Welcome to the middle path

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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stirring Towards The Sun

"Au milieu de l'hiver, j'apprenais enfin qu'il y avait en moi un été invincible."-- Albert Camus

Solstice greetings, surviviors!   We made it past the latest apocalypse and apparently, we are still here.  And in the words of Dr. Who, we are now "halfway out of the dark".  All over the world, winter solstice is marked by celebrations and rituals marking the return of the light and new beginnings.  After weeks of increasing nights, we are stirring towards the sun.

Seems a perfect time for reflection and shedding of the dark we want to leave behind.  Light a candle, write down your regrets, and make a plan to let them go.

In ten days I'll start the January Challenges.  This year let's go for broke:  31 days to a shinier, happier, *new and improved youThe blog will feature a tip and a challenge a day for increasing happiness, health, community, and creativity.  Your participation and comments are invited and welcome.

Song of the day:

Wishing you warm blessings for the holidays,
(*Not that you aren't perfect just as you are...)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

January Challenge Coming

Watch this space.  In January I will be doing my traditional Month O'Daily Blogs, most likely featuring a daily challenge. Last year's 31 days of creativity will be hard to top.  Let me know if you have a wish for this year's theme.

Meanwhile, for those of you heading back to the ole nest for a winter reunion, here's the annual Home for The Holidaze re-run.


 "Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your head"-- Martin  Mull

Christmas and Hanukkah are boom times for therapists.  What is it about holidays that cause so much trouble?  There's the  obvious:   the extra activities to cram in too already crazy busy lives, the financial strains, the booze and sugar hangovers.

And there's  the poignant and sometimes painful difference between the Hallmark commercials of ideal family communion and reality of messy humans coming together with their messy selves.

We spend the latter years of our family-of-origin time struggling to develop identities that resonate with our souls.  Part of that journey means turning away from the very sources of our safety and nurturing-- to be able to find enough differences between ourselves and our parents that we can leave them.

And then the holidays come.  And with it, questions unconscious or not.

Can I be different and still belong?  Can I be true to me and still be loved by you?

Visiting home, or reuniting with relatives, we bump into our younger selves.  Dependent, less competent, locked into family or community roles we may have long since left.   Oftentimes these self portraits aren't held so much by others as projected by us.  Boundaries shift, alliances conflict, and sometimes we fall apart.
We may also struggle to see others as they see themselves without us, and call them back into roles that no longer fit.

Reunions seem to work best when we notice our thoughts and judgments, and remind ourselves they are just that-- impressions and projections, not facts.  I read in a book on some subject seemingly unrelated to therapy-- I think it was economics-- that people are all looking through their own very narrow aluminum tubes, and thinking they are seeing the same thing that others see, looking at different points through their tubes.  When we can rise above ourselves take an eagle eye view, we gain understanding and compassion.  We get that in any given moment in time, we are acting with the limitations with us right then-- just like everyone else.  Sometimes we are being very limited.  We snap and complain, out of tiredness or just confusion from being out of our element or stretched past our resources.  We overfunction, out of hopes we will be shown the love we need.  We isolate, out of fear we don't belong.  And yet we still want acceptance, or at least recognition of our validity.  As do those we love, acting out of their own limitations of the moment.

If you find yourself with loved ones trying hard to conjure up some love, see if you can show them the same acceptance for who they are as you are hoping them to show you.  Even or especially if you disagree with their choices.  In between reminiscing in the sweetness or horror of how things used to be, remember to be curious about how things are now for them, and who they are becoming.  Relinquish your internalized limitations for them and maybe they can do the same for you.  If worse comes to worst, try the OLA strategy.

As hard as you try, no one can escape the horror of Christmas, so you may as well be with your own family."—Liz Lemon, 30 Rock

May the holidays and the new year find your heart ever expanding,

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Loneliness in the Connected World

Quick-- how many people did you talk to this week outside of your workplace?

And by talk, I mean in the actual presence of  the other person.  Not via bytes.  Maybe actually close enough you could (barring anosmia) smell them.

If you're an average American, that number is likely to be much smaller than it would have been for any previous generation.

Although we may feel more in touch in the digital world with our tweets and links and friends list, our nation is becoming increasingly isolated in the 3D world.  We're less likely to go to church, or for that matter join or belong to any group.  We watch more movies at home, attend fewer plays and concerts, attend fewer picnics.  We have fewer deep friendships-- down a full third in a generation.   (Interestingly, highly educated females in the cited research reported the fewest close confidantes: Brashears, Cornell).  And because our society is more mobile, most of live further away from family of origin.  The people we do know are less likely to have known us through more than one or two developmental phases of our lives.

Some of the original research suggested that in addition to having fewer confidants, we were much more socially isolated.  It seems that isn't necessarily the case.  We know lots of people.  Just not as well.  The connections are shallower.

The average facebook user has about 240 "friends".  Who do you call when you're sick and need some groceries? When your car breaks down and you need a lift?  When you don't know how to program your remote, or make a pie crust?  Before the internet, before the average work week expanded several hours thanks to email and economic competition, we might have asked a friend.  Now we google it.  Or we hire someone.  Maybe we are just worn out by increasing demands on our time and attention.  Or maybe we no longer have as many long-term, mutual, real-time connections.

isolation is for the birds.
For clients in my private practice, loneliness is a common presenting problem.  And it has significant negative effects.  One headline-making study found the health risks of loneliness as dangerous as smoking.  Perhaps DVD players and laptops should carry a warning similar to cigarette packs:  "Socializing with Friends Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health".

This isn't new information.  Anyone who's taken a psych class has heard about the studies of institutionalized orphans and psychosocial dwarfism, or seen the heartbreaking pictures of Harlowe's baby monkeys clasping their warm, milkless terry-cloth "moms", prefering skin contact over food.  We are social animals.  We are made to love and be loved, to touch and be touched, to nurture and be nurtured.

It's easier for kids to make connections.  (On average.  All of this is on average.  As they say, individual performance will vary.)   Watch them at a playground.  One will go up to another, quick as you please if their parents haven't put too much Stranger Danger in them, and say, "Wanna play?" or even,"Wanna be my friend?"  Adults in school find it still pretty easy to meet others:  here are all these cohorts, stuck in similar situations, often also far away from home.  Familiarity breeds ease, and friends of friends will add to connections.  Adults with young kids may get the advantage of seeing other adults in situations over and over, with nothing much to do but hang while the kids play.  They start talking, and may eventually become friends.

But for lots of adults, whether single , married, working at home, retired or in a small business, childless or no longer parenting, or JUST PLAIN CRAZY BUSY, finding friends isn't nearly as easy.  Especially if you're new(er) to town, transitioning out of a love relationship, etc.  Many of my clients report that even when they reach out, they find others' lives too busy to accommodate the time and interest of a new friendship.

sure, they have company, but they never touch
But mostly they don't reach out much, or don't know how.  We don't just walk into a coffee shop and ask someone to be friends.  Well, most don't.  I tell clients the story about how I met my best friend in Southeast Texas.  I'd had my second kid and stopped working.  I hadn't bothered to develop many real friendships at work because I didn't figure on staying long in Texas.  The one woman I'd connected with had moved.  I was desperately lonely, and started going to La Leche meetings just to see adults.  One week I spied an intelligent looking woman with kids of a similar age. We were the only two women in the meeting that didn't have a diaper bag that coordinated with our nursery theme; we both had backpacks.   I asked her if she wanted to hang out.  She looked at me like I was a stalker.  I was persistent over the next few weeks and she eventually relented.  It was worth it.  We're still confidantes; I just returned from a wonderful vacation with her. (Note to L:  I know you think I make this worse than it was.  And PS I love you).
making and sharing food  together is a great way to connect

I also started a salon back then, which is a fancy-ass word for a potluck with a conversational topic.  I invited everyone I met that seemed even slightly interesting.  We hired a babysitter to corral the chitlins, and shared theme food and good talk.

So that's one way.  And frankly, it's worked for me. It's my job to make strangers known to me, so I have lots of experience and practice.  But not everyone is comfortable chatting up strangers. 

You know the usual ways to meet new people.  Join a group: religious, civic, avocational. Take a class or take up a hobby and look for others who share it.  Read the local paper!  Every day, there are activities in at least this community; go to a lecture, audition for a play, take part in a reading group.  Get out and meet your neighbors.  Host a potluck.  Check out Meetup or other real-time social connection sites. Read the bulletin boards at the library or coop, and try something new every few weeks.
find your tribe
Most importantly, be curious when you meet people.  Worry less about what they think about you and more about who they are.  Ask questions.  Offer or ask for small favors (old psych study-- people who are asked for small favors they can easily provide feel increased positive feelings for the asker).  Take reasonable risks to engage.  Initiate.

And remember, friendships are like gardens and need tending, especially when young.  I hope you have a couple of friends you've known forever, that sort that even if you don't talk or see each other for years at a time, it's all still good.  But remember that those friendships didn't start out with that degree of infrequency.  To get comfortable, to get to know another, takes time and energy.  It's worth it.  You're worth it.

Related posts:  Building and needing community

Recommended reading: 
Bowling Alone, by Robert P Putnam
Loneliness:  Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, by John Caccioppo

Song of the Day:  Gosh, Sammy, so many choices.  How's this?
Hello in There (John Prine)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Comparison and Separation-- Guest post by Lisa Wells

 Today's guest post is by yogi and role model Lisa Wells of Live Well Studio, Corvallis.  There's a lot of wisdom in here, even if you don't know a downward dog from a hotdog.  Please enjoy!

Comparison and Separation:  Can You Embrace Your Humble Pigeon Pose?

I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 2 decades.  My pigeon pose has probably reached its full expression.  There just isn’t much more opening to be found in these old hips.  My Pigeon Pose is a humble Pigeon Pose.

 I often find myself surrounded by yogis with extraordinarily beautiful Pigeon Poses.  Yogis who can bring their shin perpendicular to their spine and then lie their chest right down on it.  Or yogis who come into full upright Pigeon, bend their back knee and balance perfectly in Mermaid Pose.  Or the few who can reach overhead and hold the foot of their back leg lightly in their hands as they gaze upward into the eyes of the divine.  Can you hear my jealousy?

I’ve envied me many a Pigeon.  With no other option on the table, I humbly proceeded to work at Pigeon Pose at my bodies pace.  I practice Pigeon Pose nearly every day not for its beauty, but because my body feels better when I do.  Pigeon Pose feels delicious regardless of what it looks like.

The other day, I found myself once again noticing everyone else’s achievements in Pigeon Pose.  I was comparing my Pigeon with other yogi’s Pigeons.  I can tell you exactly who was deeper in their Pigeon than I was.  I can tell you exactly who has tighter hips than I do.  As I was cataloguing all the Pigeon Pose’s in the classroom I had an ‘aha’ moment: the process of comparison was keeping me separated from others.  My internal dialogued, simplified, was: “He’s better than me.”  “She’s tighter than me.”

This internal dialogue enhanced my sense of isolation and specialness.  It fed my ego, the good and bad of my ego, and it kept me alone.  This sense of loneliness through comparison is an old familiar feeling.
I’ve recently been chanting a simple mantra during my meditation: “not-separate.”  Softening into ‘not-separate’ has changed my perspective on the world. I’m more connected with people.  I smile more easily.  I’m less attached to who I think I am. I am more able to give fully of myself.  I am less afraid to be my true self.

Gradually, I find myself letting go of my need to compare myself to others.  I find myself able to practice Mudita, empathic joy. Not just in theory, but really enjoying the accomplishments of others. If I am not separate, then their accomplishment is also my accomplishment. Mudita is a delicious way to expand my experience of life.

So when your yoga teacher reminds you not to compare yourself with others, it’s for real and for realization. It’s to help protect you from injuring yourself.  It’s to help you practice Mudita and ‘Not Separate.  As this deepening occurs, the world might just open up and swallow you whole.  You might step right into Krishna’s mouth and experience the glory of all that is.   You might wake up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

S.A.D.? Lighten Up!

It's dark out there.  Costco has lightboxes on sale.  Must be time for the annual Seasonal Affective Disorder rerun.  And check out Dr. Jim Phelps' exceptionally thorough discussion on research and information on light and depression.

 The days are darkening here in Corvallis, andwhat little slanty sun could shine is thwarted by rain clouds. If you notice yourself getting sleepy, lethargic, or gloomy, you're in good company. Seasonal changes in light have a very real and physiologic effect on mood and energy. Our brains and bodies are set up by evolution to react to long light days with increased energy (work those fields! harvest!) and to cooler, dark days by slowing the system down (sleep! now sleep some more!). Our bodies would be perfectly happy going to bed not long after the sun sets. That probably worked well in days before widespread use of artificial light and 24/7 availability of food and things to do-- but it's unrealistic for most of us now. The result in the split between rapid societal evolution and much slower physiologic evolution can be sleep, energy and mood disorders, including the Oregon State Malady:  Seasonal Affective Disorder.

A light box can address both typical and more drastic results of the effects of waning light on the brain and body. Light boxes produce effects similar to sun exposure and can be used in the morning to assist in wakefulness and mood regulation and in the afternoon to increase energy. Exposure is typically between 15-30 minutes at a regular time each a.m. or early afternoon. To be effective, the light source should be at or above face level, with eyes open (although it is not necessary or recommended to look directly at the light)and within 15-30 inches of the light source. Specific instructions vary according to model. There is a great deal of evidence of effectiveness in the use of light boxes to treat seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression linked to low winter light.

Because they have a real--and sometimes profound-- effect, they are best used according to specific directives based on the particular mood or sleep issues one is experiencing. In some cases, use can increase hypomania (agitation, excess energy, and insomnia among other symptoms). Usually a reduction in the exposure time or moving exposure from am to afternoon  is enough to remedy that. However, I encourage persons considering light therapy to consult their physician or mental health practitioner and have some sort of system in place to track results. Because it isn't completely clear that such intense light exposure is safe over long periods for eyes, light therapy isn't for everyone and the risks as well as benefits should be explored.

I'm a chronically terrible sleeper, and an even worse waker. I noticed that the best sleep I have is when I am camping and rise and go to sleep with the summer sun. Since that time frame is typically also when I rise and wake in the winter, I have found great benefit in the use of a dusk/dawn simulator. The device I use attaches to my bedside lamp and is programmed to turn the (100 watt full spectrum) light down very gradually in the evening and then up again gradually in the morning. I use it from October to May and find I don't even need an alarm clock, as the dawning light creates a gentle alertness over time. I wake up refreshed instead of startled. Research suggests that gradual lightening stimulates a chemical cue to awakening, just as gradual darkness stimulates a chemical cue to drowsiness. I rarely use a light box since I've bought my dawn simulator. They aren't cheap-- mine was $150-- but I find it a bargain for the help it's provided me with sleep and waking.

Meanwhile, if it's a nice day, get out there!The average American is getting LESS than the 20 minutes of sun a day needed by the body to manufacture adequate vitamin D-- that's on a summer day.  In Corvallis, you'd need to be outside during 24 daylight hours to get that daily dose.  The USDA just doubled the RDA; if you are supplementing, they say go for D3 and 800 mg.  Harvard Health suggests 1000 and tells more about the importance of this vitamin, ways to get it, and effects for different populations in their newsletter here.


The Office of Dietary Supplements/National Institute of Health FACT SHEET on D.   There's a chart on getting vitamin D from diet.  Trust me, if you aren't taking cod liver oil or drinking a half-gallon of milk a day, you probably won't get it there.

Corvallis's own Linus Pauling Research Center is doing lots of research on D and are big proponents.  Find out what they are on about HERE.

Boston University reseacher and professor Dr. Michael Holick is considered one of the foremost researchers on D; he alerted a nation to links between D deficiency and increased autoimmune diseases and cancer.  He worries our obsession with sunlight protection in the form of sunblocks and clothing is causing a national deficiency.  Remember, no need to tan-- 20 minutes on hands and face in summer is plenty to produce all the D you need.

Quote of the day:  Albert Camus
To correct a natural indifference I was placed half-way between misery and the sun. Misery kept me from believing that all was well under the sun, and the sun taught me that history wasn't everything.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Science of Forgetting

We are what we remember.  When we remember the awful, we are awfully burdened.  When we remember the transcendent, we are lifted.

What do we do when the awful transcends into the everyday?

Two recent articles offer clues.  Researchers in cognitive behavioral therapy, neuroscience, and pharmacology are interested in how we might learn to be less bent under the weight of horrific, or even just negative, reminiscence.  In this article from neuroscience news, scientists identify two completely different neural pathways used in pruning out the thornier aspects of our pasts:   http://neurosciencenews.com/discovery-of-two-opposite-ways-humans-voluntarily-forget-unwanted-memories-prefrontal-cortex/.
One method shuts down the path to the memory, and the other substitutes alternate, pleasant memories for the troublesome recollections.  Think of the latter as the use of Febreze on a smoky outfit.  The first method requires suppression, perhaps more arduous found to be but equally effective.

And then there is chemical magic: 
Scientists have been working on finding a medication that will block recurring, unproductive recollections without wiping out the rest of the data base.  The implications for sufferers of PTSD are heartening.  (PTSD short story:  when the brain has diligently cataloged every aspect of a real or perceived life-threatening event and vomits these back into activating panic at the most inopportune times.  For more about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, check out this post: /stuck-in-bad-story-ptsd.html )

Ideally, we want to learn to sit compassionately with all our feelings:  the positive, the frightening, the heartbreaking.  We want to give them the space to feel heard and validated.  We want to eventually find some gratitude, or at least understanding of how to integrate our feelings and what has happened in our lives into a more peaceful place. But we're only human.  We can only bear so much.  And there is sometimes so much that wants to be borne.
allow in comfort.  photo s banese 2012

During the worst of times, it's best just to breath, to sleep, to be in nature, to be, when we can bear it, with others who know the story and love us in all our manifestations. Sometimes being with those who really, truly get it-- have been there too-- provides access to new tools to reach that elusive goal of gratitude and integration.  Mind you, the gratitude is not about the loss, or even the pain (but if you can get there, more power to you).  It's about what you leaned through the relationship or situation that has now ended, and what you will take into the future and into your heart.

Grief comes in wide and periodic waves of unimaginable intensity.  We don't think we can bear them, we don't want to bear them-- and yet, despite our protests, we come out the other side for times.  On bad days we may want to leave the  house.  On bad days we can hardly breathe.  And then there are those brief respites where we are in gratitude, denial, what have you-- and are pulled up by our short hairs as friends say, "It's weird you seem so happy".  All of these peaks and valleys and boulder-strewn trails are real.  All they mean is:  this is the way of grief for you now.

s. banese 2012
Yet there are some assists.  Using Cognitive Behavioral techniques, one can conscientiously (and mostly metaphorically) lock grief away for more intentional inspection during a prescribed time.  You can choose to journal, meditate or pray at a particular time of day to focus on feeling your feelings.  When they arise at less convenient times, treat them with firm loving compassion a la Dr. Spock:  acknowledge them, and remind them you've not forgotten and will be getting together with them soon.  If you choose not to wait when negative recollections intrude, at least take action: draw, write a letter to your pain or loved one or your fear from the perspective of a wiser future self.  Try not to engage in less healthy distractions such as overindulging in TV, alcohol, drugs, junk food.    Respect your reasonable desire to be away from pain, but refrain from the negative behavior.

If head-on looking at the pain isn't working, try the old "happy spot" trick:  for every unbearable sad memory that arises, substitute a happy one.  Start with real ones, but fantasies work too as long as you keep perspective. 

If nothing's working, go for a cleaner,unrelated distraction. Do a jigsaw, dance wildly, engage in some critical analysis.   Alphabetize or color code your spice cabinet.  The point here is to shift energy from the emotional brain into the critical thinking/logical parts of your brain. 

Medication is a option.  I'd opted for trying the others first, for obvious reasons:  costs, side effects, hassle.
But I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a consult if the others aren't working, or if you've lost sight of why you should bother after all.  In that case, get thee to a physician and see what might be helpful to get you back to functioning level. 

Here's a couple other resources to consider.  Benton County (or your local) Hospice program offers educational classes and support group for bereavement.  The first is more curriculum based and good if you who are still in the "it's too private to talk about" stage.  You'll get good information in a safe environment.  The support group is less formal and filled with people in similar situations.  You may find a wealth of knowledge about what to avoid, expect, and what can help.

There is no life well-lived that won't face suffering. You are in tribal company here.  Let your tribe support you the best they are able.  Ask for what you need.  Be kind to your body, which will release its suffering in its own fashion.  

The big message:  Take Care.  You don't have to do this alone.

A good listen on memory can be found at radiolab.org by clicking here.
Song of the Day: God Bless the Potholes Down On Memory Lane, by Randy Newman

Friday, October 5, 2012


It's been a month or more since I last posted.  There are five draft posts, half-started, waiting for some nudge from the muse.  There are a dozen more I wrote in my head to the point they felt completed, and thus will never see print.  That's a bad habit that also applies to letters to friends (ask my poor penpals).  I thought to try to sum all of it up.  A trap, that-- trying to capture these ephemeral moments of grace and crystallize them into something to hold.

I can tell you these things.  Fall has come, strong on.  The wind blows, the trees undulate, and the little elm leaves make tiny yellow tornadoes on my driveway.  There is a pumpkin and two squash soberly decorating my concrete porch.  The students are back in my sleepy town, and suddenly the streets are filled with cars and people and bikes on the sidewalk and discarded beer cars and noise.  It's been sunny and dry for days, and I long for rain, or at least enough humidity to smile without my lips cracking.

Beside me, as I write, is a bowl filled with bits of windfall I found walking home from work tonight.  A hazelnut, still in its paper tutu.  Two walnuts, one in a green casing, another bared to its gold shell.  A small fig that will never ripen.  Two sweetgum ballsl one green and the other dried small, prickly and brown.  A horse chestnut, shiny and brown.  They are an alter to transience and season.

Here are the blogs I almost wrote.  Maybe soon.
Been through hell?  Try not to move in.
The messy and the real
Offerings for the Shadow
That magic (radicalizing) moment
The sting of things; the lure of the numb

 Two years ago, a first of a series of sad and tragic events unfolded in my inner circle.  They weren't all things that happened to me, but they were close enough to have profoundly shaken me. There is something in humans that seeks and responds to pattern, and fall brought with it emotions of these events and hopes that the cycle might now slow.  It didn't, for a time-- the same themes of love, loss, death, transition recurred and were amplified by the anniversaries of the original losses.

I'm human.  My heart wanted to shrink in response to the enormity and sadness of these events.   Especially this last week, I longed for a retreat somewhere remote, where I could sit in silence alone.

It didn't happen that way.  And in spite of myself. I had an epiphany against my own will, all because I Just Showed Up.

rubber band on the counter
More about that later, perhaps.  For now, I know at least,
these things are true:
Life is full of unbearable, undeserved suffering. Life is full of incredible, miraculous beauty.    There is too much that needs doing.  Doing anything is better than doing nothing.  We all can be jerks and misunderstand each other too easily.  And we are deep wells of creativity, hope and  love.

Love is everywhere, waiting for eyes to see it.

More to tell, but for now-- sleep.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ordinary Days

How was your day?  Mine was a mixed bag.

I started this day completely overwhelmed and nauseated by the smell of fresh celery from the farmer's market.  My brain is still trying to figure out smells after a few months with none at all (see anosmia posts for details); and for some strange reason the few it can smell tend to freak it out completely.  Another woman with parosmia (the fancy-pants term for distorted smells) described the one we get as variations on "zombies and old socks".  That's pretty close.  I get it with coffee, cucumbers and peanut butter, to name a few.  And oh my gosh, most especially with celery.  That one can chase me out of a grocery store.  Today said sweetheart brought home our box from the farmer's market, featuring celery so fresh it slapped me on the face, and I had the olfactory equivalent of motion sickness for the next three hours.  But, wearing gloves and gagging in the most delicate way, I chopped some up and double bagged it for our river trip.

We headed out to the McKenzie with family and friends for a beautiful start to September.  The weather was perfect:  robin egg blue skies, a pleasant breeze and a temperature just right.  The river sparkled blue and green, clear and clean.  Strangely, on this beautiful holiday weekend, we encountered few people:  a couple of drift boats, a few scattered fly-fishers winding their lines into the constant hatches.  We picnicked on a shore, and I found a few sets of LOVE rocks, and threw the brightest jasper into the water to better appreciate their colors.

jasper in the river

We stopped at Jump Off Joe, a high rise accessed by a 50 foot log way up over the water, where two of our party braved the shade and still very cold water to take a leap.  Sweetheart was one of the two.  I wonder when I will be chill enough to watch someone I love do something that looks dangerous without picturing a future without them.   I think probably never.

We made an easy and exciting run through the wave trains and did a bit of manuvering to get through Brown's hole, and I remembered why I love running rivers.  A few no-harm-done-except-panic accidents has left me pretty wary of whitewater.  Once I'm on, I'm fine, but it's been harder and harder to get on.  I know from experience that the best way to deal with fear is exposure.  I also know the easiest way is avoidance.  I'm better at the latter.

One of the panicky accidents occurred at Marten's Rapids, a class three (difficult) set of rocks and waves at the end of our run.  Among its obstacles are two large rocks known as "Oh Shit" and "Castration."  In June this year, a man making a lousy run died there.  It's no picnic.  Although I'd experienced with all the thrill and safety of a carnival ride, a few years ago things changed.

ok, not marten's.  i was too busy not freaking out to photo.
There were several circumstances afoot that particular summer day.  I was in a boat with inexperienced rowers, who stopped rowing as we hit a set of powerful hydraulics at Marten's.  The raft was new, stiff and unforgiving.  This combination of factors was enough to make our joyride into a nightmare, plunging the raft into a strong hole where thousands of pounds of hard water pinned us against a huge boulder.  Half the raft was under water and we were clinging to each other and the raft for what seemed like eternity.  Certainly long enough that I considered this might be it.

I was holding on hard to the oldest member of our crew, a woman near 80 years old. The water was snowmelt, freezing.  One by one, people were knocked off the boat by the water, including the captain, and finally even the woman I was trying so hard to hold.  That was the hardest part for me, watching this fragile woman washed off the boat and into the rocks and rapids.

Soon there were half as many in the boat.  The weight difference changed the dynamics enough that we popped free.  We all had PDFs (life jackets-- and please, don't even THINK of boating running or cold water without them).  Those taking the accidental swim floated out of the rapids and were rescued by rope or the boat behind us.  Except for a bit of hypothermia, and in my case a new profound respect for and fear of whitewater, we were unharmed. 

But I was harmed.  My brain couldn't let go of the visuals of the water and the faces of the crew, and especially the picture of that elderly woman pulled off the raft.  I avoided McKenzie for a long time.  I skipped several river trips.  The ones I did that involved even more technical rapids required all the coping skills I could muster to even get out of the door and into the car.  Again, once there, I loved it.  It took a lot of self-talk to get back to the McKenzie.  Part of that talk was thinking about my clients, who do brave things every day.  Sometimes their brave tasks seem incredibly easy to me.  Sometimes they are way above running a rapid.  I have great respect for each end of the spectrum, because I know that Brain learns fear in a visceral way.  It doesn't matter if it's flying or spiders, whitewater or job interviews-- panic is panic, fear is fear.

When we approached Marten's my heart was aflutter.  I thought about swimming to shore and walking the last mile of river.  I asked about, then declined, a drop off there.  I thought about the many times each week I ask my clients to do something that is extremely difficult for them.  I tried to remember ways to calm my amygdela and think logically about the times I'd been through this rapid easily.  Fear Weasel Brain was having none of this, so I decided just to shut up the internal dialogue and see what happened.

It was a great run.

After the river, I relaxed with the family at Squirrels over a good-enough meal.

So:  how was my day?  Well, there were parts I didn't mention-- putting up plums, missing my deceased parents, worrying about and loving family members, doing laundry.  It was nauseating, wonderful, terrifying, reaffirming, tedious, beautiful.  In other words, an ordinary extraordinary day.

Ask me next week, and I'd tell you it was great day.  But in truth, like most days, it held way more than that.  It was a mixed bag.  A beautiful, frightening mix. 

And that's life.


PS  Did you see the blue moon? So gorgeous!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lighting the Shadows of Rape Myth Culture

The headlines are everywhere.  During a television interview, state congressman John Atkins explained his opposition to abortions for rape victims. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."  He didn't clarify what he meant by a "legitimate" rape. His science is dead wrong.

"Akin is not alone in his view about rape and pregnancy, however. It dates at least to medieval times, when a 13th century English legal tome called Fleta asserted that pregnancy was prima facie evidence against a charge of rape, "for without a woman's consent she could not conceive."
A 19th century book, "Elements of Medical Jurisprudence" by Samuel Farr, said that conception is unlikely "without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act." That reflected the common notion that pregnancy requires a woman, like a man, to reach orgasm during intercourse.
Both early references were noted by The Guardian newspaper in a blog post on Monday.
In fact, "human ... female orgasm is not necessary for conception," explained a 1995 paper in the journal Animal Behaviour, one of many studies reaching the same conclusion."   (read the rest of the Reuters article here).

Surely it didn't take until 1995 for a paper to demonstrate that women can become pregnant without orgasm.  In fact, studies find that rapes result in even higher pregnancy rates than consensual sex. This may in part be because victims are (quite obviously) less likely to be using birth control at the time of the rape.  To add insult to injury, in 31 states rapists may claim the same paternity rights to custody and visitation as men who father through consensual sex.  Lawyer Shauna Prewitt, whose daughter was the result of a rape, spoke of her experience in an article in CNN today.  "I know it because I lived it. I went to law school to learn how to stop it."

Don't believe for a minute that Akins is a lone idiot.

"In a (May 2011) House debate, Rep. Pete DeGraaf (R-Mulvane) was quoted during a conversation with Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills).  The House was discussing insurance coverage for abortions. The point was made that proposed coverage restrictions did not make exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. DeGraaf suggested that women purchase separate abortion-only policies. Bollier questioned him about the likelihood of women doing this.
Rep. Pete DeGraaf said, "We do need to plan ahead, don't we, in life?"
Bollier asked him, "And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with pregnancy?"
DeGraaf then responded, "I have a spare tire on my car." "I also have life insurance," he added. "I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for." (http://articles.kwch.com/2011-05-25)

Akin's reference to "legimate" rape has not been explained, though he has apologized -- sort of.  "The mistake I made was in the words I used."  Actually, the mistake was in the things he believes, and there is no real reason, beyond his desire to continue his electoral race, to think he has changed his beliefs. His reference to "legitimate" rape parallels cultures in which raped women are killed by their own relatives as matters of honor, and to religious law that required women raped within city walls to be stoned to death along with their assailants, citing complicity because the victim did not not cry out in a way to be heard.

While we may not murder the victims of rape, Americans fail to protect them when we participate in cultural myths that blame the survivors.  This is as common among women as men.  It's even common among victims.  Why?  Because we all want to believe we have control over our destiny.  Even when we don't.

When I was in college I was a volunteer, and later a co-director, for a rape victim support service.  Each victim, every single one, blamed themself.  Whether they were raped by a former partner, by a date while intoxicated, or by a single or group of strangers.  If they complied, our of socialization or fear, or if they fought tooth and nail.  Even if their assailant had a lethal weapon.  They went over every single detail to see where they could have done something different.  I remember especially the 20 year old Christian early elementary student.  She answered a knock on her door; a young man said his car had broken down and asked to use her phone.  This was before cell phones.  After she let him in, he bound and assaulted her brutally.  She lamented that she should never have let him in.  But that was a crazy thought-- it was her complete nature to assist someone in need.

Other myths still exist:  she asked for it, she was sexually provocative, she shouldn't have been where she was or doing what she was doing.   I think of the elderly nun I counseled, or the parents of the elementary girl.  And I also think that even if a woman is dancing naked on a table for strangers, is drunk, or wanted to make out earlier-- that has nothing to do with whether it is ok to have sex with her without her permission.  IT IS NEVER OK.

Rape and the threat of it is a constant in women's lives.  Nearly every R-rated and many PG-13 movies include at least one scene in which a women is subject to it.  In fact, during the time I worked at the crisis center, a spate of horror movies were released with a recurring theme, starting with "Halloween".  A murderer was on the loose.  "Liberated" women-- read brash, assertive or openly sexual women-- were killed off, one by one.  In the end, only the virgin/conservative woman was spared.  The message seemed obvious:  pay for your freedom with your life.  This was later echoed in Thelma and Louise, in which one lead character (an abused wife) is sexually assaulted after a night out in which she drinks and dances with a handsome man.   Her friend kills the assailant and they flee, but in the end both women suicide.

What can we do with our outrage?  Start with this:
--Speak out against sexual violence as entertainment.
--Do not tolerate, passively or otherwise, rape "jokes" or the continuation of rape myths.
--Donate your time, money or needed items to organizations that support survivors of sexual violence.  Even a few dollars will help.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

All Over The Map(s)

sail away ladies sail away
Back from a long-dreamed of trip to Alaska. I have family there, and they were wonderful hosts-- sailing, fishing, hiking, wildlife peeping, and a high speed catamaran trip to Sitka were on the agenda, along with fantastic meals of local seafood and organic veggies.  SE Alaska is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Oregon without the swagger:  everything that's wonderful about here is closer, bigger, more. Islands, islands everywhere, and totem, and huge swarms of spawning salmon and chirping eagles and spouting whales.

The trip took a little convincing.  I live close to the dime and it seemed such a luxury.  But we had a free place to stay, local guides, a 33 foot sailboat (the magnificent Haiku) and two for one airline tickets.  How to resist?  Having been enamored of the place since i was wee and reading, obsessively, over and oer the Time-Life series on Alaska and the Arctic during visits to my Tennessee Aunt Louise-- well, I knew a trip was in my destiny.  And when the cards fell, even though there were house repairs to do and being self-employed means no paid time off-- well, only a fool gives a raspberry to destiny.  Off we went.  Here's a few things I learned:

You can get a better suntan in Alaska in June than in Oregon.  If you're lucky.  We were lucky

You can look extra sexy in waders with the right angle lens.

Most people don't lock their doors in SEAL.

Fresh halibut curry is a revelation. 
a view from the haiku
sailing through the narrows
keeping things under control
Sailing is really, really relaxing and healing, especially when it's (oddly) not raining, there's good food in the galley and  great company on the deck.  Admiral Zooey (the redhead) and First Mate Fletcher kept things under control, or at least underfoot.  Capt s Brian and Liz demonstrated how to relax into the Alaska vibe(beer was often involved). 

cuddlin' up at low tide
Turn ten minutes from the dock and you can walk the Mendenhall glacier park and wrestle with some sadness over ts diminished state.  Pick a different 10minutes and grab some fishing gear to wonder int the Tongass Rainforest, stumbling past the evil Devil's club into native carvings and possible grizzly sushi bars.  No need to change clothes except to throw on the waders and extra-tuffs to be one with the fishes as you wander off shore in search of something to grab your lure.

It's a wonderful life.  It's a life full of suffering.  Both/and, so take your times of grace and rejuvenation where you can and JUST SAY YES to opportunities that can make old dreams come true.


And I'll be your cheerleader and butt-kicker to go after the (planful, ethical, soul enhancing) YESes in your life.  SI SE PEUDE.

I feel ready to do so serious psychotherapy after all that relining and awakening.  Hold me to it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

writer's pile of tumbling blocks.

perhaps i need to be playing different keys for now
I am niggled with guilt at neglecting my blog in order to focus on the visual world.  My blog is quick to point out that it is in good company, neglect-wise-- along with my paperwork, most no-longer-visible surfaces in my living space, and my correspondence habits.  I took to the web to find literary solace, asked for water and it gave me gasoline.  The rapscallion Chas
Bukowski has disabused me of any rationalizations and I am at temporary peace with the lapse of my written words.  Here's how:

so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski

to every thing, there is a season,
and this is gonna be a bang-up one
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

-ed note: i can tell something's going to get born, but i think it's going to be a messy delivery.......

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Difficult Gifts

Sometimes love swells up so big in a heart it leaks out the face.

It's beautiful outside right now.  The skies are a rare Oregon-clear, the stars bright and the breeze perfectly cool.  The moon is reluctant to rise just yet, but I know it's out there, big and yellow and still swollen though waning. The sun is out there too in that dark somewhere too, though as is often true of our sources of life and light it's not apparent from our limited perspective.

I read a sad and beautiful letter tonight from an old friend writing on Caring Bridge.  If you know the site, you know that you are visiting it because there are Big Scary Things afoot.  The friend talked about how she is working with integration of the return of her (miraculously and temporarily disappeared) terminal diagnosis.  Her incredible shine, her integrity and devotion to love as the centering point was profound.  She didn't shy away from the fear part.  She bore witness.

I went to the backyard and sat and stared at the sky and cried.  This woman's community is strong.  And everyone in it would likely gladly give up a year of our life to add a month to hers.  But we don't get those choices.  There are a lot of choices we don't get.  What amazes me is the choice some people make to go into love when facing death.  To keep getting bigger and bigger in spite of all the good reasons to withdraw.

In gratitude and with love to my friend and teacher A~.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Race To Educated Debt

Heard on the radio tonight that US college student's school loan debt has reached one TRILLION dollars.  That's a one followed by 12 zeros.   Mind you, my math's not so good.  I had trouble adding my Scrabble score last night (old school, with a real board and a pencil, not online).  I can't grasp the concept of a trillion, so I looked it up.  Guess what:?  If you had a stack of a thousand dollar bills it would be over 67 miles high.   A senator complaining about national debt said if a person was born at the time Jesus lived s/he'd need to spend a million dollars a day the last two thousand years to spend that much.  He was a little off-- that's only 2/3s of the trillion.  A trillion is a ridiculous number.  One trillion seconds is 31,688 YEARS. 

Average tuition rates at college climbed 15% between 2008 and 2010-- and we all know they are higher still every year.  It's no longer possible to put yourself through school working a part time job like I and many of my cohorts did. 

What have our students gotten for all this unfathomable debt?  Classrooms are larger.  Real professors who are really teaching--not directing you to the on-line powerpoint, not handing you off to a grad student with no experience or interest in teaching-- are rarities. Mentoring is even rare, especially in public and (slightly) less costly universities.  And jobs?  Well, in a few select fields, say engineering, graduates can usually find jobs with actual benefits and enough pay to to find housing and raise families. But many well educated graduates would love to just be able to work full-time.  Anywhere.

A good liberal arts education used to be a ticket to opportunity.  With an emphasis on critical thinking, the ability to reason, write and learn, a graduate might end up working in most any field.  Now companies want a Master's degree to do jobs that for years were done perfectly well with a few month's training.  I know a brilliant young woman with a BA in science who can't find a job washing beakers.  She recently applied at a local food chain and was asked to submit a writing sample.  In the time she took to supply it, seven other people came in to turn in applications.  A writing sample?  For a minimum wage, part time, un-benefited position?  Ridiculous.

There's a big push at high schools to raise graduation rates, now hovering around 60% nationally, close to 100% with a goal of 80% of graduates going on to complete a four year degree.  For what?  So we have a whole generation of incredibly educated indentured servants selling our Big Macs? We are headed entirely down the wrong path.  At a presentation on learning disabilities, local psychologist Kim Golletz discussed some interesting realities.  The average college graduate has an IQ of about 115.  Let the whole IQ debate slide for now and just look at the numbers.  On a bell-shaped curve of general population IQ scores, an IQ of 115 is in the upper 25 percentile.  How, exactly, are we going to attain an 80% or higher BA education rate for that 100% of youth graduating high school?  And why exactly do we need it?

There are all kinds of brains.  Some of the smartest people I know never went to college at all.  A mechanic I met in the early 90s in SE Texas dropped out of school in 6th grade.  He most likely had dyslexia and never learned to read, which made school a big fail for him.  But he could take apart and reassemble an engine in an afternoon.  And he made good money doing it-- enough to raise a family and buy a home.  A pipefitter, a farmer, a landscaper back then could start their training in high school, or by apprenticing with an expert.  In my Midwest youth there was a little shame in being sent on "the vocational track" if you were from the sort of family that expected college.  But it was hard to argue it with your peers who were making great salaries and buying houses at 21 when you were still eating Top Ramen for dinner and hoping to pass a final.

The options seem to be gone for today's high schoolers, who are drilled from middle school to be anxious about choosing the right college.  And for those who can't make it or don't want to, a high school diploma or equivalent is required just to get into the training programs, which take twice as long and require boatloads of minimum competencies in reading and math that may or may not be useful to the skill.

OK, grownups.  We are the ones that need to make a fuss about this.  Write your school board and political representatives, and encourage them to support vocational training for teens in the schools, and to get off "everybody graduate/everybody get a bachelors degree" bandwagon.  We need to stop equating long educations with skill sets for working every job.  We need practical education for all kinds of minds, at costs that are within means.

Related post:  The Kids Aren't Alright:  The Pressure for Excellence

Monday, June 18, 2012

You Ate The Apple

Coming up:  July 15th I will be preaching it at the Universalist Unitarian Church.  This year's topic is all about original sin.  OK, not.  I did my sin sermon a couple years ago, and would be happy to glaze your eyes over with a repeat performance in another venue.  This one is about the burdens blessings and responsibility of critical thinking and choice. Yep, ignorance might be bliss, but it is also the closest thing to unconsciousness:  a desire to retreat back into the womb where decisions are made for us.

If you're in Corvallis, come join us that day. The nice thing about the UU is everyone is welcome-- Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Agnostic, whatever.  Just bring an open mind and heart.

My usual accompanist, fiddler/songwriter Willeke F., is making music at Shasta that week-- sad for me, good for her-- but I'll do my best to make it worth your while.