Machine

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I was looking at the difference between complaining and venting, if any.
Complaining has a bit of a reputation as a protracted, repeated occurrence of dissatisfaction that focuses on the “object” (you are complaining to someone about a particular something – the object). We seem to be in two minds on the subject of complaints. Ask any business and they “would love to hear from you about any improvements we need to make to our product” while our innate wish to belong and our subsequent loyalty to the entity we belong to (say, that business) means that we don’t regards the complaint with “yay, someone complained, isn’t that wonderful?”. The true reaction would be somewhere in between “oh no, not him again” to “we already know there’s something wrong, now stop complaining so we have time to fix it”, plus a few other possibilities 
Venting is a different beast altogether. The focus of the venting is somewhere in between the two participants, with the object more of an incidental and the sole purpose being the sharp releasing of a strong negative emotion, usually some form of anger. Most of the time we are not aware of anything wrong, we ask a simple “how are you” of someone and 10 minutes later we are still looking for the truck that hit us. When we do it to others we deal also with the shock of our brains at what comes so effortlessly out of our mouths (over which said brain is supposed to have some control). Venting on a regular basis is also, for me, a sure-fire way of becoming depressed and socially isolated (because no one needs that kind of negativity in their life, even when you are right!)
Attempts have been made to channel venting (time limits of 5 minutes, agreed at the beginning, seem to be preferred) and professionals are still split between “it’s useful” and “it’s damaging”, and that is what actually caught my attention.
It’s no surprise to anybody who knows me that I love my self-control – it does not come naturally to me, so I treasure it. I am uncomfortable when someone around me loses that control. I am appalled when I lose it. Sauce for the goose and all that  I also live in a country that praises that control and allows very few outlets for negative feelings (getting drunk is one of them – so of course you won’t be taken seriously). So actually any form of negative emotion display is discouraged and if you still do it then your mental health is being questioned.
And for me that is where the problem is. You are unhappy about something. You have tried your best to solve it. You have expressed your unhappiness. And it stops there or there’s a suggestion you go to counselling.
But what if your issue isn’t personal? What if it is systemic?
Then that lack of good feedback puts the blame on you as an individual for something that is beyond your control. When we say that the system is broken (and how many times have you thought, said or heard THAT?), this is what we mean: there is no way to steer it. And as any machine has to do, it continues to go in the direction it has initially been pointed to, crushing anything in its path underneath.
Solutions? Change the system (despite the fact that some things are actually going well), get out of part of it (maybe a job you love in the industry of your dreams), fix the feedback loop of the system (good luck with that, with so many of us!) or continue to moan, whinge, whine, grumble, mumble, rumble or similar.
Or go to counselling… you’ll feel better after it, even though you will still have the track marks on you from the crushing…

You could also find some loopholes (my specialty!) which will work for some of the people, some of the time, but requires quite a lot of your energy… and leaves all of us with the same blind unsteerable machine.

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Power and control

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The brain is weird. Mine is, for sure, but I don’t know anybody else’s that isn’t. Who can honestly say that they have never had a thought so far removed from their usual pattern that they hastened to suppress it… or indulge in it 

Well, this weird brain, with which I am in loving but unholy alliance, has this issue about survival. It makes contingency plans. It insists I carry my cellphone with me at all times, even when it’s a nuisance. It remembers plants that kill better than plants that heal – then finds them in the garden. It maps exits and cardinal points in every room the eyes can see. So far, so suspicious.

But the darling believes that the best chance of survival it has is to make me as capable as possible. This is the training regime I am constantly being reminded of:

Stand up straight, don’t show fear, take control of the situation.
I don’t trust that person – don’t back away, silly, get closer and find out why.
Develop your upper body strength, you know that is your weak point.
Why didn’t you enrol in those self-defence classes?
No, I don’t like to see humans treated inhumanely (news, movies, documentaries, Freud) but if you don’t know how will you be able to endure it if it applies to you?
Remember to take the little one’s inhalers if you have to run.
High heels? How are you going to run in them? Fine, you look good in them, now pack a pair of flats just in case.
Dangly earrings? Don’t you like your ears firmly attached to your head?
Did you remember to fill the almond and sultana box at work? How about the tuna?
What do you mean you are not taking a jacket? Yes, I know it’s 40 C outside, at least put it in the car, you don’t have to carry it!
I don’t care that that handbag is cute, the strap is not long enough for you to put it on your shoulders! Hands should remain free! Yes, a wrist strap is acceptable – barely!

Now I don’t have to listen to my brain… as long as I am prepared to put up with extreme lack of comfort  So I usually compromise, which keeps it in the nagging rather than screaming mode. I still haven’t enrolled in self-defence classes and my upper body strength is negligible. But my attire satisfies it most of the time – it helps that I am in that kind of profession – and I bring enough food at work – money, you know?

So bring it on! I am, after all, prepared!

Stress

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Most of the time I feel quite competent, thank you very much!  Then I figure out I still have a lot to learn… duh! But most of the time what I need to learn is quite clear and, as I have a passion for it, I just go forth and learn it.

Occasionally though I get… lost, for want of a better word. It is clear I need to learn something, but what exactly that is takes a bit of time to decipher and, in some cases, once I have done that, I also discover that the knowledge I am trying to acquire is… undesirable. That in itself is enough to put me off my food. Then I have my inevitable response to the anger and disappointment of others (I get upset, you know?). Put those together and I need to have quiet conversations with my cellular mechanisms regarding getting back into balance or else 

“This too shall pass” and all that aside, after I have played Killer Sudoku and Scrabble in an attempt to distract my brain so I can deal with my gut without interference, after listening to calming piano music to allow the gut to relax and then gone outside to get my hands in the earth (rain and cold… oh, my poor hands!), then I can re-engage the brain into analysis. I do this better with someone to talk to – surprise! 
If the crisis is of small to medium proportions I have found that talking it through works even if the other person doesn’t respond the way I need. You know what I mean: they have had it worse than me, it could have been worse, don’t worry about it, why are you being so upset…

If the crisis is big however then I need to find someone who will listen to me rant and rave, then bring me back to analysis. Apart from a few beautiful friends, I have found counselling amazing from this point of view and for the short term. I am aware that I could have done the same thing to and with myself… it would have taken me years though, with counselling it was all done and dusted in a few sessions (no, not the pain, just the acceptance and the context). I think it’s because, warm as that person was, there was nothing personal that I needed to invest. I didn’t need to feel embarrassed I was taking up precious time. I didn’t have to take into account life views or beliefs. I almost didn’t build a relationship and made do with rapport. Listen and direct to problem was all I needed and the counsellor performed beautifully 

I also tend to procrastinate if there’s something wrong. Maybe it will sort itself out. Maybe it will just disappear of its own accord. Maybe other people will do it. Of course I know I am going to feel worse until the situation is resolved and feeling worse spurs me to anger most of the time, anger gives me the motivation to act and then I find out that either the situation is not as bad as it appeared… or it’s just as bad and now I know it, therefore can deal with it.

So there, now off to plant the garlic, read (yet more!) Harry Potter and sort out the paperwork 

Negative

 

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If you are like me and trying to follow the diamond rather than the golden rule, sooner or later you find yourself with an excess of negativity. This other part of ourselves is not a comfortable place to be in, though, so we find outstandingly creative ways to either get out of it or distract ourselves from it. I acknowledge those who cannot control that negativity. I am also aware of those who prefer to wallow in it and call it everything from realism to ageism to what-not.
But in this article I want to focus on the role of the negative. For those young enough 😛 to have used photo film, you know the fascination of the negatives, the way our brain struggles and then begins to make sense of the reversed image, the play of shadow and unnatural light that coalesces into a weird beauty.
In a more real world (says who?), as I mentioned in another couple of articles, the negative is a lot more useful for survival than the positive. That’s why our brain notices it first and attempts to address it first. No matter the stark beauty of the wide open space of the savannah, that prowling big feline you see coming towards you gets noticed and dealt with so you can admire the scenery another day 
The upside to that is, of course, safety. If we succeed in reaching a safe place, the theory says we can allow that survival-oriented part of our brain to be at rest and we can concentrate on being human, including paying attention to and creating beauty. Most of us seem to have forgotten we have that switch though… does that mean we do not recognize a safe place when we see it anymore?
But there is another role of the negative, especially when we are talking about feelings. They are, of course, great motivators. Probably because of that link with survival, we usually act on the negative faster, and put a lot of effort into it. The results are… hmm, what’s a polite way of putting it? 
I will refer you to the entire range of fiction, and most of the non-fiction writing… just in case you haven’t noticed it, it ain’t pretty! For a milder version, the religious and inspirational teachings focus on teaching the brain to avoid acting in those ways, which is an acknowledgment of the way they usually pan out.
But if there is one thing our brain can do, is learn. We can learn to guide our actions, even when those actions are triggered by negative thoughts or feelings (greed, hate, jealousy and the like). I have tried to learn this with the shades of anger that are my usual negative response to life. I am in a vocation that allows me to use anger to try and change systems. I can also use it to arrange the life around me to be safe. I am not sure if anger can work at a group level (revolutions, anyone?) but at a personal level heck, yes it works! 
Don’t get me wrong, I can wallow in anger myself for a while, uncomfortable as it actually is. I can fantasize about revenge driven by anger – and I am inventive! 
In the long run though, that doesn’t matter because anger is a motivator for action, but (wait for it!) it is not the action. That has been, and is, and will be, under our control – and that’s the way I like it!

 

Person

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For a blog like this an article on persons seems a bit superfluous, don’t you think? And yet as I find myself musing on the things that matter to me and the relationship of each to the people I interact with I find myself trying to define humanity, you know what I mean? Or rather, describe humanity. Even more precise, describe this particular human. Which begs the question: is there a way to generalize? Is there a definition of “person” or “people” that everybody will agree with? Methinks…. Not! Especially because we are, to quote a well-known phrase, “unique, just like everybody else”.

Our definition of person depends on many variables like culture, ethnicity, era, religion etc. It seems not only impossible, but downright foolish to try and unify those as we are self-evident, like time. Except that we find exceptions (fetus, child, racially different human, non-physical beings, animals, rivers….) based on the variables described above so we are anything BUT self-evident. Or we are self evident to ourselves but not so to others and vice-versa. We are usually self-evident to our own groups but even that is not fool-proof – think children and decision making

Some general ideas: we are people when we live and behave like other people (feral children and psychopaths?), we are people because we are born so (apes and corporations?), we are people because we can make decisions (in a coma and women?)… you get the gist, for every definition, for every right granted, there are exceptions and they all sound oh so logical.

What to do, what to do?

It may be that the problem lies with the words like “definition”, with our desire for things to be clear-cut, once and for all, fixed. It may lie with our brain’s perceived inability to deal with change and uncertainty – although that is highly debatable. It has to do with the complexity of our worlds where systems and laws and policies and procedures and beliefs and biases account for more and more of our very lives.

I think it’s time for fluidity. We can both be human and grow into it. We can accept a river is important enough to count as one of us. We can continue to talk about it around the dinner table not just in obscure journals: is Puppy Dog a person? How about that gorilla or that dolphin? What makes humans human? What makes humans and non-humans persons? Are aliens persons? How about robots and clones and embryos? The key word is talk. Another key word is acceptance. My little one may not think our cat is a person, but many a people might disagree with that.

In my books relying on self-evidence is dangerous because it perpetuates ignorance. Even though I have been, am and will be, this second and forever…

Brain

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Storms are supposed to be rare events in the year. They are not anymore. It does not seem quite so fanciful, after the 10th storm of the summer, to believe that the entire planet has decided that humans are better off kept inside, where they cannot do so much damage. It is, of course, ironic that humans can and do make more damage when they are inside and not in direct contact with nature. It is inside that we seem to forget just how small a piece of nature we actually are. It is inside our cities, our houses, our minds that we believe ourselves stronger than nature.

This is, it seems, how we grow up. It is nurture (for want of a better word) that makes us forget nature. It is our brain, our big, biased, besotted brain that makes us forget ourselves. We are against nature even when we pay it a compliment, for we separate it from ourselves.

Brains are terribly good at doing what they are supposed to do, provided we don’t try to override the rules. Which we do, children of our age as we are. Then, the brain becomes a terrible thing of beautifully articulated destruction.

I get quite passively misanthropic at this stage, usually because I tend to use the brain in the human way and of course there is no hope. Of course there is no way to return to an idealistic and idealized noble savage existence. Of course there is no hope for humanity. How can there be, when I can see and follow the news and read between the lines in serious articles about the desperate state of – insert any subject you can think of here – and it is clear to any logical brain that hope is futile. Resistance is futile. Life itself (as far as humans are concerned) is futile – pun not intended and of quite bad taste, wouldn’t you say?

And yet hope remains, quite aside from the futility that is evident. For truly we are not meant for a life of leisure, it is terrible for our health. 🙂 When all the avenues are closed (by ourselves, of course!) our brain remembers defiance. When one cannot succeed, one eventually finds out (and grumbles about) someone else has an idea that will work. When alone we despair we find that we can sing in unison.

Even more idealistic, do you think? And yet I have seen it, time and again. The best movies we watch are about this – you know the ones I am talking about. The books we read and re-read year after year all talk about this. The revolutions that sweep through nations are all about this.

The reason hope was shut within Pandora’s box (urn, whatever) is because most of the time it is a torment for the brain. It doesn’t allow it to just gorge on sugar and infer stupidity out of mere annoyance. It pushes and prods and chases away all logic. For what is logic other than a tool, and how true that once you have a hammer everything around you seems to become a nail?

The wrench, however, is just near the plier….

Quaint

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It’s one of those words with changeable meaning. Originally it meant clever, ingeniously unusual, something to marvel at. Nowadays it is used in an almost derogatory way: obsolete, old-fashioned. Sometimes though it goes further and means simply unobtrusive, nothing to write home about, and if relating to décor, to be changed to something more modern.

Kind of like us, then 🙂

Even if the Chinese didn’t say “may you live in interesting times” it remains a favourite wish of many to do so. Craving adventure, out of ordinary events, escapism, forgetting perhaps that we also need solitude, peace, a roof over our heads sometimes, security even. Not to mention the money that must be made somehow, relationships that need sustaining, books that are too heavy to carry in a backpack.

I am one of those people, you see. Railing sometimes at the routine I am told will make my life easier. Watching jet planes tracks across the sky and wishing I was on one of them. Wanting to go with the retreating wave.

It doesn’t mean I am forgetting the above. The small pleasures, the gratitude for so many things, the safety routines can bring to everyday life. Just that sometimes I am also aware that there is more to life than just the small circle in the sand I have been marking. That’s where the envy comes for those who travel, who create, who explore.

If I remember correctly, those anti-suffrage used to say that women who go to higher education will no longer be content with the life prescribed for them. It was true, too! 🙂 Whole systems needed to be changed to accommodate those women.

So what to do when life is prescribed and I am no longer content with it? When the soul demands that the eyes witness what documentaries present? When the spirit rebels against bedtime as night dreams can’t hold a candle to daydreams? When the body aches from sitting in the office and asks to be allowed to roam at will?

Reading remains a staple, sometimes to the point of obsession, but fiction can’t hold me anymore. If I am to be stuck on the couch then I want my brain to fire on all cylinders. I can find emotion and feelings elsewhere! Music, especially live, is another good way to escape routine. Walking, while useful, is no longer enough in the weekends, so gardening will have to take its place, especially permaculture where the brain is involved as well, not just the wonder at life appearing out of seemingly nowhere.

It seems to me then that the brain is the culprit then, so it’s the brain that needs to be pleased until the time will come for an escape from the routine. And stubbornness will have to suffice, until freedom is at hand. And if there is a sacrifice… well, I assume it will be sleep!