A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

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But I’m Not Arguing That With You!

“Refusing to put your time and energy into arguing, and ignoring someone completely, could be a better use of your resources.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do” by Amy Morin

This will be the last post about this book, but there is so much more in it. I’m trying to limit myself to five short posts about each book, but I just couldn’t pass up this last one.

No Need To Argue

In person and online, 99% of the time there is no real need to argue with people. We waste our time and energy, two of our most precious resources. When we argue our point with words, all we do is set people around us on the defensive and create more drama to live through.

What can we do instead? Live our own lives the way we want to and walk away from arguments.

I can hear you already…but…but…what if people are wrong?!

You’re not going to change other people’s thoughts or behavior by arguing with them.

You’re just not. I’m sorry.

People are mostly social creatures though, and if your life is peaceful and joyful, they’ll want to be around you. And subtle daily influence changes hearts and minds, not social media comments and intense words about how wrong they are over lunch.

No More Passive Invitations

“Technology has changed the way we interact with people. Social invitations are often sent over text message or social media. And rather than ask, “Do you want to go shopping with me?” many people are inclined to say something more like “I’m going shopping. Let me know if you want to go.” Wording it this way means you don’t have to face rejection.

And while it also means you don’t have to put someone on the spot, saying “You can join me if you want” is also a way to protect yourself.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Oh, boy, did it feel good to read those words in print. I’m not alone in this! It’s actually something a lot of people are doing. At first, I thought passive invitations were a great way for someone like me, extroverted but terribly shy, to carefully and tactfully extend invitations to friends. If no one responded, no harm, no foul! A few years into this new social tactic and I realized that I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

While I do enjoy being alone, quiet time to myself, and small events, I’m not an introvert. In person conversation and connection with others is what fuels me. After a few days of being alone, I start to crave social interaction to build up my creative energy. But I’m naturally shy. I don’t know why, and I’ve worked hard most of my life to overcome that tendency.

Social media gave me an escape from the rigorous practice of approaching people directly and now I’m so out of practice that the simple act of asking people out to lunch takes an incredible amount of effort. Texting or, god forbid, calling another human being (even my Dad) is making myself vulnerable, presenting myself in a way that I have the chance of being shot down. My ego has been fragile lately and I don’t know if I can survive another hit. The more time I spend away from people, the more fragile I feel and the less likely I am to present myself to others.

The more chances I get to interact with others, the thicker my skin becomes and let downs aren’t as painful. When I’m built up with yes’s, the no’s don’t hurt as much. But…opening myself up first? What if the first answer is no? Lately, I feel like I get more no’s to my attempts to connect, than yes’s. It makes me put up walls, and that just keeps the yes’s out too.

I know I need to throw out those social media, passive request crutches to socializing, but it’s so hard. Just like getting strong physically, so it goes with becoming emotionally strong, baby steps. Ask a friend out for coffee, or a walk, or anything. Getting a “no thanks” or “another time” doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person, it means they’re busy. Some days are harder than others, but the more I try, the more likely I am to find a yes, so I keep asking!

Unachievable Goal – Understanding the World

Unachievable goal? Maybe. But it is still the reason I read, write, question, and explore the world around me.

“I am a man committed to understanding the world and how it operates, all the while knowing that I haven’t much chance in succeeding in this endeavor. What I do know is that the world is too rich, too various, too multifaceted and many-layered for a fellow incapable of an hour’s sustained thought to hope to comprehend it.”

From “The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery” by Joseph Epstein

Lately, though, I’ve felt more overwhelmed than usual. There’s just so much coming in from so many directions that I have no time to process and reflect. I find myself needing to take several steps back, limit my exposure to the world, and refocus. What is currently most important for me to focus my energy on? What/who needs my immediate attention? I’ll tell you right off the bat what’s not…any present moment’s crisis outside my home.

Yes, I know…pandemic…forest fires…election…my high school friend’s cat…my ex-co-worker’s girlfriend…my distant cousin’s dinner plans… I’m sure they are all important to someone, but I just can’t right now. I need to start smaller. I need to focus here at home.

Myself. My family. My home. That’s what comes first during “SHTF” times, most times actually. Like Mark Manson writes about, there are only so many fucks to give, only so much energy each person has to deal with what life throws at them.

I’m limiting my input to books and a small group of friends and family. Social media, other than posting my reading quotes daily, is gone. My output focus will reflect those inputs alone for the foreseeable future.

“It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward;…”

F.L. Lucas “The Value of Style” quoted in Joseph Epstein’s “Heavy Sentences”

And that quote is why I write here instead of simply in a notebook at my desk. It helps me keep my mind right, which helps me run my life in more peace, and in the long run, helps my family and closest friends run theirs. While I’m at the work, I might as well share my discoveries here. You never know whose hands it will land in.

Get A Hold of Yourself, Man!

 I paused on these lines and thought, “That happens to me all the time,” underlining it so I could find it again later.

It’s the reason I post quotes like this on Instagram these days, a text has jogged a thought. I used to underline it and maybe make a note in the margin and leave it at that. Sometimes, if the passage struck me in a significant way, I’d write about it on my blog. Usually though, the thought came and went, and I rarely went back to it. I’ve always been jealous of people that can pull quotes from memory while they write or speak years after they read the book.

This quote got even more interesting when, at the end of my reading hour, I flipped back through the pages to create something for my daily post. I had highlighted several passages, but my eye went to this one again. Copying it down into the graphic, I was pulled in another direction.

“The condition, known as hysterical blindness, may be partial or complete, including one, several, or all objects.”

Have you ever been “blind with rage” or so upset you can’t see straight? That’s a form of hysterical blindness, anxiety so strong that your vision clouds and you feel blind. What causes that kind of anxiety? Huge transitions, deep grief, loss…global pandemics.

When we are living in a constant state of anxiety, we can’t think straight. Our minds, flooded with adrenaline, are blind to even obvious solutions to our problems, and we make terrible decisions.

I’ve been given a pretty healthy ration of shit lately for turning off the news channels, unfollowing/unfriending people that consistently share negative and nasty news articles on social media, and generally staying out of the loop when it comes to politics. How can I possibly make informed decisions if I don’t have all the “facts”? I’m hiding my head in the sand!

Stand by for imminent cliché…

We live in the information age, where we can be bombarded and inundated with “news” from all over the world 24/7 and I don’t think it’s healthy for any human being to live under that kind of stress.

I look around at my friends and family online and I see them under constant stress about things completely outside their control causing anxiety to the point of hysteria. I saw in it building up in myself, becoming blind to my immediate surroundings, so I put a stop to it. It hasn’t stopped me from completely freaking out from time to time. These are stressful times and, honestly, I’m tired of pretending they aren’t.

By opting out of the 24/7 news cycle, I’ve been able to focus on what is in my immediate realm of responsibility, my family, my home, and my neighborhood. My anxiety has lessened tremendously, and I’ve been able to think more clearly and make better decisions that benefit my life and those around me.

Reading the paper, watching TV news, or popping over to social media for a moment, reminds me of those old movies where someone is screaming hysterically and someone grabs them by the shoulders, slaps them hard across the face and says, “Get a hold of yourself!” We’ve all whipped each other into such a frenzy, we can’t possibly make logical decisions.

What else can I do but take a big step back, protect myself, and wait for the storm to clear? Humans have survived on this planet for a long time without knowing what everyone is doing, everywhere, at every moment. I don’t need anyone to make a law, start a movement, or create a boycott to make a decision that keeps my mind and body healthy and neither do you.

Social Media Animals

Let’s face it, I don’t get out much. I’m sure you can relate. Social media is the majority of my total social interaction these days, so I do spend an equivalent amount of time trying to figure out how to make it work. BC (before covid) you could have told me to get a life, but now I’m not allowed, right? So here I am stuck between my books, my immediate family, and my smartphone.

“Man And His Symbols” edited by Carl G. Jung was recommended to me by another book…lost that thread of the tapestry but that’s what’s nice about them, when you step back you can still see the big picture even if a few threads are missing. This morning, in a chapter about “The Process of Individuation” by M.-L. von Franz, I found this…

“We know from studying the social behavior of the higher animals that small groups (from approximately 10 to 50 individuals) create the best possible living conditions for the single animal as well as for the group, and man seems to be no exception in this respect. His physical well-being, his spiritual psychic health, and, beyond the animal realm, his cultural efficiency seem to flourish best in such a social formation. As far as we at present understand the process of individuation, the Self apparently tends to produce such small groups by creating at the same time sharply defined ties of feelings of relatedness to all people. Only if these connections are created by the Self can one feel any assurance that envy, jealousy, fighting, and all manner of negative projections will not break up the group. Thus an unconditional devotion to one’s own process of individuation also brings about the best possible social adaptation.”

I read this and took a deep breath. This is it. This is the piece of the puzzle I was missing when trying to understand why I get so frustrated with people on the internet, supposedly “connected” by social media. We think we are so “evolved” that we don’t need to understand our instincts, follow our intuition, or listen to our unconscious souls to move well in this world, but I’m really starting to think that it’s just not true. Technology does make many things easier, but I feel like we are losing ourselves in the learning curve of the new.

These social media connections aren’t created by the Self (that unconscious “real you”), they’re connected by the Ego (our drive to be noticed and accepted by the group). They are draining our social energy, like being at a party non-stop for years. We jump online every chance we get to interact, defend, and accuse until we flop on our couches exhausted, only to pick up the remote and watch the “news” or the latest sitcom’s for hours. At the end of the day, we check one more time to see if anyone in the world needs our attention before we collapse into bed, only to start the whole process over again the next day.

Social media is short-circuiting our drive to set ourselves apart and develop ourselves into individuals. This process is complicated, takes time and energy. It takes quiet reflection. But when we do it, we turn a light on that only others that have done the work, or are in the process of doing, can see. That’s when we create our small group of real connection, the one that builds a community and makes us bigger than our own individual whole.

When we lead with our Ego, we have tons of superficial connections with people that don’t share our light. That’s when the battle for control begins, jealousy and envy creep in and take over our life’s work. That’s when we decline into chaos, ripe for a bigger Ego to come in and claim they can clean things up for us, dispel the bad guys and make everyone fall into line and do what’s right. Politicians and super stars are great at this.

I struggle with my use of social media, you know that. There days recently that I think, “Well, Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms to think about what we’ve done, but I sure wish she would have taken away our smartphones.” I know forced learning doesn’t help in the long run, but these days…I just don’t know. You wouldn’t be reading this if we didn’t have the internet. I wouldn’t have found the book recommendations that have made my life better. I would have been able to post quotes that have encouraged friends over the years without social media. I don’t really want it to go away.

Then I think, maybe soul searching just isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested in taking the journey, this book is a great start to creating your own road map. Which leads me to the quote I shared on Instagram this morning.

Find your own path by the light of others ahead of you, as well as your own.

Disputes Over Ideas – Confusion of Language

Once again, the more I read about it, the more I see the similarities. Our current situation isn’t unprecedented. The end isn’t written in stone though. We could end up in a different place, as we have many other times when unrest began.

I finished watching “Trotsky” on Netflix yesterday and was out watering my trees this morning. I don’t have sprinklers. I like taking half an hour early each morning and inspecting the property while I water; a tree needs trimming, a shrub needs to be shored up, etc. It’s relaxing and meditative too. I get a chance to take a good look at what I have around me.

It’s early when I water in the summer, usually about an hour after the sun comes up. I’ve already been up for a couple of hours, reading and journaling. I’ve gone for a walk or done my yoga practice for the day.  I’m starting to get hungry for breakfast. And I’m thinking quietly, without other voices.

Today I was thinking about the book I’m reading, “A People’s Tragedy,” and the Netflix show “Trotsky.” And that led me to what I discovered about George Orwell. Well…maybe I didn’t “discover” it. I’d heard that he was a Democratic Socialist before, but when I read his books I assumed he had changed his mind and was writing to denounce it because that’s what I got from the stories. It turns out he was lamenting that the political philosophy was hijacked by thugs and ruined.

I’m getting the same feeling from the book and show today. The author of the book and the producers of the show have obvious sympathy for socialism. They are building up the benefits and positives, which they are correct about, and then showing why it failed and that it wasn’t the socialism/communism/or Marxism, that was the problem. It was bad humans.

The strange thing is what I’ve noticed about where my mind goes with the same information. I read what happened and I think, “That’s why it doesn’t work because of bad humans.” From what I’ve learned, all I see is an opening for bad people to do very bad things. Their system of government would lead to some wonderful things if we lived in a perfect world. But we don’t. And so far, it’s always ended in so much death and destruction.

I’m still studying and I’m learning a lot. I’d like to find more books about the history of Marxism and what evolved from it over the last 100 years. I’d also like to learn more about the democratic socialist movement we have today in the United States. I won’t say I’m looking for unbiased information. I don’t think that exists, but I would like to find several points of view.

A side note, I’ve tried discussing things like this on social media with friends, but it seems to me that we are all coming from different corners and we all have different definitions for words and phrases. It’s like we attempted to build a tower to reach the heavens and have been afflicted with the confusion of language, a “Tower of Babel” story. Each time I make an attempt, I’m baffled by people’s reactions and have to retreat.

Maybe it’s better to have discussions in smaller groups, so that we all have the chance to actually be heard. When I post a topic, everyone comes running at me from every direction. Friend A comments and before I can answer them, Friend B and C join in and then Friend D comes throwing insults to Friend A, replying to him instead of my post. Ugg. It’s anarchy and completely pointless.

The privacy of speaking instead of publicly writing would probably help too. Just because I commented on something or posted it, doesn’t mean it’s gospel. We seem to have lost the concept of batting around ideas and discussing things openly. We’re all making statements and defending our stances more than attempting to understand each other.

Instead, I simply post a picture of my cat. Sometimes we can agree that he’s cute and fuzzy, but then there’s always that one person that doesn’t like cats, the one that heard cats are evil and I’m evil for having it as a familiar, the one that wants to save them all from destruction and used by cults, and the one that thinks it’s just mean to keep one as a pet. Sigh.

What Can I Do?

My evening meditation and reading always ends up being attended by my followers, Chili and Abe.

I read another chapter of “A Guide to the Good Life – {the ancient art of stoic joy}” by William B. Irvine. As I read, I took a few notes, asked myself a couple questions, and had an “ah-ha” (not the band) moment, only to find that the end of the chapter confirmed my thought process.

I love it when that happens.

The chapter was on The Dichotomy of Control. The Stoics say there things you can and things you can’t control. Mr. Irvine expands on that a bit, adding that there are things you have some control over as well. That made me think about my current situation.

How much influence to change the world do I have? Here on my blog? Very little. On social media? I don’t suppose much at all. I’ve learned first hand lately, that my personal posts are enjoyed by and encouraging to people that already share my values. I make people smile with my cat pictures. I make people laugh with my jokes. But do I influence anyone to think or change their minds? No, not really.

That’s where the Stoic philosophy came in. Why bother doing something that has so little effect? Why not simply keep my posts to neutral subjects? Because I feel as though I’m leaving part of myself hidden away, a part that I’m proud of and want to share.

So what can I do? Create an internalized goal. My goal isn’t to change my readers’ minds or educate my friends as to my point of view so that they will come to their senses and adopt it. I have no control over how anyone perceives what I post or what they do with it.

My goal in posting here and on social media is to share a slice of my life with others and to clarify my point of view to the best of my ability. I have control over that and I can meet that goal every day.

This goes right along with participating in government and community. I do the best that I can to keep up with what’s happening, educate myself, and vote for what I think is best. The outcome is irrelevant to my goals.

Overloaded Outlet

These past few months really threw me for a loop. Not because of what’s going on but my reaction to it. I thought I was better than this. Have I learned anything?

I read emails while I eat breakfast. I know…don’t multitask, Michelle. Be aware of your breakfast. But people, while oatmeal is delicious and nutritious, it’s just not much to be aware of. Give me a break here. Emails are much nicer to think about.

Yesterday’s “Moment of Happiness” from Gretchen Rubin was especially relevant to me, so much so, that I wrote it down in my journal.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage

The visual of “a clock during a thunderstorm” really struck me…pun not intended but…good one! What I wouldn’t give to be like that clock!

A couple things came to mind when I read it. The first was how do I get that “quiet mind?” I have routines, meditation times, I read, I keep a journal, I “make space for me,” yet my squirrel brain continues to race around. I can’t seem to tame this beast.

And then, how do I protect my “private pace?” Shit, how do I figure out what my own private pace IS?! From childhood to young adulthood, to parenthood, I’ve always felt like I was running someone else’s race. My parent’s, my school’s, my job’s, and then my children’s. I’m always keeping up with them, filling their needs, inadvertently neglecting my own. Only recently have I begun to have time to even think about what my own personal pace will be now.

So I sat, drinking my coffee and thinking about it and it dawned on me. The scene from “A Christmas Story” came to mind, the one where they’re trying plug the Christmas lights into the socket and it’s overflowing with plugs.

I am that outlet! I’m overloaded with plugs draining my power at a rate I just can’t keep up with. I need to prioritize. There are some things I just can’t let go of, nor do I want to. My husband, my children, my home, and some very special friends are what make life worth living. At times they are also drains on my energy, but mostly they add to my life in amazing ways.

I need fewer pulls on my attention. I need quiet time. While I don’t generally spend a lot of time outside my home, I do spend a lot of time socializing online. And that is what I need to let go of.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium, Tumblr, even LinkedIn, all vie for my attention. Like an outlet with a poor fuse, if it even has one at all, I’m more likely to spark and start a fire that consumes it all than to blow a fuse.

So, I’m taking some advice that I got over a year ago and letting them go. All of them, except for my personal Facebook page. I’m keeping that because I use it as an online scrapbook and to keep in touch with my friends and family. I’ve set it up so that it pulls as little attention away from my physical reality as possible.

What does that mean for my blog? It means that my posts won’t be automatically shared across platforms. I will be sharing each post to my personal Facebook page, so if you are there, you are welcome to follow me. I won’t accept friend requests from readers but follows of my public posts are very much welcome.

My monthly newsletter will also continue to go out to all my email subscribers. I love writing that newsletter! It’s mostly about the books I’ve been reading all month, but I also share my favorite posts from the month. You’d like it. Go sign up. Please!

I need more time without the constant bombardment of other people’s input so that I can create things that are uniquely me. That doesn’t necessarily mean blog posts! I’m still trying to discover what my thing is.

Should I Stay or Go? – The Verdict

So my kind and wonderful reader, I hate to say it but I still don’t have an answer about social media. My thoughts over the past few weeks have sat firmly on, “If this is social, I’m not sure I enjoy it.” And if I’m not enjoying it and it doesn’t serve my life, what’s the point of being there? Would I keep going to a party filled with people that I don’t enjoy being around? Would I keep working at a job that brought me only stress and no income? Would I continue a relationship with a person that only made me cry?

Of course, I wouldn’t, but is that what social media is doing to me? No. In the past, the negatives were buried far beneath all the positives. Logging on each morning and scrolling through the “gossip pages” (that’s what we should really call it) brought me a bit of joy: my friend from high school got a new job, a cousin had a baby, my mom went fishing, etc. There was a bit of news from around the world. My writer group and my inspiration pages posted some tidbit of joy.

I’d share a piece of my life there as well and feel a connection with friends and family as we bonded over the jokes, photos, or articles we posted.

The negatives? You know what they are. A new medium always brings out the weird in some people. Social graces, manners, and rules of etiquette have to be reestablished. And there are always things that people share that you just didn’t want to know about them. It was easy to ignore the minor squabbles and navigate around the things I’d rather not discuss. “To each his own.” I’d think and move on.

This month, as we all are very well aware, has been different. Our lives have been abruptly changed by outside forces and we’ve all had to suddenly adjust. For me, the biggest hurdle hasn’t been the change in lifestyle but has more to do with dealing with people’s reactions online without the important benefit of physical and emotional context.

I’ll admit, which I really didn’t want to do and why I took a pause over the weekend to think about it, I’m struggling. I’m struggling to hold on to my compassion for others. I’m struggling not to withdraw and be fearful of others. I’m struggling not to lash out in my fear and anger.

Like someone threatened with drowning, I have to make a choice. Do I push people off my raft because I know they’ll pull me under? How do I stay alive without losing my humanity in the process? It sounds so overly dramatic but mental health is like that. No, I’m not threatened with immediate physical harm. There is no one with a gun pointed to my head or a mob at my door with a rope, but here I am with my heart rate up and my breathing rapid. Our minds are awesome and terrible things.

What’s your point, Michelle? Where are you going with this?

I’m getting to that. Hold your horses.

Human nature makes us do crazy, stupid, and terrible things to each other when we’re scared. I am human. I don’t want to add to the chaos, so I withdraw my participation. BUT, I also don’t want to withdraw my own point of view from the world outside my own four walls. I have joy and peace to share, experience and insight. I love my friends and family that I only see through social media. I love my readers, my fans, and my followers. You all add to my life in a very wonderful way. I don’t want to push you off my raft!

So what can I do? I’m still not really sure but I know what I’ll try. I’ll keep posting my joy and peace. I’ll continue to write and think and share what I’ve found and learned. I’ll allow you into my digital world to do the same as I want for myself, take what you want and pass on the rest.

“Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams to another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken
And thoughts unclear

What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain
Wind and water
Believe it if you need it
If you don’t, just pass it on

Sun and shower
Wind and rain
In and out the window
like a moth before a flame”

“Box of Rain” by The Grateful Dead

Should I Stay or Should I go?

wp-1585339823642.jpg

This graphic was posted on a relationship group I follow, but it hit me in such a way that I felt compelled to share it here today, right now.

Why?

Because it’s true for any relationship you may have: a friend, a career, a school, a book, a romance…tequila. At some point in any relationship, we all ask ourselves, “Is it worth the effort to continue? What am I receiving from this?” And then we have to make the decision for ourselves.

And here I sit at one of those crossroads.

Now you’re really wondering, right? Is her marriage on the rocks? Or…is she considering giving up writing this blog?! God, please, no! Not now, when we need her wisdom and wit the most!

Don’t worry. My husband is the rock my life is built on. He’s going nowhere…even if he wanted to. And this blog? Stop writing? Oh, hell no. You, my affectionate reader, are the lover I will never kick out of bed for eating crackers.

I’m talking about the dreaded, the lovingly loathed…SOCIAL MEDIA.

I know. I know. I’ve extolled the virtues of it in the past. I’ve told you how much I enjoy what it has brought into my life. I’ve waxed poetic about how we should try to grow as human beings and learn to use this fabulous new tool in our lives instead of shunning it like Luddites. But I’ve come back around to the corner of “stay” and “go.” And here I sit listing out the positives and grumbling about the negatives once again.


Over the weekend, I’ll be spending some time apart from my second favorite distraction and, hopefully, I’ll be able to articulate my feelings better on Monday.

Catch ya later, friends! Love on!

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