“Authentic” versus “Cool”

It’s the second time I’ve fallen for it. Someone I know posts something out of character on Facebook. I reply in some non-committal way, although I think the action reported is surprising. Turns out it’s a “joke” and the person who fooled me now wants me to post one of six out-of character replies to fool others.

Seems harmless enough, except it makes me feel vaguely uneasy. Then comesmean-girls-les-miz-2-w352 the private message, “Don’t be a party pooper. Choose one of these six messages and post it on your timeline. Everyone who falls for it has to do the same thing. Don’t break the chain.”

It sounds so. . . junior high. For me, it falls into the crank prank category. I don’t want to play along. I don’t want to fool other people. I don’t want to post something falsely ridiculous about myself on Facebook. But I feel like a party pooper. Straight-laced. Stiff.

So, I consider it. That pull to be included. Such old stuff. And then I realize that I already know my values. And the other person was trying to get me to be in her pool because. . . it was not about me. She didn’t want to be alone in her embarrassment, her being-pointed-at.

It is not in me to make others look foolish. To post something odd, then trick people into showing concern, then tell them they were fooled and should pass it on. It seems hurtful. And in a flash, I know I won’t do it. I suddenly don’t care about being cool or playing along. My authentic self is, in fact, slightly stuffy and formal.

badideabearbloggerPeer pressure, whether goofy in grade school, cruel in middle school, or dumb and dangerous in high school is still peer pressure. And finally, after all these years, I realize that caving in to peer pressure will not make me cool. It will make me feel bad about myself. And authenticity, complete with awkward unsureness, is worth its weight in self-respect.

—Quinn McDonald is OK with being a geek. Because it’s authentic geekiness.

Plan B is Not Negative Thinking

“If you plan for success, you’ll succeed, if you plan for failure, you will fail.” I’m a big believer in thinking positively, planning for success, and not feeding the inner critic.

I also believe that having a Plan B–what to do in the worst-case scenario–is an excellent idea. Those thoughts, which seem to be opposite, can be held at the same time quite successfully.

Aren’t they opposites? And if I have a Plan B, am I not planning for failure? I used to think that, too, until I had a really clear understanding of planning.

Plan B is a way of looking ahead, of seeing where the obstacles might be. This is exactly what I do when I’m on the motorcycle–I keep an eye out for an escape route. Can I stop if that car cuts in front of me? What will I do if that one brakes or swerves? It’s a moment-to-moment adjustment that has saved my life more than once. It’s not negative thinking. It’s planning a way through and then out.

mapBy thinking ahead, I am solving problems to avoid them. I am also making myself aware that I can face problems. And because I believe in learning by making mistakes, even by failing, planning the next step becomes a positive action. Studying what went wrong and figuring out how to fix it increases not only knowledge, but problem-solving skills.

And once I have a Plan B, I can turn toward the goal. Looking ahead to the goal is the best way to make steps to get there. If you constantly have to fight back the fear and refuse to face it, you aren’t being positive, you are wasting time chasing fear. Plan B is the realization that you are past the fear block, and are moving ahead to the goal.

The poet W.H. Auden wrote:

“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”

Fear prevents you from leaping. And not leaping prevents you from the full adventure that is your life. Planning and training for leaps keeps you prepared for whatever shows up.

-Quinn McDonald is re-thinking some of the tropes she’s lived with for a long time. It keeps her ready to leap.

Writing Sympathy Notes

Sooner than we want, we need to write sympathy cards. Not all cards available at the drug store work well. It’s far kinder to write your own note. Nothing is more comforting than a hand-written note to a friend in mourning.

Knee-jerk reaction reaches for “I am sorry for your loss,” and while there is nothing wrong with the thought, it’s been overused so much that it’s a threadbare hand-me-down from your heart.

Other things not to put in a sympathy card:

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

“I know exactly how you feel, my _______ died last year.” Even worse is when you are comforting someone who is mourning the death of  a human and your pet died.

“Your loved one is with God now.” You don’t know what happens after death, and if you don’t know what the other person’s religious beliefs are (or aren’t), leave predictions out of it.

“You can be happy their suffering is over now.” The word “happy” or “glad” or “relieved” should not appear in a condolence card. Ever.

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe that’s what you believe, but it cheats the other person out of mourning and demands that they cheer up.

“It could be worse. This friend of mine. . .” This is not the time to share drama in your life. It will not make your friend feel better about their loss.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Again, this makes a person in mourning feel that they should handle their grief better. Everyone mourns in their own way.

Things you can say:

“May your memories comfort you.”

“Our thoughts [or prayers] are with you and your family.”

sympathy-card-sage“With thoughts of comfort and peace for you.”

“Our hearts go out to you in this sad time.”

“We remember [the person who died] with loving memories.”

“May you be surrounded by the love and comfort of friends and family.”

Use a soft-color stationery–cream, gray, blue. No pink or  yellow, and nothing with a bright floral theme. No typing and printing it in a handwriting font. Use a pen and hand write the words as if you were speaking to your friend. It’s more comforting.

And your friend will stay your friends and be there to comfort you when you need it.

-Quinn McDonald is comforting a friend at the sudden death of her husband. Some of what she hears said is odd, bordering on strange.

 

 

The Aha! Moment

After two articles on bullying, I spent some more time processing my emotions around the incident. I’ve done stand-up comedy, and knowing what is funny to an audience and the timing of delivery is key to humor.

Pushable button image from http://meridianvitality.com

Pushable button image from http://meridianvitality.com

And then I had an Aha! Moment. In all the years I was super fat (I had a mirror, so I know), and people said hateful things to me (when I was in the middle seat of an airplane, for example) I actually felt sorry for them. I did not feel shame or diminished. I loved to eat (still do), and knew that fat people are one of the few groups we feel free to openly bash. I was capable of compassion.

Because I was not a fat child, I had no buttons to push.

But the incident at Trader Joe’s  pushed all those buttons I had embedded a long time ago.

So the work I have to do is around healing those pushable buttons is about feeling fine about being different. Taking pride in being an outsider. Because when you are outside, you have a bigger view. You aren’t hemmed in. And while everyone inside is bathed in light, it doesn’t guarantee acceptance or happiness.

A good thought for Friday the 13th.

-Quinn McDonald is moving on with a lighter step. (Carefully checking for a banana peel.)

 

Rushing to Judgment With the Crowd

In 2009, Bowe Begdahl walked away from his camp in Afghanistan. In June, 2014, after being held by the Taliban-friendly Haqqani network, he was released.

I am not discussing the trade for Bergdahl, I am discussing what happened next. “News” outlets began to give their opinions as fact. He deserted, said one outlet. He was a loner, said another news outlet, quoting a platoon member who said that Bergdahl did not drink beer or eat barbeque at parties, and then drew the conclusion that he may well be a traitor

Image from prnewswire.com

Image from prnewswire.com

The first time I heard this, I laughed. In three leaps from non-beer-drinking to loner to traitor? But the more I listened the less likely any of this seemed.

On Yahoo, in the newspaper, on TV–everyone was spouting their opinion as fact. “He’s a traitor.”

“He’s one of those loners who deserts his brothers and sisters in arms.”

Not one of those news sources had spoken to Bergdahl. A few had spoken to members of his platoon–but none of them were in captivity with Bergdahl

Word of Mouth from themontebulldog.org

Word of Mouth from themontebulldog.org

and none of them knew why he left. Almost everyone had an opinion. I tracked down the source of one and it was the PR department of a political party poll.  Under no circumstance that I can think of does a PR department qualify as a news source. None of us knows what was in Bergdahl’s mind. None of us knows why he left his base, or what happened to him in captivity. Bowe Berdahl knows, and maybe the people who are treating him for physical and psychological wounds. He was a prisoner of war, that’s all we know.

I am confounded how anyone can draw any more  of a conclusions than that. As a parent myself, I ache for his parents. The support vanished, not because of facts, but through opinions, many unfounded and the lightning fast communication of juicy gossip through social media.  Many more rumors started not because of facts, but because the rumor mongers don’t like the President or his actions. Which Bergdahl was not in control over.

And many more people used code words like “loner,” “different,” and “not a team player” to vilify him. Other loners? Syd Barret, founder of Pink Floyd. Barry Bonds, who hit 762 home runs, more than anyone else ever, was a loner. Piet Mondrian, Rachel Carson, Isaac Newton, Beatrix Potter. All loners. All brilliant at their creative path. None dangerous.

Bowe Bergdahl’s story will come out. Until then, let’s remember he is innocent.

—Quinn McDonald wonders what people have against loners. She is one herself.

 

 

Your Creative Work and Your Story

You are a story-teller. Even if you are not a writer, your life tells a story. It is your story. You get to tell it. If you start adding pieces of other people’s story, your plot line will suffer. If you start telling it to please others, and change your story for their approval, your story drifts and disconnects from you.

Poem1Today, while doing a demo of Monsoon Papers, someone asked me if the pieces of paper could be framed as is.

“Sure,” I said, “if that’s what you want. I see the pieces as colors and textures to use in collage or art journals.” The woman asked if I had any pieces of my artwork made with Monsoon Papers with me. I did. I showed her a piece (not the one shown here). She looked and asked what it meant. I invited her to explore what the image meant to her. She frowned slightly and said, “A good piece of art speaks for itself. And this one needs you to tell me what it means. So there is something incomplete about it.”

What a surprising statement. How can art speak for itself? A realistic drawing might be of something recognizable, but even that leaves a lot open for interpretation.

Good art and good stories do not always speak for themselves. They leave the door open for content (which the artist supplies) and context (which the viewer supplies). Together, the same image can mean something entirely different to several viewers.

I found a great poem by Billy Collins that explains this perfectly:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hod it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all thy want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room

–Quinn McDonald realizes how much she has to learn every time she asks someone else to speak and she listens to them.

The (Almost) Lost Art of Polite

Leaving the bank, I sensed someone behind me. I walked through the heavy door, then held it open for an elderly man who was slowly making his way toward the door. “I’m not helpless,” he groused. “Of course not,” I replied, “I’m just being polite.”

rude_polite_rankingPolite isn’t popular anymore. A friend who observed by husband opening the car door for me, as he has for decades, sniffed, “Are you so weak you can’t open that door yourself?” If my husband didn’t have the keylock, I would have reached across and unlocked his door for him, too.

It’s kind to help people who have mobility issues, but the small acts that make up being polite are truly an art that makes the world a bit shinier and easier to manage.

Polite is hard to explain to small children. They stare at the handicapped, ask intrusive questions, and are sticklers for the “truth” as they see it. If we are lucky, they get socialized and develop the habit of being polite. But it’s slipping away, faster and faster.

When I bump into anything–even inanimate objects, I say, “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” as a force of habit. A teen looked at me in the grocery store when I apologized to a grocery cart and muttered, “Dude, it’s like a thing! It can’t hear you.” True. But it might have been a person.

I let pregnant women ahead of me in line because I remember what it felt like to stand on swollen feet. When I was in D.C. two weeks ago, no one looked up from the seats clearly marked “for Senior Citizens and the handicapped,” and I did not have the nerve to pull out their headphones so I could ask for the seat. Why not? Because I didn’t think they would move.

Being polite means saying that an ugly baby is adorable, sending thank-you cards, and attending funerals of people you don’t know well. It’s saying “thank you” to a cashier who isn’t polite.  Not walking three abreast down a sidewalk and forcing other people to step into the street. If you are a bicyclist, it’s stopping at signs and lights instead of blowing through them or yelling “on your left” when someone is using the sidewalk for walking, then passing them at top speed, just nipping their elbow.

Polite is not throwing your co-working under the bus just because you can and no one will stand up to you. Bring back polite, and the whole concept of bullying shrinks and vanishes. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing and takes little effort.

–Quinn McDonald still says “you’re welcome” when someone says, “thank you.” She doesn’t want them to think for a minute that they might have been a problem.

Image: LAmag.com