Monday, December 15, 2014

Cat and Dogma

A while back I wrote about my musical version of Carl Rogers.  I have a visual CR procession too, and I've had need of it lately.  It usually starts with modern sci-fi mixed with classic films like Singin in the Rain (total fave), then it moves onto classic camp like Bewitched or The Brady Bunch; it ends with sci-fi like Star Trek (TOS or TNG) and the Original Trilogy (yes, that original trilogy, there is only one) because few things cheer me up like Star Wars and Star Trek.  Seriously, they make my world right...nerd, I know.

Life has been put into considerable perspective the past few weeks.  I have met some amazing people through my program, and I value the knowledge I have received. However, with the possibility of a potentially truncated life expectancy, the absurdity of the past 4 years is nearly intolerable.  In general, it is a very bad idea to tell me I cannot do something, unless one is hoping I will succeed, because I take it as a challenge and an attempt to control me.  I will not allow others to control me or predict my failure in most situations. Unfortunately, the current situation is something I have minimal say in.  At this point, if things don't turn out well, they might be doing me a favor.  Nonetheless, I think the most annoying and frustrating part of this process is realizing I may have wasted valuable time (life!) striving to do something I excel at (by all reasonable measure) and love beyond measure simply to be denied based on outdated, asinine academic dogma.  It isn't exactly hope inspiring.    

So, here I am, written exams.  The photo below is what it looks like, in part, this time.  All the requisite items are present: coffee, computer, journal articles, cat, flashcards, study schedule...

I've got various bits of information on various bits of professional issues in counseling psychology in my head. While I could have held a discussion regarding training, evidence based practice in psychology, practice in small communities, prescriptive authority, multicultural proficiency, counseling competencies, social justice, psychologist involvement in military interrogations, and prevention psychology months ago, I can certainly do so with facility now.  I guess we'll find out if I'm facile enough for academic dogma on Thursday...

Friday, September 26, 2014

About that last round...

I've had two fairly surreal discussions this past week.  One was infinitely more amusing than the other, although as a result I can say I'm put off cowboy boots and g/g sex for a while *revulsion shudder*.  Sharkfoxes should never be placed in the context of sex toy use, ever, but especially if it involves another woman and a doubleheader.  That's a mental imagine I need to replace...stat!

As ridiculous and entertaining as that conversation was, it is less worthy of a last round then the second conversation for sure.  After that, I needed at least two more, maybe three.

The Second Conversation: The Story

As for discussion two, my life is a soap opera, or at least a dated trashy young adult drama *cue 90210 theme*.

Do you remember the story arc in 90210 where Vanessa Marcil's character turned out to be Tori Spelling's character's half-sister but they were all awkward and hurt and then the dad died and Vanessa Marcil (because she killed him with cardio exercises!) wasn't allowed to sit with the immediate family, and Brian Austin Green was all tall and B.A.G looking with the earring and the hair as he was a total dick to VM by telling her she had to sit in back because the bitchy mom didn't like her?  Yeah.

"Where is my phone?!  I should have stuck with a smaller purse.  I knew a bigger one would just swallow everything!"  I dig around until my hand comes back up with my little black phone no one would look twice at.  "Hmm, a little sister text.  Wonder what's up." "Busy tonight? - 'Lisha"  My students start filing back in from break, I glance quickly at the clock: 7:45pm.  "I teach until 8:30pm my time.  What's up?"  Click send.  Almost instantly, "I hve a story for u"  I think, "Interesting choice of words; I bet this will be good."  I let her know I'll call when I get done teaching.

Flash forward about an hour.  94 is surprisingly busy for a Tuesday at 9pm.  Call rings through, and through, and through.  No answer.  Typical "Lisha, ready when it suits her.  Steering wheel drumming.  Lights passing.  Phone beeps.  "Call you in 5"   Home.

Five minutes, 10 minutes.  Quick email check.  "Hello there ladies and gentleman, hello there ladies and gentleman"  my phone is ringing.  Cheap Trick brings a smile to my face and ears.  I answer, "Hey, what's the story?" still looking through email.  'Lisha says, "Do you remember our friend from church camp, Carrie?  Val and I were friends with her the entire time we went, and we all instantly got along."  Reading an email about a paper..., "Oh, ah, no.  Sorry.  That was, like, 15 years ago.  I barely remember driving home tonight."  "Well, we met her back then and we found out that her mom knew Mom and Dad; they were friends too.  Anyway, she added Val and me on facebook a few weeks ago out of the blue.  Val and I were super excited.  Neither of us had heard from her in years, but we still thought about her."  I'm tired, tracking the conversation takes a minute.  Still not sure what the story is. "Ok, that's nice.  So you all are talking again?"  'Lisha inhales audibly, "Yeah, and texting."  "Cool.  It's neat when past friends show up."  Scroll, scroll, scroll.  Nothing else worth reading right now.  "So is that everything?"  Maybe I'm a bit less gracious than I usually am, but it's past my bed time.

"No.  Dad kept getting a call this summer from the same local number, multiple times a week.  You know they don't answer calls from unknown numbers." "Yeah, me neither."  "Finally I told Trace just to answer it, maybe it was important."  "They were sure persistent."  "Well, Trace answers.  The person on the other end asks for Dad by name.  Trace pretends to be Dad and asks why they are calling.  The girl on the phone says, 'I'm your daughter.'" "Hmm" "Yeah, so Trace tells her, "I'm going to have to call you back."  No more computer distraction.  Fully tracking the conversation.  Pieces falling into place.  "It was that girl, Carrie, from church camp." "Of course it was. *Days of Our Lives theme starts playing in my head*  What did Dad say?"  "He said to Trace, "Dammit, I could have gone my whole life without knowing that, Trace." "Well, obviously it was Trace's fault." Giggle, eye roll, sarcasm.  "Hahahaha, I know, right.  So she's been texting me and facebooking me asking questions and trying to get information about Dad." "Ok, wait.  What did Dad say about the possibility." 'Lisha sighs and scoffs, "He said, 'I thought she was fixed', meaning Carrie's mom."  I laugh, cringe, and shake my head.  "Classic Dad.  Women equal dogs.  I'm not surprised.  We all knew what their relationship was like.  Dad could do whatever or whomever he wanted, Mom couldn't."  I think about my mom, her life, her death.  The life of my father.  "Is it any surprise we are the way we are?"  Smiling, I say, "No, it makes perfect sense given the context.  So, what does she want?"  Silence.  "She wants to meet him but he won't talk to her.  She says she is just going to find him and talk to him.  She also wants someone to give her blood for testing.  She's always been a bit unusual and kind of crazy.  I've been trying to protect Dad so I haven't given her any information.  We had a huge fight through text last night.  She kept saying, 'You can't keep me away from him.  You're just trying to keep him away from me."  

Absent-mindedly I pet the cat sitting on my desk.  I think I should feel something about the situation, but more or less I just feel indifferent.  Shoulder shrug.  "You explained to her that our father is not the type of person you sneak up on, especially if you are someone he does not want to see?"  Fuzzy humming, sounds like 'Lisha is driving.  One of the only times she ever talks with anyone on the phone.  "Yeah, she won't listen.  I want to help her but I also want to protect Dad."  I silently question; hmm, protect Dad?  From his own choices?

"There are a lot of holes in this story.  Did you say she added you on facebook a few weeks ago?  How long have you known?"  Nervous giggle from 'Lisha, "Trace called me right away because he wants to help her, but then he told me he had to wait until after Rally to do it."  Inwardly I start laughing as I calculate it's been almost 2 months.  My siblings.  "Ah, I see.  So, *laughter* how is it that the fact we might have another half-sibling didn't warrant a call to me sooner?  That's quite the memory lapse, even for you!"  She starts laughing, "Trace swore me to secrecy because Dad told him he could never tell us, and then I just thought it would go away so I really did just forget about it until a couple of weeks ago."  I make the astute observation, "What?  When has listening to Trace ever led to anything good?  Of all of us, I am like the one person you want to keep a secret.  I suppose Val found out before me too?"  'Lisha starts laughing and I can tell she is relieved I'm not angry about the delay in the big reveal. "Yep, but only by a little bit."

I start to think more about this other girl.  My ever present need to question everything starts to assert itself.  "How did she find out? And why did she just find out about who her father supposedly is?  And what could she possibly hope for in regard to our family"  "Supposedly she found newspaper clippings about Dad under her mom's bed." "Ok, that's creep if it's true." "Yeah, I know.  She says her mom told her then.  She says she wants to be part of our family because she has never fit in.  When she added me on facebook she said we are all so beautiful and smart and talented, and she wants to be part of that."  I feel somewhat sorry for this person.  Idolizing our family has a certain hint of desperation and obvious lack of understanding.

This makes me wonder about 'Lisha's timing.  "So why are you telling me now if you were sworn to secrecy?"  Car door beeping.  I knew it.  "Uh, I don't want to do this on my own anymore.  This text fight was crazy.  I want her to find the truth but then again I don't necessarily want to know.  I can't really get any straight information from her and it pissed me off that she suggested I wasn't trying to help her at all.  Do you want to talk to her, please?"  Breathing, thinking, not feeling much.  Realizing I don't want anything to do with this, and the thought of talking to this person exhausts me.  A slight twinge of guilt when I reflect on how this whole thing will be a gigantic distraction from my academic work and that's such a selfish thought.  So tired and over-extended.  "Can I think about it?"  Big sigh from little sister.  "You're so good at getting things out of people.  You would be great at getting answers from her."  "I can't be that good if it took 2 months for you to tell me this..." I add with a slight smile.  I can envision 'Lisha shaking her head and smiling too, it comes through in her response, "I'm never living this down! Haha.  I just want it to get settled." 

"What about her mom?  Has anyone talked with her? She's a natural source of information." I point out.  "She's been trying to call Dad to but he won't talk with her."  That man, stubborn beyond belief, and probably scared too.  Not to mention practically drowning in guilt over my mother.  "Get me the mom's number and I will call her.  She's the logical choice to help clear this up."  "How do I get the number without asking Carrie?"  Oh, 'Lisha.  "There's this thing called caller id, phones have it.  It tells you the number of people who call you..."  "Oh, yeah.  I'll ask Trace."  It's been a long conversation and a long story.  We end making jokes about how ridiculous our family is and how we are so desensitized from things like this that it's business as usual.  I ask if she is sure there are no other stories she has to share...someone coming out of a coma, perhaps?  A wedding to break up dramatically?  Obviously she had amnesia for two months as this was all happening, so that's covered.

Sometimes all you can do is laugh.

It is rare, but occasionally I am glad my mother is dead.  While I don't think she would be angry about the situation, she would feel the need to help, and that can be just as harmful.  It has been a bizarre week.  I'm glad it's coming to an end.    

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Garish Neon Sock Monstrosities

My younger sisters are both hilarious in different ways.  'lisha is genuinely funny and quite witty-- a very sharp tongue to say the least.  Val is also funny, but more in a slightly awkward, innocent kind of way.  I likely fall somewhere between currently.  I've given up on my bold, ever present sarcasm, but on occasion I'm somewhat humorous.  Both of them came to my immediate rescue today during a dreadfully boring Saturday class, for which I can't thank them enough.  One regaled me with a story regarding a patient asking for testing for diabetes because they slept with someone with an insulin pump who "didn't tell [them] they were infected" (yikes!!!), the other sent me text impressions of Gus Gus from Cinderella.  We also just had a great realization that none of us match our socks when we wear them, and we all have a bizarre affinity for garish neon sock monstrosities.  Ah, sisters.  I'm so lucky! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Scheduling Tetris: Long Days, Short Nights

So, this is one of the many things I do in my life.  Volunteer scheduling.  In this case, I am scheduling about 150 volunteers across four different locations.  This image is only page 1 (of 3) of my scheduling tetris.  The process to complete this schedule happens three times per year (after making an impassioned plea to go from quarterly scheduling to trimesters last year).  It takes a month and a half to go from beginning to end on a schedule.  The color coding here indicates this is a draft from about a month into the process.  I changed the font so the names would not be identifiable, however, every line represents one person.  The grouping is in reference to the teams the volunteers work in.  There are now 21 different teams across the four sites that I am responsible for in terms of recruiting, hiring, scheduling, managing, and training.  Each of the teams is designed to maximize the diversity of the individual members to better serve clients but also improve the volunteer experience.  I also have to balance the number of students in training with more seasoned professionals, and new volunteers with ongoing volunteers.  There are three different types of volunteers with three different roles. 

Each volunteer indicates their open and preferred volunteer availability for the upcoming term.  Then I remove people who have indicated they are finishing, move the people who have requested to be moved, look at the availability of people who have been interviewed and ok'd and then place them on teams if their availability fits.  It is essentially a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, but the idea of scheduling "tetris" is amusing and keeps me sane.  The tetris concept is very useful when volunteers start making numerous requests to be moved back and forth or for special consideration or demand a slot and then quit three weeks into the term etc.  I am also responsible for finding substitute volunteers when someone can't come in.  Ha!  On 20 (paid) hours per week, that is a stretch at times to say the least.  Luckily, this type of scheduling has helped me practice my skills around organizing my own life.        

I sometimes get bogged down in my own frantic schedule, which leads to complaining and stress.  The stress is understandable, the complaining is annoying.  I got myself into all that I currently do: grad school, teaching, non-profit volunteer coordination, clinical work...and the list goes on.  The basic framework of my weeks looks like the calendar below.

I took a screenshot of it a couple of days ago, and I've already added an additional advising meeting, a volunteer interview, and another volunteer training.  I've also got 30 short papers to grade.  It doesn't show that I get up between 4:45-5am each morning or that I often stay in one of my offices until 7-8pm to read/write etc. before going home to read/write some more.  I had to stop trying to schedule a lunch and dinner time for myself because it was just taking up space on my calendar and not actually reinforcing taking a break.  I really appreciated the comments of a former professor this week when he said, "You can't do all of those things in one semester (prelim exams including oral defense and paper, dissertation proposal, internship applications, teach, work, see clients)."  I said, "Watch me."  His reply: "Maybe you can...but you shouldn't."  It made me think a bit.  

I now understand what they mean when they say some advisors don't know how to protect their students.  Well, part of it comes down to protecting myself.  I might be too good at scheduling tetris for my own good; I manage to line my blocks (tetriminos) up and create space before they pile too high.  So far, the fall hasn't started out with a downpour of s and z blocks, so I might make it.    

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September 1st: Beginnings and Endings

September 1st.  What a day.  It's the beginning of a new month, the beginning more or less of the academic year, and it marks the end of my mother's life.  This is the 9th year since her death.  She has officially been dead half as long as she was alive in my lifetime.  In another 10 years, she will have been dead as long as she was alive in my life.

I've written about this before including how much it generally sucks to have a parent die when you are not yet an adult.  I'm not sure it is necessary to cover that ground again.  I can say, however, nearly a decade of constant awareness of her absence has provided some important perspective in my life.  Though I would much rather be able to have her presence and thoughts in person as well as the experience of continuing to share parts of my life with her, I have learned and grown on account of her death.

It is unfortunate that the US typically does not deal well with death.  We can dole it out to others for "just" causes and "defense" but we cannot aid others in attempts to ease their suffering, we rarely discuss the topic of death openly often only seeing it attached to media representations that glorify the act but not the experience and process of those involved like some twisted fable.  We use euphemisms such as "pass away/on", "departed" or we just don't talk about it period.  All of these things combine to make death in a person's life a typically sad, upsetting situation which it is to an extent.  I suspect that due to this approach to death, though, so much positive experience is lost.  It also makes it difficult to grieve in a way that fits people's specific needs.

I was rushing to get back to my life when my mother died.  I was 5 hours into a 10 hour drive when I got the call that I needed to come back.  I was ordered back, really, by my grandmother.  Then it was a death vigil for about 4 days.  I would take my sisters out to do something instead of sit in the depressing hospital waiting for her to die only to get a call to say, "you should come now, it will be soon."  So, we would stop whatever we were doing, herd into my mother's room and stand and stare.  After awhile I would shuffle my sisters into the family lounge again to wait.  We stayed in the hospital 24/7 until the 4th night.  I looked at my father and my aunt and said very calmly, "I'm taking the girls to Amy's [my cousin who lived in the city with the hospital] to sleep, shower, and eat.  Do not call me unless she is dead.  I am not bringing them back here to wait more."  I said goodbye to my mother briefly even though she was in a coma at that point, collected my little sisters, and went on our way.  I was sleeping but heard the phone ring.  It was pitch black, but I sat up and put my shoes on.  I was tying the second lace as my cousin came upstairs and said, "Rita, she's gone."  I went to the room my sisters were sleeping in, they had heard the phone ring too.  When I opened the door, they both stared at me looking terrified of the news I was bringing.  I said , "I'm sorry."  We all cried, I hugged them.  My cousin drove us to the hospital.  We all gathered in her room to say goodbye once more.  It was about 3:40am.  I don't remember what happened after that other than most of the nursing staff coming in and giving their condolences, some of them cried too.

The next day my brother and I met with the funeral director to plan the funeral.  I wrote the obituary, we chose her urn, the musical selections, and the memorial pamphlet.  There were three vans of memorial flowers people had sent the day of her funeral.  The local flower shop was wiped out, and the owner donated what was left having also known my mother.  Over 200 people came to the funeral.  They broadcast it over the speakers outside because not everyone could fit in the chapel.

Three days after she died, I came back to my apartment after making the drive and within 24 hours I started my sophomore year.  Some of it I regret, some of it I do not.

Despite her absence, and the profound loss involved, I know I am a better person because of her and her death. I approach everyday knowing that she believed in me, loved me, and respected me as a person. I fight for my rights and the rights of others because of her, especially those who need the most empathy and compassion because they are discarded by others. I use my healthy skepticism to question authority and ask questions other people are afraid to ask- because of my mother. I am a strong person, and so are my siblings; thanks Mom. I stay open in my mind and heart to people who are different from me because my mother taught me how to respect and honor those differences while building friendships. And I know how to manage my own pain and struggles through her life and death. I know how to take care of myself too and persevere when life is uncooperative in helping me meet my goals.    

I sometimes wonder if she would be disappointed in me.  I'm not sure exactly what would be cause for disappointment in what I've done since she died, but I wonder anyway.  I think questioning myself about it keeps me on my path and prevents me from giving up.  I'm not even sure it would be about "making her proud."  It's more like not squandering the love and effort she put into raising me based on the brief time we had together.  She literally risked her life, safety, and long-term happiness to help ensure I would succeed in life.  I'm going to define that success.  And when I make it happen, I'll know who to thank in large part...but that will only be a new beginning.        

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Welcome to Space...

Top Hat is in a band.  They're actually fairly good, and I suspect if you like what they call "space rock" they are even better than good.  In anticipation of an upcoming show with the noise rock band Hammerhead, they had a space show.  A space show is essentially a show in a band's practice space.  It's also a good excuse to hangout in an industrial parking lot and drink beer.  The band actually rents the space Soul Asylum used back in the day...also a good excuse to drink beer in an industrial parking lot.

Last night's show went like this:
Pre-show beer/parking lot.  The bars on the windows create a nice, safe feeling.  As does the Somali discotheque next door, and the  "massage parlour" housed on the third floor of the adjacent building...classy.

Welcome to Space...

View upon entering the void.  When I asked if placing "Enjoy Coke" under photos of Guns N' Roses, Ozzy, and the Stones was intentional commentary, they assured me it was merely coincidence but a brilliant observation...
The adoring audience, in part, I couldn't get everyone in the shot.  People from 4 different states showed up.
2/4 of the band.
3/4 of the band, plus a brother-in-law

The man behind the synths.  He's going for a Keith Emerson setup, but the $90,000 Modular Moog will have to wait. 

The only band I know that uses a storyboard as musical notation.  I'm sure a cactus playing a sax is a profound representation of something.  And I'm sure that electrical outlet could use a few more things plugged into it.

It was a fun, sweltering time.  They get the test pressings of their forthcoming vinyl album this week.  A listening party is tentatively scheduled for the upcoming month, although I think it is likely to take place somewhere other than the vacuum of their space.     

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Weekend: A Pictorial Wishlist

This is how I intend to spend my next few days, all with a relaxed bliss:

Replace the rubrics and papers with a paperback, and all is well!

1) Literature and an adult beverage in a random bar at midday.  Check.  An interesting NPR read, and I would totally read a book in a bar with the author, although we would have to discuss the phrase "culture critic" at length.


I am slightly impressed by my own skill in taking this photo, however.  Simply gorgeous.


 2) Trees, sun, and lake(s).  Done.  While I would give almost anything to be visiting this particular spot, alas, the Big Horns are not my destination. 


3) Silence.  @$&% yeah!  I'm looking forward to possibly not speaking to/interacting with another human being for multiple hours at a time. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

4 != 4: Equality

And you can quote me on this: "Equality does not mean treating everybody the same. Equality means being flexible and responsive in appropriate ways that meet people's needs with respect, honor, and dignity." ~ Rita 2014

I use this quote and concept often, both when teaching multicultural counseling and engaging in the practice of counseling.  Sometimes people get stuck on the idea that equality means symmetry in balance.  For example, 4 = 4, end of story.  While this has merit in certain situations, it is very limiting.  Helping people move beyond that limited conceptualization and recognize that 1+3 = 4 and 2+2 = 4 are also valid, useful ways of obtaining an equivalent outcome of 4 is a challenging but valuable task.  Just as you can have two cups of water, a pint of water, or 32 tablespoons of water and still have the same amount, people can get their needs met in different and creative ways.  It is also about the quality of the diverse and creative ways needs are met.  Incomplete or partial combinations do not lead to an equal opportunity or outcome.  There is no rounding up or down in regard to equality.  It's all whole numbers.  

I think equal in terms of flexibility could easily be misconstrued as equal but separate, an unfortunate mistake.  In reality, it is quite the opposite.  Oftentimes, the attention to meeting the needs of diverse groups of people is done in an integrated and functional way such as universal design.  A person who does not use a wheelchair can use stairs or an escalator, yet someone who does use a wheelchair has little use for either.  A ramp, however, can be used by both in addition to people with strollers, walkers, canes, luggage etc.  Flexible, respectful, functional, equal.  

Conversely, sometimes when an inflexible, "uniform" approach to something is implemented it is not functional and is poorly conceived due to bias and privilege in the decision making process, such as "regulation" military hair styles in the U.S. 

Can you imagine what would happen if all mechanics treated every car issue the same, using only specs for an '89 Yugo, based on the belief that all cars are cars, and therefore the individual differences or between group differences were irrelevant in maintaining them?  Sure, it would be equal treatment and it would seem efficient...until a fuel injected car started having issues and no one could figure out what the hell a fuel injector was and why the carburetor was missing.  Or what an on-board computer does and why the check engine light wouldn't go off.  It's not to say that there aren't similarities between cars that would be transferable (changing a tire, having a steering wheel, an engine etc.).  But come on, really?   It isn't like they would then say, "Only cars that fit these specs/can be made to fit them are worth our attention!"  The entire concept is unreasonable and unsustainable.  Yet, that is what we do with people and groups of people.  

"But, Rita, people aren't cars and we can't be tailoring everything to everyone all the time!"  Yes, and when there are people involved and inequities persist, people get hurt.  That's a problem.  It's true we can't tailor everything, but that is not what I am advocating for.  This is where " flexible and responsive in appropriate ways" comes in.  There are limits to what can be done to address the specific needs of individuals and groups when balanced with everyone's needs.  Flexibility is requisite for all involved, and sometimes that means compromise.  And it also means get creative and be proactive.  Before something can be addressed, it has to be recognized.  Gaining recognition involves highlighting the concern and creating awareness.  Although there are often institutional and societal roadblocks to this flexibility and growth, it doesn't mean we get to be complacent or steeped in our own privilege and ignorance.  Achieving equality also involves being open to awareness, which seems to be where most people really struggle...somehow, it is inconceivable that two people can have different cultural backgrounds and needs while respecting and valuing those differences and sharing an understanding. 

Too many people are driving in other people's lanes without realizing that I can drive my car with all of its quirks and specific features, and you can drive your car too.  We don't have to drive the same car to safely share the road and arrive at the same destination. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bangs, Headbands, and Pancakes

     One of my favorite ways to start a day-- making excellent buttermilk blueberry pancakes from scratch.  I apparently also make excellent regular buttermilk pancakes according to popular opinion.  Blueberry anything is where it's at though; cheesecake, muffins, ice cream, pie...all delightful.  Generally, I am forcefully against photographing food, but these were not only highly palatable, they were aesthetically pleasing!

 When I was home last, I had the opportunity to make a copy of this, er, lovely, childhood photo.  I think I was 8 or 9 years-old.  One of my great-aunts died earlier this year.  As they were consolidating her belongings, they divided up the photos she had and gave them to whomever seemed appropriate.  This was especially nice for me as all of our family photos, among everything else, were destroyed in a forest fire in 2002.  That probably has something to do with my desire to collect photos, new and old.  

Never a real smile, it was always the patronizing "I hate you but have good manners" smile

I remember the headband, the bangs, and the dress.  I used to swim in the creek in that dress.  There were tiny pools 2-3 feet deep all over the place.  There was one little pool about a mile from home that I frequented.  I used to back float and stare at the sky and trees for extended periods of time, hours some days.  The sense of muffled silence the water covering my ears created was so relaxing and peaceful, so quite.  The water tends to be cold when you are at an elevation over a mile high, but I would float and spin until I felt warm as the breeze blew across the pond and my face.  I was always perplexed by that.  I would be freezing walking home, but if the wind blew or I ran, the air brushing against me felt like a warm blanket.  The air is distinctive back home.  The pine trees are very fragrant, and their resin seems to be unique in producing this.  I would float, listen, and breathe the fresh air.  If I stayed long enough, sometimes the trout in the creek would become accustomed to me, and I would feel and hear them flitting around me.  Their tails make a weird noise underwater like a bubbly splash.  Luckily I never had any water snakes slither by, that may have been the end of my swimming.  When it was time to go home or when my mom thought I should be home, our dog usually found me.  By found me I mean located me and then barreled into the creek for a swim too.  His name was Bog, and he was a border collie/German shepherd mix.  Highly intelligent, fiercely loyal, and unbelievably protective of us.  Also fond of water and car rides.  I miss him often; he died almost 10 years ago.  His name is a not so long but moderately funny story for another time.  Suffice it to say that he and the dress were an important part of fun times.  I would wear the dress again for sure.  The bangs, however, are something else entirely...                       

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Inferrence Amiss: Netflix Profiles

Netflix uses a variety of data analysis and inference methods to provide users with suggestions but also for their own corporate usage.  While it is a year old, this Wired article sums the process up with reasonable comprehensibility.  My Netflix profile indicates that my "taste preference" is "Critically Acclaimed, Witty, Visually Striking Movies."  And somehow, that category includes: Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, something called Sita Sings the Blues, six French films, one Italian film, the oft (should be off-ed because it's been so over-) quoted Monty Python and the Holy Grail, two Wes Anderson films, a Woody Allen film, and The Graduate. 

Also, my top picks include, Murder She Wrote, Columbo, From Russia with Love, Pokemon (!?!?!?), The A Team, Ghostbusters, Patriot Games, My Little Pony, and Top Gear.

This all leads to a very sensible question: What the hell have I been watching?  And really, Pokemon and My Little Pony?  Horrible.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an episode of Mork and Mindy to finish.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Nature, Literature, and a Happy New Year

I've written before about my yearly escape to regroup and regain my sanity.  I call this Rita New Year.  This year, I had my New Year in July.  It was almost relaxing, and I'm partially regrouped.  For all of my ability to be social, I prefer solitude or near solitude.  This is especially true when the scenery is so gorgeous and you have a (many) books to read.

Roses from my mother's former garden
Two years ago I was on the tip-top of this mountain, amazing.
The prairie...


I lasted two days into my trip before visiting a local bookstore; one of the best I've encountered.  The sometimes cool thing about South Dakota is that it exists in a time warp.  Therefore, there are still some awesome things available.  And, people hold onto things for a long time which means they are old and tend to be in fair condition, books included.  This bookstore had 10ft high oak shelves, which required the use of one of the little rolly step-stool things that good bookstores and libraries have.  There were also books stacked in front of the shelves 5-6 high, 4-5 deep.  It smelled like ink, paper, and dust, always promising.  If you've never purchased or checked out a book based on smell and/or touch alone, you've missed out.  Glossy pages, delicate smooth pages, just noticeably textured paper, rough heavyweight paper, crisp almost starchy pages...sigh, yes, tactile response in reading is important.  Sometimes there is a satisfying sound, shhhpt, when the pages turn.  Then there's the whole weight and balance of the book.  So seductive for inanimate objects; I'm totally in love with the written word.  I spent about 2 hours perusing the stacks.  I left (using great self-restraint) with only 11 books, almost one book per 10 minutes looking.  I didn't find any of the Kittredge Shakespeare editions from the '30s and '40s by Ginn and Company, unfortunately.  I'm ten away from a complete collection, but they are surprisingly hard to find, especially in the wild.  I'm always extra excited when I find one.  Excellent selection of '70s sci-fi/fantasy series though.  I'm set until August.  If only I could have stayed and read my books instead of coming back, so tempting I almost didn't.  Books and reading are such a part of my existence, it's like love and breath and dreams and happiness and peace in a little package just for me.  Luckily, they are also highly portable, and so I can continue to be drawn in and satisfied even after I've arrived back to hipsters and concrete.  Therein lies my sanity for the remainder of the year...

Removed from natural habitat.... in captivity...(after returning to the land of hipsters)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

You Must Be This Tall to Ride

There’s this:
“Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her.  That’s hot.  It arouses her physically and psychologically.” – Above the Game, a “pickup artist” guide

And this:
“Men are notoriously bad at reading women’s minds and body language.  Don’t think that you’re any different.  From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished.  It’s a difference in mindset that makes champs champs and chumps chumps.” – Above the Game, a “pickup artist” guide

And then there’s this:
“He told police he raped, choked and fatally stabbed the girl when she rejected his advances as they drank at the abandoned 18-acre site on a hillside overlooking Waterbury.” – Associated Press

And this:
“Man Hurls Glass in Woman’s Face After She Ignored Him in City Bar” - London24

And this:
“Suspect commits deadly shooting after reportedly being rejected by woman in Detroit gas station” – WJBK FoxDetroit

In a recent post, I made reference to the DJ who covered my friend’s wedding.   He approached me, invaded my personal space, got annoyed when rebuffed, and watched me all night.  His interest was noted by the bride’s dad, who made sure to give him a good stare down every time he tried to linger at our table (as if the DJ wasn't his own biggest cockblock to begin with, but thanks Dez).  The situation has been bothering me.  I've been thinking about it a bit more.  A good friend suggested that in the future I accept the "compliment" by saying thank you and moving on.  I'm grateful my friend gave me the opportunity to reflect more on the situation, although perhaps in unexpected ways. 

I don't think my friend was trying to be at all disrespectful when he suggested I let the DJ's behavior slide and take it as a compliment.  If anything, he was trying to be helpful in a way that could assist me in letting it go while not wasting emotional energy on the situation. And maybe it seems perplexing that disrespect could be used to describe his comments at all, perhaps unaware or naive fits the statement (not the person) better.  His comments prompted me to think on a larger scale in regard to the messages people receive about what is and is not acceptable in terms of advances and statements of interest.  I find it unlikely any of my current friends, male or not, would genuinely suggest that anyone, women included, should feel complimented by all people, men included, who hit on them. Instead, I suspect they would indicate that it is perfectly ok to reject their advances.  I wonder, though, how much of this is due to the friends I have versus the larger social perspective.  The idea that someone should be flattered or complimented by someone else taking an interest in them regardless of the intention behind the interaction is shortsighted, dangerous, and unfortunately pervasive in US society as reflected in the statements listed above.  It's like the dog telling the fire-hydrant to be grateful it's the first one on the block.

My friend also suggested that men are often thinking simply of a sexual encounter in these instances, and most, when rejected, will move on.  And again, I wonder, how is that a compliment?  Guy: "She'll do." "Hey, you have a really classic look, I feel like I know you." Girl: "Not interested." Guy: "Too hard, need something easier, Feminist Bitch" (moves on down the line) "Hey, you have a really classic look..." So, women should feel complimented that men think they're worth having sex with, and yet, if you aren't interested or are too difficult to persuade they'll just happily move on to someone else?  Really?  Like women are carnival rides?  Women who set boundaries around sex are not "feminist bitches," and the notion that men get to be indignant about those boundaries and label women is unacceptable.  No one is entitled to sex, and women are not required to fulfill men's absurd, narrow, entitled requests.  It's one thing to approach someone and be frank that you want to have sex.  Just fucking ask.  Introduce yourself, get the other person's name, and then state your question (this is a quick way to get “enthusiastic consent” a brilliant concept).  Depending on where you're at, this could go very well or very poorly.  Choose wisely.  Why waste time on pretense when it's obvious that is all your conversation is?  Sex for the sake of sex is fine. Some people should have more, some less, some probably not at all. Otherwise, build a nice foundation; have a genuine discussion about something, get to know the other person slightly, and then ask.  Do not, however, pull the DJ-esq bullshit involving horrible lines and an overbearing entitlement to the woman as your property as soon as you see her.  I think that is what really gets me about the DJ; the entitlement and he insulted my intelligence.  If you have to insidiously persuade, scam, or otherwise bend the other person's will to have sex, that's a problem.  The DJ was clearly following the used car salesman’s book to hooking up.  There was nothing he could have said based on his initial presentation that would have prompted me to consent to anything.

After reflecting on the DJ situation, I realized many men, possibly including my friend, have probably never been in a situation where any kind of engagement (positive like a smile or negative like "get away from me") has been taken as both immense interest in the other person and permission for anything and everything.  I've worked with enough sex offenders to know the Above the Game pickup artist information by heart.  Always assuming that all women are attracted to you and therefore "want to be ravished" is not what "makes champs champs and chumps chumps." When followed, that assumption makes felons felons and non-felons felons...guaranteed.  The positive response is seen as an open invitation, the negative response is seen as a challenge to be dominated. 

Am I overly cautious in situations like the DJ, yes...and no.  My excessive caution has served me well in some ways, although not perfectly.  Can I step outside of my rigid interpersonal defenses in regard to come-ones and see that not all men are skeezy douchebags?  Yes, I know a number of respectful, highly attractive men.  I even trust a couple of them.  Yet, when I have attempted to be more flexible and use the socially prescribed, polite "thank you, moving on" cues, I have been reminded in the worst ways that my actions only account for some of the outcome.

For example, last year I was assaulted in the middle of a crowded bar.  I was in the company of my partner and four good friends.  The guy who assaulted me was one of the bar owners.  He seemed to be on good terms with a friend, so I let my caution dial back while letting some of his attitude and comments about my "hot boots and red nails" slide...I'm not big on public drama.  Definitely one of the worst choices I've ever made. Also, I was in a large group of people and felt safe, as I had every right to...however idealistically misguided.  The night progressed, so did his blood alcohol content and his obnoxiousness.  Luckily, our table only fit five people so the space limited our interaction somewhat.  It wasn't until near the end of the night that I started setting boundaries and making "back off" cues.  As I was getting ready to leave, and my partner left to pay the tab, the guy restrained me from behind, groped me, rubbed himself against me, kissed the side of my head leaving copious amounts of spit behind, and made a comment about what I "wanted" sexually, as if he had it on good authority and it involved him. Stunned, horrified, and struck with fear, it ended when my partner scrambled back across the room after seeing my horrified face and literally pried him off of me.  I nearly wrecked my car driving home on account of dry-heaves, uncontrollable shivering, and anxiety.  I threw my boots away the second I pulled into my driveway, and I have another pair I haven't worn since then.  I had a painful bruise where he gripped my upper arm.  And I had one of the most difficult, terrifying, and humanity affirming conversations of my life with the friend who knew the guy…after I went back and forth for a couple of days before finally deciding to talk with him.  Gratefully, my fears were unwarranted and my indecision was unnecessary regarding our discussion as my friend responded in the most supportive way (definitely one of the best decisions in the situation). 

The next few months proceeded with a mixture of high anxiety, and a constant fluctuation between insomnia and nightmares.  Perhaps worst of all, it briefly affected my clinical work, an unforeseen impact.  I did what I needed to in order to regain balance and a sense of safety but it took time.  I felt the need to do it rather quietly without any attention or further discussion.  I also had to process my role in the situation.  Coming to terms with the fact that I was physically powerless in that moment and completely froze without defending myself was painful...even though I was physically not a match for the guy.  After all, I've trained in self-defense with two high level black-belt women over a period of years here and there, and I was in a fairly crowded bar, surely I could have drawn a bit more attention.  Could I have made other choices? Absolutely. Would it have made a difference? Maybe.  In that situation, I was damned either way, I think (although I wish I had screamed "GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME" so I didn't [irrationally] feel so much like a failure and at fault).  Was any of his behavior, even upon initial greeting, a compliment? No, not even close.  Did I feel “aroused”?  Only so far as I simultaneously wanted to cause him grievous bodily harm and burn all of my flesh off.  Given this experience, there was no way the DJ was getting a pass, especially when I was basically traveling alone and in a barely familiar location.  That rigidity doesn't make me a feminist bitch; I don't need to justify myself in choosing the people I spend time with socially or sexually.  

I have no objections to flirting with people or sharing genuine compliments with someone.  I do my fair share of both, and I find them fun as well as important in maintenance of social skills and relationships. And, social situations can be really challenging- even more so when it comes to possible sexual interest.  The salient difference in the situation with the DJ versus other encounters was the intent and attitude behind the interaction.  There was nothing respectful or genuine in his presentation, tone, choice of words, or physical proximity.  He made it clear I was an object to be had and nothing more.  There is absolutely nothing complimentary about being a dehumanized, targeted object.  Nothing.  Despite this, socially it is still considered unacceptable or rude for women to react with almost anything but politeness and gratitude when shown male attention (take it as a compliment).  This is especially true if you are not exactly attractive by social standards.  Also, it can be dangerous for women to respond with anything but positivity in some situations.  Violence in general is unacceptable; the levels of violence against women on account of being women are unfathomable.

(I will add a caveat regarding BDSM preferences that fall into dehumanizing people etc. by stating that when these behaviors are explicitly consensual I think the discussion changes almost entirely.  There are a great many highly intelligent and often well-educated people who enjoy BDSM while still having immensely healthy relationships. Objectification propelled by entitlement and a disregard for women is the focus here.)

The bar incident is a more overt example of the issues women face in regard to advances by men.  The DJ did not physically assault me, but the subtlety of his actions does not belie the impact or the social implications.  When you are a generally nice person with good social skills, nice manners, and respect for people, it's difficult to envision a) that other people are not the same in similar situations and b) that responding in a nice, polite way would lead to increasingly worse outcomes.  Striking a balance between being friendly with new people and making it clear friendly is not an open invitation is difficult.  Failing to recognize and therefore tacitly sanctioning the instances where the message is clear but simply ignored compounds the situation; that is something that can be changed.  A tall order, but necessary for the benefit and safety of all riders...   

Monday, June 9, 2014

Psychological Family vs. Biological Family

I performed a good friend's wedding this weekend.  Given my views on relationships and my rather dour view of wedding culture in the United States, it was an interesting experience.  I'm glad that I did it.  I was happy to support my friend and her new partner.  He gets the stamp of approval for being nerdy enough to hold a conversation about comics, Star Wars, and Star Trek.  He is also quite skilled in the area of stage magic which is always a plus.  The only questionable characteristic to be found is his preference for Tom Waits.  In many people, this would be a fatal character flaw...the magic is impressive enough to counteract it though.  And there's the whole thing about my friend loving him and stuff.

Weddings are typically nauseating affairs full of conspicuous consumption and over involvement.  The delusions people harbor regarding "dream weddings" are considerable and terrifying...typically.  This weekend was quite lovely, mostly relaxed, and genuinely meaningful.  In short, refreshing.  There was some expected drama including crying family and at least one guest, and a father of the bride MIA after spending the night out with the groom, his wedding party, and lots of Irish whiskey.  Also, the skeezy DJ invading my personal space while using the line, "You have such a classic look, I feel like I know you" on me as we waited for the bridal party to get into place was fascinating and insulting all at once.  I will never get aggressive, tactless passes, especially when they insult my intelligence.  I sure as hell wouldn't go for one either.  

The best thing about the weekend was getting to spend time with people important to me.  My friend, "MJ", and her family are part of my "psychological family" (as opposed to biological).  This distinction between psychological and biological family can be incredibly helpful in reconciling the notion that sometimes our biological family is not what we deserve, not something we can count on, or is simply insufficient in supporting us in the ways we need.  After my family lost our home in a fire, I basically lived with MJ.  A few months later when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, they were all there when I needed them.  I could crash on their foldout sofa (undoubtedly the most comfortable place I have ever slept).  MJ and I would have bonfires in the backyard, play badminton, listen to classic rock, and generally amuse ourselves with extreme sarcasm.  Her parents, Jackie and Dez, are a second set of parents to me.  They are both hippies and a ton of fun.  

Dez and I get along very well having bonded over his excellent collection of sci-fi/fantasy novels and musical taste.  I remember walking down to MJ's room the first time I visited her house and seeing a shelf of paperbacks over the stairs including the original Shannara series.  When I spoke to Dez about them, he was shocked I had already read many of his favorite series.  As I followed that up by commenting on his Boston, Fleetwood Mac, and Clapton albums after quoting Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles,  I was officially designated MJ's coolest friend ever.  Then, when I used (and properly defined) "wain" in a game of Scrabble I was declared "Daughter #4", a role I will continue to gladly fulfill.  Dez speaks three languages, is incredibly well read, and probably one of the only truckers with a radio preset to NPR.  He has an interesting life story I might chronicle at a later date.  Jackie is a sweet, kind person with a sarcastic sense of humor.  She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis before MJ and I became friends, and we've all watched as it has progressed.  Despite this, she stays active and maintains her sense of humor.  Dez and Jackie have been married for 42 years, a nice example of a loving and enduring relationship. 

My biological family is great in many respects, especially now that we are all adults.  Growing up, things were a mess emotionally, psychologically, financially, and physically.  I am glad, however, that I have the support of many people in different ways including my psychological family members.  Weddings seem to help me remember this.   



Saturday, May 10, 2014

Musical Carl Rogers

First, observing a wisp of a woman with a cane in her 80s openly mock a set of self-absorbed college girls as they pondered deep questions about life, frat boys in boat shoes, and their venti half-caff soy lattes heavy on the foam in an elevator is definitely one of the funniest things I've ever seen.  That happened yesterday, and it was excellent.

Second, thunder and lightning.  I love them.  More please, Weather.  Seriously, so cool looking and such a turn on.  If weather phenomena were cars, thunder and lightning would be a '55 Porsche Speedster.  Snow and sleet, however, are a Yugo at best, or maybe a Corvette (i.e. ugly, overrated, and preferred by complete assholes with poor taste who think they know how to drive).  
Third, self-care.  So important.  Music can be very helpful in fostering a sense of energy and restoration.  It can also be a good gauge of the need for self-care.  My psychological state is surprisingly easy to identify depending on the music I choose to listen to.  Oldies (50s and 60s only) are for any time; it's hard to be sad when you're listening to oldies...unless you start thinking about the horribly sexist and racist nature of a good majority of the songs and the social/cultural/political climate in which the were produced.  If you can embrace that, though, it's just great music.  

If I am angry, upset, or generally excited about something, it typically comes down to Cheap Trick, The Who, Asia, Kansas or hair metal.  Something shrieky (Mili! gasp!) or full of strong vocals with hard driving guitar gets me every time (Ah, Roger).  Contemplation leads to folk rock and "classical music", although I strongly prefer the romantic era (strings and horns = automatic contentment).

When I'm in a funk or feeling buried there's a pretty specific progression.  This week it started with Abby Road (Golden Slumbers on), then Boston (Don't Look Back), eventually I moved to early Rush (oh no), and it continues with The Allman Brothers.  What better wallow-collect your thoughts- figure out your life-jam music is there than The Allman Bros?  Musical Carl Rogers if there ever was.  How does that make you feel?  Like blue sky?  Better than rain?  Like not wasting time no more?   



Friday, May 2, 2014

Emotional Rip Tide

I have a long history of nearly drowning to death starting as a young child, about 5, through age 16 when I nearly drown off the coast during a trip to Costa Rica.  When I was approximately 5-years-old, I visited my uncle at his country club (don't get too excited, it was in western Wyoming...).  I was curious about a vent near the bottom of the pool and I decided to investigate.  I forgot/didn't realize you can't just breathe underwater and it takes time to return to the surface.  My uncle jumped in a saved me.  I was choking and gasping on the pool deck with random strangers looking on.  My uncle asked if I was okay.  I nodded, he grabbed me by my wrist and ankle and threw me back into the pool.  After that I can recall at least four other instances of almost drowning.  Once in a natural pool in a stream, twice at public pools, and then in Costa Rica.  I'm fairly stubborn.  I think many people would have given swimming up after the first few times.  Ironically, I don't have a fear of swimming in the water, but I'm fairly positive I am going to die trapped in a car that careens off of a bridge into water (or so I imagine every time I have to cross the Mississippi or the Missouri).  It's fairly good exposure therapy to have to drive across a bridge at least four times a day.

Something more challenging is drowning on dry land in a swirl of life.  A colleague calls distress "living in pain without a voice".  It has been a long time since I've been in a position to compare physical drowning with psychological drowning.  The emotional experience and the corresponding physical experience is quite the same.  Struggling with fear and pain while being unable to say or possibly do anything is a visceral part of being pulled under.  There is also a deep sense of loneliness and helplessness which is further contrasted by a realization that death is a distinct possibility.  The existentialists would encourage taking this realization into account and using it to create meaning in life.

Each time I've nearly drowned I recognized what was happening while being aware of the experience.  I can tell I've been caught by an emotional rip tide, and I am being pulled further and further away from the shore. The more I fight, the worse it gets.  Distress.  Sometimes it is the struggle itself that causes the most harm. The trick is choosing between letting yourself slip under or allowing yourself to be carried a little further out in order to escape the current and return to shore.  I think perhaps I have been treading water too long...time for action.