Lost in the world

Are You Lost In The World Like Me? from Steve Cutts on Vimeo.

One of the best things a therapist told me to do a number of years ago was to stop watching the news. It’s overwhelming and depressing and not usually anything you have control over, though it may affect you directly: the very definition of stress.

It also directs your attention away from where you are in the present moment, and flings you headlong into a faraway place in the past. The news has already happened. It’s not now. It was then, even if that then was 10 minutes ago. It’s over. And it’s there, not here. Not right in front of you in this present moment, where you should be focusing your attention. Be here now. Not there then.

What I did, actually, was stop watching TV altogether for the most part. I watched hockey (Go Wings!) and cycling fairly often, and I loved Big Bang Theory, reruns of which my local CBS affiliate played during dinner time on weeknights. After dinner, if there wasn’t a hockey game I cared about I turned off the TV. I read, or wrote, or went for a bike ride or a walk, or something. I never lacked for things to do.

Now, living with my mother, I don’t watch TV much at all. We watch DVDs mostly, of old British mysteries, and old US detective shows like NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life on the Street. She likes Naked and Afraid, and we watch that on Sundays. Sometimes movies or a series like Outlander on one of the premium channels. That’s it. No news, no reality shows. No current weekly comedies or dramas.

I don’t have a moral objection to TV nor do I judge people who watch and enjoy a lot of TV. Whatever floats your boat is fine by me – your business.

I simply discovered that I felt better about myself if I wasn’t comparing myself and my life to people on TV, and that I worried less about what was going on in the world if I didn’t know about it every minute of every single day. It’s really that simple. Self-preservation. I also found that I liked other people more, and was more tolerant and less likely to judge if I took them at face value and wasn’t influenced by the ways in which certain people are demonized on TV.

So now I’m feeling the same way about social media. It’s partly what I do for a living, so I’m on FB alot during the day for work, but as for my personal feed, I pay less and less attention to it, for the same reasons that I don’t watch TV. Ditto Instagram. Everyone on my Friends list is someone I know and most are people I’ve known a long time and really care about. Some live far away, so I’m happy for the opportunity to connect with them easily.

I find, though, that if I spend a lot of time watching everyone else’s life scroll by, I feel worse about mine. I celebrate their successes and mourn their losses, and I’m genuinely happy for all the bright and shiny fun things my friends and family are experiencing in their lives. However, I’m not experiencing a lot of that in my life lately and haven’t actually much of my life, so I feel left out, or like I’m not doing it right, or that there’s something wrong with me. Honestly, I don’t need that.

I do better if I’m just in my head, in my body, doing my thing. Here. Now. In this moment. My moment. Not someone else’s.

My life. Not someone else’s.

Not self-centered or self-absorbed – just self-contained. Not comparing my unique life, my unique path, so someone else’s singular walk in this world. I’m not like anyone else, so I don’t need to live like anyone else; to have the things they have, or to do the things they do. So it’s easier for me not to be distracted a million times a day by the shiny happy pictures scrolling past all day long.

Having said that, I also have to say: I love to read blogs, and I love Twitter. I think the difference is that I don’t know any of the people who write the blogs I read, nor do I know any of the people I follow on Twitter, which are for the most part publications and organizations that post great content that teaches me things. I love to know about people’s experience of life on this planet, and when I don’t know the writer I’m less likely to compare myself to them; I can just take in what they have to teach me (or be entertained) without feeling bad about myself and my life.

So, whatever. Just my thing. Your mileage may vary. Life is big and there’s room for everyone.

I love the video above, though, cuz I am a little lost in the world. (And I love Moby and I think Steve Cutts is a genius.) I’ve always felt a little out of sync, really, and for a lot of my life I felt like I didn’t belong here at all – that there was nothing here for me. That my presence here was a mistake.

I’m grateful I don’t feel that way anymore. It was a long, painful struggle to get past that feeling. But I do still feel a little lost quite often. There is just so much I don’t understand about life and people and why things happen the way they do. But I’m pretty sure about who I am these days, and what I’m up to, so that’s all I need to keep track of, really: that I’m where I need to be, doing what I need to be doing.

Here. Now. Watching the rest of the world flow by, without getting caught up in the undertow.

Wasting Away

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.”
T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

I caught up with a childhood friend yesterday on Facebook. She and I were best friends and neighbors until she moved away when we were both 14. I’ve seen her once since then – 30 years or so ago when she came back to town to visit her mother – but then we lost touch. It was nice to see pictures of her now and to hear about her life, but it made me sad, too.

When asked to superficially describe my life I find the only thing I’m comfortable talking about is my work. I don’t want to admit that much of my life was determined by the severity and duration of the chronic depression I’ve struggled with since high school, and the rest by my obligation to my parents. I feel good about myself and the fact that I’ve survived the depression and done right by my family, until I’m talking to someone else, especially someone I grew up with. Then I find that I feel that – compared to them – I’ve wasted my life. Or, at least, that I have nothing to show for it.

On the face of it, anyway. In the condensed Facebook version you can’t see how much I’ve grown as a human, or what I went through just to be alive now. On the surface, it seems like maybe I took the “easy way out” by staying in my hometown and living a “small” life by myself. Maybe I was lazy or scared and couldn’t manage anything more important or exciting. Or more normal. 

What’s not clear is that my life has been the hardest way out, for me, anyway, because none of it is what I wanted or dreamed of. I’ve had to deal with the worst things I could imagine as a child – never getting away from my family and being alone all my life. I didn’t ask for depression; it just took over. I didn’t ask to have the parents I got or to feel obligated to them. I didn’t choose any of the things that made other choices impossible as my life went on. I have always just made the best of what I was given, which in terms of freedom to choose, was not a lot.

In the vast realm of human suffering, my life doesn’t even register on the scale, but it was hard for me. It’s been a struggle. I don’t have anything to show for it except that I AM STILL HERE. Still getting out of bed every morning and facing the days as they come. Going through a very difficult time right now and hoping that things will get better, but knowing they may not for a while, and still getting out of bed.

Every. Single. Day.

That’s worth something, isn’t it? Not giving up? Still trying to be a good person, and trying to do the right thing. Isn’t that valuable? I think so. But it doesn’t condense well, and that will always be a problem for me, as much of what goes on between people never goes below the surface.

I know, though. I know the whole story and I know I’m alright. My life has been worthwhile. I haven’t wasted anything. Most importantly, the ending hasn’t been written yet. There is more to come and I will keep showing up for whatever it is with the best that I have to offer.


The innocence of youth?

Via on Instagram “More Books. L̶e̶s̶s̶ Fewer Guns. (Grammar is important.) – Mae 8 yrs old”

So what were you doing when you were 8 years old? I was playing with Barbies, riding my bike and fighting with my mother about not letting me have long hair. Did I even know what was going on outside of my household or school? In my town? Maybe, but I doubt it. Certainly not in the country. I watched cartoons, not the news.

It was a different time. I was 8 years old in 1970. I had a vague idea about a war somewhere that people weren’t happy about, but I didn’t know where it was or what it was about, really. I also knew my parents didn’t like the President, but that didn’t seem to matter that much to me on a day-to-day basis, either – certainly not as much as the spelling test I had on Friday or the characters in the book I was completely immersed in at any given time.

Like Mae pictured above, I was smart and a good student. I loved school. I liked to write poetry and stories. (I knew the difference between “less” and “fewer.”) My friends and I played hopscotch and jumped rope outside. We didn’t have phones or computers. We played Kick the Can and Red Rover. I thought a lot about what it would be like to be an adult. I wondered about sex and fantasized about having a boyfriend someday. I worshiped high school girls.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an 8 year old now. They are aware of so much more than I was at that age. They have to deal with so much more. I feared nuclear war, but it didn’t even occur to me that I might not be safe at school – that someone could, or would even want to, come in my school and shoot me or my friends and teachers.

Was I naive? Was I sheltered? Yes, probably, but no more than most other white kids living in a small town at that time, and maybe some black kids, too. I get now it was harder for people of color and women then – for anyone who was not white and male and straight really – but I didn’t know that then. I’m sure life in the inner cities was not as sedate as the one I experienced in the Midwest, either, but none of that registered with me then. I was pretty happily clueless about the world outside of my immediate realm.

Kids don’t get to be clueless now. The whole world comes at them day and night on TV and the internet. 24/7 panic over something somewhere. But here’s the amazing thing about these kids: they haven’t been desensitized or paralyzed by fear. They seem to feel empowered. They are smart and creative, and brave.

They are rising to the challenge of living in this frightening world. Literally. The kids who marched this weekend have risen up and said to all of us and to our elected officials, “Enough.” They should be home doing homework and going to the prom this spring. What they’re doing instead is schooling us. They are taking charge because the adults aren’t.

I haven’t felt this hopeful in a long time. I hate to see the way they’ve been vilified on the internet, but it doesn’t seem to phase them. They are doing what needs to be done, saying what needs to be said, and they don’t seem to mind that some people think they don’t have the right.

Of course they have the right. If they are old enough to be killed in cold blood, they certainly have the right to express how that makes them feel. And soon they will have the right to vote. Marching is awesome and inspiring, but voting is what ultimately matters. They are working within the system to effect change. That is the heart of democracy. While our President is in Florida playing golf and his clueless cronies are cuddling up to the NRA, these kids are changing our country.

And they’re leading all the other folks who have been overlooked for too long: people of color, women, gay and trans people. But this isn’t about money or politics. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s not about religion or race, straight or gay or other. It’s simply about our human community and the way we have a right to live.

God bless those beautiful kids for the gift they’re giving us: HOPE. They are standing up so that we may all rise. I’m so proud of all of them, and I have hope for the future in a way I haven’t for a long time. They are giving us back our country. Wrenching it right out of the hands of the adults who have allowed it to get so off track by greed, self-interest and short-sightedness. They are standing up for the future – for their future, and saying to the rest of us, “You’re not doing it right. Do better.”

So we have been called out, folks. How will we respond?


Of feathers and flocks…


My best friend has chickens. Last week, the whole flock ganged up on the smallest hen, and beat her up pretty badly. They pulled out all her tail feathers with such force that chunks of flesh were gone, too. My friend took her to the vet and she’s going to be okay, but she won’t be able to be returned to the flock.

About the same time another friend told me that she had had to send her 14-year old daughter to a different school, because she was being bullied so badly by “the meanest group of 8th grade girls” this woman had ever encountered.

Even my two little cats – my sweet babies – are not immune. They’re only about a month apart in age, and I got them both as kittens, within a couple of months 6 years ago. The first kitten was an “only” for about a month before the second kitten came in to our lives, but that was long enough to feel threatened, I guess. She was merciless in her treatment of her new furry roommate. Now, 6 years later, the bullied kitten has become the bully. Payback? I have no idea. They’re both infinitely gentle with me, but they try to kill each other at least once a day.

Clearly this is a thing in all of our brains – not just human brains. We want to believe that babies (and kids and kittens and all creatures) are gentle by nature. Perhaps they are, but that’s not all there is to any of us, apparently. There is something so integral to creature brain structure that it spans all species and manifests in similar ways.

Perhaps it was a survival tactic that no longer serves us as humans living privileged lives, or chickens or cats, for that matter. Maybe it was beneficial to try to make the weakest member of the flock stronger by threatening it, or encouraging it to leave the group so it’s not longer a drain on resources, or even killing it to get rid of it and its genes so that only the fittest continue on.

It must have served some purpose, but like many residual brain things no longer necessary for modern life and survival, it doesn’t serve us. I don’t know, but I know I have a mean streak, and that at times in my life, I have treated weaker people badly. At the time I didn’t realize I was doing it, especially when I was a kid. I look back now, though, and I can see it pretty clearly. I wish I could say that I grew up and became an enlightened person who always reacts correctly to everything with kindness and wisdom.

Far from it, and still not true, even though that is exactly what I aspire to. Why not? Why can’t we all just get along and be nice and do the right thing all the time? All the religions tell us that’s what we should aspire to. All the self-help books, TV talk shows.

I used to have a poster that a friend gave me that said “If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.” I think in the 70s this is what passed for wisdom. 🙂 I think that poster pretty accurately sums up the way most humans live, including me. Maybe not the Dalai Lama, but the rest of us regular folks, just trying to get through the days.

What happens when you feel superior to someone, especially if you’re being cheered on in your thinking or your actions by other people? You feel better about yourself. You feel great! You feel special. All your doubts and fears about how horrible you are disappear in an instant. Who can resist that? It’s heady stuff, especially in a world where what we see on TV and in movies every minute of every day tells us – especially as women – that we are NOT okay as we are.

There is great comfort in thinking that you’re doing it right and others are wrong, and for some reason, it’s not enough to just think that, it’s necessary to prove it to other people – or chickens or cats – as well. And really, that’s the problem; making other people wrong in trying to make yourself right.

I think bullying in schools is one of the biggest problems we, as a society, face. It’s getting worse all the time, and real damage is being done to young creative minds. I think it’s all mixed up in the constantly rising level of addiction and mental illness in this country, cuz people feel so bad about themselves all the time – the bullies and the bulliedthat they have to find a way to escape the overwhelming anxiety.

But if it’s integral to our brains – a fundamental part of all life on this planet – what can we do? I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I wish I did. I’m part of the question, like most everyone else. I can’t fix myself, let alone all the problems in the world. I’m trying though.

Let it begin with me.