Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

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Self-Help Books: Yea or Nay?

I started to think this post wasn’t going to be about books at all, but it turns out it is. The idea came to me while I was browsing through my bookcase looking for something I read recently. I realized that I have several shelves of what are labeled “self-help” books. These books are my version of therapy, books that have brought me closer to discovering myself and finding what happiness means to me.

Why do I get the feeling that in many circles these kinds of books are looked down on? Why the wise cracks in movies, tv, and radio shows about the people that read them?

What’s so wrong about attempting to help yourself through difficult times? Why do I feel the compulsion to hide and downplay how many of these books I read?

Hold the phone! Aren’t all books “self-help” books?

When I want to learn more about something, I usually go find a book (or five) to read about the subject. History, economics, religion, science, any book opens a whole new way of thinking, or dives deep into a subject I only had an inkling about. I’m helping myself to learning.

If you scroll through my Autobibilography page, you’ll find many titles labeled “self-help” and I am proud that I read them. I put them there so that someone else might find them, explore my thoughts, and decide whether or not that book might help them.

And it’s not just books that lead us to discovery of the world around us, and ourselves. Movies, documentaries, websites, and articles, all help us keep learning and growing, even when they are fiction.

Instagram has been a wealth of self-discovery for me the past few years. I’ve found writers, mental health professionals, quilters, and even comedians that have changed my life for the better. They inspire me with their posts about what they are reading, writing, and learning. They make me laugh with their observations about the world around us. They give me ideas about what I can create right here in my own home.

Three posts I saw this morning sum up what I’m currently working on in my mind.

Balanced between “I’m scared of change.” And “I’m scared of staying the same.”

Who else feels this way? Years ago, my sons pointed out that I am a special kind of crazy because I really don’t like change AND I get bored quickly. I’ve always struggled with that, but then again, doesn’t everyone? I want to stay where I’m comfortable and capable, the tried and true. I want a challenge too, but that’s scary.

And this one: “Self-Care for Highly Sensitive People Means”

Many of these suggestions sound like a nightmare, especially “spend time alone.” Being alone is something I actively avoid, the reason I keep reading, posting, and asking for input. I call people, attempt to set up dates, send texts in the hopes of starting a conversation, all in order to end the “spending time alone” part of self-care.

My fear is that if I get used to that time alone, everyone will be gone, off on their own adventures, when I finally decide that I’ve had enough and want company again.

I think I’ll print this one out and put it out where I can see it. If these things are hard for me to do, maybe that means I need to  practice them. Maybe that’s what will make me feel better.

And then I see this, “What if you told yourself you are worthy just the way you are and you believed it?”

I don’t believe it. Just this morning I found myself journalling negativity to myself. “If you would just…” “If you could only…” “You’re just asking too much.” “Then you’d be happy because you would deserve to be happy.”

Where the hell does THAT come from?

I have one more…a bonus!

A visual representation I would do very well to remember. Somewhere along the line, I’ve learned to believe that self-criticism will make me work harder to be a better person and self-compassion will make me lazy and stuck.

Neither are true.

Every time I’ve practiced self-compassion lately, in the form of some kind words to myself or one of those self-care actions described above, I feel better about myself and I’m happy and content. Happy and content are the better goals in life, the ones you lay on your deathbed smiling and reminiscing about.

When I practice self-criticism, I feel worse and get less done. I’m unhappy and spread that unhappiness to everyone around me. In response, the very people I want so badly to feel connected to begin to pull away from me. The very thing I fear is being caused by the action I have believed would keep it at bay.

See?! Self-help! The critics are right, probably the worst thing in the world for people to do is to attempt to solve their own problems with self-discovery and discussion with others instead of relying on the professionals to coach one on one and charge you obscene amounts of money to do so, making us say things like, “Hey government! I can’t afford what I NEED, so take something from someone else and give it to me so I can!”

But that’s a whole other topic of discussion!

Thanks for reading today. You really helped me out by being here to listen. I hope you found something useful as well. How do you feel about the self-help genre in general? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Influenced? Yes, But That Can be a Good Thing

It’s me, folks, here to ring my own bell and say…

One hundred posts!

Wow. Who would have thunk it?!

Yesterday almost didn’t happen. I know numbers don’t mean anything specifically. Ninety-nine posts in a row is just as awesome, but there’s something about round numbers. You know?

Why did yesterday’s post almost not make an appearance? Because I started to get caught up in the idea that every post needed to mean something or be something great. That wasn’t my goal when I started. My goal was only to create the habit of posting every day and that’s what I’m succeeding at.

Now I’m wondering… What if I posted every day for a whole YEAR?!

And then I started to get a bit inside my head. I mean, it’s great that I’ve come this far. One hundred posts in a row IS an accomplishment, but when will I start writing better posts, ones that take more time and effort, ones that MEAN something?

I don’t know. Maybe this is all there is. And then this crazy feeling came over me…

That’s ok. I like this just as it is.


That felt so good.

Does that mean I’ll never do more than write posts about the books I’m reading and what they bring up each day? Not at all. I might submit an article to a magazine. I might write a book. I might even try to get the one I’ve written published, or at least posted here for download. And I’m moving steadily toward those things every day, but I’m completely happy with where I am right now, not sitting here brooding about what else I could have and do.

And THAT feels amazing.

Guess what else!

I finished reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell this morning and it was every bit as great as I had hoped. But here’s my problem. The book is listed as Non-Fiction/Current Affairs/Business, but that’s not what I was reading it for. To me, it feels more like sociology, and I’ve listed it as such in my book stats file because…I do what I want!

Some words from “Conclusion” are what made the book sociology and not business, in my opinion.

“The world – much as we want it to – does not accord with our intuition.”

“To make sense of social epidemics, we must first understand that human communication has its own set of very unusual and counterintuitive rules.”

“We like to think of ourselves as autonomous and inner-directed, that we are who we are and how we act is something permanently set by our genes and our temperament.”

“We are actually powerfully influenced by out surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us.”

“That is why social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable.”

And here’s my favorite part:

“In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.”

Doesn’t that make you feel powerful? You, your behavior or product or idea, could be the very thing that tips the world toward something better.

The whole book goes through examples of ideas, products, and activities that have caught fire and spread, and why. It’s not a book about how to market your product and get rich. It’s about understanding human nature better.

This book was originally written in 2000 and my edition was put out with an additional “Afterword” chapter in 2002. In it, he starts to reflect on our coming “word of mouth” age, where we can all communicate with each other freely and at no cost. He was talking about email but, of course, it made me think of social media.

“The fact that anyone can e-mail us for free, if they have our address, means that people frequently and persistently email us. But that quickly creates immunity, and simply makes us value face-to-face communications – and the communications of those we already know and trust – all the more.”

Remember when we first discovered Facebook? I do. It was just as I moved away from my hometown for the first time in my life. There I was in a new place, close enough to go visit home regularly, but far enough to make me look for new friends. And I open my computer and there were all the old faces and names for as far back as I wanted to go.

I spent hours scrolling through other people’s feeds, commenting, and sharing my new world with them. It was fun.

Why is it not fun anymore?

Malcolm Gladwell might say, “Immunity.” There’s so much that we can’t keep up, so we shut it down and move on. But we haven’t, have we? It’s all so complicated, but I closed the book thinking about it. I made some quick notes and wondering if I could write a better post about it. Put that in the idea file!

Product Epidemic Example Real Time?

I’m halfway through The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and I’m loving it as much as I thought I would. But things got weird today and think it’s one of these (smaller) epidemics like he’s describing.

“Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

“The point of all of this is to answer two simple questions that lie at the heart of what we would all like to accomplish as educators, parents, marketers, business people, and policymakers. Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don’t? And why can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?”

“…when the epidemic tips, when it is jolted out of equilibrium, it tips because something has happened, some change has occurred in one (or two or three) of those areas. These three agents of change I call the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.”

Here’s the weird thing. Are you ready?

As you know, over the weekend I finished reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick. Why did I start reading that book? Because I was at Barnes & Noble and saw the book on the shelf, remembered that it was on my TBR list, and picked up. An impulse buy, really. Not a planned read.

I jump in and start reading, remember that I watched the movie, look online for it, don’t remember the specifics. Oh yes! There was a sequel recently and we had to watch the old one again before we watched the new one when it came out. I remember looking for the original to watch, but I don’t remember the specifics of the new one, Blade Runner 2049 other than it was good.

Late last night, my son texts me to ask if I had seen 2049 yet. What? Why would he ask me that? He doesn’t read my blog, so he doesn’t know I was reading the book. We talked about it this morning and I told him I had plans to watch it again.

This afternoon, I bring up Facebook on my laptop and an acquaintance of mine had posted that he watched the movie over the weekend because it had just been put up on Netflix.

How weird is that? Some change occurred somewhere to lead us all to be watching that movie or talking about it over the same weekend. Malcolm Gladwell wrote this book twenty years ago, I’m pretty sure the people he mentioned in the above quote know about these laws and were using them to lead our attention.

You can also bet that “policymakers,” aka politicians, also know these rules and are using them to direct your attention where they want it to be.

And I’ve been using some of these ideas on my blog and my social media accounts as well. I call it putting some positive vibes into the world, sharing the love of books and great movies and tv, but really I’m only directing your attention where I would want it as best I can.

It’s crazy when things like this all come together for me. The Tipping Point is a used book I’ve had on my TBR shelf for over a year. Why did I pick it up now and not one of the other thirty books staring up at me with those big pleading eyes? I don’t know!

The Empathy Box

What’s on the menu today? Something delicious. I finished reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick this morning and I am aching to tell you about it. But how do I do so without spoiling it for you? Hmm…

I’ll start by saying that I loved this book more than I thought I would. I LIKE science-fiction, but I’m not a die-hard fan (not the movie, the adjective). I am starting to get a good picture of what kind of sci-fi I enjoy most, the kind that deals with people and what they will do with technology in the future. Sci-fi that is more focused on technological advances, getting deep into what things will look like and how it might change how we live, isn’t my thing. I get bored.

In fact, I get bored with technology today. People and how they interact is where my interest lies. I’m starting to see a pattern in my reading…cool.

And that’s exactly what this book was about, what it means to be human. That doesn’t change over time, not really. What we define as human may change. I mean, we used to think anyone that lives outside our borders, people that don’t live the way we do or look like us, weren’t actually human in the same way were. That has evolved quite a bit and continues to do so.

The way we treat animals has also changed and will probably keep changing. But what about our machines? Interesting idea, isn’t it?

In the interest of not giving too much of the story away, I’ll leave you with one quote and a few thoughts about it as it relates to today.

This book was set in 2021 and written in 1968, and the internet and social media were not invented yet. It’s always fun to read science fiction set in our own time. Where is my flying car?!

“But an empathy box,” he said, stammering in his excitement, “is the most personal possession you have! It’s an extension of your body; it’s the way you touch other humans, it’s the way you stop being alone.”

And then again later in the book, “It would be immoral not to fuse with Mercer in gratitude,” Iran said. “I had hold of the handles of the box today and it overcame my depression a little – just a little, not like this.” “You hardly ever undergo fusion; I want you to transmit the mood you’re in now to everyone else; you owe it to them. It would be immoral to keep it to ourselves.”

The empathy box sounds like social media, doesn’t it? When you put your hands on it, you’re connected to all other humans. You feel what they feel and a sense of connection with others lifts your spirits, supposedly. In the story, it’s not always true, but they think it is and keep going back to it. It’s a religious experience. What’s really going on, I’m not sure. It’s part of the story that left me a little confused.

But relating it to now and my own life, I see social media in the same way. I’m in a bad mood, so I share my sadness, hoping another human will reach out and soothe my heart. Something wonderful has happened, so I share that in the hopes that someone out there will be lifted in my joy. See? We’re all connected. Isn’t this great?

Sometimes. My mind keeps going back to something that happened earlier this week. I went hiking with my sons and it was outrageously fun and the scenery…wow. I never imagined that I lived in such a beautiful place. We came around a corner and the valley below, the cliffs ahead, the clouds hiding the tops of the mountains spread out before us. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

And I didn’t stop, breathless, and stare. I didn’t take it all in and feel it. I took a picture and moved on. I had to have that to share with those who can’t make this trip, those that can’t walk or climb, those that are busy with their own lives in their own towns.

Empathy. See? I want to share my joy so that others may have some. Connection, with practical strangers. But at what cost?

Taking a picture to remember the spot isn’t the problem, neither is wanting to put it in my virtual scrapbook. It’s that I was more preoccupied with making sure I had something to share with others than taking the whole moment in and actually being there.

Something needs to change. The empathy box isn’t making me feel connected, it’s taking me away from now. I’m missing the whole thing and I have been for a long time.

I took it, I may as well share it, right?
Near Lake Jennings in San Diego, California.

You guys! Guess what! It’s April and that means I have written and posted something every day for three whole months! Milestones, man…they’re important!

Where am I going? I have no idea, but I’m enjoying the ride. Are you?

Who Am I? Still Searching

It’s Sunday! And that means a “Blast from the Past” repost from my old blog! Are you excited? I am, I think. I scrolled through old posts this morning, pulling up lots of angry words about wildfires, politics, and rants about Facebook, wanting to use my time machine to give myself a big hug. There was so much fear behind those words. Then I pulled up a post with the title, “Who Am I?” from August 3, 2015.

About halfway through reading it, I was reminded of the Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I had it written in my journal in bold letters just this past week, along with the words, “OH MY FREAKIN…I GET IT!” Deep stuff, you know? Full of insight, my journal is.

who am i

Something other than politics and social media angst was driving my stress train in 2015. My sons were 13 and 14 at the time, my homeschool “career” was quickly coming to a close, changes were coming, and I wasn’t sure where I’d go next. I didn’t know who I was going to be without the title “homeschool mom.”

Sidenote: I’m still working on that. It’s a big part of why I started this blog.

On with the post!

Did anyone else read that title and think it in Jean Valjean’s voice? Am I the only one?

Why am I here? Why do I post publicly instead of in a personal journal? Much of what I write on my blog is about what I’m thinking. It’s what I would talk about if I were sitting among a group of friends, but hopefully more thought out and prepared. I read a lot; books, articles, blogs, newspapers, the dreaded Facebook post. I have thoughts I would much rather process out loud but when I talk my thoughts tend to get scattered and forget the words I would most like to use. When I’m writing, I can go back and edit a thought or find a kinder way to say it. And sometimes I’m not as kind in my writing as I would be in real life. Sometimes I just want to get an angry or dissatisfied word out.

But why not just write all that in my journal, close it, and move on? Why post it here for the world to see? Connection.

Out here in the desert you are alone a lot. It’s not necessarily lonely. I have a group of friends and very dear family. But the group is small and to continue to move in social circles you need to reign in the talk of politics and religion. Also, few people in my social circles read as much as I do, and I don’t know any that read the same books. There isn’t much of an outlet for discussion. It can feel like I’m the only person out there trying to put thoughts together, trying to make sense of the world around me instead of just marching on.

I post it in the hopes that there is someone out there doing the same. My hope is that my posts aren’t just rants and raves. Someone might read it and want to chat about it, politely challenge my choice of words or point of view. I know that isn’t likely. In the current online climate, I’d expect more people at best to dismiss what I’ve written, at worst to pass it around and ridicule me personally, maybe start a protest about what kind of an awful person I am because of my post. But I will still take that chance.

This is my second blog. My first was more of an online journal of our family’s adventures in homeschooling. It was there to entertain and inform my long-distance family of what we were up to, maybe even convince them we weren’t isolated and watching TV all day. Hopefully, somewhere along the line we inspired another family to investigate homeschooling the way we did. It changed our lives for the better and I’d love to spread that around! I’m working on another blog that will do that as well but not as personally as we used to.

This blog is only a few months old. It won’t be about my family or lifestyle really, although that does come into it a bit. It’s more about my personal journey, a search for intelligent life so to speak. My hope is that through writing my ideas out and sharing them with others, I can expand my world beyond my own backyard and share that experience with my family.

So here I sit after a long hot day, re-reading and editing this post with what we might have for dinner rolling around the back of my mind. Should I wait a few hours, read it again, and then post it? Or should I just go for it and set it free?

I think I’ll let it set sail and see where it goes.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? Perpetual solitude. To me, the point of solitude is to recharge and connect with yourself so that you can come back and move in the world in magical new ways. These ways cannot be created alone. They need connection and collaboration to take off.

I’m having a hard time putting it into words. It’s too big. I’m going to have to ponder this longer. But it has to do with why I write here, instead of simply journal in a book. I set my thoughts free into the world and see where they go. The magic doesn’t work in secret, alone, locked up on a shelf in my mind.

Yeah, I’ll be driving today thinking about it.

A Last Minute Boysenberry Feast: Repost

In keeping with my new “Sunday Repost” plan, I hopped over to my old blog and landed on a post from April 30, 2019, entitled “Sick.” That’s a terrible title. Isn’t it? The post wasn’t even about my stupid sick day, not really. And, for the record, that post also documented the last time I was sick at all until a few weeks ago. I’m still not that great at titles but I’ll try and do better this time around.

There must be some sort of conspiracy, because I realized as I looked for a link to Knott’s Boysenberry Festival , that it just so happens to start this coming weekend. Of course, my son already knows and had planned on taking his girlfriend. I checked out the prices (because I love watching this kind of stuff) and found that the prices, no surprise, have gone up.

The last time my son and I went, we each bought a “taster card” for $35 that had six “tastes” of 14 different items. This was a big deal because our plan was to taste one of everything they offered. We shared our tastes and got a few bites of everything, other than the few things we opted out of. It was an epic day of eating, I assure you.

This year it the taster care is $50 for six tastes of 25 items. I’m not sure that’s much of a deal, especially since you do still have to buy an admission ticket which is another $69. It just goes to show, once again, that we were smart to go when we did. The experience (finding the post and researching current prices) only confirms my motto: “Go do what you want to do today. Tomorrow may never come.”

On to the repost!

It figures. I set aside a week to get things done at home and that’s the week I get sick. It’s a conspiracy!

We are the experts in last minute plans and this past weekend was no exception! My older son remembered on Friday that he wanted to go to the Boysenberry Festival at Knott’s and, of course, this is the last weekend of it! We asked if anyone else wanted to go but my husband wasn’t interested in spending $100 to eat berry themed food and my younger son said he’d rather not brave the crowds. So, he bought tickets for the two of us and we headed into the city on Saturday morning.

It was a great day. It’s been a long time since he and I spent the whole day doing something together. He said it reminded him of “one at a time Disneyland” when he was little. When we lived across the street from Disneyland, we used to go all the time, but it was super special when I would take just one of them. They got to be the boss of the day and not have to share anything!

One thing…I have never seen the park so crowded as it was that day. We knew it would be busy, but this was crazy. I’ve always had a hard time dealing with Knott’s and its inefficiency at moving people. The ride lines are always long and food lines…sheesh. If there are two or three people in line for a Coke, it’ll take twenty minutes. Makes me crazy. This day didn’t disappoint. It was worse than expected and guess what? We had a great time anyway. Just goes to show you, it’s your attitude that ruins it, not the crowd.

We were there for about nine hours. I think we only sat down a total of twenty minutes. We went on four rides and saw a couple shows. We got the “taster” card and got one of everything they had! All of it was good. Some of it was silly: boysenberry mashed potatoes. And some of it was amazing: boysenberry sausage and relish. We went back for seconds on that!

My favorite picture of the day!

We picked up a boysenberry pie for the rest of the family and headed home satisfyingly exhausted.

In other news, I started reading this book yesterday.

So far so good. Because of it, I’ve added six new books to my reading list. Thanks!

Sidenote from 2022: If you’d like to read the review (or really my notes and thoughts on the book), click over to “Religious Literacy?” for more.

What else? Oh, yes, I’m still sick. It’s just a nasty cold, but it makes me so tired that I can’t even read. I spent most of the last two days asleep on the couch or watching TV. Yesterday was good though because I got to watch the movie, “The Bookshop” which I’ve been meaning to see. It’s not a movie “of general interest” to my family, so I’d been waiting for a day I was home alone to see it. It did not disappoint!

Sidenote from 2022: I do not remember seeing this movie, or anything about it.

My experiment with staying off Facebook during the week is going great. I do share things like blog posts, articles, and podcasts, but I don’t go back to see comments or scroll through the feed until Friday afternoon for a little bit. I shared our Knott’s adventures as we went, but I didn’t go back to see comments until the next day. It is really helping me “stay in the moment.” I find myself wasting way too much time and mental energy on people that aren’t even in my close circle when I constantly check in there.

I’d like to write more about that. Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship that I’ve been seriously re-thinking lately. Maybe I’ll spend some time writing that out tomorrow. Today? I’m off for a snack and to get the laundry!

That was three years ago. Some things never change.

Rabbit Trails: ADD & Social Media

I spend my mornings on the couch. It’s still dark, very dark, unless the moon is out full and then that blue tint across the desert attracts my attention. By attention, I mean irritation. I’m trying to sleep and that moon shines right in my window at times, makes me think someone has turned on a searchlight. I sit up in bed and stare out at the night.

“Who has disturbed my dark slumber?!”

Realizing it’s the moon, I grumble about curtains, and pull the blanket over my head.

But all those other mornings, when the moon is not harassing me, it’s dark. So dark that I can’t see beyond the limits of my porch. I close the curtains over the kitchen sink in the dark, avoiding a direct look out into the darkness. An ancient fear. What if I see something I shouldn’t?

A cup of coffee, my journal, my book. I snuggle into the couch, cover up with a blanket, and say hello to my husband. He’s been up for an hour already, one of those strange people that sleeps less than I do.

The dog eats her breakfast, runs outside quick, and then runs back in to take her place in the blanket beside me. The cat meanders across the coffee table, over my feet propped up in the recliner, and into the blanket opposite the dog. I’m surrounded.

For the next hour or so, I read, sip my coffee, pet the animals, and watch the sky lighten. It’s my favorite time of day. Magical.

What happens after that is a crapshoot. You never know. I have a list of morning tasks, but they are rarely in the same order. Journal, yoga, breakfast, meditation, write, read more? It depends on my mood and my plans for the day.

Today, I went right from reading to writing here. The sun warmed up the curtains and I wanted to share it with someone. Is that so wrong?

Yesterday, two different conversations with friends got me to thinking. Do I have “have ADD?” And is my use of social media (or this blog) healthy for me? I spent most of my afternoon thinking about it and then rushed to finish dinner (I forgot I had to add the potatoes and carrots to the crock pot), make the cheesecake my son requested for his birthday dinner tonight, fold the laundry from the dryer, and do the dishes. Where did my day go?

ADD? Probably. Do I consider it a problem? Only sometimes, like when I’m trying to make something from a recipe and there are people to talk to. Lately, I’ve been craving more focus time but not finding a way to practice. Meditation is helping. I find my mind wandering most of the day, thinking I could probably get more done if I could focus on one task at a time.

My biggest distraction is my phone. Friends and family text and call, and I’m always available to answer. I consider putting my phone on my desk and answering later, but that makes me sad. It seems to be my life work to answer people and talk with them. It makes me happy. A phone call can recharge my batteries and motivate me. I don’t want to miss that connection.

Is social media healthy for me? I’m not sure. If you know me, or read here often, you know I fight about this all the time. I love it and then I hate it. There’s a nasty breakup and then I come crawling back. I’m social. I don’t want to be alone. I want to share my world. It’s the same reason I write here. Some people don’t have that need, but I do and sometimes I start to feel guilty about it.

I’m struggling this week. Not sure if I should be writing at all, not to mention what to write. Sometimes it feels like I’m burdening the world with all this, adding to the noise. Rethinking…again.

And why do I read so much? What’s the point? What else could I be doing? There’s yardwork, quilts, housecleaning, and other projects I could be doing.

Am I missing some big turnoff along this highway? Am I focused in the wrong direction? Is this all there is?

One of those weeks, I suppose.

It happens often and sometimes I share it here, like back in July last year with my post Mental Minimalism: Taking a Break. Why share the malaise? Because someone out there may be feeling it too, and then at least we’re not alone.

To Be Known And Understood

I finished I. Asimov – A Memoir this morning in tears. I didn’t realize that he wrote this in the last couple of years before his death. I felt like I gained a friend while I read chapter after chapter. I saw him, I knew him well, we connected, and then he was gone. His wife edited the manuscript, added an epilogue, and had it published after he had passed on. The words his wife used to start her epilogue were what finally broke me up.

“One of the deepest desires of a human being is to be known and understood.” From I. Asimov – A Memoir

Each and every one of us has this desire and manifests it in our own special way. Through art, service, business, science, religion, or simply though living a life, we all seek to be known and understood.

I believe that is exactly why the internet, through blogs and social media, is so alluring to us. It expands the ability to express ourselves and be seen.

But are we ever understood?

I’m not sure.

If I don’t thoroughly understand myself, how can I be understood by others?

Every book or article I read brings new information. Every journal entry or mediation session sheds new light. Every blog post I write and share organizes my thoughts and gets me closer to what I’m really trying to say.

Do we seek to know and understand others?

I’m not sure we do.

I know that I do see people. I see what my family and friends are posting on their social media accounts. I read what others post on their blogs. But do I really engage with them? Do I try to understand why they are sharing, what they really want to say? Honestly? No.

I don’t think we have that capability on such a large scale as the internet.

To know and understand takes intimate and intentional contact. And we simply don’t have the capacity, the energy, or the time it would take to support that contact with more than a few people.

Instead of focusing on our immediate surroundings and the few people we are in contact with on a regular basis, we spread our attention all over the world and we lose something important. Connection with the people we really should be loving.

As much as we think we know and understand the people we see through their art forms, the people we interact with online, we don’t really. We know what they show us.

But that’s not a bad thing.

My personal philosophy is that there are different levels of understanding, as there are different levels of love and relationship. We simply need to be aware of them and react to them accordingly.

Like I said, I felt like I got to know Asimov and we became good friends while I read about his life through his eyes. And then he died, and I felt so sad, like maybe I should do something to mourn the loss of a friend.

That’s crazy talk. Awareness of what emotion was triggered, what I was relating to, reminded me of the level of understanding and connection I was at and brought me back to reality. It’s the same with social media friends, bloggers, tv personalities, and artists. Yes, I interacted with what they shared with the world, what they wanted to be know for, but I wonder… if I met them, hung out with them, were a part of their lives somehow, would they be the same person I know them as?

I often wonder what people think of me; those that stumble across what I’ve written, old co-workers or acquaintances that see what I’ve shared to my social media accounts. What I’ve found fascinating over the years is the few honest, aware, or reflective friends and family members that will tell me what they think they see in me. And as I get older and more reflective myself, I tend to listen to those accounts more openly instead of vehemently insisting that they “apparently don’t really know anything about me.”

That instinct to be known and understood is why I created this blog. Social media photos, quotes, and selfies just weren’t cutting it for me. I wanted to use more words, think more about what I was trying to say, open up just a little bit more. For some reason, blogging to strangers is much easier for me than talking with people that know me.

Even if you’re not a fan of Asimov’s work, or a science fiction fan in general, I think you might enjoy reading I. Asimov – A Memoir. He was a brilliant and fascinating person, honest and open hearted, and very funny. His memoir sheds light on another kind of human being, a life well lived, a thread in the tapestry of humanity.

Answering Contempt with Warm-Heartedness

Answering contempt with “warm-heartedness and good humor” is the best way to start the healing between all of us. Someone has to answer anger with listening. Someone has to answer contempt with love.

I finished this book early this morning and if I could afford to give Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks to everyone that might give it a chance (and force it on anyone that wouldn’t, you know I’m kidding) I totally would.

When I heard Arthur C. Brooks interviewed on Freakanomics last year, I knew I had to have this book. The past several years of political battles that first turned personal and then nasty and borderline violent has been very hard on my poor heart. I’ve felt myself pulling away from people I love and care deeply for because I felt threatened and attacked every time I open my social media feed.

I’ve lost several good friends simply because I was honest about how I felt. One shut the door on me because I was flippant about a political battle that seemed over-hyped to me in the media. Another because I somehow hurt her by trying to cheer her up with the positive side of an issue. I’ve distanced family members because I felt that their views were going to destroy everything I hold dear. It’s gotten ridiculous.

I’ve left the whole thing completely this past year only to find that I feel even more isolated and alone in the world. But what can I do?!

This book was every bit as helpful as I hoped it would be. It wasn’t just a list of platitudes telling us all that we needed to agree to disagree and love each other anyway or simply not speak of the complicated subjects and opt for light conversation about the weather and the children’s activities. Even those subjects are laced with hostility these days; from my right leaning friends AND my left leaning ones griping about how the other side is going to kill us all with their malicious intentions.

The helpful content in this book is a look from both sides of the political spectrum, how we could all use a bit of humility and love in our lives. The HOW is exactly what I have been searching for because I’ve felt so lost.

This quote at the end of the book spoke directly to me:

answering contempt

“What about when you are the one treated with contempt? What should be your reaction? The answer is to see it not as a threat but an opportunity. Why? Because another’s expression of contempt toward you is your opportunity to change at least one heart – your own. Respond with warm-heartedness and good humor.”

I can hear some of my friends and family now. “Michelle, no one has ever treated you with contempt. What are you talking about?”

You’re right. Very seldom has anyone said to me directly that I am a horrible person for my ideas. But when you share posts that condemn others for being evil because they are on the other side of a debate, you shut people down and push them away. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying what would happen if those people found out that I was on the other side of a debate, far too much time.

I’m still learning new ways to interact with people, how to discuss issues without causing people to feel that I don’t care about their side. Actively listening is a weakness of mine, I know this, and lately I’ve been working on it a lot. I’ve been reaching out to people, apologizing for my part in the battle, and hoping to rebuild some bonds.

The interview started that process, and this book has driven it forward. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’re interested in what he has to say but don’t want to commit to buying it, check out his website. You won’t be disappointed. Maybe we can make America great again for real, by bridging differences of opinion and ideals, and bonding over what we have in common and what makes life far more colorful and interesting.

Instagram, I Like It

Are you a fan of Instagram? Do you feel like the energy you use there is well-spent?

I’m reminded of that old mom warning, “Don’t scarf your food so fast that you can’t even taste it!” Yeah, I’m reading through Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks pretty quickly, but does it really apply to books? I don’t think so.

It’s just that I’m loving it so much, it feels so good to get all these nourishing ideas, I have to gobble them up as fast as I can! Like I said before, it feels like an antidote to the poison I’ve been witnessing. I want to take a giant swig and pass that baby around to as many as will take it.

Like this quote, for instance, “It’s regular citizens acting as leaders who matter most in the battle against the culture of contempt.

By declaring our independence from the bitterness washing over our nation, each of us can strike a small blow for greater national harmony and become happier in the process.”

I feel like my neighbors and I have been doing that in a small way every week at our potlucks, but this book is inspiring me to do more. It’s hard though, especially on social media where I encounter most of the vitriol. I’m not a thick-skinned person and the past several years have made me angry at most of the world and far too prone to react to provocation, looking like a fool and creating more unhappiness. But the reason I’m really enjoying this book is that he isn’t simply inspiring me with the “why,” he’s giving me a good dose of “how” to go with it.

Speaking of social media…do you have Instagram? I’ve been on and off there and Facebook a lot over the last couple years, much to the dismay of some of my friends. What can I say? I’m learning as I go here. Sometimes you have to let of something to see if you need it or not.

In the past, I’ve used Instagram to post quotes from the books I’m reading along with quick riffs about what I’m learning. My hope was to generate interest for the blog, but it doesn’t seem to do that. I rarely get crossover clicks. Instagram is built more for images than words, and I’m more of a words person, speaking to words people. This past month, I let it go again and discovered something.

I like making the graphics of quotes from my reading. It helps me solidify the part I read that day and I remember more about the book. Besides that, it makes a nice reminder of where I’ve been. The bonus is every once in a while, I connect with another human. I’ve decided to bring it back.

Each hour I read, I go back and select a quote that stands out to me. I create a graphic, post it to Instagram and then write a sentence or two about it. Sometimes I use that quote in a blog post because there is more that I want to say about it. For a while there, when I was posting regularly there, you could tell how many hours I spent in a book by how many posts there were about it.

I hope you’ll join me. I love Instagram for a number of reasons. First of which is that I get to meet new people there. Facebook, I reserve for friends and family I’ve met in person. You can follow my public posts there, and I’d love it if you did, but Instagram is where I share more of what I’m doing here. Instagram is where the beautiful strangers are.

The second reason, and don’t laugh, is that I’ve found the most amazing mental and relationship health helps. I follow some wonderful therapists that post the best helps for free. People like Self Work Co and The Love Therapist have changed my life, not to mention all the Bookstagrammers that have added to my TBR shelf!

If you’re interested, I’m DesertDreamer72. I’d love to connect with you there and see all the fun things you share with the world.

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