Monday, July 25, 2011

Know Thyself--or Ask My Mom 1001; 23

Feedback is a good thing. Feedback is like a bathroom mirror—it gives us important information about ourselves, like: “is food stuck in my teeth” and “am I wearing something really inappropriate” and “who is the old coot looking back at me.” Feedback is Reality Check. Not all feedback is created equal, as we know. My Mom’s feedback, for example, is not always easy to accept, but it is generally pretty easy to interpret, because she is not constrained by niceties, like: feelings. She shoots opinion from the hip. Her aim is uncanny. Often it is unerring. This kind of feedback can be brutally hard to process without also feeling worthless, but over time, if adapted to, it is highly to be feared.

For example, Mom is always telling my brother that he needs to lose weight. (Well, she says that to a lot of people, but I noticed that she has said it to him a lot. She says it to me sometimes, too, but I’m removing myself from this conversation to maintain some semblance of perspective and fun.) That is brutal. Mom is pretty blithe about it; she doesn’t care if everyone hears, because I know in her (particular kind of) mind the thinking is: “I believe this = this is therefore fact = therefore everyone agrees with me.” I know her thinking because I am her daughter, and we share a bloodline of Mean French Women—in our case the Sassingers. She has often stated, in a generalization disguised as fact, that “French Women Are Mean” because her Grandma Sassinger provided her with the hard data, in the flesh. Her mom continued the data, and as I often tell my Mom, she is a good case example, herself. (Note: I love my mom dearly. I also can’t stand her, need her, avoid her, fear her, am confused and amused by her, disagree and agree with her, disregard her, seek her counsel, and understand and don’t understand her.)

I think my brother dreads birthdays in some small fashion, because Mom always—always—brings him a homemade Angel Food Cake, because Angel Food is less fattening than a really good cake like, say, Upside Down German Chocolate Devils Food Cake. And she does not put icing on the boring Angel Food cake, either, because icing is Fattening. I advised her, this year, to skip the whole Non-Fattening Cake routine and bring a Dairy Queen frozen ice-cream chocolate cake with the works. And to never bring up words related to “pounds, fat, weight, you need to” etc. I’m sure the Sassinger in her would whisper “don’t listen to this wimp ”--(c'est moi, naturelment)--but the Real Physical Personification of Mom laughed and said she’d think about it. Despite her fate-locked delivery of Final Judgement, I value her feedback, because it is Real. Hopefully, she will pay attention to some feedback from a fellow Mean French Woman (although I’m a lot more diluted than her and think I favor my Dad’s predominant Irish Cherokee line, personally); it might make her very pointed arrows slice through to the truth with a little less barbed destruction and a little more of a clean cut.  (Wait, would that be a good thing?) 

But feedback comes in many flavors. My dear brother also celebrates birthdays with friends and neighbors and children and strangers who don’t notice his shape at all.  Because, despite a few extra pounds, my brother (whom I love, trust, suspect, look up to, disregard, and always am dazzled by, except when he shows his stubborn right-winged shallow side) is a highly charismatic, fearless, quick-witted, strong, ephemeral Irish Cherokee kind of guy. And we all know what those Irish are like. And those Cherokees.

And those French. Together, the World Mix of Values Thought is complex and confusing enough to produce World View Feedback of sufficient depth and conflict to keep us guessing and on our toes.

Which feedback should do, eh?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Person Who Thought Too Much 1001;22

I have a reputation for thinking too much.  I like to analyze, and then analyze my analysis, considering other viewpoints as much as possible.  Its my version of "getting high".  Some people don't appreciate the attendant verbalization of all that thinking.  Ah, Thinking. Its a burden to bear, but old habits are hard to break.  Its especially hard because I do it in my head to pass the time, and I have to consider what I can do instead of live in my head, some activity to break the habit. 

My first thought on how to give up too much thinking is to go the "Be Here Now " route--the moldy hippie standby slogan from my youth, famously associated with the mystic and weird Ram Dass, formerly Dr. Richard Alpert.  He was every joint-smoking, hippie college student's hero back in the late 60s and early 70s.   He was a Harvard psychologist who went off to India when it was the thing to do, changed his WASP name and got spiritual and sexual.  He did it in the company of the famously hallucenogenic-drug-researching icon, Timothy Leary

More than any teachings he spawned, I remember his face postered in the dorm rooms of fellow wannabe-freespirits with the "Be Here Now" slogan.  That meant, I supposed, that it was a no-no to think too much.  One's best bet was to follow whatever was in front of you and not give too much thought to what was lurking down the road.  It was all very interesting, we felt we were rebelling, and maybe we were--I'm quite sure I was at the apogee of my shallow-thinking potential then.  But ol' RD, despite his flouted "e-z" slogan, was way more into mood-altering drugs than I can really manage time-wise and budget-wise.  Blocking thoughts through alien transmissions aka drugs is not something I'm interested in.  So I must chalk off the "don't think because your mind is on drug vacation" plan.

Casting about for other obvious solutions (most things in my life literally are obvious, lying around my house in an obvious and untended way, waiting to be noticed, which is why I try to eliminate most things in my life and thereby damp down the seduction of thinking about things; I ask you, is it overly-deep to consider what to do with dirty clothes, 2 cats, shoes, things that need cleaning, food, ...?), I think "garden."

When I walk into my backyard, full of plants growing in meandering intensity and tucked amongst trash-picker-inspired objet's d'interest, I stop thinking about things.  I go from spot to spot, checking out how much vine the snake gourds have added on last night, if the green beans have got beans yet, if the basil has given up and died from the hot weather.  Weeds lure me especially--its a long-ingrained pleasureable sensation to grasp a weed by the base of its stem, and feel the "tug" when it comes out spot-clean, root and all.  I prefer hand-weeding to hoeing, any day. It turns off my brain, no 2 ways about it.

I've thought about it a lot--of course--and agree with Mom that weeding is a real and potent form of meditation.  This particular Be Here Now method is not, however, listed on Ram Dass's or anybody else's website besides my own, that I know of.  So you heard it here first, Pilgrim: weed-pulling takes you Away to Where You Want to Be. Cleanses the stuffed bosom of those heavy thoughts.  Dampers the chain reaction to any thought stimuli other than that which fills your hands with dirt and flora.

But weeding is seasonal, and not conveniently handy when I'm in most social situations. So maybe if you have good suggestions for me to loosen the belt of my brain muscle and loose the over-think drive, you could share them with me.  It could be very useful to turn IT off , sometimes.  Yes, I'll admit I'm obsessed with growing old, and ok maybe I think about it more than is comfortable for Being Here Now. Frankly, as a control freak,  I'd like to be an expert at it.  But I confess, its a lot to think of all at once, the "we are all going to die no matter what" kind of thinking I'm fond of.

I will never, I know, give up thinking entirely.  It's a habit, good/bad but definitely ingrained.  I sign off this deeply-thought-through missive with a small anecdote which has comforted me for many years.  It might be some comfort to those of you who are in my boat.

My friend the formerly-New York, currently-vegetarian lawyer said this to me, in a Ferndale, Mi restaurant over a lentil salad,  when I whined that someone had told me I thought too much:

"You don't think too much; they don't think enough."

Thank you, Ray.

'Nuff said.