31 August, 2008

The story of Scott and Valerie

Location: Anywhere, Massachusetts, 1998
Mood: catalyzed

I wasn't going to tell this story. Then I was. Then I wrote a song about it. But then I never finished it. And then, as a result of some rather bizarre interactions that happened just this week, I decided that I will tell you the story. Because it is a pretty good one. Now I am starting to wonder if I actually told the story before, which would be an indicator of my cognitive decline. But let's pretend I didn't.

In 1998, Edna and I moved to a house in a town that I'll call Anywhere. We moved into a house that was owned by a Portuguese woman who lived a few doors down. She owned a local liquor store, and her (alcoholic) husband was a retired firefighter. It was a triple-decker house, not uncommon for the Boston area. We lived on the top floor, and the bottom floor was occupied by people whom I do not remember. The middle level was occupied by Scott and Valerie. There are other stories I could tell you here, for instance about how difficult it was to move into this place. For one thing, there was a tsunami (only slight exaggeration) the day we had to move, and everything was soaked, and it was also like 85 degrees outside. Then, to make matters worse, the stairway going up to the third floor was so narrow and awkward, we ended up getting items stuck in the stairwell, such as a large and heavy desk. We got it wedged so tightly that it was literally suspended in the air, jammed between the ceiling, railing, and wall. It was quite traumatic. But that's not the topic for today.

Scott and Valerie were a married couple, a year or two younger than the two of us. They were very pretty (both of them), and super nice and friendly. The kind of neighbors who reach out to you right away and make you feel at home. They make you feel like you belong, and it was nice to have some new friends. I remember one evening, the week or month that we moved into the house, where we sat on their balcony, and had some drinks, and enjoyed the warm evening, and company. And it seemed like everything was good.

Scott and I started hanging out quite a bit. We bonded much more than Edna and Valerie did. Probably because Edna was not much a "bonding with the girls" kind of girl. And Valerie was a fairly girly-girl. But Scott and I went to the gym together. We would go for dinner together. Talk about life. Talk about our problems. Talk about everything.

As time went by, and I probably mean a matter of months, Scott began talking about more serious topics. He confided that he and Valerie were having some relationship problems. He'd been sleeping the couch a lot. Sort of like "falling asleep on the couch" not that he was willfully going to sleep on the couch. Well, at least that's how he put it. But then the story morphed a bit, that he was sort of feeling like he wanted to sleep on the couch. And let's say their romance was not what it could be or should be. This shook me a little bit, because I had put them on a pedestal as being the perfect couple.

As more time went by, Scott and I were still hanging out and doing all this stuff. We would go bowling a lot, and that was fun. He was better at it, but we sometimes had a decent match. Eventually, he told me that there was something he needed to talk to me about. I could make a long story long, and I wish I remembered the dialog to relate it to you here. But I don't remember it. I remember the walk we were taking when we had this discussion. But I don't remember the words. All I remember is that Scott informed me that he thought he might be gay. And in this same conversation, he also seemed to be probing to figure out if I might be gay. Which I was not. But I guess I can understand why he might have probed. First off, some of the issues that he and Valerie were having were superficially the same as some of the issues that Edna and I were having. And he knew about this, because we shared a lot. But he also needed to confide in someone, and I was the best candidate. He trusted me. The problem is that he had not ever given any inkling of this to Valerie. We proceeded to discuss this. Not for days, or weeks, but months. Of course, I told Edna, and she was appalled that this was occurring behind Valerie's back, but agreed it was not our place to intervene. Over time, it came out that things were a bit messier than just "I think I am gay". The reality was that he thought he was gay because he had been having relationships with men! During their relationship. So now, I have all of this rather horrifying info of infidelity and deception, all residing just below us, contained within the guise of "the perfect relationship".

More time went by, and finally after much prodding by me, he told her. He had a lot of reasons why this was difficult for him. Ending the marriage, for cause, would be painful. He loved her. But he did not want her. His father was apparently a very "straight" hard ass, who would probably disown him if he found out. But Scott had to follow his true self. He could not hide this forever, and especially not if he was going to continue having incidents behind Valerie's back.

When he told her, it was a complete disaster. They didn't separate immediately. He was sort of there, and sort of not. Then Valerie was alone. And things got messier. Because of my idolization of their relationship, I think I had a little bit of an infatuation with Valerie. And because of the difficulties that Edna and I were having, I stupidly (but perhaps, naturally) toyed with the role of "supporter" to Valerie. Hung out with her a couple of times, and had drinks. Believe it or not, nothing actually happened, but it was certainly an infidelity of the mind, on my part. But Valerie, who was extremely frazzled by this whole experience, took it upon herself to tell Edna about what had "happened" between Valerie and myself. And she told Edna that I shouldn't be trusted, or some such thing, and that I was not good for her. Interestingly, Valerie may have been right for some small, but important reasons. Nonetheless, as a result of her meddling with something I held dear, I exploded at Valerie. Big blowout. Big fight. I think she might have had a twisted, vulnerable, but easily understandable idea that she and I might have a rebound relationship. But that wasn't going to happen. And Valerie and I ceased to be friends.

Then Scott finally moved away, and in a strange, poignant, parting gesture involving his desire to unload all of his belongings (in a pending move to New York City), he offered me his bowling balls. I considered this to be a rather appropriate metaphor. I didn't want Scott's balls, though. I thought about rolling them down the giant hill on our street. But instead, I settled for bringing them to the local bowling alley and saying "Here! See if anyone wants these!".

And that was the last I saw of Scott.

Then, in September of that year, I moved away from that place. Away from that street. Away from the relationship that was the "perfect delusion". Edna and I survived 7 more years after that... in spite of the fact that Valerie's observations may have been correct (and to be truthful, I don't think I will ever really know exactly what Valerie had said to Edna, but I knew that it threatened something close to me).

Years passed, and I have not forgotten either of them. Scott and Valerie were probably the first example of a relationship that taught me that "nothing is what it seems" and that there is no "perfect couple". Everything is work. And everyone has a dark side. The couple that is all lovey-dovey may be more likely to fail than the couple that fights constantly in public. Life is not a movie, because there are countless scenes that are cut from the film of our lives, never to be seen by the public. Learning this, and then relearning it again and again, has helped take some of the pressure off that quest of finding "the perfect relationship". Because it doesn't exist. But it's a bit jading too, because I wonder is it better to have the dream that there is that perfect relationship, and never find out you're wrong? Or is it better to know that it doesn't exist, and just try to make something special with each opportunity you're given?

Again, I don't know the answer.

28 August, 2008

Questions for the dead

Location: thin air
Mood: wishful

We cannot ask questions of the dead.

They're gone. Forever. We can look at photos. We can talk about them with our friends, or family. We can remember them. They can appear to us in dreams. We can visit their graves. We can read things they'd written to us. But we can't ask them questions anymore. And we can't call them on the phone when they pop into our minds, matter-of-fact, as if they're still around.

It's funny how and when these urges to talk arise. I've not lost many people in my life, fortunately. Of course, as the years go by, that will no longer be true. But losing my mother this year really was the first time that I have experienced this sense of loss. When my grandmothers died, I was much younger, and was self-absorbed (even more than now, if you can believe it), so I didn't devote much time to the thought. Additionally, there was such a large age gap between my grandmothers and me (over 60 years) that I probably didn't feel the same closeness many people do with their grandparents. And my grandfathers died either long before (maternal, 1955) or just after (paternal, 1971) my birth.

So I wasn't really primed for the experience of losing my mother. But I guess nobody is.

When her health took a downward turn in the past year, at age 80, I started to withdraw, instead of doing the more sensible thing, which would have been to spend as much time with her as possible. I called less. I came home infrequently. It's not for lack of love. At one point, when it had obviously been a shamefully long time since I'd phoned, I actually confessed to my mother that I thought I was withdrawing because of fear of the known. And she said she kind of suspected that, and that it was okay. It's funny, because she wasn't always the most forgiving or understanding with people. She could hold a grudge like you can't imagine. She could be stubborn. Spiteful. You didn't want to cross her, seriously. But on this one, she understood, and she gave me a free pass. She really understood.

Sometimes I go for walks now on the weekend, in the mornings. And very often, while I am walking around the Capitol Hill/Central District area, I get this impulse: "Now would be a good time to call Ma". And it's as if it is as natural a thought as it would have been a year ago.

But I can't.

I can call Dad.

For years, when I would call the house, the conversation would almost always be between my mother and me. My Dad wouldn't even come to the phone. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to me, and it wasn't that we are not close. It was just that he wasn't always a huge fan of the telephone since his hearing isn't great, and he also was okay with the idea of hearing the news filtered through my mother's conversation, because he's a little uncomfortable with those nitty-gritty emotional things, and problems, and conflicts. Though maybe I never gave him enough credit?

So sometimes, he'd get on the phone, and he'd ask me the basics: How's work? How's the car running? All the usual questions. How's the band? Etcetera.

But now I talk to Dad. Because there is no Ma to mediate that connection. And we actually do fine. And we've even had some fairly intense emotional discussions about relationships, life, losing someone close, dealing with sadness, getting through conflict. He's better at the emotional stuff than he probably even knew he was. And I have an easier time being close to him than I thought I could be.

But it's not the same as talking to Ma.

She was so haphazard and unpredictable depending on her mood! You could call her up and tell her about some problem you are having with a relationship. And if you call her on one day, she would give you a deeply philosophical answer. You call another day, and she would say "I don't know what you want me to tell you!"

It was like consulting a Seattle weather report.

But I miss that. My mother was a Magic 8 Ball...

25 August, 2008

Leaky boats

Location: adrift at sea
Mood: soggy and sinking

Sometimes I feel that life is like a leaky wooden boat. Water starts seeping in through one crack, and you try your hardest to plug it, only to see two new leaks springing at the other end of the boat, out of your reach. And to take the metaphor one step further, it seems like it has been stormy season for quite some time now.

I am trying to keep it all together. Work. Music. Friendships. Relationships. Health. But it feels like there are always two more leaks than I have hands to deal with it. So one week, I have a conflict with a friend. The next week I have a conflict with a different friend. The next week, I struggle with motivation at work. The next week, I don't have any time to exercise. The next week, who knows? Maybe this is just how it is for everyone, but for some reason I allow myself to dwell in it, rather than just push forward.

The irony in this is that I spend so much of my time engaged in diversionary activities. Either Facebook, or writing these blogs, or Scrabble. And I wonder, is all of that causing me to be this deficient in available time? Or are those things necessary to keep me sane?

I don't know why I'm telling you this...

22 August, 2008

Do our beliefs help us, or hurt us?

Location: entrenched places
Mood: doubt

I have been thinking a lot about beliefs lately. Part of this has involved pondering some questions about the process of forming beliefs, and their origins and importance to our lives. While I am not yet ready to go very deep into that topic, I do want to say a little bit about beliefs in general.

Obviously, most people have some attachment to whatever it is that they believe. Something about that word "belief" practically implies a tight hold. There are a million topics about which people have beliefs. These could include things such as taxes, god, having children, not having children, criminal justice, diet, politics, education, history, evolution, money, importance of family, love, work habits, war, personal habits, sex, drugs, art, health care, death, aliens...

The list continues.

These beliefs help us to define a place for us in the world. They help us to make alliances and decisions that bring us some type of comfort and security. But sometimes I wonder if our beliefs actually cost us more than they provide to us.

Take, for example, relationships. One thing that many of us believe - as in, we rely upon it - is the notion that our relationships are stable. There is obvious reason for this. In order to put all of our energy into whatever day-to-day material endeavors we wish to pursue, it is very helpful to know that certain emotional, or potentially financial or logistical needs will not just disappear, leaving us struggling. But the problem with this belief is that some aspect of it is absolutely equivalent to the oft-negatively used phrase "taking it for granted". Go ahead and argue with that one. But what is the difference? If I say to you, I believe that you and I will be friends for ever, you'd think "Oh, that's very nice of him to say!" but if I say to you that I take our friendship for granted, you will see it in an entirely different light.

But that's what a belief is. It is a thing we take for granted.

And what happens when we take things for granted? Well, maybe we don't pay as close attention to the details that actually keep the various machines operating smoothly. We've already done that work, the machine is running smoothly, and now we can devote our resources to optimizing other machines in our lives.

Relationships offer us security so that we feel loved and safe and all that jazz. And I don't think it's entirely unique to humans. We just take it a little bit further than other animals do. You throw 5 mice in a cage together, and they will sleep together huddled in a cute little pile. They feel safer, warmer, and maybe even happier than if you put them in little adjacent cages where they can't get that closeness. That's their relationship. The mice don't have all sorts of other pursuits in life, besides basic survival. But that closeness is still one of their needs.

But what do we sacrifice by placing such importance on the permanence of these connections we make with others? Well, for one thing, we may limit ourselves. We give up certain freedoms in exchange for that stability and security. True? Of course. How can two people bond and both provide each other security and stability, without each giving up something. We call them compromises. We call them acts of love. When we're angry or hurt, we call them sacrifices. And we convince ourselves that the trade off is worth it because of all the other things it affords us.

But is it?

If our greatest capability as humans is the potential for extreme creativity, sometimes with absolutely no concrete goal other than the creation itself, then how are these trade-offs serving that type of goal?

Well, maybe our greatest capability is not the potential for extreme creativity? Maybe it's the capacity to give unbounded love? I don't know. I don't see a whole lot of evidence for that. The most miraculous (to steal that word) and human thing about us is that we synthesize things that do not obviously relate to our survival. Few other animals do that, and none as extensively as we do. And this creativity spans all cultures and takes on countless varieties.

So, I wonder if all of these things that we do to make ourselves feel safer and more secure, be they relationships, or any of an infinite number of other potential beliefs, actually make us more like the rest of the animal kingdom - acting purely in the service of preservation of the species.

But then again, much of the beauty that humans have created came about as the result, both positive and negative, of those connections we make with others... paintings, poetry, music, sculpture... all made to depict those intense feelings. Those who remain isolated may have a different type of creativity that is borne from the pain of isolation, or from devoting their lives to sensory experience of the world, rather than through connections.

I guess it's a mixed bag. And now I guess I just don't know.

19 August, 2008

Breaking up is hard to do... but making up is easy

Location: close
Mood: better

It's a lot easier to resolve things than it is to resolve not to resolve them.

I've written a lot about communication lately, and about how we are always stuck in our own subjective world, filtering everything through the only lens we have available - our own history, and bias, and fear. And it is ceasing to surprise me that sometimes I get things wrong. Sometimes I assess people's actions through my filter of "what would this mean if it were my action" instead of through a more neutral filter of "what could this mean, given that it is not my action". In a recent course at work, on communication and personality types, we learned an acronym that we're supposed to remember when it comes to interpersonal challenges: MRI. Unlike the other type of MRI (which I have also been lucky enough to experience recently), this one means "Most Reasonable Interpretation". And what it really means is "How can we evaluate another person's actions allowing for the maximal benefit of doubt?" - i.e. assume they do not mean us ill will but that we simply may not understand their mode of communication.

I got into a massive conflict with a very close friend over a month ago. Actually, it ended up being a mini-explosion with one extremely close friend, and a slow-blo fuse of an explosion followed by complete radio silence with a second close friend. One of the situations resolved itself immediately, but the other took a long time. And the entire thing happened because the three people involved all were experiencing stresses of their own, and then communicated with their own natural communication styles, which were not received as intended by the respective recipients. And the amazing thing to me is not that this happened, but that I dug my heels in so hard with respect to the slow-blo conflict, and refused to see things in their true light. I looked for every reason that I was justified in my behavior, and looked for every way that the other person could be "to blame". But the reality was that I got my feelings hurt, and did not know how to communicate it effectively.

So lots of time passed, and eventually I realized two things. First of all, the risk of trying to reconcile and failing was far outweighed by the reward of "making things better". And second of all, we only get one chance in this world, and time is ticking away every day. I was less happy around here with that conflict rattling around in my emotional belfry. And I was probably creating unhappiness in others via my stubbornness.

Conflict resolved. Everyone relieved. And something useful learned. Not such a painful life lesson after all.

16 August, 2008

The easiest way to learn about yourself: Part 1

Location: inner space
Mood: estranged

The easiest way to learn about yourself is to reach out and try to learn about others.

I don't know how to write this blog. And if I were trying to be the "good journalist" I would sit in a room by myself and figure it out, and then serve you a finished product of 600 words or less. And I do try doing that as much as possible, lately. But sometimes a blog is about the process, not the result. And I don't know how to write this eloquently, so I'd rather just give you something - even if it is just my disorganized thoughts.

I have learned some things about myself lately, and interestingly to me, these things have all been learned in the context of my attempts to learn about others, or my attempts to reach out to others, or my reactions to others actions. And I feel like none of what I have learned is particularly positive. Everything was going along smoothly, at least it seemed. And then a period of stress, followed by a smattering of interactions among my circle of friends, and suddenly everything feels reshuffled and back to being confused again.

But it makes me wonder if maybe the reality is that these walls were always made of plaster, and no matter how much drywall and patching compound and Behr Premium paint I try to apply, eventually a tremor will occur that shakes it all down, revealing the rough and unmanageable surface of my true identity.

This is not a good day for writing about this topic. I am cutting, and typing, and cutting again.

I will continue this later. Excuse the literary train wreck.

12 August, 2008

Our time is short

Location: earth
Mood: disconnected

Our time here really is short. We can kid ourselves, but that's just what it is - denial. There's a beginning, and there's an end. And while most of us have little or no recollection of the beginning, and don't think much about the end early in life, eventually those thoughts have to become more and more prominent. We've created a make-believe afterlife to protect us from this thought. Everything that we experience in this world is absorbed through our "perceptions" and that is what makes the end so difficult to conceive. It's that we are trying to conceive an eventuality in which we will no longer perceive. And that's impossible to do.

There's a strange paradox as a result of our time being finite. On one hand, you could say that we should be very careful not to "waste" our time with empty experiences, or unhappy pursuits. But you could just as easily say "what difference does it make?". We aren't going to be graded, and we are not going to lay in stasis forevermore, lamenting the fact that we did not do more than we did. In terms of our own existence, it's not entirely clear to me if any of it even matters. Maybe at the microscopic level, you can see it. But if you keep pulling the camera back, farther and farther, eventually you only see tiny dots. And in that context, you cannot even tell if one dot is embracing another, or stabbing it multiple times and decapitating it on a Greyhound bus.

Though that does bring up an interesting point.

It almost seems like our well-being as individuals has far more impact on others around us than, arguably, it even has on our selves. If we meet an end, we are gone. But others live on, and must process that information and reformulate their worlds as a result. Of course, if you keep pulling the camera back, up and up, until we are nothing but tiny specs of dirt, then maybe once again it doesn't matter. But there is no grand observer who is sitting up there, and deeming all things to be okay. The world exists as a giant buzzing nest of individuals, all of whom are locking their cameras in a constant one-shot - a closeup of the day-to-day.

We create all types of psychological constructs to handle various cognitive dilemmas, and then we conveniently forget that they are simply man-made concepts - words on paper, or epic tales, designed to give us comfort. When we see a squirrel flattened on the pavement, most of us don't go through the elaborate chain of empathic thoughts... what about the squirrel's family? Is it really the end for the squirrel? What were the squirrel's thoughts in its last dying moment? Did the squirrel have any regrets? But while we may be capable as humans of experiencing some of these things in those fleeting moments before our own demise, the reality is that they are fleeting moments and then the light goes out, and they are gone. There's no permanent etching of the final thought that resonates in the fabric of the universe forever. It's the same as the squirrel, after the curtain falls.

As I said in the beginning, I am not sure if this is liberating, or if it suggests absolute helplessness.

09 August, 2008

The road less traveled

Location: just south of forty
Mood: deep breath

It’s true. I’m just south of forty.

My brother is 18 years older than I am, and I remember quite vividly when he turned forty. I remember because he decided to quit his job as a teacher and go back to school full-time to become an attorney. I was 22 years old, just out of college, and in engineering graduate school. I thought it was awfully extreme for him to make that huge transition in his life. That turns out to be chronologically hypocritical, because I eventually made a number of similar, very large changes in my life. I left engineering at 30 years old to go back to school and study Neurobiology – only to subsequently leave Neurobiology to become some other type of researcher that paid better and had better hours.

The difference between my brother and me is that he had two children when he made this decision. A seven-year old daughter, and a two-year old son. So his choices impacted an entire family. I maybe should not go on to mention that he subsequently decided not to practice law. Had he stayed with it, perhaps one could justify the sacrifices of those three years.

I have no children, as you probably know. I plan to have no children. And practically speaking, it’s a fair guarantee that I will not have any children. Ever. As a result, there are all sorts of frivolous choices that I can make in this world. I could change course every couple of years, and never commit to anything, if I so chose. There would be some detractors who would say that I don’t want to grow up, or that I don’t know what I want to do with my life. But there would be an equal number of silent (or vocal) cheerleaders who are envious of all the opportunities that I continue to have. The freedom to go wherever, whenever.

There have been a couple of people (okay, ex-girlfriends) who have labeled this choice as “selfish”. The words came from a place of hurt, and a place of “lashing out”, because most of us objectively hear the word “selfish” and think “a bad thing to be”. But there are different types of selfishness, and I am starting to realize that there are types that can be embraced without apology. First of all, I don’t think I am selfish. I actually think I am generous, in a variety of ways. But one way in which I am selfish is that I want my “great journey” to be a personal one. I don’t feel the need to populate the world. I don’t feel the need to “see what I can make” with my DNA. I don’t feel the need to create something that will occupy the rest of my time, and mental, and emotional energy – regardless of whatever fulfillment it may bring.

Selfishness, I think, is bringing children into this world because you either think you wanted to do it, or were pressured to do it, or were just doing the automatic thing without thinking, and then you still try to have it all for yourself, neglecting what I believe are obligations that a parent should have.

Many of our religions teach us that humans are different from animals, and that we are a higher form of life. But do we really see that borne out in the Western world? True, other animals basically live to reproduce and eat, and eventually die. Humans supposedly have a higher brain that enables us to make different types of choices. But how “evolved” is it to not care properly for the young that you produce? Maybe I just don’t understand the higher workings of things because I’m sitting right in the middle of it.

Maybe Homo sapiens is doing just fine among the planet’s species.

One could argue that there is no burden for me to reproduce, because the propagation of at least some of my DNA to another generation has already been guaranteed through the progeny of my siblings.

Things Mick Likes (#2): Squirrels Fucking

Location: corner of fir and 18th, on the telephone pole
Mood: jubilant

I think today is going to be a great day.

I left the house this morning for my (almost) usual Saturday morning trek. Although today, instead of walking to Essential Baking Company, I needed to drive because I must go to Redmond and do work today. As we left the house and approached my car, I saw a squirrel leap from the ground to a telephone pole. How cute. Then I saw it running up the pole. Lippity lippity! Then I saw a second squirrel on the pole. Hee hee! Already a good morning, this is!

And then...

And then... squirrel #1 promptly mounted squirrel #2 and began getting jiggy with her. This was almost too much for me to take. The cuteness was absolutely blinding. I quickly called to my morning companion, and said "Psst! Quick! Look! Those squirrels are fucking!"

By the time she looked up, boy squirrel had obviously been distracted - I probably caused him to lose his little morning mini-wood. So we stood there for a few minutes, and watched as boy squirrel chased girl squirrel around the pole, and up and up. Occasionally he mounted her for a few quick thrusts, and then bit her on the little scruff of her neck. And she would emit little squeaks. It is hard to know if this is all pleasurable or traumatic. Really hard to know.

At one point they were taking their luscious dance dangerously close to the transformer at the top of the pole, and my companion quipped that this would be quite a finale to a big rodent orgasm, "Poof!"

But it didn't happen. Boy squirrel seemed to finish his business and remain seated on the telephone wire up high, while girl squirrel slowly descended from the pole. No cuddling. No breakfast in bed.

Or maybe it was girl squirrel who stayed on the wire.

Hard to know.

05 August, 2008

It's a fine line between firmness and intolerance

Location: earth
Mood: still wondering who's right and who's wrong

We spend our lives communicating. And it is something that all living things do. Arguably, our capacity for communication, other than the number of modalities, probably is not wildly different from most other animals. We can kid ourselves into thinking that poetry, and email, and text messages, and vapor trails in the sky are some type of sophistication. But is it more sophisticated than the chemical messages that red ants send to one another? Or birdsong? Or scratching and scenting a tree?

So, the thing about human communication that makes it unique is that it is probably far less stereotyped than in other life forms. Given a particular stimulus, most amoebae will react similarly. But we have far more variety, partly due to our complexity, and partly due to the number of experiences each of us has that shape our personality.

An interesting thing is "communication breakdown". When we are all getting along, or at least understanding each others' points of view and needs, communication is not really something that is even noticed. It is just the telephone wires carrying the signal of our daily commerce. But when we get into a conflict due to a lack of understanding, or the failure to get along, suddenly those invisible telephone wires become more like a creeping ivy that entangles us, electrocutes us, and strangles us. The beauty of most of these conflicts is that usually all parties involved believe, at least "in the moment", that they are "right" and that everyone else is "wrong". We tend to trust our own perceptions and judgments when we are under pressure or threatened. That's not surprising.

But what about after the fact?

Do we rethink, reassess, and see that "oh, that's what was happening"? Or do we cling to that safe little nugget of righteousness? And do we ever get to the truth? I've seen every extreme in this realm. I have engaged in many of them. I have refused to acknowledge error or fault, when I later realize I was wrong. I have refused to acknowledge error or fault for quite some time, only to realize - long after it was too late to matter - that maybe I had been wrong. In those cases, I am looking back on the event almost as if I were a different person than I am now. I can recognize it as wrong now, because that is not who I am anymore. I have also acknowledged error or fault when I maybe should not have done so, allowing the other person "off the hook", because it was more important to keep the peace. I've done it all. And of course, the "good" example would be when both parties quickly acknowledge a misunderstanding (responsibility), show respect and appreciation for each others' perspective (validation), and take actions to see that both parties feel that the wrong has been righted (reconciliation). In fact, this happens a lot of times.

But I still don't know where I sit on the curve. I have always been more of a "want to see everyone get along" kind of guy, and therefore I do a lot of apologizing, backing down, and accepting responsibility, and compromising. This would be true of romantic relationships, as well as friendships and family relationships. Embedded somewhere in there is the "valuation of self" issue that I keep revisiting. If we always put up with everyone's shit, and never say "Okay, stop! Now it's your turn to meet me halfway!", then we aren't really valuing ourselves appropriately.

So, recently, I have put my foot down a time or two. And it is hard. I have doubts. I wonder and wonder, am I doing the right thing? But there are objective measures. When a conflict arises between people who are "close", there needs to be an honest effort on both sides to at least acknowledge the value of the item at stake - the relationship. If you do not even feel you're being shown that, then what can you do? We can tell ourselves over and over, until the cows come home, that the other person is just not as good at communicating, or has a hard time apologizing, or has a hard time accepting blame, or has a hard time seeing things objectively, or is defensive, or any number of other things. But in the end, I'm pulling my weight in the relationship, and shouldn't the other individual at least be held to a modicum of a standard?

The irony is that putting your foot down in these cases may very well fall on a deaf ear, because they didn't see it before. So what will cause an epiphany now? But it does have to do with valuation of self. We are not doormats unless we make ourselves so. People need to earn the relationships they have. And maybe they didn't put in the effort because they cannot do it - in which case, they better stop making excuses, and learn, without being coddled and enabled. And if they didn't put in the effort because they really don't care, then maybe it's good to realize that, from both sides, and move on to relationships that are more important.

It's really a case-by-case thing.

02 August, 2008

Things Mick Likes (#1): Whitecaps by the 520 Bridge

Location: 520 bridge
Mood: awe

I like when you're driving across the 520 bridge, and you can see "whitecaps" on the water to the south of the floating bridge while, at the same time, the water to the north of the bridge is completely still like a sheet of glass. It's just always amazing to me that Lake Washington can take on the look of choppy seas from the winds. And it is equally amazing that the bridge provides a region of complete shelter to the water on the other side of it.

01 August, 2008

Scrabulous is BACK on Facebook... sort of

Location: facebook
Mood: confused

The latest news is that the creators of Scrabulous have made a new version of their game, that is supposed to be just different enough from Scrabble that maybe it will be more difficult for them to be stopped. I learned this today from an article I saw online from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

If you would like to check out this game, just search for Wordscraper (that is their new name for the game, which is strikingly similar to the old game).

This battle is turnout out to be an interesting story, not because of the game itself, but because of the legal questions of intellectual property and internet regulation that result from it. CNET talks about the role that Facebook has played in this conflict. While they would like to paint themselves as being "neutral", their lack of action is described in this article as anything-but-neutral.