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For a Sweet Valentine’s Day, Don’t Look Back

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope it’s one of those days where you feel attracted to someone who feels attracted to you back. If you’re a pre-menopausal woman, I hope you are somewhere in the 7-11 day range of your cycle, so your estrogen-testosterone hormone cocktail sets you up for a good time. I hope you feel healthy and strong and liked and loved and secure and are able to relax however you like to relax. I hope you are feeling excited in your aspirations and creative with your time, confident that all the major life boxes are in order – Finances – Companionship – Health – Family – Community – Education. I hope you are anticipating something delicious tonight and that you have the energy to savor it. If this is you today, this Valentine’s post is not for you. Not you today anyway.

However, if you happen to NOT be having a day like this…read on.

Beware the pile of shit that is labeled “NOSTALGIA.” The letters might be loopy or in calligraphy – something that will remind you of the prettier parts of your shittier past. You will not notice an odor because, well, because memories don’t smell. While an actual scent triggers memory in our brains, it doesn’t work the other way around. Why? Because there is nothing the fuck there. In other words, memories take us out of the present, out of our sensations and physical awareness.

**Some signs you may be dumping your reality and approaching Shit:

-an impulse to take selfies on the Snapfish app you have downloaded just for the filters and then post them to social media sites you typically do not frequent or send them to people for really no reason at all;

-making calls or sending texts to people with whom you have intentionally opted out of relationship. This includes friendships that ended for a reason and on clear terms, saying “hi” to exes or responding to some text from long ago that came from someone in the same pile of shit that you are currently trying to side-step. I’m not saying to never revisit relationships from the past. Actually, I am saying that. You can’t get a good data read on what was. You did the best you could with the data points you had at the time, but Nostalgia is a lake of shit, and those logic points are like rocks at the bottom of the lake. They are gone. The world population is 7.9 billion, up from 2 billion at the turn of the 20th Century and 1 billion a hundred years before that. While not all viable, that’s a large enough pool to support losing a few phone numbers that invariably lead to you-know-where on days like today. Connect to authentic old friends on days like described in paragraph one.

-Unchecking ANY of the boxes checked in paragraph one. Maybe you have never lived in paragraph one. No problem. You can tap into that “good enough” version that makes sense at least one or two days of the week – the one where your reality isn’t one of being destitute and unloveable. Brilliant ideas and sustainable intimacy are not born from fear. So don’t fuck with your money, career and/or family. Not today.

Takeaway Tip:

On Valentine’s Day, don’t ditch your reality and cozy up to a version that suits your hormonal ‘cocktail du jour’. When you feel a little or a lot of shitty, steer clear of anything with filters (except air filters) or you will be prone to mistaking Nostalgia’s touch-ups for the real deal. And unfortunately, even after your hormones stabilize and you have trudged your way through to the other side, that shit sticks.

BLACK AND WHITE SHIT

I grew up in the 80’s in the West Texas football town that inspired “Friday Night Lights.” The only turf where whites and blacks mixed better than oil and water was in Ratliff Stadium, and that’s just because there’s a lot of blood in football, and blood isn’t black or white. I didn’t have a single black friend (or enemy) and can’t recall having much interaction with black people at all if we’re talking about people just going about their business and living life like actual human beings and not as Civil Rights leaders via history lessons or athletes on Friday nights. When I was 7 years old, I could tell you the Permian High School Wide Receiver’s weight, his cumuluative GPA and whether he was using his Grandmother’s address for eligibility and, if so, why. By 9, I could tell you how all that data affected his odds of pass completions and if last week’s injury during practice would get in his head this week. I could tell you more often than not what the quarterback thought about all the data on any given play. I was pretty good at this, not just for a girl.

So my only relationship with a black person was basically an impersonal behavioral calculation that somehow made me feel a part of something bigger than what was inside my head. At no cost to me. Which brings me to this particular submission.

The exception to my embarrassingly neurotic and taken-for-granted all-white experience would be “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” in the ’90’s. Not the 1890’s. The characters in this highly unrealistic made-for-tv scenario were the only “black people” who were ever invited into my home. Into a lot of our homes. The Cosby show was a staple for sure, but it didn’t give off the same vibe. It wasn’t sexy. Will Smith was (and is) sexy AND black, and those two categories were supposed to be mutually exclusive in the only world I knew existed. Still, a 21-year-old Smith followed in the giant footsteps of television heartthrobs Michael J. Fox and Kirk Cameron, with the unspoken caveat that none of our parents would have allowed us to “date” a black guy. You know, because Will Smith was super interested in 10 year old entitled white girls.

In real life, Smith was officially off the market the year I graduated high school when he married the beautiful, sexy, sophisticated black actress, Jada. Through the years, I would read sporadic blurbs and updates on Will and Jada Pinkett Smith – kind of silently rooting for them to beat the shit out of the rest of us fighting our gag reflexes as we swallowed the all-American aspartame-sweetened dream on the stairmasters where we read our celebrity gossip magazines.

So that’s where I’m from.

I don’t know how it would feel to be a strong, intelligent and beautiful public figure in my fifties, having arrived in my own right as a woman at the Oscars with my husband and our kids – kids we had somehow managed to raise in a culture where the compass of morality may be just about as broken as the one trampled by West Texas tumbleweeds. I can imagine preparing for an evening without filters, for what would be front and center coverage, this time in the supporting role for my off-the-charts successful and talented husband. I can imagine how it might feel to connect to a true story of a remarkable family who beat the odds and to have played some part in the successful sharing of that story.

In former Harvard professor psychologist, Dr. David Buss’s cross-cultural study of 37 cultures on (heterosexual) mate preference and attraction (Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12:1-49; accessed 2022 http://homepage.psy.utxas.edu), males across cultures prefer mates who are younger, placing highest value on physical attributes including good muscle tone, waist to hip ratio, symmetrical features, healthy skin and lustrous hair and clear eyes. Females prefer “good financial prospects” as the highest trait value in potential long-term partners. The mate-preference similarities across cultures supports Buss’s hypothesis that we humans are more biologically and less culturally driven in our preferences for long time mates. This shit is how we evolved to survive biologically.

Men can be very sensitive about losing their hair. Some take meds that affect their moods to clinically significant levels because they would rather have a full head of hair and less emotional stability than vice versa. Most don’t. Teasing balding men isn’t nice, but it’s not existentially alienating. For women, hair loss makes us much more vulnerable, statistically less preferred in fact – not just culturally, but biologically.

I just did a Google search with one word, “Jada,” and the top 5 results include “jada pinkett smith reaction,” the link to this superstar’s reactions to Chris Rock’s joke about her hair loss as well as numerous media clips of Will Smith’s reaction, Chris Rock’s counter-response and the subsequent fallout. It hovers above the links to “jada pinkett smith movies” and “jada pinkett smith net worth.” Pinkett Smith made headlines in 2021 when she shaved her head and alluded to her Alopecia on Instagram, signaling she could stomach the attention she DID NOT ask for. I’ve never heard jokes at the Oscars about a man losing all of his security – every ability to provide – unless the joke was at the expense of someone whose unethical actions directly caused his losses, a nod to his power over his misfortune.

I also don’t know how it would feel to be nominated for best actor, to have depicted someone else’s life story so effectively and powerfully with my own family beside me. How remarkable for the perpetually young and cool Fresh Prince of Bel Air to connect to all of us in an all-grown-up way, as the street-wise father whose strategy of vacillating hope and anger, manifested by eccentric success-driven behavior, evolved into hard-earned paternal wisdom amidst chronic hurdles, culminating in ultimate success through the remarkable stories of his daughters. Once again, Will Smith had white people in first class airplane cabins paying for a story we can’t claim as our own. We have to claim it as something else.

Finally, I definitely can’t get wrapped around having what it takes to entertain the elite entertainers, modern royalty, on their night of stardom – for all the world to see. The role of court jester was historically both powerful and dangerous. The jester knows that his influence and personal security is dependent on pleasing the monarch. But who is king of the Oscars? Certainly not Richard.

What does all of this mean when it comes to avoiding shit?

Nothing if you’re Will or Jada Pinkett Smith or Chris Rock. Because I write advice about the piles of shit we CAN avoid, the Schadenfreude we CAN prevent. Not all shit can be avoided, and it’s not my privilege to opine on what happened when a bright star momentarily forgot that the rest of us only care about the light. We don’t care if the star exploded and died. Little white girls still wish on those dead stars, and their wishes still come true.

But if you’re not part of the Will Smith or Chris Rock or Richard Williams families…if you’re not black and are not a voting member of the Academy…your opinion on this incident is just another voice in an ever-growing pile of voyeuristic black-and-white shit.

Don’t keep shit

We hold onto things for a few reasons – to make life easier/more comfortable, to help us achieve our goals, to improve our security, and to help us remember. Its the last one of these reasons that can turn to shit.

When my grandparents moved from their home of forty years to an assisted living retirement village, they knew it would be the last move for my grandfather. My grandmother took a few pictures, some clothes and practical furniture and didn’t look back. We were horrified that she would abandon so much that she had once valued and taught us to value. We just knew she would regret this, and we begged her to save her precious things in storage, just for a year or two. She declined.

“For what?” she said.

My grandmother has been a widow for a decade now. She says she still wakes up every day feeling incomplete without my Papa, and she says it hasn’t gotten better over time. My Grandmother has never felt sorry for herself and doesn’t think much of what she calls “ballbags,” so I take it as a fact that its like she says it is. She knew she would live her last years without her best friend, but she didn’t fill her space with the cherished “muchness” accumulated through their nearly three quarters of a century together, items that prompted stories of their global travels and eras long gone. She knew what I didn’t know. She knew her memories weren’t contained in whatever objects held their associations. She knew she couldn’t carry their weight or navigate the space they would occupy as her senses diminished and her body weakened and her heart broke.

Three weeks ago, I officially gave up my lease at a rental home where I’ve stored the things I couldn’t defend making space for in my husband’s home (a house that already haunts him with all of its things, things that invite us to hold our breath to the point of suffocation). I placed the barely-used retro kitchenware in a few boxes I presented to my oldest daughter for her to use over the next few years in college. Two weeks later, the boxes were still in the back of her car. She informed me that her dad would not permit her to store them in his (large, single-occupancy) home in these transition months nor allow them space in the car they plan to take to college. I told her I understood. I did not understand, and this became apparent to my husband at a family dinner where I brought up the boxes and my daughter reacted defensively, prompting my husband’s upset at her entitled behavior. After dinner, the three of us unpacked the boxes into my husband’s garage, my daughter contrite and silent, my husband barely containing his irritation over the boxes blocking the tandem bike and the shelf with the extra condiments. I felt like shit.

I don’t like this story. I don’t like that going to college isn’t a family thing. I don’t like that my daughter is not taking pieces of me with her on the roadtrip to college with her dad in the car that he bought her, that they will buy everything new and create more memories without me. My kids and I had some really shitty years together, and it means something to me that we bought colorful pots and pans and kitchen staples even though I can’t cook and we barely had a kitchen. Those boxes were all hope and love because that’s the only part of our story I wanted her to take with her.

What would my Grandmother say?

Well, at this moment, my pile of powder blue shit sits in the garage, kept company by the myriad ghosts of all of the other shit that fills our space. The shit I made her keep and made him store looks like fear, not like love.

I can imagine a different story, one where the shit in boxes transforms back into things with value because they serve a purpose, make life easier and improve security. I wanted that to be the story she would take with her about us, the story of the kind of mom I want her to have. Maybe she won’t need my shit to remember my love.

Skin, or: Bones

What’s the connection between collaborative published poetry and (the purpose of this blog) not stepping in shit??? I believe creative writing makes us pause between lines. Poetry invokes rhythm, haikus consist of 17 syllables. In the “in betweens” of what “NOT” to do, I won’t be mapping out next steps for anyone. Particularly since I can’t dance. I will, however, play a little, and poetry is how I play. Check out “The Skeptic’s Kaddish” if this way of creating and connecting means something to you.

The Skeptic's Kaddish 🇮🇱

Poetry Partners #27

‘Skin in the Game’ by Audrey Duff of ‘Stopping Schadenfreude’

It's the horses' sweaty skin
that Derby owners claim.
Warren Buffet’s first deal,
not much skin in that game.
Pigs weren’t so lucky in games,
Their bladders stretched and stuffed,
tossed and bound,
for four quarters and a hundred yards.
That’s what happens if you’re smart.
Skin is just money with nerves.
He says I don’t have any.
I say I know I’ve got skin
Because I’ve got scars.
But he’s right about my nerve.

A poem by ben Alexander of ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’

It's the horse's rigid bones our children use in art projects. The image sticks like a bone in my throat. We get processed at bone factories; lame stallions meet their ends at the knacker's. Benjamin the donkey didn't horse around when his best friend was sold off for a case…

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Don’t “Find Yourself”in Shit

Lawyers generally charge more than behavioral health professionals because the market dictates that solid, short term advice is worth more than chronic empathy. Empathy is arguably the most valuable of human qualities. That is why it does not sell. When a quality is part of the human experience, it is perceived as an entitlement. Scarcity does not increase our willingness to pay for empathy like it does for other commodities. Instead, we repeat patterns and say life isn’t fair.

Post Graduate Degrees in the Social Sciences offer the guarantee of intrinsic value with ample opportunity for self-expression, enriched personal development and trauma-processing podiums. It can be very alluring to the test-savvy/above-average-IQ post-collegiate in search of unassailable higher purpose to dedicate two+ years to categorizing grammatically sensitive social norm outliers within a community of like-minded peers and professors who collectively attempt to repair the fragile ego of said candidate.

If you are longing to lend your voice to protecting the oppressed between bites of Greek yogurt, watch out. You may be fast-approaching some expensive shit in the last pair of shoes you’ll have the time and means to procure for awhile.

For all of the self-care lingo that the revered post-grad social science programs perpetuate, they often turn out justice-oriented graduates, whose time spent “being special” in participation-trophy-model-based candidacy programs has rendered any subsequent advice and empathy inaccessible and unaffordable.

If you take this route and you are not independently and inter-generationally sustainably wealthy or unusually charming or attractive, consider you may never have the time or resources to maintain physical, emotional and relational health you learn to value in grad school.

My Clinical-Social-Worker-indulged-inner-child is begging me to differentiate between the passionate/driven post-grad pioneer and my depiction above, to weave a narrative to gently separate the true future leaders in social justice as they march onward towards a better tomorrow. Here I remind my inner child that the purpose of what i am writing is clarity, not inspiration. And to convey my lived/perceived experience of how to avoid shit, not to soothe the exempt.


Takeaway Tip (& inner child compromise):

If your monthly self-care costs exceed a day’s pay at minumum wage, you can’t afford this pile of shit. Have some empathy for yourself and don’t make a career out of empathy if you are not crystal clear on why you want to limit your lifetime options.

  • Self-care costs include but are not limited to: personal psychotherapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, healing arts, crystal therapy, craniosacral and massage sessions, co-pays for medical visits relating to physiological manifestations of nebulous dietary restrictions, gym/yoga memberships & attire, hair highlights, lowlights, dye, pedis, manis, Whole Foods/Trader Joes markups, specialty coffee, travel, pet care and projection, skincare products & books, hiking gear and vitamins/supplements.

ROBOTS WITH NAMES

Siri has a purpose. Talk to her when you know where you want to go. Tell Alexa the volume and the temperature you prefer when you are unsatisfied with the status quo. Just keep in mind that the help you will receive has no relationship to any internal desire your robotic assistants have attached to the outcome in regards to your feelings. Siri does not care if you are lost, and Alexa does not care if you are cold and have a tension headache. Siri and Alexa do not get their periods or go through menopause, and they are not your friends. If that lands a little strangely, go easy on yourself. They are default-programmed as nurturing, middle-aged, educated women, the voices that most-effectively help us to forget they are not actually human.

We are constantly proving to robots that we aren’t robots. Does an image of a tiny metal portion of the vertical stoplight pole in a grid really count as the actual stoplight? Even when there are two poles welded together and the bottom pole is arguably just supporting the horizontal one with the actual lights? The robot I asked (Google) isn’t clear.

Interacting with these voices (for more than direction and volume control) in the midst of feeling like a shitty human will often result in your feeling even less human than your highly logical programmed companions.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Do not talk to robots who don’t sound like robots when you are confused and lonely. They are not programmed to navigate your self esteem out of a shitstorm. And they are immune to shit.

Know the Difference Between A Pile of Love vs. A Pile of Commitment

In a brief visit to the shitless land of the Oxford Languages Online Dictionary, (a resource surprisingly useful in mapping a path around shit that smells like roses), we find the following gold nugget definitions:

COMMITMENT = the state of or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc; a pledge or undertaking, an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.”

Oxford-provided examples: “the company’s commitment to quality,” or simply put “business commitments.” That’s right, bitches. Commitments mean business. They mean you show up whether you feel it or not. They mean it’s supposed to be two-sided.

LOVE: An intense feeling of deep affection; a great interest and pleasure in something.

Oxford-provided examples: “babies fill parents with feelings of love,” his love of football,” “he loved his sister dearly,” and last but certainly not least, “I just love dancing.”

Are we clear???

TAKEAWAY TIP: Don’t connect the words ‘commitment’ and ‘love.’ There is no absolute inverse or directly proportional relationship between the terms in any type of relationship. When you encounter either of these constructs, take a deep breath and open your eyes. An offer of love without commitment looks like roses and airline miles but smells like shit.

DISCLAIMER

There’s nothing sexy about a disclaimer, but it is how I am choosing to bypass what would be countless paragraphs of telling my story just to catch up my readers as to why I paid the $100ish WordPress Premium Annual Fee for this Blog site. In other words, I offer this disclaimer in place of my life story up to this point. These posts will not describe my personal Big Bang – the story of what has stuck together and what has not, the getting caught in the orbits of others, the wishing on stars whose light was all memory, and the attempts to control the enemy that is entropy. It has taken me a long time to write for anyone besides myself because writing has been my way of expending energy without having to take care of anyone else’s feelings or teach anyone anything. Writing for myself has somehow makes it okay to feel and to think, kind of like Santa Clause makes it okay for kids to receive.

There are no upcoming self-help exercises. This is not because I don’t value healing strategies or solutions. I’ve spent the past twenty years in helping professions – as a Social Worker, Life Coach, Psychotherapist and Yoga Teacher or in graduate schools and doctoral programs in their pursuit. But sometimes we gain clarity by understanding what not to do, especially when we are most confused. The end game is clarity, not just in brief moments or when hormones and checkbooks are balanced. Optimal living is a function of consistent clarity, and the opposite of clarity is confusion.

Confusion is arguably much harder to tolerate than dislike. For this reason, we “hedge our bets” and instruct ourselves to expect the worst outcome, with or without supporting facts, only to experience two disappointments – the disappointment at being disappointed and the original disappointment itself. Consider for a moment a time when you hoped for an outcome and it did not go your way. Now rewind to the time just before you were aware of the undesired outcome. Were you telling yourself not to be disappointed if you didn’t like the result, that it wasn’t such a big deal, that you would have other opportunities or you never had a chance to begin with? If so, do you believe that preparing yourself for the bad outcome actually made that outcome more palatable? It did not.

What if you had allowed excitement and hope in the possibility of what you desired and were hugely disappointed? You still would have had to tolerate an outcome you did not like but without undermining yourself for making the effort or taking a risk. That period of not knowing, the ‘inbetween‘, is more uncomfortable than the actual undesired outcome, and there are many tools to learn to use towards tolerating what is uncomfortable. The field of mindfulness and integrated health practices offer considerable resources for increasing one’s presence during transitions and tolerating what is beyond one’s immediate control.

I have valued my career in psychodynamic integrative health, in harnessing the conscious and subconscious towards clarity. Regarding both our minds and our bodies, learning to tolerate what is uncomfortable is the definition of maturity. Discomfort is different than pain. Discomfort is a state that can be lessened by sustaining it. Pain, on the other hand, means ‘stop’. It is the signal to change course now. So mental health is basically a measure of the differential in one’s ability to accurately transmit the messages of pain and of discomfort from brain to body and to respond logically and consistency.

But I believe there is more to life than tolerating discomfort and avoiding pain and even seeking pleasure. This blog, my friends, is for those who have stepped figuratively in shit again and again and who have learned to tolerate the smell of shit while standing on one foot and scraping out what can be removed from the deepest grooves in the other shoe. All while apologizing to those who notice the shit and just stare, often taking some pleasure in the whole scene from a safe distance (#shadenfreude). If you are someone who is fixated on finding out who left the pile of shit or who made the shit and you hope to exact some sort of justice, this blog is not for you.

I will not be forensically analyzing shit to uncover it’s culprit or suggesting ways to clean it or cover up the smell. I am not concerned at this time with understanding why certain people are drawn towards certain piles of shit. I will not delve into shit left by mothers and fathers or by angry children disguised as grown-ups. Since it’s a fair assumption that people don’t much enjoy stepping in shit, it follows that any attempt to prevent this outcome must address ‘confusion.’ To advise anyone on where to step next is beyond the scope of my expertise. But where not to step – I have something to say about that.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.