qualities that attracted her, the things they had in common. He was the life of the party and could win anyone over because he’s so talkative; in fact, he dominates every conversation with his stories and opinions. He had life experience and adventures to share, though, and stories with which to regale even the most reluctant listener. With each passing year (click the link for Gavin Ewart‘s “Short Time”, brilliant poem on self-deception) though, he has grown less adventurous, more closed-off and closed-minded. But he still turns on the charm in social situations and dominates the conversation. For how long, though, will it seem charming, as the ratio of adventures/new stories dwindles versus the urge to dominate, and eventually tyrannize, the conversation?

I started wondering if this is the trajectory of the 50-something man. Not every man has been quite as witty or engaging as this friend’s husband, but is there something to the idea that as these guys’ experiences, influence and curiosity diminish in breadth, reach and frequency, everything about them becomes more limited in scope? And for men who dominate conversations, they reach this period of just-beyond middle-age and do not realize they aren’t the life of the party. My theory here could be way off, but isn’t there a correlation here? These guys, if they ever had “it”, have lost it – and they and their wives are no longer in the same place… for the same old reasons. One changed, and the other didn’t.

What gets me, though, is that these 50-something men often get divorced but then don’t even question or evaluate how it all broke down. Could it have anything to do with the fact that every time they opened their mouths, they showered their wives with routine, interminable selfishness? And if that assertion is anything close to true, wouldn’t it make sense that they might recalibrate before striking up conversations with new people (whether colleagues or dates or potential partners)? I keep running into this exact scenario – sometimes being met with obliviousness (I could walk away and these men would continue to babble), sometimes being met with absolutely foul, sour and hideous behavior and insults (and here I mean real nastiness). Either way, this demographic – maladjusted pricks and dicks (of any age) – isn’t one I am keen to be around.

Random thoughts: Wunderkind underdog & throwing away talent

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You can start off well, with something like Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan (“The False Husband”). Set the scene, tone, soundtrack.

I made a deal with myself that I need to be in the habit of writing, so I write in this blog come hell or high water, as the saying goes. I force myself to write every day – usually I have something to say, even if it is largely useless, and can cobble together something that stays thematically cohesive (for example, it might not be important to tell the world, i.e. whatever unlucky soul stumbles into this blog, that I changed my mind about Julie Delpy or that I desperately want to make chicken pho, but these posts at least have a theme and a target – a point.

Today, though, my head is a jumble of random thoughts that I want to spew out in a most random fashion, if for no other reason than to follow through on writing at least one post per day. Rest assured, all the deal-making with myself will hopefully not be for naught. I have specific writing projects I want to tackle at some point but have fallen so far out of the habit of regular, disciplined writing that I am at least trying to create a pattern or a rhythm to start with. The organization comes later. It’s kind of funny because you’d think that writing about things you really want to write about – whatever it is – would come easily. For me, as soon as I sit down, determined to write something with a purpose (other than something academic or a blog post, anyway, which is informal in any case), everything goes out the window. That is, every day in my job and in my freelance work, I research, organize and write all kinds of outlandish things that I never imagined knowing the first thing about. But it’s something that can be ordered – someone says, “I need a white paper about connected TV” or “We need a clinical summary of this paper on manual dexterity when employing double-gloving practice” – I am perfectly able to wrangle all the disparate details, read the studies, gather intel and info and get to work and produce perfectly workable results. Someone else has requested these things, so it’s work.

But when it’s me and my stuff – with a fairly solid outline and a crop of good ideas – I can find every reason to put it off. I don’t know when this happened. As a kid and teenager, I suppose I was less concerned with what other people thought about the outcome and wrote stories every single day. All I did was write and, like a maniac, get months ahead on school homework so I would have more free time to write. I earned this reputation among teachers and adults around me as “a writer” to the point that the reputation preceded me and stifled me and caused me to start feeling insecure and trapped. I stopped writing and buried myself in foreign language textbooks. I distinctly remember making a couple of choices at the pivotal age of 13 or 14. Take creative writing as my English course or enroll in regular English (where my friends were). I opted for the latter. The following year, our courseload was reduced from seven classes per day to six (so we could have even longer classes – ugh!), meaning we had fewer choices/options. I was faced with the choice between taking journalism or French. The journalism teacher (who had taught creative writing the previous year and was disappointed that I did not join) practically begged me to join – I took French. The journalism teacher still let me write articles for the school paper. I did it, but my heart wasn’t in it. By then, I was completely in love with all my irregular verbs and the passé composé.  I spent the rest of my school years studying all the languages the school had to offer – except German, which seems to have hurt the German teacher’s feelings. Writing for pleasure – complete fiction and imagination – stopped.

I still wrote a lot, of course, because I was a very engaged student. I wrote papers and never, ever managed to stick with word limits. I still struggle with this but am getting a little bit better. I became skilled at research and writing what was asked of me – and this continues today in my career and my lifelong engagement as a student (always enrolling in study programs just for the sake of learning).

I am, however, further away from personal writing, really good writing and being able to self-edit my own personal writing. I let all the creative energy slip away. Perhaps it is still there somewhere, but I have no one but myself to blame. As I wrote, all the adults in my life encouraged me to write to an almost daunting degree, but that was also the problem. It was daunting, and I did not think I could live up to their expectations or hopes. I was not sure I wanted to. Deciding to pursue something in life like writing or the arts or photography is undoubtedly a hard road – completely subjective, all about timing, a person needs to develop thick skin and embody perseverance. I was never sure I could endure the subjectivity and fickle nature of perceiving “talent”.

My feelings about it are still mixed. Creativity and imagination when we’re young are vibrant and unbridled forces – unfettered by the real life we later experience, which dampens the spark we may have to explore ideas that are fictional and illogical. Yet writing, fictional or otherwise, informed by life experience can have so much depth and meaning, touched as it is by reality, which requires time, insight and experience. My feelings on the subject are similar to how I feel about therapists. In addition to wanting to write, I always thought – and still think – I would like to be a therapist. I love listening to other people’s problems and thoughts more than almost anything, but it occurred to me early on that it seems, no matter how mature and insightful you are when you’re young, that you don’t really have enough insight, gravitas or authority to be a good therapist until you’re about 40. Rough rule of thumb, really. I am sure there are gifted therapists of all ages, but for me, and in my view, I never seriously considered going back to school to become a therapist until the last few years. I only feel fully prepared to do that right now.

Then again, if I am being honest (and random), there are a lot of things that I only feel prepared to do (or think about doing) right now. I only think of things like having serious relationships or rearing children now. It seemed totally improbable and unappealing in my 20s. More power to the people who did pursue those things when they were young and potentially had more – or at least less complicated – choices. I still think there are plenty of choices but I tend to think fairly broadly. The whole world is my workshop (my personal motto and seemingly also the motto of American foreign and military policy! Reminds me, totally off topic, that my brother described the end of the last US government shutdown thusly: “the dick show is over”). I don’t feel limited by location, language or any other constraints.

Things can expand into all kinds of crazy territory if you let them. For example, you can start out with a marketing idea of just giving your customers some cake and somehow end up with seven local, interactive microsites to capitalize on their brand loyalty. You can start off buying green beans from Kenya and end up with a wife from there! Sounds like a good case study, doesn’t it? “Kenya: From green beans to a new wife” – it certainly piques some curiosity and raised eyebrows. “What could this possibly be about?”

But then you can end badly. Toto will do it for you with “Africa”. Don’t get me started on the whole “generalizing Africa” topic.