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Archive for the ‘More than likely overwritten’ Category

Hurricane Irene has thankfully passed my area without too much damage, but it still has me thinking about how people deal with the aftermath of disaster.

The level of damage a natural disaster causes varies, of course, and I’m very fortunate to have never experienced any serious level.

But I can’t help thinking one particular thought when I see pictures of the aftermath. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, fire, or something else, I usually end up noticing something that hasn’t been destroyed.

Take, for instance, this picture of damage caused by the Joplin tornado in May:

The tornado was devastating. It killed hundreds of people, destroyed thousands of homes and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. But there, in that picture, is a refrigerator door with a still-full gallon of milk and bottles of ketchup, mustard and other condiments. To the left, there’s a row of drawers with their handles intact.

I remember looking at one picture from the tornado in which a woman stood in the remnants of her house, surveying the damage. The house had been destroyed, but beside her was a still-standing wall with a cabinet still attached, and in that cabinet were glasses, still stacked and unbroken. For all of the devastation, they were untouched.

And I’m not quite sure what to do with that feeling. Because I don’t think they serve as silver linings; that’s a cop-out resolution that doesn’t take into account the large-scale damage, or the loss of lives and security for those affected.

It doesn’t take into account that in the background of the first picture, behind all the items I mentioned is a pile of rubble and a car turned upside-down. It doesn’t take into account that in the other picture, the woman’s exterior walls had been knocked down and her roof blown off.

It’s too micro a focus.

So while a disaster might not destroy every single item in every single corner of every single life, it’s still a disaster. I couldn’t begin to know how that affects a person, materially and emotionally.

And what of people who don’t have a lot possessions that could be destroyed? Victims of famine, who don’t have food or water? People so impoverished they don’t have access to the most basic medical care?

I’m not in the business of ranking hardships, and I’m not sure it’s a great thing to just say there’s usually someone worse off, because that diminishes individual suffering. No amount of suffering is good. No amount of aftermath should occur in a perfect world.

Trying to prevent and help alleviate it when it does happen are probably the best actions that can be taken.

It’s a matter of privilege for me to be in a position to do so, and that, to me, is similar to the undestroyed items in photographs. It’s humbling.

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*Rabbit Hole Warning. This will be a long, kind of meandering post, but I think exploring something worthwhile. There are about 500 maybes toward the end, precisely because I just don’t know. I’m re-reading it and think it kind of stinks, but hey, how crappy would it be for me to delete this, of all posts?

Maybe I’m wrong, but the perplexing thing about openness is it doesn’t seem like a reflex these days. It takes work to be open — truly honest and open, with no shield.

Before I go further, let’s define “open,” particularly the levels and types. Being open as a government means something different than it does to be open as a friend, spouse or co-worker, than it does to be open as a leader, community or other group of people.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on interpersonal relationships (though some of the ideas can apply to other kinds of relationships.) That’s where many of the ideas come from, and openness is valued within them because the degree to which you’re open roughly correlates with the degree of closeness you have.

And it works for all kinds of 1-to-1 relationships.

As colleagues, if you’re open, you can form healthy working relationships built on respect. You respect another’s role and job, you give constructive criticism and praise when you think it’s merited. You work toward a common goal if you have one. You do not act dishonestly in an effort to advance your own agenda.

As friends or family, if you’re open, you share stories, random thoughts and emotions, offer support for problematic times, develop unique relationships based on shared experiences — maybe even your own language. The degree to which that’s true depends on how good a friend/close a family member the other person is, and it’s certainly not true in all cases. But generally, you can be open because these people will not run away screaming.

For spouses, the same is true, just with an added level of intimacy. Lovers or sex partners don’t necessarily need a deep friendship history, but in any sexual relationship, openness and honesty are needed, just as respect is needed. You cannot arrive at enthusiastic consent without being open. There’s no room for ambiguity, and if there is ambiguity, that should be your signal not to move forward.

With that said, it’s also pretty easy to identify barriers to openness. Let’s start with a big one.

Lies

This is an incredibly broad category. There are big lies, like telling a potential employer, “Sure, I went to Harvard law school.” And of course, there are small, so-called white lies. Fibs like, “I’d love some dessert,” when you’re rather full.

Either way, they’re usually used for some personal gain — whether it’s staying in someone’s good graces, to placate somebody, to extract some benefit from a situation, to avoid an unpleasant situation.

You ever say, after eating the meal a friend made, “Eh, that was okay”? Likely not, because you’re supposed to say it was good even if it wasn’t, and you’re supposed to soften any criticism you do have as a matter of politeness. But that only gets you off the hook, while the friend isn’t really sure what to think, and that doesn’t help. (Though, that’s not to say that you have to be a jerk when you’re honest.)

The lie is also active; you have to say something blatantly untrue. That’s not the case for another type of obstacle toward openness.

Hiding the truth

I can remember several incidents during my childhood where my parents would get very frustrated trying to extract information from my brother, who was an exceptionally well built secret pinata as a kid. You’d hit it with a question, and only a few pieces of candy would fall out. Ask another question, and few more pieces fall. Eventually you’d want to blast it with a mighty swing.

He wasn’t telling outright lies. He told the truth, but it was sometimes not the complete truth.

Many people have done this, and for a person too smart for his or her own good, this can seem like a loophole. But it’s just shitty.

Let’s not leave me out of this. I’ve done it. Hell, I was called an enigma in college because I was unreadable and shared little with anybody. I’ve hidden details because I’m too embarrassed to admit them, to avoid uncomfortable situations and prevent me from hurting someone.

Except, the hiding hurts more.

By hiding your thoughts or facts, you’re closing the door. You’re saying you trust someone only so much, value closeness with that person only so much. You’re saying you’d rather have them wonder and wait than hash something out, than say something that might be uneasy for them to hear. You’re choosing security of self over mutual understanding. And you’re not respecting the other person’s ability to handle the truth.

Do this enough and people will quit on you. You can’t hide and still be someone’s good friend, a good family member, spouse colleague or lover.

Another form of hiding occurs when you just keep silent. You’re not trying to be secretive, but you start to ignore and reduce communication, drifting out of the relationship slowly but surely.

No, you don’t have to be super close to everybody you meet. And there are times when it’s proper to stay closed. For instance, if somebody came up to the A Woman’s Place table during an event, all agitated and asking questions about the shelter, I’d shut down or notify the proper authorities.

But that’s not the type of relationship I’m writing about. Generally, lack of openness isn’t a good pretense.

So why does it seem like there are so many instances of people not being completely open and honest?

Maybe we’re not used to it as a society. Maybe we’re largely selfish and figured out, by accident or experience, that we can lie or hide truths for personal gain and get away with it pretty easily. Maybe it’s not even that extreme.

Maybe we figure we can put off the honesty until later, when the awkward is thick and we have to cut it down with openness. Even when people are able to be open with each other, there are sometimes periods when people aren’t, and the anxiety starts to build. They hide, if momentarily. And while it’s good to clear the air, you ever think about why it needs to be cleared in the first place?

Really, maybe it’s because being open requires you to be uncomfortable and vulnerable sometimes, to take chances and risk making somebody upset. Maybe it’s because having a truly open relationship requires both parties or people being open.

And by open, I don’t mean open like a water tap, where all your thoughts stream out, one after the other in a deluge of words. Open doesn’t mean talkative.

Open means accessing your true thoughts and emotions and sharing them. It means taking a moment to quiet yourself so you can search inside and pull out something true, it’s getting the words past your throat when they’re ready.

Because to be candid rather than canned is worth it, and necessary for a strong relationships, even if it takes work not to pass on the moment of honesty. Honestly.

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One thing that’s always fascinated me is how people view weather conversations. Talking about the weather is something of a synonym for boredom these days. It has, in large part, come to mean that your conversation is no longer interesting, and it works for almost every kind of conversation. Let’s take a look.

A date:

“So where are you from?”
“New York.”
“Oh yeah? Where at?”
“The city.”
“Was that cool growing up there?”
“It was okay.”
“Ah, gotcha.”
[Several beats. Several awkward, awkward beats]
“So, pretty hot these last couple days, right?”

A family party:

“How have you been? Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Oh, you know, I’ve been doing okay. Just plugging along. And you? Anything new?”
“Nah, not really. But man, I wasn’t expecting snow this soon.”
“I know, me either. Really wasn’t looking forward to shoveling.”

A town hall meeting with a local politician, small borough version:

“So, what’s on your minds? What can I do for you?”


“Anything?”
“Can you stop my neighbors from planting roses? I don’t like roses.”
“No, I can’t do that. Sorry.”
“Well, aren’t you helpful.”


“You, you in the back, yes.”
“Why is it so goddamn humid?”

Anyway, you get the idea. But I have to say that while discussing weather might be a sign that your conversation is not interesting, a lot of people end up talking about the weather. I don’t mean extreme or catastrophic weather events, I mean the weather that occurs in the deepest days of summer, when people are bitching about heat and humidity. It happens every year, but every year people talk about it.

And that’s fine to me, because there’s always weather happening. Wherever you are, there’s some sort of weather. It’s not a big deal most days…it’s just there. Some days it’s worth complaining about. Some days make you look outside and say, “Wow, it’s a really nice day outside today.” Some days the weather seems to lower the ceiling of the atmosphere, making everything claustrophobic and gray. Some days the weather makes you talk about how it blew the car door shut on your shins. Some days, some days, some days.

Well, a lot of people don’t expect they’ll talk about the weather before they end up talking about the weather. A lot of people don’t expect some days. But a lot of people are waiting for someday.

It’s currently raining in my area, one of those steady rains that goes on all night but never makes you think it’s going to flood. It’s not an aggressive rain. And it’s not a thunderstorm. It’s just rain. It’s the kind of rain that continues all day and slows everything down, that makes people want to stretch out on the couch, reading a book. It’s jigsaw puzzle rain.

Perhaps most appropriately, it’s the kind of rain that makes you to want to turn off the alarm and stay in bed until you cannot possibly sleep more. And even then, it’s the kind of rain that makes you want to stay in bed, awake and unthinking.

You hear the idiom, “Save it for a rainy day.” And the gist of the saying is that you should keep something, often money, in reserve so you have it whenever you might need it. But the idiom’s somewhat limited, to me. Or maybe just the usage, because you don’t have to save anything tangible for rainy days.

People are busy. In general, people in modern society are busy, busy people who don’t have time to do many things that they would otherwise like to do, or start to do, or mean to do. People have work responsibilities, family obligations, and random crises that pop up. Very rarely do busy people find themselves caught up and surrounded by relaxation. And planned relaxation almost doesn’t count, because it’s just one more thing you’ve scheduled. You know it’s coming, so you can’t sit back and appreciate the organic moment.

But eventually, the rain starts to fall. Drop after drop hits the window panes of your house, or smacks the roofs of the cars parked outside of your apartment. It covers the asphalt like a Jackson Pollock before saturating the ground entirely.

And you might find that you aren’t as busy as usual, that you finally have some time to think. Only now, with the background noise of the rain, you feel like someone’s hung anvils on your eyelids and lifted the yoke from your shoulders. You want to be worried about something, because you often are and that’s de rigueur, but you search your brain and nothing comes up.

And you might decide that you don’t have any money you want to spend, but you do have a bed, and it’s looking pretty inviting. So you climb in and melt under the covers, spreading out, cool but warm. And you sleep.

And it seems like busy, busy people will never have this moment, because there is never an end in sight. But there is. You don’t need to sock away money for a rainy day, you need to sock away hope. Because you don’t save for a rainy day. A rainy day saves you.

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Look at the time. Look at your watch, your phone, your car’s digital display. Look at the clock, the time board at the subway station, the inaccurate bank sign. Just look.

It’s still the afternoon and it’s dark outside.

These are the darkest days, when you might see the sun starting to rise on your way out the door, but you won’t see it on your way back in. These are the days that keep stealing light until you’re convinced they’re stealing time. These are the shortest days, but the longest.

These days make people sink back inside themselves, under sweaters and blankets and artificial light and occasional sadness. They envelop and plunge.

And the only sign that there’s still some life left is that pock-marked rock in the sky, cruising around reflecting light.

*****

A lot of people have waxed poetic about the moon. I wouldn’t be the first, and considering that intro, am not the first. It is gravitationally pulled to our planet, but we’re pulled toward it.

We’ve named its features, determined its phases, tried to figure it out. The werewolf legend exists, for crying out loud. We’ve held festivals around the solstice, when days cannot possibly get shorter and nights cannot get longer.

We have sent people to the moon. Or rather, people have volunteered to be strapped to tanks of fuel and shot toward the moon, trusting that all the human inventions around them will continue working for the duration of the trip.

A lot of the wonderment is gone, now, and has been gone. We deal with the depth of winter a lot differently than we did hundreds or thousands of years ago, and really, who thinks about the moon all that much anymore?

Now, sure, we notice it, we know it has a physical function in relation to earth, but to some degree it’s had its moment. Even though we found some interesting stuff there not too long ago, it’s just not a huge priority right now. It doesn’t have the same popular relevance that it did even 40 years ago.

Yes, a lot of the wonderment is gone, but not all.

About eight years ago someone told me I was the moon. It is easily the most distinguished comparison I’ve ever heard. But what can you expect from a poet? I’m not really sure why she said that; maybe she felt I could hear when she spoke to the moon, at least symbolically.

I think more than anything, it was a bit of figurative language that increased significance of a sentiment that could have been said much more plainly and directly.

It was just a momentary expression, and it’s the kind of figurative indulgence people are so good at. We turn something into Something. It’s why a flag becomes freedom incarnate and people start attributing emotions to animals. The Kiss? Not just a picture. You ever wonder why you sometimes see carved or sculpted pineapples outside or around homes? These people are not fruit enthusiasts. They are displaying symbols of hospitality.

The moon was like this, too. During the space race it wasn’t just something to get to. It became a symbol of America’s rivalry with the Soviet Union, and eventually the American flag planted on the moon was a sign of America’s superiority. One giant leap for mankind? Yes, for such a seemingly stationary, passive object, the moon can capture the imagination. Or maybe just reflect it.

*****

It seems cruel for a total lunar eclipse to occur at the winter solstice. Here you are in the longest stretch of night during the year, and the earth goes and hides the moon from the sun. The moon glows some shade of orange; it’s not normal. Can’t you at least let us have the moon?

Of course, it really is normal. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why it occurs, why the moon glows — so reasonable and scientific, in fact, that it can be predicted. So a lot of it is just overwrought metaphor, just as the person-as-moon idea is.

But the eclipse is a reminder, isn’t it? Without it, how many people would just gloss over Monday and Tuesday, anticipating and preparing for Saturday, without realizing we are in the darkest days?

No, instead, you have people realizing that while standing outside in the dark hours past midnight, having stayed up or woken up to see the moon go into hiding. And you have people realizing that it’s lonely at 3 a.m. on a late December evening, and cold, and not a whole lot different than when they got off work. Just less traffic.

And you have people wondering, probably to themselves, just when that might not be true. There’s not a lot of hope in the darkest days, especially when you’re outside confronting them as the cold stings your eyes. There’s only so much comfort a shawl can bring, and these holidays, well, they’re busy, but they don’t always fulfill.

So maybe you find yourself staring at the eclipse looking at the time, knowing it’s only a few more hours before you start the day, which will have disappeared by the time you log off your computer, which will have begun to sink away while you digest lunch.

That same realization brings with it knowledge that this all will shift back. The days will lengthen and beat back the black.

But for now, a sigh leaves you looking up for the moon, only it’s not there. It always used to be. And it will be again.

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