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Archive for May, 2017

perspective(s)

I’ve wanted to write a post about perspective, but I wasn’t sure how to begin it.

Then, yesterday, my husband turned my three-year-old’s carseat around. Instead of facing backward, looking through my car’s rear window, Littler faced forward and shared my view through the front window.

“Woooooooooo!” he yelled after we pulled out of our driveway and began down the road. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” He might as well have been riding a roller coaster.

“You like the view, huh?” asked Littler’s older brother, Li’l D.

“Yeah!” cheered Littler, who’d had more than his car seat reoriented.

His whole perspective had changed.

Last week, a familiar horror crept over me while I read. None of this can be changed, I thought. It’s far too late to choose a different track.

The fact I’d thought such a thing was my signal: It was time to set aside the book I was reading. Though it was both illuminating and engagingly written, its content was grim.

I’ve learned over the last couple of months that I must read such things in small doses. Doing otherwise can catapult me into depression. (For example, I shouldn’t have read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia and The Divide back to back. Spending a couple of days immersed in what exactly a handful of corrupt financiers have gotten away with while millions of others languish in prison for less … left me thinking, for some weeks, there is no way to overcome this scale of injustice.)

What can I read right now that will walk me back toward something like hope? I wondered. I landed on The Guardian’s George Monbiot, whose words reveal wisdom and perspective that reorient my heart.

One article’s title especially piqued my curiosity: “Finally, a breakthrough alternative to growth economics – the doughnut.” Read more…

acceptance

May 18, 2017 Comments off

“The mole, I’m not
so worried about,”
said the nurse practitioner,
peering at me over the rims
of her eyeglasses. “It’s
the anxiety that
concerns me.”

“I didn’t say anything
about anxiety,” I
pointed out.

“Oh, honey,
you didn’t
have to.”

“This is half as bad
as it was even a
month ago,”
I replied.

We talked
for fifteen minutes.

At one point,
I said, “the best thing
was accepting, really
accepting, that the world
could be very, very grim
for my children, no matter
what I do or say–“

“We don’t know that
it will be!”
she cautioned.

“Oh, I know. I’ve been
reading Arundhati Roy
and Rebecca Solnit, and,
well, dozens of other authors
just this year. There’s hope in
uncertainty, here.”

She nodded.

“What I mean is:
I was ragged from figuring
out what I could do, and how
I could do it, to show that citizens
must not wait for politicians to do
the right thing environmentally.
What finally freed me
from that churn
was seeing that …
if the outcome does end up
being very, very grim,
it will be all the more important
for me to have left my sons
with tons and tons of love
to sustain them through
hardships I can’t
change.
They’ll need
the memory
of all
that
love
to get by,
you know?
So I’ll keep
reading, and I’ll
keep showing up,
where I think it’ll help,
but I’m not arguing anymore,
or fretting about the right words,
or seeking the magic combination
that’ll suddenly engage
the disengaged,
but mostly,
mostly …
I’ll love
on
my
sons.”

When I left
the room moments later,
she told me, “You’re
a lovely woman.”

“Ha!” I wanted to say.
“You should talk to
some of my now-
former friends.”

Instead,
I accepted her words,
and her hug,
too

On heroing

Once upon a college-time, I found myself so useless–to myself, to others, to the world–that I wanted to die.

I challenged myself to find one thing I liked about myself; if I didn’t, I’d kill myself. If I could find one thing, though, I figured I could probably find more … with some patience.

I decided my calves were pretty rad. Seeing that one good thing paved the way for my sticking around to see more, so that one little thing meant everything: choosing life, as opposed to suicide.

Over time, I came to have faith in words. I understood them and became adept at shaping them to express precisely what I meant.

Then I began reading Neil Postman, who helped me understand some of the biases in words and word combinations, particularly English ones. Nouns are especially appropriate to represent some physical items (table; car; sandwich), but help create the illusion of stasis in some more dynamic “things” (language; people; school).

There’s a lot to this, but some of the biggest questions Postman opened for me were about this illusion of stasis, or unchangeability. By referring to “language” instead of “languaging,” English speakers may perceive language as an unchanging behemoth instead of sets of ongoing processes. By referring to people by individual, set names, we tell ourselves each person is one relatively stable unit instead of a changeable, changing entity who does the hard, ongoing work of “personing” in a rapidly changing world.

Some statements presented as fact aren’t, really.

“Projection,” as the term is used by semanticists such as Korzybski and Hayakawa, means that we transfer our own feelings and evaluations to objects outside of us. For example, we say, “John is stupid” or “Helen is smart,” as if “stupidity” and “smartness” were characteristics of John and Helen. A literal translation of “John is stupid” (that is, its most scientific meaning) might go something like this: “When I perceive John’s behavior, I am disappointed or distressed or frustrated or disgusted. The sentence I use to express my perceptions and evaluation of these events is ‘John is stupid.'”

When we say, “John is stupid,” we are talking about ourselves much more than we are talking about John. And yet, this fact is not reflected at all in this statement.

Language might actually be used to conceal more than it reveals.

At first, it felt liberating to be able to see some of the processes behind purported “things” I’d wrongly perceived as more or less stable. Slowly, though, it destroyed my faith in something that had almost always been a bedrock for me: that I could set forth words that showed precisely what I meant to almost everyone who read them. But if meaning is projected onto words by a perceiver instead of simply absorbed as stated, what I stated was far less important than the meanings being projected onto my words by readers/hearers.

With everything apparently objective revealed as potentially quite subjective, then, I lost faith in my ability to English-language … or that there was much merit in bothering to even try. I was especially disturbed by one kind of illusion I began seeing everywhere, especially in my own words: one of scale. Words can help things I’d consider enormous seem small, and can give small things an illusion of comparative enormity.

For example: If it’s a “disaster” when I flub an important meeting, what is it–apart from, of course, a crime–when hundreds of thousands of people lose their homes and retirement funds due to the bad behavior of a small number of extraordinarily powerful bankers? When those bankers aren’t even held accountable, but slapped on the hand by having less-than-incremental fees effectively taken from investors … as punishment? (How is that “punishment”? How does that deter abuse of power?)

If it’s “crushing” to remember a particularly bad memory, what is it, then, when entire villages are literally crushed by American-sold (and, often, -dropped) bombs? Especially when many of those bombs are “gifts” that keep giving for decades to come?

If an especially tasty hot dog can be “awesome,” then what’s the feeling you get standing and looking upon grand portions of the Grand Canyon?

If it’s “amazing” to get a great bonus at work, what is is when a family is granted asylum … and thus given a chance at life when they’d have almost certainly died had they stayed in their (prior) home?

With so many hard-to-see flaws in tools of meaning conveyance, words, I stopped seeing the point of trying to negotiate them.

If I was no longer a(n effective) worker-of-words … what was I, even?

Last week, I was fairly bludgeoned–multiple times daily, each day–by a word that I’d always translated as representing goodness. Read more…

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