Absence of “Face Time”

Disclaimer: This post is probably going to cheese-off a few folks. Good. It’s my opinion and you are welcome to share it or reject it. Now on with the show…

Scrolling Facebook this morning (aka, “procrastinating”), I ran across a post from Sun Gazing (all cartoons below are from their page), a site known for both its inspirational and amusing updates. Today’s offering really struck a nerve. It is a series of cartoons depicting how social media and personal technology have taken over our lives, and not for the better. I know what I do for a living is teach children how to use tech as a tool, but it is just that: a tool. It should never be a substitute for spending real time in real conversation…or even just silence with someone.  Don’t get me wrong; I can be just as guilty as the next person of spending too much of my free time looking for DIY ideas to save to my Pinterest boards, sharing cat videos or obnoxiously delicious looking recipes on Facebook, and on occasion, Tweeting what I’m up to professionally or Instagramming that iPhone shot that took my breath away. But I find I grow more and more resentful of the blasted smart phone. Admittedly I would not be as efficient in my job without it (“Ding!” Text from the 3rd floor while I’m on the playground outside and not in my Lab which is on the 2nd floor, telling me the internet has gone kerput again). It is even a wonder tool for the boys to shoot me messages quickly (out of toilet paper…again…) or a photo from their first day on campus.

However, I find the hairs on my neck start to stand up when I’m talking with someone..anyone…and their phone starts to ding or whistle or sing AND THEY ANSWER IT!! If in the middle of our conversation (or non-conversation as it may be), church, movies, dinner, your child’s play, you name it, your phone goes off and you check it, I’m going to get annoyed. At least turn off the ringer! Notifications from apps (your turn to play Trivia Crack or check your 500th “like” on your photo) make me nuts, although I was grateful for banking notifications when my card was hacked and used, meaning we were able to block, report, and change security within minutes of the card being used. Beats the crap I had to go through 20 odd years ago when my checkbook was stolen! But I digress. I’ve got a gazillion notifications on my phone for dates, times, and the damned ones for Facebook that I can never tweak enough to just give me the few things I care about (thanks for changing your settings so frequently Facebook!). I find it amusing though that some folks feel the need to point out to me that my phone has just dinged; I know. I’m ignoring it.

Personally, when someone whips out his/her phone at dinner, during a movie, while we’re chatting face to face, I often feel second best. If watching that adorbs cat video or checking the scores is more interesting than the person/people you’re with then:

  1. That someone is apparently boring, or
  2. That someone is boring because they’re sick of looking at the top of your head bent over a phone and quit trying to share anything interesting, or
  3. You’re just being rude as f&#*.

Think about it, when someone left your life (death, moved, changed jobs, got fed up with you), did you regret not checking Facebook or playing an app while with them more often? Or…did you regret not taking a walk, hearing their voice, or telling them how much they meant to you every chance you had? That’s what I thought…

However, I can be just as guilty as the next guy of these same transgressions. Every. Last. One of them. So don’t go getting your knickers all in a twist that I’m bashing everyone else except me; I’m just not afraid to vent my frustration and vow to work harder at being more considerate. And…if you think my mind is wandering elsewhere or I keep glancing at my phone when I’m with you, tell me! I’d rather be called to the carpet and perhaps a bit embarrassed for a moment, than risk not hearing the excitement in your voice when you tell me about the amazing story you just heard from a new friend or watched the most incredible sunset with a friend. So here is what I propose, and these are nothing original, but perhaps if we keep hearing and seeing that too much of a good thing can be bad for you, then perhaps we’ll start changing some of these “instant gratification” and “attention span of a flea” behaviors we’ve picked up. Please share your own pet peeves or suggestions for what to do instead of checking your “Likes”. I’d love to hear from you!

 dinner entertainment

Put the phone down at meals. Period. No one likes feeling as if they have to compete for your attention.

 

quality time with family

“Together” doesn’t exactly mean “in the same air space”. Do something together, even if that something is watching a movie while piled on top of each other on the couch. And for goodness sake, don’t do a Four Square check in from living room!

 

tweeting

Talk about it, or experience it? The choice is yours.

 

He is risen update

Fine. Snap a picture. But upload it later and get back to being in awe of what you’re seeing.

 

final profile update

Ok, I’ll concede this one.

Again, I hope I’ve touched a nerve, and I’d love to have you comment on this.

Advertisements

Wishing versus Working: New Series

This morning I heard a fantastic quote on my drive in to school:

There is no shortage of people willing to win, but there is a shortage of people willing to do the work required to win.

Now, this quote wasn’t in relation to a sports team, but rather in the context of life in general, and specifically in the context of our relationship with God. This really got me to contemplating:

 

Am I putting in the work required to have a purposeful life, or am I simply going through the motions and wishing it were so?

 

The more I tried to dissect how these challenges applied to my life, the more areas I began to see were included. I mean, seriously, this “wishing” versus “working” mentality and ethic, could apply absolutely everywhere in my life. Think about it: career, housing, transportation, health, and oh so critical…the relationships we build (or destroy) with our spouse or partner, parents, in-laws, siblings, children, even our ex’s, and of course, our first relationship with our Heavenly Father.

The radio show spoke a great deal about the ethic of David as a “winner” who was willing to do the work, regardless of how seemingly menial, that it took to fulfill his promises.   I won’t recount that entire story here; you can read up more on that yourself. Personally, I’ve started here… http://www.gotquestions.org/man-after-God-heart.html   Seems like a good place to begin my deeper study. I’m a “people person”, in spite of being an introvert, so the idea of more deeply exploring my relationships with others and questioning if I am truly doing the work it takes to make these relationships meaningful and fruitful, or if am only giving lip-service to wanting them to work, was a great challenge to me. Meaning, I’m not first questioning that these relationships exist, but am I doing the work needed to make any one of those relationships successful?

       So, in genuine effort to put in the work to win, I’d like to launch a series of discussions about the effort required to win at relationships. I’m no expert certainly, but I’m more than willing to share my stories: triumphs and failures, along with the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Please jump in and share your own stories or ideas for us to explore. I’d love to talk with you!

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

Such a great message at service this morning; a couple of themes or comments stood out that helped me pull together a few topics I’ve had drafted for a while, but just couldn’t get to gel. This first was helped along by the children’s service, and a question that was put to them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Please feel free to comment below! I’d love to hear about challenges you may have had with trying something new, or returning to something once loved yet discarded.

 

Ever have one of those moments, periods, where you just don’t have a clue what you’re thinking? Trying to get the words out is a struggle…you don’t feel as if there is any good reason to be “conflicted”, yet that’s exactly what you are. I’m reaching a stage in my career where I am no longer certain it is 100% satisfying. Don’t get me wrong; I love working with my students at this school in particular. I can’t see myself teaching anywhere else, and I absolutely love teaching the subjects I do: the combination of science, math, design…it suits me completely to encourage the students to take risks, make mistakes, and grow their understanding. But does it “complete me” the way I believed it once did? I don’t think it does. There seems to be this nagging impression that I need to create and share that need to create, especially with my students. Why now? Why am I only just starting to feel drawn toward the more creative side of myself: to encourage, explore, and grow my own artistic side?

I think about what makes me smile at the moment (apart from seeing “Bruce” at the end of a long day). Friends, family…they all put a smile on my face. Even more than that though is the satisfaction I get from creating something, whether it is a blog post, short story, new candle scent, or a great dish for dinner. I find myself more frequently running my hands over old pieces of furniture, neglected and battered, and imagining how they could come to life; I used to do this all the time, reviving and repurposing cast-off pieces. In the past, whenever I’ve become frustrated with where I am in life or the moment, I have taken a step back and closed myself in with my thoughts or my creations. Now though, I have a very special someone in my life who is interested in this side of me, who listens to my quirky ramblings that I’m certain make no sense at all at times, and who pushes me to explore these urges. Not to say that my ex was not supportive, but it was different; we were in a different place in our lives.

I think I look at these interests in a different light now; no longer do I think in terms of an amusing little hobby, but rather as veering off the original career path. It’s scary if I’m honest, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am meant to do this. How does one go about this though? Let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken; I have grown up expenses and responsibilities…or do I? My children are, for all intents and purposes, grown. I have no real debts beyond rent, utilities, and medical expenses (ah, the joys of aging). But my savings were depleted in the divorce, and my retirement fund took a hit. How much does it take to make me feel secure financially? What do I need in order to not just survive, but thrive? I think this is where I’m stuck, where fear takes over and prevents me from just diving in, taking the massive risk, throwing caution to the wind, and doing it. For the majority of my adult life, I chased dollars and status; I equated a fat bank account with security and happiness. It wasn’t until I lost essentially everything that I questioned that thinking. What does it take now to make me happy, to feel content, to experience the satisfaction of a job well done, to smile?

 

I don’t have all the answers; I don’t know how this will ultimately end. But I do know that if I limit myself to only thinking about how to do this, I will remain right where I am, wishing I could do something differently. I’ll check back in about this as I make decisions (or have them made for me), but I promise to share the steps along the way. I know I’m not the only person who struggles with these emotions, or wishes his or her life was going a different direction. I may not be completely confident in what will happen or how this will turn out, but I am confident enough in myself to share these insecurities and my attempts to start a new life. If reading these struggles gets someone else thinking about their life and level of satisfaction with it, then I will be satisfied that the struggle to talk about it, was worth it.

Halloween or Thanksgiving?

So yesterday was a typical, fall day in the Old Dominion…bit gray, drizzly off and on… No wait, that would be an average day in the countryside of England. But the air was crisp, bit damp, overcast: my kind of relaxing-with-no-agenda weather. “Bruce” and I were just taking it slow; farmers’ market, coffee and breakfast, visit with the sis and her family, more coffee, wandering aimlessly around a really cool (not so little as it turns out), shop in Chester that showcases various artisans’ wares and second-hand goods. Check out The Lazy Daisy if you’re ever in town. Bring your coffee and take time to peer into every nook and side room; there’s no telling what you will find: from the hair bows in school colors for the cheerleaders in your life to a chicken crate repurposed into a coffee table. It’s all there. For us arsty/crafty folks, places like this are heaven sent! The Tattooed Boy Wonder was home from college, and having fun just hanging with his brother, so of course, Buffalo Chicken pizza was on the menu for dinner, preceded by very manly sandwiches….BLT with cheese. Bacon makes everything better, but I digress.

 

It was on the way to the old ‘hood to pick up this heart-attack inducing pizza that I decided to detour past the old house. Bruce had never seen it, so in the interest of sharing my past, I swung by. Big mistake.

 

I had no idea just how many bad memories were attached to that place, until I drove past it. It was so swift, and so unexpected, that it took every ounce of self-control to not floor it Dukes of Hazard style and get out of that cul-de-sac. Don’t get me wrong; we had some laughs there too. But the majority of experiences there were just depressing. Dark. Stressful. Scary. Like a perpetual monster under your bed in the night. Not just the life events, but the house itself. It wasn’t until after we had closed on the house that we learned a teen had died while living there (not in the house, but in a car accident). Even the high school my boys attended seemed cursed with a high accidental death rate among the student body. The frights of October 31st had nothing on the “cloud of doom” that seemed to hang over that place.

 

I flashed back and remembered that while living there, I experienced the darkest days of my life. My marriage disintegrated, and I sunk into a depression that I didn’t think I’d ever dig my way out of again. Granted, I started to pull myself together there too, but the damage was already done. The house just had “bad juju” as a friend likes to say. In those brief moments as I rolled past the yard and the house that now just seemed quite ugly and cloned (planned community you know…you’re not permitted to show any individuality unless approved by a committee in advance), I lost sight of where I was now, only seeing the darkness that hung over that place.

 

The whole drive back home, my mind flipped through the Rolodex of events as if trying to tally every negative moment that occurred there. I finally crawled in the shower, as if I could wash those painful memories off like dust and mud. As I stood under the steaming water, near to tears, I just sent up a simple prayer of thanks for a reminder of where I was now. I didn’t need to forget those memories, but I needed to lose my grip on their place in my past. I believe I was led past that house again in order to fully appreciate what I do have, just how great are the gifts that I have now. I still struggle with deciding about the path my journey will take, but I am truly blessed to know that I am loved; that by turning my life over to God’s will instead of mine, I can find my way through any challenge. It may be a bumpy path at times to traverse, but I will make progress. My vision for my life’s work is becoming a bit more clear day by day, as I embrace that I am meant to serve and love others through my vocation, my service to my new home church and community, and my relationships with those around me. It has also become critical to me that I grow my writing as well as my side business as these celebrate who I am as an artist: a description of me I have taken a curiously long time to fully embrace. I also know that just as I have rediscovered this side of me that lay buried for too long, I am meant to encourage that gift and passion in others who either lost touch with that part of themselves or who are only just coming to understand that it burns within them as well.

 

This morning as I reread a letter I wrote to “Bruce” recently, I was again reminded of all for which I have to be thankful. My life going forward with him is a story of gratitude and faith, just as gratitude and faith brought him to me. We never know how long we will have someone in our lives, so give thanks for every moment you do have. When the first words you hear in the morning are “Have I told you yet today how much I love you?”, there can be no other choice but to smile and give thanks for all that you have, letting go of what you don’t have or wish you had…because there is nothing else to compare to the gift of love.

So what’s wrong with you again?

This is freakishly long…go get something to snack on.  It will still be here when you get back.

I haven’t spoken a great deal about my spondyloarthropathy, but someone new and very special to me in my life was asking “Bruce” what was “wrong” with me, and I thought this was a great time to talk a bit more about it. Don’t take offense with the wording; I’m so blessed to have this person in my life now, but they are new to being Facebook friends with me, and as such, is a bit behind on some of the conversations I’ve had over there about this over the years. I knew exactly what they meant though. Trust me, those with this disorder often ask the same of ourselves…”What IS wrong with me??” Seriously, it can be baffling and confusing to live in a body that can just bop along all happy if somewhat sluggish, then suddenly revolt and decide that excruciating pain and Tin Man impersonations are the order of the day.

The timing of the question was excellent, because thanks to the incoming storms/heavy rain, a friend and I were having a conversation yesterday about how some of us seem to do such a lovely job of predicting the weather more accurately than the local weather guys…when the bones, joints, or muscles start to tighten up when bad weather is coming. Some feel it is the damp, others believe (and science is just starting to back this one), that it is the drop in barometric pressure that triggers the discomfort. The pressure drop seems to get to me the most, and the heat was tough for me to handle before starting the Enbrel. Heat increases inflammation, and inflammation, unchecked, not only increases pain but puts you at greater risk for joint damage. Cold on the other hand, might make my muscles and tendons slower to warm up in the mornings and bit stiff at times during the day, but it is FAR easier on my body. Typically, a slow morning yoga sequence gets me on my way during the cooler months, but honestly, waking up exhausted is so…well…exhausting during the heat and humidity of our Virginia summers.

The sort of spondyloarthropathy the boys and I have (Undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy or USpA for short) affects the connective tissue and not the joints themselves (enthesitis are the points where the tendons and ligaments attach to the bones..this is where we’re affected). It explains why as a child, I would get horrific leg pains…it was the tendons pulling on the growth plates of the bones. Not every pain is “growing pains”, which even the docs said they didn’t think it was when I was a kid. Had them totally stumped. Even into my early 30’s, the rheumatologist said he could only call it a sero-negative arthritis (which means having arthritis without it showing up in the bloodwork), however, the doc I had at the time said flat out it couldn’t be spondyloarthropathy, as it only affected old men. Shame when the medical community doesn’t keep up with their own research; it would have saved me nearly 8 years of suffering and damage needlessly. We’ll skip the entire “how I was finally diagnosed story”, but suffice it to say, I love living in a city with one of the top teaching hospitals in the country!

Unfortunately almost all variations of spondyloarthropathy affect the spine. My lower back is toast, as is my neck, but here’s the thing. I can whinge and moan about it, or I can continue to be proactive and do everything I can to stay healthy and active. My rheumy credits my activity, especially yoga (which I am sorry to say I’ve neglected recently…) with keeping me so mobile, active and flexible. Yes, there is a chance that at any point in time the Enbrel will quit working its magic, and I’ll be left scrambling to find another medication that slows the progression, but in the meanwhile, I am going to do everything I can to take control over this, rather than it taking control over me.  I truly feel for those who are unable to get a handle on this disease medically due to circumstances beyond their immediate control (insurance issues or medical incompetency).

But perhaps I am most concerned for those who have the services and means at their disposal, but who are unable to mentally take charge of the situation. I’ve always been a “strong person” mentally, and at times that has admittedly been my downfall. But whenever I’ve been faced with a crisis, I tend to have a quick cry about it, time and urgency for action permitting, then, I dust myself off, and ask myself what I can do to take control back. Sometimes, having a slight issue with control pays off! I recently got a bit of news about the progression that occurred while I was off the Enbrel for a bit, that sent me briefly over the edge. It was a true relationship test that “Bruce” had to witness me having a pity party for about an hour, but as I’ve come to expect from him now, he was rock-steady, calming, and just asked me the same questions I knew I would have asked myself if he hadn’t beaten me to it:

  1. What exactly did the doctor say?
  2. What should you do now?
  3. What can you control?
  4. What is out of your control?
  5. Then do it.

 

Honestly, how does he know me so well? It’s like we’re soul mates or something (although I know he’s really been placed here right now by God to take care of me and for me to take care of). So when I encounter others who are desperate for this disease to just go away, I have to wonder where their support system is and why they feel so alone and helpless. I try to do what I can to offer my support through our closed Facebook group (closed to protect their identity and our very frank conversations). I decided some time ago that I would not hide this journey with USpA in spite of the risk of discrimination or judgment. Instead, I knew I wanted to lend my ear, heart, and encouragement to others who may be struggling with challenges. You are never truly alone if someone is willing to listen.

But a word of caution is in order. If you are a care-giver/spouse/partner/friend of someone with a chronic illness, you have to set some boundaries with the person you care about. Take time out for yourself and your friends/interests too. Having sat both sides of the caregiver/receiver fence, I understand all too well that you can give until you crash and risk becoming resentful, or even falling ill yourself. Do not feel guilty about taking a break; think of it simply as recharging your batteries so you can be as effective as you possibly can be. “Bruce” has the most wonderful way of asking “What can I do to help your day end so you can relax?” We’ve both been at work, we’re both tired, but he knows that being a woman, I’m going to keep going after every little thing I see that wants doing until it’s done, or I keel over, whichever comes first. What might take me two hours at the end of the day, takes the pair of us about 30 minutes, tops. How cool is that?! So caregivers, ask, in novel ways as Bruce has, how you can help without making your partner feel dependent. That’s critical, as few people enjoy feeling helpless.

For the person on the receiving end of the help, I’ve got some advice for you as well. Don’t be a wet rag all the damn time. Yes, you are faced with challenges that perhaps your caregiver/partner will never quite understand, and perhaps you are living with obscene amounts of pain, but guess what? Everyone has a cross to bear. Practice being thankful and thanking your partner. You don’t have to literally say “Thank you” at every little thing they do, but a smile, a hand on the arm, a back scratch, giving up control of the remote, being okay with a less than Martha Stewart perfect house, appreciating efforts at cooking or cleaning up…these all let your partner know you appreciate what they do. Laugh. Once in a while, force yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing. Sure, you might be exhausted at the end, but you know what? Take an extra dose of meds before you go, take a nap before or after, but especially have a frank discussion about the possibility of needing to take breaks or even leave early. I honestly can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone ahead and pushed myself, and then ended up having a blast. I have gotten more intuitive though about knowing when I really do need to back out of something, and I’ve also learned another very important lesson. Forgive myself for having to say no. I think though that since that doesn’t happen very often, my friends and family have gotten the message that if I do say no, it’s a rough day/week whatever, and that they just need to let me recoup a bit so I can be there for when I am needed as well. And here is another important tip in my opinion…think before you open your mouth. What is coming out? Is it constant complaints or do you temper the Grumpy Cat days with moments of positivity? If you’re more grouch than grinning, then force yourself to do/say something positive. It supposedly takes 21 days to form a new habit, but trust me, it doesn’t take long before you start to feel the benefits of a more positive outlook, and you will be less likely to drive your support system away. It is very stressful, confusing and scary to be a caregiver/partner to someone with a chronic illness; it is very easy to walk away.  It is extremely difficult to stay, so don’t for one moment take for granted those who do, and forgive those who try but have to leave in the end.  Not everyone is cut out for the task no more than everyone is capable of hiking the Himalayas….it takes a certain mindset, heart, and fortitude to do it. Yes, I completely understand that there may always be someone(s) in your life who just won’t get it. Decide if they are worth your energy to worry about. Think about it.

 

So I hope this has been a bit helpful, hopefully quite informative, and I wish you well with whatever you may be facing in your own life. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts here. No flame wars though…I don’t tolerate personal assaults on anyone, myself included. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat!

 

 

Sticking Around

Things that “stick around”…good friends for an extra cup of coffee or a beer, fans after an autograph, the smell of cabbage cooking…dog farts….  “Sticking around” implies there’s something else the “sticker” could be doing, but chooses otherwise.  Perhaps, they just enjoy what they’re doing, and are loathe to change the activity.  Maybe, the sticker is just a touch on the lazy side and can’t be bothered to do something different that would require effort to change direction.  Now, cabbage and dog farts don’t exactly have a choice in whether to stick around or not, but to a certain extent, their pungence causes them to hang about…a mixture of chemistry and olfactory memories combining to keep them around longer than either necessary or desired.  A good squirt of air freshener or a strong fan will generally help them along their way however. Usually.  Unless it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and I’ve got the crock pot filled to the brim with corned beef and cabbage….or if one of the boys has fed the pug beans.  That’s bad news there. 

But what about people in your life who stick around…in spite of something weird, negative or scary… Have you ever questioned their motivation? You throw work drama at them.  They pour a couple cups of coffee, pull up a chair, and say, “Tell me more.”  You decide to sulk over an unsolicited text they get…they didn’t invite or ask for it, but you decide to act like an ass about it…just because.  They just hug you, and show you that there is no conversation to this text, and that it is all one-sided.  You know they’re right; you just had a moment of acting self-centered and about 5 years old.  They still keep hugging, texting and calling you though, even though the tantrum probably deserved a dose of the silent treatment.  Some folks, and let’s be honest, we’re talking about partners/boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses and even family members here, would walk pretty quickly away from these little life dramas.  Face it, in the grand scheme of things, these really are petty issues, and typically don’t deserve a huge amount of energy to get through.  

Then life throws you a curve ball.  A big ol’ smack upside the head, reality check, heart stopping, make you want to barf continually moment.  You can’t catch your breath as you try to process what is happening.  Then an even darker feeling creeps into the edges of your reality…you’re in a pretty new relationship…how do you share this with your partner and not expect them to pack up the U-Haul?  Now let’s think about this rationally for a moment…would it really be fair to share this life-moment with a new partner?  You’re barely out of the burping in front of each other stage, although you’ve shared a great deal of your history, but seriously?  You expect them to be there for this?  “THIS” is heavy stuff…it can make or break marriages, so it really might be more kind to just quietly break this off with them now, and spare them the process.  True, they might be confused and hurt at the rejection, but then you wouldn’t feel the guilt of the alternative….

…the alternative, is to tell them, and then hold your breath, waiting for them to leave.  But they don’t.  You start to wonder, if they are sticking around only not to seem heartless: that once the event is past, they will be the ones to quietly bow out before anything else can crop up.  You wouldn’t blame them, although you would be hurt, but who wants to wade willingly into a crisis, make it through, then hang around to see if something else happens again.  That might even be the definition of a sadist come to think of it…..

Or….your partner, after you tell them, sits silently for a moment, then tells you (forgive the changing voice…) “WE will get the facts, then WE will get the plan, then WE will follow through with it.  WE will get through it.”

It then becomes clear to you that it is the truly extraordinary hearts that are capable of such “Stick to it-iveness”.  The only guilt that you should be feeling is in ever doubting that they would be there in the first place.  You know that you too, would be there for them were the tables turned, and that is what makes the relationship have longevity potential.  Something else may come along in time to send you each down separate roads, but for right now, this…this challenge will only cause you to stick even closer together.