24 Amazing Literature Facts for Christmas

I really enjoyed these Christmas facts and I hope you do too. Happy Holidays and all the best to you in 2015.

Interesting Literature

Merry Christmas to all our readers! Over the last 24 days we’ve posted a daily Christmas fact about some aspect of literature, and now we’re gathering together all of these Christmas literary facts into one bumper blog post. So, if you missed some or all of our advent calendar posts, you can now read them all in this collected ‘omnibus’ post. We hope you enjoy them. Ho ho ho!

1. The first Christmas cards were sent in 1843, the same year as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was published. They were designed by London artist John Calcott Horsley. Of the original 1,000 cards that were printed, only 12 are still in existence – nobody seems to have foreseen the longevity of the Christmas card-giving tradition, so few of them were preserved. Robins on Christmas cards are, in fact, a little Victorian joke: Victorian
postmen were nicknamed robins because of their red…

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Dreams vs Reality

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expectations and how hard one should push to soar when there is some very real evidence that the goal is unattainable. I have a student who recently took the PSAT and plans to take the SAT along with all her friends in the spring. I don’t want to discourage her, but I also don’t want to see her hurt. She has significant learning disabilities which no amount of hard work and enthusiasm will change. There are many things she can do, and do very well indeed, and the realistic approach would be to start at the community college and test the waters. I suspect that is what will ultimately happen since her chances for being accepted at the state university she wants to go to are very, very slim. I’m trying to balance encouragement for her plans along with suggestions for other very viable options.

I’ve thought about this dilemma of dreams vs reality in my own life, especially after starting a fitness program with Fitbit a week ago. The reality that I’m dealing with is very bad feet (severe plantar fasciitis) and an arthritic left hip. Is it realistic to think that I can walk and jog? I’m definitely enjoying it and my osteopath was very encouraging yesterday, so I’m forging on. She made some suggestions about stretching and she also suggested that maybe running barefoot wasn’t a good plan. Today did go much better as a result, and so I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’ve had several goals during my life that went against my abilities. The most notable one was my desire to learn Latin. I actually have a learning handicap just as many of my students do. I can’t really visualize and I am totally unable to memorize. Needless to say, this is a pretty big handicap when it comes to learning a foreign language. My drive was strong enough that I did succeed in earning a BA in Latin. I also balanced a healthy dose of realism with it when I opted, after doing two years of ancient Greek, to “settle” for the BA in Latin rather than in Classics, which had been my original goal. I’d like to think that the strategies I developed which got me through the Latin and two years of ancient Greek would also have gotten me through upper division Greek, but at the same time I realized that the stress and anxiety such a plan would cause made the goal not worth the sacrifice to my sanity and health. Of all my degrees, including my PhD in English, I think I’m proudest of my BA in Latin. That was the degree which represented the biggest hurdle for me, given my learning difficulties.

I’m very grateful for my learning difficulties because the strategies I’ve developed over the years enable me to help my students when they struggle for whatever reason. It also gives me a lot of compassion for those with much more severe learning difficulties. But I’ve learned that some realities need to be faced honestly, and some dreams need to shift. I loved ballet, but never got beyond the third class (out of five). I had a wonderful time, but I’m just not built right for ballet. It would have been cruel if either I or someone else pushed me to become a ballerina. No amount of effort and practice would have made that dream even remotely possible. I was never going to be a pianist either. I have a sister who plays beautiful piano. I have two children who are very talented musicians. However, no matter how many hours I practiced, I wasn’t going to succeed in anything beyond the intermediate level. Among other things, my fingers are short and squat, making reaches impossible.

I think all of us need dreams and aspirations. I definitely encourage my students to shoot for the stars. I’d just like to see those dreams and aspirations grounded in a healthy respect for who they are. It does all of us good to stretch and reach, but unreal expectations can, I think, produce some real damage. It’s a tough balance to find. At the moment, I’m still doing my 30+ minutes of jogging/fast walking each morning first thing (to my fur friends’ disgust as that delays their breakfast). I already have noticed that the adrenalin rush and the effort required to complete the intensity of 5000 steps has boosted my spirits and overall, I feel much better. Completing the entire 10,000 steps then becomes a very doable goal, as I go about my regular activities. And I will continue because of the beneficial results on me overall, at least until someone says that I could end up crippling myself (which would obviously be very counterproductive). However, I do not aspire to running an ultra-marathon as my son and daughter-in-law do.

I’ve learned then that shooting for the stars is a good plan, if it is balanced with some realistic expectations.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

How do you choose between what’s best for friends and what’s best for the community. I’m learning just how tough that decision is with a couple of my friends. I just can’t discuss certain situations, either with them or with others in the community. If I do so, do what I strongly feel is necessary to protect innocents, I run the risk of costing my friends their jobs, livelihoods, etc. I can be outspoken, but I’m not the one who will pay the price. I’ve tried encouraging my friends, but they have very real fears. I understand that, as I live in a state of constant anxiety, and I realize that most of my fears are not even real and certainly aren’t life threatening. However, I also have strong convictions concerning the victims in these several situations, so at that moment, I’m feeling trapped and powerless. I’m not the one who should be acting in any of the current situations. I’m not directly involved, etc. I’m just a helpless bystander, watching the runaway cart and watching the criminals gain confidence and power in the face of those who won’t act. There is no good solution. If I become more vocal, I could easily cause more harm than good. And so, my wimpy solution is simply not to discuss certain situations with my friends. I’ll talk about the weather, my pets, my novels, my quilts, etc, and ask after their similar activities, and we’ll never discuss what is truly important. My only hope is that one day someone will take the appropriate actions. And who knows, maybe some things just can’t be fixed. And maybe all any of us can do is stand by our friends and try to support them even when we disagree with them. The rock and the hard place are not comfortable at all.

Leaving My Comfort Zone

One of my highest values is integrity. Lately I have been confronted with a number of situations, some of them quite serious, where others have demonstrated either a complete lack of integrity, or at the very least, a very low priority for acting with integrity. One example of this, I grant you a more minor example, has resulted in my now driving nearly as far as I can and still remain on Vashon, an island that is 13 miles long, 8 miles wide at its widest point, for a total of 37 square miles–slightly larger than Manhattan, and home to 10,624 people (2010 census).

Here’s what precipitated my situation. I get my hair cut and colored (rainbow swirl) every six weeks, and I’ve had the same stylist for a number of years. She worked at a salon in town, just a mile or so from my home. Six months ago she gave birth to her first child, a gorgeous little boy, and she took maternity leave. That’s when the drama began. The owner and other stylists at the salon where she was working began blackballing her, for reasons that remain a mystery. I was never told when she returned from maternity leave and so twice I had my hair done by a substitute stylist. While I was getting my hair cut and colored I had to listen to the rest of the stylists saying horrible lies about my stylist.

Finally my stylist, realizing that something was definitely amiss, began calling her clients directly and I wasn’t the only one to report on all the nasty things that were being said behind her back (that she was lazy, flaky, not responsive to inquiries about her return to work, etc.). To make a long story short, she is no longer at that studio, and in fact, thanks to the help of her very nice landlord, she now has a spot for her own salon right next to the home she and her boyfriend and their son live in. For her, it is an absolutely ideal spot.

Now for my dilemma. Her location is at the very north end of Vashon, nearly at the ferry dock. I have a long way (at least by my standards) to drive (about 10 miles). And last Friday, when I thought I had an appointment, I went to the new place for the first time. I was anxious, and my anxiety only grew as I wasn’t sure which house it was, or where I should park. As I was driving back and forth, a nice young man walked over and I asked for directions. He turned out to be my stylist’s boyfriend and so he showed me exactly where to go. However, there were several vehicles as well as a lot of stuff for an estate sale at the bottom of a very steep driveway, so I wasn’t sure I could turn around and get out. The boyfriend suggested backing down, something which years ago I could have done with my eyes practically closed, but no longer. So once he’d assured me that my car was safe where it was, I decided to walk down the driveway. I found that extremely challenging as it was steeper in the moment than it had looked, and I did not have my walking stick.

Finally, my stylist came out and showed me where her new office is, and we discovered why she wasn’t expecting me. She’d mis-copied the date from our text messages into her date book. Of course, by now I’m really stressed, but she was so dismayed at her mistake that my nurturing side took over and helped me. She had me down for yesterday, but that didn’t work for me, so we put me on the schedule for next Friday and meanwhile, she gave me a free hair cut. She would have done the color as well except that it hadn’t arrived yet. Then she explained exactly how they have things worked out for parking, and I’ll have no trouble now driving down the driveway, parking really close to her new salon, and then having plenty of room to turn around and drive back up.

It all worked out fine in the end, and while I don’t anticipate liking the drive, I only have to do it every six weeks. And I’ve set up my schedule so that I have my therapy appointment (another drive I consider long, but not as long) before my hair cut, and so I’m nearly half way there already.

I could have stayed with the salon in town as far as having someone who was capable of doing my hair. That would have been within my travel comfort zone and wouldn’t cause me stress and anxiety. However, back to the matter of integrity. I was absolutely unable even to consider such a plan because I would not have someone who was so unprofessional and just plain nasty working on my hair. I’ve changed a number of people in my life because they had questionable business or ethical practices, and so here again, I was taking a stand, even if that stand means that I have to go a lot further away from my home than I like. Integrity is a higher priority for me than my personal anxieties. Life is always making us choose, and this was one choice which was very easy to make, albeit much harder to execute. But I guess stretching my comfort zone to help out a really nice person is a good thing.

Finding What Works

Gads, I can’t believe it’s been a year since I put a post on this blog. Guess that’s the peril of having so many blogs. I post every day on Tanka Diary and Haiku and Other Short Poems, but this blog and my flash fiction blog sort of fall by the wayside.

Anyway, another school year has started and this year, so far at least, is going so much better than the previous years. I realize that this is because I’ve finally started to pay more attention to what works for me and then to follow through with making that happen.

My summer had some very rocky moments, and I had to make some difficult decisions. In the end, those decisions have worked out and I think that has given me the courage to make decisions about other parts of my life. For the past five years, I’ve tutored at Student Link, Vashon’s alternative high school, volunteering two hours in the morning on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, for a total of six hours/week. However, I’ve learned that being somewhere else away from home requires a lot of energy on my part. Just going to Student Link took energy, leaving me with less to use for the students. In addition, I would have a number of students to “juggle” at once, which wasn’t truly helpful for either me or the students.

So this year I decided I would only tutor from home. I live close to the schools, so the students have no problem biking or walking to my place. The students love my home, with all of its colors, pets, and interesting things. I tutor students one-on-one, so they get much more attention and help. I now am volunteering eleven hours/week, so nearly twice what I’ve done in the past, and yet I find that my energy levels are better than they have been in years.

I was worried that the students wouldn’t come to me, but that proved to be a false worry. As one of my students said, I have everything that an adolescent would want. I’ve had a few parents accompany their student to a session, and the parents seem extremely happy with both the space and my approach.

The change in my work environment has had the added benefit that I usually only have to leave my home twice a week now, and that has made a tremendous difference to me as well. I do still go to the Senior Center on Wednesday afternoons to teach my bridge class. I enjoy the students there a lot, and so I shall keep that going. But I’ve also noticed that I get much more tired after that hour than I do after three or four hours tutoring at home.

So I’ve learned a lot about myself, and even more than that, I’ve learned to respect what works or doesn’t work for me, and to arrange my life, in as far as I’m able, to be in harmony with what works. I’m definitely a homebody and I’m also an introvert. I need to spend my weekends (Friday afternoon through to Tuesday morning) pretty quietly and mostly alone. That is when I can give reign to my creativity, also a big part of who I am.

It really doesn’t matter who you are or what works for you. Thankfully, we are all different. What matters is that you discover what does and doesn’t work and then do whatever you can to bring more of what does work into your life. I’ve seen such a change in the quality of my life by doing just that. It’s not always easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.

Emotional Intelligence

Not all of us can be great scholars, doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. Not all of us can be great athletes. But all of us have the ability to develop our emotional intelligence and I’d argue that emotional intelligence is the key to the survival of both our species and our planet. Academics and physical fitness are both important, but so is our emotional and spiritual health. We are multi-faceted beings and all aspects of our make-up must be treated equally. Today I am looking at the matter of emotions, which we are never taught to study. In fact, emotions are seen most of the time as negative, something to be avoided at all costs. The truth is that emotions are neither good nor bad; they just are. Problems arise because of our ignorance surrounding our emotions, ignorance which leads to inappropriate expressions. When we don’t understand what we are feeling, we can react in ways that others will find to be negative. When we don’t take time to look within ourselves to see why we are feeling the way we are, then we can and do lash out in ways that harm our relationships.

In earlier posts I have written about my reactions to anger. I react badly to anger which is expressed violently, and my reactions are triggered by my own childhood traumas and my PTSD. Anger is just one of many different emotions which all of us feel. Anger is neither good nor bad. But our society is quickly becoming much more violent as the expressions of anger take on confrontational and even physically violent expressions. The old adage that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me” is horribly false. Words have the ability to inflict enormous harm as well as enormous good. Weapons harm, whether they are actual guns, knives, fists, etc., or whether they are verbal weapons, and personally, I fear the angry word more than any physical weapon.

I recently had a friend tell me that she hadn’t lashed out at me in anger, but rather that she’d been really hurt. I don’t know if she is aware of it, but both emotions were operating. Yes, she was hurt, and yes, in her pain, she lashed out in anger. Anger isn’t always the primary emotion. It is, as far as I can tell and I am not an expert by any means, also a very common reaction to both hurt and fear, among others.

For example, while anger is definitely not my first defense strategy, I have certainly been known to be snippy or cutting, lashing out towards others when my pain levels escalate. I have lived with constant pain for a number of years now, and I have had to learn to guard my tongue very carefully, especially when I am really hurting. My pain can make it easy for me to lash out in anger, trying to take out my pain on whoever is close by. Obviously, this is not only inappropriate, but it is also shooting myself in my foot as actions like that only drive people away.

I have seen people lash out in anger as a defense against various fears as well. People yell at the clerk at the grocery store because they can’t find what they want. Maybe they are afraid to go home without it as they will then disappoint someone they care about. And possibly the yelling prompts the clerk to find or get whatever the person needs. As another saying notes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.” However, in the long run, such strategies are neither the most effective, nor healthy for either party.

I lived through three years of remodel and I witnesses a number of angry shouting matches when things weren’t going the way people wanted. I tried to say that getting angry and yelling wasn’t going to help anyone, and I was told that I am “too nice,” and that if you are nice you will get walked over. Unfortunately this is a common belief, that being ruthless is power and nice guys finish last. I don’t believe that. I believe that kindness and gentleness are not weaknesses and that “you get more with honey than you do with vinegar.” There are ways to set my boundaries so that I am not getting walked over, and at the same time I am able to live effectively and productively.

With a growth in our emotional intelligence, we could learn better techniques. First, we need to acknowledge and honor our emotions. Emotions are part of us and they are not evil. When our emotions get triggered, I think we need to take the time to figure out what is going on inside us. Why are we feeling whatever it is we are feeling? How is this emotion speaking to us? We must get in touch with our inner being first, before we do a knee-jerk reaction.

Several years ago I was taking private yoga lessons from a wonderful teacher. She told me a number of times just how well she thought I was doing. During one particular session she kept correcting the pose I was learning and with each very gentle correction I felt more and more as if I were a total failure, as if I would never be able to get it right, and as that trigger of mine progressed, I became convinced that I would never get anything right ever again. I struggled through the rest of the lesson holding back my tears until I could finally leave. Later, after talking to my therapist about this, I realized that my old childhood programming had gotten triggered. This programming, especially since it began when I was so young and lasted for many years, structured my reality of the world, specifically, that I would always be a failure no matter how hard I tried. I forgot all the praise my teacher had given me; I forgot that this was a brand new pose; and I forgot that my teacher always encourages her students to do their very best. Once I was able to sit with my emotions, to look at them for what they were, I saw that I’d been triggered and that my teacher would have had no way of knowing what had happened. At my next lesson, I explained what had taken place and she and I worked out a set of guidelines so that I could feel safe to say “enough,” or whatever word we came up with, when I began to feel myself slipping.

All of us have our own set of triggers, and what is important is that we recognize them for what they are. And when our emotions get triggered, we need to be able to sit with them, figure out what is happening, and then the hardest part of all, speak our truth from our heart without judgement or blame. My teacher had no idea she had triggered me. Other times, I’ve been around people who do deliberately set out to push people’s buttons. But either way, what is important for me is that I stay in touch with my emotions, that I set appropriate boundaries so that I can look after myself, and then when appropriate, I speak my truth. The old adage about counting to ten is a good one, provided that we spend that time in reflection, rather than in thinking up a retort. Communication is a very difficult skill. Most of us are horrible listeners, and all too often we only hear what our life experiences have programmed us to hear, rather than what the other person might be trying to say. And when someone is angry, there is no point in trying to explain anything, because in anger we really shut down any ability to listen. One of our graduates last year gave a presentation on non-violent communication and it was very powerful to hear this young man explaining how we do and don’t communicate. We all have so much baggage we drag along into any conversation and we all seem to have a need to be right. The reality is that we can always find evidence somewhere to prove ourselves right, but being wedded to the notion of always being right makes for a very lonely existence. We need to listen more attentively and we need to chose our words carefully so that we speak only for ourselves, our own truth, without casting any judgement or blame on anyone else.

Our emotional health is a vital component to our overall well-being and we need to develop a great deal more intelligence around it. We need to understand ourselves to the best of our abilities, our strengths and our weaknesses. Unfortunately, in the current culture, everyone seems to be encouraged to move has fast as they can, doing as many things as possible, and this allows no time for introspection. Personally, I kept myself incredibly busy for over sixty years so that I wouldn’t have to face myself. I thought it was working just fine, until, of course, my adrenalin ran down and I couldn’t keep going at anywhere near that pace. Not surprisingly, what I found when I stopped running was that I was still there, with all the problems I’d denied for so many years, and so finally, with the help of an excellent therapist, I am discovering myself, and I am learning to “show up” in the world as an authentic being, speaking my truth and listening to the truths of others.

To Run or To Endure

In my last post I promised to expand on what it is like to be an outlier and how that plays into my constant fears and anxieties. I previously discussed my need to set proper boundaries for myself and avoid people and situations which were likely to increase my already high sense of anxiety. Triggering my fears sets off a whole host of problems with my post-traumatic stress disorder and my fibromyalgia. The fact that I am an outlier, someone who doesn’t fit within the norms of society, means that my very presence can and does cause some people to react negatively. I have always been an outlier, even when I tried in my younger days to fit in, to be part of the group, to blend. It isn’t just the fact that I’m left-handed, lesbian, tattooed, a vegan, a pacifist, an animal rights activist, an atheist, a non-patriot, etc. It is much more than that. At my very core, I see the world differently from most people. And many people (thankfully not all) react angrily to differences. I now find myself once again in a position where I have somehow triggered someone and I really have no idea why or how.

I am taking an online beginning poetry class because I would like to learn to write longer poems. The ten-week class is in its fourth week, and from the beginning I have had difficulties with the instructor. His comments on my first assignment were, from my perspective, extremely harsh with nothing positive in them. I reacted badly to the comments and more than that, as a teacher, I realize all too well the importance of making positive and upbeat suggestions when critiquing a student’s work. This teacher obviously lacks those skills, at least with me. My second assignment was treated similarly, at which point I took both my poems and the comments to my therapist for her view on them, since obviously I am too close to my own work to evaluate the situation.

My therapist agreed that the instructor lacks the skills to critique beginners, and she reminded me that we know nothing about this man. He might not be happy teaching; he might be doing this only to make some money; he might really like my work and think that this is the way to push me to greater heights; or there might be many other reasons for his approach. She said that she could make a very strong case for sticking it out to see if eventually I received some small nugget that might have made the class worthwhile and at the same time take this as an opportunity for aversion therapy, to help me with my own agenda. But she went on to say that she could make an equally strong case for dropping out of this class and getting away from the obviously horrible teacher. It was my choice, and whatever I decided would be fine.

I decided to try the class for a bit longer. I submitted my third assignment and I also submitted my revised version of the first assignment to what is called “The Booth,” a place where the entire class can comment. The instructor was no more positive in his comments on the third assignment, but he also wasn’t quite as harsh, so I thought that I was making progress. However, this morning I woke up to find his comments on my Booth posting and he ripped into me in ways he has definitely not done with other students. He started out by praising one of my classmates for the time and effort she took in critiquing my poem. Then he went on to say that he’d seen this poem in the first assignment and since I hadn’t taken any of his suggestions he had nothing further to add to his original critique. Then he went on at great length to explain what I hadn’t done. Finally, he said he would copy his comments from the first round of this poem so that everyone could see what he’d said. He has not done anything like this with any of the other students, and in fact I was encouraged by how gentle and kind his comments were to all the other Booth postings. I have no idea why he attacked me, maybe because I didn’t take his suggestions, but it was the last straw. What I found even more bewildering is that my classmate who had given the feedback he praised had said that she loved my poem and wouldn’t change a word or add a thing. She only suggested re-arranging the lines and she re-typed my poem with the lines in an order that she felt was stronger (and I agreed and have so revised it).

How can he rip my poem apart and at the same time praise another student for her very positive comments on it? I have no idea, and I am totally at a loss to understand his reactions, but he seems to demand that students accept his suggestions without question. Anyway, I’ve pretty well decided that I won’t submit any more assignments to him. There doesn’t seem to be much point to it and I don’t need to set myself up for further attacks. I will continue to read the lectures, to do the assignments for my own learning experience, and to make comments on my fellow students’ works in the Booth. I have four weeks to decide if I wish to make my second Booth submission, but for now, I think it is in my best interest not to show my writing to this instructor.

Being different is never easy and as my poem (which I will share at the end) says, I never know when my differences will trigger something in someone else. I have no control over that. And it is also true that any of us can trigger someone inadvertently. This happens all the time. But for the outlier, the probabilities are much higher that just being present will cause others to be uncomfortable, and that triggering can be expressed in anger (as well as other ways). My anxiety and fear issues are merely compounded by the fact that I am an outlier. My life would be easier if I weren’t an outlier (or if I didn’t have such anxieties). But it is who I am and I need to be aware of what is happening around me and then set my boundaries for my own personal health.

The other thing this experience has given me is even more empathy for my students, who are also outliers and who have been, in all too many cases, brutalized by the traditional school system. I have experienced (again) first hand, the effect of a bad teacher and this will help me work with my students, showing them how to overcome the adversities which have been thrown in their faces. With any luck, both my students and I will be stronger for this experience.

Ever Present

As an outlier, I trigger people
without even knowing why.
When I leave my door
braving the outside world,
you come ever closer,
always on guard,
warning me of dangers,
whether real or imagined.
You, my constant companion,
rule my life,
ruin my life,
all under the guise
of keeping me safe.
Ever vigilant, making me
ready to flee,
you watch and wait
for the slightest attack.
Even when it doesn’t come,
you warn me that
next time it will.
Once we are home, you step
a little further back,
giving me a bit of space–
until the next time.

Setting Good Personal Boundaries

I have always had a really hard time dealing with angry people and lately, I’ve once again been subjected to the projected anger of others. I react by apologizing repeatedly and trying to run away or become invisible. And the entire event triggers my PTSD, resulting in nightmares, higher anxiety levels, and other undesirable reactions. I am triggered because of major childhood traumas and in fact much of my life has been spent with very angry people, first my father, and later, my husband (although his anger was much more subtle and it wasn’t until recently that I learned what his effect on me had been).

Unfortunately, our society is driven by fear and its resultant anger. Politicians and big business, especially advertisers, work to increase our fears about everything. The results speak for themselves. Our world is becoming increasingly angry. After my latest experiences, I started thinking about all the people I come in contact with on a regular basis, and I realized that I find many of them to be scary because I can feel the anger they are radiating. I know that I am much more sensitive to this than most people, both because of my own trauma and because of my high levels of empathy. I am finally realizing that this sensitivity and my PTSD require me to look at the big picture and see what I can do to protect myself.

I think my first step has got to be to learn to set better personal boundaries and to learn to say no. I need to keep myself out of situations which I find intimidating. One example of this is our island duplicate bridge game. I have very nice and well-meaning friends who keep trying to get me to play. I am now being much more honest about my reactions to those games. I talked with my bridge class and let them know that I am always on edge during the game, never relaxing, because there are a few people there who are, in my opinion, too competitive and who tend to yell at anyone who does something they don’t like. I have been a recipient of that anger several times and it wrecks the game for me. But even more so, the fact that I never know when I might inadvertently trigger another person means that I am always tense and worried. This is obviously not healthy.

At the same time, I love to play bridge and many of the players, especially those who also come to my class, are great. So when I get asked to play, I find it difficult to say no. I am ambivalent about the entire situation. But after the last game, where incidentally nothing bad did happen but I was still highly on edge for over five hours, I’ve decided I need to find another solution. So I’m setting up another game, this time as part of my class. Once a month, instead of class, we will have an ACBL sanctioned bridge game, but a very low key one, designed to encourage those who find duplicate bridge intimidating, to give those who feel their game isn’t good enough a safe environment to play in, and to give those who never can find a partner willing to play with them a chance to play. The game will have fewer hands and it will be a more social duplicate game with the aim being to encourage more players. I will feel more comfortable and I will also get a chance to play. And then when I receive the next pressured invite to play in the “regular” game, I will have an easier time saying no, because I will be able to point to the monthly Wednesday game to say that is enough for me.

I can avoid many potentially hazardous situations, but obviously I can’t avoid them all. Thankfully I am an introvert who would really much rather be on my own with my fur friends doing what I enjoy. I don’t care to leave home most of the time, so that helps a bunch. But still, I do have to go out to teach, shop or run errands. And with all the anger in this culture, I do run into incidents where I say or do something which triggers someone else. My anxiety in dealing with others lies primarily in the fact that I never know when that will happen, so I am always on guard. And I can just feel it when I am with someone who is obviously a powder keg waiting to explode. My therapist is working hard to teach me that becoming invisible is to lose my identity and having done that for nearly sixty years, I don’t want to keep doing it. I need to learn to speak my truth from my heart without judgement or blame and also to ask for what I need or want, always being prepared that the answer may be no. However, whoever is on the other end of the communication may or may not hear what I’m saying, but rather hear what they perceive from whatever place I have inadvertently sent them.

So what do I do when someone projects their anger onto me. I am starting to believe what my therapist is teaching, that the anger has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the person who is angry. I can’t know what triggers anyone else. But I need to keep myself safe in such situations and not just abandon myself. What I need to do is remove myself from the situation as gracefully as possible, showing compassion for not only the other person, but for myself, which I find much harder. I need to speak to the little girl inside me who was so horribly wounded and reassure and comfort her, just the way I do so successfully with my students. I need to let her know that the adult me will keep her safe, something she never experienced as a child. And I need to be kind to all parts of my psyche.

My plan now is then a two-fold approach, both of which require me to set my own boundaries in a respectful but firm way. I need to be able to say no to situations where I feel that the potential for harm far outweighs any possible benefits. I need to keep from associating closely with those whom I term walking powder kegs. It is not healthy for me to be around such energies. And the second part of this, which is the biggest and hardest, is that I need to develop more compassion for myself as well as the ability to comfort and protect that part of me, the little girl in me for lack of a better term, who is still so vulnerable, and to reassure that part of me that I will keep her safe and out of harm’s way. And my next post will deal with how my being an outlier compounds my problem as it means that I trigger many people just by “being.” More on that next time.

Be Kind To Animals Week

BeKindToAnimalsWeek

Today is the start of Be Kind To Animals Week, and I thought it would be a good time to think about just what that means. According to the article in Wikipedia, “The word “animal” comes from the Latin word animalis, meaning “having breath”. In everyday colloquial usage, the word often refers to non-human members of kingdom Animalia. Sometimes, only closer relatives of humans such as mammals and other vertebrates are meant in colloquial use. The biological definition of the word refers to all members of the kingdom Animalia, encompassing creatures as diverse as sponges, jellyfish, insects and humans.”

I think we as a species would be best served if we used the biological definition for the word so that we included ourselves among all the other members of the kingdom Animalia. For too long humans in general have felt themselves to be superior to and detached from the rest of life on our wonderful planet. The result has been and continues to be catastrophic. We simply cannot continue to rape, pillage, and plunder Mother Earth.

It seems easy for most people to smile or enjoy sweet, cuddly animals, but then to ignore completely the plight of the polar bears, for example. We put blinders on when it comes to things such as where our food comes from, or how our consumption of energy is affecting life. We have reached the point where the climate changes are obvious to any who care to look, but what do we find now. According to ClimateProgress, both the New York Times and the Washington Post are cutting back on their specialized coverage of climate change. Too many people seem to think that if they just don’t look, it will all go away.

The more inclusive definition of animal would also encourage us to be kinder to each other, especially those who seem to be losing whatever small voice they had. The United States is falling far behind other nations in the area of quality of life, and our middle class is shrinking as the number of poor rises dramatically. This is caused by the selfish “me first” attitude that comes so easily to our species. Grabbing whatever you can get with no regard for the consequences, either now or in the long term, as been a prevalent policy for way too long. Education is woefully underfunded and as one of my students keeps saying, the schools get “dumbed-down” each and every year. Unfortunately, he is right, because our society does not value our young. Education is not a priority. Human services are not a priority. Both of these would require us as a nation to rethink our priorities and look at the bigger picture.

And so, at the start of Be Kind To Animals Week, I would encourage you to think about what you could do to increase the kindness factor in your daily life. Not all of us can be vegetarian, for instance, but we can all remember where our nourishment comes from and give thanks for the life that was taken so we might be fed. This was done by many cultures in the past, but we have removed ourselves from the direct source and so forget that a juicy steak was once part of a living being.

We can all be kinder to our fellow beings of all species. I think this week could be well spent if each of us would think about how we might walk more gently through this life, with respect for all. After all, in the end, that is the only way our planet and the life on it will survive, so such acts are both selfish and compassionate. We need to see that the ultimate survival of our world depends on each and everyone of us. All of life is connected. We are a part of that web of life. We are not superior or separate, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can get on with the job at hand, making life better for the entire planet. Happy Be Kind To Animals Week!!

A Cat’s Life

Saturdays are my days to do weekly chores, and last Saturday I was helped in this endeavor by Calliope.  I was emptying the dishwasher, a task made much simpler because I have pull out shelves, and Calliope discovered she could jump from a countertop into the cupboard.  Here’s the result of that action.

I love cupboards!

I love cupboards!

She was lucky that the cupboard was nearly empty. That’s what happens when I am able to go an entire week before I have to run the dishwasher. As she explored this uncharted territory, I snatched the camera.

Isn't this fun!

Isn’t this fun!

Obviously she was finding this to be a lot of fun!

I like pull-outs!

I like pull-outs!

And then she started seeing where she could go from here.

Hmm--wonder what's up here?

Hmm–wonder what’s up here?

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